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Youkilis honing his craft
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11/18/2003  5:39 PM ET 
Youkilis honing his craft
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BOSTON -- Already a certified on-base machine, Red Sox prospect Kevin Youkilis is in Mexico this winter honing his craft.

The 24-year-old Youkilis is widely regarded as the most polished hitter the Sox have in their farm system. He tied a minor league record in 2003 by reaching base in 71 consecutive games.

What is he gaining from his winter playing for Navojoa of the Mexican Pacific League? For starters, he is getting a taste of daily pressure.

"I think that's why it is a big, big benefit for a guy who is closer to the big leagues. To learn what it's like to play every day where the game means something. Winning is the only thing that matters in winter leagues," said Craig Shipley, special assistant to the general manager/player development for the Sox.

"That's why I think any winter league is a positive thing for a young player. The stakes are pretty high. It's more like a Major League atmosphere. If you don't perform, they'll release you. It's a good part of their preparation because that's how it is in the big leagues."

Thus far, Youkilis -- a right-handed hitting third baseman -- is holding his own.

In his first 102 at-bats, Youkilis had a .265 average with one homer and 13 RBIs. Per usual, his on-base percentage was an impressive .424.

Aside from the added intensity, Youkilis is facing pitchers who are more experienced than what he's accustomed to in the minor leagues.

"The players are more mature," Shipley said. "Even though physically, they aren't talented as Triple-A or the big leagues, they know how to play. Especially the pitchers. They know how to pitch and get people out. They're not predictable. They'll pitch backwards and throw a breaking ball at any time in the count. That should help him."

Youkilis is expected to start at third base for Triple-A Pawtucket in 2004.

He ripped Double-A pitching this past season, hitting .327 and producing a .487 on-base percentage for the Portland Sea Dogs. But Youkilis struggled during his brief stint at Pawtucket, hitting .165 in 109 at-bats.

"I think he's a polished hitter," Shipley said. "Everybody knows he has a great command of the strike zone. That's obviously a big plus with any hitter. He had a good year in Double-A. He struggled a little in his transition to Triple-A, but it was a good taste for him. I have no doubt he'll adjust. The at-bats he had last year (at Triple-A) will only help him."

As will the experience in Mexico.

Ian Browne is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.



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