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Team USA loses Butler to injury

Aussies lose Prokopec to big leagues

By John Manuel

Two Olympic national teams lost players Tuesday for distinctly different reasons.

Team USA lost some infield depth Tuesday when it announced Rockies prospect Brent Butler would not travel to Sydney, Australia, with the Olympic team. Butler was left off the team after breaking a bone in his right hand while swinging a bat during a game on Saturday. USA Baseball had no plans to replace Butler and will just take 28 players to Sydney.

Host Australia, however, lost a much more important player in its plans for a less-understandable reason. The Los Angeles Dodgers promoted righthander Luke Prokopec from Double-A San Antonio, just 24 hours before Prokopec was expected to return to his native country in preparation for the Olympic tournament.

No news was available on a possible replacement for Prokopec on the Australian team, which also will be without Prokopec's former Missions teammate Adrian Burnside. The Australian lefthander will miss the Olympics with an injury.

According to Expos righthander Shayne Bennett, who figures to be the ace of Australia's staff, Prokopec had a shot at being one of his country's top four starters, along with Bennett, former big leaguer Mark Hutton and 41-year-old Adrian Meagher. Dodgers manager Davey Johnson told the Los Angeles Daily News he would use a five-man rotation the rest of the season. He did not indicate whether Prokopec would be one of the five, but the Dodgers have been dissatisfied with reacquired righthander Ismael Valdes.

All active rosters in the Olympics will consist of 24 players. Team USA's final cuts from 28 to 24 will be determined in Australia during pre-Olympic training, which will include in a series of exhibition games on Australia's Gold Coast, in the northeastern corner of the continent.

Butler was hitting .292-8-54 in 438 at-bats for the Sky Sox and figured to be a backup at both second base and shortstop for Team USA. He had played 100 games at second and 25 at short for Colorado Springs.

Butler was drafted as a shortstop by the Cardinals in the third round in 1996 and quickly became one of the organization's top prospects, hitting .343 in his professional debut and showing a great feel for the game. He fell out of favor, though, when his average dropped each season and he didn't show the power to move to third. He moved to second base with the Rockies after coming over in the offseason as part of the seven-player trade that brought Darryl Kile and Dave Veres to the Cardinals.

Butler projected to be one of Team USA's reserve infielders, a role now to be filled by Pan Am Games alumnus Travis "Gookie" Dawkins of the Reds organization. Team USA has other versatile players, such as Mike Coolbaugh and Shawn Gilbert, who can also play in the middle infield capably, so Butler's loss is one that can be absorbed rather painlessly.

Team USA will convene on September 1 in San Diego and have its only stateside workout at Qualcomm Stadium on Saturday, September 2nd from 9 a.m.-12 p.m. The squad will then travel to Australia for pre-Olympic training that night. USA Baseball will make its final selection of 24 players that will represent America in the 2000 Olympic Games on September 15.

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