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Baseball America's Daily Dish
Complete Daily Dish Archive

Compiled by Kevin Goldstein, Chris Kline and Matt Meyers
August 3, 2005

Indians first baseman Stephen Head is off to a blazing start in his pro career, debuting at short-season Mahoning Valley, skipping low Class A and now terrorizing pitching in the Carolina League at high Class A Kinston.

Head, a second-round pick this year out of Mississippi, was a two-way star for the Rebels--finishing his college career with the school's career save record as a closer.

But Head's days on the mound are over, and if anything, serving as a two-way player at Ole Miss stunted his development somewhat as a full-time infielder.

Head never took infield during his college career, and it took some extra work with Indians roving infield coordinator Ted Kubiak to become acclimated to the daily grind of the professional level.

"He moves well and has great hands," Kubiak said. "For a guy who never took infield the whole year, he came along pretty fast. But it was a lot of extra work. He has good body control and has all the makings of a very good defensive first baseman."

While Head isn't a great athlete, he has big raw power from the left side in his 6-foot-3, 220-pound frame. He batted .432 with six homers in just 37 at-bats at Mahoning Valley before the Tribe moved him to Kinston, where he is hitting .310/.355/.423 in 71 at-bats.

"I think he's a little more athletic than people give him credit for," Indians scouting director John Mirabelli said. "Most people look at his size and assume he's big and slow, but it's not out of the realm--and we're not doing this, but it's not out of the realm that he could easily play left field.

"He's played against some elite competition in his amateur career--the SEC, Team USA, the Cape--and had success at every stop. In terms of path, he went to the Penn League, got his feet wet and we felt like he could handle the jump (to Kinston). He's holding his own and has really improved, especially defensively."

And then there is the bat.

Head's average tumbled in college this year, in part because SEC coaches pitched around him and he became impatient as a result. But those frustrations are no longer part of the equation.

Like a lot of young power hitters, Head still tends to become too pull-conscious at times, leading his swing to get long. He also tends to get locked up sometimes during his stride with his front foot, which doesn't allow him to maximize his power stroke. But he's shown good plate discipline, with a 17-13 strikeout-walk ratio.

All this leads to question whether Head has leapfrogged Michael Aubrey on the club's depth chart at first. Aubrey, a first-rounder out of Tulane in 2003, has missed most of this season with back issues stemming from a slide into second base at Double-A Akron in May. He came back for one game in early June, but went back on the disabled list immediately afterward as the back problem flared up again.

The club is hoping to get Aubrey back in the lineup at Mahoning Valley in the next few weeks, but there is little guarantee that will happen.

In the meantime, Head is making his case as the top first baseman in the system.

"To me, he's probably our next first baseman," Kubiak said. "He has some flaws in his swing, but it's nothing that's not correctable. He's a little cocky, but it's in a good way and I think you need some of that sometimes. He was a good draft. And he has an awful lot of upside."

--CHRIS KLINE

DISH PIECES

He had been doing it all season at Double-A Montgomery, but Tuesday night was the first time Delmon Young changed the shape, focus and eventual outcome of a game in Triple-A in Durham's 13-8 win against Norfolk. First, in the fourth inning with runners on first and third and no outs, Young fielded a fly ball off the bat of Tides' third baseman Rodney Nye. Norfolk manager Ken Oberkfell sent Brian Daubach from third and Young got to show off his 70 arm on the 20-to-80 scouting scale, firing a laser to catcher Tim Laker to nab Daubach two feet in front of home plate. Laker then threw to first base, completing a triple play as Anderson Hernandez was inexplicably standing on second base at the time. The triple play was Durham's first in eight seasons in the International League. Then in the sixth, Durham loaded the bases and Young took the first pitch he saw from righthander Jason Scobie--a fastball on the outside corner--and hit a line drive down the right field line for a bases-clearing triple. Since being called up to Triple-A, Young is hitting .305/.321/.488 in 82 at-bats.

Red Sox lefthander Abe Alvarez was nearly untouchable in a 7-0 Triple-A Pawtucket win against Syracuse Tuesday, besting Blue Jays righthander Zach Jackson. Alvarez tossed seven shutout innings, allowing just two hits and striking out six. Jackson, on the other hand, lasted just 4 1/3 innings, and allowed six earned runs on seven hits, walked four and struck out three.

It's now suddenly the Nick Markakis watch--the Orioles No. 1 prospect homered in his second straight game since being called up to Double-A Tuesday night in Bowie's 9-3 loss to Norwich.

Monday it was lefthander Jon Lester grabbing the headlines for Double-A Portland, tossing his first-ever complete game, and Tuesday it was righthander Anibal Sanchez' turn. Sanchez threw seven shutout innings, allowed just three hits and struck out seven. Since being promoted to Double-A in early July, Sanchez is now 3-1, 0.98 with a 32-6 strikeout-walk ratio in 28 innings. Eastern League opponents are hitting just .165 against him.

One of the most intriguing pitching matchups last night took place in the Eastern League, as Double-A Altoona lefthander Tom Gorzelanny faced off against Erie righthander Justin Verlander. Gorzelanny was outstanding, allowing just one run on four hits and striking out 10 over six innings in Altoona's 5-2 win. Verlander meanwhile lasted just three innings before being pulled with tightness in his pitching shoulder. He allowed his first run in seven Double-A outings. On the season, Verlander is now 2-0, 0.28 with 32 strikeouts in 33 innings at Erie.

Double-A Tennessee manager Tony Perezchica said all he wanted was consistency out of Stephen Drew upon his arrival with the Smokies yesterday. And in his Double-A debut, Drew put on a consistency show, going 3-for-3 with an RBI double in Tennessee's 10-5 win against Jacksonville. "Once you start playing professional baseball on any kind of level, it's all about consistency," Perezchica told the Maryville (Tenn.) Daily Times. "That's what we expect from him."

High Class A Wilmington first baseman Ian Bladergroen is starting to break out of his season-long funk. Still struggling with the effects of wrist surgery last year, Bladergroen was sent down to the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League briefly this year to rehab and work more on conditioning to get the wrist stronger. He returned to Wilmington in early July and has 13 hits in his last seven games. "I think it was bothering him to the point where he was compensating and it led to some bad habits," Blue Rocks manager Dann Bilardello said. "But he's obviously getting some good swings on balls now and we need him to be able to do that. He's got a few weeks left to gain more confidence going into next season and hopefully he'll continue to do what he's done over the last week or so. Sometimes it takes a year to get all the strength back (in the wrist) and we're about seven months into the process, so the signs are positive."

It has been a season of slow progress for Matt Whitney as he recovers from a badly broken ankle. The Indians third baseman has been brought back slowly this season, splitting time between third base and designated hitter while getting numerous off days. He has been able to play in the field in 20 of his last 21 starts however, and has raised his average from .207 to .224 in that time. The 21-year-old went 1-for-4 last night with his third home run of the season. Whitney is hitting .224/.307/.292 so power has clearly been problem in his recovery. It is worth noting that he is hitting .260 with all seven of his extra-base hits in 127 at-bats while playing in the field. He's struggled even more as a DH, hitting just .154 in 65 at-bats.

After missing the season's first two months with shoulder tendonitis, Taylor Tankersely appeared to have no ill effects in his first few starts. That has changed. The 22-year-old lefthander is now struggling at low Class Greensboro. After allowing eight earned runs last night over four innings, the Marlins 2004 first-rounder out of Alabama is now 2-5, 4.91. In his last six starts, he has allowed 23 earned runs over 29 innings and 10 home runs.

Colt Morton smashed a pair of home runs in his California League debut Tuesday night, as high Class A Lake Elsinore was doubled up by San Jose 6-3. A 2003 third-round pick out of North Carolina State, Morton hit .261/.362/.464 in 222 at-bats for low Class A Fort Wayne to start the season. At 6-foot-5 and 230 pounds, Morton is one of the largest catchers around and offers tremendous raw power, but his long swing has led to 235 strikeouts in 772 pro at-bats.

After hitting 13 home runs during the season's first two months, but just three over June and July, Mariners outfielder Wladimir Balentien has begun August with a flourish. Blessed with the possibly the best raw power in the system, Balentien has gone 5-for-10 with three home runs and five RBIs in high Class A Inland Empire's last two games, to go with season averages of .271/.327/.534 in 358 at-bats.

Athletics supplemental first round pick Travis Buck made his full-season debut on Tuesday, going 1-for-4 with a run scored and an RBI in low Class A Kane Countys 7-3 win over Peoria. The former Arizona State star began the year at short-season Vancouver, where he hit .361/.439/.556 in 36 at-bats.

Working out of the bullpen at short-season Tri-City following a heavy workload at Tulane, Astros' first-round pick Brian Bogusevic picked up his first professional save Tuesday night, pitching two scoreless innings in the Valley Cats' 6-2 win over New Jersey on Sunday. The 24th overall pick in June, Bogusevic has a 4.05 ERA in four appearances, allowing nine hits in seven innings.

Rangers second-round pick Johnny Whittleman is getting the hang of pro ball in the Rookie-level Arizona League. While he struck out twice Tuesday against the Giants, he had a hit for the eighth time in nine games and his 22nd RBI. In 28 games, Whittleman, a third baseman, is hitting .343/.456/.520 with 13 extra-base hits and a 20-21 walk-strikeout ratio in 102 at-bats.

Braves lefthander Beau Jones, the organization's second-round pick in June out of a Louisiana high school, continued to toy with Rookie-level Gulf Coast League hitters. He got his second win with five shutout innings Tuesday against the Tigers, improving to 2-1, 2.52, as he struck out eight while allowing only one hit. Jones has given up 13 hits in 25 innings, as opponents are hitting just .157 against him with four doubles, no triples and no homers.

Contributing: John Manuel.

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