Thursday Bubble Wrap: Tigers Make A Move
We’ll take a quick trip around conference tournaments each night this week with an eye toward bubble implications. For background, refer to Tuesday’s Projected Field of 64 and our in-depth […]
By Chris Kline
Lake County righthander Adam Miller might only be 19, but he is showing the stuff--and the makeup--of a dominant frontline starter.
Named the best prospect in the Appalachian League after going 0-4, 4.96 in 33 innings at Rookie-level Burlington last year, Miller pitched well in great instructional league and is carrying that performance over into this season.
The 6-foot-4, 180-pounder from McKinney (Texas) High was 2-0, 1.80 in 20 innings with 27 strikeouts and six walks so far for the Captains. His repertoire consists of a fastball that sits consistently at 92-94 mph, a slider that reaches 87 mph and a changeup that, once refined, will balance out his arsenal and give him a legitimate third option.
"The only time I hit 96 this year was when it was like 40 degrees," Miller said. "But I'm throwing strikes and making them hit the pitches I want them to hit. It feels real good so far this season."
The development of the changeup is essential for Miller's progression. He's been working on it in bullpens and using it in limited action during games, but only when he's ahead in the count. Right now, it's been in the mid-to-high 80s range, which probably isn't enough separation in velocity from his fastball.
"I've been working it into games, but I'm not completely confident with it all the time, so it's not something I want to throw in deep counts," Miller said. "I know I need that third pitch and I feel like it's been coming along. I just don't want to sell myself short by babying it. I need to keep working on it until I'm confident enough to throw it for strikes."
"He's thrown it here and there," added Lake County manager Luis Rivera. "We all know he can throw the fastball and hit 94 easy, effortlessly. He has a plus slider and now he's adding a change. He's already fun to watch, but he's going to be amazing."
The Indians used eight first-round picks on pitchers in the last six years. Seven of those arms came from the high school ranks, including Miller, who surged into the first round with a strong finish last spring.
"He has explosive stuff with exceptional command on both sides of the plate," Indians assistant general manager Chris Antonetti said. "He's got a great out pitch already with the slider. He's one of the most exciting players in our system."
Some scouts have compared him to two-time Cy Young Award winner Bret Saberhagen, but this is the one time Miller shows his age, instead invoking another Texas fireballer.
"I know I've seen him pitch, but I don't really remember it," Miller said. "I don't know what the chances are of me seeing him on ESPN Classic, but they're probably pretty slim. I look up to a guy like Josh Beckett. He throws harder, but I think we take the same mentality to the mound. I'm a lot more aggressive now than I was in high school or even last year. I have a better understanding of what it takes to attack hitters and get them out."
Miller is slated to throw Sunday at Eastlake Ballpark against Hickory.
The Brewers lost their No. 9 prospect for an extended period of time when Triple-A Indianapolis centerfielder David Krynzel suffered a broken foot Wednesday night in a game in Louisville. Krynzel, 22, the Brewers' first-round pick in 2000, fouled a pitch off his right foot and suffered a non-displaced fracture. He is expected to be on the disabled list for the next eight to 12 weeks, which would span more than half the season. "This was a big year for Dave," Brewers farm director Reid Nichols said. "This will hurt him. It'll set him back quite a bit. You always miss an impact player like that when he gets hurt. But he's an athlete; I'm sure he'll rebound from it."
In only his second season as a starter, Class A Dunedin righthander Josh Banks is dominating the Florida State League with a solid feel for pitching backed up by plus stuff. He was 3-0, 0.41 for the Blue Jays, having allowed just 12 hits in 22 innings. The Blue Jays second-round pick in 2003, Banks spent his first two seasons at Florida International as a reliever, but he blossomed as a starter during his junior season. He already has the approach and arsenal of a starter. His best pitch is a low-90s four-seam fastball that he commands well. He also throws a curveball, a solid split-finger, an improving slider and a changeup. "This is my first month with him," Dunedin pitching coach Rick Langford said. "As time goes by, we'll talk more about his style of pitching, but the only thing we've worked on at this point is getting him to use his changeup more. We want him to be able to feel comfortable with it and command it."
Triple-A Buffalo second baseman Brandon Phillips left last night's game against Rochester after coming up lame while legging out a single. Phillips was the only player in the Bisons lineup not to record a multi-hit game as the Herd outgunned Rochester, 25-13. Grady Sizemore showed signs of his old self, going 4-for-5 with five RBIs. Sizemore got off to a slow start after missing the first two weeks of the season with a stomach virus that caused him to lose 15 pounds.
Athletics lefthander Stephen Bondurant carried a no-hitter into the ninth inning last night as Class A Kane County demolished Battle Creek, 20-0. Just a handful of pitches away from his pitch limit of 100 after the eighth inning, Cougars manager Dave Joppie called Oakland farm director Keith Lieppman to receive special dispensation for Bondurant to start the ninth. A 15th round pick out of South Carolina, Bondurant left the game after surrendering a one-out single to outfielder Erold Andrus in the ninth. Bondurant, whose fastball sat at just 83-85 after the sixth inning, befuddled Yankees hitters with his changeup. Battle Creek starter Tyler Clippard, who entered the game with a 1.86 ERA in 19 innings, lasted just two innings, allowing nine runs on 10 hits, while getting clearly flustered by poor defensive play, including his own. "His velocity was where it always is (87-89)," said one scout, "but he lost his composure, started overthrowing and lost his command."
Third baseman Brendan Harris returned to the Triple-A Iowa roster after opening the season on the disabled list after offseason knee surgery.
Devil Rays righthander Jorge Sosa, sent down recently to Triple-A Durham, struck out the first nine batters he faced last night in a 5-1 loss to Norfolk. Sosa's fastball was sitting at 96-97 mph, complimented by curveball clocked at 83-84. Sosa, who worked exclusively out of the bullpen with the big league club this season, left after the first three innings.
Royals shortstop Angel Berroa played his second game of a rehab stint with Double-A Wichita and went 3-for-4 with a pair of RBIs. Berroa is batting .444-0-3 in nine at-bats in what is expected to be a short rehab after coming off the DL because of severe migraines.
Class A Lynchburg lefthander Zach Duke remained undefeated with a 6-4 win Thursday against Kinston. Duke is now 3-0, 0.82 in 22 innings. He has struck out 27 and walked one. "I had pretty much everything working," Duke told the Kinston (N.C.) Free Press. "I was able to throw everything for strikes. I located the fastball very well, and I was able to bounce the curveball and also throw it for strikes."
The Pirates reacquired outfielder Rich Thompson from the Royals on Thursday after the Rule 5 pick was recently removed from the Royals 40-man roster, designated for assignment, and cleared waivers. He was originally selected by the Padres in the Rule 5 and dealt to Kansas City for righthander Jason Szuminski and cash. Thompson will join the Pirates' Triple-A affiliate in Nashville this weekend, where he batted .257-2-11 in 109 at-bats last season.
The White Sox released well-traveled infielder Troy Cameron to get more at-bats for third baseman Tommy Nicholson, who was batting just .176-0-1 in 17 at-bats. Cameron, who was entering his third season with as many organizations in the Carolina League, was hitting .200-0-6 in 45 at-bats for high Class A Winston-Salem this year. A first-round pick of the Braves in 1997, Cameron played parts of two seasons for Myrtle Beach before being traded to the Indians with lefthander John Rocker for righthanders Steve Karsay and Steve Reed in 2001. Cameron played in the Independent Northern League last season for the Joliet Jackhammers.
Contributing: J.J. Cooper, Kevin Goldstein, Tom Haudricourt.
By Chris Kline
Lefthander Jeff Francis has worn the tag of "nice guy" since the Rockies made him the ninth overall pick in 2002, making him the second-highest Canadian selection ever.
"Let's put it this way," farm director Bill Geivett said, "he's too old to marry my daughter. He's just a great, great person first and foremost and very down to earth."
Francis' makeup has always been off the charts and now his stuff is coming around at Double-A Tulsa. He has good command of his fastball, which sits at 90 mph and tops out at 92, and he should add velocity as he adds upper-body strength. His curveball is a plus pitch, and his fluid mechanics that allow him to repeat his delivery. He's focusing on refining his changeup.
"The change could be better, but things are progressing in a positive direction," Geivett said. "It's shown flashes of being better, but he needs to keep working on it to get it to where he's confident to throw it consistently for strikes."
Even without a reliable third pitch, Francis has pitched well so far in the Texas League. He is 3-0, 3.63 in 22 innings while striking out 30 and walking just six. He has allowed nine earned runs on just 14 hits. He did give up four runs (including two home runs) in five innings in his last start against Arkansas, but opponents are still batting just .173 against him. He's next scheduled to start this weekend against San Antonio.
A freak accident cut Francis' debut in 2002, when a line drive plunked him in the head as he sat in the dugout at low Class A Asheville, ending his summer after 31 innings. Last year he spent his first full season at Class A Visalia and started slowly, but went 10-1, 1.06 in his final 13 starts--including 15 shutout innings and two playoff wins.
"Last year, he was pretty much unhittable in the second half," Geivett said. "It was really his first full year and he proved he was a dominant guy at that level."
If Francis continues to hone his changeup, he could follow in the footsteps of Rockies righthanders Jason Jennings, Aaron Cook and Chin-Hui Tsao, and finish his first full season above Class A in the big leagues.
"The change is critical for him right now," Geivett said. "He's got to emulate the command he has of the fastball and get the same thing with the changeup. Usually it's the last pitch to develop and it's been coming along well for him. He's got great makeup and is an intense competitor on the mound. He's doing very well."
The pitching matchup Wednesday night between Vero Beach righthander Chad Billingsley and Mets righthander Scott Erickson didn't live up to its billing. Billingsley lasted just 1 1/3 and allowed two runs on three hits. He was lifted after getting hit on the ankle by a ground ball, though he was able to walk away without assistance. "He's coming in to see the trainer today," said Vero Beach GM Trevor Gooby. "At this time, we don't anticipate him missing a start." Erickson threw 19 pitches, facing four batters and allowing one hit. He left with discomfort in his left hamstring, according to the New York Daily News. The good news for the Mets was the debut of second baseman Jose Reyes, who was 1-for-5 with a double in his rehab assignment. Reyes has been sidelined with a nagging hamstring injury, but he batted in the leadoff spot last night.
The Triple-A International League suspended Toledo righthander Matt Anderson for three games and catcher Guillermo Rodriguez for two games after a bench-clearing brawl Wednesday against Columbus.
Triple-A Rochester DH/1B Justin Morneau demands attention from the Twins nearly every night. He put in another multi-hit game last night, his ninth in 17 games this season. Morneau went 3-for-5 (all doubles) with three RBIs. He is hitting .411-5-18 in 73 at-bats.
Where righthander Jeremy Guthrie has failed, Triple-A Buffalo righthander Kyle Denney has flourished. Denney is 3-0, 2.16 in 25 innings. A veteran of Tommy John surgery in 2001, Denney's command of his fastball wasn't where he wanted it to be the next two seasons, but he appears to have improved in that regard. Denney has walked six and struck out 25 this season.
Double-A Altoona catcher Ryan Doumit made his debut Tuesday after a bout with mononucleosis. The virus hit him halfway through spring training and caused Doumit's spleen to be slightly enlarged. "He was more tired than anything else," farm director Brian Graham said. "It didn't really cause him to lose any weight or strength. But it's a virus and you have to let it run its course." Doumit went 2-for-4 with a solo home run in a 5-4 win Wednesday against Norwich.
Double-A Jacksonville lefthander Derek Thompson earned his first win of the season in a 4-1 win over Mobile. Thompson came over via the Cubs from the Indians in the 2002 Rule 5 draft. He missed all of last year due to elbow surgery, but is 1-0, 1.86 in 19 innings this season. He has walked five and struck out 17. Reports had Thompson's fastball back to 91 mph, indicating that he is nearly all the way back from the surgery.
Double-A Midland catcher Jeremy Brown continues to struggle in his second season in the Texas League. Brown, a supplemental first-round pick by the Athletics in 2002, is hitting .167-1-5 in 66 at-bats.
By Chris Kline
Right fielder Ryan Church has gotten over the initial shock of getting traded from the Indians to the Expos, but now he's coming around and starting to take advantage of it.
The Santa Barbara, Calif., native is about as relaxed and laid back a player as you can find, but he hasn't been his old self since being dealt (with second baseman Macier Izturis) from the Indians to the Expos for lefthanded reliever Scott Stewart in January.
"I was really (ticked) at first--that was my initial reaction," Church said. "You know, you want to make it to the big leagues with the club who drafted you, with the club you worked so hard for, but that wasn't the reality of the situation."
The reality was that Church was seemingly lost in the shuffle of a deep outfield in the Indians system, and the Tribe needed bullpen help. And with their talent thinned through free agency and trade, the Expos jumped at the chance to get him.
"Every year, you come in playing for every team in the league," Church said. "You never know who's watching. Obviously they wanted me and it's a better situation for me to be in. It's a fresh start with a new organization and I just have to go out and handle my business."
Church has handled it well so far. Through his first 58 at-bats, he is hitting .379-1-12 with 10 walks at Triple-A Edmonton. The 14th-round pick out of Nevada had to get used to moving around since coming over to the Expos, since he started spring training in Jupiter, Fla. The Trappers played their first eight-game homestand in Yuma, Ariz., to escape the cold of the Great White North.
"We went from Florida, where it was in the 70s and sunny every day, to Arizona where it was in the 80s to California for our first road trip to Edmonton where it's like two (degrees)," Church said. "So it's been something new to get used to. I never played in weather this cold before."
A lefthanded hitter with a strong build and quick bat, the 25-year-old has above-average raw power and a new desire to succeed and move quickly.
"They're calling guys up like rapid-fire right now, so that's a good thing," Church said. "But you're playing against pitchers who know what they're doing. Everything moves and nothing is ever straight. I just look for something in a certain area and when you get it, you better get it."
Double-A Huntsville second baseman Rickie Weeks missed his second straight game with a tight left hamstring. Weeks was pulled in the first game of a doubleheader Monday, but was expected to be in the lineup Thursday against Chattanooga. Weeks is batting .333-0-6 in 54 at-bats.
Double-A Binghamton righthander Jose Diaz threw another 4 2/3 hitless innings last night--making it three straight starts without allowing a hit. Yet he has not made it to the fifth inning in any of them. Diaz is 1-0, 0.52 in 17 innings. He has trouble keeping the ball in the zone consistently, with 14 walks, two wild pitches and two hit batters. A converted catcher, Diaz is still learning his new position. "He's learning to pitch," Binghamton manager Ken Oberkfell said. "He's in the mid-90s and has a good power breaking ball. He's working on his change and making progress."
Triple-A Durham shortstop Jorge Cantu is putting together a solid April--and showing signs of a power upgrade. In 55 at-bats, Cantu is hitting .309-5-15. His career high in homers is seven.
The good news is Triple-A Richmond third baseman Wilson Betemit ripped his third double of the season last night against Durham. The bad news is he still hasn't broken out of his funk of the last three seasons, batting .143-1-11 with 16 strikeouts in 49 at-bats. He went 1-for-7 in last night's doubleheader.
Triple-A Pawtucket scored 14 runs in the third inning in a 16-1 win over Ottawa. Lynx lefthander Brian Forystek and righthander Mike Paradis bore the brunt of the attack. Forystek allowed seven earned runs on eight hits in 2 2/3 innings. Paradis was not the answer, giving up another seven earned on nine hits and not retiring a batter.
Triple-A Buffalo shortstop Jhonny Peralta is again making a case for heading to Cleveland, but still not showing much power. Peralta is hitting .397-0-8 in 63 at-bats. He batted .227-4-21 in 242 at-bats with the big league club last year.
Triple-A Colorado Springs shortstop Clint Barmes went 4-for-4, pushing his average to .429 in a 9-5 win last night over Iowa. The Rockies are convinced Barmes, who moved around from center field to utility infielder, could be a solid, everyday shortstop and have compared him to Walt Weiss. Sky Sox third baseman Garrett Atkins also went 2-for-3 with four RBIs. Atkins is hitting .344-0-12 in 61 at-bats. On the flipside, Iowa left fielder Jason Dubois was 3-for-3 with a homer and three RBIs. After a slow start, Dubois is hitting .250-4-12.
Double-A New Hampshire righthander Dustin McGowan continues to deal his way through the Eastern League. McGowan went six innings last night against Akron, allowed one run on three hits and struck out nine, but did not figure into the decision. He is now 2-0, 1.21 in 22 innings with 21 strikeouts and seven walks.
Double-A Reading righthander Gavin Floyd outdueled New Britain knuckleballer Charlie Zink Tuesday night. Floyd was in complete command, going 5 1/3 and allowing four hits. In 17 innings this season, Floyd has yet to yield a run. Zink struggled with his control, walking five in five innings in a 3-1 Phillies win.
Since spraining his right ankle Opening Day, Double-A Greenville third baseman Andy Marte is heating up. Marte went 3-for-5 with a double in Tuesday's 9-8 win over Carolina. The Braves' top prospect is now hitting .275-3-4, but has struck out 16 times in 51 at-bats.
Double-A Arkansas right fielder Nick Gorneault has picked up where he left off last season when he batted .345-2-19 in 110 at-bats for the Travelers. A strong, physical outfielder with plus power potential, Gorneault is showing he can make consistent, hard contact. He's hitting .311-4-12 in 61 at-bats.
Class A Lake Elsinore righthander Tim Stauffer has given up just six earned runs in 22 innings this season, but has only one win in four starts to show for it. Stauffer, whose arsenal features a 91-92 mph fastball, plus curve, changeup and cutter, is 1-0, 2.42 and has struck out 17 and walked five.
With Class A Kinston catcher David Wallace off the disabled list from a strained rib cage muscle, Ryan Garko is now the primary DH. He will also spend time backing up Michael Aubrey at first and catching, but won't be lost in the shuffle. Through his first 57 at-bats, the former Stanford catcher is hitting .421-2-15 with six doubles.
Class A Wilmington righthander Colt Griffin is struggling in the Carolina League. Griffin walked six and struck out five in 3 2/3 against Potomac Tuesday night. He is 0-2, 9.18 and has walked 16 in 16 2/3 innings.
Class A Battle Creek center fielder Melky Cabrera has eight straight multi-hit games and is batting at a .360 clip. A switch-hitting gap hitter, Cabrera has nine doubles in 75 at-bats.
By Chris Kline
Pirates lefthander Sean Burnett has made getting bigger and stronger a priority since he was a first-round pick in 2000.
Stamina, it seems, has been an issue ever since for the 21-year-old--at least at first glance, anyway. Burnett has been listed at 6-foot-1, 170 pounds since he joined the organization, but to see him on the mound these days, the extensive work Burnett has done to improve his body through strength and conditioning shows through.
"I think it's more the way (the media) writes about it," Burnett said. "I'm right around 200 pounds now, even though I've been listed at the same weight since I came in. I feel a lot stronger than my first year and I've tried to add a few pounds each season since then. I'm still the same pitcher except maybe I'm a little wider and a lot stronger."
Burnett has been motivated to keep working on the strength aspect of the game as he's seen good friends from Wellington (Fla.) High plagued with injuries. The first and foremost is Pirates righthander and former high school teammate Bobby Bradley, who preceded him as the Pirates' first-round pick in 1999.
The righthander has been slowed by two elbow surgeries, including Tommy John in 2001 and a third surgery on his shoulder. While Burnett claims that injuries can happen at anytime, he does not view himself to be the lucky one.
"It's not about luck at all," Burnett said. "It's about preparing yourself for the daily grind of what your body goes through during the course of a season. But the workout program we have here has really helped me. It's about building yourself up and giving yourself a sort of preventative medicine."
Burnett has pitched as if he were prepared for the jump to the Triple-A Pacific Coast League. Through his first three starts for Nashville, Burnett has a 1-0, 1.93 mark over his first 14 innings while maintaining a strict pitch count early in the season.
He was up to 70-75 pitches in his last start, a six-inning stint Monday that ended with a 4-2 win against Albuquerque. It was the first time he went deeper than four innings this year. Burnett has always had great command on the mound, hitting 89-91 mph with his fastball, touching 92. His slider has been equally impressive, keeping it down in the zone to complement what farm director Brian Graham calls the best changeup he's ever seen.
"I've seen a lot of great changeups over the years," Graham said. "But very few people can command the change to both sides of the plate down in the zone the way he can. But the slider has been the biggest difference for him this season. It's been a tremendous help to him in attacking lefthanded hitters."
Burnett's strikeout totals have declined since 2001 at Class A Hickory, when he fanned a career-high 134 in 161 innings, but he is conserving pitches and drawing contact early in the count. Burnett feels this is essential to his game and the way he attacks hitters.
"Strikeouts are over-rated unless it's in a crucial situation like with a guy on third," he said. "For me, it's about hitting my spots, keeping my pitch count down and having good command."
The Philadelphia Daily News reported Phillies' top pitching prospect Cole Hamels has begun a light throwing program and is slated to start his season with Class A Clearwater early next month. Elbow soreness has sidelined Hamels, a lefthander, since the end of spring training.
Triple-A Buffalo shortstop Brandon Phillips is again making a case for heading to Cleveland. Phillips, who struggled all of last season, is batting .351-1-4 in 57 at-bats.
Double-A Huntsville first baseman Prince Fielder hit his fourth homer Monday in a 2-1 win over Tennessee. Fielder, the Brewers' No. 2 prospect, is batting .298-4-11.
All Double-A Round Rock first baseman Todd Self does is get on base. Self, who is hitting .381-2-19 in 63 at-bats, has also drawn 18 walks and owns a .512 on-base percentage and a .571 slugging.
Double-A El Paso righthander Adriano Rosario struck out 12 in seven innings, but didn't figure into the decision in a 3-1 loss to San Antonio. The Diamondbacks No. 5 prospect is now 1-2, 3.58 in 27 2/3 innings. He has struck out 27 and walked just four.
The most intriguing pitching matchup in Double-A tonight is in the Eastern League. Reading righthander Gavin Floyd goes up against Portland righthander Charlie Zink. Talk about a contrast in styles--Floyd features a power fastball in the 92-95 mph range with a plus curve, while Zink is the premier knuckleballer in the minor leagues. Floyd comes in 1-0. 0.00 and has allowed just three hits in 11 2/3 innings while striking out 13. Zink is 0-1, 2.12 in 17 innings. He has walked nine and struck out 10.
Class A Lancaster right fielder Carlos Quentin is off to a solid start in his first pro season. Quentin, who missed all last year due to Tommy John surgery after being drafted in the first round out of Stanford, is hitting .262-3-8 in 65 at-bats and has a 10-game hitting streak.
Class A Myrtle Beach righthander Anthony Lerew is settling into the Carolina League after a shaky first start when he allowed four earned runs in four innings in a 5-0 loss to Wilmington. Since then, Lerew has improved to 1-1, 2.70 with 19 strikeouts in 20 innings.
Class A Vero Beach left fielder Trey Dyson went 3-for-4 in his debut after coming over to the Dodgers from the Indians for righthanded reliever Rick White.
Class A Hickory righthander Matt Capps continues to struggle in the South Atlantic League. Capps, who dominated in the GCL last season before making one start for high Class A Lynchburg, is 0-0, 12.46. He has allowed 38 hits in 17 1/3 innings.
Class A Capital City first baseman and DH Ian Bladergroen went 2-for-6 with a pair of RBIs--upping his total to 32 in 71 at-bats. Bladergroen has driven in 24 in his last 10 games. Overall, he is hitting .423-7-32 with eight doubles.
Class A Lake County catcher Javi Herrera's bat might be finally coming around. Herrera, whose defense was never in question, went 3-for-5 with five RBIs in a 9-2 win over Charleston (S.C.) Monday. Herrera is hitting .292-3-10 in 48 at-bats.
Class A Asheville third baseman Ian Stewart went 2-for-4 in a 5-4 loss to Charleston (W. Va.) Monday. Stewart is hitting .258-2-11 in 66 at-bats and continues to garner rave reviews from Rockies farm director Bill Geivett, who spent two seasons with the Expos system. "We didn't have a Vlad Guerrero-type guy until we drafted Stewart," Geivett said. "He's that guy."
By Chris Kline
When Class A Myrtle Beach right fielder Jeff Francoeur talks about his slight position change from center field to right, he can't curb his enthusiasm. It's as if he has a new toy he can't wait to play with.
"It's been a little bit of a change, but to be honest, I really like it," Francoeur said. "It was very tough getting used to it in spring training and how the ball slices off the bat at you, but I think I made a pretty quick adjustment to it. It's definitely a much easier throw than center field to home and everything because you don't have to deal with the mound.
"I love that challenge. It's a lot of fun to know that a guy is tagging or trying to take an extra bag and test you. That gets you back into the game a little bit and really gets the adrenaline flowing. It's just fun to be back out there playing every night."
Francoeur is hitting .259-2-10 in 58 at-bats while feeling out his new position, which is something that is apparently coming easy for the 20-year-old out of Parkview (Ga.) High. He has not committed an error in 16 games in his first year in the Carolina League.
"In center field, you're like the quarterback of the defense and making sure everybody around you is positioned properly and you get worried about that all the time," he said. "It puts extra pressure on you. Now it's nice to move with the center fielder and play your own game out there. Also, it allows me to concentrate a little more on my hitting."
Francoeur has drawn comparisons to former Braves all-star outfielder Dale Murphy since he was drafted 23rd overall in 2002. And he is arguably the most complete outfielder the Braves have developed since Andruw Jones broke into the big leagues in 1996.
A two-sport star in high school, Francoeur earned a football scholarship to Clemson as a defensive back but opted to spend his time on the diamond, thanks in part to a $2.2 million signing bonus. He has lived up to the lofty expectations so far, batting .281-14-68 for the South Atlantic League champion Rome Braves last season.
"It was a tough decision," Francoeur said of leaving the gridiron in the past. "But it was the right fit for me. I have no regrets, though I do still miss it, especially in the fall."
The Braves hope Francoeur will soon be contributing to more important things in the falls of the future--being involved in pennant races. For now, though, Francoeur finds himself playing in Myrtle Beach's Coastal Federal Field, one of the most pitcher-friendly parks in the minors.
"We complained last year because the ball didn't really carry well in Rome," Francoeur said. "But the wind never blew like it does in Myrtle Beach. It definitely is frustrating when you hit a couple really good and they get run down. But you have to realize the park you're in. I think everybody else knows that too, so it can work out for the best."
Playing in Coastal Federal, where the wind blows in from right field toward home plate off the Atlantic Ocean, is indeed making Francoeur make adjustments to his game. In the Pelicans' first homestand, more than half of his hits were to right field.
"When I can start using right field consistently, that's when I can work myself into a good situation," he said. "I know that when a ball comes inside, my instincts will take over and I'll pull the ball. For me, it's staying on it and not trying to get pull-happy and use the whole field. There's not many nights (in Myrtle Beach) when I'm just going to be able to pull it and rip a home run, so I just have to hit it where it's pitched. I think it's made me a better hitter already."
The one knock on Francoeur has been his lack of strike zone recognition. He has 102 strikeouts in 671 career at-bats in his first two seasons. But like everything else, Francoeur is making the adjustment. He had five walks and 11 strikeouts so far this season.
"I'm trying to recognize the better pitches early in the count that I can drive," he said. "I'm not really going to take away my aggressiveness away at the plate. I think that's one thing I have in my game that I really like is my aggressiveness. I'm not going up there looking to be walked or put on base because I want to hurt the ball and hit it as hard as I can. But instead of swinging at a 1-0 slider that I really couldn't get good wood on, I'm taking that pitch now and working myself into better counts than before."
Class A Charleston (S.C.) lefthander James Houser missed his second start last week due to some minor shoulder stiffness, but threw three shutout innings Friday at home against Hagerstown. The No. 3 prospect in the Devil Rays system is 1-0, 1.13 in eight innings for the River Dogs. He's walked three and struck out seven. While the Rays will not openly discuss Houser's situation, they are obviously being cautious with him early on this season.
Triple-A Salt Lake righthander Bobby Jenks went on the disabled list with a stress reaction in his right elbow. Jenks, the Angels No. 5 prospect, spent two months on the DL last season with the same injury. Jenks' fastball has been clocked as high as 102 mph and sits in the 93-99 range consistently when healthy.
Double-A Birmingham righthander Kris Honel was placed on the DL with elbow tendonitis. The No. 2 prospect of the White Sox started Opening Day and has not thrown since. In his lone outing, Honel struck out seven before being pulled after the fourth inning with a sore elbow.
Montgomery shortstop B.J. Upton saw his 12-game hitting streak come to an end Sunday against Mobile. The Devil Rays' No. 1 prospect went 0-for-4 but reached on an error and later scored in the third. He's still hitting .358-2-11 on the season in 53 at-bats.
Yankees righthander Jon Lieber pitched an impressive seven shutout innings in his first rehab start for Class A Tampa. Lieber, on the road back from Tommy John surgery, struck out four and did not issue a walk against Fort Myers.
After struggling in his first two starts, Tigers No. 1 prospect Kyle Sleeth threw his best outing as a pro Friday night against Fort Myers. The righthander allowed just three hits, struck out seven and walked one over seven innings for Class A Lakeland. He is now 1-2, 4.24.
Class A Dunedin righthander Josh Banks has been impressive over his first four starts of the season. Banks is 2-0, 0.53 in 17 innings, and has given up only one hit over his last two starts, spanning 11 innings. Overall, he has allowed just eight hits, struck out 20 and walked four.
Class A Lexington center fielder Josh Anderson went 6-for-6 with five runs scored and four stolen bases Sunday in a 13-6 win over Greensboro. Anderson is hitting .373-1-7 in 67 at-bats for the Legends and has 11 steals in 12 attempts.
Class A Wilmington righthander Jonah Bayliss lasted just one inning against Frederick on Sunday after leaving with a strained right lat muscle. Bayliss, the Royals' No. 12 prospect, allowed three runs on two hits, walking two and striking out one. Bayliss is 1-1, 4.15 this season. He has allowed 14 hits in 17 innings, struck out eight and walked 10.
Double-A Akron third baseman Corey Smith looks like he finally might be showing consistent signs of life. Smith, the Indians' 2000 first-round pick, is batting .345-5-13 with five doubles in 58 at-bats. Defense, however, is another matter. Smith ranks second in the league in errors with seven in his first 15 games.
Triple-A Iowa lefthander Glendon Rusch is making a statement to get back to the big leagues. Rusch hit two homers and drove in six Sunday in the second game of a doubleheader against Colorado Springs. He also got the win and improved his mark to 2-0, 1.89.
By Alan Matthews
ZEBULON, N.C.--In the top of the first inning Wednesday night, Edwin Encarnacion swung wildly at a changeup from lefty Bill Murphy and quickly found himself in an 0-2 hole.
The 21-year-old Dominican stepped out of the box, focused on the barrel of his bat and took a deep breath, collecting his thoughts as he settled back in to face Murphy.
Encarnacion lined the next pitch up the middle for a base hit, showing the moxie and resolve the Reds have been trying to instill since acquiring him from the Rangers with Ruben Mateo for righthander Rob Bell in June 2001.
"Trade good for Cincinnati," Encarnacion joked, "and bad for Rangers."
The Reds' No. 2 prospect, Encarnacion has obvious tools. His quick hands generate line drives at the plate, and he's begun to develop his raw power. Advanced defensively at third base, Encarnacion shows good range and actions and a plus arm.
But since the Rangers drafted Encarnacion in the ninth round in 2000 out of Puerto Rico, where he resides, the type of attitude adjustment he made Wednesday night during his first at-bat versus Double-A Carolina has not been a staple of his makeup. Until now.
"These first few weeks he's really gotten after it a lot," said Chattanooga manager Jayhawk Owens, who managed Encarnacion much of last season at Potomac. "He's stretched singles into doubles, he's playing hard mentally, he's staying focused on every pitch so far and that's all we want him to do."
Last season, Encarnacion left spring training and reported to Chattanooga, an ambitious assignment for a 20-year-old, where he hit .220 in a month of action. During his struggles, his attitude and work ethic were a concern, and he was sent to high Class A Potomac.
Encarnacion says the demotion was a wake-up call, and he returned to Double-A in late July, showing better plate discipline and an improved attitude. He hit .328-4-19 in 119 at-bats in August and regained his confidence in the process.
"I got sent down and what can you do?" he said with a shrug. "All you can do is go and work hard in Potomac and try to work my way back to (Chattanooga).
"I feel very good that I let the (organization) know that I was going to hit in Double-A, or anywhere else they want to send me."
Encarnacion has picked up where he left off, doubling in each of his first four games and opening the 2004 season with the Lookouts with a 5-for-11 series versus Greenville. He strained his right hamstring, and the Reds chose to ease him back into the lineup, costing him a week of playing time. He returned in the Carolina series, collecting three more hits and showing his smooth, flowing actions on the diamond.
Overall, he was 8-for-24 (.333) with two RBIs. Most importantly, he was wearing a smile and keeping his head held high.
"When it's go-time, he goes full speed," Owens said. "When it's sitting in the dugout, he's quiet, he keeps to himself. But when you get between the white lines there's a fire in him; you can see it in his eyes. A lot of people talk about him being a quiet kid, but when it's time to play he's not like that."
Double-A Akron lefthander Mariano Gomez was pulled from Wednesday night's game at Harrisburg due to a strained ligament at the base of his left middle finger--the same injury that caused him to be shut down after July 14 last season. Gomez lasted just 2 2/3 innings against the Senators. He allowed one hit, struck out two and walked two. The 21-year-old from Honduras made the 40-man roster this season after going 6-4, 3.67 for the Indians' high Class A affiliate in Kinston.
Triple-A Indianapolis righthander Ben Hendrickson has been on cruise control. The Brewers' No. 8 prospect went 5 1/3 innings last night in a 5-2 win over Toledo. Hendrickson, who relies on an 88-92 mph fastball, cutter and exceptional curve, allowed three hits, struck out seven and walked two. For the season, Hendrickson is 2-0, 1.10 and has allowed just 10 hits over 16 innings.
Double-A Arkansas first baseman Casey Kotchman and third baseman Dallas McPherson both collected four hits in a 7-3 win over Tulsa. Kotchman is off to a .357-2-9 start in 56 at-bats, while McPherson's big night lifted his average to .250.
Lansing righthander Billy Petrick continues to deal in the Class A Midwest League. Petrick allowed five hits in six innings, fanned two and walked one. Still considered to be fairly raw, Petrick showcases a hard, sinking fastball in the low-90s, touching 96. For the season, the third-rounder in 2002 is 2-0, 1.06.
Five different Birmingham Barons combined for six home runs Thursday in a 13-7 win over Tennessee. First baseman Rob Sasser, second baseman Ruddy Yan, shortstop Mike Morse and center fielder Darren Blakely all went deep against the Smokies. Blakely hit two homers--one from each side of the plate.
Speaking of home runs, Triple-A Omaha was quick to jump on the bandwagon of first baseman Calvin Pickering. The Royals announced a "Calvin Pickering Home Run Night" scheduled for Saturday. During the last homestand, Pickering belted eight homers in eight games. If Pickering doesn't go yard Saturday, all fans receive a free ticket to a future game. If he hits one, a fan wins an autographed bat. If he hits two, a fan wins an autographed bat and a free trip to Kansas City. If Pickering hits three, someone will get the bat, the free trip and--get this--$10,000.
Orioles fans can breathe a little easier after lefthander Adam Loewen's latest start, in which he threw six innings of shutout ball in Class A Delmarva's 1-0 victory at Columbus. It's Loewen's first win as a professional. Most important, Loewen showed better control, walking only two while striking out four. The fourth overall pick in the 2002 draft had walked 10 in his previous eight innings. The Catfish had just five hits, one of them by left fielder Xavier Paul, who has hit safely in seven straight and 11 of the Catfish's 13 games. Paul is off to a .308-2-10 start.
Class A Hagerstown broke an eight-game losing streak Thursday with a 7-1 win at Charleston (S.C.), and first baseman Travis Ishikawa broke out of a personal slump. Ishikawa had struck out 13 times in his first 27 at-bats, but the Giants prospect went 3-for-4 with his first homer (and his 14th strikeout) in Thursday's win.
Contributing: Chris Kline, John Manuel.
By Chris Kline
Aside from righthander Jason Jennings, the Rockies have not had much luck developing homegrown pitching that translates to the big league level since the club began drafting in 1992, but that trend might be beginning to change.
"It's proven to be quite a challenge," farm director Bill Geivett said. "You see a lot of guys have success in the minor leagues, but when they come to Coors Field that success doesn't translate well."
It's tough for any pitcher to have legitimate success in home run happy Coors, where ERA's are nearly as high as the elevation of the park itself.
But Colorado has several high-profile pitching prospects in the system now--Jeff Francis and Ubaldo Jimenez come to mind--but righthander Aaron Cook is the closest to being major league ready. While he already has big league experience under his belt, Cook has struggled to be consistent enough to stay there.
Cook is off to a solid start this season, going 2-0, 2.37 in his first 19 innings for Triple-A Colorado Springs. He has allowed just 12 hits, struck out eight and walked one. The strikeout numbers are considerably low, but that's in part because Cook relies on his heavy sinking fastball, clocked in the low-90s. It took some time for Cook to get comfortable with the movement on the sinker. He struck out a career-high 122 in 155 innings for high Class A Salem in 2001, but his strikeout totals have dropped every year since then.
"A lot of that has been the development of his sinker," Geivett said. "Guys with good sinkers are going to draw contact early on and rely on that contact. It's not good contact, it's just him being able to roll guys over to short or second base."
That is exactly what the Rockies want in high-altitude Coors--a legit groundball pitcher.
Drafted in the second round in 1997, Cook broke through to Coors first in 2002 and started the season there again in 2003 with mixed results. After being called up from the Sky Sox, Cook went 2-1, 4.54 in 36 innings. He struck out 32, walked 18 and allowed six homers. The following year, Cook appeared to be there for good, going 4-6, 6.02, but was sent down late in the year to further develop the sinker.
"It's very difficult for us to replicate the big league experience for him in Triple-A," Geivett said. "He's getting a lot of groundballs there and that's where he needs to settle in. But the challenge that's ahead of him is staying consistent and carrying that over to the big leagues."
Colorado Springs should help the Rockies in the long run. Sky Sox Stadium sits at an elevation 1,000 feet higher than Coors Field, where the air is drier and thinner.
"We feel like it's going to be a positive for us," Geivett said. "When you're pitching and you get out there, your hands are a little drier and the ball feels a lot slicker. But those are the conditions our guys have to get used to in order to have success at the next level."
Triple-A Buffalo outfielder and Indians No. 1 prospect Grady Sizemore is finding it difficult to get back all the way after losing nearly 15 pounds due to a stomach virus that hit him near the end of spring training. Sizemore is batting just .162-0-4 in his first 37 at-bats.
Tacoma lefthander Travis Blackley allowed nine hits in six innings in a 1-0 loss to Las Vegas. Blackley is now 0-2, 6.32 in 15 2/3. "I thought Travis threw the ball well," Rainiers manager Dan Rohn told The Tacoma News Tribune. "He made one mistake (to Las Vegas second baseman Antonio Perez), curveball down in wheelhouse, and that happened to be the only run. We've lost three one-run ballgames here in this homestand. We're not executing the little things."
Double-A Round Rock center fielder Willy Taveras stole his seventh base of the season last night. Taveras, who was dealt to the Astros with Salem outfielder Luke Scott from the Indians for lefthander Jeriome Robertson, also went 2-for-4 with a pair of RBIs.
Class A Tampa posted a football score Wednesday night against Fort Myers. The Yankees racked up 20 hits in a 17-0 shutout over the Miracle. First baseman Shelley Duncan led the way, going 4-for-6 with five RBIs and three runs scored. Third baseman and No. 10 Yankees' prospect Bronson Sardinha was 1-for-5 with three runs driven in.
Mets' No. 1 prospect Scott Kazmir blanked Jupiter through five innings. The lefthander allowed six hits and struck out four. He experienced an abdominal strain after his first start, but the slight injury did not cause him to miss any action.
West Michigan third baseman Kody Kirkland is showing signs of breaking out after starting the season in a horrible rut. Kirkland went through a horrendous 3-for-33 skid with 15 strikeouts, but is has four hits in his last eight at-bats. The Tigers' No. 6 prospect is batting .178-0-3 in 45 at-bats.
Lake County righthander Adam Miller is showing no signs of slowing down. Miller, the Indians' No. 9 prospect, was selected 31st overall in 2003 and is 2-0, 1.13 for the Captains. He has allowed just five hits in 16 innings, striking out 21 while walking just four. Miller is expected to stay at Lake County for the entire season.
Wilmington right fielder Bernard Stephens hit the Blue Rocks' first home run of the season Wednesday night, a solo shot off Kinston righthander Dan Denham. It was the Rocks' first homer in 451 at-bats.
Contributing: Corey Brock
By John Manuel
Pitching, so the saying goes, isn't a natural motion for the human body. Now, if you're righthanded, try throwing with your left hand, or vice-versa. It's the definition of awkward for many.
Not for Mariners farmhand Bobby Livingston. Officially a lefthander, Livingston is ambidextrous. He's not ready to pull a Greg Harris yet and use both hands in games, though as an amateur he did pitch both ends of a doubleheader in a summer league tournament, one with each arm.
These days, being ambidextrous comes in handy most for Livingston on the golf course, where it allows him to get, shall we say, a mental edge on playing partners.
"I can golf both ways, but I'm better from the left side," he said. "My ex-girlfriend's dad is a golf pro and can get me a good deal on lefthanded clubs. It's fun to try to get other guys I'm playing with to try to play with my clubs. They can't even hit the ball; I mean, they just look ridiculous.
"I've always done everything righthanded except for pitching and golf. I write righthanded, I shoot pool righthanded, I shoot a gun righthanded. I used to throw some righthanded, but I've always been more comfortable throwing lefthanded."
The Mariners are comfortable with Livingston as a lefty too, and the 2001 fourth-round pick has progressed through the system to Class A Inland Empire this season, where he was the 66ers' Opening Day starter. He didn't give up a run until his third start Monday, against Lancaster, and was off to a 1-0, 0.87 start through 21 innings.
Livingston had allowed just 12 hits, working with an 85-90 mph fastball that he sinks and commands well, as well as a plus changeup and average curveball and slider. Livingston once relied on fastball velocity--he threw in the low 90s in high school, radar-gun readings he has not shown consistently as a pro. It hasn't kept him from succeeding yet.
"You know, sometimes it goes backwards. I've seen a lot of guys whose velocity will drop," he said. "To me, my job is to go out and throw strikes. I'm not scared of contact. If you change speeds and hit your spots, you can get a lot of ground balls. Last year, I would've said I was in that (81-87 mph) range. This year, I've been in the 85-90 range, but I'm hitting my spots and it's working well for us. I think in another year or so, I'll be throwing as hard or harder (91-92 mph) as I was in high school, but I don't really stress on velocity. I stress on control.
"Velocity can be over-rated. You don't have to throw hard to get hitters out. But I also realize that if I was throwing 98, I'd be in the big leagues."
The Mariners organization has plenty of experience with lefties who succeed more because of command than because of heat, from Jamie Moyer in the big leagues (and before him John Halama) to Australian southpaws Craig Anderson and Travis Blackley. The Mariners hope Livingston turns out to be more like Blackley, with average velocity and plus command, than Anderson, whose stuff is fringy and has had less success at higher levels.
Livingston ranked just 28th on the Mariners' Top 30 in the offseason, owing more to his stuff than to his 21-12, 2.82 career minor league record. From the sound of it, Livingston is doing everything he can to move up that list.
"I just love baseball; I love playing; it's what I always wanted to do," he said. "God's blessed me with a talent, and I'm just fortunate to be good enough to be considered a prospect. It just changes your whole outlook when the organization is looking in on you day in and day out.
"It just makes you more relaxed, more comfortable. It's like being loved by your parents; it's just great that you're being thought of that way. It's the feeling of being wanted."
And as Livingston knows, everybody wants a pitcher who can throw in the 90s--especially when they're lefthanded.
Further up the Mariners chain, Tacoma righthander Clint Nageotte reached 3-0 on the season Tuesday in a 4-1 win against Las Vegas. Nageotte pitched six hitless innings, striking out six and walked four. He showcased a nasty slider with late bite on several occasions but also mixed in more fastballs than he did the first time he faced Las Vegas on April 14. In that game, Nageotte (3-0) allowed a run in 6 2/3 innings. About the only thing he didn't do well was keep his pitch count down as he walked four and worked into many deep counts. Nageotte threw 96 pitches. "That's the one thing (walks) that I try to watch the most," Nageotte told The Tacoma News-Tribune. "I think sometimes I aim the ball instead of just throwing it. I was lucky the walks didn't hurt."
Buffalo righthander Jeremy Guthrie is still suffering lapses in command. The Indians' No. 2 prospect walked seven in 5 2/3 innings Tuesday in a 4-3 loss to Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. Guthrie allowed two earned runs on three hits.
El Paso righthander Adriano Rosario won the matchup against Round Rock righthander Ezequiel Astacio, ending the Express' 10-game winning streak in the process. Rosario, who came into the game 0-2, 6.07, fanned eight and walked one in 7 1/3 innings. He allowed two runs on five hits and lowered his ERA to 4.79. Astacio went seven innings, but allowed five earned runs on five hits. He struck out three. Friend of BA Michael Point reports Rosario's fastball was in mid-90s throughout, while Astacio was a couple of ticks below in the low 90s.
Quad Cities third baseman Matt Moses, the Twins' first-round selection in last year's draft, left Tuesday's game against Dayton after being hit in the knee by righthander Luis Noriega. Moses was walking on crutches after the game, but insisted at the time that the injury wasn't serious. Ranked as the Twins No. 3 prospect, Moses is batting .333-2-8 in 39 at-bats while being limited primarily to DH due to tightness in his throwing shoulder.
St. Lucie and Jupiter played a marathon, 16-inning game Tuesday, with the Hammerheads coming out on top, 3-2. Center fielder Charlie Frazier got the game-winning hit, driving a hard groundball past third baseman Aaron Baldiris with the bases loaded for the walk-off win. Marlins' top prospect Jeremy Hermida went 2-for-6 with a run scored.
Contributing: Chris Kline, Kevin Goldstein, Corey Brock.
By Chris Kline
Usually, the first thing about Omaha first baseman Calvin Pickering that garners attention is his size. So far this season, though, his numbers were stealing the spotlight.
The 6-foot-5 veteran, listed at 260 pounds, was batting .531-11-25 in his first 32 at-bats, putting him in the spotlight again after it looked like his prospect light had flickered out.
Pickering, who was regarded as the top batting prospect in the Orioles organization after the 1998 season, has battled injuries and inconsistency since then. Drafted by the Orioles in the 35th round in 1995 out of high school in Tampa, he was traded to the Reds in August 2001 and has since gone to the Red Sox, the Mariners, the Mexican League, back to the Reds and finally to the Royals. Now 27, Pickering said signing with the Royals last October represented a career rebirth.
"Right now I just feel comfortable at the plate," Pickering said. "We're playing good ball and there are great guys around me. Since spring training, the managers and the coaches have been awesome. They create an atmosphere where I can be relaxed and there is no pressure whatsoever."
Pickering says it wasn't that way coming up through the Orioles system. He hit .311-25-79 for low Class A Delmarva in 1997 and had his breakout season the following year when he batted .309-31-114 with 28 doubles for Double-A Bowie. Expectations increased after that, and Pickering struggled.
"Being a low draft pick, there weren't too many expectations, I don't think early on," Pickering said, "but I created those expectations. Every time I stepped on the field I had to live up to them and when I didn't, I was worried that somebody--a manager or some other coach--would be coming up to me with suggestions or trying to find out what was wrong every two minutes."
Once Pickering got to Triple-A Rochester, he was viewed as the Orioles' long-term answer at first base. But he battled injuries and couldn't hit better pitching consistently. He got a brief callup to Baltimore in 1999 but was never able to break through and stay there.
By the 2001 season, he was dealt to Cincinnati for future considerations. He played one game for Triple-A Louisville before getting called up to play for the Reds for a four-game stint. The Red Sox then claimed him off waivers near the end of 2001, and he batted .280-3-7 in 50 at-bats in Boston.
"Sometimes the years get confusing," Pickering said. "I got around in those couple of seasons. I was well traveled. It was like sometimes I'd wake up in some city and had to think for a minute where I was."
Then the injuries mounted. Pickering, who already had one knee operation under his belt when he missed much of the 2000 season, missed the entire 2002 season due to another knee surgery and surgery to repair a torn quadriceps.
"It's tough for anybody when you miss almost two seasons," he said. "But nobody really feels sorry for you. You get ups and downs, but I'm not the type of person who shows too much of that. It was my goal to strengthen my knee, work real hard on conditioning and come back stronger than ever. I feel like I've done that. I feel no mercy for nobody now."
That is evident by how he is taking it to Pacific Coast League pitching. During one four-game stretch, Pickering hit seven home runs and drove in 19. If anything, he is proving he's back and better than ever.
"Based on our scouting reports, we saw him as a guy who could be on the verge of being an impact hitter in the big leagues," Royals assistant general manager Muzzy Jackson said. "We felt like if we could work on his approach and with him mechanically, that he could only get better. To his credit, he's really taken to the things we've been trying to do with him. When you look at his line, it almost looks like a softball line. Things are starting to pay off for him."
Still humble, still feeling no pressure, still having fun, Pickering shrugs off his big numbers the way he wipes away the past.
"When I go up to the plate, I don't look for nothing," he said. "I just go up there relaxed and I don't think about anything. Hitting is all about timing and being relaxed. And if the ball just happens to go out of the park, so be it."
Jacksonville righthander Andrew Brown is continuing to rack up strikeouts in the Southern League. Brown, who was almost an afterthought in the deal that sent Gary Sheffield to the Braves before the 2002 season, struck out 13 and walked two in a 5-2 loss to Greenville. In 13 2/3 innings this season, Brown has struck out 28 and walked just two. When he's at his best, Brown throws a 93-96 mph fastball, as well as a changeup, curve and slider.
The Texas League features a great pitching matchup tonight as Round Rock righthander Ezequiel Astacio faces El Paso righthander Adriano Rosario. Astacio, who came over to the Astros from Philadelphia as part of the Billy Wagner deal is 2-0, 3.27 in 11 innings. He has struck out 14, walked one and ranks as Houston's No. 15 prospect. Rosario, just 18, ranks fifth in the Diamondbacks system. He's 0-2, 6.07 and has given up 17 hits in 13 1/3 innings this season.
Mobile is quickly becoming the hotbed for Padres' prospects. Second baseman Josh Barfield, who missed most of big league camp with a strained hamstring, arrived with the BayBears last week, and speedy outfielder Freddy Guzman made his debut last night, going 3-for-4 with two stolen bases in a 6-4 win over Montgomery. Guzman also missed much of spring training with a strained elbow. He led all of baseball last season with 90 steals, while being thrown out just 17 times. Barfield is the Padres' No. 1 prospect and Guzman is ranked third.
Carolina Mudcats righthander Trevor Hutchinson earned his third victory of the season in a 6-1 win over Chattanooga. Hutchinson struck out 11 and did not allow a walk. For the season, Hutchinson has struck out 19 and walked two over 18 innings. Last year's Southern League playoff MVP features a heavy, sinking fastball around 88-92 and compliments it with a average slider and a changeup.
Lakeland righthander and Tigers' No. 1 prospect Kyle Sleeth is getting hit hard in the Florida State League. Sleeth, 0-2, 7.20, has allowed eight earned runs on 12 hits in just 10 1/3 innings.
Salt Lake righty Bobby Jenks lasted just one inning last night, surrendering four runs on three hits and three walks before leaving the game with elbow pain. Jenks has one of the best arms in the minors, but his development has been continuously hampered by control problems, injuries, as well as some off-the-field issues. Jenks missed two months last season with a stress reaction in his elbow, but returned to pitch some of the most effective baseball of his career, followed by a successful winter campaign in Puerto Rico.
By Chris Kline
Talk about nervous energy.
Columbus Clippers lefthander Alex Graman and righthander Scott Proctor got the call to join the Yankees in Boston on Saturday, just minutes after arriving at the Durham Bulls Athletic Park.
As they hurriedly stepped out of the elevator at the team hotel, vying for a cab that would take them to the airport, both Graman and Proctor stopped--briefly--to talk about what was going through their minds as they headed to join the big league club on the road at Fenway Park.
"Well, first of all, it's unbelievable," Proctor said. "Alex and I were just talking about all the thoughts running through our heads. I mean, not only are we going to the big leagues, but we're going to join in on one of the greatest rivalries in all sports. It's just amazing."
Added Graman: "Really, right now it hasn't sunk in. It just kind of feels a little weird, but I'm sure it'll sink in after we get to that field and hear that crowd."
Both pitchers took a long road to have the honor of donning pinstripes--even though at first they will be wearing the road gray uniforms.
Graman spent the last two seasons in Columbus, spinning his wheels and working on a changeup to complete his repertoire. Graman's fastball sits at 90 mph and touches 94. He has good velocity on his slider for a lefty, which is regularly clocked in the low 80s. His changeup is what has stalled his development--at least until now.
"I've been working on that pitch a lot, especially this spring," Graman said. "Sometimes it's been very good and others it just sort of hangs there, but I have a lot more confidence in it that I had in the past."
Graman was 0-2, 0.90 in 10 innings for Columbus. He struck out 14 and walked six.
Proctor came over to New York last July with outfielder Bubba Crosby in the Robin Ventura deal. As a starter in the Dodgers organization, his fastball/slider/changeup mix was less than intimidating, even for Double-A hitters. After a move to the bullpen, his velocity improved to the 90s and hit 100 mph after the deal.
Proctor was 1-0, 1.29 in seven innings for the Clippers. He walked four and struck out eight.
"I felt more comfortable coming out of the pen for whatever reason," Proctor said. "Now (with the promotion), we just need to keep doing what we've been doing. Both of us have been throwing well. The goal is not only to make it to the big leagues, but to stay in the big leagues. We just have take advantage of the opportunity and prove that we can pitch there and pitch there for a number of years."
And in the Yankees organization, not many of these opportunities open very often. More and more often in recent years, the big league club will write a check to fill a hole rather than rely on its farm system.
"No matter what organization you're in, it's going to take some breaks," Proctor said. "The other thing is everything they do is out of your control--the trade talks and all that stuff. As a player, you just have to control what you can on whatever field you happen to be on at the time."
Graman, who has spent his entire career in the organization since he was drafted out of Indiana State in the third round in 1999, has heard his name rumored in numerous deals. He says it's best just to ignore them.
"As a player, you want to make it to the big leagues with the team who drafted you," Graman said. "And maybe it's tougher to do here. Ever since I was drafted I've heard the trade rumors and you just can't worry about that. People know when you're ready and obviously they feel like I'm ready now. I'm just fortunate to have this opportunity to pitch for the Yankees."
The cab arrived and whisked both players to Raleigh-Durham International Airport, who both players headed for their future, starting in Boston.
"It's the same game," Proctor said. "You still need to go out and execute your pitches. We just have to go out and keep doing what we've been doing."
Graman is slated to start Tuesday against the White Sox after the Yankees placed righthander Jorge DePaula on the disabled list with a sprained right elbow. Proctor is expected to work out of the bullpen.
Another minor leaguer who may be in the Yankees' plans eventually is closing at Class A Tampa. Righthander Eduardo Sierra, acquired in the offseason Chris Hammond trade from the Athletics, touches 97 with his fastball and is dominating the Florida State League so far. He picked up his fourth save in four outings in a 4-3 win Sunday against Sarasota; he has eight strikeouts in four scoreless innings, including two Sunday.
The Royals placed shortstop Angel Berroa on the 15-day disabled list due to severe migraine headaches. To fill Berroa's roster spot, Kansas City called up 20-year-old shortstop Andres Blanco, who was batting .292-0-1 in 24 at-bats for Double-A Wichita. Known as a flashy defender that has drawn comparisons to Omar Vizquel, Blanco needs to prove his bat can survive at the big league level. He owns a career .259 average in three seasons in the organization, with no homers and a .299 slugging percentage.
Double-A Montgomery center fielder Joey Gathright was transferred to short-season Hudson Valley's roster due to a pulled back muscle. Among the fastest players in the minors, Gathright was the Devil Rays' 2003 minor league player of the year. He had surgery last season to repair a torn labrum. He was batting .360-0-2 with a pair of stolen bases for the Biscuits before being sent to Hudson Valley.
Triple-A Portland first baseman Tagg Bozied will miss four-to-six weeks with a severely pulled right hamstring, forcing Xavier Nady to play first base for the first time since 2001. Nady and the Beavers lost 7-2 Sunday to Las Vegas and Edwin Jackson, as the righthander struck out three and gave up two runs in six innings. Jackson's only mistake was a two-run homer to Jon Knott, who was returning from missing four games after being hit on the hand with a pitch.
The Rangers promoted righthander Erik Thompson, a 2002 12th-round pick, to Triple-A Oklahoma to make an emergency start, and Thompson got a bit roughed up, giving up 10 hits and five runs in five innings. However, he didn't issue a walk. In 206 professional innings (including 6 1/3 this year at Double-A Frisco, to whose rotation he will return), the 5-foot-11, 180-pound Thompson sports a 170-23 strikeout-to-walk ratio.
Contributing: John Manuel
By Chris Kline
KINSTON, N.C.--As the sky continues to empty over Grainger Stadium, a lone figure stands partially under cover to the right of the Kinston Indians dugout. He reaches up, grabs an item, signs his name and hands it back. This goes on as the PA announcer updates the crowd on the rain delay and then notices the player.
"And K-Tribe first baseman Michael Aubrey is having an impromptu autograph session along the third-base line," the voice says. "Head on down and see him while you can."
That line might best describe Aubrey's progression through the ranks of the Indians system--see him while you can.
Since he was drafted 11th overall by the Tribe last June out of Tulane, Aubrey has continued to impress just about anyone he comes into contact with.
"He's just a very good person, first and foremost," Indians roving hitting coordinator Ted Kubiak said. "His demeanor and his work ethic on and off the field are tremendous."
In Kinston, he has quickly become a celebrity in a small community in the first few weeks since arriving there. His autograph sessions are understandably limited, however.
"I don't mind signing at all," Aubrey said. "In fact, I like it. It's part of the privilege of playing baseball. It's just when you're signing and all of the sudden some 30-year-old guy has 20 cards to sign, I mean, what's he going to do with them? That's when it can get out of hand."
Through his first five games, Aubrey's offense is also getting out of hand--he was batting .444-2-7 in his first 18 at-bats. He also drew three walks and owned a .833 slugging percentage.
"He's always been a very polished, consistent hitter, whether that be at Tulane, Team USA or in his first season as a pro," Cleveland farm director John Farrell said. "Him being able to hit for a high average also makes him understand the value of taking a walk. He understands what a valuable offensive weapon the walk is."
The one knock on Aubrey's at-bats has been his tendency to become too pull-happy, which is easy to do when you're seeing nothing but fastballs. That was the case last season in his pro debut with Lake County in the South Atlantic League.
"He can sometimes get a little too pull-oriented," Farrell said. "But our hitting philosophy within the organization preaches making adjustments and using any given situation to the hitter's advantage. And the high Class A Carolina League is such a good learning environment for all our players. As he faces good arms on a consistent basis this season, it will present a challenge for him."
While his hitting has drawn rave reviews at the college and pro level, his defense is just as good or perhaps even better. Scouts have said the 22-year-old has Gold Glove potential at first base.
"He moves very well and has great footwork around the bag," a National League scout said. "His glove is well above-average and he has great instincts. He anticipates plays very, very well."
With plus offensive and defensive tools, the Indians expect Aubrey to move quickly. He could land in Double-A Akron by midseason and make it to the big leagues sometime in 2005.
"I'm just trying to keep learning," Aubrey said. "There's always a lot to learn. I had some success last year and I'm definitely learning every day here. This game can humble you pretty quick. Once you come to that understanding, once you take a lot of that pressure off your back, it makes things easier. You have to approach this game the same way everyday."
In other Indians news, third baseman Matt Whitney is still in extended spring training with no immediate timetable to return. Whitney, recovering from a broken leg he suffered during spring training last year playing basketball, is taking light BP sessions and serving as a DH in simulated game action. Outfielder Brad Snyder, a 2003 first-round pick who is recovering from an eye infection, is about 10 days away from joining low Class A Lake County. Catcher David Wallace, who has a strained rib cage muscle, is expected to join Kinston in another five to seven days.
Reading Phillies righthander Gavin Floyd will face his toughest competition to date tonight when he takes the mound against Akron. Floyd, who defeated Akron 6-1 on April 11, will be vying for top billing in Reading tonight against the musical talents of Elton John, who is playing in the city's nearby Sovereign Center. While John's concert sold out early, Floyd's home debut has sold 5,000 tickets in pre-sales, but the club expects a crowd similar to the 6,512 fans that attended the home opener last night.
In a hurry to leave Sarasota April 10, the Fort Myers Miracle accidentally left righthanded closer Justin Olson behind. Twenty minutes into the trip back to Fort Myers, Miracle trainer Larry Bennese's cell phone started ringing. "Hey," Olson told Bennese as reported by the Fort Myers News-Press, "You guys left me." The Miracle played the next day at Sarasota again, and again ran into bullpen problems. This time, righthanded reliever Travis Bowyer overslept and missed the bus for the 65-mile trip. Bowyer got a ride and made it to Ed Smith Stadium just before game time.
The Twins have five players on the disabled list already, so first baseman Doug Mientkiewicz says he will try to stay off the DL after turning his ankle last night. Still, if Minnesota calls up Justin Morneau from Triple-A Rochester to spell him, Mientkiewicz shouldn't take it personally. Morneau hit two more homers last night--both of the solo variety--in a 4-3 Red Wings win against Scranton. He's now 16-for-31 with four homers and 13 RBIs in his first eight games.
Center fielder Nick Swisher returned to the Triple-A Sacramento lineup after a stint on the disabled list with an injured thumb and contributed immediately. While he went 1-for-4, he also had four RBIs, including a three-run double in an 8-7 loss to Salt Lake.
By Chris Kline
WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. -- Everyone knows Myrtle Beach righthander Jose Capellan throws hard, at times hitting triple digits on radar guns. What they might not know about is how good his secondary stuff is quickly becoming.
In fact, in his first start Tuesday, the Braves turned the radar guns off when Capellan took the hill.
"We didn't even have it on him," Myrtle Beach pitching coach Bruce Dal Canton said. "We know he throws hard. We don't want him to be overly concerned with the velocity--we just want him to get those other pitches going. We're trying to impress on him that velocity isn't the most important thing right now."
Capellan is starting the season in the high Class A Carolina League to refine his curveball and continue to work on his changeup. He went primarily fastball-curve Tuesday against Winston-Salem, with decent results. Capellan threw 4 2/3 innings and allowed two earned runs on five hits. He walked two and struck out seven.
"I thought he was a lot more consistent with his pitches," Dal Canton said. "His command was pretty good. He ran out of gas a little bit in that fifth inning, but he got his curveball going, which he needs to go with the fastball. We all know about the fastball, but he needs the breaking ball or a changeup and he had good command of that curveball, so it's real positive for him."
The Braves took a long look at Capellan as a reliever in big league camp this spring, but he will serve as a starter for the Pelicans, mainly to get more work in.
Capellan blew out his elbow at Rookie-level Danville in 2001 and missed the entire 2002 season recovering from Tommy John surgery. While he struggled with his delivery at times since then, Dal Canton insists he has made strides to become sounder mechanically.
"His mechanics are fine," Dal Canton said. "You can't throw that hard unless you have good mechanics. He's been working really hard in his side sessions on the curve and the changeup. His last two side sessions, he threw good changeups. It's a matter of time until it takes over on the mound. If he gets an offspeed pitch to go along with the fastball, boy, he's in business."
The most improved pitch at this stage is his curve, which was evident on several strikeouts when Warthog hitters were caught lunging at the pitch after obviously expecting high heat.
"He's really improved with the curve in terms of where it was before," Dal Canton said. "It has a little bit more bite to it. He used to baby it before, but now it's harder and quicker."
Capellan said he was pleased with his first outing, but admitted the changeup still needs further development. In his next start, he will be using a three-pitch mix, which should further help keep hitters off-balance.
"It was my first time in this league," Capellan said. "But I still need to work on my changeup. The last time, I threw it in my bullpen, but not in the game. It still needs work to control it and the game is no time to practice it. Next time, I plan on using it and using it a lot more after that."
Reds lefthander Phillip Dumatrait had Tommy John surgery Monday. Dumatrait was a first-round selection (22nd overall) by the Red Sox in 2000. He was dealt to the Reds for righthander Scott Williamson last season. Cincinnati also acquired lefthander Tyler Pelland as the player to be named in that deal.
Jacksonville first baseman James Loney has missed the last two games with a broken fingertip. He is expected to be back in the lineup Friday at West Tenn.
Class A Wilmington righthander Devon Lowery went five innings, allowing one run on five hits in a 4-3 win over Lynchburg. He struck out six and walked one. Lowery is now 1-0, 0.82 in 11 innings.
Class A Inland Empire lefthander Bobby Livingston continued his strong start, as he went 6 2/3 shutout innings in a 3-2 win over Bakersfield. Livingston has allowed just six hits and two walks while striking out eight in 14 2/3 scoreless innings so far for the 66ers.
Akron righthander Francisco Cruceta pitched seven shutout innings against Harrisburg on Wednesday. Cruceta allowed one hit, while walking one and striking out three. Still, Aeros pitching coach Steve Lyons said Cruceta wasn't locating his fastball very well. It's not about his numbers here,'' Lyons said. "It's about how he's pitching," Lyons told the Akron Beacon Journal. "We know he can get Double-A hitters out, but we want him to be able to get major league hitters out. And those kinds of fastballs won't get by in the big leagues."
Rochester reliever Jesse Crain struggled in one inning of work against Pawtucket Wednesday. Crain allowed three hits, including a grand slam by first baseman Earl Snyder. It was the first home run Crain has given up in 116 pro innings.
Two Rockies prospects were in the news Wednesday. Righthander Chin-Hui Tsao, already on the disabled list at Triple-A Colorado Springs because of shoulder stiffness, suffered a setback during rehabilitation, according to BA correspondent Tracy Ringolsby of the Rocky Mountain News. "At this point, we don't think it is serious, but we want to make sure," farm director Bill Geivett said. Tsao felt renewed tenderness when he was having a long-toss session Monday and was shut down. He will be examined in Denver today, then rejoin the Sky Sox for their home opener Friday. The Rockies also promoted outfielder Matt Holliday to Colorado, his first big league assignment. Holliday was off to a .364-2-4 start in eight games at Colorado Springs.
By Chris Kline
His first outing of the season was an impressive one, but 19-year-old lefthander James Houser isn't getting carried away over it.
Houser went five innings and stuck out four against Greensboro Sunday, allowing one run on seven hits. He gave most of the credit to his Charleston River Dogs teammates for the 8-1 win, however.
"They kept hitting the ball to my defense," Houser said. "That usually helps out a lot. It was exciting just to get out there for the first time in a new season."
Houser is entering his first full season of pro ball after going 0-4, 3.73 in 41 innings for Rookie-level Princeton last year. A second-round pick out of Sarasota (Fla.) High last year, he's already regarded as one of the best pitching prospects in the Devil Rays organization. He says he is ready for the grind of the regular season and started preparing back in January, with daily visits to the Rays' complex in St. Petersburg.
"I just wanted to make sure I was ready to go," Houser said. "I worked really hard in the offseason because I knew being here was going to take its toll if I didn't."
Houser was regarded as a potential first-round selection last year, but he fell to the second round because his velocity dropped last spring and he has a heart murmur that concerned some clubs.
He throws from a three-quarters arm slot and has the potential for three plus pitches, including a fastball in the low 90s, a changeup and two variations of a curve. The two curveballs have lacked consistency, and Houser used one version against the Bats.
"I was only using one of my curveballs," Houser said. "I still throw them both, but I only used one the first time out. I think that (inconsistency) is just me being young. I've been really just working on locating my fastball better. That's the main thing I'm working on right now."
Houser will be expected to carry a load for the River Dogs this season, much more than the 10 starts he made in Rookie ball, and he has his own lofty goals for 2004.
"I'd like to get more wins," Houser said. "I'd like to get at least 10 wins. I don't worry too much about the other stuff, the other numbers. I know what I need to work on to get to the next level and everything else will take care of itself."
Houser's next scheduled start is Friday at Asheville.
Righthander Kyle Sleeth, the Tigers' first-round pick (and the third pick overall) in last year's draft, got knocked around in his debut for Class A Lakeland, allowing four earned runs on four hits in five innings. He walked two, struck out two and allowed a home run to Tampa DH Jason Drobiak. "I think he was a little juiced in the beginning of the game since he was making his first start in over a year," Lakeland pitching coach Britt Burns told The Lakeland Ledger. "But he had good velocity and good movement, got better with each inning he pitched and will be fine."
With top prospect Andy Marte listed as day-to-day with a right ankle sprain, the Braves seemed more concerned about lefthander Dan Meyer, who sustained a high left ankle sprain while covering home plate on a passed ball. Farm director Dayton Moore said there is no timetable for Meyer's return and he was expected to miss "a significant period of time." Meyer pitched just 2/3 of an inning and struck out one.
Righthander Adam Wainwright has already shown why the Cardinals made him an essential part of the deal that sent outfielder J. D. Drew to Atlanta, tossing six innings of no-hit ball Friday against Albuquerque. "I really didn't have any expectations," Wainwright told the Memphis Commercial Appeal. "I just knew I wanted to go out there and pitch well because I knew our team was going to keep me in it.
"I think the best thing was me locating my fastball. I wouldn't say any of my pitches were better than the other one, but I just like the way I was locating and working down in the zone. With a team like that, you have to stay down in the zone."
Marlins top prospect Jeremy Hermida went 2-for-5 Tuesday against Daytona, but was upstaged by Jupiter catcher Eliezer Alfonzo. Alfonzo went 3-for-5 with a triple and two homers and drove in six in a 9-7 win over the Cubs.
Pirates lefthander Sean Burnett drew rave reviews in his debut for Triple-A Nashville. Burnett went four innings, allowed three hits, struck out three and walked one against Albuquerque.
Louisville righthander Bubba Nelson went six strong innings against Norfolk Tuesday, but still took the 2-0 loss. Nelson, who was traded to the Reds in the deal that sent Chris Reitsma to the Braves, allowed just one hit, struck out six and walked one.
Salt Lake righthander Chris Bootcheck sustained a minor shoulder injury after colliding with a runner on Sunday. The club was uncertain whether he'll make his next scheduled start on Friday.
Second baseman Rickie Weeks has been hot and cold so far in the Southern League. Weeks had six hits in this first 16 at-bats, then went on an 0-for-12 skid since Sunday. "I'm seeing the ball well. Some days you're seeing the ball and some days you don't," Weeks told the Huntsville Times.
Weeks' teammates Prince Fielder and Brad Nelson wasted little time getting their power strokes on. Fielder went deep twice on Saturday and Nelson already equaled his home run total for 2003 (two). "I was just trying to hit a line drive up the middle, get a base hit," Prince Fielder told the Huntsville Times. "That's my game plan for the year, not to do too much with the ball, just try to hit it and whatever happens happens."
Kinston righthander Dan Denham opened his season last weekend against Winston-Salem. Denham, who has opened each season where he finished the previous one since he was drafted in 2001, touched 94 mph with his fastball and sat at 89-91 consistently. He went five innings and allowed three runs on six hits. He struggled with his command at times, hitting a batter and throwing a wild pitch, but gave reason for optimism. "Daniel threw as good a first inning as I have seen in terms of downhill-quality strikes and repeating his delivery," Cleveland pitching coordinator Dave Miller said. "His curveball was not as good as I've seen it in the past, but his slider was good. Also his changeup has come along some since last year. Daniel is getting better and he has a high ceiling. It's just a matter of repeating the arm (slot). The stuff is definitely there."
By John Manuel
Except for one game at Class A Hickory in 2002--an 0-for-3 comeback attempt that was quickly aborted--Bob Henley has always been an Expo.
So in his first year as manager at Class A Savannah, Henley is trying to impart what it means to be an Expo to his young, talented team. Essentially, it means opportunity.
"I tell them about the Expos tradition," said Henley, a former catcher who signed with the organization as a player in 1992 and played for the big league club in 1998. "It's almost a gift for them to be part of the Expos system, because you have to know that if you perform, you will get a chance at the major leagues.
"It's a part of the organization that I take pride in, and they should take pride in. What more motivation can there be for a minor league player?"
Henley has an intriguing group that he hopes will learn those lessons. The team's pitching staff, headed by 2002 first-round pick Clint Everts, will get most of the attention, but the Sand Gnats also have perhaps the best group of position prospects in an otherwise thin organization.
Most of the prospects are grouped together in a toolsy, young outfield. "We're still trying to figure out a nickname for them," Henley said. "Right now, it's either going to be the 'Fabulous Five' or the 'Ferocious Five.' All five of them have physical ability and can play anywhere in the outfield. It's an exciting group."
Ferocious hasn't been taken, and it also describes the early play of outfielder Rogearvin Bernadina, the highest-ranked prospect of the quintet. Bernadina checks in at No. 11 in BA's Top 30 list for the Expos; teammates Jerry Owens (17), Antonio Sucre (20) and Edgardo Baez (23) also were in the Top 30, while toolsy Reg Fitzpatrick was on the 2003 list.
Bernadina has exciting potential; he's just 19 and like Fitzpatrick is in his second season at Savannah. He hit just .237-4-39 last season in 278 at-bats, but he's growing into his 6-foot, 170-pound frame, Henley said, and leading to a fast start in '04.
Bernadina had two more hits and scored three runs Monday night in the Sand Gnats' 6-5 loss to Charleston (S.C.). He leads the league with seven runs scored in five games and is off to a 9-for-18 start. Just as encouraging, he's drawn three walks, after drawing just 19 in 77 games last season.
"He's a young, exciting hitter," Henley said. "He's a wait-and-see kind of guy, but he has the tools to be a big leaguer. He's got excellent speed, and he has real good hands at the plate. Plus he can throw, so he can play the outfield pretty well."
Led by Bernadina, the Ferocious Five is hitting a combined .329-3-12, as Baez has clubbed two homers. Henley plans to rotate the five as much as possible in the DH slot and all three outfield spots.
"It's a good-looking bunch," Henley said. "But really most of them are just learning to be professionals at this level. That's what makes this level so much fun."
Braves top prospect Andy Marte suffered an ankle injury on Opening Day against Chattanooga. Marte was attempting to steal third when Lookouts catcher Brian Peterson threw wide of the bag, and third baseman Edwin Encarnacion stretched out to make the play. Marte rolled over on his right ankle and had to be helped off the field by trainer Mike Graus and manager Brian Snitker. He is officially listed as day-to-day. "We're certainly being cautious with him at this point," Braves farm director Dayton Moore said. "We expect him back sometime after the Jacksonville series." The Braves' series with Jacksonville ends Wednesday.
The Royals had a pair of pitching gems Monday night, led by the season's first no-hitter. Lefthander Dusty Hughes threw eight no-hit innings and righty Jake Mullis finished up for Class A Burlington's first combined no-no since 1962. In the 3-0 win against Wisconsin, Hughes worked eight innings, retiring 22 in a row between the first and eighth innings, when he walked Michael Cox with two outs. Josh Womack reached on an error to open the game, and was the only other Timber Rattlers baserunner. Hughes, a 5-foot-9 lefthander out of Delta State (Miss.), struck out six. Third baseman Mitch Maier provided most of the support with two of the Bees' five hits and a pair of RBIs.
Royals righthander Zack Greinke was impressive in his Triple-A debut, throwing five shutout innings against New Orleans. Greinke allowed one hit, walked one and struck out three. He hadn't pitched in live-game action in nearly two weeks, finished with 62 pitches before being pulled on a 46-degree night in Omaha. At one point, Greinke engaged in a 12-pitch battle with veteran outfielder Ryan Thompson, eventually freezing him with a curve. "I was very impressed with the way he handled himself out there," Thompson, who has played 17 seasons, told the Omaha World-Herald. "I noticed he quick-pitched me, and I thought that was pretty neat. He had command of his pitches, he had an idea, and it's tough to do that when you're a kid."
Twins first baseman Justin Morneau went 4-for-5 with two homers and seven RBIs in a 12-3 win over Pawtucket. "It's one of those rare nights," Morneau told the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle. "You have to take the good with the bad, and tonight was a good one."
Shortstop B.J. Upton wasn't in the lineup Monday for Double-A Montgomery, but Devil Rays fans shouldn't fret. Upton left the team to return to Virginia following the death of his grandfather, and will miss the Biscuits' series at Birmingham. "It's tough when you lose a bat like Upton's," manager Charlie Montoyo told the Montgomery Advertiser, "but that's the way it goes. You have to deal with it and whoever comes in has to do the job."
Contributing: Chris Kline.
By Chris Kline
While White Sox outfielders Joe Borchard and Jeremy Reed have garnered the majority of the preseason buzz roaming the same garden in Triple-A Charlotte, the class in Winston-Salem has gone largely unnoticed.
That won't last very long.
Right fielder Ryan Sweeney and center fielder Brian Anderson begin the 2004 campaign skipping low Class A, heading from Rookie-level Great Falls to the high Class A Warthogs. Both rank among Chicago's Top 10 prospects, with Sweeney ranked fourth and Anderson ranked seventh.
The 19-year old Sweeney, who spent most of spring training in big league camp, is especially excited to be leapfrogging a level.
"I'm definitely thrilled to be here--as fast as you can move up is great," Sweeney said. "To have this opportunity to be here and be just 19 years old really is something. Some guys have been here for a while, and I really need to learn whatever I can from them to make me a better player. Hopefully I keep moving as quickly as possible, but I'm going to do my best to win games right now."
Both Sweeney and Anderson came out of the 2003 draft, Anderson a first-round selection out of Arizona and Sweeney a second-round steal out of an Iowa high school. Scouts feel Sweeney has more offensive upside of the two, though he tends to struggle getting around on high heat.
"He hasn't shown great bat speed--more slider bat speed to me, but that could change at this level," an American League scout said. "It could be a comfort thing. You get offspeeded to death in this league--especially guys like him. But if you know he can't get around on the fastball, it makes it easier to set him up."
Sweeney has been compared to John Olerud as a hitter with gap power, but he is still very raw--and still has time to grow into his 6-4, 200-pound frame.
As Sweeney is quick to point out, power is traditionally the last tool to develop. And he's trying not to be as pull-conscious as he was in rookie ball.
"I just started lifting a couple of years ago, so I feel like once I get what some people call 'man strength,' or whatever you want to call it, the power will come," he said. "I still feel like I can hit the ball out of the park right now, and they have a great weight program here so that will only work to help me. But if hitting the ball out of the park happens, that's great. I'm just looking to use the whole field and get doubles, singles and drive in some runs.
"I get pitched outside a lot and I'm seeing a lot more offspeed pitches too, but I'm going to go after it with the same approach, get a little load while the pitcher's in his windup and go from there."
Sweeney is batting in the No. 3 hole for the 'Hogs, with Anderson following him in the cleanup spot. The 22-year old Anderson hit .370 his freshman year for the Wildcats, struggled terribly his sophomore season and turned it around last year. He was a second-team All-American for Arizona, hitting .366-14-62 and going to the White Sox with the 15th overall pick in the draft.
A two-way player the majority of his career, Andy Lopez moved Anderson full-time to the outfield during his first year as Arizona's coach. Anderson is still learning the nuances of hitting and still misses the mound.
"I don't even want to talk about it," Anderson said with a laugh. "Yes I do miss it, without a doubt. If there's ever a chance where we run out of pitchers and the coach doesn't call me in to pitch I'll probably walk off the field I'll be so pissed.
"I've never been a real serious hitter because I was a pitcher my whole life. In high school was really my first year of hitting and I really didn't have a clue what I was doing then, but last year was the first year I knew what it took to be a consistent, good professional hitter. My approach was just way better last year.
"Coach Lopez taught me more about the game than anything--what pitchers are doing and what I needed to do to consistently battle them."
Anderson is coming off wrist surgery in which he had part of the radial bone shaved down to allow better blood flow through the entire wrist. He is still trying to find his way back after the surgery, still fighting through the tentativeness.
"My strength isn't all the way back," Anderson said. "It's not really a confidence thing, because I think all baseball players are so cocky that once they can just start playing again they already feel like they should, or they can go back to what they were doing.
"Right now, health-wise my wrist feels like 100 percent, but I still mentally am babying it a little bit. I had all that time where I had to do that during rehab, and I knew that I couldn't swing the bat and I need to personally break through that. It's a personal issue I have to deal with. It's just breaking through that mental wall that I have, that my wrist is going to hurt when I swing and now it doesn't. But I developed bad habits before the surgery when my wrist was hurting. Now I just have to break those habits."
Both players are finding it hard to break through--at least in their first series. Sweeney is 1-for-8 with a double and Anderson has struggled more, going 1-for-7 with four strikeouts. On opening night against Kinston, Anderson went 1-for-4 with three K's.
"When I'm hot and in a zone and locked in, there's really no pitch a guy can throw that you're going to look stupid on," Anderson said. "But right now my timing is pretty bad. Just coming off the wrist surgery, I'm just trying to get back to where I can make consistent contact and have good at-bats. I'm not going to strike out like I did Opening Night. Hopefully I can just keep working and work myself into a groove."
The Indians have until June 30 to complete the Milton Bradley deal, but farm director John Farrell hopes to have the player to be named much sooner than later. The club has a list of three players they are currently scouting and two names that keep springing up are righthanders Joel Hanrahan and Andrew Brown.
Reading righthander Gavin Floyd did a number on Akron in his Double-A debut Sunday, holding the Aeros hitless through five innings. Floyd struck out six and walked one. "(Floyd) has a dominating, 92-95 mph fastball that he locates well, and he always has that curve in his back pocket in case he needs it,'' Aeros pitching coach Steve Lyons told the Akron Beacon Journal. "But he didn't really need it. He got most of his outs with his fastball."
Righthander Tim Stauffer, coming off a strenuous rehabilitation program on his shoulder, made his pro debut during Lake Elsinore's 5-3 win against Inland Empire. Stauffer, reportedly throwing his fastball in the 88-92 mph range, went five innings, giving up four hits and two walks while striking out three.
By Chris Kline
You had to know Charleston RiverDogs right fielder Delmon Young was going to make a splash in his professional debut--he's been saying it all along: "Believe the hype."
Young smacked a three-run, 400-foot blast off the top of the wall in center field at Joseph Riley Jr. Ballpark on Opening Night against the Greensboro Bats in his professional debut, though the RiverDogs fell to the Bats, 9-5.
"I feel pretty good, I mean, it's just my first day and everything," Young said before taking extra hitting Thursday afternoon. "I'm just trying to get my work in right now and go where that takes me."
Young wanted his first season as a professional to be an experience far away from home. Starting the year at low Class A Charleston is about as far as he could get, and much farther than the Devil Rays' high Class A affiliate in Bakersfield, which is a few hours from where he grew up in Camarillo, Calif.
The Rays also have been sending their top picks to the RiverDogs for their first full seasons, which started with Josh Hamilton in 2000. Not surprisingly, Young is aware of the trend.
"It wasn't surprising for me to be in Charleston," Young said. "And if I started in Bakersfield, it wouldn't really be like being away from home. Plus, people there don't really pay attention to anything except the Lakers.
"I know that the Devil Rays sort of have a tradition of sending their number one draft picks here, so I was expecting it. They sent all those guys here to start--and it worked out pretty good for (Carl) Crawford, (Rocco) Baldelli and (B.J.) Upton--so it's nice to be in that line."
Young got his first taste of the pro game in the Arizona Fall League last October, where he more than held his own. He worked even harder in the offseason on conditioning to get ready for the grueling South Atlantic League schedule. There was no doubt whether Young would come into his first camp ready to go.
"He was fine," Rays farm and scouting director Cam Bonifay said. "He came into camp in great shape--but we knew he would. He adjusted himself well to his teammates and we think Charleston is the best place for him to get started. It's the right spot for him. It's a good league and a league where he will be challenged."
Young was challenged before the season started when the RiverDogs played an exhibition with high Class A Myrtle Beach on Tuesday. He wound up 0-for-4 with three strikeouts against Pelicans pitching. To Young's credit, the Myrtle Beach staff is loaded with Braves pitching prospects, including righthanders Jose Capellan, Blaine Boyer, Anthony Lerew, Kyle Davies and lefty Matt Merricks.
While Capellan has been known to hit triple digits on the radar gun, it was Boyer that left the biggest impression on the 18-year-old outfielder.
"I thought Boyer was tougher than Capellan," Young said. "His fastball was darting everywhere. I didn't even get a foul tip against him. His stuff was ridiculous."
David Justice was his favorite player growing up, but when his older brother Dmitri got to the big leagues, that quickly changed. Now, it's more along the lines of Angels right fielder Vladimir Guerrero. "Other than my brother, I look to guys like Guerrero, (Gary) Sheffield and Manny Ramirez," Young said. "Guys like that."
While he continues to draw parallels to right fielder Albert Belle--on the field only--as a power-hitting right fielder with a plus arm, he disagrees with the Belle comparisons. And as always, Young is quick to drop history to back his theory up.
"I never really thought about it, since he was a guy who came out of college," Young said of Belle. "He was probably a little more advanced than I will be at this stage of my career. I prefer to listen to the comparisons to other high school players like a Derek Jeter or a B.J. Upton--guys who really got their feet wet in the Sally League. Those make more sense to me."
When asked about his knowledge of the recent history, the soft-spoken Young said: "Well, I read as much as I can. I read Baseball America a lot. I read whatever I can get my hands on."
Opening Day Pain
Two top pitching prospects stalled in their debuts after leaving games with injuries. High Class A St. Lucie lefthander Scott Kazmir felt a strange sensation in his midsection at a workout Wednesday, and it apparently flared back up again when he took the mound Thursday.
"It felt like right when I stopped my whole midsection, my abs and both my groins, were on fire (Wednesday)," Kazmir told The Stuart and Port St. Lucie News. "I thought I was all right, but it felt real tight again tonight."
Kazmir, the Mets' top pitching prospect, lasted just 1 2/3 innings against Vero Beach. He allowed two hits, walked three and struck out one.
Double-A Birmingham righthander Kris Honel lasted four innings in an 11-1 loss to West Tenn before leaving the game with unspecified pain in his elbow. He is expected to be examined by doctors today.
Honel, the White Sox top pitching prospect, struck out seven, but walked three and allowed three earned runs on two hits.
In Triple-A openers, Las Vegas righthander Edwin Jackson turned things around after having a rough spring. Jackson went five innings, striking out five in a 7-2 win over Portland. Left fielder Chin-Feng Chen was 2-for-4 with a pair of doubles and an RBI . . . Rochester first baseman Justin Morneau went 3-for-5 with two RBIs and DH Terry Tiffee hit a three-run homer as the Red Wings downed Syracuse, 7-2. Righthander David Bush took the loss for the Sky Chiefs. Bush went just four innings, allowing seven earned runs on nine hits . . . Norfolk righthander Aaron Heilman had a strong start, going 5 2/3 innings while allowing one run on three hits in a 2-1 loss to Indianapolis. Heilman struck out nine and walked two. Indians right fielder Corey Hart went 2-for-4 with an RBI . . . Charlotte righthander Jon Rauch picked up his first win against Columbus. Rauch allowed one run on six hits in 5 2/3 with three strikeouts . . . Memphis righthander Dan Haren pitched six strong innings, striking out six and walking two in a 5-2 win over Albuquerque. He did give up two homers--to Isotopes right fielder Matthew Padgett and catcher Matt Treanor . . . Tucson third baseman Chad Tracy went 3-for-6 with home run and center fielder Luis Terrero was 5-for-6 with four runs scored as the Sidewinders clipped the Tacoma Rainiers, 9-8 in 12 innings. Tacoma DH Bucky Jacobsen went 3-for-6 with a homer and five RBIs, and lefthander Bobby Madritsch struck out five and walked three in five innings. Righthander Brian Bruney threw one inning of relief for the Sidewinders, striking out two . . . Durham catcher Pete LaForest went 2-for-3 with a home run in an 8-3 rout over Toledo. Anton French and Jason Maxwell also went deep for the Bulls, who began their quest for a third straight International League title.
In Double-A, Portland righthanded knuckleballer Charlie Zink and Altoona righthander Ian Snell had an Opening Night duel, with Snell getting the win. The pitcher formerly known as Ian Oquendo went five innings, allowing just four hits. He struck out six and walked one. Zink struggled with his control. He walked five in five innings . . . Bowie center fielder Val Majewski went 2-for-4 with two homers and four RBIs in his Double-A debut. Also making his first start with the BaySox, righthander John Maine went five strong, striking out seven . . . In the marathon game of the night, Akron topped Reading, 3-2 in 16 innings. Phillies right fielder Miguel Quintana got revenge against his former club, going 4-for-8. Quintana was picked up by the Phillies in the minor league Rule 5 draft last December. Akron third baseman Corey Smith hit a two-run homer in the third inning. Smith is repeating a level for the first time in his career. He was 1-for-6 . . . Tennessee lefthander Chris Narveson got roughed up, allowing four earned runs on four hits in 4 2/3. He struck out four and walked four. On the flip side, Jacksonville righthander Andrew Brown was impressive, striking out 10 and walking two in just four innings. Jacksonville won, 6-2 . . . Carolina righthander Trevor Hutchinson earned the victory in an 11-3 drubbing of Mobile. Hutchinson allowed two runs on five hits in five innings, fanning three . . . Midland third baseman Matt Teahen went 3-for-5 with a double and three RBI as the Rockhounds downed San Antonio, 9-8 . . . Round Rock first baseman Todd Self went 3-for-5 with three RBI and right fielder Charlton Jimerson was 2-for-4, but the Express fell to El Paso, 7-6.
Class A Clashes
Myrtle Beach righthander Anthony Lerew received a rude greeting in high Class A action, allowing five runs on seven hits in a 5-0 win by Wilmington. Blue Rocks righhander Devon Lowery allowed one hit over six strong innings, striking out two and walking one . . . Inland Empire lefthander Bobby Livingston went eight innings, allowing just two hits and striking out three in a losing effort. Lake Elsinore got a run off 66ers lefthanded reliever Cesar Jimenez in the ninth for a 1-0 victory . . . Clearwater manager Mike Schmidt lost his debut, a 14-11, 11-inning affair against Dunedin. The Threshers drew 2, 837 in their opener at Bright House Networks Field . . . Brevard County lefthander Mike Hinckley got the win in a prospect showdown against Daytona lefty Andy Sisco. Hinckley pitched six innings, allowing one run on four hits in a 3-1 win over Daytona. He also struck out two and walked one. Sisco was nearly as good, allowing an earned run on seven hits in six innings. He struck out five and walked one . . . Lakeland righthander Joel Zumaya went just four innings, but struck out seven and didn't figure into the decision in an 8-2 Tigers win over Tampa . . . Sarasota left fielder Matt Murton went 3-for-4, going deep twice in his high Class A debut. He drove in five.
In low Class A, Delmarva right fielder Nick Markakis went 2-for-4 in a 6-4 win over Charleston (W. Va.) . . . Savannah righthander Clint Everts went four innings and allowed three runs on six hits, including a solo homer to Asheville center fielder Joe Gaetti. The Sand Gnats still won, 7-6 . . . West Michigan shortstop Tony Giarratano went 3-for-5 with a double and an RBI in an 11-3 win over Dayton . . . Cedar Rapids righthander Rafael Rodriguez allowed four runs on five hits in five innings against Peroria. Rodriguez walked three and struck out three in his 2004 debut after going 10-11, 4.31 last season.