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Going Deep: Buck Martinez

Alan Schwarz -Premium Content

As the pieces of the upcoming World Baseball Classic gradually fall into place, one of the biggest appeared at the Winter Meetings: the Team USA manager will be Buck Martinez, the current ESPN analyst and former manager of the Blue Jays. The prospect of managing the greatest collection of talent in the history of baseball, with names like Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Derek Jeter and more, has left the garrulous Martinez anything but speechless. I sat down with Martinez to discuss his evolving juggernaut and any plans to bribe the Rocket out of retirement.

Majors | #2006#Column

Going Deep: George Brett

Alan Schwarz -Premium Content

The day when the Hall of Fame balloting gets announced is about phone calls: mainly, to the lucky former players who learn they'll be in Cooperstown forevermore. But this year the most notable phone call for me was the one to Hall of Famer George Brett, who after stepping off a plane in Boston wanted to know the voting results. I had the pleasure of getting his immediate and candid thoughts on Bruce Sutter's selection, his continuing vigil for Goose Gossage and Bert Blyleven, and whether his old pal John Schuerholz ever has a shot.

Majors | #2006#Column

Going Deep: Darrell Miller

Alan Schwarz -Premium Content

I've seen it. Really. While in Los Angeles on business, I stopped by Major League Baseball's new Urban Youth Academy in Compton, an immense (and long-overdue) step in revitalizing inner-city baseball. When it officially opens on Feb. 28, after more than five years of planning, the $10 million facility will allow thousands of youngsters a chance to learn baseball from former pros and play games on big league quality fields, complete with stands and lights. All for free. Its director is Darrell Miller, the former Angels catcher and farm director, who gave me a walking tour of the still under construction complex in late January. Among the dirt and cinderblocks lies the future of urban baseball.

Majors | #2006#Column

Going Deep: Mike Marshall

Alan Schwarz -Premium Content

ike Marshall fashions himself a baseball pariah. The 63-year-old former ironman pitcher—who in 1974 pitched in 208 innings over 106 games to set records for a major league reliever—now coaches amateur pitchers at his facility in Zephyrhills, Fla., using such unconventional methods and criticizing other pitching experts so vehemently that he claims his students are blackballed by major league organizations. Few dispute that Marshall, who owns a doctorate in exercise physiology from Michigan State and has done tremendous other research on pitching arms and injuries, has some interesting ideas. I spoke with Marshall about those ideas, the contentiousness with which he shares them, and his vow to change pitching forever.

Majors | #2006#Column

Going Deep: Dontrelle Willis

Alan Schwarz -Premium Content

If the World Baseball Classic has a face, it is not the anticipatory gaze of the baseball beancounters, or the worried mug of general managers everywhere. It is that of Dontrelle Willis. No player from any country has expressed more unbridled joy for participating in the upcoming extravaganza. (His "I just hope I make the team!" at last year's all-star press conference pierced the hearts of even the most cynical scribes.) With the event finally at hand, I talked with Willis about pitching for his country, his role on Team USA and the revamped Marlins, and scoring freebies from HBO.

Majors | #2006#Column

AL East Organization Reports

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FORT LAUDERDALE—After missing all of 2005, outfielder Val Majewski is back in action. And he is even taking some ground balls at first base. Majewski, a third-round selection in the 2002 draft, is no stranger to the position. It just took a while to get reacquainted. He played there in high school and for two seasons at Rutgers before moving to the outfield.

Majors | #2006#Baltimore Orioles#Organization Reports

AL East Organization Reports

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BALTIMORE—Most batters prefer to stay in one spot in the order, the better to grow comfortable and to understand their role. Rene Aqueron not only did his share of moving around at Rookie-level Bluefield, but he also refused to play favorites. Aqueron, a second baseman and outfielder, hit in all nine spots in the lineup, and he batted over .300 at each position in his pro debut. No wonder he led the Appalachian League in batting, finishing at .405-4-32 in 163 at-bats, and on-base percentage at .468. He also placed third in slugging at .583. There was no way to rattle him.

Majors | #2006#Baltimore Orioles#Organization Reports

AL East Organization Reports

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BALTIMORE—Maybe it's the natural development of a young pitcher's body, or maybe it's the extra innings he's thrown. Whatever the reason, Ryan Keefer's velocity increased from the upper 80s to the mid-90s during the 2005 season. When your velocity goes up, so does your stock. Keefer went 7-3, 3.20 in 84 innings at Double-A Bowie last year. Moved into a set-up role, he posted a 0.42 ERA over a 13-game span. In his last nine outings covering 11 innings, Keefer permitted only one earned run.

Majors | #2006#Baltimore Orioles#Organization Reports

AL East Organization Reports

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BALTIMORE—Once touted as the top power-hitting prospect in the Orioles' organization, Walter Young was designated for assignment to clear room on the 40-man roster for newly signed free agent Kevin Millar. He was claimed off waivers by the Padres. Young, believed to be the heaviest player in major league history at his listed weight of 322 pounds, showed tremendous promise at Double-A Bowie in 2004, hitting 33 home runs. But his power declined last year in the International League, where he hit .288-13-81 in 466 at-bats at Triple-A Ottawa.

Majors | #2006#Baltimore Orioles#Organization Reports

AL East Organization Reports

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BALTIMORE—With his 25th birthday approaching, Jason Fransz will need to quicken the pace if he's going to move through the Orioles' farm system after spending last season at low Class A Delmarva. To his credit, he is trying his best. Fransz hit .308-22-111 in 2005 and led the South Atlantic League in RBIs and the Shorebirds in home runs and doubles.

Majors | #2006#Baltimore Orioles#Organization Reports

AL East Organization Reports

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he Orioles gave a full critique of their minor league system prior to the winter meetings and decided that minimal changes were necessary. The managers from their top five affiliates will return in 2006, though the organization still hasn't named the two coaches at Class A Frederick. Dave Trembley remains as manager at Triple-A Ottawa, Don Werner at Double-A Bowie, Bien Figueroa at Frederick, Gary Kendall at Class A Delmarva and Andy Etchebarren at Class A short season Aberdeen.

Majors | #2006#Baltimore Orioles#Organization Reports

Cardinals Organization Report

Derrick Goold -Premium Content

JUPITER, Fla.—If the guys who had spent some of last season with Triple-A Memphis seemed unstirred by the diving, lunging, sprinting, sprawling catches Skip Schumaker made during spring training games, forgive them. They've seen them all before. Capable of playing all three outfield positions, Schumaker has his eyes set on another one—the fourth spot in the Cardinals' outfield. He knows his talent formula of good speed, trustworthy glove and sparse pop equals a route to the majors via its bench, where he saw time in 2005.

Majors | #2006#Organization Reports#St. Louis Cardinals