Chris Kline’s AFL Road Trip

PEORIA, Ariz–The Arizona Fall League is an excellent laboratory for players moving to different positions to prove their versatility and hasten their path to the big leagues.

Mariners shortstop Adam Jones is the highest-profile player making a switch this fall. Jones, a 2003 first-round pick out of Morse High in San Diego, played exclusively at short in his first three seasons in the system.

But in the midst of his best offensive year in 2005′”a combined .297-15-66 between high Class A Inland Empire and Double-A San Antonio–Jones moved to the outfield because the Mariners signed Cuban defector Yuniesky Betancourt to a four-year major league contract worth $3.65 million.

“I understand the reasoning behind it,” Jones said. “And I’ve seen Betancourt play–outstanding shortstop–so I understand the move.

“It’s going all right so far. I’m just working to get a better feel for it. It’s fun out there–you get to run a little bit more and I get to show off my arm a little bit more.”

And the 20-year-old has a tremendous throwing arm, having topped out at 96 mph on the mound as a high school senior. The Mariners liked him better at short, but with Betancourt now in the fold, center field appears to be Jones’ permanent home.

We caught up with a scout from American League club to give some insight into Jones’ new home, as well as his struggles at the plate, as he was hitting just .154 in 39 at-bats for the Peoria Javelinas.

“There’s no question he can be a plus defender in center field,” the scout said. “He gets excellent jumps, and even when he doesn’t, that speed is enough to allow him to catch up. His routes aren’t great, but he’s so athletic and that will come through repetition. He’s a 70 arm out there–with accuracy.

“He’s battled at the plate, more so than when I saw him in the Cal League at the beginning of the year. Before, he was staying back and driving the ball the other way. His strength is driving balls to right or right-center, staying inside the ball and driving it to the opposite field. He’s out front a lot here and seems to lack the patience he had during the season. He’s out of whack. Whether that’s a mental thing from the position change I don’t know, but you’d think he’d be more free, more relaxed–especially at the plate. But he’s got the potential to be a quality center-of-the-diamond player for a long, long time.”

FALL GUYS

• The AFL has essentially become spring training and the regular season for Orioles outfielder Val Majewski, who missed all of 2005 due to labrum surgery. While Majewski spent all season rehabbing in Sarasota, Fla., he saw outfielder Jeff Fiorentino get promoted from high Class A Frederick to the big leagues, and witnessed Nick  Markakis’ rise to the top of a crowded outfield picture that also includes five-tool 2005 second-rounder Nolan Reimold. Needless to say, the 2005 season was the most frustrating year of Majewski’s career.

“It was the first time I had to miss a year or have any kind of surgery,” the third-round pick out of Rutgers in 2002 said. “It was disheartening. And having it happen during spring training was tough to handle. I don’t worry about those guys. There’s competition, yeah, but we’re all pulling for one another. It’s just frustrating knowing that had I been healthy, I’d have likely been the guy.

“The whole year was almost like big a ‘what if.’ I’m in extended all season watching guys I played with or against make the big leagues. Guys like Aaron Hill, Gustavo Chacin, Ryan Doumit, Chris Duffy, Brian McCann, (Jeff) Francoeur . . . the list goes on and on. It was just a weird year. I guess the timing was right–it was the year of the rookie in a lot of ways–and there I was sitting on a training table watching them on TV. Hopefully down the road I can do the same thing.”

Majewski played only one game in the outfield in instructional league before reporting to the AFL, but is still working to get into game shape as the fall season goes along. Because of the shoulder injury, Majewski hasn’t been able to lift weights or do a lot of the offseason training regimen he was used to, and won’t be medically cleared to do so until at least November. And from one look at him in the AFL, an outfielder with classic right field tools is being limited to playing the opposite corner with minimal arm strength. So in a league where most of the players are worn down from the daily grind of the regular season, Majewski is going through a different type of mental battle.

“I’d like to say I’m fresh being out here, but it’s more like I’m freshly cut,” Majewski said. “After surgery, I couldn’t do all the normal things I’d do to get ready for the season. Nothing is really where I want it to be. I’m fresh in that I haven’t played 140 games this year, but it’s still tough. I’m just hoping as time goes on, I start to feel at least a little more comfortable.”

• With a license plate on his SUV that reads, “BIGFLY,” Rockies third baseman Ian  Stewart seems to be heaping more pressure on himself than just his first-round pick status. But Stewart has been backing up those California plates with five of his 12 hits coming for extra bases this fall, and hitting .316 in 38 at-bats.

Stewart missed the first month of the regular season with a hamstring injury and had an uneven season, though he finished up batting .274/.353/.497 with 17 homers and 86 RBIs at high Class A Modesto.

“I’m out here working on pretty much everything,” Stewart said. “I was never fully healthy the whole year. I feel better now than I did all season though. I’m working on things defensively, because that’s where I need the most work–a lot of footwork, a lot of left-to-right movement. I’m pretty good at the ball right at me, but laterally I’m not so good. I’m just out here trying to get better, working on my reactions to balls and positioning.”

• As one of the few foreign players in the AFL, Red Sox righthander Jesus Delgado is something of an enigma. Delgado has an explosive fastball, topping out at 97 mph at low Class A Greenville this season. It’s his secondary stuff that needed work, and his curveball and changeup have come along nicely over his first few starts–especially from a confidence standpoint. “In the South Atlantic League, there was no doubt he’d challenge guys with his fastball all the time,” Peoria Saguaros pitching coach Ralph Treuel said. “He’d go 0-1 with a fastball and then stay with it. Now when he gets ahead in the count, it’s the curve or it’s the changeup. Guys aren’t expecting it and he’s having some success. It’s really the development of those two pitches that have been his biggest assets.”

The 21-year-old Venezuelan went 7-3, 3.50 for the Bombers. And while he might be strictly a reliever down the road, Delgado is starting in the Fall League to rack up more innings. He’s also working on keeping his front arm level in his delivery. He has a tendency to raise the arm upward, negatively affecting his overall balance in his mechanics.

“I feel like I can throw my curveball and my changeup at any time now, which is a lot better than before,” Delgado said. “I’m using them more often than I ever had before and my confidence has been the most important thing.”

• Nationals first baseman Larry Broadway is working on his hitting mechanics in the AFL after going through right knee problems that plagued him throughout 2005. Broadway came back from the injury to play 52 games at Double-A Harrisburg after starting the year in Triple-A New Orleans. “I’m really just trying to trust my front leg,” Broadway said. “I just want to be able to hit off a stiff front leg without any problems. It tends to leak forward a little bit, which causes some head movement. When my front leg is strong and stiff, I can make the kind of consistent contact I want to make.”

• Orioles lefthander Adam Loewen hopes to build on his five no-hit innings last week. Loewen, who was shut down in instructional league last fall with a labrum injury and has battled command problems throughout his three-year career as a pro, is 1-0 with a 12-7 strikeout-walk ratio in three starts for the Javelinas this fall. Loewen is working on his changeup, throwing about 10 a game– more than he ever used it in game situations at high Class A Frederick. He’s also working pitching coach Larry  McCall on maintaining his weight over the rubber to get more consistent with his release point. He needs to keep weight on his back leg to achieve optimum balance, which helps him take advantage of his 6-foot-6 frame and drive the ball more consistently downhill.

• When Pirates lefthander Shane Youman was named to the Peoria Saguaros’ roster, he was on the taxi squad and didn’t figure on getting too many innings in. But when righthander Bryan Bullington went down with a shoulder injury and needed subsequent labrum surgery, Youman was thrust into a starting role in the AFL. “It’s good getting four or five innings in now and get stretched out a little bit,” the 43rd-round pick in 2001 out of LSU said. “It’s a big opportunity for me. Unfortunately Bully went down, and I’ve been fortunate to get a role as a starter now. I’m just going out to try to challenge hitters with my fastball and continue to work on my changeup, which has been a little inconsistent. But there’s no better place to kind of gauge yourself against this competition.”

• The Brewers wanted to replace Mitch Stetter with 2005 draftee Steve Hammond, fresh out of instructional league, on the Javelinas roster. Hammond, a lefthander, was a sixth-round pick out of Long Beach State, but the AFL denied the move because the Brewers already have one A-ball player, shortstop Alcides Escobar, in the AFL. The Brewers had yet to name a replacement.

Minors | #2005 #Arizona Fall League #Winter Baseball

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