Revamped Braves Look Back To Move Forward
ATLANTAβIn the five years former scouting director Roy Clark spent away from the Braves organization with the Nationals and the Dodgers, the TV in his Marietta, Ga., home always wound […]
Compiled by John Manuel
Loewen Has Labrum Tear
A season of disappointments and setbacks for Canadian lefthander Adam Loewen ended with a new problem. During his postseason physical with the Orioles, a routine MRI last Wednesday of his shoulder revealed a slight tear in Loewen's labrum.
The Orioles have opted to shut him down before putting Loewen on a throwing program, essentially ending his chances of heading to the Arizona Fall League next month.
"Right now the plan is to rehab him and get him in on a throwing program for the next few weeks," farm director Doc Rodgers said. "If he passes that, then we'll see him in the spring. We feel the rehab should take care of everything at this point. His chances of going to the Fall League are very doubtful, though he still has hopes of playing out there.
"Our main thing is to make sure he's healthy for the 2005 season, so we need to err on the side of caution."
Loewen, who started the season with rocky outing after rocky outing in big league spring-training camp, also missed a month with a strained rib cage muscle. He was dejected about not being included on the Team Canada roster for the Olympics, but looked forward to the Fall League to salvage his season. He went 4-7, 4.34 in 93 innings overall this season overall, walking 67 and striking out 85 while giving up 84 hits.
"I really feel like in the second half I've really picked my game up a level to where I can make my season respectable at least," the 20-year-old lefthander said in August. "I started off so bad and so disappointing, that I want to salvage the rest of the year. With the exception of one start in the second half, I've been pitching really well."
Well enough to earn a promotion to high Class A Frederick in the final month of the season, where he made two starts. Loewen was examined twice before leaving the Keys, and both physicals were normal. But because he is on the club's 40-man roster, he was examined a third time and the subsequent MRI revealed the tear.
"He said he felt fine and wasn't in any pain," Rodgers said. "This is something that came out of nowhere for him, and we're cautiously optimistic that through the rehab and the throwing program he'll be back to 100 percent."
FSL Playoffs Cancelled
CLEARWATER, Fla.--Three hurricanes and the Florida State League championship series is out.
Florida State League president Chuck Murphy declared the Tampa Yankees and Daytona Cubs co-champions Friday night, just hours before the two teams were scheduled to start a best-of-5 series at Tampa's Legends Field. The threat of Hurricane Ivan, projected to be the third hurricane within a month to hit Florida, made Murphy examine all the possibilities and each time he kept on coming to the same conclusion: safety first.
"(Ivan) could come up the (west) coast (of Florida)," Murphy said. "I didn't want to get caught short. My first concern was for the safety of the players, coaches and staff. We want to give everyone enough time to get home safely."
The Yankees and Cubs each swept their best-of-3 division series. The championship series was scheduled in Tampa for Games One and Two. The series was to shift to Clearwater's Bright House Networks Field--Daytona's "home' field because Jackie Robinson Ballpark is unplayable due to Hurricane Frances -- on Sunday for the last three games of the five-game set.
Murphy consulted with other league officials and player development representatives of the Cubs and Yankees before announcing the decision.
"We got two division winners," Murphy said. "We were able to get our division winners, so we'll take that. There really isn't anything else we can do. We thought about making it a best-of-3 series, but then if you get a weather problem on Sunday what do you do?"
Within a couple of hours of the decision, many players already had left the area. The ones who stayed overnight were busy trying to get flights out. Lefthander Andy Sisco was the Cubs' scheduled starter Friday night. Instead, Sisco was packing for his trip home this morning.
"That was probably the easiest win I ever had," he joked. "A lot of the guys are happy. We'd like to think that if we played the series we would have won it on our own, but I think this is the best call by Chuck Murphy."
Cubs manager Steve McFarland also was happy with the decision.
"I thought they might try to play Friday and Saturday and see where the series was -- if one team was ahead 2-0--but I was hoping they wouldn't do that because it wouldn't be fair to either team," McFarland said. "You plan for a five-game series, and a team could come back from 2-0. You don't want to cut anybody short and declare a winner."
McFarland and Murphy both stressed that at a time like this--when much of Florida is reeling from Hurricanes Charley and Frances, and Ivan is rolling along a projected path to Florida--baseball just isn't that important.
"I told our guys that we're pretty fortunate," McFarland said. "What we've been through have been inconveniences. We had to move around a bit. We just had to take care of ourselves. Most of us don't have families here to take care of and most of us don't have personal property.
"You just watch the news and see people who have lost their homes, or are standing in line to get ice because they have no power, and you have to ask yourself--is baseball really that important?"
The threat of Ivan also caused the cancellation Monday of the Southern League championship series between Tennessee and Mobile. The two teams were declared co-champions.
Triple-A Durham's attempt at a third consecutive Governor's Cup title ended Sunday when host Buffalo won the five-game series between the two clubs. Durham won the first two games and led 2-0 in Friday night's Game Three before losing the lead, and it never scored again in the series. Righthander Fausto Carmona pitched eight shutout innings Saturday for Buffalo in a 1-0 win, and lefty Evan Thomas did the same Sunday in the clincher, while first baseman Ryan Garko homered twice in a 7-0 victory.
Class A Kinston was expected to play the Mills Cup championship series in the Carolina League without third baseman Pat Osborn, who has an impingement in his left shoulder. Osborn, who hit .342-10-55 in 307 at-bats to win the league batting title, had surgery on the shoulder as a freshman at Florida in 2000 and aggravated the injury in the semifinal series against Winston-Salem. He's also been removed from the Indians' Arizona Fall League contingent, replaced by third baseman Kevin Kouzmanoff, who played at low Class A Lake County this year.The Indians trail Wilmington 2-0 in the series, as Blue Rockes outfielder Shane Costa has hit two homers in the finals after hitting seven during the regular season.
Mariners outfielder Wladimir Balentien was making an impact in the California League playoffs. The 20-year-old joined high Class A Inland Empire after playing for The Netherlands in the Olympics and after hitting .277-15-46 for low Class A Wisconsin. He was 11-for-38 in the regular season with the 66ers, then had six hits (including two home runs) in the first four games of the Cal League playoffs, helping the 66ers win their first-round series.
Compiled by Chris Kline
ZEBULON, N.C.--The pregame spread sat stretched out across two tables in the visiting clubhouse at Five County Stadium. Jacksonville Suns players grabbed fresh fruit, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and nachos.
Shortstop Joel Guzman sat in front of his locker, intensely listening to music, his long, braided hair held back by headphones. First baseman James Loney was perched on a stool, staring down at his bat as players helped themselves to the food across the room.
Righthander Chad Billingsley was gobbling down a ham and cheese sandwich while waxing poetic with pitching coach Marty Reed about his last start on Saturday, when he struck out six in four innings against the Mudcats.
But there were more imminent questions on the minds of both teams--the impending effects of Hurricane Frances bearing down on North Carolina.
"They're saying rain could be on the way," righthander T.J. Nall said. "But it's beautiful out there right now. I just don't see it happening."
"Man, I played here a couple of years ago," countered lefty Derek Thompson, who played down the road at Class A Kinston. "The sky here can open on you at any time--for real. It's coming."
It was the final day of the season, and Mudcats fans came out in droves for the Labor Day afternoon finale. Autograph seekers were lined up down the left-field line waiting for Suns players to emerge from the clubhouse, and were treated to some pranks in the area behind the left-field wall.
Several Suns brought out a laundry cart and took turns pushing each other down the slight decline towards one of the ticket gates. The cart rides lasted until the Suns had to get on the field and stretch, as the skies blackened. It didn't deter the autograph hounds, though.
As each player gathered his gear and headed to the diamond, Thompson, Brian Steffek and Nall were giving the fans a hand.
"Get your Joel Guzman cards ready!" they yelled as the 6-foot-6 Dominican made his way toward them. "That's Willy Aybar there--good prospect!"
They seemed to get a kick out of watching the fans--most of them men upwards of 40 years old--scramble to get their cards, bats and balls ready.
"I guess that beats having someone walk by you first," Thompson said. "A lot of these people have no idea what you look like, so they check your number after you're already by them. That's when they call you out.
"But don't get me wrong--signing is one of the best things we get to do in this game."
Unfortunately, the cart rides and autographs were the only memories fans took with them as the season wound down with a whimper--a rainout.
As players from both teams went through stretch exercises, the grounds crew hurriedly removed the tarp as the rain became stronger. Thompson and Billingsley sat down behind home plate to chart pitches and a young girl with braces on both her legs approached them.
"My name's Alyssa," she said to Thompson. "What's yours? Are you a pitcher?"
"Derek," he said. "And yes, I am. Do you like baseball?"
"I love it, but how long will it be before you guys play today?"
Thompson looked at Billingsley, then to the field before replying, "Hopefully like five or 10 minutes as long as this rain lets up."
The six-year-old girl sat down next to Thompson and pulled a crumpled ticket stub out of her pocket.
"Could you sign this please?" she asked.
Both players signed the ticket and minutes later, the rain started blowing hard as they decided to retreat to the clubhouse to catch a 10-hour bus ride to Florida before heading their own directions in the offseason.
"That was awesome," Thompson said. "That's the best autograph I'll ever sign. That right there is what this game is all about."
While things didn't exactly go out with a bang in Zebulon, it was a different story in Myrtle Beach, where Class A Kinston lefthander Keith Ramsey tossed a nine-inning perfect game against the Pelicans. Ramsey needed just 97 pitches to complete the first perfect game in the Carolina League since Peninsula's Marty Bystrom on Aug. 12, 1978. "Some guys were sitting on the bench that didn't know what he just did," Indians pitching coach Greg Hibbard said. "They all thought he had just thrown a no-hitter, but when they found out it was a perfect game they were kind of in shock or something." Ramsey, a 10th-round draft pick in 2002 out of Florida, only went to two full counts against Myrtle Beach and struck out five. He only threw two changeups, two splitters and 35 curveballs. The rest were fastballs in the 82-84 mph range. "He was changing speeds and had a good curveball," Hibbard said. "The curveball was probably a little below average, but he was throwing different variations of it and keeping hitters off-balance." This is coming from a lefthander who gave up 16 homers in the first half of the season, when he tended to get too much elevation and wasn't locating properly. "His fastball command has gotten better," Hibbard said. "He works low in the zone and when he does elevate, I think it's surprising elevation." Ramsey finished the season 10-4, 3.86 with Kinston. He also made two spot starts with Triple-A Buffalo, going 1-1, 3.60.
In other Tribe news, Buffalo catcher/first baseman Ryan Garko went 2-for-4 with three RBIs. The three runs driven in gave the Stanford product, who began the year in high Class A, 100 RBIs in just 113 games this season.
Aug. 12th apparently is a recurring theme in today's Dish--righthanded reliever Chad Orvella gave up his first hit since August 12, a home run to Triple-A Charlotte centerfielder Andres Torres.
It might have been somewhat surprising that Pirates first baseman Brad Eldred was named the MVP of the Carolina League, but his overall numbers between Class A Lynchburg and Double-A Altoona rank among the top power hitters in the minors. For the season, Eldred finished .301-38-137. He slugged .687 in 39 games for the Curve, compared to .570 in 91 games in Class A.
Lefthander Ray Aguilar sent Double-A Greenville out the right way, tossing a nine-inning three-hitter against West Tenn. Aguilar, who relies primarily on knuckleballs, struck out seven and did not issue a walk. It was the final game--at least for an Atlanta affiliate--at Greenville Municipal Stadium. The Braves will move their Double-A team to Pearl, Miss., next season.
Low Class A Beloit outfielder Vinny Rottino ended the season playing every position after he tossed a perfect ninth inning in a 7-6, 10-inning loss against Peoria. Rottino, a 24-year-old nondrafted free agent signed by the Brewers last season, made 31 starts in the outfield, 11 at first base, four at second, 13 at third and five behind the plate. He also wound up hitting .304/.352/.482 with 17 homers and 124 RBIs in 140 games this season.
Devil Rays lefthander Jason Hammel finished the year strong, going 6-2, 1.87 in 72 innings at Class A Bakersfield. In his final 36 innings, Hammel allowed only one earned run. He went 4-7, 3.23 in 94 innings at low Class A Charleston (S.C.) before being promoted to the California League at midseason.
Class A Lexington righthander Matt Albers also finished on a roll, striking out 11 over seven innings against Hagerstown. Albers, who signed out of San Jacinto (Texas) JC as a draft-and-follow in 2002, went 8-3, 3.31 with 140 strikeouts in 111 innings overall.
With the big league schedule scrambled, the Marlins need an emergency starter during this weekend's series against the Cubs, and they apparently have settled on righthander Logan Kensing to pick up a start. A second-round pick in 2003 out of Texas A&M, Kensing finished the season in strong fashion at high Class A Jupiter. Kensing went 6-7, 2.96 overall for the Hammerheads, and posted a 1.56 ERA over his final 13 starts, totaling 45 innings. Kensing relies on a heavy sinking fastball in the 89-94 mph range.
Friday night, Blue Jays lefthander Gustavo Chacin extended his personal winning streak to 13 games, winning in his return to Double-A New Hampshire. Chacin, reassigned to the Fisher Cats for the Eastern League playoffs, won two starts with Triple-A Syracuse and went 16-2 with New Hampshire, and his 18 combined victories led the minor leagues. White Sox righthander Brandon McCarthy lost his last start last Wednesday and settled for 17 victories, and his 202 strikeouts edged Mets righthander Yusmeiro Petit (200) for the minor league lead.
Contributing: John Manuel
Compiled Chris Kline
For a guy coming out of Eastern Michigan, all it seems Indians outfielder Ryan Goleski needed to have a breakout year was more experience.
Goleski, a 24th-round pick last year, earned all-star honors in the New York-Penn League in his debut season, hitting .296/.358/.473 with eight homers and 37 RBIs in 64 games.
In his first full season, he has blossomed into a power-hitting corner outfielder with a plus arm at low Class A Lake County. Through 126 games for the Captains, Goleski is hitting .293/.366/.520 with 27 home runs and 97 RBIs.
"He's a big, physical right fielder who is very athletic and profiles the position well," farm director John Farrell said. "As a later-round guy, he was a great, great sign. He comes from a cold weather school and only now is he beginning to unlock his potential by playing every day."
Goleski has a track record; he led the Mid-American Conference with 22 homers in 2002, hit a school and MAC-record 51 in his career, and hit .270 with four homers in 2002 in the wood-bat Cape Cod League, where the league average often hovers around .220. His injury-riddled junior season at Eastern Michigan hurt his draft stock, though, and the Indians got him on the draft's second day.
He has been dominant in the middle of the Lake County order, mashing 20 doubles and five triples to go along with the home runs. South Atlantic League managers have been impressed with his bat, and rate his arm just a notch below that of Charleston (S.C.) right fielder Delmon Young, which rates a 70 on the 20-to-80 scouting scale.
"It's not Delmon's arm, but it's a strong, accurate arm," Charleston (W. Va.) manager Ken Joyce said. "He's a run-producing kind of guy with above-average power. In the big leagues, he's maybe a .280 hitter that'll hit 20-25 home runs."
Being a 24th-round pick, Goleski doesn't have the luxury of most big bonus players. He's had to earn it this season.
"He's really emerged as a team leader on the Lake County club," Farrell said. "Because of his draft status, he's maybe had to earn the respect of everybody more than most. But he's done that and really come into his own this season."
At 22, Goleski could be considered a little old for the Sally League, but the Tribe decided to keep him there all season to get the one thing he didn't necessarily have in the frigid Michigan air--the chance to be in the everyday lineup.
"We wanted for him to keep building confidence," Farrell said. "To us, that meant keeping him at one level all season to get as many at-bats as possible and to maximize his potential. He's been hitting around .300 all year and certainly has done that for us this season."
Rookie-level Greeneville wrapped up the Appalachian League title, knocking off Danville, 2-1 with a walk-off home run by Ole Sheldon. The Astros only other run came from--you guessed it--a solo blast by Mitch Einertson.
Phillies righthander Scott Mathieson punctuated his breakout season in style Thursday, striking out a career-high 11 in eight shutout innings in a 2-0 win at low Class A Delmarva. The more than 10,000 fans on hand saw Mathieson, a 6-foot-3, 190-pound Canadian, give up just three hits as his fastball sat at 94 mph much of the night. "His last pitch in the eighth was 94," Lakewood manager P.J. Forbes said. "It was his best outing of the year by far."
Braves righthander Kyle Davies made his Triple-A debut for Richmond, and allowed five earned runs on five hits in five innings. Davies, a fourth-rounder in 2001 out of Stockbridge (Ga.) High, began the year at high Class A Myrtle Beach. He went a combined 13-2, 2.47 in 138 innings between Myrtle Beach and Double-A Greenville. Davies was bested by White Sox righthander Orionny Lopez, who made the jump from low Class A Kannapolis to make his first Triple-A start. Lopez, a 20-year-old from the Dominican Republic, allowed a run on five hits and struck out five in five innings.
Triple-A Portland outfielder Xavier Nady stayed hot, going deep again in a 10-4 win against Fresno. Nady's homer was his fourth in five games and 11th in the last 19 as Portland improved to 43-14 in its last 57 games.
Double-A Portland shortstop Hanley Ramirez extended his hitting streak to 10 games with a 2-for-5 night against Binghamton. The Red Sox No. 1 prospect is now hitting .315/.366/.516 with five homers in 30 games since being promoted from Class A Sarasota.
Binghamton righthander Yusmeiro Petit took the loss against Portland, allowing four earned runs on six hits in five innings. He struck out six and walked five. "He's got great stuff," catcher Joe Hietpas told The Binghamton Press & Sun Bulletin. "It's not a fluke he's put up the numbers he has. The strike zone was tight, and he gets ahead and hits his spots. He wound up falling behind and had to elevate, and when he elevated, he got hit." In the game, manager Ken Oberkfell and first baseman Brett Harper were ejected after Eastern League umpire Steve Fritzoni called Harper out at third base in the eighth inning with the Mets trailing by a run. "It was a (terrible) call," Oberkfell told the Binghamton Press & Sun Bulletin. "(Fritzoni's) explanation was that he overslid the bag, which is (wrong). You can't be incompetent like that. You can't be right there and miss that play." Oberkfell then went further, accusing the umpire of wanting to toss Harper for arguing balls and strikes in an earlier at-bat. "The whole time I'm arguing with him, he's looking at Harper. He baited Harper, then he got me."
Double-A Montgomery righthander Chad Orvella picked up his fourth save since being promoted from high Class A Bakersfield. In seven innings with the Biscuits, the North Carolina State product has not allowed a run, a hit or a walk--and struck out 14.
Class A Myrtle Beach catcher Brian McCann had a big day, going 4-for-5 in a 4-3 loss to Potomac. The Braves second-round pick in 2002 out of Duluth (Ga.) High is hitting .277/.336/.486 with 15 homers and 61 RBIs while primarily batting in the cleanup spot for the Pelicans. "He's an Eddie Taubensee type of guy to me," Kinston manager Torey Lovullo said. "He controls pitchers very well and calls a pretty good game. It's hard to believe he's only 21 and he's got that sweet lefthanded swing."
Righthander A.J. Shappi won his first start with high Class A Lancaster, striking out six in five innings. Shappi, the Diamondbacks' ninth-round pick out of UC Riverside, was 4-1, 1.75 at short-season Yakima before the promotion with 65 strikeouts and just eight walks in 67 innings.
Double-A Altoona lefthander Mike Connolly had arthroscopic elbow surgery, but should be ready for spring training. He was 8-7, 4.71 in 113 innings.
Two nights ago, Tacoma first baseman A.J. Zapp hit the longest home run in the 44-year history of Cheney Stadium--an estimated 505 feet. Now Zapp owns a more dubious honor after setting a Pacific Coast League record for strikeouts with 176.
Contributing: John Manuel.
Compiled Chris Kline
COLUMBIA, S.C.--Which is worse for Dodgers pitching prospect Chuck Tiffany: an interview request or running? Its hard to tell. He responds to both with a grimace.
Tiffany has had his fill of both this season at low Class A Columbus. The Dodgers have put the 6-foot-1, 195-pound lefthander on a cardio-intensive program to keep him from getting too stocky. And as the owner of a no-hitter and a perfect game--in consecutive starts, no less--he's gotten his first good dose of media attention as a pro ballplayer.
On May 3, Tiffany got his first win with the Catfish by tossing the first five innings of no-hitter against Greensboro. His second win--again against the unfortunate Bats--was even better. He pitched seven full innings, giving up no hits or walks and striking out 12.
Tiffany was at it again last night, tossing 5 1/3 no-hit, shutout innings--and striking out 13. In his last four starts, Tiffany has struck out 46 in 21 innings--that's 86 batters faced and 46 whiffs. For the season, he's now 5-2, 3.70 with 141 strikeouts (third in the South Atlantic League) in just 100 innings.
Tiffany attacks hitters with a lively low- to mid-90s fastball, an above-average curveball and a major league-quality circle changeup. He also brings a bulldog mentality to the mound.
"Chuck is a great competitor," farm director Logan White said. "Once he gets between the lines he likes to beat people. He also has a good feel for pitching, and that's a great thing to see in a kid with a power arm."
When asked about the consecutive no-hitters, however, Tiffany just shrugs his shoulders.
"I really don't remember too much about them," he said. "My focus is on staying consistent and helping the team be successful this season."
Tiffany's short-term memory helped him avoid having the unreasonable expectations young pitchers often develop after dominating performances, but he faltered anyway shortly after his no-hitters. He was simply tired.
"Toward the middle of the season I hit a valley," he said. "I was still doing well, but I wasn't at my 'A' game. It just had to do with how fresh my arm felt."
Fatigue was bound to happen. Last season, Tiffany signed with the Dodgers as its second-round pick in August and was able to squeeze in just three innings of work at Rookie-level Ogden. A balky hamstring compromised what little work he did do.
While Tiffany said he trained and conditioned over the winter, only now has he grasped how good his offseason conditioning program must be. The Dodgers' strength and conditioning staff have run Tiffany ragged all season, sending him up and down stadium grandstands on off days and long-distance runs on the days after starts.
The results have been gradual, but Tiffany has emerged from his mid-season valley and is again throwing in the mid-90s range. In a no-decision against Augusta on Aug. 24, he threw six scoreless innings with 11 strikeouts and three walks.
"I feel strong now, even in the later innings," he said. "All the running and conditioning I've done throughout the season has definitely helped."
Tiffany's perseverance has impressed White more than the lefthander's three no-hit efforts.
"The real positive is how he's rebounded," said White. "When he was struggling he wasn't throwing as hard. He didn't have his pure stuff and had to go through some adversity, and from that he developed a knack for pitching out of trouble. He has the ability to bear down."
With above-average stuff and a good mound presence, Tiffany understands the key for him now is his conditioning. Running may not his favorite pastime, but he said he realizes its place in his development. Just in case, the Dodgers have invited him to instructional league this fall to drive the point home.
"I don't anticipate working him too hard there, but we want to make sure he's on his offseason program," said White.
And while White said he likes Tiffany's old-school approach to the game--playing hard and demurring to self-aggrandizing interviews--the pitcher will also have to get used to talking about himself to the press. If he stays on the path he's set this season in Columbus, hell have plenty to talk about.
Because of the impending arrival of Hurricane Frances, the Florida State League has cancelled the remainder of the regular season for its Eastern Division. With several locations facing mandatory evacuations on Thursday, the league decided to cancel games in advance, allowing players and coaches time to get out of town in advance of the storm.
Vero Beach already had clinched the second-half title, so the playoffs, scheduled to begin next Wednesday, will not be affected. Daytona, which played just 126 of its 140 scheduled games, won the first half and faces second-half champ Vero Beach
The Category 4 hurricane is expected to make landfall on Saturday morning. It will be the second hurricane to hit Florida (and the FSL) in a month, as Hurricane Charley caused damage to Daytona's park and forced postponements and cancellations around the league.
"This is the roughest month I can remember," Jupiter general manager Brian Barnes said. "I've been around here since 1997. You don't usually have to worry about hurricanes in August."
Another day, another handful of prospects called up to the big leagues as the rosters expand. Among today's callups--Casey Kotchman (Angels), Wilson Betemit (Braves), Arnie Munoz (White Sox), Val Pascucci (Expos), and Craig Brazell (Mets). We mistakenly reported that Padres catcher Humberto Quintero was recalled to San Diego. He remains at Triple-A Portland, where he is hitting .329/.349/.475 with five homers and 29 RBIs in 64 games.
The Angels also promoted outfielder Nick Gorneault to Triple-A Salt Lake. A strong, physical outfielder with plus power potential out of Massachusetts, Gorneault was hitting .282/.343/.484 with 21 home runs and 81 RBIs in 129 games. He went 2-for-5 with a home run in his debut with the Stingers.
Triple-A Sacramento righthander Joe Blanton struck out 10 in seven innings during a 7-3 win at Tacoma, allowing two runs on six hits. But all anyone was talking about was a mistake fastball Blanton made to Rainiers first baseman A.J. Zapp. Zapp, a first round pick of the Braves in 1996, launched a mammoth blast that cleared the 30-foot high wall in dead center field at Cheney Stadium. The ball traveled an estimated 505 feet, the longest home run ever to be hit in Cheney's 44-year history. "It went a long way," Tacoma manager Dan Rohn told The News Tribune. "I've never seen that before and no one else has, either."
The damage to Double-A Erie righthander Preston Larrison's elbow was worse than expected. Larrison has been shut down since July 31 and will have Tommy John surgery and miss all of next season. The Tigers' second-round pick in 2001 out of Evansville went 5-4, 3.05 in 118 innings this season.
Giants outfielder Fred Lewis was called up to Triple-A Fresno, going 0-for-3 with a walk in his debut. Lewis, a second-round pick out of Southern in 2002, was hitting .301/.424/.451 with eight homers, 57 RBIs and 33 stolen bases in 115 games at high Class A San Jose. The fastest runner in the system, Lewis' speed rates a 65 on the 20-80 scouting scale. He also was leading the California League in on-base percentage thanks in part to 84 walks.
Double-A Round Rock righthander D.J. Houlton picked up his 12th win of the season--a complete-game three-hit shutout against Wichita. Houlton features a fastball in the 86-92 mph range, but the consensus is his best pitch is a 12-to-6 curveball with his changeup is right behind. Over his last four games, the Astros 11th-rounder out of Pacific in 2001 is 4-0, 0.63.
Class A Jupiter lefthander Scott Olsen threw seven shutout innings and struck out 10 in a 3-0 win against Brevard County. The Marlins sixth-rounder out of Crystal Lake (Ill.) South High in 2002 has three quality pitches--a fastball that tops out at 94, plus slider and changeup--with a loose, projectable 6-foot-4, 180-pound frame. His changeup is arguably his most improved offering this season, and scouts have rated it a 55-60 on the 20-to-80 scouting scale. In his last five starts, Olsen has allowed one earned run and struck out 42 in 31 innings.
Contributing: J.J. Cooper
Compiled Chris Kline
The Rangers gave John Hudgins an early birthday present. The 6-foot-2, 195-pound righthander, who turned 23 on Tuesday, got a promotion to Triple-A Oklahoma four days before his birthday.
The RedHawks have had a long parade of players come through the roster this season--Hudgins was No. 53 to play for Oklahoma in 2004, and one of 30 pitchers to take the mound for the team. While Hudgins didn't perform up to his exacting standards, giving up eight hits and six runs in four innings against Memphis, he at least felt comfortable.
After all, he was working on just three days' rest, which he had done famously in the 2003 College World Series. It was one rigor of pro ball Hudgins had some experience with, as the travel and different throwing patterns were new to him.
At high Class A Stockton, where he began the year, the Ports were using the tandem-starter system, in which two pitchers essentially share a start in an eight-pitcher rotation, with each tandem getting three days' rest.
"In college, it was pretty much set that you throw once a week and you throw one bullpen during the week," Hudgins said. "In pro ball, it's really different. It was hard to stay fresh for me at (high Class A) Stockton, with the eight-man rotation. At least for me, it was tough to get my arm adjusted to it. It was rare that I would go out there with my best stuff, so I had to learn to pitch with what I had."
That has proved to be enough to take Hudgins, a third-round pick out of Stanford last year, to Triple-A in his first full professional season. The Rangers have pushed him aggressively in more ways than rushing him to Oklahoma to pitch on three days' rest.
He began the year with Stockton, thriving in the tandem-starter system even if it sapped some velocity at times from his lively 88-90 mph fastball. He went 3-1, 2.35 in the California League with two saves and struck out 73 in 65 innings while allowing just 49 hits.
Fastball velocity has never been Hudgins' forte anyway; a scout who covers the California League said Hudgins rates as a prospect for him because "you don't find many pitchers at this level with two above-average secondary pitches."
Hudgins' curveball and sinking changeup aren't really secondary to his fastball, anyway. They're both above-average pitches because he keeps them down in the zone and puts them where he wants them. Hudgins knows how to pitch, and as he learns to set up hitters with more experience, he should be even more effective.
That's how he pitched when he was Stanford's ace, a third-team All-American in 2003. He also was the CWS' Most Outstanding Player, with three wins in three starts over 10 days. Hudgins notoriously threw 350 pitches, drawing the ire of media and many fans who thought that many pitches in a short span of time reeked of the abuse of college pitchers some believe to be typical. When Hudgins pitched just three innings after signing with the Rangers, many pointed ignorantly to his CWS workload as the culprit.
"You pitch with so much adrenaline in Omaha," Hudgins said, "it's hard to fall into a rut."
Hudgins has proved so far he's none the worse for wear. He missed time after signing with thoracic outlet syndrome, a circulatory condition not related to his workload. Now he has skyrocketed to Triple-A in his first full season, going a combined 8-4, 3.07 between Stockton, Double-A Frisco and now Oklahoma. He has walked just 36 in 138 innings on the year while striking out 138. His biggest flaw--he's allowed 17 home runs, including 12 in just 69 innings with Frisco.
Perhaps that's due to his competitive streak; Hudgins isn't afraid to challenge hitters. And the Rangers haven't been afraid to challenge him.
As the big league rosters expand, the September callups are coming fast and furious. Dave Krynzel (Brewers), Dioner Navarro (Yankees), Jesse Crain and Terry Tiffee (Twins), Ryan Howard (Phillies), Russ Adams and Guillermo Quiroz (Blue Jays) were all called up.
Triple-A Portland has been red-hot lately, winning their sixth straight game behind righthander Justin Germano. Jon Knott, Xavier Nady, Humberto Quintero and Jake Gautreau all went deep as Germano cruised to his eighth win in his last nine starts. The Padres also called up catchers Joe Gerber and Billy Killian as Quintero was sent back to San Diego. Gerber was promoted from Double-A Mobile and Killian made the supreme jump from the Rookie-level Arizona League. A third-round pick out of a Michigan high school, Killian (the son of a scout) hit .230 in 135 at-bats in the AZL and hit into a double play in his first Triple-A at-bat.
In other Padres news, righthander Clayton Hamilton won his debut at Mobile in an emergency start. Hamilton, a 17th-rounder out of Penn State, struck out six, walked two and allowed one earned run over five innings. He was 1-1, 5.16 in 23 innings at short-season Eugene before being promoted.
Triple-A Colorado Springs right fielder Brad Hawpe went yard--again--and finished with 14 homers in August, though the Sky Sox lost 11-6 at Oklahoma. Hawpe is hitting .318/.383/.651 with 29 home runs and 79 RBIs in 86 games.
Dodgers righthander Edwin Jackson continues to go through struggles in the PCL. Los Angeles' No. 1 prospect walked five and allowed six earned runs in just four innings of Las Vegas' 9-8 loss at Edmonton in 11 innings. He did make up for it at the plate, however, belting two home runs.
Double-A Erie second baseman Ryan Raburn went 2-for-6 in a 6-5 win at Reading and extended his hitting streak to 20 games--the longest in the Eastern League this season.
Angels catcher Jeff Mathis has had a disappointing season, and August wasn't kind to the top catching prospect in the minors, either. Mathis hit .151 in August after getting hits in his last two games, and his mark since June 1 is just .188, spanning 68 games and 255 at-bats. Overall, Mathis is hitting .225/.312/.395 with 14 homers and 55 RBIs in 419 at-bats.
White Sox lefthander Wes Whisler delivered when Class A Winston-Salem needed him most. Whisler, a second-rounder out of UCLA, pitched seven shutout innings as the Warthogs defeated Kinston, 7-1. Both teams are vying for the second-half Southern Division lead in the Carolina League.
Royals righthander Colt Griffin retired all four batters he faced and struck out two to earn his first Double-A win at Wichita. Griffin, who moved to the bullpen earlier this season, is 1-1, 4.03 with 24 strikeouts and 16 walks in 29 innings for the Wranglers.
Rookie-level Danville took a 1-0 lead over Greeneville in the Appalachian League championship series, despite Mitch Einertson's 25th homer of the season. Braves outfielder Brandon Jones homered twice and drove in five runs in the 8-3 win.
The minors' first champions were crowned in a pair of rivalry series in the Rookie-level complex leagues. The Yankees swept the Red Sox 2-0 in the Gulf Coast League, and the Giants edged the Athletics 3-2 in the Arizona League final.