Prospect Pulse: July 13

Rays' trio of prospects struggling off the field in Durham




DURHAM, N.C.--Devil Rays outfielder Delmon Young has returned to the lineup at Triple-A Durham after serving a 50-game suspension. With everything that's been happening with the Bulls this season, however, getting Young back on the field merely served as a backdrop for all the issues that have swirled around the club this season.

As Young returned from his suspension for tossing his bat at the home-plate umpire in an April game against Pawtucket, striking him in the chest, two of the other premium prospect in Durham--B.J. Upton and Elijah Dukes--ran into problems off the field.

Upton was arrested in Chapel Hill, N.C., in the early morning hours of June 16 and charged with driving while impaired. Dukes, whose background has already been the subject of many questions (BA, April 10-24), was suspended by the club over the weekend after an altercation with teammate Ryan Knox. The club suspended him indefinitely and sent him home to Tampa pending an investigation into the incident.

"All I know is what I see from the other dugout and what I hear is going on (in Durham)," one International League manager said. "And from what I hear, the inmates are running the asylum." Three other International League managers agreed with that assessment.

The Devil Rays declined to address any of the larger issues affecting the team during a press conference at the Durham Bulls Athletic Park a day before Young was scheduled to return to action. Bulls manager John Tamargo--who was suspended 10 games by the IL for a run-in with an umpire in May--alluded to the distractions.

"It's been very tough for me," Tamargo said. "It's tough, you've got some personalities here and you've got to be able to deal with them. At times, we've done so-so and sometimes we've done a little bit better, but it is tough.

"And this is a situation where you've got some talented players here at this level that are going to be in the future of the Tampa Bay Devil Rays and you want to try to keep them happy and sometimes things get turned around a little bit. Guys get frustrated . . . There are 24 guys on this team and each one of them has a different personality. You have to be able to adjust and interact with each other. It's tough at times, but this is like a family and I hope that we can do that for the rest of the year. We need to calm this thing down and get ourselves focused on playing baseball, getting our prospects to the major leagues."

But another IL manager said he thought it was unlikely the Bulls players would suddenly improve their attitudes and approach to the game.

"They don't understand the value of respect. Respect for their teammates, respect for the game and respect for themselves," the manager said. "There is no question all three of them are going to be big leaguers, but there is certainly cause for worry.

"I know I'd be worried, simply because it seems like they don't value and appreciate the talents they've been given. Each one is so gifted, all I can say is I wish I had the chance to work with them. The things they're doing on the field, off the field and in the clubhouse just wouldn't fly. They need to understand what the word respect means--and that's a pretty basic thing that should already be under wraps when a player gets to this level."

Lesson Learned?

As for Young, while he did express remorse for his actions and was adamant about putting the incident behind him, he came across as easily agitated throughout his meeting with the media.

When a television reporter approached him as the conference started, reaching out to place a microphone on Young's chest, he told the reporter not to touch him. Later, in the middle of an answer to another reporter, Young snapped at a female reporter to stop touching his leg.

When he was asked if he spent any time going to anger management classes during his suspension, Young said no, that he had his own support group and he spent time with them. Another reporter asked him who was in his support group and Young replied, "My own support group that I need to know, not you."

Young clearly was not comfortable during the press conference, and he wasted no time lashing out against the media, right after saying how accustomed he had become to doing interviews.

"It's a lot easier to deal with the media now. You guys already got the worst on me, so it makes it a lot easier to deal with you . . . I'm just out here making sure I make the right judgments," he said. "We're all role models for everybody, so you've got to do the best you can to keep a positive image. I messed up, so now I have to try to regain that image, keep my nose clean and play baseball and play hard.

"You guys have no clue what Barry Bonds is going through. LeBron James . . . You got Shaq dealing with stuff just to win a championship . . . Unless you guys put on the uniform and get to a very competitive level, you guys will never understand what athletes and entertainers go through on an everyday basis."

Walk The Line

Young spent time doing community service during his suspension, dividing his work between the Durham Bulls Youth Athletic League and the Miracle League of Gulf Beaches in Florida. The Miracle League is part of a national organization that provides the opportunity for mentally and physically handicapped children to play baseball. He also made a donation (of an undisclosed amount) to the home plate umpire's Little League.

"It was a good opportunity to help out others," Young said. "I went out and helped kids and adults that don't really get a chance to play. They got more out of it than I ever thought they would, so that's the least I got out of it."

Even if losing 50 games this season did little to adjust Young's attitude toward others (and the media in particular), he seems more focused than ever to do what he does best--play the game at a high level.

And while it seems the Devil Rays would like the incidents involving Upton and Dukes to just blow over eventually, Young could have more work to do both because of the notoreity of the incident, his ability and his attitude. The repercussions from a night in Rhode Island two months ago are likely to stick around for a while. And at least so far Young hasn't done much to turn his reputation around, nor does he seemed overly concerned about it.

"You have to just go on and live your life. I just want to come out here and just play baseball and have fun and just move on with it," he said. "You can judge me how you want to judge me, but I'm going to come out here and live my own life.

"(Fans) can do what they want. They can accept me back or have their fun with me. It doesn't really matter. I'm here to play baseball."

QUICK HITS

• Good news for Indians fans--No. 1 prospect Adam Miller is showing signs of returning to his former dominant self. Miller has maintaining his velocity deep into games and he's getting to the point where he's comfortable throwing his offspeed pitches. Miller missed two months at the beginning of the 2005 season with a strained ligament in his elbow. "He got stronger as he went," Aeros manager Tim Bogar told the Akron Beacon-Journal after the 21-year-old righthander's last start. "Then he started using his slider more, and his 94-95 mile-an-hour fastball began looking a lot more like 98-99." After losing three straight May starts, Miller has reeled off wins in three of his last five outings and is now 7-4, 3.75 with an 82-23 strikeout-walk ratio in 84 innings overall. "The stuff is definitely there," Bogar said. "He just needs to keep improving on making adjustments in his delivery to consistently keep the ball down. He's starting to use his changeup more--and he's understanding how to use it in situations. These are all very positive signs."

• The Twins finally promoted righthander Kevin Slowey to Double-A New Britain after the 22-year-old dominated the high Class A Florida State League, going 4-2, 1.01 with a 99-9 strikeout-walk ratio at Fort Myers. In his final FSL start, Slowey did not allow an earned run, scattered four hits and struck out seven in 7 2/3 innings. "His control is pinpoint," a scout with a National League club said. "His fastball and slider are solid-average pitches and his changeup is a tick above."

• White Sox righthander Sean Tracey sent a message in his first start after being sent down to Triple-A Charlotte. Tracey was demoted after he was berated by Sox manager Ozzie Guillen for not plunking Rangers' third baseman Hank Blalock in a game in mid-June. He struggled in a relief appearance but then tossed a shutout against Durham, allowing just six hits and whiffing eight over nine innings. While there was speculation the White Sox would have to trade Tracey, Guillen said he would welcome him back. "If something happens . . . and Tracey is the guy who is going to come up, it's going to be him," Guillen told the Chicago Sun-Times. "A lot of people ask me if Tracey is done with the White Sox. No, this kid is our prospect. I won't throw this kid away because the incident happened. We need that kid. It's up to him about what kind of mentality he's going to come back to the big leagues with."