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National League East Notebook

March 22, 2005


Atlanta Braves

Yet Another Jones

KISSIMMEE, Fla.—History has shown that draft-and-follow picks are hit-or-miss. But if the early returns on outfielder Brandon Jones prove to be a sign of things to come, the Braves may have hit the jackpot once again.

Atlanta selected Jones out of Tallahassee (Fla.) Community College in the 24th round in 2003, and he showed some of the best tools in the junior college ranks last spring, so the Braves signed him in May. Had he gone back into the draft, Jones likely would have gone in the first three rounds last June.

“What we saw was a raw kid with a world of athletic ability and natural talent,” scouting director Roy Clark said. “By his second season in Tallahassee, he started putting that ability to use on the field. He was raw, and he still is, but you can see the makings of a special player inside that body.”

Jones did nothing to disappoint the Braves at Rookie-level Danville. He batted .297-3-33 with a slugging percentage of .416, and displayed an ability to get on base as well as decent strike zone discipline, resulting in 23 walks and 33 strikeouts in 209 at-bats.

Jones has attracted comparisons to Angels outfielder Garret Anderson with his solid tools, including a combination of speed and budding power. He had 14 extra-base hits last year at Danville, and his 6-foot-1, 190-pound frame should allow him to go deep more often as his body matures.

“Everything you look for in an athletic outfielder is there with Brandon,” farm director Dayton Moore said. “I wouldn’t be a bit surprised if he started to move fast through the organization once everything starts coming together.”

WIGWAM WISPS

• Longtime scouting director Paul Snyder, who has been a special assistant to the general manager since 1999, had surgery to replace a heart valve. Snyder was on a scouting trip in Alabama when he had a heart attack. Fortunately, his wife Petie was with him and called paramedics. Clark visited Snyder a day after the surgery. “He shook my hand and nearly broke two fingers and then told me he planned on getting back out there by April 1st,” Clark said. “I told him not to worry about April, that I just hoped he could be with me in the draft room on June 7th.”

• The Double-A Mississipppi Braves have sold more than 2,500 season tickets for their new home in Pearl, Miss. The franchise moved from Greenville, S.C., after last season.


Florida Marlins

Wilson T’s Off

JUPITER, Fla.—Josh Wilson hasn’t made it to the major leagues yet, but his T-shirts sure have.

His father Mike Wilson is the baseball coach at Duquesne University in Pittsburgh. When his son’s former minor league teammates, Dontrelle Willis and Miguel Cabrera, passed through the Steel City in 2003, the elder Wilson gave them some Dukes gear.

Cabrera often wears his gray Duquesne shirt under his Marlins uniform and Willis is so fond of the shirt he asked Josh Wilson for a replacement this spring.

“That one’s going to come at a price,” Wilson said, laughing. “They’re hot commodities down south. You don’t find too many Duquesne shirts.”

He pronounced the word “Due-KWEZ-nee” for effect.

Nor do you find many young shortstops with Wilson’s combination of gap power and defensive talent. Wilson hit a combined .299-15-64 last year and moved back into the list of Marlins’ top dozen prospects after falling down the list the previous winter.

While he is slated to start the year at Triple-A Albuquerque and even though incumbent shortstop Alex Gonzalez hit 23 homers last year and played his usual strong defense, Wilson isn’t discouraged.

“The thing I’m hearing from people throughout the organization is they’re looking for that spot to get me in an everyday role,” Wilson said, “but that’s obviously going to be tough with Alex having the year he did last year.”

Wilson was assigned to the Arizona Fall League but missed about four weeks after suffering a strained ribcage muscle after a handful of games.

In his spare time, Wilson wrote a weekly diary for the AFL Website and answered hundreds of e-mail questions from curious fans. As a Web-savvy ballplayer, Wilson is well aware Gonzalez can be a free agent after this season and plans to use that as added motivation.

“It’s definitely something that has to push me,” Wilson said. “With him being a free agent, that means there’s a possibility they might look to go in another direction. But at the same time, if he does well and he has another year where he hits 23 home runs, he’s going to be a guy they’re going to want back, too.”

FISH BAIT

• Joe Dillon, who hit a combined 39 homers at the Marlins’ top two minor league levels last year, hit a two-run homer off reliever John Riedling in his first intrasquad game.

• Righthander Yorman Bazardo came into his first big league camp brimming with confidence after a strong Venezuelan League season. Strikeouts of power hitters Bobby Abreu and Alex Cabrera gave Bazardo hope he could reach the big leagues this season.


New York Mets

Parallel Lines

PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla.—It is, for the most part, the way he plays the game, the way his considerable baseball skills manifest themselves once a pitch is released or a ball is batted. At those moments, Mets player development staffers slap themselves in the face as a reminder this is 2005, not 10 years earlier, and the player they’re watching is Aarom Baldiris, not Edgardo Alfonzo.

Not that anyone would decline to have another Fonzi come through the organization. After the likes of Len Dykstra, Kevin Mitchell and Darryl Strawberry, Alfonzo ranks among the best position players ever developed by the Mets.

But now there is Baldiris, a current-day Chachi to The Fonz who now plays with the Giants. The parallels have been evident from the start—a righthanded-hitting infielder who took his first ground ball in Venezuela with baseball smarts that distinguish him from his contemporaries.

In the spring of 1995, Dallas Green, Alfonzo’s first major league manager, characterized his rookie as “one of those guys who figures it out.” These days, Kevin Morgan, the Mets’ minor league director and Alfonzo’s one-time minor league contemporary, describes Baldiris with similar phrasing: “You can see him look at a situation and decide what needs to be done.”

A third baseman through last season, Baldiris has now been shifted to second base, a move Alfonzo made in 1999 when Robin Ventura joined the Mets.

In one way, Baldiris’ move was prompted by a similar circumstance, the presence of a talented big league third baseman—David Wright. Moreover, the club isn’t quite sure Baldiris projects as a major league third baseman.

“We don’t see the power yet,” Morgan said, leaving room for later development.

Baldiris, 21, hit six home runs in 393 at-bats with low Class A Capital City in 2003, but he has hit merely 12 in 1,069 at-bats in five other professional seasons. None came in his first exposure to Double-A pitching last summer.

At the same time, however, Baldiris is a .308 career hitter. That figure isn’t lost on the Mets.

“We think he’s a good enough hitter that we’d have an above-average offensive player at second base,” Morgan said.

METAMORPHOSES

• In the days following the death of Class A pitching coach Rick Mahler, the club was uncertain how it would fill the void created by his unexpected passing. Mahler, 51, died March 2 after a heart attack.

• The Mets hired former Chicago Bulls general manager Jerry Krause and Steve Nethery as scouts.


Philadelphia Phillies

No First-Rounder . . . Again

CLEARWATER, Fla.—Scouting director Marti Wolever recently met with top organization officials to express his concern over the number of draft picks the team has forfeited through free-agent compensation in recent years.

“We need to find a way to supplement the draft if we’re going to lose picks,” Wolever said.

For the second time in three years, the Phillies do not have a first-round pick. They lost this season’s to the Yankees after signing Jon Lieber. Two years ago, they lost their first two picks for signing Jim Thome and David Bell. The Phils also lost high-round picks for the signings of Mike Jackson, Jose Mesa and Rheal Cormier in recent seasons.

Since 2000, the Phillies have had just 20 picks in the first five rounds of the draft—the fewest in baseball. The Braves and Athletics each had 37.

The shortage of picks, along with trading away a number of solid prospects, has combined to shrink the depth and talent level in the farm system.

“It comes down to choices and consequences,” Wolever said. “If you make a choice there will be a consequence. All of us in scouting are behind (general manager) Ed Wade to put us in the

World Series, and we’ll stay that way. But the flipside is the depth in the minor league system is less because of the choices the organization makes.”

The Phils had hoped to recoup a first-round pick this year by offering infielder Placido Polanco arbitration. He unexpectedly accepted and returned to the club, which ended up being serendipitous when a back injury sidelined Bell early in spring training.

Still, Wolever said it was frustrating not to have a first-rounder “because this is a very good year for college hitters.”

The Phils have typically been a team that watches its draft spending and follows major league directives on signing bonuses. But Wolever believes upper management is ready to OK some more aggressive spending, internationally and in the draft, to replenish the weakened farm system.

“We’re not ruling that out at all,” Wade said. “We have to continue to place emphasis (in the draft) and bear down on the international level, as well.”

PHIL-UPS

• Plans called for righthander Gavin Floyd to continue his development at Triple-A, but he moved in line to make the rotation after Vicente Padilla was diagnosed with triceps tendinitis.

• Manager Charlie Manuel saw Phillies minor leaguers in his role as a front-office adviser last year. He likes catcher Louis Marson, the team’s fourth-round pick last year. “His bat catches your eye right away,” Manuel said. “He’s got a chance to be a big hitter.”


Washington Nationals

Desperate For Duty

VIERA, Fla.—Shortstop Ian Desmond wanted to continue his baseball year so desperately that he made an uncommon request this offseason.

Desmond, at 19 the youngest player in Nationals major league camp at the outset of spring training, had nowhere to play when last season ended. The organization offered no instructional league—something minor league officials hope to get back once Major League Baseball finds an owner for the franchise—so he asked farm director Adam Wogan if he could work out at the club’s complex in the Dominican Republic.

Though Wogan believes such an exchange would be a worthy development tool for all American-born players, he couldn’t let Desmond go because it wasn’t in the budget and because the Nationals were moving their Dominican academy from Santo Domingo to San Cristobal.

“Ian is one of those guys who had no desire to negotiate; he just wanted to play,” Wogan said of the third-round choice in 2004 out of Sarasota (Fla.) High.

Desmond signed for $430,000 before hitting .227-1-27 in 216 at-bats in the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League and .250-1-1 in 12 at-bats at short-season Vermont.

With Alejandro Machado traded to the Red Sox and Henry Mateo recovering from offseason shoulder surgery, the Nationals needed more middle infielders in camp. Desmond wound up with a locker next to 36-year-old Carlos Baerga, who signed a minor league deal at the start of camp.

“He has a rhythm to his swing now; he has a lot more strength and power to the point where he’s hitting balls way out to left-center and center field,” Wogan said. “He’s showing better footwork, fielding the ball in the middle of his body. To me, he has all five tools.”

CAPITAL GAINS

• Wendell Kim will manage Washington’s GCL affiliate. He was the Expos’ bench coach in 2002 before serving as the Cubs’ third-base coach the past two seasons. His most recent managerial experience came with Triple-A Indianapolis in the Brewers system in 2001.

• Barry Larkin, who accepted a job as a special assistant to the general manager after a 19-year career with the Reds, has a connection with the Nationals’ shortseason Vermont Expos affiliate. He began his professional career with the Double-A Vermont Reds in 1985. The Vermont Expos still play at Centennial Field, just as Larkin did 20 years ago.


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