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by Josh Boyd
MESA, Ariz--Hours before Mesa Solar Sox' Wednesday afternoon tilt with the Mesa Desert Dogs, Devil Rays phenom B.J. Upton took extra ground balls, working with Rockies minor league coach Stu Cole on footwork and feeding the second baseman.
A member of the Arizona Fall League's taxi squad, Upton is only eligible to play on Saturdays and Wednesdays, but that doesn't mean he's taking days off.
After committing a minor league high 56 errors between two levels in 2003, his pro debut season, Upton is not satisfied with his defense and has made it a point to improve while in Arizona.
"The thing I heard is that he likes to sit back and wait for the ball," said Cole, a former minor league shortstop who retired after reaching Triple-A Colorado Springs in 1995. "I'm trying to show him footwork on double plays and feeds. By sitting back, you play yourself into bad hops. It's the same problem I had when I first played short."
Cole has been encouraged by his student's aptitude and willingness to improve.
Upton was in the lineup as the DH on Wednesday, but he put on his show before the game in batting practice--even upstaging teammate Delmon Young, who was promoted from the taxi squad on Tuesday. Upton launched two home runs that hit halfway up the left-field scoreboard. After the second tape-measure shot, one teammate joked, "Come on, you've gotta hit it over the scoreboard."
What impressed scouts most about Upton's power display was his easy, effortless stroke and the way the ball jumped off the bat.
• Angels top prospect Casey Kotchman suffered yet another injury and was sent home from the Arizona Fall League. After missing the majority of the first half of the 2003 season with a torn hamstring, he pulled his hamstring rounding third base in a game earlier this week. The injury is not considered as serious, but will end his fall league. Before the bad news found its way through the scouting contingent, an American League senior scouting official said of Kotchman: "He's going to hit; that's as sure as anything here."
• The Dodgers received a dose of bad news when outfielder Reggie Abercrombie injured his knee and was forced to visit Dr. Frank Jobe. It is believed that he tore the ACL in his knee which could force him out of action for much of next season. He hit .316 in 19 at-bats for Scottsdale.
• Indians outfielder Ryan Church also saw his AFL stint come to an end thanks to a hamstring injury. He hit .400 in 15 at-bats for the Mesa Desert Dogs.
• Righthanders Ben Hendrickson (Brewers) and Dustin Nippert (Diamondbacks) combined for 13 strikeouts in 10 innings on Wednesday night, relying on two of the best breaking pitches in the league. Hendrickson was responsible for seven of the punchouts over his five scoreless innings, while Nippert registered six and allowed one run in five frames. Hendrickson has walked two against 17 strikeouts in 22 innings this fall and is throwing the ball as well as he has all season after missing some time with a sore elbow.
• Diamondbacks prospect Scott Hairston has been limited to DH after tweaking his right thumb diving for a ball earlier this week. He was atop the Scorpions lineup last night, going 1-for-4 to drop his average to .390.
• Young played center field, made a running catch in left-center field and then showed off a plus arm. There is no doubt the 18-year-old will move to a corner outfield slot--he already measures in at 6-foot-3, 205 pounds, though he's probably closer to 220. He has the look of a young Albert Belle, "but he's already bigger than Albert," one scout said.
• The Phillies took righthander Keith Bucktrot out of the AFL after he felt a twinge in his right elbow during his only appearance. He reported to instructional league and was throwing pain free according to organization officials. Bucktrot went 10-8, 3.11 with 98 strikeouts and 44 walks between Class A Clearwater and Double-A Reading this season.
• Phillies prospect Travis Chapman, who has been working on playing first base in the AFL, has been sidelined with mild shoulder soreness. He is hitting .200 in 25 at-bats for the Desert Dogs.
• Tigers lefty Rob Henkel has been held out of action while receiving treatment for a sore back following three starts for Grand Canyon. Henkel allowed 12 hits in nine innings, though seven hits and seven runs came in his first outing. He went 9-3, 3.38 in 83 innings for Double-A Erie this season.
• After instructional league, Giants righthander Merkin Valdez joined the Grand Canyon Rafters staff. He pitched a scoreless inning in his first outing.