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Guti's winter ball showing has Mariners excited

SEATTLE -- Center fielder Franklin Gutierrez has wrapped up his Venezuelan Winter League season, and the Mariners will be thrilled if he can carry his success there over into Spring Training next month in Arizona.

Gutierrez put up torrid numbers in his last four games for Leones del Caracas, batting .474 (9-for-17) with two doubles, two home runs and 10 RBIs between Dec. 18-21.

The native of Venezuela was 8-for-15 in his final three games, closing out with a 3-for-6 outing with four RBIs against Magallanes. He hit a grand slam two days earlier against Margarita in a 3-for-4 game that included five RBIs.

For the season, Gutierrez batted .349 (30-for-86) with 13 runs, six doubles, three home runs and 19 RBIs in 22 games. His batting average would rank second in the VWL if he had enough at-bats to qualify among the league leaders.

Gutierrez played just 40 games in 2012 for the Mariners, so his health is of primary concern as they head toward Spring Training in six weeks.

If Gutierrez is full go, he'll fill the center-field spot and allow Michael Saunders to play one of the corners. The Mariners also have Casper Wells and free-agent signees Raul Ibanez and Jason Bay competing for outfield positions, along with Eric Thames, Carlos Peguero and possibly Mike Carp, if his throwing shoulder has healed sufficiently.

Among other Mariners playing in the Venezuelan League, reliever Yoervis Medina continues throwing for Cardenales de Lara. The big right-hander appeared in two games last week, giving up four hits and no runs in 1 2/3 innings as he lowered his ERA to 2.40 in 30 innings over 27 outings.

Gabriel Noriega, a 22-year-old second baseman who split time between Class A High Desert and Double-A Jackson last year, is seeing considerable action for Lara in the VWL. Noriega went 3-for-5 in a pair of games last week and is hitting .262 with nine RBIs in 130 at-bats over 46 games.

The Venezuelan League continues through Jan. 21, though many Major League participants cut back after the holidays in order to rest up before camps open in February.

Several Mariners prospects in the Dominican Winter League appear to have ended their participation. Shortstop Carlos Triunfel played a part-time role for Tigres de Licey, but hit just .147 (5-for-35) in 25 games.

Peguero went hitless in his last two games for Gigantes del Cibao on Dec. 20-21, putting him at .333 with four home runs and 14 RBIs in 18 games. The 25-year-old outfielder is now listed on the roster of Toros del Este in the Dominican League, though he's yet to play for them.

Meanwhile, young first-base prospect Ji-Man Choi continues playing well in the Australian Baseball League. Choi, 21, spent last year in Class A Clinton after missing all of 2011 with a back injury. He was named the player of the Week in Australia for the final week of December after batting .350 (7-for-20) with two home runs and five RBIs.

Choi has hit safely in 15 of his last 18 games to raise his average to .326 (28-for-86) with 15 runs, five home runs and 17 RBIs in 24 games in the ABL.

The native of Korea, an interesting catching prospect for the Mariners before his back injury, played first base and DH for Clinton last year and hit .298 with eight home runs and 43 RBIs in 242 at-bats with a .420 on-base percentage.

Seattle Mariners, Franklin Gutierrez