See also: Wednesday's Daily Dish
See also: Today's Baseball America Prospect Report
There has been no slowing down Travis Buck this season.
In fact, the 22-year-old hasn't slowed down since coming out of Arizona State last year.
Buck, a supplemental first-round pick of the Athletics a year ago, signed for $950,000 and hasn't stopped hitting as a pro.
In his debut season, Buck went 13-for-36 (.361) at short-season Vancouver and was quickly promoted to the Midwest League where he batted .341/.427/.472 in 123 at-bats at low Class A Kane County.
This season saw another quick promotion as well. After hitting .349/.400/.603 with three homers and 26 RBIs in 126 at-bats at high Class A Visalia, the A's called him up to Double-A Midland where it's been a little more of a challenge–even though he collected hits in his first five games.
Through 48 at-bats, Buck is hitting .271/.352/.417.
"He's obviously hit everywhere he's been," Athletics farm director Keith Lieppman said. "And everywhere he's been he's made a major impact. He's amazing in how quickly he adjusts to every level.
"He's a pure hitter with a good sense of the strike zone and he can turn on quality fastballs, wait on and square up breaking balls and he's just going to continue to get better with more experience."
While he hasn't hit for much power over his first year and a half in the system, the Athletics feel that will come from incorporating his lower half in his swing more consistently.
"He has such quick hands and strong wrists that he's able to hit all over the zone," Lieppman said. "And we think the power is in there. As he makes those adjustments in Double-A, I think you'll see some of that gap power translate into more power numbers."
Defensively, Buck is limited to left field. An average runner, he doesn't have the speed or range to play center, but the exit of Andre Ethier in the offseason has opened up a huge door for Buck to have an impact on the A's corner outfield situation.
"He's still got some work to do defensively, but he's shown the ability to adjust on the fly in all phases of his game," Lieppman said. "As he continues to pick out pitches he can drive, I think he'll hit enough to play that corner spot."
Pirates catcher Neil Walker has been back for 10 days at high Class A Lynchburg, and the first eight were tough for the 20-year-old catcher.
While he's put up back-to-back multi-hit games for the Hillcats, Walker had a rough time adjusting to quality pitching in the Carolina League after missing all of spring training and the first month and a half of the season recovering from wrist surgery.
Walker injured his right wrist at the tail end of the Arizona Fall League, and only started hitting in the cage–one-handed–during the middle of March.
"You really have to consider when the last time was when he played a night game," Pirates field coordinator Jeff Bannister said. "There were very few night games in Arizona, obviously no night games in extended and all of the sudden he's playing nothing but night games.
"Then you take into account all the young pitching he was facing once he got into games in extended and the fact that he only had 50 at-bats there and that equals a big-time adjustment period."
The Pirates plan on breaking Walker back in behind the plate slowly, splitting his time between catching and serving as the designated hitter at Lynchburg. And even though his wrist is completely healthy, they will be cautious as they bring him along.
"We want him to get as much experience as possible, but at the same time, we want to acclimate him slowly," Bannister said. "It's really about him getting his rhythm and his timing back and that's just a matter of time. He'll be fine. He's the best pure hitter in the system."
A Sort Of Homecoming
It was a homecoming of sorts for the Rockies' Chaz Roe yesterday as the righthander made his home debut for low Class A Asheville. Fittingly, it was against his hometown team, the Lexington Legends, with his parents in attendance.
Unfortunately for Roe, the afternoon turned sour quickly for the Kentucky native. After cruising through the first two innings, the 6-foot-5 righthander got into to trouble in the third as he lost command of his curveball and a single and two doubles netted Lexington two runs. Roe allowed another run in the fourth, his final inning, and ended up allowing three runs in four innings with three strikeouts and a walk. It appeared Roe was pumped to face his hometown team, though he denied it.
"I followed (Lexington) a little bit. I went to a couple of games (growing up)," Roe told the Asheville Citizen-Times. "It was just another game for me. I just didn't hit my spots very well today."
Lexington would go on to bludgeon the Asheville bullpen and win 15-0.
Roe was named Mr. Baseball last season as a senior at Lexington (Ky.) High and the Rockies made him a supplemental first-round choice. He went 5-2, 4.17 in 50 innings in the Rookie-level Pioneer League and the Rockies decided to start him this season in extended spring training in an effort to keep his innings down in his full season debut. He features a low 90s fastball that has touched 95 and though he had trouble with it last night, one crosschecker called his curveball the best he'd seen from an amateur baseball in the last decade.
The 19-year-old made his debut for Asheville last week when he allowed three runs (one earned) over five innings against Hickory.
No Reason To Rush
Triple-A Buffalo lefthander Jeremy Sowers insists he is in no rush to reach the majors this season. His pitching, however, is telling a different story.
Sowers did not allow an earned run for the third straight start on Wednesday, shutting Toledo down for eight innings. The start extended Sowers' scoreless innings streak to 22; and he now has a 0.63 ERA over his last six starts.
Meanwhile, the big league rotation that promised to keep Sowers blocked this season is floundering, leading to many Indians fans calling for the promotion of the first rounder. However, despite the struggles of newly-acquired starters Paul Byrd and Jason Johnson, who have combined for a 6.21 ERA, no one within the organization is ready to rush the Vanderbilt product.
"Jeremy has had a tremendous start to the season and is very, very close," Indians assistant GM Chris Antonelli recently told the Akron Beacon Journal. "But we don't to react too quickly."
This is a notion that, for the time being, even Jeremy himself agrees with.
"Of course, everyone wants to get to the big leagues," Sowers told the newspaper. "But in the meantime, I'm enjoying where I'm at right now."
Surely Sowers enjoyment is founded upon his success, as he has registered quality starts in eight of his ten starts this season. Like always, his success begins with a fantastic ability to keep the ball on the ground–a 1.36 groundball-flyball ratio and only one home run allowed. Still, Sowers sees room for improvement.
"I'm still working on controlling the running game and left-on-left match-ups," he said. Sowers has come a long way from his days in big league camp in March, when he went 1-0, 5.40 in three spring outings and was passed by righthander Fausto Carmona.
"I think it's just trusting his stuff more," farm director John Farrell said. "He had the tendency to pitch a little more fine when he was in big league camp. But over the last seven or eight weeks, we've seen him settle in with much the same game plan as he had last year.
"He's working to his strengths in that he keeps the game at a controllable pace mentally–the game doesn't speed up on him. That coupled with his intellect, his ability to process information and his ability to exploit hitter's weaknesses through the command of his pitches have him back where he needs to be. Those are the things we didn't see in spring training, but everyone's seeing now."
–BRYAN SMITH AND CHRIS KLINE
• The good news for the Athletics is it doesn't appear Triple-A Sacramento first baseman Daric Barton likely won't need surgery on his elbow, the bad news: he's out for at least 6-to-8 weeks. Barton injured his elbow in Tuesday's matinee against Iowa, after colliding with Tony Womack along the first base line. MRI results yesterday showed no cartilage or ligament damage to the joint of his left elbow. Through 147 at-bats, the A's No. 1 prospect was hitting .259/.389/.395 with a pair of homers and 22 RBIs. "It's unfortunate, because things were really starting to work out for him in Triple-A," Lieppman said. "He was making some nice adjustments and now this obviously sets him back." . . . It was rehab day at the Durham Bulls ballpark Wednesday, as both the Devil Rays' Rocco Baldelli and the Braves' Chuck James started the day. Consider Baldelli the winner, as BA's 2002 Minor League Player of the Year singled and walked off James. The lefthander showed his great changeup, striking out three, but had his outing ruined by Elijah Dukes, who hit his second home run in as many games . . . No one thought, entering the season, that 33-year-old veteran John Wasdin would be the savior to the Texas Rangers fifth starter woes. But after pitching six scoreless innings on Wednesday–his second straight start without allowing a run–Wasdin is creating quite the argument for a callup . . . Angels righthander Nick Green threw his second career complete game Wednesday for high Class A Rancho Cucamonga, striking out nine and allowing just one run in a win against High Desert. Green's bugaboo this year has been the long ball–he has given up five of them in his last four starts and seven on the season–and he allowed a solo shot against the Mavericks, but he improved to 5-2, 3.81 overall . . . Rangers outfielder Steve Murphy continued his tear at high Class A Bakersfield, going 2-for-4 with a double. He has gone 14-for-24 (.583) over his last six games and has four doubles in his last three. Meanwhile, his Blaze teammate Jayce Tingler extended his hitting streak to 17 games with a pair of hits in Bakerfield's 7-5 loss to Modesto.
Contributing: Aaron Fitt.