Franklin Gutierrez hit .349 in the Venezuelan Winter League

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Mariners center fielder Franklin Gutierrez appeared in only 40 games last season due to head and heel injuries, and he batted just .260/.309/.420 when he wasn’t on the disabled list. But there may be reason for a hint of optimism about what’s ahead in 2013.

Gutierrez is — first and foremost — healthy. He hasn’t experienced any sort of concussion-related symptoms over the past several months and his plantar fasciitis is seemingly under control. Then there’s his promising performance in the Venezuelan Winter League, which recently wrapped up its regular season schedule.

According to beat writer Greg Johns of MLB.com, the 29-year-old hit .349/.411/.523 with three homers, six doubles and 19 RBI in 22 games for Leones del Caracas while playing his usual brand of elite-level outfield defense. He was 8-for-15 in his final three games and finished with a total of 13 runs scored.

If Gutierrez proves to be a reliable regular this year in Seattle, the M’s can shift Michael Saunders to right field. Raul Ibanez and Jason Bay will presumably share left field, with Casper Wells providing overall depth.

Braves’ prospect Ronald Acuna wins AFL MVP, helps clinch AFL Championship Game

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The Arizona Fall League competition came to a close on Saturday, concluding with the Peoria Javelinas’ 8-2 win over the Mesa Solar Sox for the championship title. No one stood out more than Braves’ no. 1 prospect Ronald Acuna, who took home honors as the AFL MVP after slashing .325/.414/.639 with a league-leading seven home runs and second-best 1.053 OPS in 83 at-bats.

At just 19 years old, Acuna is the youngest prospect to receive the award. He made his presence felt even before he suited up for the AFL, earning promotions to the Braves’ Double-A Mississippi and Triple-A Gwinnett and batting a remarkable .325/.374/.522 with 21 home runs across three levels in 2017.

Acuna was also a major factor in the Javelinas’ win on Saturday, but he wasn’t the first to make some noise. The Solar Sox got to right-hander T.J. Zeuch in the first inning, leading off with three singles and a run-scoring sac fly to get a 2-0 edge over the Javelinas. It was the only lead they’d get all afternoon and it lasted just two innings. Luis Urias snapped the shutout with a sac fly in the bottom of the second inning, and the Javelinas took the lead with a game-tying RBI single from Acuna and two-run base hit from Braves’ no. 16 prospect Alex Jackson in the third.

From then on, it was smooth sailing for Peoria. Andrew Case, Andres Munoz and Art Warren combined for 3 1/3 scoreless innings in relief, while the offense tacked on another handful of runs with Acuna’s fourth-inning two-RBI single and Michael Chavis’ eighth-inning triple. With runners at the corners and one out, the Solar Sox lifted right-hander Dakota Bacus for fellow righty Nolan Blackwood. Even he was flummoxed by Acuna, however, who grabbed hold of the first pitch he saw and returned another sac fly to center field for the Javelinas’ eighth and final run of the game.

Only 131 days left until Opening Day, folks.