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February 14, 2004

Anaheim

Hey, Curveball Guy

ANAHEIM—The visit to the Lincoln Memorial was great. The tour of the Capitol was nice. The meet-and-greet with Congressmen was wonderful.

But as he reflected on his first visit to Washington, D.C., Stephen Andrade marveled over one perk unavailable to most tourists.

“It was amazing,” he said. “We got a police escort from the hotel.”

Andrade joined fellow righthander Greg Jones and third baseman Dallas McPherson as the Angels’ representatives at Major League Baseball’s rookie career development seminar this winter. Jones pitched briefly for the Angels last season, and McPherson ranks as one of the top prospects in the game, but Andrade’s selection capped his rise from the masses of the unknown.

Andrade, 26, forced his way onto the 40-man roster this winter the old-fashioned way: by throwing strikes and getting outs. The reliever went 5-1, 2.65 at Double-A Arkansas last season, limiting opponents to a .146 average over 51 innings, striking out 74 and walking 19. His three-year minor league totals are equally impressive: 8-3, 2.78 in 139 innings, with 210 strikeouts and 46 walks.

“I got scared straight,” he said. “My coaches in college are amazed I’m not walking that many guys any more. But I get paid to throw strikes.”

Andrade had several college coaches. He started at American River (Calif.) Junior College, where the Dodgers drafted him in the 46th round in 1998. He didn’t sign, and later transferred to NAIA power Indiana Tech and then Division II Cal State Stanislaus. The Angels drafted him in the 32nd round in 2001, and he hasn’t stopped throwing strikes since.

His fastball touches the low 90s. He works diligently on a changeup and has a funky delivery reminiscent of Brendan Donnelly and Robb Nen. He realizes that, though his curveball has carried him onto the 40-man roster, it alone will not carry him to Anaheim.

“Everybody loves me for my curveball,” he said. “I get made fun of a little bit for that. I’ll throw it eight out of 12 pitches in an inning. Everybody calls me the curveball guy.”

ANGEL FOOD

• The Angels signed outfielder Tyrone Mingle, a 6-foot-1, 180-pounder out of Abraham Baldwin (Ga.) Junior College, as a nondrafted free agent.

• Though owner Arte Moreno plans to build a new spring home for the club in the Phoenix suburb of Goodyear, it appears unlikely construction can be completed in time for the Angels to move from Tempe in 2005.

Baltimore

Hey, We Can Use Him

BALTIMORE—One team’s expendable minor league prospect is another team’s much-needed infusion of power.

The Orioles leaped at the chance to obtain first baseman Walter Young off waivers from the Pirates, and they immediately project him as the top power source in their system.

“He is it without a doubt,” farm director Doc Rodgers said. “Scouts talk about tools you can’t teach, like speed or velocity on the fastball—throwing 97 mph or running a 3.5 to first base. Those types of abilities you can’t teach. And his type of raw power, you either have to draft it, trade for it or whatever the case may be. But you can’t teach it.”

Young was the Pirates’ minor league player of the year in 2002 after batting .333-25-103 with 34 doubles in 492 at-bats at low Class A Hickory. He also was chosen MVP in the South Atlantic League.

So how did he become available one year later? For starters, the Pirates needed to make room on their 40-man roster and hoped to sneak Young through waivers. He also raised concerns in the organization after batting .278-20-87 at Class A Lynchburg last season, solid but a far cry from his 2002 breakout.

“The Pirates are in a situation like a lot of clubs in a rebuilding mode, where they made a lot of trades at the major league level to get prospects, and when that happens, you’re unable to protect them all,” Rodgers said. “Fortunately for us, we were able to get him.”

The fact that Young, 24, has no Double-A experience also worked against him. But the Orioles needed someone like him in their system. Young, a 31st-round pick in 1999 out of Purvis (Miss.) High, likely will play for Double-A Bowie this summer.

BIRD SEED

• The Orioles signed veteran utilityman Clay Bellinger to a minor league contract and invited him to spring training. Bellinger, a member of the 2004 Greek Olympic team sponsored by Orioles owner Peter Angelos, spent 2003 at Triple-A Fresno in the Giants system.

• Lefthander Rob Ramsay, a cancer survivor who had a brain tumor removed in 2002, signed a minor league deal and received a spring training invite. Ramsay, a Washington State product, reached the major leagues with Seattle in 1999-2000, and pitched in the Padres organization in 2003 while having chemotherapy treatments.

Boston

Looks Can Be Deceiving

BOSTON—Determined not to overwork the college pitchers they selected in last year’s draft, the Red Sox told Abe Alvarez he’d pitch about 20 innings in his first pro season.

“OK,” Alvarez told farm director Ben Cherington, “then I’m going to make them the best 20 innings possible.”

Alvarez delivered, striking out 19, walking just two and not allowing an earned run in his 19-inning debut for short-season Lowell. After a winter of workouts at his California home, Alvarez appears ready to take the next step.

The Red Sox plan to start the lefthander at high Class A Sarasota this year, in the hope he can continue to develop the promise that made him a second-round pick.

“I’m not sure his Lowell numbers mean much in the long run,” Cherington said. “What does matter is his fastball and changeup command, his idea for pitching, deception and genuine interest in studying the craft of pitching.”

Alvarez has a colorful resume. He was the Big West Conference pitcher of the year his final two years at Long Beach State (sharing the 2003 honor with teammate Jered Weaver). He also drew comparisons to Bill Lee and Barry Zito for wearing his hat sideways and growing out his frosted curls.

“The exterior does not match the stereotype one might put on his personality,” Cherington said. “He’s a genuinely humble kid, a good teammate, and a student of the game.”

Alvarez was scheduled to report to Fort Myers before spring training for a minicamp.

“The adjustments he makes will be more about adjusting to the opposing hitter than doing anything differently mechanically,” Cherington said. “If he continues to do that and maintains his health, he has a very good chance to pitch in the major leagues.”

SOX YARNS

• Righthander Billy Simon, who missed last season with a neck ailment, spent January at a Seattle clinic with a neck and spine specialist. He planned to start throwing in mid-February, and the Red Sox are optimistic he’ll pitch this year.

• The Red Sox claimed righthander Reynaldo Garcia on unconditional waivers from the Rangers. Garcia went 4-3, 3.69 with nine saves at Triple-A Oklahoma last year.

Chicago (AL)

Dominican Results May Vary

CHICAGO—While many other organizations feast on talent from the Dominican Republic, it’s been almost a decade since the White Sox produced a big leaguer that they signed in the Dominican.

This drought—which you could call the Curse of Luis Andjuar, in honor of the organization’s last homegrown Dominican—is likely to end in 2004. Lefthanded reliever Arnie Munoz is expected to open the season with Triple-A Charlotte, but he won’t be far from manager Ozzie Guillen’s mind.

Munoz could be blazing a trail for an intriguing group of prospects that has been assembled in the last few years, largely through the work of international scout Denny Gonzalez.

Pedro Lopez, who last season played in the low Class A South Atlantic League at 19, is perhaps two years away from being a candidate for a middle-infield spot in Chicago. Lefthander Paulino Reynoso and righthander Julio Castro, both converted position players, have almost three seasons’ pitching under their belts.

Fabio Castro (no relation to Julio) also bears watching. A 19-year-old lefthander, he has done nothing but get outs the last two seasons. Castro went 10-2 and struck out 89 in 65 innings in the Rookie-level Dominican Summer League in 2002, then worked out of the bullpen at Rookie-level Bristol last year before earning two late-season starts with low Class A Kannapolis. In those two starts, he impressed with his poise as much as his stuff, striking out 16 in 11 innings.

Like Munoz, he’s an undersized player with a fierce attitude. He stands 5-foot-8 and weighs about 160 pounds, but held hitters to a .178 average. He struck out 11.6 per nine innings and had a 3-1 strikeout-walk ratio.

His fastball can hit the low 90s, and his secondary pitches are promising. The Sox are watching for a growth spurt, which could add a few inches to his fastball and make him even more upwardly mobile. Castro is likely to work in the rotation at Kannapolis in 2004.

CHI-LITES

• The White Sox invited 15 nonroster players to major league spring training, including Jeremy Reed.

• In the biggest change to the system’s lineup of minor league managers, Razor Shines was promoted from Class A Winston-Salem to Double-A Birmingham, replacing Wally Backman. Ken Dominguez, who had been hitting coach at Winston-Salem, will now be the manager. Cris Cron moves from Rookie-level Great Falls to Kannapolis, with John Orton going from Kannapolis to Great Falls.

Cleveland

Preemptive Media Strike

CLEVELAND—The rebuilding Indians will have a rebuilt bullpen in 2004, and at some point it could include Japanese righthander Kazuhito Tadano, who in 2003 had a sensational first season in the farm system.

The 23-year-old went a combined 6-2, 1.55 with 112 strikeouts, 22 walks and 81 hits allowed in 99 innings, in stops from Class A to Triple-A. As a result, he has been invited to major league spring training.

“There is going to be a lot of competition for spots in our bullpen, and I would say he’d be a longshot to make the club out of spring training,” general manager Mark Shapiro said. “But if I had to guess, I’d say he’ll make his major league debut for us at some point this season. We’re very confident he is a major league-quality pitcher.”

If Tadano reaches the major leagues, the Indians knew a messy chapter from his past would come up. As originally reported by Baseball America during the 2003 season, Tadano appeared in a pornographic video that included homosexual acts while he was a college student in Japan.

Realizing the issue needed to be addressed, Indians officials held a January press conference, where Tadano explained and apologized for his appearance in the video.

Indians officials hope that bringing the issue up now will put it to rest before the start of spring training.

“We anticipated that at some point this was going to be a media issue, and so we wanted to get it out there, address it, and put it behind us,” farm director John Farrell said. “We feel that this was a one-time incident from Tadano’s past, and not any indicator of future behavior.”

SMOKE SIGNALS

• The Indians invited first baseman Michael Aubrey and outfielder Brad Snyder, their first-round picks last summer, to major league spring training.

• Manager Eric Wedge said Travis Hafner and Ben Broussard will share first base and DH duties in 2004. Broussard will likely play more first base, and Hafner more DH.

Detroit

Is Rodney Ready?

DETROIT—After Fernando Rodney dominated Triple-A last season and in the Dominican Republic this winter, the Tigers are hopeful he will begin to translate that success to the major leagues.

The 27-year-old righthander was 1-1, 1.33 with 23 saves for Triple-A Toledo in 2003. He struck out 58 hitters in 40 innings while surrendering just 22 hits and 13 walks. This winter, pitching for Escogido, Rodney was 1-1, 0.53 with three saves in 17 innings. He allowed just six hits and struck out 22.

Rodney consistently hits 98 mph with his fastball and he has an excellent changeup. However, even though the closer role is wide open in Detroit, there are concerns about handing it over to Rodney. He has been as unimpressive during his brief stints in the major leagues as he has been impressive during his minor league career.

He did pitch 30 innings with the Tigers in 2003, but was 1-3, 6.07. Opposing hitters batted .183 against him in Triple-A, but .294 in the major leagues.

In the majors, Rodney has shown the propensity to get ahead in the count with his fastball, but then get punished for hanging a changeup late in the at-bat.

Rodney’s changeup is a good pitch, but he has to keep it down. He struggles with that because major league hitters are more capable of waiting him out. So far, he has been the one who has given in.

“I expect that to change this season,” farm director Rick Bennett said. “The difference between Rodney this winter and last season when he was in the major leagues is that he isn’t getting that changeup up in the strike zone. He located it much better this winter.”

TIGER TALES

• Righthander Matt Wheatland, the Tigers’ first-round pick in 2000, was throwing off the mound and is expected to participate fully in spring training. He hasn’t pitched the last two seasons because of shoulder injuries.

• Outfielder Cody Ross is recovering faster than expected from knee surgery and may play in some spring training games.

Kansas City

Gettis Gets It

KANSAS CITY—Byron Gettis apparently made the right decision in 1998 when he turned down a football scholarship to quarterback Minnesota and instead signed as a nondrafted free agent with the Royals.

Gettis had been progressing slowly through the farm system, hitting .258 with 31 home runs over his first five seasons. Last year Gettis’ baseball tools caught up with his athletic ability as he hit .302-16-103 with Double-A Wichita. He ranked second in the Texas League and sixth in the minors in RBIs and drew comparisons to Tigers outfielder Dmitri Young.

Gettis, 23, was named the Royals minor league player of the year and added to organization’s 40-man roster after the season.

“Last year was a confidence builder,” Gettis said.

After hitting .241-3-11 in the Arizona Fall League, Gettis remained in the Phoenix area during the offseason to continue working out to gain strength and to keep his weight down. The 6-foot, 240-pound Gettis hoped to lose a couple of pounds this offseason.

“I like everything about him,” said Frank White, who managed Gettis in the AFL. “I like his approach everyday, his work ethic, the way he takes batting practice sessions. His character is off the charts.

“He listens well. He tries to make adjustments. I don’t see any glaring weakness. I think what he did last year was pretty phenomenal. He’s a big guy, but I don’t think he’s he soft in the middle. We clocked him at 3.86 (seconds to first base) on a bunt, so he runs good for a big guy.”

With the Royals signing free-agent outfielders Juan Gonzalez and Matt Stairs in the offseason, Gettis will likely open the season with Triple-A Omaha. But he could be a midseason callup.

“He’s got some pop and has probably the strongest outfield arm in our organization,” farm director Shaun McGinn said. “With his throwing arm, he’ll probably end up in right field.”

ROYALTIES

• The Royals signed third baseman Travis Chapman, who was not offered a contract by the Phillies after he tore the labrum in his right shoulder in December.

• Outfielder Alan Moye, who was acquired last March in a trade with the Reds for righthander Jeff Austin but missed the 2003 season because of a shoulder injury, was added to the nonroster invites list for spring training.

Minnesota

Hot Out Of The Oven

MINNEAPOLIS—Scott Baker’s professional career consists of just 11 games, but the righthander has already shown promise.

The Louisiana native came to the Twins after three years at Oklahoma State, and the organization has high hopes for his continued development.

Baker, 6-foot-3, 204 pounds, was drafted in the second round last year (58th overall pick) and signed for a $600,000 bonus. He went 3-1, 2.49 at low Class A Quad City in 2003, walking eight with 47 strikeouts in 51 innings.

Despite impressive rookie numbers, Baker’s lofty stock is based mostly on his amateur pedigree.

Baker was drafted out of high school by the Pirates in the 36th round in 2000. The Shreveport, La., native opted to enroll at Oklahoma State, where he was second-team all-Big 12 Conference in 2002 and a first-teamer in 2003. He tied for the league lead in wins during a 10-5, 3.79 junior season.

Baker has a four-pitch mix (curveball, fastball, changeup, slider) and can throw in the low 90s.

“He did well last year,” farm director Jim Rantz said. “His strikeout-to-walk ratio was pretty good. He’s got some good size. He just needs to get innings in.”

Rantz said the biggest adjustments for Baker are the same adjustments that all new professionals must make: becoming familiar with a new league and a new level of talent. Rantz said the learning curve is considerable, especially for young pitchers.

“Coming out, they’re trying to impress everyone and sometimes they try to do too much,” Rantz said. “They’ve got to learn their catcher and their teammates, and the adjustment usually takes a couple of weeks.”

Baker seems to have gotten off to a good start, and more good things are expected in 2004. He likely will begin the season at high Class A Fort Myers.

“This kid obviously put up good numbers for the half year, and he’s going to be in a starting role with somebody,” Rantz said.

TWIN KILLINGS

• Lefthander Horacio Estrada, who threw a no-hitter for Double-A New Britain last August, will miss the 2004 season after breaking his leg in a car wreck in Venezuela.

• Utility infielder Jake Mauer is a nonroster invitee to major league spring training. Joe Mauer’s big brother batted .279 last year at Fort Myers before hitting .306 in the Arizona Fall League.

New York (AL)

End Of The Road

NEW YORK—The words are remembered now because of how bold they were. And wrong.

“Wait until you see what we got in the third round,” owner George Steinbrenner said following the 1998 draft. “Our people really think we got something really good.”

Steinbrenner’s words were out of character because, for all of his faults, The Boss isn’t prone to heaping blind praise on employees. Never mind a high school senior who was headed to Michigan to play quarterback and professional baseball for just a short stretch of the summer.

Six years later, the chance the Yankees took on Drew Henson officially failed when Henson, 25, walked away from the remaining three years and $12 million of his contract to return to football.

So why didn’t Baseball America’s 1998 High School Player of the Year make it on the diamond? Everybody has a theory: He didn’t commit to baseball right away. His swing was too mechanical and not designed to make enough contact. The Yankees, thanks to a $17 million investment they made in 2001 when Henson agreed to give up football, rushed him to Triple-A Columbus too soon.

Yet the overriding sentiment suggests Henson never developed enough confidence to be the complete hitter the Yankees believed he could be. As the strikeouts piled up, his confidence at the plate disappeared.

He seemed to be putting his tools together in 2001, when he was named the No. 2 prospect in the Arizona Fall League after hitting .314 with six home runs. Yet Henson, who appeared in eight major league games (going 1-for-9), started to fade from the Yankees’ landscape in 2002 when he batted .240-18-65 and fanned 151 times at Columbus. By the time the Yankees acquired Aaron Boone from the Reds last July, Henson’s future in baseball was all but over.

In six minor league seasons, Henson batted .248 with 67 homers and 274 RBIs. Most alarming was that the 6-foot-5, 230-pounder struck out 556 times compared to 460 hits and 136 walks. Henson’s best season was 1999 when he batted .280-13-37 at Class A Tampa. It was the last year Henson didn’t have more strikeouts than hits, totaling 71 in each department.

YANKEE DOODLES

• Rookie-level Gulf Coast League manager Oscar Acosta, a former pitching coach with the Cubs and Rangers, will spend time working with rehabbing pitchers at the Yankees’ minor league facility this year.

• One-time Yankees catcher Joe Girardi will attend spring training as a nonroster invitee and insurance against Jorge Posada or John Flaherty getting injured. Girardi will also work with the organization’s top prospect, catcher Dioner Navarro.

Oakland

Father And Son Staff

OAKLAND—When Joe Sparks goes to work this year, he will have a tough new boss handing down the orders: his son Greg.

Sparks will take over as hitting coach for Triple-A Sacramento, replacing Roy White, who joined the Yankees’ big league staff. Greg Sparks is the Athletics’ new hitting coordinator and assistant farm director, replacing Dave Hudgens, who became Oakland’s major league hitting coach.

There may be the appearance of nepotism, but the elder Sparks has the credentials for the Sacramento job. He spent the last eight years as an advance scout for the Cardinals, but the job was eliminated after last season. Sparks also coached with the White Sox, Reds, Expos and Yankees, and spent many years as a minor league manager and coach.

“He’s almost overqualified for the job,” farm director Keith Lieppman said. “He has so much experience, as a major league advance scout, coach and minor league manager, he’s done about everything. It was unexpected that he even came into the mix. At the last minute, I was talking to him and his son, and he wanted to get back onto the field. I thought he was kidding, then he said he’d really be interested. He’s a great acquisition—a lot of energy and he’s right in line with what we want to do.”

So how does Sparks feel about working for his son?

“I really enjoy it when you and your son can be on the same field,” he said. “He takes a lot of things from me, along with what he has learned from others. It’s exciting to learn what it’s like and how he goes about his business.

“We have a lot of the same thoughts. He’s been on the field with me since he could stand up.”

Greg Sparks managed Double-A Midland last season. He originally signed with the Yankees in 1984 and played 12 minor league seasons before joining the A’s organization as a minor league coach in 1997.

A’S ACORNS

• Eric Byrnes broke the Dominican League postseason RBI record this winter, with 19 in 15 playoff games to exceed the mark of 18 shared by Bernardo Brito (1995) and Adrian Beltre (2000). Byrnes batted .389 with two homers and eight walks in leading Licey to the title.

• Catcher Steve Jackson received an invitation to major league spring training. Jackson, 26, has impressed the A’s with his hard work and hustle during his four years in the system. He was signed in 2000 as a nondrafted free agent out of Portland.

Seattle

Back In The Fold

SEATTLE—The Mariners have decided to give infielder Evel Bastida-Martinez a second chance.

Bastida-Martinez was suspended last season after being charged with assault when he hit an opposing pitcher with a bat in a Class A California League game. The Mariners decided to reinstate Bastida-Martinez, 24, following the resolution of his legal case.

“It has been a slow process with a lot of steps involved,” vice president of player development Benny Looper said. “We in no way condone what he did, but he has been punished and it’s time to move on. We have seen nothing to lead us to believe this will ever happen again.”

Bastida-Martinez, who was playing for Inland Empire, was arrested and charged with felony assault with a deadly weapon for hitting Lancaster righthander Josh Kranawetter in an Aug. 18 game.

The incident occurred in the 14th inning of a game when Kranawetter hit Bastida-Martinez in the back with a pitch. Bastida-Martinez charged the mound and hit Kranawetter in the lower back with his bat.

“It was the ugliest thing I’ve ever been a part of,” Inland Empire catcher John Castellano said after the incident. “I’ve been in brawls, and they’re all basically the same. This wasn’t like that at all. It wasn’t really a brawl, it was more like a bunch of us trying to defend one guy who made a huge mistake.”

Bastida-Martinez pleaded no contest to a misdemeanor count in January. He was given three years of probation and can satisfy the 90-day jail sentence by performing 200 hours of community service, 100 of which must be completed within the next year. The court also recommended that the time be served working with a youth baseball program.

Bastida-Martinez, a Cuban defector whom the Mariners drafted in the seventh round in 2002, batted .274-5-32 in 87 games last season prior to the incident.

MARINADE

• The Mariners signed infielder Yung-Chi Chen out of Taiwan in late January. Chen, 20, is the second Taiwanese player to sign with the Mariners, following catcher Chao-Kuan Wu. Chen was the shortstop for the Taiwan club that won the National Baseball Congress World Series title in Wichita last summer, hitting .405 in the 44-team event.

• The Mariners also signed 18-year-old Australian catcher Kent Dixon, a veteran of Australian international teams.

Tampa Bay

Hamilton Hopes To Return

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla.—The personal problems that caused him to sit out the entire 2003 season remain a mystery.

But Josh Hamilton says there is no question he can still be a tremendous major league player.

In his first public comments since taking a season-long leave in May, Hamilton said he planned to rejoin the Devil Rays this spring and expected to be in the major leagues by the end of the season.

“Everything’s good right now,” Hamilton said. “Nothing’s wavered as far as ability or talent. It’s just being out there playing. That’s the part I’ve missed.”

Hamilton, 22, ranked No. 1 on Baseball America’s Top 100 Prospects entering 2001. With a rifle arm and a potent bat, and extraordinary work ethic and desire, he was thought of as the most talented of the Rays trio of future stars that included Rocco Baldelli and Carl Crawford.

But assorted injuries delayed his progress through the minors, and the undisclosed personal problems that surfaced last spring derailed his career.

He has declined to get into any specifics of his problems, or to say whether they have been resolved. “Put it like this—there’s things I’ve worked past and I’m still working on to keep in the past, and just leave it at that right now,” he said.

Hamilton, the first overall pick in the 1999 draft, hopes to join the Rays for the start of spring training, but as of early February he was waiting for official word. He said he had no doubts he still could be the impact player he once was supposed to be.

“I am that player,” he said. “I always say that. I’ve just got to get back into it. The longer I stay out, the harder it will be to get back into it. I’m looking forward to getting back into it, seeing all the guys again, hitting some balls, showing (manager Lou) Piniella what I can really do.”

Hamilton figures he’ll start the season at Tampa Bay’s new Double-A Montgomery affiliate but is confident he could be in the major leagues sometime this season. Mainly, he said he just wants the chance to get back on the field and get back to baseball.

“That’s what I’m trying to do,” he said.

COOL RAYS

• Righthander Rob Bell was invited to big league camp after being designated for assignment and sent outright to Triple-A Durham.

• Stuart Sternberg, a New York-based investor, signed a letter of intent to buy about 48 percent of the team. Under terms of the deal, Vince Naimoli will continue to operate the team as managing general partner.

Texas

Hanging It Up

DALLAS—Catcher Scott Heard, the Rangers’ first-round pick in the 2000 draft, walked away from the game shortly before the start of spring training.

Heard called assistant general manager Grady Fuson in late January and said he had decided to quit baseball in favor of going to college. According to Fuson, Heard said he believed his career had stalled.

The Rangers put Heard on the voluntarily retired list. Fuson said the organization would not close the door on Heard returning, but will not pressure him to reconsider.

“I talked to him,” Fuson said. “But my purpose was not to talk him into staying. If a guy doesn’t want to play, you can’t force him.”

Heard, the 25th overall pick in the 2000 draft, was nearly the first overall pick in that draft. Instead, he never made it past Class A in four seasons.

Offense and emotions were two problems. Heard, who received a $1.65 million signing bonus, never gave the impression that he was fully committed to the game.

Heard’s offense was a concern going back to his senior season at San Diego’s Rancho Bernardo High. He showed few signs of improvement while with the Rangers. He hit .243-4-28 last season at high Class A Stockton.

His departure cuts into the organizational depth at catcher. Chris Jaile and Dustin Smith probably will be the Stockton catchers. The Rangers are also interested in the progress of converted catcher Kevin Richardson. Signed as a first baseman, Richardson moved to catcher and intrigued the organization with his 16 games for short-season Spokane.

“He looks very interesting,” Fuson said. “The offense is there, and he throws well. We’ll see where that goes.”

RANGER ROUNDUP

• Jovanny Cedeno, Ryan Dittfurth and Ben Kozlowski all continue to fight the jinx of the Nolan Ryan award, given to the organization’s top pitcher. Cedeno, the winner in 2000, faces the possibility of season-ending Tommy John surgery. Dittfurth, the 2001 winner, might be ready to pitch after missing all of last season because of elbow surgery. Kozlowski, the 2002 winner, might not return until May after having Tommy John surgery last season.

• Keith Boeck joined the organization as a professional scout. Boeck worked as an area scout with the Indians for the last eight years.

Toronto

Bugged By Injuries

TORONTO—D.J. Hanson has overcome knee injuries that slowed his climb through the Blue Jays system. But now that he’s earned a spot on the 40-man roster, a sore shoulder might delay his spring training.

After missing all of 2001 and part of 2002 with injuries, the righthander went 10-10, 2.45 for Class A Charleston last season, earning him a spot on the 40-man. The shoulder injury might slow him, but it’s not expected to be a major problem.

“He has a little bit of an impingement in his right shoulder,” farm director Dick Scott said. “So we just shut him down temporarily until he got it checked out. It’s just something he’s working through with therapy. Whether he’s going to be ready for big league camp or not, I’m not sure, but he should be ready for minor league camp.”

Hanson, a 5-foot-11, 175-pounder, was drafted in the sixth round in 1999 from Richland (Wash.) High. He struggled in his first two seasons, then missed all of 2001 after injuring his right knee.

He started to get it together in 2002, going 5-2, 1.68 with short-season Auburn, though he was hampered by a problem in his left knee that required surgery.

“We’ve taken it a little easy with the amount of pounding with his running, but otherwise his knees are in good shape,” Scott said.

Last season, he led Charleston’s staff in wins, ERA and strikeouts (113).

“He throws strikes,” Scott said. “He’s not a real big guy, but he’s got a live arm. He’s got a lot of life on his ball. We’ve had his fastball at 93-95 at times. He probably pitches 92-93. He has a good curveball at times and a changeup. He’s got a pretty good idea on pitching. This is going to be a big year for him getting into the Florida State League (with Dunedin) and hopefully progressing like he did last year.”

JAYs CHATTER

• Outfielder Rodney Medina, Charleston’s MVP in 2003, did not play winter ball in Venezuela because of a sore shoulder that surfaced during instructional league. He batted .283-11-45 with the Alley Cats. He was expected to be ready for spring training.

• Puerto Rican outfielder Alexis Rios opted to not participate in the Caribbean Series to rest and get ready for spring training.

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