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By Corey Brock
TACOMA, Wash.--Individually, Clint Nageotte, Travis Blackley, Bobby Madritsch, Matt Thornton and Cha Seung Baek are five of the top pitching prospects in the Mariners organization.
Collectively, these five pitchers for Triple-A Tacoma make up what could be the best rotation in minor league baseball.
This is pretty heady stuff considering only Thornton had pitched above Double-A before this season--and that was only nine innings in Tacoma in 2003.
Nageotte, 23, knows that many eyes will be tracking his progress and that of his rotation-mates this year. Just don't mention the word "prospect" around him.
"I don't think that we carry that label around," Nageotte said. "When you get out on the mound, all that goes away--you're just out there trying to compete."
For now, that's the challenge facing Nageotte and his teammates in Tacoma. This isn't the Double-A Texas League any more, where these five posted a combined 47-20 record last season for San Antonio's dominant championship team.
In the veteran-heavy Pacific Coast League, there aren't many easy outs, as these five have already learned that season.
"There's a learning curve," said Greg Hunter, Seattle's director of minor league operations. "It's different when you're facing the six-seven-eight guys in the lineup at the Triple-A level than Double-A. You're facing more quality hitters. I think that it's been an eye-opening experience since most of them had so much success at Double-A."
The quintet has been holding its own so far for Tacoma, with a combined mark of 18-9, 3.92. While they haven't been dominant, each pitcher has shown promising moments. Oddly enough, many of these moments happened in the same week in April.
Nageotte allowed one run in 6 2/3 innings in a victory April 14 over Las Vegas. Two days later, Thornton allowed two runs in five innings in a 4-3 victory over Tucson. A day later, Baek gave up one run in 6 1/3 innings in a 2-1 loss to Tucson. Then Madritsch allowed a run in six innings of another 2-1 loss.
The surprise of the bunch had been Madritsch, a former Reds farmhand who resurrected his career in independent ball. The 28-year-old lefthander was Baseball America's Independent League Player of the Year in 2002, and the Mariners signed him after that season. He went 13-7, 3.63 last season at San Antonio and was 3-0, 2.59 after seven starts for Tacoma. He had 41 strikeouts against 11 walks in 42 innings.
"Bobby is one of the guys who's made the biggest adjustments," Tacoma manager Dan Rohn said. "He's one of the guys who has really stepped to the forefront."
And while Nageotte and Blackley were considered the top prospects on the staff coming into the season, the Mariners actually might be more interested in the progress that Baek and Thornton make.
Baek, 24, missed the 2002 season while coming back from Tommy John surgery. The righthander threw a combined 113 innings at Class A Inland Empire and San Antonio last season, going 8-4, 3.10.
He showed good control early in the season with Tacoma--five walks in his first 31 innings--though he had been touched up a bit with 38 hits against him. Overall he was 3-2, 3.77. Rohn said Baek has good stuff but needs to use his pitches better.
"I think Baek still has some learning to do," Rohn said. "He can throw four pitches for strikes at any time but he's got to be able to command both sides of the plate."
Thornton, a 27-year-old lefthander, had Tommy John surgery in 2002 and threw just 43 innings last season. He didn't pitch until May as his elbow recovery continued, and he was shut down in June because of a herniated disc.
This season, the zip has returned to his fastball but he has struggled with his control. Thornton, who spent three days with the Mariners in May, had 32 walks in 37 innings and was 4-2, 5.84 overall.
"Matt is still working on getting command of his breaking ball and changeup," Rohn said. "We know that he's got a powerful arm, he's shown that this season. It's just a matter of getting him to throw more strikes."
Triple-A Tucson outfielder Luis Terrero was suspended for five games by the Pacific Coast League for an on-field altercation in Albuquerque on May 25. The league also suspended Terrero indefinitely for a confrontation with a fan after the on-field incident. Terrero began serving his five-day suspension May 26. He will not count against the club's roster while serving the indefinite suspension. The Diamondbacks were not immediately available for comment.
The Red Sox moved second baseman Brandon Moss to the outfield last year, and the position change is paying off. Moss is hitting .365-5-39 in 192 at-bats with 20 walks and 30 strikeouts at Class A Augusta. An eighth-round pick out of Loganville High in Monroe, Ga., the lefthanded-hitting Moss is a high-energy player with above-average raw power from left-center to the right-field line. "We knew he was a good hitter coming out of high school, but up to this point, he's exceeded our expectations," farm director Ben Cherington said. "He's refined his approach at the plate and really worked hard to become a better hitter. He's got a better understanding of the game now. He's hitting everything hard right no. He's hitting .360--but it's a hard .360."
Double-A Akron righthander Jake Dittler made his first start since coming off the DL yesterday and got a rude welcome, allowing seven earned runs in just 4 2/3 innings. Dittler was sidelined for nearly a month with soreness in his upper right back.
Tigers outfielder Dmitri Young made his first rehab start since coming off the DL with a broken leg. Young went 4-for-5 with five RBIs for Triple-A Toledo and could be back with the big league club next week.
By Chris Kline
Shortstop Chris Burke got a wake-up call two years ago, when the Astros didn't have a high Class A affiliate. He was forced straight to Double-A from low Class A and quickly learned what worked in college wasn't necessarily going to lead to success as a pro.
Burke, one of the top college players in the 2001 draft out of Tennessee, batted .300-3-17 in 233 at-bats at low Class A Michigan after Houston made him the 10th overall pick. But when he jumped to Round Rock in 2002, he hit .264-3-37 in 481 at-bats. More significantly, his on-base percentage dropped from .376 to .330.
The Astros sent Burke back to Round Rock last year, and he got his career back on track, earning Texas League all-star honors and batting .301-3-41. His on-base was back up to .379.
It was Burke's approach to the game and intelligence that allowed him to make such strides. Now at Triple-A New Orleans, Burke is putting up all-star numbers again, hitting .326-5-20 with 13 doubles in 190 at-bats and an on-base of .395.
"He's a guy you just love to watch play," Astros farm director Tim Purpura said. "He fits the model of what our organization stands for: get down and dirty and really grind it out. Since that first year in Double-A, he's taken in as much feedback as he could get from anyone who could help him along the way. He's learned a lot and now understands the game at the pro level.
"He was such a good player in college and there was a little bit of a learning curve, but he's on his way."
Burke has the quickness and athleticism to be an everyday second baseman in the big leagues, but he needs to take more grounders to improve his ability to read and charge balls properly. With his work ethic, that shouldn't be a problem.
"I know Jimy Williams really took to him in the spring," Purpura said. "Those guys were out on the field at 7:30 everyday working on ground balls. Most guys were just arriving at the ballpark, but they were out there before everybody just working."
Another rising star in the organization is center fielder Willy Taveras, who came to the Astros from the Indians in the major league Rule 5 draft in December. The Astros wanted to keep him but couldn't keep him on their big league roster, as required, so they sent lefthander Jeriome Robertson to Cleveland just before camp broke to retain his rights. The Astros also got minor league outfielder Luke Scott in the deal.
Taveras, who is sidelined for seven to 10 days with a hip flexor, is hitting .356-1-16 in 177 at-bats for Round Rock, with an on-base percentage of .420. Speed is the most impressive part of Taveras' game. The 22-year-old Dominican has 29 steals in 34 attempts and has scored 34 runs in 44 games.
"He's always got the green light out there," Purpura said. "But that's not to say he's running all the time or anything like that. He's running in situations that are going to help the club. He's got great speed and really has been a nice addition to the organization. We've coveted a guy like him for a long time."
Aside from his ability to get on base and score runs, Taveras is a plus defender in center. He rated as the best defensive outfielder in the Carolina League last season with Class A Kinston, and several managers noted that Kinston played both corner outfielders close to the lines because Taveras could track down balls in the gaps that most outfielders would never get to.
"He's got off-the-charts range in center," Purpura said. "And he's gotten stronger. His arm is strong, accurate and his release is very quick. We gave up a 15-game winner to get him, but at this point, it's been worth it."
The Astros also gave up closer Billy Wagner to get a handful of prospects from the Phillies, led by righthander Taylor Buchholz. Buchholz has struggled early this season, though he has recently shown slight signs of turning it around at New Orleans.
Buchholz strung two good starts together in mid-May, but his last start was horrific: eight earned runs on 11 hits in just four innings. For the season, he is 2-6, 7.88 in 46 innings. He's walked 19 and struck out 34.
"His problem has been location," Purpura said. "The stuff is still good, but his location has not been. We've talked to the Phillies folks and they've said it takes him some time to settle in at a certain level. We've certainly got to weigh that, but at the same time, we don't want him to get buried. He's being monitored very closely right now to determine what is happening."
Round Rock righthander Jared Gothreaux also had his early bouts with location problems, but put together six quality starts in a row. The 24-year-old is now 4-1, 5.05 in 52 innings.
The Astros want him to throw his changeup more in games, even though Gothreaux billed that as the pitch that gave him the most success last season when he led the Carolina League with 13 wins last year at Salem.
"I've been working almost every day on trying to find a comfortable grip, and I really got to where I had the confidence to throw it for strikes in any count," Gothreaux said in late 2003.
He seems to have lost that comfort zone this year. He's been working mainly fastball-slider and mixing in the changeup as the game goes on.
"We've called this June the month of the changeup," Purpura said. "He just needs to use it more often and earlier in the game. A lot of times, big velocity guys can get by without using it early, but Jared's not a big velocity guy. It's about getting him into a pattern where he's throwing it earlier and more often."
Mets lefthander Scott Kazmir threw three innings in an intrasquad game in St. Lucie on Wednesday and had no discomfort from the abdominal strain that has sidelined him since April 26. "We were concerned that if he had some discomfort, there could be a change in his mechanics, but mechanically, he was very sound," Mets farm director Kevin Morgan said. "We wanted to be understandably cautious with him."
Pirates lefthander Sean Burnett was pulled from a start after just two innings for Triple-A Nashville last night, but not because he was injured. He's headed to the big leagues. Burnett is 1-2, 4.83 in 32 innings for Nashville and is expected to make his major league debut Sunday against the Cubs.
Twins righthander J.D. Durbin had shoulder surgery to repair a partially torn labrum and is expected to miss four to six weeks. "We expect him to be back sometime after the all-star break," Twins farm director Jim Rantz said. "It's a little quicker in terms of a timetable, but from what we understand from the extent of the tear and the fact that he's in such good shape, it should be around six weeks. And there's no way he wanted to miss the whole summer. That guy is a heck of a competitor."
Astros righthander Jimmy Barrett is going through a slow process in extended spring training recovering from shoulder tightness. Last year, Barrett completely lost his feel for pitching and his curveball and got pounded for three months. He turned it around to go 5-3, 3.45 in his last 10 starts and took further steps in instructional league. But now the shoulder problems have the Astros concerned. "He's coming back really slow," Purpura said. "He's making progress, but not as quickly as we thought. It's a tough environment in extended and sometimes the motivation isn't so good." Barrett is throwing on the side, but there is no immediate timetable to move him onto a roster.
Cardinals catcher Daric Barton continues his torrid start for Class A Peoria. Barton, last year's first-round draft pick, is hitting .469-3-12 since joining the club from extended spring.
By Chris Kline
You might think a new organization, new position and new spot in the lineup could be tough to deal with, but Triple-A Edmonton shortstop Maicer Izturis has handled everything with the aplomb of a seasoned veteran.
Dealt along with right fielder Ryan Church from the Indians to the Expos for lefthander Scott Stewart in January, the 23-year-old infielder also moved from second base to shortstop and is now batting leadoff for the Trappers. While he was originally signed as a shortstop, the offensive emergence of Jhonny Peralta and Hector Luna pushed him to second.
"It was tough leaving the Indians," the Venezuelan native said. "All my friends--everybody I knew since coming to the States--were there. When I first came to spring training, I was a little lost, but I have a good chance to get to the big leagues here."
That could be as a second baseman or at short, as Izturis is proving his worth through his versatility. Injuries and logjams of a deep system slowed his progression through Cleveland's organization, but he has been healthy the past three seasons, and the only thing standing in his way now are Orlando Cabrera and Jose Vidro.
"It was something the front office wanted to do," Edmonton manager Dave Huppert said. "He's showed us great range at short. He's got soft hands and a very quick release. And his arm's been strong--I think a lot stronger than we initially thought it might be. We see him as a shortstop, but he can play either one and be fine."
Izturis, whose older brother Cesar plays shortstop for the Dodgers, is hitting .324-0-10 in 136 at-bats this season. Billed as a classic No. 2 hitter, he has made the jump to the leadoff spot. That move has been a little tougher to deal with, though he's handled it well statistically. He had 25 walks and just 10 strikeouts, posting a .429 on-base percentage.
"I like batting second because it's more my game," Izturis said. "I can do the little things, bunting or whatever it takes to move the runner. It's different leading off. Now I have to do whatever it takes to get on base for the guys behind me."
A slash-type hitter who makes good consistent contact at the plate, Izturis could find himself in Montreal soon if the club decides to deal Cabrera this season.
"He's gotten stronger and he's staying back on balls," Huppert said. "He uses the whole field and his ability to bunt will keep him out of long slumps. He's been a great pick-up for the organization."
Mets second baseman Jose Reyes will have an even more extended rehab stint. Reyes, on the DL since spring training with a hamstring strain, tried to take some swings Wednesday to test an aching lower back that has gotten worse over the last two weeks. The back problem is the result of an alteration in the mechanics of his running stride to take pressure off his legs. "He had been over-striding, putting more stress on his hamstring. Now, it's more of running with his chin over his front foot," general manager Jim Duquette told New York Newsday. "They're changing his running form and people said to us, 'Don't be surprised if he's sore.' So this isn't unexpected." Reyes played three games with Class A St. Lucie over the weekend, going 4-for-12 with a pair of steals. He is expected to play in an intrasquad game Friday. "For one thing, I feel good because my hamstring is straightened out," Reyes said. "Now my back hurts a little. What can I say? I can't do anything about it."
Triple-A Syracuse righthander David Bush allowed six earned runs on 10 hits in five innings and still got the win, as the Sky Chiefs downed Charlotte, 10-6. Exclusively a closer in college, the Blue Jays moved him into the rotation last season. Bush tends to leave his fastball with average life (at 88-92 mph) over too much of the plate and gets hit hard. He's getting hit hard this season, giving up 71 hits in 59 innings. This season, Bush is 4-4, 5.34 with 54 strikeouts.
The Sky Chiefs lost outfielder Alexis Rios to Toronto, as the Blue Jays placed Frank Catalanotto on the disabled list and gave Rios his first big league promotion. Rios was hitting .259-3-23 for Syracuse with just a .292 on-base percentage, and he hasn't homered since April 20. The 6-foot-6 first-round pick out of Puerto Rico in 1999 went 0-for-5 in his last game Tuesday but had 12 hits in his previous 26 at-bats before that, his hottest stretch of the season.
Double-A Arkansas third baseman Dallas McPherson might be the next player in the Angels' system to head to Anaheim. McPherson is hitting .305-8-35 in 177 at-bats for the Travelers. While his plate discipline has improved, he still has fanned 50 times this season. Defensively, he cut down on his errors last year and has 10 in 45 games thus far. There was talk about moving him to right field, but that has since died down with the arrival of Vladimir Guerrero. His chances of moving up were enhanced by the shoulder injury that ended Troy Glaus' season.
Class A Lancaster right fielder Carlos Quentin has got to be hurting, but you'd never know it by the way he's swinging it. Quentin took a dose again last night, leading all of baseball with 22 HBPs; the minor league record is 40. Quentin, a first-round pick last year out of Stanford, is batting .278-11-35 in 162 at-bats overall.
Class A Winston-Salem left fielder Ricardo Nanita is on a tear. Nanita is hitting .461 (12-for-26) in his last seven games, improving him to .252-2-27 on the season in 135 at-bats. He's part of an intriguing Warthogs outfield along with center fielder Brian Anderson and right fielder Ryan Sweeney. All three skipped low Class A. Anderson is hitting .313-4-26 in 144 at-bats and Sweeney, a 19-year-old with the highest ceiling of the group, is at .260-2-18.
Class A Stockton center fielder Juan Senreiso's first two games in the California League have been a success. Promoted after hitting .329-3-28 in 155 at-bats for low Class A Clinton, Senreiso went 3-for-6 for the second straight night and has scored four runs in two games.
Royals lefthander Dusty Hughes was promoted to high Class A Wilmington after going 4-2, 1.56 at Class A Burlington. He got a loss in his Carolina League debut despite giving up only one run in six innings; he gave up seven hits and one walk while striking out three.
The Yankees promoted outfielder Melky Cabrera from Class A Battle Creek to high Class A Tampa, and he went 1-for-3 with an RBI in his debut. Cabrera, the organization's No. 19 prospect coming into the year, hit .333-0-16 with 16 doubles at Battle Creek.
Twins catcher Joe Mauer made his first start in a rehab at Class A Fort Myers and went 3-for-4 with an RBI.
Contributing: John Manuel.
By Chris Kline
When it comes to pitching depth, no organization is deeper than the Braves.
The Braves might not have many impact arms at the Triple-A level, but looking beyond Richmond, you can easily see why losing righthanders Adam Wainwright and Bubba Nelson in the offseason hasn't stolen much of the pitching thunder.
Double-A Greenville's 15-30 overall record masks a prospect-laden staff, with lefthander Dan Meyer leading the way. Meyer is 3-2, 2.38 in 34 innings with 42 strikeouts and only eight walks this season. The 6-foot-3, 190-pound lefty has shown great command of his low-90s fastball and plus changeup. His slider is in the 78-81 range and right now needs further development.
"The big thing for Dan is commanding the fastball to go along with his change, which he's done very well up to this point," farm director Dayton Moore said. "He's got a hard-biting slider that he's going to have to use more in game situations and mix it in to give hitters a different look."
Meyer endured a high ankle sprain while covering the plate on a passed ball in his first start, but after missing two rounds in the rotation, the supplemental first-rounder in 2001 out of James Madison hasn't looked back.
"Initially, we expected him to miss a lot more time," Moore said. "But he's had a history in his career of these types of sprains, so he bounced back well and earlier than we expected."
Where Meyer has had early success, lefthander Macay McBride has struggled. McBride is 0-6, 5.61 in 51 innings. His stuff appears to still be there, but not nearly as consistent as it was last season. McBride has fanned 53 and walked 25.
"The thing with all pitchers is trusting what they have," Moore said. "He still has the same stuff; it's just a matter of not giving in to hitters. When you give in to hitters at that level, you're going to get hit. He just needs to stay on the attack, which has always been a special trait of his."
Moore said McBride might have been trying to be too fine, relying on hitting spots more than being on the offensive on the mound.
"Kevin Millwood struggled with that--even once he got to the big leagues," Moore said. "Not everybody is a touch and feel guy. Millwood wasn't and McBride isn't either. But this is a positive for him. It's the first time he's faced any kind of adversity. He'll respond and be a better pitcher. I still think he's going to have a great year. It's important for him to go through this right now."
The Braves' talent on the mound is clearly evident in Myrtle Beach as well--Pelicans hurlers have won four Carolina League pitcher of the week honors. Righthanders Blaine Boyer, Jose Capellan and Anthony Lerew have all won the award, with Boyer winning it twice.
Capellan's numbers have been outrageous this season. The 23-year-old Dominican is 5-1, 1.94 with 62 strikeouts in 46 innings. While he can hit triple digits on the radar gun, Capellan has been mainly working on improving his secondary stuff this year. His curveball has been a plus pitch and he's still working on mixing in a changeup for a third legitimate option.
"He's mixing it in now and again and his confidence in it has grown from where it was at the start of the season," Moore said. "It's important to get all those pitches working together, but he's locating his breaking ball well, and when you can do that with a plus-plus fastball, it's a little easier to keep hitters off-balance."
Lerew, an 11th-round pick in 2001 out of Northern High in Wellsville, Pa., is quietly putting up solid numbers on a staff with Capellan, Boyer, and Kyle Davies around him. He's 4-2, 3.00 with 50 strikeouts in 48 innings. Working with a 91-93 mph fastball with good movement and late sinking action, Lerew's changeup is nearly as effective as the fastball and sometimes looks more like a splitter than a straight change. He's working on developing a slider as a third option.
"His fastball is above-average with deception and great location," Moore said. "He's needs to be more consistent with the slider and build his trust in it in order to use it more. But if you don't throw it, it's hard to trust it. He has outstanding poise and presence on the mound and done really well at the high Class A level."
A level lower at low Class A Rome, stereotypical "little lefty" Chuck James is putting on a show as well. James is 6-0, 1.50 with 50 punchouts in 48 innings. The 6-foot, 170-pounder out of Chattahoochie Valley (Ala.) Junior College works with his fastball around 89-91, but his change is far and away his best pitch. James is also quickly becoming well-known in the South Atlantic League for his toughness on the mound and his fearlessness for throwing inside.
"He's a tremendous competitor," Moore said. "He moves the fastball in and out all over the plate and just needs to get that third pitch moving. He's not afraid of anything out there."
That third pitch is a slider, and while McBride might not be a "touch and feel guy," James certainly is. He hits his spots, consistently moving all three pitches around the zone.
"His stuff is incredibly deceptive, not overpowering, but he keeps hitters guessing," Moore said. "He changes speeds well and does a nice job disrupting hitters' timing. He has an attacking style and when you have that kind of approach it's going to bode well for you."
The Braves' approach of stockpiling pitchers has worked for more than a decade now. With the performance of many of their pitchers at lower levels, it doesn't appear likely to end anytime soon.
The Orioles called up righthander Denny Bautista on Tuesday and activated lefthander Matt Riley from the 15-day DL, optioning him to Triple-A Ottawa. Bautista, who came over with righthander Don Levinski from the Marlins in the Jeff Conine deal, was 2-4, 5.10 in 42 innings at Double-A Bowie. Riley was on the DL with tightness in his left shoulder. The third-round pick in 1997 went 1-1, 4.59 in 18 innings for the big league club this season. The Orioles also designated third baseman Jose Bautista to Ottawa. Bautista was hitting .273 in just 11 at-bats.
Double-A Reading righthander Gavin Floyd got tagged for four earned runs on five hits in a 5-2 loss to Altoona last night. Floyd has been throwing his plus-plus curveball more often lately. In his previous two starts, Floyd broke off 43 curveballs--22 of those for strikes. Three of those were put into play with just one hit. Floyd is 2-3, 2.35 in 46 innings.
In his third straight stint at Triple-A Charlotte, right fielder Joe Borchard has been on a tear lately. Borchard is hitting .440 (22-for-50) over the last 12 games. And perhaps more importantly, his plate discipline appears to have improved. Strikeouts have been a concern the last two seasons, as his walk totals steadily declined. But this season, Borchard has 12 walks compared to 30 strikeouts. He is hitting .288-9-33 in 153 at-bats overall.
Class A Visalia righty Ubaldo Jimenez was put on the disabled list with a strained muscle in his back. Jimenez, who leads the California League in strikeouts (61), was ineffective in his last two games and was skipped for his scheduled Saturday start before being placed on the DL.
Double-A New Hampshire righthander Brandon League pitched two scoreless innings of relief last night in a 6-5 win over Norwich. Primarily a starter over his first three seasons, League has worked exclusively out of the pen this season (with the lone exception coming in the second game of a doubleheader May 12 against Trenton). "We're trying to stretch him out a little bit," Blue Jays assistant general manager Keith Law said. "We see him as a long reliever or a guy who comes in the back end of games. He's not an inning eater, but he's a guy who can shut it down." League's fastball has been sitting consistently at 96-97 this season, but the biggest development so far has been with his sweeping 87-88 mph slider. "I feel a lot more comfortable throwing it in games now," League said. "I wouldn't necessarily call it my 'out pitch' or anything, but I feel a lot better throwing it this year in certain situations than I had in the past." League is 0-2, 2.89 in 28 innings this season.
After 822 games and nearly 3,000 at-bats in the minors, Red Sox catcher Andy Dominique made his big league debut last night. Dominique struck out in his only plate appearance in a 12-2 win over Oakland. The 28-year-old out of Nevada was hitting .321-7-38 in 165 at-bats at Triple-A Pawtucket this season. "He's always been an offensive producer throughout his minor league career, and he's become even a better hitter over the last couple of years because he continues to work on it," farm director Ben Cherington said. "A couple of years ago he was a good enough hitter to stick around the upper levels of the minor leagues, but to his credit he was able to refine his offensive production even more."Contributing: Kevin Goldstein
By J.J. Cooper
The numbers are downright ugly: 1-4, 8.73 with 40 hits allowed, 28 walks and 10 wild pitches in 33 innings.
A year after he seemed to make a breakthrough at low Class A Burlington, righthander Colt Griffin seems to be struggling worse than he's ever struggled as a pro.
The mechanical changes he and Class A Wilmington pitching coach Reggie Jackson have made aren't leading to better results yet. But if you think Griffin has regressed, he'd disagree.
To reach his major league potential, Griffin will have to show that he can command his mid-90s fastball. In past years, he has never shown the ability to hit his spots, not that it really mattered much as last season went along. Griffin had his best stretch of success as a pro, going 10-7, 3.48 over the final four months of the season.
But in hindsight, while the success in Burlington wasn't a mirage, it also wasn't a sign that Griffin had put things together. He still led the minors with 97 walks in 156 innings, but Midwest League hitters had trouble handling his slider. So when Griffin got behind in counts, he'd go to the slider, even though he still couldn't consistently command any of his pitches.
"The more you go up, they're not going to swing at that stuff," Griffin said. "A 2-0 breaking ball, they'll sit on it. It's a little different in Double-A than low A."
So Griffin has taken a step back in terms of results, in what he hopes will help him take a jump forward over the long haul. The first high school pitcher ever to hit a documented 100 mph, Griffin was seen as a long-term project when the Royals took him ninth overall in the 2001 draft.
In his fourth pro season, that's still an accurate assessment. He joined the Royals as a pitcher with an outstanding arm and little refinement. After three years of work, he still has work to do with his mechanics and delivery. And he still has nasty stuff, with a mid-90s fastball that has plenty of sink and a high-80s slider.
When the Royals hired Jackson as the Blue Rocks pitching coach this winter, they told him Griffin would be one of his main projects. So Jackson broke down plenty of videotape of Griffin over the winter and quickly decided he needed to go back to basics.
Griffin and Jackson spent the first month of the season working almost entirely on his fastball command, trying to establish a consistent delivery and release point. To expedite the process, Griffin put his slider and changeup in his pocket, throwing more than 90 percent fastballs in each start.
"Without a doubt, we don't want him to marry the slider right now," Jackson said. "We want him to marry the fastball and get a consistent release point."
With the new approach, Griffin has found plenty of hitters waiting for fastballs. He's been working on the side of late, last pitching May 17 against Kinston. He lasted just 1 2/3 innings, giving up three earned runs and walking four. The approach has made for ugly numbers, but Jackson is confident there will be a payoff.
"My whole point with Colt is I like what's going on," Jackson said. "I tell him, 'Don't change a thing.' We've come a long way. I think he kind of trusts me now, through the good and bad."
With the pressure of the consecutive innings streak behind him, Double-A Tennessee righthander Brad Thompson collapsed Monday night, giving up seven earned runs on nine hits--three of them homers--in a 12-4 loss to Carolina. Over his last two starts, Thompson's ERA has "ballooned" to 1.33.
Class A Winston-Salem shortstop Pedro Lopez has just four hits in his last 22 at-bats since coming off the disabled list with a sprained ankle May 13. Lopez, who moved from second base to shortstop this season, is batting .242-1-6 in 95 at-bats. "He's been a second baseman his whole career. We just wanted to move him over to short to show us some versatility," White Sox roving infield instructor Nick Leyva said. While Lopez has plus speed, he still is considered only a moderate threat at best on the bases. "He's not a very aggressive kid yet," Leyva said. "He still hasn't come out of his shell yet as far as base running goes. A lot of that comes with confidence. When he gets his confidence, he's going to be a good little player."
Class A Battle Creek righthander Elvys Quezada tossed a nine-inning no-hitter in a 7-0 win over Battle Creek Monday night. Quezada lost his last three starts--allowing 16 runs in just 12 innings--but apparently had his stuff last night. He walked four and struck out 11, lowering his ERA to 2.92.
Class A Clearwater center fielder Chris Roberson collected his 10th straight multi-hit game last night in a 4-3 win over St. Lucie. Roberson, a ninth-rounder in 2001 out of Feather River (Cailf.) Junior College, is hitting .308-6-22 in 172 at-bats. Although he stole a Phillies organization-high 59 bags last year, Roberson has just seven steals in 15 attempts this season.
Triple-A Portland left fielder Jon Knott hit two home runs to lead the Beavers to a 7-1 win Monday against Omaha. Undrafted after he strained a tendon in his right leg in his senior year at Mississippi State, Knott has rocketed through the Padres' system since he signed in 2001. Knott is batting .313-12-45 and leads the Pacific Coast League in RBIs.
Contributing: Chris Kline.
By Chris Kline
WINSTON-SALEM, N.C.--A year ago, the White Sox viewed Andy Gonzalez as their shortstop of the future.
But as he struggled miserably at low Class A Kannapolis, and shortstop Mike Morse blossomed at high Class A Winston-Salem, those plans have changed.
The Sox moved Gonzalez to third in spring training and the fifth-rounder in 2001 has responded. While he hasn't had the same kind of pressure making the change as the Yankees' more high-profile move of a shortstop to third base, the move has taken some getting used to. So has the abuse from teammates.
"The ball gets to you quicker," Gonzalez said. "At short, you have a lot more time to get reads. At third, it's all reaction. You take balls off the chest, off your shoulders, off your legs, but whatever you do, you've got to keep it in front of you. It's been a change, but I like it. People kid around with me a lot about A-Rod, but I mean, come on."
Gonzalez seems a lot more upbeat this year than he did in 2003, when he hit just .231-1-39 in 429 at-bats for the Intimidators. In fact, there was nothing even slightly intimidating about his game. He started slumping at the plate, which carried over to the field. He committed 38 errors in 121 games.
His first full season last year was a far cry from his first year at Rookie-level Bristol, when he batted .280-1-45. Gonzalez batted third in the lineup for then-manager Nick Leyva, who said he was the team's leader on and off the field.
"He knew how to play and he was a guy everybody looked up to," said Leyva, now a roving infield instructor for the Sox. "I think his struggles last year can be chalked up to immaturity. Last year, he was hitting down in the lineup, and I think just little things like that tend to bother Andy.
"He got off to a tough start and got really down on himself. He wasn't hitting the ball very well, so we sat him for a few games. He'd have to come to the ballpark on a daily basis, and the first thing he'd have to do is look at that wall to see if his name was on the board. I don't think he was used to that at all. Sometimes when you've been where he's been and you've had a great high school career and you're mister all-star and stuff, you don't even look at the lineup. You take it for granted that you're automatic."
A prep standout out of Florida Air Academy in Melbourne, Fla., the 22-year-old had a lot of early successes, but nothing could have prepared him for the funk he endured last season.
"Last year was my first full season and I started hitting bad," Gonzalez said. "Then all of the sudden everything went bad. I wasn't playing my game. Everything was an uphill battle for me. I had completely lost my confidence in my ability.
"But I've been though a lot of things in my life, both personal problems off the field and on it. It's all in the way you approach it. I had to take a step back and realize that this is just a game. There are always going to be tough times, but you can always get back to the field tomorrow."
A native Puerto Rican, Gonzalez started this season back in Kannapolis, which agitated him at first, but turned out to light a fire under him. Three weeks and 13 hits in his 48 at-bats later, he moved up to Winston-Salem.
"In spring training I got mad," he said. "I'll be totally honest. I was like, 'Here we go, back to Kannapolis again.' So I used it to challenge myself, go back there, put up numbers and let them decide where I should be. All I can do is be responsible for myself. They make the decisions; I play for them.
"The first week in Kannapolis, I couldn't buy a hit and I started to doubt myself a little bit again. But I worked real hard mentally on just letting things go. I let it go everyday when things weren't going well that first week and good things started to happen. They know I can play; I just have to show it. I just have to have confidence in myself."
The confidence is showing now--even though he is hitting just .221 in 104 at-bats for the Warthogs, Gonzalez's four homers are one shy of his career high.
"I think when he starts to use his legs more, he can be an RBI guy," Leyva said. "He's a very, very intelligent hitter. He's the type of guy where situational-wise, he's another manager on the field for you. He's a pretty sharp kid. He's been playing baseball his whole life."
Pirates catcher J.R. House refuses to let the prospect tag go. House hit for the cycle Friday night and is now hitting .324-9-29 at Triple-A Nashville. He came close again Saturday, falling a triple short. The Pirates have experimented with House, a fifth-round pick in 1999, playing him some in left field this season. "We're not giving up on him behind the plate whatsoever," farm director Brian Graham said. "He's still a catcher in our mind and he's really responded so far this season." House has started 25 games behind the plate and five in left field. With Ryan Doumit waiting in the wings at Double-A Altoona, House is playing like he has something to prove. Doumit is batting .299-4-13 with 10 doubles in 87 at-bats for the Curve.
Triple-A Rochester first baseman Justin Morneau got called up to the big leagues Friday, and hot-hitting Jason Kubel took his roster spot with the Red Wings. Morneau's big day was Saturday, when he went 3-for-3 with a homer against the White Sox. Kubel, meanwhile, went 2-for-4 in his Triple-A debut.
How long will it be before the Devil Rays come calling for Triple-A Durham shortstop B.J. Upton? "Bossman Junior" is hitting .364-4-10 in 44 at-bats. Defense is perhaps the lone reason he is not at Tropicana Field right now. Upton has committed four errors in 11 games. He committed 10 in 29 games at Double-A Montgomery this season.
Big Walter Young isn't having much success at Double-A Bowie, although he hit two homers over the weekend. The 6-foot-6, 290-pound first baseman is hitting just .204-7-23 for the BaySox. Young was claimed on waivers by the Orioles from the Pirates last November.
Double-A Huntsville first baseman Prince Fielder has hit the skids in the Southern League. Fielder started off on fire in April, but was mired in a 2-for-36 slump coming into Sunday when he went 1-for-4 with his first home run in 79 at-bats. He is hitting .257-10-33 overall.
Whenever Class A Kinston catcher/first baseman Ryan Garko's name comes up here at the Baseball America headquarters, it is often followed with someone saying, "Polo," in what some might consider a lame attempt at humor. It turns out, we have a lot in common with inebriated Carolina League fans. "Nobody ever did that," Garko said. "Not in high school, not in college. I hadn't even heard it until we were in Lynchburg earlier this season. There were a bunch of drunk guys yelling 'Polo!' after every time they announced my name. It was pretty funny, for a bunch of drunk guys." Oddly enough, some fans started in on the "Polo" joke Saturday night in Winston-Salem--right around the seventh inning. By the way, Garko is hitting .357-10-36 in 143 at-bats.
By Chris Kline
The Twins couldn't expect right fielder Jason Kubel to stay under the radar for long.
Kubel has hit .310-23-194 in 291 games since being taken in the 12th round out of Highland High in Palmdale, Calif. in 2000. Though he saw his power numbers drop from 17 at Quad City in 2002 to only five in the Florida State League last year, the Kubel show is being fully unveiled this season at Double-A New Britain.
He is currently hitting .378-6-29, leading the Eastern League in batting and hits and ranking second in extra-base hits and on-base percentage. And despite being tagged a below-average runner, Kubel is second in the league with four triples.
"He's really stepped up this year and is doing something special," farm director Jim Rantz said. "Leading the league in several categories is something we, as an organization, are really excited about. He's worked really hard the past few years and it's nice to see him doing what he's doing right now."
Even if there was a scary moment involved.
Kubel was hit in the head with a pitch May 13 by Portland lefthander Jason Howell and missed two games. In his return three days later, Kubel singled in his first two at-bats. In his third at-bat, he drilled a shot to right-center that hit off Erie center fielder David Espinosa's glove and rolled to the wall.
"That call could have gone either way," Rantz said. "They gave him an error, but if he doesn't get a glove on it, it's another triple. I guess that says something about him wanting to be in the lineup everyday. He wanted to get right back out there."
Kubel has always had an advanced understanding of the strike zone, as evident by his career marks of 118 walks compared to 125 strikeouts coming into this season. So far, he's walked 18 times and struck out the same number in 2004.
"He's got a good idea up there in every at-bat," Rantz said. "He rarely chases anything out of the strike zone and doesn't swing at bad pitches. He's a very intelligent hitter that is aggressively under control."
With pop to the opposite field--regardless of the low home run total in the pitcher-friendly FSL--Kubel has good leverage and finish to his short, compact stroke. In his first two full seasons, he needed to make more quality contact and thus far he's succeeding. He's hitting lefties at a .286 clip, and destroying righthanders, batting .450 against them.
"He hangs in there against the lefties," Rantz said. "He gets the barrel of the bat on a lot of pitches and drives them. He's a power line-drive gap hitter right now, but the home runs are coming. He's a 20-25 home run guy to me down the line."
Defensively, Kubel has the arm strength to play right, but is still working on getting good reads on balls slicing off the bat from righthanders.
"He's still got a ways to go," Rantz said. "But he's getting better on getting good jumps on balls. He's beginning to better recognize balls going away from him."
Kubel has often been compared to a poor man's Brian Giles, a similarity Rantz agrees with.
"I can see that and it's good for him to be compared to a guy like Giles," Rantz said. "He's a good looking young player with a lot of heart who loves to get out there and play. He's a grinder--just like Giles."
Class A Columbus lefthander Chuck Tiffany must love pitching against Greensboro. Last night, Tiffany threw a seven-inning perfect game in a 10-0 win over the Bats at Golden Park. It was the second monumental occasion in a month for Tiffany, who also tossed a combined no-hitter with righthander Marcos Carvajal against them on May 3. "As the innings got closer to the seventh, I knew something good could happen because our team was making the plays," the 19-year-old told the Columbus (Ga.) Ledger-Enquirer. "I knew if I did my job they would do the job behind me." Tiffany has now recorded two wins in his pro career--the combined no-hitter and a perfect game. He struck out 12 of the 21 batters he faced Thursday. "Starting off with a no-hitter and perfect game, it still hasn't hit me yet," he said. Tiffany's perfection overshadowed the performance of righthander Julio Pimentel, who went six innings and allowed one run on five hits in the first game of the doubleheader. Pimentel is 3-2, 3.54 in 28 innings.
Lefthander Cole Hamels made his 2004 debut a good one, throwing three perfect innings and striking out six in Clearwater's 8-0 win at Vero Beach.
This time, Devil Rays lefthander James Houser is headed to the DL. Houser, who skipped his second scheduled start in April with shoulder stiffness, was placed on the seven-day DL yesterday with discomfort in his arm. He has been sent to St. Petersburg, Fla. as a precaution to be examined by team doctors. The injury caused Houser to leave Wednesday's game in the seventh inning. This season, Houser is 3-1, 2.20 in 33 innings at Class A Charleston (S.C.).
Cubs righthander Mark Prior started his rehab assignment at low Class A Lansing last night. Working with a fastball between 91-94, he went three innings, striking out five. Prior is expected to make another start for the Lugnuts, who drew 9,823. Righthander Carlos Marmol finished up the combined shutout, striking out eight in six innings to improve to 5-0, 2.13. Marmol, a power fastball-slider pitcher, led the Rookie-level Arizona League in strikeouts last season.
Triple-A Portland first baseman/outfielder Ben Petrick announced his retirement yesterday. A second-round pick in 1995 by the Rockies, Petrick played nine seasons, five of which were spent between Triple-A Colorado Springs and the big league club. He was traded last summer to the Tigers for righthander Adam Bernero before coming over to the Padres system this year. In 80 at-bats, the 27-year-old hit .225-2-11.
By Chris Kline
Double-A Tennessee righthander Brad Thompson's consecutive scoreless inning streak came to an end Wednesday night at 49 frames this year, after West Tenn first baseman Mike Dzurilla singled to right-center to drive in Richard Lewis.
"I definitely wasn't happy about it," Thompson said in a release from the Smokies. "You never want to give up anything, to tell you the truth. Its just something that's gonna happen."
Thompson's streak set a Southern League record. The minor league record for consecutive scoreless innings in one season is believed to be 59, held by Birmingham's Irvin Wilhelm in 1907.
Thompson had 57 2/3 straight scoreless innings before Dzurilla's RBI single, dating back to last August and spanning three levels in the Cardinals system at low Class A Peoria, high Class A Palm Beach and Tennessee.
"There is definitely a sense of relief," he said. "I had a few times out there where I felt like I was on pins and needles, but I definitely feel very good about this accomplishment, too."
The National Association considers Wilhelm's streak as the longest documented streak. (The Smokies contend Thompson did break the record.) Because of the lack of complete records for many defunct minor leagues, it is possible further research will find someone with a longer streak, but not having the record takes nothing away from Thompson's accomplishment.
"He threw 15 scoreless innings back in instructs last fall as well," Cardinals farm director Bruce Manno said. "It's a shame we can't count that. But the streak aside, he's come on very quickly. It started in the (Arizona) Fall League last year, when he gained a lot of confidence playing against guys who had more experience than he did. He's got great makeup, throws strikes with a pretty impressive sinker. He just knows how to pitch. He's got a good idea out there now."
While Thompson has been the feel-good story of the Cardinals system, if not the minor leagues thus far this season, St. Louis still hasn't had too much to croon about.
Left fielder Dee Haynes has played just nine games and is on the DL with a strained quadriceps. Catcher Yadier Molina is also on the DL with a pulled hamstring, though Manno said they expect him back by May 24.
And No. 1 prospect Blake Hawksworth just came off the DL with a strained shoulder muscle. The righthander's stuff is there, but opponents have gotten the better of him in his last two starts, as he's given up 10 hits (two home runs) and seven runs in 10 2/3 innings.
"We're banged up a little bit right now, but nothing is really serious. Some of the guys got a late start," Manno said. "Hawk's just been slow to recover. We're taking it slow with him, so there's no exact time frame on when he'll move up. The MRI showed nothing significant--just a strain--so we'll wait and see how he does from here."
Peoria shortstop Brendan Ryan was held back for a short time in extended when camp broke with a sprained wrist, but has blossomed in his first 30 games of full-season ball. A high-energy guy that has shown flashes of pop, is hitting .353-0-18 with nine doubles for the Chiefs.
"I don't know if he'll be a guy to put up big power numbers or anything, but we're seeing a lot more line-drive power to the gaps," Manno said. "He's an enthusiastic guy out there that tends to get everybody up around him. It's refreshing to see someone with his approach and desire, because he just loves to play. But he needs to funnel that enthusiasm into the right areas and learn how to harness it."
Peoria also just received lefthanded-hitting catcher Daric Barton, who was activated Sunday from extended spring training. The 2003 first-round pick is 5-for-11 in his first three games, hitting .455-1-6. Though he was the DH in his first two starts, Barton caught on Tuesday, going 2-for-3 with two doubles and three RBIs.
"He had some minor elbow surgery in January, so we wanted to make sure his arm was in peak condition and ready to go," Manno said. "So we held him back a little over a month so he could work out, take more swings and see some live pitching instead of just throwing him into the fire."
Class A Quad Cities center fielder Denard Span's sprained right wrist turned out to be worse than the Twins expected as they placed him on the seven-day DL yesterday. "The X-rays were negative, but we're still going to give it time to heal properly," farm director Jim Rantz said. Span left Monday's game after injuring the wrist while swinging.
Class A Vero Beach lefthander Mike Megrew tossed seven no-hit innings last night in a 6-0 win over Tampa. The Dodgers' No. 19 prospect struck out 11 and walked two. Scouting director Logan White calls Megrew a poster boy for projectable lefties and the fifth-round pick in 2002 is living up to that claim. This season, Megrew is 3-1, 1.95 with 38 strikeouts in 28 innings.
Double-A Arkansas lefty Jake Woods threw eight shutout innings with five strikeouts in a 3-0 win over Frisco. Often compared to big leaguers Mike Stanton, Scott Schoeneweis and Kent Mercker and originally projected as a future situational lefthander, Woods continues to bloom as a starter. This season, he is 5-1, 2.17 in 58 innings for the Travelers. A third-round pick in 2001, Woods has 40 strikeouts and just nine walks.
Double-A Round Rock righthander Jared Gothreaux is quietly putting up good numbers again this season. Gothreaux started last season in the pen at Class A Salem and didn't crack the rotation until late April, yet still led the Carolina League in wins with 13. A 16th-rounder in 2002 out of McNeese State, Gothreaux is 4-0, 2.65 in his last five starts (winning his last three) and is 4-1, 4.93 overall 46 innings for the Express.
Class A Rome lefthander Chuck James just keeps winning. Last night, James struck out eight in five innings in a 4-0 win over Asheville. He is now 5-0, 1.05 in 43 innings, yielding just 18 hits during that span. A 20th-round pick out of Chattahoochee Valley (Ala.) Junior College, James works with a fastball in the 89-91 mph range with an exceptional changeup and a developing slider. "He does it with mirrors," an AL scout said. "Nothing overpowering, but is advanced in changing speeds and keeping hitters off-balance. He's just eating that league up right now."
Cleveland righthander Fausto Carmona made an impressive Double-A debut as a spot starter for the Eastern League Akron Aeros. With righthanders Travis Foley, Jake Dittler and Kyle Evans and lefthander Mariano Gomez on the DL, Carmona made a one-night only appearance for Akron, and went 7 1/3 innings, allowing one run on six hits and struck out three.
Contributing: J.J. Cooper.
By Chris Kline
DURHAM, N.C.--The sun beats down on the field at the Durham Bulls Athletic Park, while deep inside the clubhouse, a 19-year-old plays video games to unwind.
This is no ordinary 19-year-old, however. This is a young man on the cusp of the major leagues. And you'd hardly even know it talking to him.
The media requests have appropriately tripled in volume for B.J. Upton since his promotion to Triple-A Durham a week ago. And they are likely to only go up from there when he arrives in Tampa, presumably sometime this season. You can see it in his still boyish face as he sits in front of his locker. It's almost like, "Oh, no . . . not again."
Most of the reporters shuffle in and out, asking him the same questions as the soft-spoken shortstop graciously answers each one without complaining. We'll take you right into the interview session.
What's it like being the top position prospect in the minors?
"I don't even think about any of that. I just want to play everyday, work hard and do everything I can to get better."
How was your month and a half at Double-A Montgomery, wearing the Biscuit uniform?
"It actually wasn't bad. The fans there are awesome, even when we weren't playing well. You don't really think about the uniform too much when you're out there, even on the road. At home, we drew like three, four or five (thousand). It was nice."
What did it mean to hit a homer in your home debut for Durham?
"It's just one game. It doesn't mean anything. It's just another game. It doesn't matter if it's at home or wherever."
There are a lot of critics out there about your defense. You led the minors with 56 errors last year and have 13 already this season. What would you say to those critics?
"I can't say anything. It's the truth. It's a fact and there's nothing I can say about it. It's right there on paper and I have to take responsibility for it. It's there and I'm just going to keep working to get better."
You bought three things after signing out of high school--a new house for your parents, a new Cadillac Escalade, and a sprinkler system for your school. Why the sprinkler system?
"We had one for the infield, but they needed one for the outfield, so I did that and bought them new uniforms. It's just something I wanted to do."
Your brother, Justin, will be eligible for next year's draft. Do you guys talk about what he is likely to expect?
"He knows everything I went through. He's seen it. I used to talk to him a lot about it, but he has a pretty good idea of what to expect. We talk more about what I'm going through now. At times, it's just been crazy."
You've only been here a week, but have you noticed any difference between Triple-A and Double-A?
"The pitchers here are a little bit smarter. They make less mistakes and you see fewer pitches you can really drive. When you see one, you have to get it because you probably won't see it again."
What's the hardest thing about playing short?
"I couldn't tell you what the toughest thing is. I have no idea. Sometimes, it's all been tough. It's very demanding. A tough position to play, but I like the challenge of it."
Up to this point, who is the toughest pitcher you've faced?
"I'd have to say (Phillies lefthander) Cole Hamels. He has incredible stuff and his changeup is ridiculous. He'll throw it anytime. And when he's on, he's definitely the toughest I've faced so far."
Do you see yourself as a role model for young fans down the road?
"Am I a role model? Yeah, I am--on the field. And off the field too, I guess. This is the first time I've ever really thought about it. It's not actually anything I've ever sat down and thought about. Get back to me on that one."
Did you have a favorite player growing up? A guy you looked up to?
"Derek Jeter, but I've grown out of that. I still respect everything he's done, but I'm trying to be my own player now."
Should Devil Rays fans have reason to hope for a winning season?
Upton turns to Bulls catcher Pete LaForest, seated next to him. "What would I tell the fans in Tampa Bay, Petey?"
"Are we talking about your arrival?" La Forest asks. "It's coming. Tell them to give us three years to get all the rookies some experience to come up. It's been a long time coming."
"In the words of B.J. Upton--through Pete LaForest," Upton says, laughing. "There you have it. Help is on the way."
The Indians received Dodgers' righthander Andrew Brown as the player to be named to complete the Milton Bradley deal. Brown was 1-3, 4.02 with 58 strikeouts and 14 walks in 40 innings at Double-A Jacksonville. Brown was throwing 93-94 mph, touching 97 with a pair of breaking balls and a developing changeup that has made strides this season. Brown is expected to join Double-A Akron tomorrow. It marks the second time in Brown's career he was dealt for a big league outfielder. He was packaged with Odalis Perez in the deal that sent Gary Sheffield to the Braves in 2002. The Indians received right fielder Franklin Gutierrez on April 4 in the first phase of the trade. The 21-year-old outfielder is hitting .328-2-16 in 137 at-bats for the Aeros.
Class A Quad Cities center fielder Denard Span was removed from a game Monday after one at-bat after spraining his wrist while swinging. The Swing is off today, which should give him another day to rest. The Twins don't consider the injury serious. "He kind of tweaked it," farm director Jim Rantz said. "We're expecting him to be back in the lineup tomorrow." Span is batting .256-0-8 in 124 at-bats with 11 steals.
Twins righthander Scott Baker made his Double-A debut for New Britain last night and was almost perfect. Baker tossed a seven-inning one-hitter, allowing a line drive single to Portland shortstop Raul Nieves. He threw 70 pitches, striking out four. Baker was called up to take righthander J.D. Durbin's spot on the roster after shoulder soreness put Durbin on the DL.
Indians righthander Jake Dittler hasn't pitched since May 1 and is on the DL with soreness in his right upper back. He is expected to return to action May 28. "It was more fatigue than anything," assistant general manager Chris Antonetti said. "It was nothing major, we're just trying to be as cautious as possible." Dittler is 1-3, 2.20 in 29 innings this season.
There is no concrete return date for fellow Indians prospect Mariano Gomez, who has been on the shelf with with a strained ligament at the base of his left middle finger leaving a start against Double-A Harrisburg on April 21. The same injury caused the lefthander to miss the second half of last season. "It's a strange injury that has no record of being a medical condition in baseball," Antonetti said. "It happens with rock climbers a lot, but not in baseball and the best way for it to heal is simply with rest."
Twins catcher Joe Mauer was the DH yesterday in a intrasquad game at the Twins' extended spring training facility in Fort Myers, Fla. "We're hoping to get him back sooner than later," Rantz said. "But of course we're not rushing him. Our timetable for his return is somewhere around June 1." Mauer hit the DL on April 8 with torn cartilage in his left knee.
Brewers' righthander Ben Hendrickson threw just two innings against Triple-A Columbus last night. When he left the game, he found out he was headed to Milwaukee. Hendrickson went 3-2, 2.25 with 28 strikeouts and 11 walks in 40 innings at Triple-A Indianapolis this season. He is expected to make his big league debut Saturday against the Pirates.
Rockies' righthander Ubaldo Jimenez lasted just three innings last night in Class A Visalia's 5-3 win over Stockton before leaving the game with a strained lat muscle. Jimenez allowed three runs on four hits and struck out two in increase his California League-leading total to 61. He will be examined today, and the Rockies hope he will not miss his next scheduled start in San Jose.
The Royals are mulling over calling up 20-year-old righthander Zack Greinke to start against the Athletics this weekend. "It's a possibility," farm director Muzzy Jackson told mlb.com. The Royals haven't needed a No. 5 starter since May 11 because of off days, and Greinke is in the running to fill that role. "He continues to get better," Jackson said. "We've got to evaluate the situation and talk to the minor league staff and make a decision, hopefully in the next couple of days whether we're going to bring him here or not. Again, that depends on the evaluation. We have not determined that yet." Greinke allowed a run on six hits over six innings while notching seven strikeouts on 83 pitches Monday for Triple-A Omaha. His fastball sat at 89-91 mph and touched 93 consistently while throwing 83 pitches in his third consecutive start. The Royals implemented a plan this year to limit Greinke to 140 innings by having him skip every fourth start.
Contributing: Kevin Goldstein.
By Chris Kline
The ball might fly out of The Hangar, but this is ridiculous.
The California League averaged the most runs per game per team in the minor leagues last year at 5.15 RPG--the average across the board was 4.44. Coming into this season, Class A High Desert rated as the best hitter's park in the Cal League, but that might change this season with the numbers the Lancaster JetHawks are putting up.
They've outscored their opponents 263-204 in 36 games and posted double-digit runs nine times. Some of that has to do with park factor, but a lot of it has to do with the hitters on the Lancaster roster.
"It's what a lot of people would call 'sick,'" JetHawks manager Wally Backman said. "Our offense just crushes the ball all over the place. We're getting our pitching staff a hell of a lot of run support right now."
As a team, Lancaster is leading the league in nearly every offensive category. The JetHawks are hitting at a combined .305 clip with 46 homers in 1,267 at-bats.
While catcher Phil Avlas ranks second in the league in batting at .353-1-15, it is the trio of third baseman Jamie D'Antona and outfielders Conor Jackson and Carlos Quentin putting up the majority of the power numbers a month and a half into the season. And all three are in their first full season of pro ball.
D'Antona is hitting .314-7-34 in 137 at-bats. The second-rounder out of Wake Forest packs the best raw power in the Diamondbacks system. He set the Demon Deacons' career homer run mark (58) and was also named the Atlantic Coast Conference player of the year in 2003. His strength and bat speed are such that he doesn't have to hit the ball squarely to hit it out of the park--just about any park.
"He just has stupid power to all fields, but especially to right center," Backman said. "He hits all pitches--great pitch recognition--and he'll go the other way on people with the same power. It's pole to pole."
Backman has been working with D'Antona on his footwork at third to increase his solid-average range and his throws to first.
"He's going to be a big league guy and he'll put up the power numbers to back up him being at third," Backman said. "His range is adequate, but he still needs some polish. But he's the kind of guy that will work with me everyday to improve defensively. He's a hard worker and understands there's always room for improvement in this game."
Jackson is off to a torrid start, hitting .326-7-32 in 141 at-bats. He's seventh in the league in batting, fourth in RBIs, fifth in on-base percentage (.433) and fifth in slugging (.567).
A first-round pick out of California, Jackson was called out a few times early in his pro career in the Northwest League, but Diamondbacks officials said it was because he knew the strike zone better than the umpires. This season, he has 26 walks compared to 19 strikeouts.
"He's one of the most polished hitters I've seen at this level," Backman said. "He takes every at-bat like it's his last and really just gets after it. He recognizes pitches very well and doesn't strike out a whole lot. If there's a guy you need to make contact in a situation, he's the guy."
Quentin missed all of last season after having Tommy John surgery, but hasn't missed a beat. This year, Quentin is hitting .260-9-27 in 131 at-bats.
"A lot of people (outside the organization) were worried about him being tentative after the surgery, but there's no way this kid's holding back anything," Backman said. "He's a total gamer that lets it out on the field. I've got some great, great guys around me on this club."
He also has a penchant for getting hit by pitches. He holds the NCAA single game record, getting plunked five times. This season, he's been hit 20 times already.
"It's the way he turns," Backman said. "He doesn't get out of the way even though he's trying to. That's what I mean by not being tentative. There's no way you stand in there, get hit 20 times and are worried about getting hurt."
Talk about a whirlwind first month and a half--Padres righthander Justin Germano started the season at Double-A Mobile, but with lefty David Wells expected to miss his next two starts with a cut on his left hand, Germano was called up last night and will start Saturday against the Phillies. Germano went 2-1, 2.51 in 32 innings for the BayBears, then jumped to Triple-A Portland for two weeks. He went 1-1, 3.18 in 17 innings for the Beavers.
Pirates righthander John Van Benschoten appears to be getting used to the Triple-A level. The Pirates' No. 1 prospect allowed one run on five hits and struck out 10 in seven innings last night against Portland. He struggled early on and his numbers reflect his slow start--he is now 0-5, 5.91 with 29 strikeouts and 16 walks in 43 innings for Nashville.
The Twins placed righthander J.D. Durbin on the seven-day DL with shoulder soreness that will require a medical evaluation. Durbin is 2-0, 2.08 with 35 punchouts and nine walks in 35 innings at Double-A New Britain this season. The Twins promoted righthander Scott Baker from Class A Fort Myers to take Durbin's spot on the roster. Baker, a second-round pick last year out of Oklahoma State, was 4-2, 2.40 with 37 strikeouts and six walks in 45 innings for the Miracle this season.
Tigers lefthander Rob Henkel has a torn labrum and likely faces season-ending surgery. Traded by the Marlins along with righthander Gary Knotts and lefty Nate Robertson for lefthander Mark Redman and righthander Jerrod Fuell last year, Henkel was 1-1, 4.70 in 15 innings at Double-A Erie this season. He last started May 6 against Harrisburg and allowed four earned runs on six hits in just four innings.
Dodgers first baseman James Loney missed nearly a month with a broken finger that became infected and required minor surgery, but returned to the Double-A Jacksonville lineup Friday against Chattanooga. Since returning, Loney is 3-for-18 with a pair of RBIs and six strikeouts. He is batting .237-0-5 in just 38 at-bats overall.
Contributing: Jim Callis.
By Chris Kline
When you think of the Florida State League, the first thing that usually comes to mind is pitching. But the Sarasota Red Sox are trying to buck that trend.
Though they have cooled off recently, the Sox started off on a tear. They are currently batting .249 and rank second in the league behind Tampa with 25 homers as a team.
"The entire team is either in their first full year of pro ball or their first at that level," farm director Ben Cherington said. "It's a pitcher's league and over the last 10 days or so they've seen better pitching running up against Palm Beach and Vero Beach. Now that they've run through the league once, they'll have to make the necessary adjustments."
Sarasota is one of the most prospect-laden clubs in the minors with 10 players among the Red Sox' Top 30.
Led by first baseman Jeremy West and the Sox' No. 1 prospect Hanley Ramirez at short, the club also boasts catcher Dusty Brown, third baseman Chad Spann, and outfielders Chris Durbin, David Murphy and Matt Murton. Murphy and Murton were first-round picks last year.
A seventh-round pick out of Arizona State, West has been their most consistent hitter to date, ranking third in the league in hitting at a .350-7-20 clip in 117 at-bats.
"He came into camp in outstanding shape and so far, he's the guy who's setting the tone with his consistency," Cherington said. "He's a guy who loves to hit. He's one of those grinders that's a total (batting) cage rat. He's got power to all fields and has shown he can hit fastballs and offspeed stuff out of the ballpark. Now that the league kind of knows him, he's going to have to adjust to that. But he's the kind of guy who's definitely going to keep putting the extra work in to make those adjustments."
While West has been solid, the Red Sox lost Ramirez for at least three to four weeks with a sprained left wrist. The 20-year-old shortstop tumbled into second base while running the bases.
"We're hoping it's not longer than that," Cherington said. "He tried to play through it for seven or eight days, but wasn't just responding. We're not going to rush him back. We want to make sure it's completely taken care of."
Murton has shown as much power as West, though the average isn't quite there. Through 117 at-bats, Murton is hitting .256-7-20. The first-rounder out of Georgia Tech tends to get pull happy with his swing and isn't shortening up his stroke like he should to hit the ball to all fields, leading to 30 strikeouts so far. He is also in a funk, with just seven hits in his last 43 at-bats.
Another outfielder who is mired in a frustrating slump is Murphy. The 22-year-old first rounder out of Baylor is caught in a 7-for-53 skid, but Cherington said Murphy is hitting the ball hard.
"He's just snakebit right now for some reason," he said. "He's hit like 15 line drives during that span, but nothing is falling for him. It's something everyone goes through at one time or another and David definitely has the makeup to deal with it. It could be worse."
For all the offensive talent, the Sox also have some solid arms, led by righthander Jon Papelbon. A fourth-round pick last year out of Mississippi State, Papelbon never started a game in three seasons for the Bulldogs, but the Sox believe he's a rotation guy. Papelbon started six games for short-season Lowell last season, going 1-2, 6.34 in 33 innings. This year he has fared much better--3-2, 3.51 in 33 frames with 49 strikeouts and 14 walks.
"He's progressed quicker than we thought," Cherington said. "We felt like he should be a starter just to learn and be exposed to all the things starters are exposed to as they eat up innings."
Papelbon has responded, commanding a 92-94 mph fastball with late life in and out of the zone. The offspeed stuff is still developing, but the Sox are impressed with his mound presence and his aptitude for having a true starter's mentality.
"He's got great presence," Cherington said. "And we've seen him dominate games solely using the fastball. It's not overpowering, but he out thinks hitters a lot. His curve and changeup have shown flashes of being plus pitches, but he just needs to experiment with them more and build his confidence."
As Long Beach State righthander Jered Weaver continues to garner all kinds of attention as the 2004 draft's No. 1 prospect, the Dirtbags' No. 1 starter from last year, lefthander Abe Alvarez, is struggling somewhat at Double-A Portland. Alvarez is 2-3, 4.62 in 37 innings, allowing six homers. He has struck out 32 and walked 12. "It's a big jump for him to go from college to Double-A," Cherington said. "His command's been good, but he sometimes tries to be a little too fine. A couple of those home runs were with two-strike counts, which is frustrating for him. But we're happy with his strikeout to walk numbers. He's moved quickly and is pitching in a very hitter-friendly park, so adjustments have to be made. He's at the right level for him now, though, and some mistakes have inflated the ERA."
Lefthander Paul Maholm, the Pirates' first-round pick in the 2003 draft, was scheduled to be discharged the hospital in Lynchburg, Va., after being struck in the face by a line drive Saturday night. Maholm's nose was broken and the orbital bones around his left eye were fractured when he was hit by a line drive off the bat of Winston-Salem first baseman Casey Rogowski. The 21-year-old remained on the ground for approximately 20 minutes and was taken off the field in an ambulance. "He'll go back to his apartment and rest for three or four days," Maholm's agent, Bo McKinnis told the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. "We won't know how bad everything is until the swelling goes down, but the preliminary probe shows no vision problems, and he has feeling in all of his extremities." Maholm gave up three hits in 3 1/3 innings before leaving the game. He is 1-3, 1.84 in 44 innings overall. "He stayed overnight in the hospital and is at home right now in Lynchburg," farm director Brian Graham said. "He's been though tests and the eyesight is fine. Now it's a matter of getting him up to Pittsburgh so our doctors can do a follow-up, but we can't do that until the swelling goes down. But he's in good spirits after what was a very scary and tremendously unfortunate moment." Maholm is scheduled to fly Wednesday to Pittsburgh to be re-evaluated.
The Phillies activated lefthander Cole Hamels and assigned him to Class A Clearwater. Elbow soreness has sidelined the Phillies' top prospect since the end of spring training. "He was right on course," farm director Mike Arbuckle said. "We could have brought him back a little sooner, but we were taking a conservative approach. He dominated in his last extended start on Saturday and he's more than ready to go." Hamels will start Thursday at Vero Beach.
Double-A Bowie right fielder Val Majewski came off the disabled list over the weekend and went 4-for-10 with two homers against Trenton. Majewski was out for nine days with a strained left oblique muscle.
In other Orioles news, Class A Frederick lefthander Ryan Hannaman might still be on the Keys' roster, but don't expect to see him facing Carolina League hitters anytime soon. Hannaman was assigned to the club's extended spring facility in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., to work on his mechanics. In his last outing May 3, he lasted just 2/3 of an inning against Potomac. He had struggled mightily this season, going 0-1, 8.03 in 12 innings for the Keys. He walked 16 and struck out just nine. "Once we get him fixed, we'll bring him back," farm director Doc Rodgers said. "Whether that be to Frederick or (low Class A) Delmarva remains up in the air. He's really fighting himself mechanically right now."
On the bright side, lefthander Richard Stahl is putting up good decent numbers for Frederick--he just needs to stay healthy. Stahl pitched sparingly the last three seasons due to shoulder and back injuries, but the 6-foot-7, 220-pounder is 3-2, 3.00 in 36 innings this year. "It's very exciting for us to see him get going like this," Rodgers said. "If he continues to pitch the way he has and stays healthy--and there's no reason to think that he won't since he came into camp in great, great shape with something to prove--he really puts himself in the picture to move up through the system. We were counting on Stahl, (righthander) Don Levinski and Hannaman to be pretty solid for us this year. All three have had their bouts mechanically, but none worse than Hannaman."
By John Manuel
Double-A Tennessee righthander Brad Thompson shook off an ankle injury, got one last out and tied the Southern League record for consecutive scoreless innings Friday night en route to the Smokies' 10-0 victory against Carolina.
"I had to pitch a lot and rely on my defense like I always do," Thompson told the Maryville (Tenn.) Daily Times after the game. "I definitely didn't have my best stuff out there."
With 5,066 fans on hand to follow his pursuit of a small piece of history, Thompson went six scoreless frames to push him to 6-0, and he hasn't allowed a run in 43 1/3 innings in 2004. He gave up three hits, walked two (his first walks since April 23) and struck out two, and has allowed just 22 hits and five walks on the season while fanning 32.
Thompson also finished the 2003 season with 8 1/3 shutout innings between Class A Palm Beach and low Class A Peoria, so he hasn't given up a run in his last 52 innings dating back to last season. Because it stretches over two seasons, Thompson's streak remains 13 innings shy of what is currently believed to be the all-time single-season minor league record, set in 1907 by Irvin Wilhelm of Birmingham.
The 16th-round pick out of Utah's Dixie Junior College had an 8-0 lead through 5 2/3 innings when Carolina's Matt Demarco hit a comebacker that drilled Thompson's ankle. Demarco reached on an infield hit, and after three warmup pitches and a mound visit by the trainer and manager Mark DeJohn, Thompson continued. Speedy veteran Billy Hall grounded to first, and Thompson hobbled to first to cover for the 3-1 putout, tying the record previously set in 1993 by Carolina's Bobby Hunter.
Thompson, a 6-foot-1, 190-pounder who relies on a low-90s sinking fastball and an above-average slider, needed 92 pitches in the effort and was backed by shortstop John Nelson, who homered twice and had four of the Smokies' 14 hits.
Third baseman Matt Moses, the Twins' 2003 first-round pick, was placed on the disabled list at Class A Quad Cities. Moses has missed time after being hit on the knee with a pitch, and the St. Paul Pioneer-Press reports he had his back examined Friday by Twins doctors in the Twin Cities. The club has scheduled him for a Monday MRI to see if he has a bulging disk in his back. Moses was off to a 13-for-39 start before his injury problems began in late April, and is hitting .237-3-13 overall in 76 at-bats.
The Red Sox called up third baseman Kevin Youkilis to Boston, replacing lefthander Mark Malaska on the roster. Youkilis was hitting .258-3-13 at Triple-A Pawtucket, and actually had more strikeouts (24) than walks (16).
Giants outfielder Dan Ortmeier returned to the Double-A Norwich lineup after missing seven games with a bruied right shoulder. The Giants' top-ranked position player prospect entering the season, Ortmeier went 2-for-4 with an RBI to raise his average to .305 and stole his fourth base in the Navigators' 6-2 win. A 93-minute rain delay after the top of the first scratched the start of righthander Brad Hennessey, who warmed up before the delay but was replaced thereafter. Hennessey could start today, according to the Norwich (Conn.) Bulletin.
Devil Rays prospect B.J. Upton has his first Triple-A highlight. He hit a two-run homer in the sixth inning off Josh Hancock in Durham's 4-3 loss at Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. Upton also didn't make an error at shortstop, as Jorge Cantu moved over to third base. Upton went 1-for-4 with one strikeout.
Triple-A Sacramento righthander Mike Wood carried a no-hitter into the seventh inning in the Railcats' 2-0 win at Omaha. Wood settled for giving up two hits in seven frames, striking out 10 while walking one to improve to 6-2, 2.72 overall.
By Kevin Goldstein
GENEVA, Ill.--Catcher David Castillo was groomed to fit into the Athletics system at an early age.
"When I was a kid, I'd get frustrated when I couldn't get a pitch to hit," said Castillo. "My dad taught me early on to just take the walk when it's given to you and take your base. Every since then, I've been very aware of my walks and my (strikeout-to-walk) ratio."
Castillo, 22, has been among the Midwest League leaders all season in two offensive categories the A's highly covet, runs and on-base percentage, and was hitting .322-5-22 for low Class A Kane County in 33 games.
"He already calls a great game and has established a real professional relationship with many of our pitchers," Cougars manager Dave Joppie said. "Offensively, he's just been fantastic. He makes my job very easy--just put him in the three-hole every day and watch him go."
A 2003 seventh-round pick out of Oral Roberts and the only two-time Mid-Continent Conference Player of the Year, Castillo struggled in his pro debut, hitting .257-1-14 for short-season Vancouver.
"When we signed David, he had so many adjustments to make," A's farm director Keith Lieppman said. "He needed to learn our system, adjust to hitting with wood, and deal with a very unfriendly hitter's park in Vancouver. But we knew he'd improve."
Listed at 5-foot-9, 185 pounds, Castillo credits his offensive explosion to a stringent workout in the offseason that saw him add nearly 30 pounds. "His work ethic is just absolutely off the charts," added Lieppman. "When we drafted him, he was a boy. When he showed up in Arizona this spring, he was a man."
With the rare opportunity to enjoy a major metropolitan area while playing in the minors, Castillo has yet to enjoy the Chicago night life, available just 45 minutes east of Elfstrom Stadium. "I'd love to get out there. My roommate (outfielder Dustin Majewski) and I pooled together and bought a car to get us back and forth from the park, but it's an old Volvo, like an '86, and I'm not confident it would make it there."
Castillo represents one of a number of quality catching prospects to emerge throughout the system in the last two years, as the A's have turned what was once a system weakness into a sudden strength.
"Over the last several years, we've had some prospects that didn't work out, and we also traded two (Gerald Laird and Miguel Olivo) who are now starting this year in the big leagues," Lieppman said. "We went from abundance to zero pretty quickly and decided to focus on catchers in the last few drafts."
That focus is starting to pay off. The most well-known catcher in the system, Moneyball-favorite Jeremy Brown, has struggled this year at Double-A Midland. But John Baker, selected five rounds after Brown out of California, is hitting .315-5-21 while sharing catching duties with Brown and also seeing time at first base.
Lieppman also thinks the A's have a sleeper in John Suomi, an obscure 22nd-round pick in 2000 out of the College of Cariboo (B.C.). He entered the season with a .253 average and 11 home runs in 213 career games, but is off to a .328-6-30 start for high Class A Modesto in the California League.
The A's even have backups that they're high on, including another Canadian, Dave Harriman, who relieves Castillo at Kane County. Harriman received no pro attention as a junior, but was selected in the 17th round of the 2002 draft after beginning his senior season at Armstrong Atlantic (Ga.) State with a 41-game hitting streak, tied for the third longest in Division II history. Harriman is hitting .302-2-8 in 17 games for the Cougars.
"It's been tough for Dave," Lieppman said. "He seems to always be in the wrong place at the wrong time, but we like his skills, and we like the fact that pitchers really like to throw to him."
For Harriman, patience has been the key. "I understand my role and recognize that I'm not going to play every day when we have Castillo here," Harriman said. "I just wait for my turn to play, and when I get in the lineup, I want to do what he's doing."
In Reds news, righthander Dustin Moseley and center fielder Chris Dickerson were sent to extended spring training in Sarasota, Fla. Moseley has a strained lower back and last pitched on April 25. "We expect it to be short term, but he will dictate the timetable," farm director Tim Naehring said. "He's just throwing on flat ground right now. We're going to be careful with him." Dickerson hurt his elbow diving for a ball at low Class A Dayton on May 2 and is expected to be back the first week of June. He was off to a .346-1-10 start in 78 at-bats.
Righthander Bobby Basham was lost for the season due to shoulder surgery to repair a torn labrum. Basham had an MRI last summer that came up negative, but the labrum tear explains why his velocity dipped from 90-94 to 82-87 with little command of the fastball. "We're hoping to have him back completely healthy next spring," Naehring said. The good news for Cincinnati is the outlook of Triple-A righthander Matt Belisle and Class A Potomac first baseman Tony Blanco. Belisle, acquired from the Braves in last year's Kent Mercker trade, is 4-3, 3.00 in 45 innings for the Bats and could provide a lift to the big league rotation soon. "He's definitely a name that's been talked about," Naehring said. "It's ultimately not my decision, but Matt is certainly a name to consider if the opportunity presents itself." Blanco is batting .297-11-26 in 118 at-bats, but the problem is finding him a defined position. Blanco, formerly the Red Sox' top prospect, started as a third baseman, but has played primarily first base. The Reds, who acquired him from the Sox in the December 2002 Todd Walker trade, are experimenting with him in left field as well. "The keys for Tony are staying healthy, finding a position where he's comfortable and pitch recognition," Naehring said. "He needs to be more consistent, especially with offspeed stuff." Blanco is showing off a lot of power in the Carolina League, but has struck out 36 times in 118 at-bats.
Padres outfielder Xavier Nady was activated from the DL last night at Triple-A Portland, but left after the fifth inning after chasing down a ball at the outfield wall in center. You read that correctly--Nady was playing center field.
Class A Myrtle Beach righthander Jose Capellan went eight hitless innings and struck out 11 in an 8-0 shutout against Frederick, which fell to 6-27. Capellan is now 3-1, 2.36 with 44 strikeouts and nine walks in 34 innings.
Tigers righthander Kyle Sleeth was placed on the suspended list at Class A Lakeland after getting involved in a melee against Tampa last Saturday. Sleeth and righthander Humberto Sanchez were each suspended for one start, while center fielder Victor Mendez and righthanded reliever Felix Cuello were suspended three games. Tampa outfielders Shelley Duncan and Bronson Sardinha were also suspended for three games. Fines for players involved ranged from $50-$150.
Giants lefthander Erick Threets continues to have shoulder problems and likely is headed for arthroscopic surgery. Threets, whose fastball has been clocked at 102 mph, likely will miss the season. An MRI exam showed some damage to the labrum in his shoulder. Righthander Merkin Valdez began facing hitters in extended spring training and will be assigned an affiliate, likely to Class A San Jose, once he gets stretched out to six innings. The Giants have been cautious with Valdez even though his shoulder tendinitis was not considered serious.
The Angels activated their top pitching prospect, righthander Ervin Santana, and sent him to Double-A Arkansas. Santana was in extended spring training recovering from tendinitis in his elbow.
Contributing: Andy Baggarly, Chris Kline.
By Chris Kline
There's no easy way to get from the Devil Rays' high Class A affiliate in Bakersfield, Calif., to their new Double-A club in Montgomery, Ala.
Hence, Devil Rays lefthander Chris Seddon's route had him flying from Bakersfield to Phoenix where, much to his dismay, he found out the airline overbooked the connecting flight to Atlanta.
"Hopefully I won't be stuck here too long," Seddon said from the airport. "I was excited and honored to get called up to Double-A and I knew this was going to be a long trip, but this is something I didn't expect. That's travel for you."
Seddon was promoted to Montgomery at the same time that shortstop B.J. Upton, the organization's top prospect, left the Biscuits for a promotion to Triple-A Durham. Upton had skipped Bakersfield after playing with Class A Charleston last year and hit .327-2-15 in 104 at-bats for the Biscuits.
Seddon began his season in a return trip to the California League and dominated the California League, going 5-0, 0.65 in 41 innings. He struck out 41 and walked just eight, limiting opposing hitters to a .207 average. Most impressively, Seddon allowed just three earned runs during that span.
"Wow, that is pretty impressive," Seddon said. "I knew there weren't too many, but had no idea about the actual number."
Last season, Seddon also started strong but fell into a midseason funk that he chalks up to being run down and not working out properly the previous offseason. He limped to the finish line and wound up going 9-11, 5.00.
"I was tired and I kind of hit a wall," Seddon said. "But I took it to heart and worked out a lot more this offseason to try to keep my strength up."
The 20-year-old's offseason work paid off as he added 30 pounds and grew two inches, getting up to 6-foot-5, 200 pounds. It didn't hurt that Seddon's wife, Shiloh, is a great cook. The two were married in February.
"She's an awesome cook and being married is great," Seddon said. "Her cooking sticks to me."
In addition to adding strength, Seddon's early success also came from his ability to relax more on the mound. He tended to push too much last year and in 2002 in Charleston, when he went 6-8, 3.62. He became too hard on himself after losses, especially about the number of walks he was giving up. At Charleston, Seddon struck out 88 and walked 68 in 117 innings. Last year, he fanned 95 and walked 54.
His 41-8 ratio this year is the best of his career by far.
"I just tried to be more relaxed and let my mechanics do what they can do coming into this year," Seddon said. "I had to slow my head down, let things happen and go from a strikeout mentality to just eating up innings. That was my goal for the season--going deep into games.
"That and I just don't want to walk people. I can't stand it when I do and that was something I had to change. So my mentality now is to let them hit it. Let them put it in play. I don't think strikeouts are over-rated at all--I like them--but I'm not worrying about them as much now."
Seddon features a 88-89 mph fastball that touches 91, but his velocity is likely to increase with the added bulk. He also throws a plus slider and a changeup that is quickly developing into a plus pitch.
"I really worked to develop (the change) in the offseason and in the spring," Seddon said. "I'm 100 percent more comfortable throwing it now than I was even in my first couple starts this year. I'll use the slider when I need an out, just sort of mix it in there, but I'm really happy with the way the changeup has been."
Now, Seddon is a Biscuit--for the time being.
"I'm excited to get down there," Seddon said. "I've heard a lot of things about the place. The buzz is the fans are tremendous, which is awesome."
Seddon will throw a bullpen Friday and is scheduled to make his first start Sunday at home against West Tenn.
Devil Rays No. 1 prospect B.J. Upton moved up to Durham after batting .327-2-15 for Double-A Montgomery. Considered the best prospect in the minors, the 19-year-old shortstop is quickly on his way to making his debut at Tropicana Field this season.
The Cubs brought two of their top prospects off the disabled list and optioned them to Class A Daytona. Righthander Angel Guzman will get his surgically repaired shoulder back up to speed in the warm weather of Florida before moving back up the ladder. Guzman had a slight labrum tear end his 2003 season after just 90 innings; he went 3-3, 2.81 at Double-A West Tenn. Outfielder Nic Jackson, also recovering from a shoulder injury, will join Guzman in Daytona as he comes off the DL. Jackson hit .253-11-44 last year at Triple-A Iowa.
In other Cubs news, lefthander Sean Marshall could be headed to Double-A soon. Marshall is 2-0, 1.11 in 49 innings for Class A Lansing with 51 strikeouts and just four walks this season.
The San Diego Padres promoted righthander Tim Stauffer, the fourth overall pick in the 2003 draft to Double-A Mobile. Stauffer, who signed for $750,000 last year after admitting to a shoulder injury, was sparkling in six starts for Class A Lake Elsinore, going 2-0, 1.78 and never giving up more than two earned runs in a single outing.
Athletics lefty Tyler Peterson made his season debut Wednesday afternoon, allowing just one hit over five shutout innings in Kane County's 4-2 victory over Wisconsin. A fifth-round pick in 2003 out of Florida State, Peterson went 3-4, 3.25 last season for short-season Vancouver, but injured his knee on the first day of spring training drills and was held back in Arizona until this week. Peterson complemented an 85-87 mph fastball with excellent command and used his changeup as an out pitch. "That was just a very impressive debut," Kane County manager Dave Joppie said. "He really set up hitters incredibly well."
A's third baseman Mark Teahen has been on a tear at Double-A Midland, hitting .422 in May and .361-5-27 overall. The five home runs is the most impressive total for Teahen, who entered the season with just four career home runs in 193 minor league games. "Teahen was a guy who in the past really focused solely on contact and went the other way a lot," A's roving hitting instructor Greg Sparks said. "We adjusted his swing in the offseason to get him to drive the ball more, and it's clearly paying dividends so far."
Contributing: Kevin Goldstein, John Manuel.
By Tom Haudricourt
MILWAUKEE--The Brewers' system, which already had suffered some significant injuries, received more bad news, as Triple-A Indianapolis shortstop J.J. Hardy will miss the rest of the season.
Hardy, 21, dislocated his left shoulder in a game Sunday in Ottawa while fouling off a pitch. The shoulder popped out, much like the injury Diamondbacks first baseman Richie Sexson suffered recently.
It was the third time that Hardy's non-throwing shoulder has popped loose since last fall, when it first happened while playing for the Team USA in the Olympic qualifying tournament. After undergoing a magnetic resonance imaging test Monday in Milwaukee, Hardy was informed by team physician William Raasch that he has tears of the labrum in the front and back of the shoulder.
At the request of his agent, Hardy will get a second opinion from California orthopedic surgeon Lewis Yocum. But Hardy said he did not expect a different recommendation.
"I'm going to have surgery and my season is over," said Hardy, reached Tuesday evening at his apartment in Indianapolis. "It caught me by surprise because my shoulder hadn't been bothering me lately.
"I heard a real loud click (when the shoulder popped out) and I knew it was pretty bad."
Brewers general manager Doug Melvin said he was told Hardy would be out of action for three to six months after surgery.
"That's a pretty big gap," Melvin said. "It's a tough break for the kid. It's one of those unfortunate injuries.
"It's not his throwing arm. If there's any good news coming out of it, that's it."
Hardy, the Brewers' No. 3 prospect, was starting to come around at the plate after a slow start in Indianapolis. In 101 at-bats, he was hitting .277-4-20.
"It was pretty demoralizing for the team," said reliever Matt Wise, called up from Indianapolis by the Brewers on Tuesday. "He was the silent leader of that team."
A second-round draft pick in 2001, Hardy was making steady progress through the farm system. He was a Southern League all-star last season with Double-A Huntsville, batting .279 with 26 doubles, 12 home runs and 62 RBIs.
Had Hardy gone on to a solid season in Indianapolis, there was a good chance he would have been promoted by the Brewers in September. Now, Melvin said the best-case scenario was getting him healthy enough to play in the Arizona Fall League.
An intense player who hates being out of the lineup, Hardy admitted he was having problems accepting the situation.
"I've had small injuries in the past that kept me out two weeks and I couldn't take it," he said. "Now it's the rest of the season. I don't know how I'll handle it."
Hardy's injury was the latest of a series suffered by top prospects in the organization. Indianapolis centerfielder David Krynzel, a first-round draft pick in 2000, was lost for at least two months when he fouled a pitch off his foot and broke it.
Righthander Mike Jones, a first-round pick in 2001, has suffered recurring elbow problems and was recently shut down at Huntsville. And lefthander Manny Parra only recently was activated at Class A High Desert after missing the first month with a loose shoulder.
"That's why you can never have enough prospects," Melvin said.
Diamondbacks righthanded reliever Brian Bruney made his big league debut against the Phillies over the weekend after getting the call Friday night while Triple-A Tucson was playing in Fresno. In three appearances with the D-Backs, Bruney is 1-0, 0.00 in 2 2/3 innings. He said the toughest hitter he's faced up to this point was Phillies left fielder Pat Burrell. "I got out there and Tomas Perez pulled a drag bunt and we got him, so that made me a little more comfortable," Bruney said. "But the adrenaline was flowing at an all-time high. Then Pat Burrell came up and I had to pause for a second before I realized--that's Pat Burrell. To face an established hitter in he big leagues like that in my first experience really was something else, but that's the big leagues I guess." Bruney hasn't been subjected to any of the initiations most rookies go through--yet. "When we go on the road, I'm sure something will happen," Bruney said. "(Matt) Mantei will probably have me wearing a dress or something."
Triple-A Rochester shortstop Jason Bartlett will miss four to six weeks after breaking his wrist on Saturday when he was hit by a Dewon Brazleton pitch. The timing was particularly bad for Bartlett, as he was expected to be called up to the big leagues to replace the injured Nick Punto. Bartlett was hitting .339-1-12 at the time of the injury. To replace Bartlett, the Twins activated third baseman Terry Tiffee from the DL. Tiffee had been out since April 15 with back spasms. Rochester suffered another scare when first baseman Justin Morneau sprained his right ankle on Tuesday, but the Red Wings expect him to be back in the lineup shortly.
Blue Jays' top catching prospect Guillermo Quiroz broke a bone in his left hand after he was hit by a pitch by Phillies righthander Dave Coggin. Quiroz, who was batting .258-2-8 at the time of the injury, has a power bat, plus arm and ranks as the No. 2 catching prospect behind Anaheim's Jeff Mathis. He is expected to miss 3-to-4 weeks.
Double-A Round Rock center fielder Willy Taveras is running wild in the Texas League. Taveras has swiped 23 bases so far this season, and has only been caught three times. He is also leading the league in hitting, batting .377-1-15 in 130 at-bats. Taveras was plucked from the Indians system in last year's Rule 5 draft and would have likely been returned, but the Astros worked out a deal--sending lefthander Jeriome Robertson to the Tribe--to keep him. Houston also received right fielder Luke Scott, who is hitting .256-2-16 in 86 at-bats at high Class A Salem.
The Cubs sent Class A Daytona second baseman Luis Montanez, their first round pick in 2000, to their extended spring facility in Mesa, Ariz. so he can work on moving to the outfield. Montanez has struggled since being taken third overall in 2000, hitting .265-16-188 in 1,693 career at-bats. He has never made it above Class A. This season, Montanez was hitting .215-1-7 in just 79 at-bats. "He approached some of our coaches about it in recent weeks," farm director Oneri Fleita told The Daytona Beach News-Journal. "He made the decision and we're going to support him. We feel if we iron out the defense that we can salvage his bat. When we drafted him, we were betting on the bat. We didn't know if he'd be able to play shortstop or second base. We still think he's going to be able to hit."
Double-A Norwich right fielder Dan Ortmeier has been out of the lineup since last Wednesday after injuring his left shoulder in a collision at the plate. Ortmeier, who had surgery on the same shoulder last year, was hitting .300-4-16 in 100 at-bats this season. He has been taking regular batting practice since the collision.
In strange sightings news, singer/actor/arena football owner Jon Bon Jovi was seen taking in a Greensboro Bats game last night in Greensboro, N.C. Bon Jovi was on location shooting a movie in the area. "He came to the gate and bought a ticket," Bats assistant GM Tom Howe said. "We offered him VIP seating, but he said he just wanted to watch the game. He signed autographs for anyone who came up to him."
Contributing: Chris Kline
By Chris Kline
READING, Pa.--Coming out of high school in Georgia, Dustin McGowan figured he'd be a Brave. Atlanta scouted McGowan intensely before the 2000 draft, and several clubs debated him against fellow Georgia righthander Adam Wainwright.
The two prep stars played on the same all-star team and went to see each other throw from time to time. With Atlanta having back-to-back picks at the end of the first round that year, the two figured they'd be together for awhile.
It didn't quite work out that way. The Braves did take Wainwright 29th overall, but then they went with Canadian first baseman Scott Thorman with the next pick. McGowan fell to the Blue Jays three picks after that.
"I thought we were going to go with the Braves' back-to-back picks," McGowan said. "We don't really keep in close touch or anything, but we watch what each other is doing through box scores and that kind of stuff. But things have worked out since then--for both of us."
While Wainwright has moved on to the Cardinals organization, McGowan is steadily moving through the Jays system. After dominating the Eastern League through his first four starts, McGowan got roughed up in his last two, allowing 11 earned runs in nine innings.
A lot of that might have to do with the hype, however. In New Hampshire, the Jays' new Double-A affiliate, the local media coined him the next starter in Toronto's rotation. They said his days in the EL were numbered after he started out 2-0, 1.21, but that did not prove to be the case. If anything, it was undue pressure and a distraction.
"I heard all that stuff, and I talked to my manager and he hadn't heard anything about it," McGowan said. "It was coming from the reporters and the media. I can't go on that. I go on what my manager says. I just took it like I still had to go out and pitch. People are going to say what they want to say. I can't control that. I can only control what I can control and that's on the field."
He has struggled with location and command of his 94-95 mph fastball, which led to eight walks in nearly as many innings over his last two starts.
"I really had no feel for anything," McGowan said. "I can't really explain why, but I couldn't command the fastball and I struggled with my offspeed stuff too. I started walking guys and that always leads to bad things. It's just a couple of bad days."
In addition to a power fastball topping out at 97, McGowan pounds the zone with a downer curve and a progressing changeup that could soon replace his mid-80s slider.
"It's actually getting to be pretty good," he said. "I haven't thrown it as much lately, but I'm fixin' to get back to using it a little more instead of trying to throw all four pitches I have. I'm in the process of not throwing the slider anymore. It's been erratic. Sometimes it's good, but a lot of times it's not. I just have to find something I'm consistent with. Unless somehow or another I get consistent with it, I'm going to drop it. At this point, I feel a lot more comfortable with the change."
There's no reason to think McGowan can't regain his form after two bad outings. His pure stuff is probably better than that of Jays ace Roy Halladay. He just needs more experience to learn how to use it.
"Those bad outings are going to help me," McGowan said. "I don't know how you can actually compare me to Halladay at the present time. His stuff is unbelievable. It's great to be compared to him, but I'm not going to worry about that. He's Halladay and I'm Dustin. He's a Cy Young Award winner and I'm in Double-A."
Fisher Cats manager Mike Basso thinks it'll only be a matter of time before McGowan joins Halladay, however.
"The only problem he's had is the occasional lack of fastball command," Basso said. "He's been great all season. Other than that, he's the total package. He has good stuff, sharp, breaking stuff in the bottom of the strike zone. So as long as he can control and command the fastball in the strike zone, he's going to be fine."
Righthander Colter Bean is dealing at Triple-A Columbus. Bean is 1-1, 0.47 in 19 innings and has allowed just one earned run on eight hits while striking out 23 and walking two. Bean was selected in the major league Rule 5 draft by the Red Sox in December, but was returned to the Yankees.
Righthander Bubba Nelson is struggling for Triple-A Louisville. Dealt to the Reds in March with righthander Jung Bong for righthander Chris Reitsma, Nelson is 0-5, 7.04 in 30 innings for the Bats. He allowed six earned runs on seven hits in six innings against Charlotte Monday night.
Keep an eye on righthander Justin Reid at Triple-A Nashville. A fourth-round pick in 1999 out of UC Davis, Reid went seven shutout innings yesterday at Oklahoma. Overall he's 1-0, 3.60 with 21 strikeouts and five walks in 20 innings.
Triple-A Sacramento beat Las Vegas 4-1 yesterday as righthander Joe Blanton got the best of righthander Edwin Jackson. Jackson tossed five scoreless innings, allowed two hits, walked four and struck out four. Blanton struck out eight in seven innings, allowed one run on six hits and walked two. Sacramento had 9,640 fans for a home game despite the Kings-Minnesota Timberwolves NBA playoff game also going on in town.
Righthander Andrew Brown got knocked around as Double-A Greenville pounded Jacksonville, 7-1. Brown allowed six runs in six innings, though only two were earned. For the season, Brown is 1-2, 3.06 in 35 innings.
Double-A Carolina first baseman Jason Stokes hit a homer in his fourth straight game in a 3-1 win over Chattanooga. Stokes is now hitting .283-11-35 in 106 at-bats.
Class A lefthander Richard Stahl gave Frederick just its sixth win of the season, 5-1 over Myrtle Beach. Stahl went 7 2/3 innings, allowing just one earned run on five hits. Frederick has the worst record in the minors at 6-24.
Home runs by left fielder Matt Murton and first baseman Jeremy West led Class A Sarasota past St. Lucie, 4-3. The two have 13 homers between them, and Sarasota leads the Florida State League with 24. West leads the league in batting at .388-6-19.
Class A South Bend's pitching staff has been unreal this season, going 22-8, 2.51 in 263 innings. Last night, the Silver Hawks racked up a combined 17 strikeouts behind righthander Chad Scarbery's 10. Signed as a nondrafted free agent out of Fresno (Calif.) Community College, Scarbery is 5-1, 1.42 in 38 innings.
Center fielder Chris Lubanski is struggling at Class A Burlington. The Royals' first-round pick in 2003, Lubanski went 0-for-4 yesterday, and is hitting .214-1-10 in 98 at-bats on the season, and just .167 (11-for-66) in his last 18 games. Also struggling for the Bees is third-rounder Brian McFall, hitting .160-0-7 in 75 at-bats.
Class A Quad City center fielder Denard Span started slowly, but now is riding a six-game hitting streak. Span went 3-for-3 with three runs in a 10-2 win over Fort Wayne, pushing his average to .262. The Twins' first-round pick in 2002, Span has 11 steals in 14 attempts.
Contributing: John Manuel
By Chris Kline
READING, Pa.--Double-A Reading Phillies righthander Gavin Floyd is the funniest man in the room.
On this occasion, however, Floyd is the only person present, except for a clubhouse assistant who is hurriedly preparing food in a small kitchenette buried deep within Reading's FirstEnergy Stadium.
Floyd's sense of humor is already well known in the Phillies clubhouse, a clubhouse that featured catcher Russ Jacobsen dressed in a Reading Phillies cheerleader costume--complete with a spiked-out red wig--for Kangaroo Court on Friday.
Floyd goes through a myriad of comical facial expressions as he begins to describe his version of humor.
"I have kind of a diverse sense of humor," Floyd said. "I pretty much like anything, but sometimes it takes people a second to get it. And sometimes, they don't."
Floyd lists Jerry Seinfeld and Robin Williams as his favorite stand-up comics and "Dumb & Dumber" as his favorite comic film.
"What can I say?" Floyd said, totally tongue-in-cheek. "I laughed. I cried. It completely delivered. Five stars. Much better than that second one--the prequel? What a disgrace."
When Floyd isn't reviewing films or working on a sarcastic approach to comedy, he is mowing down hitters in the Eastern League. Though he's been touched up slightly in his last two starts--he allowed an earned run on four hits in seven innings Sunday against New Hampshire--he started the season on a 17-inning scoreless streak.
To date, Floyd has allowed three earned runs in 29 innings. Overall, he is 2-2, 0.93 with 22 strikeouts and 10 walks.
Floyd features a 92-95 mph fastball with movement and a hard, biting curveball that at times pegs the meter on the scouting 20-to-80 scale. His fastball sat at 93 consistently Sunday, and though he only threw a handful curveballs against the Fisher Cats, the pitch was more than effective. His changeup is now more than a work in progress, as Floyd is using it regularly as a third pitch clocked in the low-80s.
"I kind of feel it out game to game," Floyd said. "I feel different every day, so I change everything to match the way I feel. I have to go with whatever I have. I have confidence that everything's going to work, but sometimes I don't execute them like I want to. Sometimes I'll get out there in warm-ups and something isn't working, but I get into the game and it works, so it's a matter of feeling it out."
Floyd's mechanics have been off at times the past two seasons, which led to inconsistency in his delivery. Last year, he watched Phillies righthander Kevin Millwood's deliberate delivery, and some in the organization thought he was trying to emulate it. Floyd denies the Millwood influence, saying it was just him not being young (he just turned 21) and not quite the pitcher he wanted to be.
"I had no intentions to emulate him at all," Floyd said. "I think I'm a completely different pitcher than him. At some point, I was a little slow in my delivery, and I guess it kind of looked like Millwood and I guess somebody made it up. I heard that and I was like 'I don't think so.' I kind of laughed about it."
Drafted fourth overall in 2001 out of Mount St. Joseph (Md.) High, Floyd was taken one spot before Mount St. Joseph alum Mark Teixeira. Floyd's brother, Mike was also taken that year by the Phillies in the 22nd round. All three played at Mount St. Joseph, but Gavin was left out of the loop.
"I was a freshman and my brother and Teixeira were seniors," Floyd said. "They played varsity and I was on the JV team. I wasn't 'allowed' to play with them."
When asked if he had the stuff to hang with them, Floyd simply smiled and said, "No comment."
"That's in the past," Floyd said. "I'm in this league now and it's my challenge for this year. It's a higher level as far as knowledge, experience and consistency go. And it's definitely more competitive and I like that a lot. But consistency is the biggest thing. If I can stay consistent in my delivery and mechanics and make them more sound from start to start, I'll be happy with whatever happens."
In case you missed it, the Angels promoted 2001 first-round pick Casey Kotchman to Anaheim over the weekend as a spate of injuries depleted the big league club. Kotchman went 0-for-3 with a sacrifice fly and an RBI in his debut as the Angels swept the Devil Rays. Kotchman, who was hitting .368-3-18 with 11 doubles at Double-A Arkansas before the promotion, got to make his debut in front of his father Tom, an Angels area scout, who flew cross-country to attend the game in Anaheim. "I'd just gotten home from scouting the state junior college tournament and the phone rang about 1:40 (a.m.)," Tom Kotchman told BA correspondent Marc Topkin in the St. Petersburg Times. "Usually when you get a call at 1:40 in the morning, it's not a good one. I heard it was Casey, and I was like, 'What, did you get hit by a pig in Arkansas or something?'"
The Cubs released 1999 first-round pick Ben Christensen over the weekend, derailing the righthander's comeback from a series of arm surgeries. Christensen, most noted in his career for beaning Evansville's Anthony Molina before a game during his college career at Wichita State, was the Cubs' No. 4 prospect after the 2000 season. That's when he went 7-3, 2.38 between Class A Daytona and Double-A West Tenn. However, Christensen had shoulder surgery in 2001 and later had Tommy John surgery. He had been moved to the bullpen this year after more arm woes last season and had not recovered the velocity on his fastball. He was 0-1, 4.91 with 12 strikeouts and seven walks in 11 innings this season out of the Diamond Jaxx bullpen.
Class A Cedar Rapids shortstop Brandon Wood had perhaps the best weekend of his career since the Angels drafted him in the first round last year. Wood hit safely in all three games against Burlington in a 6-for-13 effort, including a 3-for-4 game Sunday in which he homered, had four RBIs and stole his first three bases of the season. He raised his average to .257 with the outburst.
Lefthander Jeff Francis continues to deal for Double-A Tulsa, starting a 2-0 Drillers shutout Saturday at Round Rock. Francis allowed just two hits and a walk while striking out 11 in seven innings to improve to 4-0, 3.06. He has double-digit strikeout efforts in three of his six starts on the season and has 51 (and just seven walks) in 35 innings this season. Opponents are batting .154 against the Canadian.
Double-A Tennessee's Brad Thompson continued his amazing run with one of the five shutouts pitched Saturday in the Southern League. Thompson went seven more shutout frames in a complete-game 4-0 win against Chattanooga, striking out five while giving up four hits and no walks. Thompson's line for the year: 5-0, 0.00, 37 1/3 innings, 19 hits, three walks, 30 strikeouts . . . and of course, no runs.
Lefthander Zachary Dixon and righthander Chris Britton combined on nine no-hit innings Saturday for Class A Delmarva, but neither figured in the decision as the Shorebirds beat Lexington 2-1 in 13 innings. Dixon walked five and gave up an unearned run in six innings to lower his ERA to 0.68; he's walked 16 in 26 2/3 innings this season but has yielded just 12 hits.
Well-traveled shortstop Ian Kinsler seems to have found a home in the Rangers organization. Kinsler, who attended Central Arizona Junior College, Arizona State and finally Missouri before the Rangers signed him as a 17th-round pick last year, went 5-for-6 Saturday for Class A Clinton. The game, his fifth straight with a double, briefly raised his average above .400, though he fell back to .395 with an 0-for-4 day Sunday against West Michigan. Kinsler leads the Midwest League in batting and hits (45), and his 20 doubles leads the minor leagues. He's tied for fourth in the MWL with 21 RBIs and eight stolen bases, and ranks third in slugging (.596).
Contributing: John Manuel.
By Alan Matthews
Chat with anyone in the Mariners organization about 2002 and the word "setback" will almost certainly poke its head into the dialogue.
A year after leading the minors in winning percentage, the farm system slipped to 23rd in that category in 2002, the same year the big league club watched the Athletics and Angels rip past them in the American League West standings after the Mariners led the division at the all-star break.
Furthermore, the Mariners system witnessed a rash of injuries as prospects Ryan Anderson and Jeff Heaverlo went down with torn labrums and the best arm in the organization--righthander Rafael Soriano--also struggled with shoulder soreness.
So you could excuse the Mariners for wanting to take it easy with Felix Hernandez. Soriano was still trying to maintain his health this spring while Hernandez was snapping at his heels to inherit the moniker of best arm in the system.
The righthander continues to add to his growing reputation as one of the game's top teenage prospects. Hernandez, who turned 18 a month ago, saw the Class A Inland Empire bullpen blow a lead for him last night, but the 66ers still beat Stockton 10-6. Hernandez gave up four hits and a walk in five innings, striking out five while yielding one run. He's 3-1, 2.56 on the season.
"The main thing for him is velocity, obviously, but not only on his fastball," Inland Empire pitching coach Dwight Bernard said. "He's got two real power breaking balls. There's no question his curve is a true power curve, low 80s, and it's a real good pitch. We don't like him to throw his slider, but he pops it up there a couple of times a game, and it's 87-88. Then you have his fastball touching 98, and he's pitching at a solid 95-96. It's premium stuff."
Bernard said Hernandez has blended well with his teammates despite being 3-4 years younger than most of them. "He knows enough English, and most of us habla enough baseball-ese to communicate with him pretty well," Bernard said. He's a learner and has made great strides just since I met him in spring training. The only time his age is an issue is when he can't go some places that he'd like to go, you know?"
Hernandez is headed for an elite group that doesn't check IDs at the door. He burst onto the prospect landscape with a sensational summer last season and was a cinch selection as the short-season Northwest League's top prospect after dealing 55 innings with Everett, compiling a 7-2 record with a 2.29 ERA, 73 strikeouts and a .218 opponent average. He earned an August callup to the Midwest League where he followed suit, allowing three earned runs with 18 punchouts in two starts with Wisconsin.
The Mariners were confident they were getting a quality arm when they signed Hernandez out of Venezuela for $710,000 in July 2002 but his maturity and mound presence have developed as quickly as his arsenal of pitches.
"I think his teammates respect him, not only his stuff but his demeanor and the way that he carries himself," Bernard said. "He has enough cockiness that you need to succeed on the mound, but he also knows when to trust his teammates."
Those teammates have joined Hernandez in making Inland Empire one of three Mariners' affiliates to boast winning records through the season's first five weeks. The 66ers were 19-9 and atop their division in the California League standings, thanks to a pitching staff that sports a league-best 3.21 ERA. Righthanders Rich Dorman, T.A. Fullmer and Juan Sandoval join Hernandez and lefty Bobby Livingston in the rotation. Inland Empire has received quality outings almost each night out from its starters, a welcome sign in Seattle.
While Hernandez has developed rapport with his teammates in the California League, his stuff places him on different development track. The organization knows how quickly good fortune can turn to hardship, however, and is doing its best to temper its enthusiasm for Hernandez, who at times must seem too good to be true.
"I've heard that, and he really is almost too good to be true," Bernard said. "A good word is special. As an organization, I think the difficult thing will be to push him, but not too much."
Braves affiliates are struggling at all four levels, thanks to big league callups and young rosters. Double-A Greenville has had the worst luck, falling to 6-21 last night with a 4-3 loss to Carolina. Lefty Dan Meyer took the loss despite striking out nine in 4 2/3 innings. Lefties Macay McBride and Zach Miner have struggled mightily, going a combined 1-7, 8.23. However, baseball operations assistant Matt Price said the Braves are confident the pitchers (and the team) will turn around. Price said both pitchers' stuff has been fine; Miner gave up only one run in five innings of his last start, and McBride has touched some 93s while throwing in the 87-90 range. "That's the youngest team in the Southern League, and we're facing some adversity early," Price said. "We've had some guys banged up and had to shuffle some rosters, but now we'll see how these guys respond to that adversity."
One Brave caught in the shuffle is infielder James Jurries, playing primarily first base now at Triple-A Richmond. Jurries was off to a .306-7-14 start for Greenville before the promotion, but has struggled with Richmond, where he's 5-for-28 with 15 strikeouts.
Durham outfielder Jonny Gomes didn't take long to settle back in after missing 14 games with a groin injury. In his first game since coming off the disabled list, Gomes smacked a home run on Thursday, his sixth of the season. He's slugging .902 for the Devil Rays Triple-A affiliate.
After a strong start in his first outing at Double-A Akron, Jeremy Guthrie was hit hard last night, as he allowed eight runs, seven earned in 4 2/3 innings against Portland. Guthrie took a line drive off his right leg in the second inning. He stayed in the game, but he walked three batters, hit another three and gave up three home runs.
"He was throwing too many curveballs because he couldn't establish his fastball," Akron manager Brad Komminsk told the Akron Beacon-Journal. "He just couldn't locate it all night."
Guthrie, the Indians first-round pick in 2002, had been demoted from Triple-A Buffalo after going 1-2, 7.91 in four starts.
The Jacksonville Suns and Huntsville Stars had the benches clear twice during Thursday night's game, thanks to a couple of plunked batters and an aggressive slide at second base. The game started to heat up when Jacksonville reliever Nate Ruhl hit Rickie Weeks in the back with a pitch in the eighth. In the bottom of the inning, a pitch from Huntsville lefthander Brian Adams hit Tony Soccarras in the batting helmet, prompting Soccarras to start for the mound. He was restrained before he got to the pitcher, and although both benches emptied, no punches were thrown. The players didn't get to sit down for long, as the following batter, Wilkin Ruan, hit a grounder to Weeks, who flipped it to Enrique Cruz to start a potential double play. But Soccarras wiped out Cruz with a hard slide while never touching second base. Soccarras was ejected for the slide, while the benches and bullpens cleared again. But again, no punches were thrown.
Contributing: John Manuel, J.J. Cooper
By Chris Kline
ZEBULON, N.C.--Mobile center fielder Freddy Guzman likes to keep some things to himself.
As Guzman sat down in front of his locker, the outfielder formerly known as Pedro de los Santos asked catcher Steve Morales to translate for him. The entire clubhouse erupted with jeers.
"Come on, Guzman," second baseman Josh Barfield said while dealing a hand of cards. "You can do it yourself. You know enough English--when you want to."
"We'll do it this way," Morales said. "He's more comfortable like this. It's no big deal."
Guzman might not be quite confident enough to converse in English just yet, but the native of the Dominican Republic's comfort zone is on the field.
After missing much of spring training with a strained right elbow, Guzman made his debut April 19 when he went 3-for-4 with a double and two steals. And he hasn't missed a beat since then, hitting .349-0-4 with seven steals in 63 at-bats.
"This guy has a lot of confidence and he came out of the gate like gangbusters," Padres farm director Tye Waller said. "We held him back until we knew his arm was sound, but he didn't want to be held back. It was tough to keep him there after camp broke."
Guzman's prospect status soared through the roof last season when he sped his way through the organization, going from Class A Lake Elsinore to Triple-A Portland.
The operative word being "sped," as Guzman ripped off 90 steals at three levels in 2003 to lead the minor leagues. He's still learning how to steal bags, however--he's been caught four times already this season.
"For a guy like him, those are some instinctive things that probably can't be taught," Mobile manager Gary Jones said. "Just because a guy can run doesn't mean he's a good basestealer. Freddy has the intangible of getting on base and just flying."
The Padres are trying to harness his speed to use it within the framework of the game. They don't want to take away any of Guzman's aggressiveness on the bases, but at the same time they don't want him running whenever he feels like he can run.
"It's a good learning process for him right now," Waller said. "He believes he can steal anything. But we want to teach him to pick his spots and know when it's a good time to go and when it isn't."
Guzman retreats at first when discussing his ability on the bases, saying only, "It's a secret." But the Padres' approach with Guzman appears to be paying off.
"No, really, it's instincts, what type of pitcher is on the mound and what kind of count you have to deal with," Guzman said through Morales. "All three of those things are important to look for when you want to steal, but I don't want to hurt the team, either."
Guzman is not the fastest player in the system (that would be no-hit, no-throw Marcus Nettles), but he's an 80 runner nonetheless and is the best overall player among the speed merchants. He is a patient leadoff hitter and has a nice stroke from both sides of the plate.
No one in the system can chase down balls in the gaps like him, either. While his arm is considered below-average, Guzman makes up for it with his speed and ability to make catches other outfielders wouldn't.
The Padres didn't have a legitimate center fielder until they signed Jay Payton to a two-year deal in January, giving Guzman more time to hone his skills.
"My main goal is to get to the big leagues," Guzman said, this time bypassing Morales. "I'll just keep working hard until that happens."
"You need me to translate that too?" Morales said.
While Guzman is off and running in 2004, Barfield has struggled. The Padres' No. 1 prospect is hitting .228-1-12 in 92 at-bats. A hamstring injury plagued Barfield through spring training, making April more or less his time to adjust on the fly. "He healed just enough out of camp that we felt we could send him right to Double-A," Waller said. Some have questioned Barfield's ability to stay at second base as he moves through the system, but Waller said he has made strides, even in his first month. "He makes all the routine plays and has good range. His arm action is a little bit long at times, but he's working hard to correct it." Barfield uses the questions of his defensive ability as motivation. "People are going to say what they want to say. I think it's gotten better and I've made a lot of improvements already," he said. "I'm playing a lot better now than I was and once my hitting comes around, people are going to see that I'm staying at second."
Royals' No. 1 prospect Zack Greinke hasn't pitched since April 22, but there is no reason for Kansas City fans to panic. The organization's philosophy is to limit the number of innings the 20-year-old righthander throws this season. Greinke will make three starts, then skip a start (or in this case two starts). His next start is scheduled for May 7.
The number of starts before a break is likely to increase as the season goes on, but the Royals are monitoring him closely. "He's on a very strict schedule," farm director Shaun McGinn said. "We don't want him to highly exceed the 140 innings he threw last season. It's been something we've been working on with Zack, and he's still throwing his bullpens and gaining valuable experience from a lot of the veterans there (in Triple-A Omaha). He's fine. He's just being very highly watched right now."
Orioles righthander John Maine made his debut Wednesday with Triple-A Ottawa after being called up Monday from Double-A Bowie. Maine allowed two runs on four hits in five innings, striking out two. "He was ready for the next challenge, and he's shown that when he masters a level like he has in the last two years, he's ready to make that jump," Orioles farm director Doc Rodgers said. "With him, it's not about getting off to a good start, it's just the way he is. The stuff is always going to be there, and the next step for John was at Triple-A Ottawa."
By Chris Kline
ZEBULON, N.C.--Carolina Mudcats center fielder Eric Reed is on his third round of batting practice, first working on taking balls the other way. He then spends two rounds working on turning on inside fastballs.
The second pitch leaves the yard, soars high over the left-field wall and bounces off the building that serves as the visiting clubhouse. Home runs haven't exactly come easy for Reed, who hit his first professional homer in 823 at-bats in the second game of the season--a game in which he went 4-for-5.
While he now has two homers more than he had in two pro seasons, small ball is still the game for the 5-foot-11, 170-pound leadoff hitter.
"It felt good to finally hit a couple," said Reed, a lefthanded hitter. "I'm getting to know the strike zone a little better, and I know guys are going to try to bust me in because I hit the ball the other way. Those first couple years, I worked on going away so much that I never worked on the ball in, so when they did throw it I never could catch up to it.
"Now I feel a lot more comfortable turning on balls--as long as I don't get away from going the other way. I've been working on it a lot in BP and hitting off tees. It's the same swing. You just have to get loaded a little quicker and get that foot down. I know I have a quick enough bat to turn on the inside fastball."
Reed fashions his game after two leadoff hitters of comparable size and ability--the Mariners' Ichiro Suzuki and the Marlins' Juan Pierre. Known to be a fan of both players' styles, Reed shrugs off the admiration for Ichiro.
"I definitely like and respect his game," Reed said. "But I wouldn't exactly say I'm a huge fan or anything. It's not like I have posters of him hanging up in my room, but yeah, when Seattle's on TV, I'm flipping around the channels until his next at-bat."
Currently second in the Southern League with 14 stolen bases (behind West Tenn's Dwaine Bacon's 16), Reed is hitting .358-2-6 in 106 at-bats. Stealing bags is an essential part of what Reed does, and his speed rates close to an 80 on the 20-80 scouting scale. But it takes more than just speed to be successful.
"I take a lot of pride in what I do on the bases," Reed said. "It's part of my job. You can have all the speed in the world, but if you don't study pitchers, you're going to have a tough time. I study guys all the time. I watch them warm up in the pen (and when they) throw their warm-ups between innings and just try to break them down. Sometimes it can be the littlest thing you see in a pitcher's stretch, but he's always showing you something."
Reed is also an excellent bunter, perhaps only second to Pierre in the system. He is fearless in laying one down, though his propensity to bunt with two strikes has declined this season.
"They got on me a little bit about that," Reed said. "Now they want me to swing away and protect the plate. I understand that, but I wouldn't be where I am now without my bunting. My job is to get on base any way I can and move around the bases. I set my goals pretty high this season--I want to get two hits a game. That's what I have to keep doing to make it to the big leagues."
While that goal seems lofty, Reed has five multi-hit games this season. But to make it to the big leagues as a leadoff hitter, he is going to have to make more consistent contact. Last season, Reed fanned 83 times in 514 at-bats while drawing 52 walks. This year, he's struck out 29 times and earned just five walks.
Still, after signing out of Texas A&M for the bargain price of $85,000, the ninth-round pick in 2002 is showing the Marlins they got a sweet deal. He's not a carbon copy of his Aggies predecessor, Jason Tyner, an all-speed, no-power hitter who has become a minor league journeyman. Reed's getting on base with regularity, stealing bases at an alarming rate and hitting for some power. Add to that his off the charts makeup and Reed's big league arrival could fit in nicely with the end of Pierre's contract after 2005.
"I'm just focused on the game and what I can do to be the best at what I do," Reed said. "That means keeping distractions away. That means not going out and messing around. I'm here to be a baseball player and I'm going to be the best one I can be."
Double-A Huntsville first baseman Prince Fielder went deep again in a 9-3 win over West Tenn and has homered in six of his last 12 games. Fielder is hitting .333-9-33 with 12 walks and 19 strikeouts in 90 at-bats.
Class A Savannah righthander Clint Everts improved to 3-0 with a 9-1 win Tuesday against Augusta. Everts, the Expos' No. 1 prospect, hasn't given up an earned run in his last two starts (12 innings), both wins, to lower his ERA to 2.25. He's struck out 35 and walked just 10 in 32 innings.
Triple-A Durham righthander Jorge Sosa continues to rack up strikeouts. Tuesday night, Sosa fanned 10 in five innings in a 3-1 loss to Louisville. In two starts--both losses--Sosa has 19 K's and no walks over eight innings.
Class A Lynchburg lefthander Zach Duke dealt his way past Kinston for the second time in a week Tuesday night. Duke allowed one hit--a double by Indians' catcher David Wallace--in seven innings. He struck out seven and walked one. Duke is now 4-0, 0.62 with 34 strikeouts and two walks in 29 innings.
Triple-A Pawtucket DH/catcher Andy Dominique has been an RBI machine. While splitting time with Kelly Shoppach behind the dish and at DH, Dominique is hitting .367-6-30 in 90 at-bats. The 28-year-old Dominique was added to the 40-man roster in the offseason. Shoppach, considered a possible replacement for Jason Varitek when the veteran becomes a free agent next offseason, isn't hitting for average but still is driving in runs. Through 73 at-bats, Boston's No. 2 prospect is hitting .233-5-20.
Double-A New Britain right fielder Jason Kubel is quickly on his way to earning a third straight all-star appearance. Kubel, who was an all-star in each of his two previous full seasons, is leading the EL in hitting with a .432-4-18 mark in 88 at-bats.
Double-A Reading first baseman Ryan Howard is quietly leading the EL in home runs with eight. A fifth-round pick in 2001 out of Southwest Missouri State, Howard opened his stance to better handle inside pitches and cut down on his lofty strikeout totals. A victim of 151 K's in 490 at-bats for Class A Clearwater last season, Howard is hitting .259-8-19 and has fanned 31 times in 81 at-bats.
Double-A Midland third baseman Mark Teahen went 3-for-4 with an RBI in a 5-2 win Tuesday against Frisco. Teahen has been true to his scouting report, hitting for average but not for power through 89 at-bats--he was batting .337-1-17.
Double-A Round Rock center fielder Willy Taveras stole three bags in an 8-4 loss Tuesday to Wichita. Taveras leads the Texas League in steals with 17, hits (39) and ranks fourth in average (.364). He's making the trade with Cleveland for lefthander Jeromie Robertson look lopsided. Robertson is struggling in Triple-A Buffalo, going 2-1, 7.07 in 14 innings. Taveras, along with outfielder Charlton Jimerson, gives Round Rock unprecedented speed on the bases. Jimerson is second in the league in steals with nine.
Put Class A Modesto catcher John Suomi on your radar screen. The 23-year-old Canadian is hitting .340-4-24 in 100 at-bats. Not exactly a baseclogger, the 22nd-round pick in 2000 has two triples and a stolen base this season while hitting cleanup for the A's.
Class A Kane County lefthander Steven Bondurant was perfect through six innings in an 8-3 win over Dayton. Bondurant allowed a hit in the seventh and struck out nine. The 15th-round pick out of South Carolina in 2003 is now 4-2, 2.62 with 32 strikeouts in 34 innings. After fanning just nine in his first four starts, Bondurant has racked up 23 in his last 15 1/3 innings.
By Chris Kline
Last Sunday, Tucson center fielder Luis Terrero hit two home runs in an 8-7 win over Fresno at Tucson Electric Park. The first was a 500-foot blast over the top of the center-field wall, not-so-originally nicknamed the Green Monster.
The second shot hit off the top of the Monster and ricocheted back between second base and center field, allowing Terrero to use his plus speed for an inside-the-park home run.
"His speed is only one of his tools," Diamondbacks farm director Tommy Jones said. "He is a legitimate five-tool player in a game where there aren't too many five-tool guys."
The Diamondbacks figured Terrero might start slowly after the offseason he endured. The 23-year-old outfielder overcame a potentially life-threatening injury two weeks into winter ball in his native Dominican Republic. Terrero's left biceps had swelled to nearly three times its normal size. After he was flown to a hospital in Miami, doctors removed a rib on the left side of his chest that was pinching a blood vessel and had created a blood clot that threatened to break off into his lungs.
Terrero, however, has had anything but a slow start--even after missing almost two months of spring training. Through his first 84 at-bats, Terrero is hitting .393-4-14 with eight steals.
"He's really been great," Jones said. "Along with pole to pole power, he has outstanding speed and really has taken pride in learning how and when to steal bases.
His game is becoming more balanced and it just makes him that much more dangerous."
With Danny Bautista, Steve Finley and Luis Gonzalez entrenched in the outfield at Bank One Ballpark, the Diamondbacks sent Terrero back to Tucson to continue to get everyday at-bats and gain more experience. He hit .287-3-46 there last season in 467 at-bats.
Though he has posted great offensive numbers so far this season, the Diamondbacks are more impressed with his ability as a plus defender in center.
"Great numbers, but one thing they don't show is how outstanding he's been in center field," Jones said.
"He saves runs, makes spectacular catches and his throws have been right on the mark from the deepest parts of the ballpark. He's truly had an amazing April."
One knock on Terrero has been his tendency to become too aggressive at the plate. While he displays power to all fields, he still has difficulty laying off bad pitches and has racked up too many strikeouts. Last season, Terrero struck out 103 times and drew just 31 walks, which was a career high for him in the category. So far this year, it's been a slightly different story--16 strikeouts compared to seven walks.
"It's been a year-by-year process for him," Jones said. "But this is the best year he's shown as far as strike-zone discipline. He has a better idea of what he's looking for when he comes up to the plate now, better than we've ever seen from him."
While Terrero's minor league career has been somewhat of a tease, with flashes of brilliance and no consistent production, the Diamondbacks remain confident of his big league ability.
"He's off to a fantastic start and we feel like it's just the beginning," Jones said. "It's just a nice luxury knowing we have an everyday outfielder waiting in the wings."
Class A Columbus lefthander Chuck Tiffany and righthander Marcos Carvajal combined for a no-hitter against host Greensboro on Monday in the first game of a doubleheader. Tiffany went five innings, struck out six, walked three, and hit a batter. "He was only really in trouble once the whole game," Columbus pitching coach Shawn Barton said. "The key to his success was changing speeds on his fastball. He humped up and added a little bit to it when he needed to. He threw only three changeups--all of them for balls--so he stuck to a fastball-curve mix. His curveball was high in the zone early, but then he started bouncing it up there and got guys to chase." Tiffany, whose fastball had been regularly clocked between 90-92 and tops out at 95, varied speeds well--anywhere from 84-91--and was on a 75-pitch count. He ended up throwing 71 pitches before giving way to Carvajal, who struck out two in two innings.
Orioles righthander John Maine's tenure in the Eastern League ended sooner than expected. Maine, who was 4-0, 2.25 in 28 innings for Double-A Bowie, was promoted to Triple-A Ottawa Monday. Maine is scheduled to throw tomorrow at Pawtucket.
Double-A Tennessee righthander Brad Thompson ran his scoreless innings streak to 30 1/3 in a 10-0 win over Greenville Monday night. Thompson, who is primarily a sinker-slider guy, allowed just two hits to Braves shortstop Tony Pena and third baseman Andy Marte. Last night, his fastball sat at 89-90 mph, complemented by a slurvy slider and a still-developing changeup. Over his last two starts, Thompson has allowed five hits--two of which have left the infield. For the season, Thompson is 4-0, 0.00, having allowed 15 hits while fanning 25 and walking three.
Dodgers outfielder Reggie Abercrombie made his season debut Monday night at Class A Vero Beach. The Dodgers expected Abercrombie, who tore the ACL in his right knee in the Arizona Fall League, to be out until May, and he returned right on schedule. He showed no lingering effects in his first game back, going 2-for-5 with two steals.
Giants first baseman Lance Niekro made his debut as well for Class A San Jose. Niekro, who had been sidelined by an ankle sprain, went 2-for-4 with a home run in a 5-4 win over Bakersfield. Once touted as a power prospect, Niekro has just a .431 slugging percentage in the minors. He also has yet to play a full season, thanks to right shoulder surgery in 2001, a broken left hand in 2002 and a strained hamstring in 2003.
In another debut, Pirates outfielder Jason Bay played with Triple-A Nashville after returning from a torn labrum. Bay went 1-for-3 with a double and an RBI in an 8-7 win against Memphis.
Double-A Huntsville righthander Mike Jones has been placed on the DL and shut down as the Brewers continue their attempts to find the cause of pain in his elbow.A series of MRIs have shown no damage. Jones, who was shut down for two months last season with elbow problems, was 0-2, 4.50 in 14 innings.
Triple-A Portland righthander Chris Oxspring went on the seven-day DL with an elbow sprain. Oxspring made three trips to the DL in 2002 with shoulder problems but held up through last season. He was 3-1, 3.42 in 26 innings for the Beavers. The Padres called up righthander Justin Germano to take his place. Germano was 2-1, 2.51 in 32 innings for Double-A Mobile. Also, third baseman Jeff Cirillo joined Portland on a rehab assignment.
Triple-A Durham outfielder Jonny Gomes is expected to miss a week with a pulled groin. Gomes is hitting .325-5-15 in 40 at-bats. "It's something he's never done before, so we're going to make sure that he's fully ready to go," Bulls manager Bill Evers said.
Class A Kinston DH Ryan Garko continues to light up Carolina League pitching. Garko went 5-for-5 with two doubles and a homer. The Stanford product is hitting .405-3-19 in 74 at-bats. Kinston manager Torey Lovullo likens Garko to 2003 CL MVP Chris Shelton--an accomplished hitter with no defined position. Garko has started at DH, first base and catcher this season. "He's a good worker with great aptitude," Lovullo said. "He uses his hands to get to the ball and makes mid-game adjustments to pitchers. He loves to play the game and reminds me a lot of Shelton. That's a great comparison."
There will be a South Korean showdown tonight in Tacoma as Triple-A Edmonton righthander Seung Song faces Rainiers' righty Cha Seung Baek. Song is 2-0, 4.01 in 24 innings, while Baek is 2-2, 4.50 in 20 innings.
Contributing: Kevin Goldstein.
By Chris Kline
The Orioles refer to him as a "triple machine," but Double-A Bowie right fielder Val Majewski is beginning to show the power needed from a corner outfielder position in the big leagues.
Majewski is hitting .308-4-14 in 91 at-bats and, while still using the whole field, he's also showing some pop.
"We all know power is the last tool to develop," farm director Doc Rodgers said. "Val knows that better than anybody. He knows he can hit the ball out of the ballpark, but he's not worried about that at all. He'll probably lead the league in triples again because he'll spray the ball the other way and use his speed. He's a triple machine because of his ability to hit it where it's pitched."
The lefthanded-hitting outfielder led the low Class A South Atlantic League in triples with eight last season in just 208 at-bats, powering a .553 slugging percentage before a promotion to high Class A Frederick. He only hit one with the Keys but still had a .509 slugging percentage, and between his two stops, he hit .297-12-68 with 33 doubles and those nine triples. Batting third in the Baysox lineup, he has two triples already this season to go with four doubles and a .527 slugging percentage.
A third-round pick in 2002 out of Rutgers, Majewski was on his way to putting up monster numbers in his first pro season at short-season Aberdeen before a stress fracture in his femur knocked him out for six weeks. The Orioles still aren't certain what caused the injury, but Majewski is fully healed now. He played first base in college and started as a center fielder in the minors, but is quickly blossoming into a prototypical power-hitting right fielder.
"He's definitely got the ability to hit for the power we expect out of a corner outfielder in the big leagues," Rodgers said. "On top of that, he's just a special player with a combination of the physical ability, the work ethic and the mental toughness to be an everyday player in the major leagues."
The Orioles say his makeup can't be graded high enough. His work ethic is among the tops in the organization, as is his focus on doing the little things everyday to make him a better player.
"The old clichι is if we had 150 guys like him, our jobs would be so much easier," Rodgers said. "But he is a tremendous worker and the kind of player you don't ever have to worry about in the offseason working out or during the season off the field. You can't put a grade on his makeup, which doesn't happen very often."
The Orioles need more impact bats, particularly in the outfield, and Majewski could give them another option if he keeps moving quickly.
"We see him as a legitimate right-field candidate down the road," Rodgers said. "How long that road is will be determined by Val, but we're not planning on rushing him. He's gaining new experiences and learning new things from level to level."
Class A Delmarva lefthander Adam Loewen has apparently found himself after struggling mightily in big league camp in spring training. Loewen is 1-0, 3.15 in 20 innings. His command was off early, as evident by his 15 walks and 21 strikeouts. "He had that carry over from big league camp early," Rodgers said. "He felt like he had to go 3-2 to every hitter and trick them with his change or trick him with his curveball. We just pulled him aside and told him to get after people. He throws anywhere from 90-95 (mph), so explained to him that he has big league stuff and these aren't the same hitters he faced in the spring. He took it to heart and now he's on his way."
All the buzz in Double-A New Hampshire was Fisher Cats fans were seeing righthander Dustin McGowan for the last time Sunday. If so, then McGowan didn't make a great last impression. The Blue Jays' No. 2 prospect went just 4 1/3 innings against Binghamton and allowed six earned runs on five hits. He walked four, struck out four and allowed two homers. McGowan is now 2-0, 3.04 in 27 innings. He has 27 strikeouts and 11 walks. He was spared the loss as the Fisher Cats bombed Mets righthander Jose Diaz, who had not given up a hit in his last three starts (covering 13 2/3 innings), for eight runs. Diaz got four outs, gave up four hits and walked six, but Binghamton rallied off New Hampshire reliever Brandon League for a 10-8 victory.
Triple-A Iowa left fielder Jason Dubois caught fire after a slow start. Dubois went through a four-game span going 9-for-13 with six homers and 13 RBIs. Overall, Dubois was hitting .277-8-22 in 83 at-bats. Right fielder Dave Kelton was also on a torrid pace. Kelton blasted his fifth homer of the season, scored six runs and drove in six over three games. Kelton was batting .272-5-13 in 81 at-bats.
Triple-A Norfolk first baseman Craig Brazell is leading the International League in homers with nine. The lefthanded hitter is batting .289-9-20 despite continuing his career-long lack of discipline at the plate. Brazell, who also is mixing in some outfield play this season, takes big swings early in the count, allowing pitchers to get ahead of him. He has struck out in bunches in the past and already has 21 (with just three walks) in 83 at-bats this season.
Triple-A Tucson righthander Brian Bruney continues to be effective in middle relief for the Sidewinders. Bruney threw two scoreless innings Sunday in a 13-1 win against Sacramento, but saw his 12 1/3 scoreless inning streak end Friday when he allowed one earned run in an inning against the River Cats. For the season, Bruney is 2-0, 1.02 with 19 strikeouts and nine walks in 17 2/3 innings.
Double-A Montgomery outfielder Joey Gathright was activated from the DL Saturday and played his first game leading off as the DH in Sunday's doubleheader split against Jacksonville. Gathright is still nursing a pulled back muscle and is expected to serve as the DH while the injury heals. Gathright went 0-for-6 and is now hitting .290-0-2 in 31 at-bats.
The prospect-laden Arkansas lineup continues to rake, banging out 25 hits Sunday in a 17-1 win at El Paso. The Travelers are hitting a Texas League-best .316. Catcher Jeff Mathis and left fielder Nick Gorneault led the way with five hits apiece, while shortstop Alberto Callaspo, third baseman Dallas McPherson and outfielder Tommy Murphy had three apiece.
Class A Rancho Cucamonga righthander Steven Shell posted 10 strikeouts while walking one in a 5-3 win over Inland Empire on Sunday. Shell, who works with a 88-92 mph fastball that tops out at 94, curveball and changeup, is 2-1, 4.82. He has allowed 30 hits in 28 innings, but has fanned 31 and walked eight.
Class A Lancaster third baseman Jamie D'Antona went 3-for-5 with five RBIs in a 9-7 loss to High Desert on Sunday. D'Antona, the Diamondbacks' second-round pick last season out of Wake Forest, is batting .273-5-23 in 88 at-bats. Along with left fielder Conor Jackson and right fielder Carlos Quentin, the D'Backs two first-round selections in 2003, the JetHawks are off to a 15-9 start, one game behind Southern Division-leading Inland Empire.
Class A Jupiter outfielder Jeremy Hermida could be back in North Carolina soon. Hermida, the Marlins' No. 1 prospect who batted .284-6-49 for low Class A Greensboro last season, is hitting .392-2-14 in 79 at-bats for the Hammerheads and could make the jump to Double-A Carolina quickly.