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Hitting The Ground Running

by Jack Magruder
November 3, 2003

PEORIA, Ariz. --Call it a photo op for the ages--second baseman of the future meets second baseman of the ages.

Ninety minutes before the Peoria Saguaros and the Peoria Javelinas played last Friday, Rickie Weeks and Frank White shared a conversation near the Javelinas dugout.

Weeks, drafted by the Brewers with the second overall pick in June, is completing his first professional season with the Saguaros of the Arizona Fall League while White, a five-time Gold Glove winner and a four-time all-star for the Royals, is managing the Javelinas.

The two talked about college days. White received a scholarship to Southern University in the early 1970s, though the scholarship evaporated by the time he arrived in Baton Rouge; he instead developed into a star at the Royals' baseball academy. Weeks hit .483-17-73 at Southern last year, when he led NCAA Division 1-A in hitting for a second consecutive season.

White was impressed with Weeks at first glance. "He has good bat speed,'' White said.

Weeks just soaked it all in, as he did during his two weeks in the major leagues in September. That concluded a whirlwind three months in which he has gone from the Southern campus to the Rookie-level Arizona League to low Class A Beloit to Milwaukee and back to Arizona for the Fall League.

Weeks had two hits in his only Rookie-ball game, then hit .349-1-16 with eight doubles in 63 at-bats for Beloit. He joined the Brewers following the Midwest League championship series, getting a hit in each of his two starts.

"That was probably the best time of my life, just being there and trying to get my feet wet in the game to see what it was like,'' said Weeks, a 6-foot, 195-pounder. "The guys were great. They showed me some stuff here and there. I learned from the best.''

The whole summer odyssey has "been a pretty good learning experience. Coming out here, I'm facing some older guys and facing some top prospects from other organizations. I'm just trying to learn and going as I go,'' he said.

"I'm feeling pretty comfortable right now. There are people in the big leagues still learning, and I'm in the learning process right now.''

Weeks has spent time at both middle infield positions with the Saguaros, including his first time at shortstop since his freshman season at Southern. Team USA took Saguaros shortstop J.J. Hardy, Weeks' future double-play partner in Milwaukee, leaving J.J. Furmaniak (Padres) and Jason Bourgeois, primarily a second baseman, as the only middle infielders.

"He has soft hands. He's obviously got a strong enough arm to play anywhere,'' Saguaros manager Frank Kremblas (Brewers) said. "He just needs to learn the little things around the bag, turning the double play. He looks good turning the double play. He's actually turned some really nice ones lately. His athletic ability does that for him.''

Weeks is hitting .298-0-7 in 51 at-bats in the AFL with six stolen bases in as many attempts. He has 15 strikeouts, certainly a function of facing quality arms with more command and better breaking balls than he has seen. Not that he is backing down. Weeks, a righthanded hitter, sets up right on top of the plate and was hit by two pitches in one game last week.

"That's the way I started from day one, since I was in tee ball,'' Weeks said. "Just get on the plate and swing the bat as hard as I can. I just try to get on base and score some runs. If I get hit, I get hit. I can't do anything about that.

"You come out here and there is, not so much pressure, but I would say anticipation from some people to see what you can do. My whole thing was not to try to focus on that but come out here and get in shape and get my body ready to go. You have your good days and bad days. You try to weed the bad days out. It's good competition out here. You see quality arms every day.''

Only three months out of college, Weeks has a shown a masters in nose-to-the-grindstone. Unlike No. 1 pick Delmon Young, who said last week he believed he could play in the majors next season, Weeks said his only goal for 2004 is to improve.

Kremblas said what he liked best about Weeks was upstairs.

"He's pretty disciplined up there. Pretty matter of fact," Kremblas said. "You don't see a lot of guys who get drafted, then are playing against pretty good competition, and not be a little bit intimidated or gun shy or whatever it is, just because it is new, everything's new. But it's like he stepped right in.''

FALL GUYS

Mesa Solar Sox righthander Aaron Rakers (Orioles) became the circuit's first five game winner on Saturday when starting pitcher Dewon Brazelton (Devil Rays) was ripped for eight hits and seven runs in four innings. Brazelton is 4-0, 3.54 in seven appearances. Brazelton has given up 21 hits in 28 innings after his first poor outing of the AFL. He has 27 strikeouts and eight walks. Rakers improved to 5-0, 1.76 with one save in 10 relief appearances. He has struck out 17 in 15 innings while walking three. He uses a nasty three-pitch arsenal featuring a 86-91 mph fastball with good movement, a plus breaking ball with splitter action and good changeup.

A six-game winning streak has moved Scottsdale one game over .500, but the Scorpions remained 3 1/2 games behind the Solar Sox (16-8) in the American Division. The Mesa Desert Dogs lead the National Division at 11-12 despite losing seven of their last 10.

Desert Dogs first baseman Dan Johnson (A's) doubled, tripled and homered in a 13-4 loss to the Solar Sox last Thursday. Johnson, who had a game-winning single the day, before leads the league with 29 hits, a .473 on-base percentage and 11 doubles, three more than Grand Canyon outfielder Mike Vento (Yankees). Vento, .319-4-19 in the AFL, had 33 doubles in stops with Double-A Trenton and Triple-A Columbus this year. Vento has struck out five times in 77 plate appearances.

Desert Dogs catcher J.R. House (Pirates) homered in consecutive games last Tuesday and Wednesday, giving him three for the season.

Desert Dogs outfielder Luke Scott (Indians) had a two-home run game on Tuesday and a three-hit game Thursday, raising his numbers to .348-4-11. A ninth-round draftee in 2001, Scott entered the league with 183 at-bats above Class A, hitting .273-7-37 for Double-A Akron in the second half of 2003. He hit .276-20-81 between high Class A Kinston and Akron combined this summer.

Mesa Solar Sox outfielder Jason Dubois (Cubs) continued to mash, hitting his league-high eighth home run of the year on Saturday, the same day he drew his first walk of the season. He has formed a deadly one-two punch in the heart of the order with outfielder Jonny Gomes (Devil Rays) who launched two doubles and a triple in the same game. Gomes edges Dubois for the league lead in slugging with a .790 mark compared to .753.

Scottsdale Scorpions righthander Jason Frasor (Dodgers) lowered his ERA to 1.66, second in the league to Saguaros righty Tim Bausher (Brewers), by not surrendering an earned run in four innings on Saturday. Frasor, acquired with Scottsdale teammate Tom Farmer from the Tigers for Hiram Bocachica in 2002, has caught many scouts' eyes with his impressive arm strength. With the Rule 5 draft on the horizon, the Dodgers will face a difficult 40-man roster decision with the 26-year-old, who split the year between high Class A Vero Beach and Double-A Jacksonville. In 50 relief appearances, Frasor rang up 86 in 61 innings, using a 93-95 mph fastball and hard breaking ball. He's registered 20 strikeouts in 22 innings for Scottsdale.

Contributing: Josh Boyd.

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