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Daily Dish

Compiled John Manuel
August 31, 2004

KINSTON, N.C.--Class A Wilmington second baseman Donnie Murphy was one of the lucky ones. Murphy was one of four players not affected by the sudden rash of food poisoning that swept its way through the Blue Rocks' clubhouse prior to last Friday night's game at Kinston.

He was actually one of the few players who didn't look like he'd just rolled out of bed and showed up at the ballpark.

"I feel fine," Murphy said. "I'm good to go, but a lot of the guys are still feeling it. It's been one of the weirdest things I've ever seen since I've been playing, though, I'll tell you that."

The 21-year-old middle infielder has been playing professionally since the Royals selected him in the fifth round in 2002 out of Orange Coast (Calif.) Junior College. Though his compact size--he is listed at 5-foot-10, 180 pounds--led some scouts to shy away from him early on, he is currently drawing comparisons to Marcus Giles for his all-out, all the time approach.

"I see it, I guess," Murphy said. "I mean, we're both tiny guys, and we're both guys who go out there and give it everything we have in the tank, and I think that's key in this game. If you don't give it 100 percent every day, you're not going to get anywhere. With my size and everything, and the fact that I'm not a plus speed guy, I have to make up for it somehow, and that's by playing as hard as I can every time I get on the field. To be compared to a guy like that is just awesome."

Murphy's glove is better than the Braves second baseman, but his bat lacks Giles' punch. Through 121 games, Murphy is hitting .256/.326/.401 with nine homers and 70 RBIs.

He's had to make adjustments to his swing this season, particularly with the way he holds his bat.

"They worked with me a little bit with my knuckle alignment and just my approach," Murphy said. "I was more like a Bret Boone guy with an aluminum bat swing before, and I think things started catching up to me when I got here this season. Since I've been working with the different alignment, my bat's gotten a lot quicker through the zone now. It's made me stay back on the ball, use the whole field and turn on inside fastballs a lot quicker."

The quicker bat, along with the added patience, has allowed Murphy to revisit his favorite park of the park--right-center field.

"Right-center has always been my strong point, and I got away from that a little bit this season," Murphy said. "I think I went a month without hitting anything out that way. I was worried about the inside pitch and I was cheating myself, leaving the outside half open and not hitting the ball out there at all. But I've been more patient, waiting on the ball and hitting it back that way."

His defense has never been a question. Though the Royals have said he needed to improve his footwork coming into the season, Blue Rocks manager Billy Gardner Jr. calls Murphy the best defensive second baseman in the Carolina League.

"He's played outstanding all year, even when he went through a slump with the bat, he never missed anything defensively," Gardner Jr. said. "He has that separation between the bat and the glove you normally see a lot of guys struggle with at this level. He's got good feet and a plus arm for second base. He's got real good body control and a real good first step."

His legs have only gotten stronger this season, and he's making all the routine plays, but he's something of an antithesis to Royals second baseman Ruben Gotay, whose flair for the dramatic became stuff of legend during his time in the CL.

"You just want to get rid of that thing as fast as you can before you get barreled over," Murphy said. "But I like it. You get the flip from short, turn to your left and all of the sudden, the guy's right on top of you trying to take you out as hard as he can. You definitely have to use your legs. If they hit you and you're not bending your legs, you can tear a ligament like nothing. It's a little surprising, but that's the excitement of turning a double play at second."

Even though it's been somewhat of an offensive struggle this season, the Royals are sending Murphy to the Arizona Fall League next month. And the high-energy middle infielder can hardly contain his excitement.

"It shows that they like me a lot, even though I've struggled this year," Murphy said. "It's encouraging to know that even when you're still learning, you're in the plan down the road."

--CHRIS KLINE

DISH PIECES

Another of the minors' top players got a promotion to the big leagues Monday, as the Twins added outfielder Jason Kubel to the roster in Minnesota, just in time for a playoff roster spot. Kubel was leading the International League in batting after going 1-for-3 in his last game for Rochester, and was batting .343/.398/.560 for the Red Wings with 16 home runs and 71 RBIs. Combining his totals at Double-A New Britain, where he started the season, Kubel hit .352/.413/.590 with 22 homers, 100 RBIs and 42 doubles in 488 at-bats.

Even without Kubel, Rochester's lineup remains potent, as evidenced by a 21-5 victory against Pawtucket. The Red Wings, who had 25 hits and no home runs on the night, scored eight in the third and nine in the seventh, prompting Pawtucket to send veteran minor league infielder Trace Coquilette to the mound for the bottom of the eighth. Naturally, Coquilette tossed a scoreless inning. Shortstop Jason Bartlett had five hits, including two doubles, to lead the way for the Red Wings.

Righthander Jose Capellan had one of his worst starts of the year, which means he gave up a few runs--three in seven innings for Triple-A Richmond. He walked four and struck out four. After giving up a two-out run-scoring double to veteran Luis Ordaz in a three-run Durham fifth inning, Capellan reared back and threw four straight pitches at 99 or 100 mph against Joey Gathright, before retiring Gathright on a grounder to second on a 95 mph fastball. Capellan was still throwing 99s up on the radar gun in his seventh and final inning.

He's already reached the big leagues and isn't a "prospect" anymore, but righthander Danny Haren continues to flash the form that made him a two-way talent at Pepperdine. He struck out nine in six innings last night in an 11-4 victory against Iowa, improving to 11-4, 4.15. Moreover, Haren--who was the West Coast Conference player of the year in 2001 as a pitcher and DH--hit his fourth home run of the season and improved his batting average to .385.

The Mariners claimed righthander Brett Evert off waivers from the Braves over the weekend, but Evert's star didn't shoot back up in his first start with his new organization. Evert gave up six runs (four earned) and six walks while getting just eight outs in an 8-4 loss to Sacramento, as RiverCats center fielder Nick Swisher doubled and homered while driving in four runs. Evert, 23, once ranked as high as fourth on the Braves' Top 10 Prospects list, but he's had shoulder problems and control woes since his breakout 2001 season.

Twins infielder Luis Maza continues to have a breakout season as well, as he had three hits to back Boof Bonser in New Britain's 12-6 win at Harrisburg. Maza, 24, hit his 10th homer, a career high, and improved to .312/.363/.462. "He's always had the skills," field coordinator Joe Vavra said earlier this month. "It's just a matter of commitment and using them the right way, and he's starting to do that. He's been kind of reluctant to go with pitches on the outside part of the plate or go gap-to-gap. Now he's starting to realize that if he utilizes (the opposite) field, he'll have so much better results."

Righthander Elizardo Ramirez, whom the Reds acquired from the Phillies in the Cory Lidle trade in August, had to throw a complete-game shutout to get his first victory with his new team, Double-A Chattanooga. Ramirez, who gave up six home runs in his first 16 innings with the Lookouts, has a 3.82 ERA overall in 118 innings between three levels, to go with a 25-70 walk-strikeout ratio.

Another former Phillies farmhand, righthander Ezequiel Astacio, continued his roll at Double-A Round Rock with seven shutout innings against Wichita. Astacio, acquired in the Billy Wagner trade, has won his last four decisions and has a 1.89 ERA in his last five starts, with 30 strikeouts in 33 innings over that span. He leads the Texas League with 179 strikeouts.

Righthander Kahi Kaanoi also stayed hot for high Class A Wilmington, improving to 4-0, 1.54 with five scoreless frames against Kinston to beat Adam Miller.

Rookie-level Greeneville outfielder Mitch Einertson failed to homer in his final five games, settling for a tie for the single-season Appalachian League record of 24 home runs.

Righthander Jason Hirsh capped a steady August at high Class A Salem with a career-high 10 strikeouts in six innings of a victory against Winston-Salem. Hirsh, who as a second-round pick was the first player the Astros drafted in 2003, posted a 3.09 ERA in 32 innings in the month.

Lefthander J.P. Howell made a pair of first-inning unearned runs hold up in Idaho Falls 2-0 win over Missoula. Howell (3-1) retired the first 16 batters he faced, surrendering a one-out base hit in the sixth before departing with 11 strikeouts and no walks in six innings. Since signing with the Royals as a first-round pick (supplemental, 31st overall) in this years draft, Howell has not allowed more than two earned runs in any of his six appearances and has won three straight decisions. Missoula lefty Shane Dove (4-8) was the hard-luck loser Monday, as he struck out 13 in seven innings without a walk and four hits.

It hasn't been a great pro debut for Devil Rays fourth-rounder Matt Spring, a catcher for short-season Hudson Valley, but he took a step toward ending strong with two home runs against Lowell, his seventh and eighth of the season. Spring played for Junior College World Series champion Dixie State (Utah). He won World Series MVP honors, hitting .480-2-10 in the tournament. Spring hadn't homered in his nine previous games, and is still batting just .212/.287/.411. "He's going to be more of a power bat," Renegades manager Dave Howard said. "He hasn't put up great numbers but shows great potential. Whether he'll be able to catch or not is a question, but he'll be able to hit so they'll find a position for him. Front-line catcher, I don't see it, but he can swing the bat; he's got tremendous power."

Marlins first-round pick Taylor Tankersley, a lefthander out of Alabama, suffered his first professional loss at short-season Jamestown. Tankersley allowed seven earned runs on 10 hits in 4 2/3 innings against Staten Island, as his ERA spiked from 1.23 to 3.38. Tankersley did strike out seven in the loss to give him 32 whiffs and just eight walks in 27 innings this season.

Ambiorex Concepcion continues to fuel a great debate in the short-season New York-Penn league. The Brooklyn outfielder collected three more hits and two more stolen bases last night against Batavia, giving him a .321 average (third in the league), 76 hits (tied for fourth), 28 stolen bases (tied for first), and 46 RBIs (third). Concepcion also has eight home runs and a cannon for an arm, drawing comparisons to Vladimir Guerrero from two league managers. "Absolutely dripping with tools," New Jersey manager Tom Shields said of Concepcion. But there are other league managers who don't think Concepcion is the best outfield prospect on his own team--a couple would give that title to the less athletic but more polished Dante Brinkley. The knock on Concepcion is that his swing is too long and has too many holes, and that he lacks strike-zone recognition. But if he continues to put up the kind of numbers he has been, Concepcion will make it very difficult to ignore his five-tool potential. He is still just 20 years old, though a couple league managers privately question his age.

Jason Corapci has never allowed a hit in his pitching career, yet his ERA is infinite. Normally an infielder at Rookie-level Greeneville, Corapci started last night's 13-0 loss to Pulaski playing second base, but by the time the game had ended Corapci had played all nine positions. He moved to the mound to begin the eighth inning, walked the only batter he faced, and moved to first base to finish the feat. Reliever Chris Sotro allowed the inherited runner to score on a wild pitch a few batters later, giving Corapci one earned run in zero innings.

The top pick in June's draft, Padres shortstop Matt Bush, had two hits in his second game with Eugene in the short-season Northwest League last night, giving three hits and two RBIs in his first eight at-bats.

Contributing: Alan Matthews, Aaron Fitt.


Compiled By Chris Kline and John Manuel
August 30, 2004

ASHEVILLE, N.C.--Delmon Young apparently has figured out how opponents were pitching him.

He's making adjustments, the surest sign that the first overall pick in the 2003 draft is on his way to a big career.

Young and his Charleston RiverDogs matched up over the weekend with Ian Stewart and the host Tourists at McCormick Field, tussling over who is the top prospect in the South Atlantic League. Stewart, the third baseman and the Rockies' first-round pick last year (10th overall), had the upper hand early, but Young's strong finish--punctuated by a stellar performance over the weekend--seems to have given him the upper hand in their personal duel.

He showed off the adjustments he has made in the first game of the series, an 8-0 Charleston victory Friday night. Asheville righthander Marc Kaiser pounded Young inside with fastballs in his second at-bat and retired him on a grounder to short. One scout at the game mentioned that the scouting report on Young was that at times, he had struggled to handle inside heat during the season.

So Kaiser went back to the well on an 0-1 pitch in the fourth inning. Young pulled his hands in and used his natural strength to blast the 90 mph fastball over a dentist's billboard in right-center field, some 370 feet away, for his 23rd homer. "Looks like he's making the adjustment," said the scout.

Stewart and Young know each other, as they are both Southern California natives who have played with and against each other, from Area Code Games and Perfect Game showcases to the 2002 USA Baseball junior national team, which won a silver medal in Sherbrooke, Quebec that summer.

"We had a great team," Stewart said. "Delmon, Lastings Milledge, Jeff Allison, Chad Billingsley, Chuck Tiffany, Jarrod Saltalamacchia . . . It was a fun group."

Milledge, Saltalamacchia and Tiffany have joined Stewart and Young in the Sally League this season, and Stewart and Young have stepped forward with from the pack with stellar seasons. This weekend, as their teams squared off, Young got the better end of the duel, as he helped the RiverDogs clinch a playoff berth and hit three home runs in the series.

Young's hot series was indicative of his incredible August, by far his best month of the season. He's hitting .436-9-25 in the month with a season-high 19 walks. Overall, he's batting .324/.387/.548 with 25 home runs and 110 RBIs. He ranks third in the league in batting, first in hits and RBIs, third in slugging and 10th on OBP.

Twice Friday, Young won personal matchups with Stewart. In the first inning, Young showed off his 70 arm (on the 20-to-80 scouting scale), throwing out Stewart on a disputed play at the plate. Stewart tossed his helmet in disgust and Tourists manager Joe Mikulik got tossed on the play, but whatever the call, Young's throw was strong and accurate. He showed it off several times in the game--once throwing behind a runner who faked a tag-up at third base--and held Stewart to a single on a liner off the wall in the second game of the doubleheader.

For his part, Stewart had three hits in the series, all in Friday night's nightcap, as his average fell to .317. He still ranks third in the SAL in on-base percentage (.397) and first in slugging (.595) with 29 homers and 99 RBIs, and he's added 18 stolen bases, improving his speed over the course of the year to bring one of his weaker tools up to fringe average.

It's been a unique year in the SAL to have two teenagers perform as well as Stewart and Young have while playing in the league for the entire season. And it's a tough call as to who the top prospect is, though Young's big finish probably will give him the edge.

"If you ask me, it's my guy," Mikulik said before the series got started. "If you ask them over there, it's going to be their guy. But their guy is my No. 2, that's for sure. You can't go wrong with either one of them."

DISH PIECES

The Cubs called up lefthander Renyel Pinto to Triple-A Iowa. The Southern League's leader in strikeouts (179 in 142 innings) and ERA (2.92) gave up seven runs in 4 1/3 innings for the I-Cubs.

Matt Moses, the Twins' 2003 first-round pick, returned to the lineup at low Class A Quad Cities; he hadn't played since May due to a disc problem in his back. Moses went 1-for-7 in a doubleheader Sunday with four strikeouts as the DH.

Two prominent 2004 draft picks got promoted to the short-season Northwest League from Rookie ball. Matt Bush, the No. 1 overall pick, went 1-for-4 for Eugene in his NWL debut. Bush hit .181/.302/.236 in 72 at-bats in the Arizona League. Rockies outfielder Seth Smith, a second-round pick out of Mississippi, was 1-for-8 in his first two games for Tri-City after hitting .369/.427/.601 with nine homers and 61 RBIs in 56 games for Casper in the Pioneer League.

Friday night's game between Class A Kinston and Wilmington was cancelled, but not for reasons one might expect. The Blue Rocks only had four players ready to go due to a bout of food poisoning. The direct blame for the cancellation lay on Thursday night's postgame spread in Delaware, which consisted of hamburgers and hot dogs. But some Wilmington players didn't link the bad burgers to the end result. "I had some of the spread and I felt fine," second baseman Donnie Murphy said. "We think it might have been in a water cooler or something." The cancellation hurt the K-Tribe's gate more than anything else, as the club had sold the game out earlier last week. Add to that the fact that general manager Clay Battin had resigned last Monday, and the front office was put in a bad position with a sold-out house and no visiting team to play against. But owner Cam McRae and assistant GM Shari Massengill came up with a plan to keep the crowd happy by staging a home run hitting contest between Indians players, followed by the scheduled fireworks. "It's been a tough week, but we got through it," Massengill said. "We were able to keep the fans happy in a very unusual situation." As for the Blue Rocks, they were still feeling the effects of the bug Saturday, as evident by the pale, clammy faces coming into the clubhouse after BP. "I'm still a little out of it," third baseman Mitch Maier said. "I think we all are to some extent." Kinston won Friday night's game 5-2; and the first game of Sunday's doubleheader was suspended by rain in the eighth inning with the score tied 4-4. The two teams will complete the suspended game, then play a doubleheader tonight.

Say farewell to low Class A Greensboro's War Memorial Stadium, which saw its last game Sunday--a 3-1 Bats' win in 10 innings against Savannah. Left fielder Xavier Arroyo hit a two-run walk-off homer in the final at-bat in the stadium's 78-year history. "I don't remember hitting any walk-off home runs," Arroyo told the Greensboro News & Record. "But I will remember this one." More than 1,000 fans lined up two hours before game time to pay their final respects to the park. War Memorial was one of the oldest ballparks in professional baseball, built in 1926. The team will move to a new downtown park next season.

Mets righthander Yusmeiro Petit made his debut Saturday at Double-A Binghamton, striking out 10 in seven innings of work. Petit, who began the year at low Class A Capital City, is 12-5, 2.01 with 194 strikeouts in 134 innings at three different levels this season overall.

Double-A Jacksonville lefthander Ryan Ketchner won for the first time in five starts, shutting out Montgomery over six innings to run his record to 8-7. The 6-foot-1 190-pounder, who was born partially deaf and has about 40 percent of his hearing, surrendering five hits and struck out four. The win caps a hard-luck August for Ketchner, whose ERA has never risen above 3.18 this season. The Suns averaged fewer than two runs in his four August losses. Ketchner, acquired from the Mariners in a trade for Jolbert Cabrera this spring, throws an 85-88 mph fastball with good life, an average slider and a changeup that has improved since Jacksonville pitching coach Marty Reed and Dodgers roving pitching instructor Mark Brewer made a few tweaks earlier this season. "We worked on him staying back, because he was rushing his body a little bit," Reed said. "It's helped with all his pitches, especially his changeup. He's been able to keep the ball down and locate all his pitches really well."

Double-A El Paso outfielder Carlos Quentin was hit two more times Saturday, setting what's believed to be a new minor league record with 42 hit by pitches, with six games still to play. The 42 plunks have helped Quentin post a .465 on-base percentage between high Class A Lancaster and El Paso this season.

Cardinals lefthander Rick Ankiel appears poised to join the big league club when rosters expand. Ankiel allowed one hit (a bunt single by Santiago Perez) and struck out five over six innings at Triple-A Memphis, and didn't walk a batter. A report in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch had Ankiel throwing 44 strikes during his 53-pitch outing.

In other Cardinals news, righthander Brad Thompson made his first start since coming off the disabled list and got hit hard at Double-A Tennessee. Thompson, who hadn't thrown since late June due to soreness and fatigue in his arm, allowed six earned runs on seven hits in only one inning of work. Even with the six earned runs against him, Thompson's ERA is still a sparkling 2.54 in 82 innings; he threw 71 all of 2003, his first pro season.

The Pirates promoted first-round pick Neil Walker to short-season Williamsport, where he went 2-for-5 with a homer and three RBIs in his debut. Walker was hitting .271/.313/.427 with four home runs and 20 RBIs in 52 games in the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League, and he was promoted after the season there ended.

Billy Butler and Brian McFall continue to form one of the more potent 1-2 punches in the minor leagues at Rookie-level Idaho Falls. Butler, the 14th overall pick this year, could be the Royals' top prospect. Sunday, he hit his ninth homer of the year and had four more RBIs, improving to .376/.491/.598 with nine homers and 60 RBIs in 66 games. McFall, a third-round pick in 2003, began the year at low A Burlington but has bounced back from a disappointing first half to hit .346/.429/.581. His 11 homers lead the Chukars, as do his 18 stolen bases (in 20 attempts).

Contributing: Chris Gigley.


Compiled By Chris Kline
August 27, 2004

Tim Stauffer has the hang of this professional baseball thing.

He's a step away from the big leagues, just more than a year after being taken fourth overall in the 2003 draft. He's used to packing and unpacking and living out of a suitcase, having played in the California League (high Class A Lake Elsinore), Southern League (Double-A Mobile) and now the Pacific Coast League with Triple-A Portland.

The upstate New York native, who attended Richmond, also has realized that he has to keep his Red Sox fandom on the down low. Consider his cover blown.

"There are a couple of us up here," Stauffer said. "You have to be kind of a quiet Sox fan when you're in another organization. Luckily, with them in the American League, they're not a competitor. It's not like rooting for the Dodgers or something."

Soon, though, Stauffer's choice of whom to root for could be easier. He has pitched his way to Triple-A in his first pro season, after not pitching last year due to a much-publicized shoulder problem that didn't require surgery but held down his signing bonus. Stauffer signed for $750,000, more than $1 million below the average bonus for a first-rounder last year.

Stauffer doesn't dwell on the money he didn't get; he focuses on the hitters that he didn't get out, and how he can get them out in the future. His job is to pitch well, and if the Padres need him to help their injury-riddled rotation, he wants to be ready.

"I'm feeling pretty good about the year," Stauffer said after his last start, when he gave up five runs (only one earned) in seven innings to improve his numbers to 6-2, 3.51 with the Beavers. "There have been some bumps in the road, but I'm learning a lot and getting comfortable with making adjustments from game to game and within a game."

At his best, Stauffer throws a 90-92 mph live fastball with pinpoint control and has good command of a hard curveball and changeup. He's still learning when and how to use them in Triple-A, as he's given up 69 hits in 67 innings with just 42 strikeouts and 21 walks. On the year, he has 105 strikeouts in 153 innings, but that workload should quell concerns about the health of his shoulder.

"It's been a good challenge, getting up to Triple-A in my first year," he said. "The atmosphere has been pretty good, and it's a good team with a good group of guys. It's been a neat time."

--JOHN MANUEL

DISH PIECES

The Indians promoted righthander Jeremy Guthrie to Cleveland, where he will pitch out of the bullpen for the remainder of the season. Guthrie, who struggled as a starter in stops at both Triple-A Buffalo and Double-A Akron this season, was moved to the pen with the Aeros over a week ago. The Stanford product went 8-8, 4.21 in 130 innings at Akron, with all but two appearances coming as a starter. Guthrie is on the short list of relievers scheduled for tonight after C.C. Sabathia gets the start against Chicago, where Jason Grilli will make his White Sox debut.

Outfielder Carlos Quentin took a dose for the 41st time last night, tying the single-season record for hit by pitches at all minor league levels. He's hitting .374-5-36 in 53 games at Double-A with 19 doubles and a .454 on-base percentage. Double-A El Paso manager Scott Coolbaugh explained Quentin's propensity for HBPs this way: "At times he's a guy who does dive, but he challenges pitchers. He puts himself in a vulnerable spot, but he's big and strong enough to handle it. There's no doubt that he's the type of hitter who meets a challenge and then overcomes it. It hasn't changed his approach, I'll say that."

Righthander Anibal Sanchez could become this year's version of Hanley Ramirez in 2002: a Latin American prospect playing his way into the dreams of Red Sox Nation for short-season Lowell. Sanchez continued his dominance last night against New Jersey, striking out 10 in 4 2/3 scoreless innings before he was removed because of a pitch count. The strikeouts extended his New York-Penn League-leading total to 94 in 70 innings. Sanchez, signed out of Venezuela, uses a mid- to low-90s fastball and has shown an ability to throw it to both sides of the plate for strikes. He's 3-4, 1.92 and has allowed just 42 hits in 70 innings (.165 opponent average) while walking 28. "He's a quality pitcher with good life through the zone," Tri-City manager Greg Langbehn said. "He's shown a plus changeup at times. His breaking pitch is his biggest drawback now, but he's young and could get that with more experience."

Outfielder Derek Nicholson was sent home from the Olympics, where he would have played for Greece, after a diuretic he was taking for high blood pressure resulted in a positive drug test. The diuretic can be used by athletes as a masking agent, and Nicholson's paperwork explaining his use of the drug was filed improperly. He has returned to Double-A Erie and is taking out his disappointment on Eastern League pitching, hitting two homers in Erie's 9-0 win against Matt Peterson and Altoona. Since returning to the lineup Aug. 21, Nicholson is 9-for-19 with five of his 10 homers and 10 RBIs in five games.

Blake DeWitt pieced together his second four-hit game in less than a week in Ogdens 9-5 beating of Billings. DeWitt went 4-for-5 with a home run and six RBIs to push his season totals to .278-11-41 in 252 at-bats. DeWitt was the second of two first-round picks by the Dodgers in June and was rated as the top high school hitting prospect in the draft.

Double-A Carolina catcher Josh Willingham hit his 22nd homer and is within one of the Mudcats season record, held by Jason Stokes and Mark Johnson. Stokes was a late scratch from Thursday's lineup with a flare-up in his left wrist. Stokes missed nearly a month earlier in the season with an injured left wrist. Stokes will be re-evaluated Friday. In the same game, Greenville catcher Bryan Pena was ejected by first-base umpire Brandon Bushee after arguing an out-safe call at first base in the bottom of the 10th. Pena's ejection forced manager Brian Snitker to play a pitcher--Brett Evert--in left field and move second baseman Juan Velazquez to catcher for the first time in his career. Then in the Carolina 11th, Mudcats outfielder Andy Rohleder got run by plate umpire Jamie Roebuck for arguing balls and strikes. Mudcats manager Ron Hassey moved shortstop Jimmy Goelz into right field. Carolina scored a run in the inning for a 7-6 win.

The disappointing season for Dodgers prospect Xavier Paul continued against Capital City last night, albeit with a glimpse of his potential. The low Class A Columbus left fielder struck out in his first two appearances, first on a called third strike and then on a feeble wave at a low and outside fastball from Bombers ace Greg Ramirez. He looked tentative at the plate in his third appearance, but worked the count full from 1-2 and then laced a fastball off the center-field wall. Paul ran hard all the way and coasted into third base for his fifth triple of the season. The grind of his first full pro season may be affecting Paul, who went 1-for-6 with three strikeouts as his average dipped to .258. I have to be in better shape, because Ive never played 144 games in four months before, he said. Most of it is mental and staying healthy.

Double-A San Antonio righthander Felix Hernandez threw a seven-inning complete game against Wichita. The 18-year-old allowed three hits, walked two and struck out seven, moving to 4-1, 3.44 for the Missions.

Cubs righthander Ricky Nolasco struck out 10 and allowed three hits over seven scoreless innings in a 6-2 Double-A West Tenn win against Huntsville. He struck out Rickie Weeks, Prince Fielder and Brad Nelson twice each. Nolasco, a fourth-rounder in 2001 out of Rialto (Calif.) High, is 6-3, 3.53 in 94 innings for the Diamond Jaxx.

Contributing: Chris Gigley, Alan Matthews.


Compiled By Chris Kline
August 26, 2004

Bluefield manager Gary Kendall sat in his office Wednesday afternoon, discussing the inevitable.

Greeneville was bussing into town for a three-game series in the Rookie-level Appalachian League, with league home run leader Mitch Einertson in tow.

"We only saw him three games earlier this year, and he homered off us. He's coming in here today and will probably tie that record," said Kendall, who laughed off the idea of giving Einertson the Barry Bonds treatment.

Maybe he should have avoided Einertson. The Greenville center fielder cracked his 24th home run of the season Wednesday night in a 13-10 win. That tied the Appy League record set by Wytheville's Joy Gritts in 1960.

"Coming out of high school and hitting over 20 home runs is almost impossible to do," Burlington manager Rouglas Odor said. "Manny Ramirez, when he was here (in 1991), he hit 19 home runs and had 63 RBIs."

Einertson, the Astros' fifth-round pick out of a California high school, has a league-best 63 RBIs of his own, adding a .305 average. While he boasts that impressive .705 slugging percentage, the 5-foot-10, 180-pound athlete also has a .410 on-base mark that illustrates his knowledge of the strike zone and ability to lay off bad pitches.

"He hit the homer, but he had three hits last night, so the kid knows how to hit and isn't all power," Greeneville manager Tom Bogar said. "What's amazing to me is everybody knows who he is and what he does now and are trying to pitch him different. But he's making the adjustments."

Observers aren't sure what's quicker, Einertson's bat speed or his ability to make those adjustments. Johnson City manager Tommy Kidwell said his staff found success against Einertson one night by consistently feeding him soft stuff down and away. The next night, he ripped one of those offerings over the fence.

"He's hit fastballs, splitters, changeups," Kidwell said, "and he's hit them all hard."

--WILL KIMMEY

DISH PIECES

The Blue Jays finalized their Arizona Fall League roster, naming righthanders Jason Arnold, Adam Peterson and Francisco Rosario to the Peoria Saguaros. Triple-A Syracuse skipper Marty Pevey will manager the Saguaros.

Expos lefthander Mike Hinckley has been steadily impressive since being promoted to Double-A Harrisburg. Hinckley allowed two earned runs on eight hits in a 5-4 loss at Reading, but did not figure into the decision. The third-round pick in 2001 out of Moore (Okla.) High is 5-1, 2.74 in 82 innings with the Senators. He went 6-2, 2.61 in 62 innings at high Class A Brevard County before the promotion.

Mets third base prospect Aarom Baldiris draws comparisons to Edgardo Alfonzo as both hail from Venezuela and show the ability to hit for average with line-drive power. While Alfonzo has heated up in August with a .351 average, Baldiris has struggled following a promotion to Double-A. He has collected six hits in 38 at-bats (.158) through 10 games for Binghamton after batting .305/.384/.397 with four home runs and 45 RBIs in 107 games at Class A St. Lucie.

Double-A Akron first baseman Michael Aubrey has only played two games in the field since pulling his right hamstring in early July and had missed more than a month with the injury. He's mostly been in the lineup at DH and said the hamstring injury has been lingering--even in recent weeks. "I'm just going out there and playing as hard as I can because that's the only way I know how to play," Aubrey said. "But it's frustrating because it's still in the back of my mind somehow. I'm just trying to work my way through it and take it day to day right now." Aubrey will attend instructional league for a few weeks when the season ends, then will play in the Dominican this winter.

In other Tribe news, third baseman Kevin Kouzmanoff was promoted to Akron, going 0-for-4 in his debut. The Indians' sixth-rounder in 2003 out of Nevada batted .321/.389/.515 with 15 homers and 84 RBIs in 118 games at low Class A Lake County this season.

OK, Double-A Altoona first baseman Brad Eldred is officially on fire. Eldred has hit five homers and driven in 20 runs over his last six games. The 24-year-old went 2-for-3 with three RBIs in a 13-4 loss to Erie. He hit his 13th home run since a July 20 promotion from Class A Lynchburg.

The same could be said for Erie second baseman Ryan Raburn, who went 3-for-6 with three RBIs in the game and extended his hitting streak to 15 games. He's batting .484 (31-for-64) during the streak and has been red-hot in August, hitting .400-7-29 in 100 at-bats. The Tigers fifth-rounder in 2001 out of South Florida Community College is hitting .300/.386/.536 in 88 games overall.

Dodgers righthander Edwin Jackson lasted just 1 1/3 innings last night for Triple-A Las Vegas. Jackson, who is recovering from a strained forearm, walked five and allowed five earned runs. He threw 45 pitches--only 10 for strikes.

Keep an eye on Rookie-level Gulf Coast League Phillies righthander Scott Mitchinson. The 19-year-old Australian struck out seven over six scoreless innings in an 11-0 win over the GCL Braves to reach 7-0 on the season. In 62 innings this year, Mitchinson has struck out 60 and walked just one. That's reminiscent of the year Elizardo Ramirez put together for the 2002 GCL Phillies. He posted a 73-2 strikeout-walk ratio in 73 innings while going 7-1, 1.10.

Contributing: Kevin Goldstein.

Compiled By John Manuel
August 25, 2004

Few prospects in the minors have the tools and the ceiling to match Round Rock outfielder Charlton Jimerson. Unfortunately for Jimerson, he's still considered a player long on tools and short on performance.

Jimerson burst on the scene at the 2001 College World Series as a senior outfielder with Miami. He helped lead the Hurricanes to the national championship with an inspiring and inspired performance, leading off two games in Omaha with homers, scaling the wall to rob two home runs and hitting .375-4-13 with 12 steals in the postseason overall.

The Astros drafted him in the fifth round that year, and Jimerson has moved one level at a time, struggling to make consistent contact while flashing absurd tools. Jimerson has the power-speed package scouts crave, but he's below-average in the most important tool of them all--the hit tool.

In his first year at Double-A Round Rock, he's sabotaging a strong first half with a dismal finish. Jimerson had hit just .182 since the start of July, with 67 of his 153 strikeouts coming in his last 170 at-bats. He was hitting .232-16-47 in 456 at-bats overall with 38 stolen bases in 44 attempts.

"He's the best baserunner in the league, and he's extremely fast, but he doesn't get on base enough to use it," one Texas League manager said. "He's the best defensive outfielder in the league, too, but that might be all he does in the big leagues, because he just doesn't hit enough."

Jimerson has the bat speed to hit, but he has never shown good plate discipline. Coming into the season, Jimerson had drawn just 79 walks while striking out 356 times in 972 minor league at-bats. This season's ratio continued the trend, as he had 29 walks (leading to a .285 on-base percentage) to go with all those K's.

It's not unprecedented for a player to struggle in the minors like Jimerson has. Though he played for Miami for four seasons, he went there on an academic scholarship and was a part-time player for much of his career, only earning a consistent starting spot in the second half of his senior season. He's still raw at age 24, and one pro scout for a National League organization compared him to Twins center fielder Torii Hunter, who needed six seasons in the minors and two more bouncing between Minnesota and Triple-A before he established himself in the majors.

One major difference is Jimerson's age. Hunter, who was drafted out of high school in 1992, turned 24 in 1999. It was the middle of his first full season in the majors, when he hit .255/.309/.380 with nine home runs. He established himself as a big league star in 2001, at age 26, when he won a Gold Glove in center field and hit .261/.306/.479 with 27 homers and 92 RBIs.

The other difference is Jimerson's swing, which needs help.

"I would compare him with Torii, but the difference is all those tools won't play if he doesn't make contact," the scout said. "The difference is, Jimerson gets long to the ball. He has a quick bat, but his swing is long because he bars his arm in his swing.

"Pitchers who see that know to just bust him inside every time. He's so pull conscious. He's so strong that he could hit for power to center and right-center. He doesn't need to try to jerk the ball. But he does. If he just tried to hit the ball up the middle, he could be such an exciting player."

The scout's refrain was a common one. Scouts of other organizations root for Jimerson, who has unquestioned makeup and boundless enthusiasm for the game. Of course, the Astros want him to make it, too.

But those traits, and all those tools, won't be on display in the major leagues if Jimerson doesn't learn to hit.

DISH PIECES

In other Astros news, the organization promoted righthander Fernando Nieve to Round Rock. Nieve went 10-6, 2.96 at Class A Salem and was leading the Carolina League in wins while ranking third in ERA.

Righthander Kameron Loe, on the same night that former Oklahoma teammate Chris Young made his big league debut, showed he's not far behind, throwing six shutout innings at Nashville in the RedHawks' 1-0 victory. Loe improved to 4-1, 3.05 in Triple-A, though lefthanded hitters continue to handle him (.328 average in 61 at-bats).

Triple-A Richmond righthander Jose Capellan dealt again, striking out six and walking two in six innings as the Braves split a doubleheader with Durham, which is chasing them in the International League's South Division. After a numbers hiccup in Double-A where he carried a whopping 2.50 ERA--his highest at three stops this season--Capellan lowered his ERA at Richmond to 0.87.

Right fielder Victor Diaz went deep twice as Triple-A Norfolk defeated Charlotte 5-3 in 15 innings. Diaz, who came over to the Mets with righthanders Kole Strayhorn and Joselo Diaz from the Dodgers for outfielder Jeromy Burnitz last season, is hitting .290/.326/.498 with 23 homers in 126 games. Diaz was moved from second base to the outfield this season and has responded well to the new position.

Cardinals lefty Rick Ankiel could be back in St. Louis soon. Ankiel threw five scoreless innings last night at Double-A Tennessee. Ankiel's fastball sat at 90-91 mph, touching 94, and threw 39 of his 57 pitches for strikes. He said he expected to make one or two starts at Triple-A Memphis, then, based on performance, hopes for a September callup. "Hopefully, I can go there and make an impression," Ankiel told The Daily Times in Maryvale, Tenn. "I think it's getting there. I think I'm right where I want to be. Tonight was great. I went out there and did what I wanted to do."

Double-A Chattanooga righthander Elizardo Ramirez started off strong, blanking Carolina through the first three innings, but allowed solo homers to first baseman Jason Stokes and catcher Josh Willingham and left the game after the sixth. Ramirez, who came over as part of the package that sent righthander Cory Lidle to the Phillies, is 0-0, 5.06 in his first three starts with the Lookouts.

Don't sleep on Chris Lubanski. The Royals' first-rounder in 2003 (fifth pick overall) had four hits last night against Battle Creek and continues to post better numbers every month. After hitting .237 in April, Lubanski improved to .240 in May, .245 in June, then leaped to .310 in July and .313 through 80 August at-bats. He's hitting .270/.331/.406 overall with nine homers and 47 RBIs overall.

Great Falls posted 15 runs in a victory at Provo. Chris Kelly, a 22-year-old first baseman from Pepperdine, went 5-for-6 including two doubles. Right fielder Tom Collaro had four hits with two home runs (giving him a Pioneer League-leading 16) and seven RBIs. Provo starter Anthony Whittington failed to make it out of the second inning, surrendering five earned runs off eight hits. Whittington, the Angels' second-round pick in 2003, has allowed 45 walks and struck out 42 in two professional seasons between the Rookie-level Arizona League and the PL.

Rockies' 2004 first-rounder Chris Nelson hammered his fourth homer at Rookie-level Casper last night. Nelson has hit safely in 23 of the 29 professional games he has appeared in since the Rockies took him with the ninth overall selection earlier this summer. He is batting .348/.443/.509 with four homers and 15 RBIs in 112 at-bats. Casper righthander Sam Deduno rung up 13 in 6 1/3 innings on his way to his fifth victory and fourth in August. A 21-year-old Dominican, Deduno has 103 strikeouts and 26 walks in 64 innings. He's 5-4, 3.25 in 13 starts for the Rockies.

Some of the best news in the Mets system is coming in the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League, where righthander Gaby Hernandez, a fourth-round pick out of a Miami high school, continues to throw well. Hernandez struck out eight in six shutout innings, giving up two hits, in a 4-2 win against the GCL Dodgers. He lowered his ERA to 1.09 and has 58 strikeouts and just 12 walks in 49 2/3 innings as a pro.

Another Mets farmhand, lefthander Evan MacLane continues to dominate the short-season New York-Penn League. Of course, since MacLane, 21, was 5-2, 2.39 with low Class A Capital City in the first half, it makes sense that he would be pitching well with Brooklyn, facing generally less-experienced players. He struck out 10 in eight shutout innings Tuesday to move to 5-2, 2.18 with an impressive 58-5 strikeout-walk ratio in 62 innings. The Cyclones, 35-27, have a one-game lead in the McNamara Division.

Short-season Tri-City had four pitchers combine on a two-hit shutout, with former Auburn righthander Steven Register--making the move from closer to starter--striking out seven in six innings to start the game. Register gave up one hit. Also pitching was 2003 second-round pick Scott Beerer, who gave up the other hit. The former All-American at Texas A&M made his fourth appearance as he returns from offseason shoulder problems. Beerer has yet to give up a run in 3 1/3 innings.

Contributing: Chris Kline, Alan Matthews.


Compiled By Chris Kline
August 24, 2004

CHARLESTON, S.C.--Wes Bankston is eating more steak this year, and opposing pitchers can tell. With a better diet and off-the-field routine, the power-hitting first baseman isnt slumping like he did at this time last season.

On Saturday, Bankston hit his 22nd home run, a tape-measure shot to left field at Joseph P. Riley, Jr. Park. Sunday, he went 3-for-4 with two doubles--his 26th and 27th--to raise his average to .291.

Bankstons meaty .333 average and five home runs in August contrast his showing down the stretch in 2003, when he hit .192 with just three home runs in the final two months of the season with the River Dogs.

"Last year, I was eating bad food at home and on the road, and it really caught up to me," Bankston said. "I could definitely tell by the way I felt swinging the bat. I'd come to the park a lot of days with no energy at all."

Although the Devil Rays organization preached good nutrition, as all organizations do, Bankston said his lapse of culinary judgment was something he had to live through to understand. It prompted him to eat right and train hard over the winter, and he reported to spring training this year in what he says was "the best shape I've ever been in."

The Devil Rays, however, remembered Bankston's swoon last July and August.

"There are certain criteria we want our players to be able to meet, and we felt like there were a few Wes still had to work on," said farm and scouting director Cam Bonifay.

While Bonifay wouldn't elaborate on those criteria, Bankston got the message when the Rays sent him back to low Class A.

"I was disappointed at first, but last season was a let down for me," said Bankston, who added that his first full season in the minors was the most he'd ever played in a summer. "I wanted to come down here and get in a full season of good baseball."

He has. Bonifay said Bankston had met all the team's criteria this season. And his manager, Steve Livesey, said the first baseman has matured as a hitter.

"He has a better feel for his swing and is showing better poise at the plate," Livesey said. "His pitch selection has gotten a lot better, too."

Returning to the South Atlantic League has helped. Already familiar and comfortable with that level of competition, Bankston has had time to develop patience rare for a young power hitter. He has drawn 68 walks, helping boost his on-base percentage to .394.

"There were games last season when I'd have one good at-bat, when I'd go deep in the count," he said. "This season I want three of my at-bats to be quality at-bats, whether I get a hit or not. I just want to smooth things out and stay consistent."

By not trying to hit home runs every at-bat, Bankston has already reached his personal high for home runs, after hitting 18 at Rookie-level Princeton in 2002 and a disappointing 12 last season.

"Last week he hit one out and told me it felt like he barely swung at the pitch," Livesey said. "I told him to remember that swing."

Bankston has made improvements at the plate while handling a new position on the field. Last season, he was a corner outfielder.

"I went to instructional league last fall and worked at first base the whole time," he said. "Whenever anyone took a swing I would get real jumpy."

Bankston isn't jumpy at all now. He seems comfortable with nearly every facet of the position, from digging out low throws to chatting up baserunners.

"It's gotten to the point where we don't even worry about him out there anymore," said Livesey. "He's done a great job at picking up the position quickly."

With nothing left to prove at low Class A, Bankston is looking forward to his next challenge--as long as it's not in high Class A Bakersfield. He has more of an appetite for Double-A Montgomery.

"If being here this season means I don't have to go to Bakersfield, then I'm fine with it," he said. "If I can go straight to Double-A next year, then great."

His encore performance in Charleston has made that a possibility. The Devil Rays have certainly taken note of Bankston's strong finish--and better diet--this year.

"He's a fine young ballplayer and we're proud of the way he's gone about his business in Charleston," Bonifay said. "He's on his way."

--CHRIS GIGLEY

DISH PIECES

Rookie-level Greeneville center fielder Mitch Einertson hit two more home runs, bringing his Appalachian League-leading total to 22. Houston's fifth-rounder out of Rancho Buena Vista High in Oceanside, Calif., is now two homers away from the league record of 24 set in 1960 by Wytheville's Joy Gritts. Overall, Einertson is hitting .296/.392/.680 in just 56 games.

Double-A Erie center fielder Curtis Granderson is arguably the hottest hitter in the minors right now. Granderson, a third-round pick out of Illinois-Chicago in 2002, hit two doubles and knocked in three runs in 9-5 loss to Altoona. In his last 20 games, Granderson is hitting .458-11-34.

Another RBI machine in the Eastern League of late has been Altoona first baseman Brad Eldred. The 6-foot-6, 240-pound Florida International product hit his 12th homer against the Sea Wolves, and has driven in 28 runs in his last 12 games. In 25 games with the Curve, Eldred is slugging a ridiculous .737.

Triple-A Fresno righthander Jesse Foppert only allowed two hits, but walked seven and wound up giving up five earned runs in 2 2/3 innings in a 7-4 loss to Sacramento. Foppert, whose velocity has returned to the low 90s, according to Giants officials, is trying to come back from Tommy John surgery.

The pitching matchup of the night, Vero Beach righthander Jonathan Broxton got the better of St. Lucie righthander Yusmeiro Petit, as the Dodgers won 3-2. Broxton, a 2002 second-round draft pick out of Burke County High in Waynesboro, Ga., struck out 11 and allowed two earned runs over 5 1/3 innings. Petit, who took the loss, allowed three runs--just one of them earned--and struck out seven in six innings.

Low Class A Beloit catcher Lou Palmisano recorded the first multi-homer game of his pro career, going 2-for-4 with five RBIs in a 11-10 loss to Peoria. Palmisano, regarded as the best catcher in the Brewers' system, is hitting .290/.371/.407 with six homers in 104 games.

Speaking of the Brewers, lefthander Manny Parra made his Double-A debut at Huntsville. Parra, who was on a limited pitch count--it was the first time he'd thrown in five weeks due to shoulder inflammation--allowed two earned runs on three hits in just one inning of work. A 26th-round pick in 2001 out of American River ( Calif.) Junior College, Parra was 5-2, 3.48 in 67 innings at high Class A High Desert this season before being promoted.

Low Class A Kannapolis center fielder Chris Young hit a pair of solo bombs in a 7-3 loss to Hagerstown. Young, the White Sox' 16th-round pick out of Bellaire (Texas) High in 2001, is hitting .265/.364/.515 with 24 homers in 121 games for the Intimidators.

Short-season Staten Island righthander Jesse Hoover struck out eight and allowed just one hit over 4 1/3 innings in a 5-4 loss to Aberdeen. The Yankees' fifth-round pick out of Indiana Tech is 2-1, 1.91 this season--with 78 strikeouts in 47 innings.

Contributing: Kevin Goldstein.


Compiled By Chris Kline
August 23, 2004

WINSTON-SALEM, N.C.--Scouts might not especially like his size, but there is something intriguing about Class A Wilmington righthander Kahi Kaanoi.

The Royals' seventh-round pick in 2000 earned a promotion to the Carolina League after going 2-1, 2.83 at low Class A Burlington and has been even better since the move. He gave up three runs in a start against the Warthogs, inflating his ERA with the Blue Rocks to 1.48. He has allowed just 14 hits in 30 innings.

"He pitches like a lefthander in a lot of ways, just out there getting a lot of ground balls," an American League scout said after Kaanoi left a game against the Warthogs after 6 1/3 innings. "He doesn't blow you away with his stuff. He doesn't have the kind of body that you can project, but to me, he reminds me of a smaller version of a Scott Erickson. He won't strike out a ton of guys, but he gets you to roll it over in most situations."

At 5-foot-11, 175 pounds, Kaanoi doesn't have a perfect pitcher's body. His demeanor on the mound and the way he attacks hitters are textbook, however.

"Early in my career, I wouldn't come inside at all and I paid for it," the Hawaii native said. "But I learned pretty quickly that you need that inner half in order to be successful. Before, I think it was hard to let things go when things were going badly and I let it affect me in a negative way. Now, I just go right after guys using both halves of the plate. And my retaining my composure and the way I handle myself on the mound has been really important."

The results mirror Kaanoi's personal breakdown of his approach. Kaanoi's stint in Burlington was his third, and he struggled his way through the Midwest League the past two seasons, primarily working out of the pen. He went 2-3, 6.06 at low Class A Burlington last year, but turned those numbers inside-out in the first half of this season.

The turnaround could also be directly related to a change in his arsenal. Kaanoi scrapped his changeup before spring training because he struggled to throw it consistently for strikes. He now throws a repertoire of a fastball that sits in the 89-91 mph range, touching 93, as well as a slider and splitter.

"I just figured out that I was much more consistent with my splitter and my changeup just wasn't working," Kaanoi said. "The slider is getting better, but I like to work off my fastball, change speeds as much as possible and drop the splitter in there to keep hitters off-balance."

The improved results have vaulted him into the Blue Rocks' rotation--at least for the remainder of the season.

"It's tough coming out of the pen," Kaanoi said. "I like this situation better because I'm in a regular routine and I can carry that every-fifth-day mentality. But whatever they want me to do, wherever they need me, I'm comfortable doing it."

Kaanoi made just one mistake against the Hogs, throwing a sinking 92 mph two-seamer that didn't sink, and DH Josh Shaffer drilled the pitch over the right field wall.

"I just looked in at (catcher) John Draper afterwards and he held his hand about belt high," Kaanoi said. "You can't get away with those in any league."

Most minor leaguers find it difficult to be away from their friends and family during the season, but it's even harder when everyone you know lives on an island in the Pacific Ocea n. Kaanoi keeps in touch with other Hawaiian players--especially Double-A Trenton third baseman Bronson Sardinha (who he played with on the same team in high school) and Double-A New Hampshire righthander Brandon League.

"Those guys are good friends of mine," Kaanoi said. "When I have an off day at home, I'll go to see them if they're close by. And when we're at home in the offseason, we'll work out together, do our baseball stuff and then have barbecues on the beach. That's the bad thing about baseball during the season--all the fast food. So we take advantage of eating Hawaiian food when we're together."

Kaanoi is known by his first name, which is Jason, but prefers to go by part of his middle name--Keuiikahi.

"I want to go by Kahi, because it's what all my friends and family call me," Kaanoi said. "And some people might think Keuiikahi is too hard to say, so it's a shortened version."

By any name, the 22-year-old Kaanoi finally has started to gain momentum in his pro career.

DISH PIECES

Devil Rays lefthander Scott Kazmir is bypassing Triple-A and will make his major league debut tonight at Safeco Field against the Mariners. For more on Kazmir, see Alan Matthews' feature. Kazmir, 20, becomes the youngest pitcher in the majors. "I've heard a lot of nice things about him," Lou Piniella told The St. Petersburg Times. "I'd like to see a young man that throws the ball like (it says) in the reports that we've got, and who shows some poise and can gain some experience. Hopefully, he'll win some ball games, but the big thing is to see how far along he is with the command in his pitches and the poise he'll show on the mound."

In other Rays news, righthanded reliever Chad Orvella to Double-A Montgomery. Orvella, a 13th-rounder out of N.C. State in 2003, struck out six over two innings in his second outing Sunday, topping out at 96 mph. He went a combined 1-1, 1.80 with 100 strikeouts and nine walks in just 65 innings between low Class A Charleston (S.C.) and high Class A Bakersfield this season.

Finding the top prospect in the minor leagues since B.J. Upton graduated to the big leagues is a cloudy picture right now, with no one guy standing out from the rest. At Triple-A Salt Lake, first baseman Casey Kotchman is stating his case. Since he came back from a shoulder injury, Kotchman is hitting .452-2-18 with 14 doubles in August. Kotchman had four hits Sunday, including two doubles (giving him 20 for the Stingers) and his fourth home run.

Low Class A Charleston (S.C.) outfielder Delmon Young is also making a run down the stretch, going 3-for-4 with five RBIs and his 22nd home run Sunday. The overall No. 1 pick in 2003 has 37 hits in his last 76 at-bats (.487) and has six homers in August. He's hit safely in 25 of 27 games, leaving him first in hits and RBIs (105) in the Sally League. Perhaps most impressively this month, Young's strike-zone recognition has improved, with 15 walks and 14 strikeouts.

Double-A Altoona lefthander Jeremy Harts picked up his first pro save Sunday and has yet to give up a run in 6 2/3 innings since reaching Double-A, which he couldn't do in six years as a position player. Harts, converted to the mound in the offseason after spending his career as an outfielder, features a blazing 95-97 mph fastball and a slider in 87 mph range. He's split time between low Class A Hickory, high Class A Lynchburg and now the Curve this season.

Double-A Chattanooga righthander Richie Gardner gave up nine hits in seven innings and struck out 10 in a 2-1 win at Carolina. Gardner, who was rated as having the best command in the Carolina League this season before being promoted, is 4-2, 2.72 in 56 innings for the Lookouts. "He works both sides of the plate very well and has great poise on the mound," Class A Kinston manager Torey Lovullo said. "He doesn't have overpowering stuff, but his command of what he has sets him apart."

Three pitchers combined for 21 strikeouts in Bluefield's 5-4 win in 15 innings against Johnson City in the Rookie-level Appalachian League. Righthander Ryan Brnardic struck out eight in five scoreless innings of relief for the victory. Righties Juan Pascual (five strikeouts in five innings) and Julio Soriano (eight in four innings) also pitched.

Huntsville righthander Glenn Woolard lost for the first time in Double-A and saw his scoreless inning streak come to an end at 29 innings Sunday. During the month of August, Woolard went 2-1. 0.30 in 30 innings. Woolard was bested by Birmingham righthander Brandon McCarthy, who allowed one earned run and struck out eight--including first baseman Prince Fielder twice--over six innings.

Double-A Midland shortstop Omar Quintanilla has been raking since being promoted from Class A Modesto. In his first 10 games with the RockHounds, Quintanilla is hitting .415 (17-for-41) with a .467 on-base percentage and .561 slugging.

Shortstop Alberto Callaspo went 3-for-3 and collected his 25th double of the season at Double-A Arkansas. Callaspo, who scouts compare to Rod Carew and Tony Gwynn when describing his swing, is hitting .388 in August and .294/.344/.389 with six homers in 122 games overall.

Orioles lefthander Adam Loewen lost his Carolina League debut. The 20-year-old allowed one earned run on two hits, walked six and struck out one over five innings for high Class A Frederick. He went 4-5, 4.11 for low Class A Delmarva prior to the promotion.

Double-A Tulsa righthander Mike Esposito has been solid in the Texas League this season and has turned it up a notch this month. Esposito is 3-0, 1.88 in 24 innings in August for the Drillers after pitching eight shutout frames Sunday against San Antonio. Overall, the 12th rounder out of Arizona State in 2002 is 8-6, 3.51 in 128 innings.

Double-A Tennessee righthander Anthony Reyes rolled through the Greenville lineup Saturday, striking out 11--including outfielder Jeff Francoeur and third baseman Andy Marte twice--in seven shutout innings. Reyes, the Cardinals' 15th-rounder out of Southern Cal in 2003, is 6-2, 3.23 in 61 innings for the Smokies. He has 26 strikeouts in his last 14 innings and 87 (and just 12 walks) for Tennessee since a promotion from high Class A Palm Beach. On the season, he has 125 K's and just 19 walks in 98 innings.

On the promotion tip: Mets second baseman Jeff Keppinger made his big league debut Friday night in San Francisco, then got his first base hit Saturday. Keppinger was hitting .337/.438/.414 in the minors this year, with 370 of his 389 at-bats coming in the Eastern League. Expos outfielder Ryan Church, who was killing Triple-A pitching in the PCL, made his debut at Coors Field on Sunday. Church had an immediate impact, going 3-for-4 with two RBIs. Church hit .343/.428/.620 with 17 homers and 78 RBIs for Edmonton prior to the promotion.

Contributing: John Manuel.


Compiled By Chris Kline
August 20, 2004

White Sox righthander Brandon McCarthy might be considered lanky--most reports list the 21-year-old at 6-foot-7, 170 pounds--but the truth is, he's added some bulk. He's still the same height, but is now up to 210.

"I've been trying all year to get that changed somehow," McCarthy said before getting ready to throw a bullpen at Double-A Birmingham. "Everyone thinks I'm a rail."

He isn't much of a rail anymore. In fact, if he's anything, he's been quickly riding the rails through Chicago's system this season.

McCarthy started the year in low Class A Kannapolis, where he went 7-5, 3.78 with 103 strikeouts in 88 innings. He was then promoted to Winston-Salem, where he blossomed, going 6-0, 2.08 in 52 innings. The strikeout-to-walk ratio was perhaps the most impressive thing about McCarthy's stint in high Class A, however--a mind-boggling 60-3.

"I was concerned and focused on learning things on a daily basis when I was in Kannapolis," McCarthy said. "And when I got to Winston, I really believed in myself a lot more and just got on a roll."

That roll led to another promotion, this one rather unexpected; at least from his point of view.

"It's been a lot faster than I expected," McCarthy said of the ride. "I went to Kannapolis just ready to learn and keep developing. It got to the point where I felt like I deserved the promotion to Winston. And even though I was on a roll there, I was totally surprised to be called up to Double-A. But it's been great. I just need to keep the same mentality no matter who I'm facing."

McCarthy doesn't have blow-away kind of stuff. His fastball sits in the 91-93 mph range, but he has a hard curveball with diving action plus an improved changeup. Right now, McCarthy says the changeup has helped him the most this season.

"It's improved quite a bit," McCarthy said. "I worked with it just long tossing and changed my grip from the old one. The way I hold it now is just with my ring finger, pinky and thumb. The other two fingers don't touch it at all and it's slowed it down some, with a lot more movement. I'm a lot more confident in falling back on that if my other stuff isn't working."

The McCarthy guide to facing hitters is relatively simple: pound the ball all over the strike zone. Scouts call him a blue-collar version of former White Sox righthander Jack McDowell for his fearless demeanor on the mound and for his ability to keep hitters intimidated in the box.

"I go right after anybody," McCarthy said. "I don't see the point in trying to pitch around someone, unless it's conducive to the situation. I hate to walk guys. But I'm not the kind of person who's going to get intimidated by anyone who stands in against me."

Last season in the Rookie-level Pioneer League, the knock on McCarthy was that he couldn't command the inner part of the plate because hitters just got too comfortable against him. That doesn't happen anymore.

"I need to control that inner half in order to be successful," McCarthy said. "Knocking guys inside sets up the curveball--it sets up a lot of things actually. Now, if I see you getting too comfortable in there against me; let's say you're 3-for-4 or something, I'm going to drop one in under your shoulders to try to unsettle you a little bit. That will make you think about something else and break your concentration, hopefully. Pitching inside is essential and you can't be afraid to do it."

DISH PIECES

Cardinals lefthander Rick Ankiel made another step in his journey back to the big leagues last night for Double-A Tennessee. Ankiel threw 62 pitches over four innings; 38 of which were strikes. He allowed one unearned run on two hits and showed no command problems whatsoever. "Just being out there and competing is the main thing," Ankiel told The Greenville News. "If you're not able to compete, you're just sitting all bored. It feels good especially after throwing so many pitches, which is the most I've thrown yet. To walk away not sore or hurt is good." Ankiel had Tommy John surgery last July and made three starts for high Class A Palm Beach, going 0-1, 2.08 with 11 strikeouts and no walks in 8 2/3 innings. He struck out five and walked one in his return to Double-A, and his fastball sat between 89-90, touching 93. "Once I got settled in, it was good," Ankiel said. "The main thing for me is to come out and make sure my arm and my body is going to give me what I need after the surgery."

Rockies lefthander Jeff Francis made his worst start of the year in his last game in the minors. Francis is scheduled to make his big league debut in Atlanta Wednesday. The 23-year-old allowed seven earned runs on seven hits in just three innings, hitting two batters and throwing two wild pitches. "I didn't make pitches when I needed to," Francis told The Rocky Mountain News. "I think I was rushing a little bit once I got in a jam, getting more excited. That's just not me." Rain delayed the start of the game for close to an hour and a half and it was 50 degrees when Francis threw his first pitch of what became a 33-pitch inning that included two ground ball hits. He threw 43 pitches in the third, when he allowed a three-run homer to New Orleans left fielder Phil Hiatt. The next time Francis takes the mound, it will be in the big leagues--and he won't have to deal with Coors Field for a while. His first three starts will come against the Braves, Giants and Padres--all on the road.

Triple-A Edmonton right fielder Ryan Church missed the cycle by a double in an 18-5 rout against Salt Lake. Church went 4-for-6 with four RBIs and four runs scored; hitting his 17th homer of the season. Overall, Church is hitting .344/.428/.621 in 97 games.

With Double-A Norwich's roster depleted by injuries, the Giants promoted DH/first baseman Brad Vericker from high Class A San Jose, where he hit .279/.375/.492 with 14 home runs, 76 RBIs and 29 doubles. Vericker, signed as a nondrafted free agent out of San Diego's Point Loma Nazarene, went 1-for-4 with a run scored in his Navigators debut as lefthander Pat Misch pitched 5 1/3 shutout innings. The Giants also promoted first baseman Travis Ishikawa and outfielder Eddy Martinez-Esteve to San Jose from low Class A Hagerstown. Ishikawa was hitting .256/.357/.448 with 15 homers in 97 games with the Suns. Martinez-Esteve, the Giants second-round pick out of Florida State, played just 13 games at Hagerstown. He went 10-for-46 (.217), and has played at three levels since the draft--starting in the Arizona League where he batted .357/.375/.500 in just four games.

Double-A Bowie righthanders Dave Crouthers, Andy Mitchell, and Jacobo Sequea tossed a combined no-hitter against Altoona. Crouthers was lifted after throwing 108 pitches through seven innings. He walked four and struck out six. Mitchell pitched a scoreless eighth and Sequea came on to preserve the no-hitter, picking up his 23rd save of the season.

Double-A El Paso outfielders Conor Jackson and Carlos Quentin combined to go 7-for-10 with four RBIs and six runs scored in a 15-3 win against Arkansas. Quentin came a triple short of the cycle, going 4-for-4 and hitting his fifth homer since being called up from high Class A Lancaster. He was also hit by his 39th pitch of the year, bringing him within one of tying the all-time record of 40.

Braves right fielder Jeff Francoeur left high Class A on a good note, going 2-for-4 and hitting his 15th home run of the year. Francoeur was promoted to Double-A Greenville after the game and will join the team tonight against Tennessee.

Indians shortstop Ivan Ochoa is out for the year after having surgery to repair a torn labrum in his left shoulder. Ochoa, who several team officials have called the best defensive shortstop in the system, was hitting just .234 and committed 10 errors in 66 starts.

Are they remaking "Field of Dreams" in Great Falls? White Sox lefthander Ray Liotta pitched six innings of three-hit, one-run ball, striking out eight, to improve to 4-1 with a Pioneer League-leading 2.64 ERA. Liotta is not related to the actor of the same name who portrayed infamous White Sox outfielder "Shoeless" Joe Jackson in Kevin Costner's 1989 hit film.

Reds lefthander Tyler Pelland, acquired from Boston last year in the Scott Williamson trade, pitched 2 2/3 innings of relief for Billings to pick up his Pioneer League-leading eighth win of the season. But it wasnt easy for Pelland, who's now tied with Idaho Falls' Justin Sherman for most wins in the hitter-happy league. Pelland walked five and allowed two earned runs in the win; he's now 8-2, 3.69 with 34 walks in 61 innings.

Sandy Almonte, who hit .211 as a shortstop at short-season Tri-City last year and had reconstructive elbow surgery in December, is off to a blazing start at Rookie-level Casper. After going 4-for-5 with two doubles in a win against Helena, the 21-year-old Dominican is hitting .556/.600/.889 in three games as a designated hitter and three at his new position, second base. In his first 27 at-bats, he has four doubles, a triple, a homer and five RBIs.

Contributing: Aaron Fitt, John Manuel.


Compiled By Chris Kline
August 19, 2004

GREENSBORO, N.C.--The expectations were probably as high as they possibly could have been.

Orioles lefthander Adam Loewen was just coming off his first taste of pro ball, after signing a major league contract worth a guaranteed value of $4.02 million. He dominated short-season Aberdeen in 2003, and the O’s had so much promise for the 20-year-old lefthander, they invited him to big league camp this spring.

The results were horrific.

In his final two starts in the spring, Loewen faced seven hitters, walking six and hitting the other. In his first outing, he walked all four batters, throwing 20 pitches in the process. Overall, Loewen made it through one inning in three appearances. He allowed nine earned runs on three hits, walked seven and did not record a strikeout.

"As a young player in major league camp, he's trying to do more than he might be capable of at this point," Orioles farm director Doc Rogers said at the time. "He might be giving them too much respect. But when you consider he moved from short-season ball last year to big league camp this year, there's going to be a learning process."

A learning process, certainly, and Loewen openly admits he was feeling the pressure in what he called "a surreal environment."

"I didn't pitch to anyone there really," Loewen said. "I just walked everybody there. The first couple days, I was just in awe of who was around me. It was so surreal because I watched these guys when I was like 12 years old. Just to see those guys around me and to have them coming over to me to give me tips and advice on stuff--I just had to take it all in. And then I had to go out and face hitters I’d only seen on TV. It was a strange situation to be in."

Since then, Loewen has tried to put the strange days behind him, though it has taken a while. Early in the season, the command problems haunted him. And then when things were coming together in early May, he went down with a rib cage injury that caused him to miss a month.

"It was really tough, especially because in the first half I was on and off," he said. "And just when I started to feel good, I went down (with the rib cage injury) and lost a month. I was kind of tentative coming back from that when I was throwing and had control issues again. I had to start again pretty much from scratch.

"But I really feel like in the second half I've really picked my game up a level to where I can make my season respectable at least. I started off so bad and so disappointing, that I want to salvage the rest of the year. With the exception of one start in the second half, I've been pitching really well."

That’s putting it lightly. In July, things started to turn around for the Vancouver, B.C., native. He went 1-1, 4.24 in 23 innings, compared to the 0-1, 9.64 numbers he put up in June. In August, Loewen has been back at his very best–tossing the first complete game of his professional career Monday night against Greensboro. And it only took 103 pitches, 94 of which were fastballs.

"It felt unreal, just because I've gone five innings the last (four) starts and to get a nine-inning game--I feel like it will turn the rest of the season around for me," Loewen said.

It has been a year of ups and downs, and also a season of disappointments with reason for optimism. Loewen was distraught for being left off Team Canada’s Olympic roster. He struggled through the pressures of being a first-round pick. But he is gaining momentum now that he hopes will carry over into the Arizona Fall League next month.

"Not going to Greece was a huge disappointment, but I had to realize where the organization was coming from," Loewen said. "They wanted me to get a full season in and I didn't really know they had plans to send me to the Fall League. So it kind of makes more sense now. Hopefully I can get some momentum going in to pitch against those guys at that level. It's going to be good competition and a good test for me.

"I can't say I'm not disappointed in my season. This has been probably the worst I've ever pitched in my life. I feel like I should at least be in high A right now if I had pitched the way I pitched last year. But it's different competition so I really can't compare. It's totally different.

"At least, if I'm better at the end of this year than I was at the beginning, I'll be happy. I'll at least have salvaged something positive. But if I'm taking steps back, then I'm really going to have to take a good look in the mirror."

DISH PIECES

• In other Orioles news, the club recalled Triple-A Ottawa outfielder Darnell McDonald and promoted Double-A Bowie outfielder Val Majewski to the big leagues. McDonald was hitting .226-5-39 for the Lynx and this will be his third stint with the O’s this season. Majewski, the Orioles’ third-round pick out of Rutgers in 2002, was hitting .307/.359/.490 with 79 RBIs in 112 games for the Baysox.

• The St. Petersburg Times reported that the Devil Rays are close to promoting lefthander Scott Kazmir to the big leagues and taking a spot in the rotation in next week’s series against the Mariners. In an interview for an upcoming story, Kazmir told BA's Alan Matthews that if he continued to pitch well, he would be in line for a September callup. Kazmir has been impressive since coming over from the Mets in the Victor Zambrano deal. The 20-year-old is 1-2, 1.44 with 25 strikeouts in 24 innings.

• Righthander Trevor Hutchinson won his fourth straight decision for Double-A Carolina, which beat Birmingham 8-4. Hutchinson gave up two runs in seven innings to move to 9-6, 4.49, and he's been remarkably consistent since missing a month in the season's first half with a hamstring injury. In his last five starts, Hutchinson has average seven innings an outing and has given up just eight runs (2.06).

• Triple-A Oklahoma righthander Chris Young has been nearly untouchable since being promoted from Double-A Frisco. Young won again last night, pushing his record to 3-0, 1.48 in 30 innings. It is possible that, with the Rangers needing a fifth starter, Young could make his big league debut on Tuesday against the Twins. Texas changed Young’s arm angle slightly this season, which has pushed his velocity over 90 mph for the first time in his career. His curveball has shown improvement this season as well.

• Double-A Erie righthander Preston Larrison hadn't pitched since July 31 because of a sore elbow, but he was expected to return before the conclusion of the season. He was 5-4, 3.05 in 118 innings. The Tigers are sending Larrison to the Arizona Fall League this season.

• Class A Vero Beach second baseman Delwyn Young set a club record with his 34th double of the year. Young, a fourth-rounder out of Santa Barbara (Calif.) Community College in 2002, is batting .289-22-77 in 422 at-bats.

• The Marlins promoted lefthander Jason Vargas to low Class A Greensboro after their second-round pick out of Long Beach State went 3-1, 1.75 with 36 strikeouts in 36 innings at short-season Jamestown.

• The Indians promoted Triple-A righthanded reliever Fernando Cabrera and lefthander Brian Tallet to the big leagues in an effort to bolster their bullpen. Cabrera, whose fastball sits in the 92-94 mph range, went 3-3, 4.08 with 84 strikeouts in 70 innings for the Bisons this season. Tallet, who has been recovering from Tommy John surgery he had last fall, rehabbed at short-season Mahoning Valley before being moved to Double-A Akron. He was 1-1, 5.56 in 13 appearances.

• A marquee pitching matchup in the New York-Penn League pitted a couple of Andrews out of the Atlantic Coast Conference against each other. Red Sox lefthander Andrew Dobies, a third-rounder out of Virginia, took the mound for Lowell against Tigers righthander Andrew Kown, a fifth-round pick from Georgia Tech, for Oneonta.

Neither pitcher factored in the decision, but both looked sharp. Kown went four scoreless innings, allowing just two hits and two walks while striking out seven, to lower his ERA to 3.27. Dobies countered with three scoreless innings, giving up one just hit and whiffing four, to lower his ERA to 3.06.

He gave way to former San Diego State righthander Ryan Schroyer, who yielded just one unearned run in five innings. Toolsy outfielder Bo Flowers gave Oneonta the lead with a two-run double and a run scored in the top of the ninth, but Lowell tied the game in the bottom of the inning before losing in the 12th.

• In a pitchers' duel that lasted the entire game, Brooklyn managed just two hits but still beat Staten Island, 1-0, behind six scoreless, three-hit innings by lefthander Joe Williams. The 17th-round pick from St. Xavier (Ill.) is now 5-3, 2.21.

• Lefthander Taylor Tankersley earned his first pro victory last night at short-season Jamestown. The Marlins’ first-round pick out of Alabama went six scoreless innings, allowed four hits and struck out five.

Contributing: Pat Caputo, Aaron Fitt, Jill Painter.


Compiled By John Manuel
August 18, 2004

The way Kory Casto saw it, the worst was over--it had to be. What could be worse for his confidence than taking a ground ball to the face in just his third game as an infielder?

Casto, a third-round pick by the Expos in 2003 out of Portland, had spent his college career and first professional season as an outfielder, but he was converted to third base before this season at low Class A Savannah. In an April 10 game against Asheville, Casto attempted to backhand a hard grounder hit by Christian Colonel, but the ball took a funny hop and hit him in the left eye before ricocheting into foul territory.

"I just remember going down to the ground and I couldn't open my eye, but I remember hearing baserunners running around, so I knew the ball went a long ways," Casto said. "Finally I opened my eye up and got up and walked off the field. I remember getting in the training room and asking someone how bad it was, and they said the swelling was real bad."

Casto, 23, sustained two orbital fractures but did not lose any vision in his eye. He returned 13 days later but admitted to being skittish in the field and playing on his heels. That apprehension, coupled with the challenge of learning to read the spin on ground balls and determining whether to charge or wait back, led Casto to commit 31 errors in 93 games at third base. But at least he's no longer playing in fear.

"I remember one ball was hit real hard for me, and I just reacted and picked it, and I think that's the moment I got over being afraid of being hit in the face again," he said.

Afraid or not, Casto will have to work hard to become adequate at third base, said an American League scout who has seen him. "He won't ever do it easily or smooth at third base," the scout said. "His hands are not loose. He's got stiff hands and kind of an unnatural set-up. I think his feet are a little heavy."

Expos scouting director Dana Brown said he respects the scouting report, but he said it doesn't take everything into account.

"One of the things as scouts that we fall short on is measuring the heart of players," Brown said. "This guy's got great makeup, and he's got the heart to do whatever he needs to do, and I think the overriding factor is going to be his desire. When you look at that, you think this guy might figure it out. I'm excited about Kory becoming a pretty good third baseman."

Casto's best tool has always been his bat, anyway. Savannah hitting coach Joel Chimelis said he didn't think Casto's injury affected him at the plate, but it still took Casto awhile to find his offensive stride this year. He was batting .255-2-21 at the end of May.

"Earlier in the year, especially against lefties, he'd take that hanging curveball for a strike, and most of the time it was strike three," Chimelis said. "As the year has progressed, he's just gotten more and more confident in his ability to hit, and now he'll hit that curveball and drive it."

Casto has boosted his numbers each month, and he's now at .298-12-77 with 32 doubles through 410 at-bats. He attributes the turnaround to improved mechanics. He has focused on making sure his hands are short to the ball, and he is comfortable hitting without the leg kick he used in college.

The lefthanded-hitting Casto is a prototypical doubles hitter right now, though Chimelis said he could add power as he matures and improves his plate discipline. Thus far in his career, Casto has proven to be an aggressive hitter early in the count, and he has drawn just 26 walks this year compared to 62 strikeouts.

"I think as a hitter, he's going to be fine with experience," Chimelis said. "I think his setback would be his defense, but he works hard at it and his desire is there. If a player has that desire, you don't know what he's capable of doing eventually."

--AARON FITT

DISH PIECES

• Righthander John Van Benschoten will join former Triple-A Nashville teammate Sean Burnett in Pittsburgh's rotation. JVB got the callup to start tonight with the Pirates despite a 4-11, 4.72 mark with the Sounds, including losses in three of his last four starts. Van Benschoten has been inconsistent this year, sandwiching a 1-8, 6.49 mark in April, July and August around a 3-3, 2.74 mark in May and June.

• The Twins have more depth at the upper levels of the minors than any organization. Two more examples at Triple-A Rochester are third baseman Terry Tiffe and first baseman Kevin West, who recently earned a promotion from Double-A New Britain. Tiffee, 25, impressed scouts in the Arizona Fall League last year with his bat, and he's heated up at Rochester with an eight-game hitting streak. He had four hits in a doubleheader at Ottawa last night, including his 11th homer, lifting him to .298/.352/.515 with 53 RBIs in 69 games. West, 24, had two hits and two RBIs in the first game of the doubleheader and is 3-for-12 with a homer since the promotion. He batted .293/.359/.551 with 25 homers, 87 RBIs and 35 doubles for the Rock Cats.

• The minor league home run race between Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre's Ryan Howard and Triple-A Salt Lake's Dallas McPherson continues. Howard belted two last night to give him 43 for the year (six in Triple-A), while McPherson kept pace with a pair of his own in a four-hit (two triples), six-RBI performance. McPherson has 37 on the year, with Brian Dopirak next after hitting No. 36 with low Class A Lansing.

• Righthander Josh Banks had one of his best starts since his promotion to Double-A New Hampshire, striking out nine in five innings against Binghamton. The Blue Jays have been working with Banks' mechanics since his promotion from high Class A Dunedin, as he'd been leaving too many fastballs up in the zone. Hence his 3-6, 5.52 record and 14 home runs allowed in 75 innings. "At times, his fastball gets flat and is very hittable," Fisher Cats pitching coach Rick Adair said. "He needs to leverage the ball more. He's always been a fastball/split-finger guy, so he needs to get the fastball down to set up his split."

• Double-A Jacksonville first baseman James Loney missed last night's game with a bruised knee, which he injured Monday night against Tennessee. Loney missed almost two months earlier this season with a finger injury. He left Monday's loss after getting hit in the right knee by an Anthony Reyes fastball. Reyes had his best start as a pro, tying a Southern League record with eight straight strikeouts at one point. He fanned 15 overall in seven innings in the 5-1 victory. Reyes improved to 5-2, 3.64 with the Smokies, with 76 strikeouts and just 12 walks in 54 innings.

• Double-A Huntsville second baseman Rickie Weeks hit his first home run since July 27, his seventh of the year, in an 8-0 win against West Tenn. Prince Fielder also homered, his 21st, to back up righthander Glenn Woolard's seven innings of shutout ball. Woolard struck out eight to move to 5-0, 2.37 since his promotion from high Class A High Desert and hasn't given up a run in his last 24 innings, covering four starts.

• Righthander Brandon McCarthy won his Double-A debut with Birmingham, backed by Brian Anderson's big game. The outfielder went 3-for-4 with a double, triple and four RBIs in a 10-5 win against Carolina, while McCarthy gave up four runs in six innings while striking out seven and walking two.

• The way Ryan Shealy is hitting, the Rockies might have to make room for him. Shealy, 24, hit his 27th homer for Double-A Tulsa in a 5-3 win against Round Rock and is batting .324/.417/.602 with 89 RBIs for the Drillers. He leads the Texas League in homers and RBIs and ranks second in batting behind Round Rock's Willy Taveras.

• Righthander Chris Ray continues to adjust to high Class A and threw his first shutout last night, a seven-inning job against Potomac. Ray struck out 10 to improve to 6-3, 3.80 with 74 strikeouts and 20 walks in 73 innings at Frederick, and his numbers in three August starts are even better: 2-0, 1.89, 19 K's in 19 innings.

Tug Hulett hit an RBI single in the top of the 23rd inning to lead Spokane to a 2-1 win against Tri-City in the short-season Northwest League. The game, which began on Monday, was scoreless into the 19th inning when both teams scored a run. At 12:50 a.m. Tuesday, the game was suspended due to the NWL curfew and resumed last night. Every starting position player for both teams played the entire game, and all but two of them had at least one hit. Indians DH Lizahio Baez and Dust Devils shortstop Pedro Strop each went 0-for-8. The game could have ended much earlier, but Tri-City left 26 men on base.

• Right fielder Javier Herrera went 4-for-5 with a homer, a double and three RBIs in short-season Vancouver's 12-1 win against Eugene. The toolsy Herrera also stole his 15th base in 16 attempts this season and is now hitting a league-leading .340/.397/.555 with nine home runs and 37 RBIs.

• Dodgers lefthander Scott Elbert, the first of the team's three first-round picks in June, pitched five scoreless innings in Rookie-level Ogden's shutout win against Billings. Elbert, who improved to 2-2, 4.62, allowed five hits and a walk and struck out two.

• Provo shortstop Sean Rodriguez didn't even enter the game against Great Falls until he pinch-hit for Billy Boyer in the ninth inning. Yet Rodriguez finished the game with two home runs and five RBIs. His three-run shot in the ninth brought the Angels within one, before Nate Sutton's RBI single forced extra innings. In the 12th, Rodriguez hit a game-winning two-run homer. Rodriguez, a third-round pick in 2003 who began the year at low Class A Cedar Rapids, is now hitting .398/.523/.684, leading the Pioneer League in all three categories, with 10 home runs and 51 RBIs.

Contributing: Aaron Fitt.


Compiled By John Manuel and Chris Kline
August 17, 2004

Maybe this time, Giants prospect Dan Ortmeier will catch some luck on the injury front.

The Double-A Norwich outfielder collided in short right field last night with second baseman Jay Pecci while both were trying to track down a sinking fly ball in a 6-5 loss at Trenton. Both players were injured in the collision, which allowed Trenton second baseman Teuris Olivares' fly to fall in for a triple.

Ortmeier, a 6-foot-4, 220-pound right fielder, ran full tilt into the scrappy 5-foot-11, 180-pound Pecci.

"There was a loud thud," Trenton lefthanded reliever Tim Adkins told The Trenton Times. "You could hear one of them moaning, or trying to call out for help. You just hate to see that and you hope and pray they are OK and able to come back and play real soon." Both players were taken to a North Trenton hospital, and Ortmeier was treated for a minor concussion and released. Pecci, who was knocked unconscious by the incident, remained under observation last night.

Ortmeier has had injury problems since signing as a third-round pick in 2002 out of Texas-Arlington. He had to play DH for the first third of the 2003 season due to offseason left shoulder surgery, and he missed a week in May this season when he bruised the same shoulder in a collision at home plate.

He was hitting .300 at the time of the injury, but Ortmeier struggled for nearly three months thereafter, hitting .210 in 238 at-bats in May, June and July. He had just heated up again in August, hitting safely in his last seven games with three home runs before last night's injury.

Overall, Ortmeier is hitting .252/.352/.424 with 10 home runs and 48 RBIs. He also has stolen 18 bases in 20 attempts and has 47 walks and 110 strikeouts in 377 at-bats.

"He's had lesser stats than you might have expected," Giants director of minor league operations Bobby Evans said. "But for the most part, he's held his own. He's essentially been healthy and in the lineup, and it's not always easy to make the transition from A ball to Double-A."

DISH PIECES

• Triple-A Durham right fielder Matt Diaz can't do much more this season while hoping for a callup to Tampa Bay. Diaz went 3-for-5 with two doubles and an RBI to lead the Bulls to a 10-6 win against Charlotte. The two doubles brought Diaz's International League-leading total to 40. The 17th-rounder in 1999 out of Florida State is hitting .333/.376/.583 with 21 homers and 86 RBIs in 453 at-bats overall this season. Righthander Doug Waechter started the game, his third major league rehab start, and gave up four home runs to the Knights, though he did strike out six in three innings and consistently threw in the 90-92 mph range with his fastball.

• Athletics catcher John Baker has been on a tear since being called up to Triple-A Sacramento. Baker has six hits in his first 13 at-bats (.462), including going 2-for-4 with a pair of RBIs in his third game since being promoted. The fourth-rounder out of California in 2002 hit .280-15-78 in 440 at-bats at Double-A Midland this year.

• Double-A Altoona outfielder Nate McLouth went 3-for-3 with an RBI, hitting safely for the 30th time in his last 32 games. McLouth has quietly put together another solid effort in the Pirates system this season, hitting .327/.378/.459 with eight homers and 64 RBIs. He's added 33 doubles and a 34-57 walk-strikeout ratio in 449 at-bats while stealing 27 bases in 33 attempts.

• Astros outfielders Willy Taveras and Luke Scott powered Double-A Round Rock to a 6-1 win at Tulsa. Taveras went 3-for-4 with two runs scored and also recorded his 50th steal. Scott was also 3-for-4 with four RBIs and went deep twice. The two are back together again after being teammates at Class A Kinston last season. Both came over from the Indians for lefthander Jeriome Robertson.

• Speaking of the Indians, righthander Brian Slocum has been solid this season at Kinston. Slocum won his 14th game, striking out 10 in just five innings of work. Slocum, a second-round pick out of Villanova in 2002, went 6-7, 4.46 last season before being shut down in late July with inflammation in his right shoulder. The shoulder problem was a result of his work ethic. "After his first season in Mahoning Valley, he overdeveloped, adding 12-14 pounds of muscle which restricted his range of motion," farm director John Farrell said. "His velocity was down about 3 (mph) from what it used to be. The added muscle took a lot out of his fastball because of the lack of range of motion, which eventually led to the inflammation in his shoulder." Slocum's fastball is back in the low-90s, his slider is tighter and his changeup has become arguably his best pitch this season.

• White Sox' second-round pick Wes Whisler made his high Class A debut and got roughed up by the Wilmington Blue Rocks. The lefthander out of UCLA allowed four runs on four hits--including homers to Travis Chapman and Adam Keim--in 5 2/3 innings of work. Whisler was 4-1, 3.38 in 45 innings at low Class A Kannapolis before the promotion.

• Shattered cheekbone? What shattered cheekbone? Braves' right fielder Jeff Francoeur is showing little effect of being hit in the face by a ball that skipped off his bat while he was squaring around to bunt on July 9. Francoeur hit his 14th homer and drove in a pair of runs in an 11-4 loss at Lynchburg. The bad news for the Braves was righthander Anthony Lerew's performance, however. Lerew didn't make it out of the second inning and allowed five earned runs--including two home runs--on eight hits before being pulled. Lerew has lost his last five decisions, and his ERA since July 1 is 6.25 over 44 2/3 innings.

• New level? No problem. Red Sox left fielder Brandon Moss is only hitting .545 (6-for-11) since being called up to high Class A Sarasota. Apparently Moss didn't get the memo about the Florida State League being so pitcher-friendly.

• Royals first baseman Kila Kaaihue might be having a rather pedestrian season, hitting just .239-13-52 in 326 at-bats at low Class A Burlington, but he went deep twice and drove in five in a 9-7 win over Kane County. Kaaihue, a 15th-rounder in 2002 out of Iolani High in Honolulu, Hawaii, had a similar year last season in the Midwest League--starting off slow and then catching up. Kaaihue hit just .211 in May, but is batting .271 through 13 games in August, with four homers in his last six games.

• Orioles lefthander Adam Loewen tossed a complete game three-hitter at Greensboro. The O's top prospect has had some command issues this season, but struck out seven and walked four for his first career CG. Loewen is 4-5, 4.11 with 82 strikeouts and 58 walks overall at low Class A Delmarva.

• Astros righthander Matt Albers struck out 10 in five innings, earning his sixth win of the season at Class A Lexington. Albers, a 23rd-round pick in 2001 out of San Jacinto (Texas) Junior College, features a 91-95 mph fastball, slider and changeup and is 6-1, 3,02 in 89 innings for the Legends.

• First-round pick Landon Powell has gotten going at short-season Vancouver, with his 2-for-2 effort last night giving him an eight-game hitting streak. Powell was 5-for-39 to start his pro career but is 12-for-30 since.

• It was another high-scoring night in the Rookie-level Pioneer League, as Idaho Falls' Billy Butler continued his fine pro debut. The 14th-overall pick in the 2004 draft out of Jacksonville's Wolfson High clubbed his fifth and sixth homers of the year and improved his batting average to .390 in the Chukars' wild 17-14 loss to Missoula. The Osprey rallied from a 10-5 deficit with eight runs in the seventh and four in the eighth. In Caper, the Rockies beat Helena 20-8 as right fielder Seth Smith, a second-round pick out of Mississippi, led a 16-hit attack with three hits, including a triple, while left fielder Justin Nelson, a 15th-round pick out of California, hit homers No. 12 and 13 for the Rockies.

• Center fielder Carl Loadenthal had five of Rookie-level Danville's 20 hits in a 15-0 thumping of Princeton, which was limited to two hits. Loadenthal, 22, missed hitting for the cycle by a triple and drove in three runs.

• Tigers righthander Dallas Trahern continued his impressive debut in the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League, pitching five more shutout innings and striking out five while giving up just two hits. Trahern, an 18th-round pick out of Owassa (Okla.) High, has yet to give up an earned run (he's given up five runs overall) in 20 innings as a pro. He also has 18 strikeouts and just four walks allowed.

• Rangers shortstop Drew Meyer, on the rehab trail in the Rookie-level Arizona League, had two singles and three RBIs as the DH in a 7-0 win against the Padres. Meyer is hitting .357 in his rehab stint.

• In the Northwest League, a game between Spokane and Tri-City was suspended due to a time limit rule--the game lasted five hours and 39 minutes and 20 complete innings. The league rule states that an inning cannot begin after 12:50 a.m. local time, so the two clubs will pick it up in the top of the 21st tonight. The two teams were scoreless through 18 innings, and both teams got a run in the 19th, leaving it 1-1 when play resumes.

Contributing: Aaron Fitt.


Compiled By John Manuel and Chris Kline
August 16, 2004

Curtis Granderson is schooling Eastern League pitchers, and that should come as no surprise.

The son of two educators and a recent graduate of Illinois-Chicago, he is planning to earn a master's degree in educational administration. But with the numbers he's putting up in Double-A Erie, the Tigers' third-round pick in the 2002 draft may soon be delaying academia to pursue tenure in Comerica Park.

"I have little doubt that he'll play in the big leagues," Erie hitting coach Pete Incaviglia said, "and it wouldn't surprise me if he gets a shot as early as this September. It's not my call, but I think he could handle it."

Granderson, who entered the year as the organization's No. 8 prospect, has shown he can handle the bat. The 23-year-old product of Lynwood, Ill., recently homered in five consecutive games, and has hit safely in his last 12 games that he didn't leave early after running into a wall making an amazing catch.

That happened Aug. 5, when he crashed into a wall stealing an extra-base hit off the bat of Brett Roneberg. He missed three games but has hit safely in six straight games since returning, hitting four more homers. In his last 13 games, he's hit 10 homers and driven in 25 runs, improving his overall numbers to .306/.407/.525 with 19 homers and 82 RBIs.

"I'm swinging the bat well," said Granderson, "but I never feel that I should be satisfied. There's always room for improvement, and I want to get more disciplined and consistent. Barbaro Garbey, my hitting coach at Oneonta, said that my swing reminded him of Terrence Long's, but I have a lot of work to do to earn a comparison to a major leaguer."

Incaviglia recognizes that he has what it takes to make the grade.

"Curtis is a special athlete," Incaviglia said. "You can tell him to make an adjustment, and he'll do it right away. A lot of guys can't do that. We had him move his hands, and it really improved his timing. He's got a great aptitude and hunger, and his offensive capabilities are only going to get better."

Granderson also plays strong defense, as evidenced by his catch that knocked him out for three games. Diving headlong into the center-field fence, he escaped serious injury and missed just three games. It may have been the only way to delay his onslaught of line drives.

Asked how he would handle a promotion to the big leagues, Granderson takes the same studious approach he brings to the classroom and batters box.

"Once you step onto the field it's the same game," he said. "Who you're facing is different, but it's still 60 feet, 6 inches, and the bases are the same distance apart. When they feel I'm ready, I'll go up there with the same approach I have now. I'm not the kind of standout who will lead the team in home runs or stolen bases, but I think I do a lot of things pretty well."

Granderson does do a lot of things well on the baseball field, and as a result he's schooling Eastern League pitchers.

--DAVID LAURILA

DISH PIECES

Mets second baseman Jeff Keppinger made his debut at Triple-A Norfolk and went 3-for-3 with a walk. Keppinger, who came over to the Mets organization from the Pirates along with righthander Kris Benson, was hitting .362-0-5 in 47 at-bats at Double-A Binghamton since the deal. He was hitting .338-1-38 in 370 Double-A at-bats between Altoona and Binghamton.

Pirates lefthander Paul Maholm made his second start since being struck in the face by a line drive off the bat of Class A Winston-Salem first baseman Casey Rogowski on May 15. Maholm's nose was broken and the orbital bones around his left eye were fractured as a result, and made his first start back last week in the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League. He didn't fare especially well Saturday, allowing three earned runs on four hits, walking three and striking out five in four innings of work.

Braves outfielder Jeff Francoeur made it back to the lineup for the first time since he was hit in the face July 8 with a ball after squaring around to bunt. Francoeur's cheekbone was shattered and he had to have a steel plate inserted during surgery to repair the cheekbone, and most expected him to miss the remainder of the season. But the Braves' No. 2 prospect, who is limited to DH duties for now, started Saturday night against Salem, and went 0-for-4. Sunday, the first-round pick in 2002 out of Parkview High in Lilburn, Ga., went 1-for-4 with his ninth stolen base of the season.

Another high-profile prospect returned to the lineup this weekend, as Indians first baseman Michael Aubrey made his first appearance since the Futures Game. Aubrey, the Tribe's first-round pick in 2003 out of Tulane, had been hampered by a hamstring strain, but returned in the weekend series at Double-A Akron, going 1-for-7 in two games.

Giants righthander Merkin Valdez has been back in a starting role at Double-A Norwich. Valdez started his second straight game Sunday night and took the loss against Portland. Valdez, who had been exclusively used as a reliever since being called up from Class A San Jose, allowed three earned runs and struck out six in 4 2/3 innings.

Pirates first baseman Brad Eldred has been on a tear since being called up from Class A Lynchburg. The 24-year-old out of Florida International went 3-for-5 with two homers and six RBIs last night. He has hit eight homers in his first 16 games in the Eastern League, after starting his stint there going 1-for-20. Righthander Matt Peterson also picked up his third straight win for the Curve. Peterson, who was also part of the package that sent Benson to the Mets, allowed five earned runs on eight hits in just five innings, but was helped out by the powerful Altoona lineup, who defeated Reading, 10-5.

Royals catcher Justin Huber, who the Royals acquired from the Mets in the July 30 trade, arrived with a bad left knee. The Royals denied permission for Huber, a native of Emerald Victoria, Australia, to participate in the Olympics as a member of the Australian team because of the knee injury.

Short-season Vancouver is noted as a pitcher's park, but that hasn't stopped second baseman Kevin Melillo from raking. He took the night off Sunday after snagging eight hits in his last 13 at-bats. Compared to Frank Menechino by area scouts as an offensive second baseman, Melillo is hitting .340/.422/.564 with 11 doubles, two homers and 21 RBIs in 22 games.

Righthander Gaby Hernandez continues to impress for the GCL Mets, tossing a five-inning no-hitter Saturday against the Expos in a 2-0 victory. The game took just 1 hour, 4 minutes, as Hernandez struck out nine and walked one. He's just 2-3, but he boasts a 1.18 ERA in 38 innings and has allowed just 21 hits and nine walks while striking out 43.

Center fielder Jason Pridie had four hits, including two more doubles, in Charleston's 4-3 victory. Pridie, 20, is repeating the South Atlantic League and is hitting just .257 but has improved his power numbers significantly. His 15 homers matches his career total entering the season, and he's slugging .446 after slugging .391 last season. "He's got a chance to be a Steve Finley type," said a scout with a National League club. "He's pretty good defensively, and he's a 65 or 70 runner (on the 20-to-80 scale). I like his swing and his approach to the game, but he needs a more patient approach at the plate." Pridie has 32 walks and 102 strikeouts in 444 at-bats.

Righthander Joel Zumaya made his Double-A debut on Friday, and he dealt. The hard-throwing Zumaya struck out 11 in five innings, giving up four hits and four runs but only one earned run and didn't get a decision. Zumaya throws from a low-three-quarters arm slot and pumps fastballs up to 98 mph, sitting in the 93-94 mph range. Zumaya had been 7-7, 4.36 at high Class A Lakeland prior to the promotion with 108 strikeouts and 58 walks allowed in 116 innings.

The White Sox promoted righthander Brandon McCarthy to Double-A Birmingham. McCarthy, a combined 14-5, 3.08 on the season between two Class A stops, has posted some of the best control numbers in the minor leagues, with 173 strikeouts and just 24 walks in 146 innings. He walked three in 52 innings with high Class A Winston-Salem.


Compiled By Chris Kline
August 13, 2004

August 13, 2004

A perfect testament to the Athletics' performance-based draft approach, short-season Vancouver's roster features four players from the 2004 College World Series.

Kurt Suzuki and Jason Windsor came from national champion Cal State Fullerton, and Landon Powell and Kevin Melillo represent South Carolina. Throw in Fresno State product Richie Robnett, former North Carolina State righthander Michael Rogers and Wichita State outfielder Nick Blasi, and you've got the makings of a college All-America team.

The player on Vancouver's roster who is putting up the best numbers is not a college product, however. It's Venezuelan center fielder Javier Herrera. Of Oakland's top 30 prospects going into the season, the 19-year-old Herrera was one of just two originally signed by the A's who did not go to college.

Herrera has made a full recovery from an injury he sustained last year in the Arizona League, when he ran into the center-field fence chasing a line drive and lost feeling in his legs. He was airlifted to a Phoenix hospital then wore a neck brace for almost a month, and when he came back he was not the same explosive player he had been before the injury. Herrera went just 6-for-32 (.188) with one home run and one stolen base after returning.

A's farm director Keith Lieppman said Herrera has turned the corner this year, though. He had a strong extended spring training and has kept it going for the Canadians despite playing in a pitcher-friendly park, batting .331-7-30 with 12 stolen bases.

"He's really one of the guys that's a real typical tools player," Lieppman said. "He runs well, he has the ability to steal bases, a great throwing arm, outstanding range in the outfield. There are a lot of tools guys, but he's really making something of them, and with the power, he's got a lot going for him."

Herrera played 34 games in center field for the Canadians, hitting .376-6-26. But he and right fielder Robnett switched positions on July 27, and Herrera has struggled offensively since the move, hitting .175-1-3. The A's are high on Robnett and project him as a center fielder, so they hope Herrera can adjust to the new position.

The process was delayed when Herrera was hit on the elbow by a Matt Minor pitch at Salem-Keizer a week ago, causing him to miss three games. He went 1-for-8 in his first two games back in the lineup, and last night he busted out with a 4-for-5 performance with a homer, a double and three RBIs.

If Herrera can improve his plate disciplinehe's drawn just 17 walks in 181 at-batshe could move through the on-base-oriented Athletics system quickly. Even so, Lieppman said he's not concerned about Herrera's lack of selectivity at this point.

"He's aggressive early in the count, he likes to hit the fastball, but most young kids are that way," he said. "I think he just turned 19 (in April), and he's really developing quickly."

--AARON FITT

DISH PIECES

Instead of flying to Athens, Canadian lefthander Jeff Francis found out he'll soon travel to the majors. He's slated to make two more starts at Triple-A Colorado Springs, then make his big league debut Aug. 25 at Turner Field in Atlanta.

"Obviously we did not make the Canadian Baseball Federation happy," general manager Dan O'Dowd told The Denver Post of the Rockies' decision to keep Francis in their system, rather than allow him to pitch for Canada in the Olympics. "But honestly, we don't answer to them as it relates to our future.

"This is a special kid. We understand the value of the Olympic experience. But we also understand the value of getting him experience at Coors Field in getting a head start for the 2005 season. We value that more so than the Olympics."

Third baseman Mark Teahen has been raking since coming over to the Royals in the three-team deal that sent Carlos Beltran to the Astros and Octavio Dotel to the Athletics. A's scouting director Eric Kubota called Teahen another Jason Giambi in "Moneyball," and while he might not pack quite the same power into his swing, he did go 3-for-4 with two doubles and his sixth homer Thursday at Triple-A Omaha. He is hitting .291-6-22 in 151 at-bats since the trade.

Double-A Altoona routed New Hampshire 11-0 yesterday behind righthander Ian Snell. Snell, called a poor man's Pedro Martinez because of his lively fastball, plus curve (which is sometimes mistaken for a slider due to its late break) and improving changeup, struck out 11 in five shutout innings.

Lefthander Jeremy Harts, who finished the game with a scoreless inning, might be the more interesting story, however. Harts is a converted right fielder noted more for his arm in six previous minor league seasons. Coming into the year, he had batted .244 in 1,711 minor league at-bats and had not advanced past Class A, so the Pirates decided to try him on the mound. His fastball has been clocked in the high 90s, with a wicked slider in the 85-87 mph range. There have been predictable control problems, however. In 30 innings between low Class A Hickory, high Class A Lynchburg and now Altoona, Harts has walked 37, thrown 10 wild pitches and hit seven batters.

Double-A Greenville lefthander Macay McBride and Double-A Birmingham righthander Wyatt Allen have both moved to the bullpen this season, after serving as starters for most of their professional careers. And both have had their struggles. McBride is 1-6, 4.43 in 21 appearances and has allowed 99 hits in 91 innings, although his strikeout-walk ratio is nearly 3-1. Allen, who was among the Carolina League leaders in walks allowed the last two seasons, hasn't faired much better. In 21 appearances, the Tennessee product is 0-3, 5.55. His walks have gone down, however, and he has 16 while striking out 39 in 36 innings.

Double-A Montgomery lefthander Scott Kazmir had another solid outing since coming over from the Mets to the Devil Rays in the Victor Zambrano deal. Kazmir struck out seven over six scoreless innings against prospect-laden Huntsville, though the Biscuits ended up losing 1-0 in the bottom of the eighth in the second game of a doubleheader.

Double-A El Paso lefthander Bill Murphy got roughed up against Round Rock, allowing six earned runs on seven hits in four innings. Murphy, who is with his third organization in two weeks (dealt from the Marlins to Dodgers to Diamondbacks), is 1-1, 8.68 in his first two starts. Round Rock righthander Jared Gothreaux, on the other hand, is locked in. Gothreaux, a 16th-round pick out of McNeese State in 2002, struck out seven over seven scoreless innings. In his last 39 innings, the 24-year-old has allowed just two earned runs.

Athletics shortstop Omar Quintanilla made his Double-A debut at Midland, going 2-for-4. The first-round pick out of Texas last year was hitting .313-11-72 in 448 at-bats at high Class A Modesto this season.

Double-A Frisco righthander John Hudgins left after just 3 2/3 innings yesterday after being struck in the leg by a line drive. Hudgins, the Rangers' third-round pick last year out of Stanford, is 3-3, 3.21 in 56 innings since being promoted from high Class A Stockton. He was removed from the game as a precaution and is not expected to miss a start.

Rangers shortstop Drew Meyer was back in action in the Rookie-level Arizona League yesterday, his first game back since June 12 when he injured his left shoulder in a collision at second base. Meyer went 2-for-5 with a run scored.

Contributing: Kevin Goldstein, Alan Matthews.


Compiled By Chris Kline
August 12, 2004

Chris Snelling has always believed in the old adage that everything happens for a reason, but his faith has been put to the test over the past two years.

"You might find out that reason the next day or 10 years later, but sooner or later it all makes sense," he said. "This one could take a while to figure out."

It was June 4, 2002. Snelling, barely 20 years old, was playing in his eighth game with the Mariners. With Athletics ace Tim Hudson on the mound, Snelling was leading off first base when the next batter hit a drive into the right-center gap. Snelling, running at full speed, was starting to round third base when the coach threw up the stop sign. Snelling tried to jam on the brakes, his knee gave way and he crumpled to the ground.

"It felt like my knee exploded. I swear I heard something just snap in half, something like a rubber band," Snelling said. "I'll never forget that sound."

That sound was the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee snapping in half and tearing away from the bone. It would be nearly a year before Snelling could play again, and that lasted just two months. He split time last season between Double-A San Antonio and Triple-A Tacoma before more surgery for a torn meniscus in the same knee in August.

After another six months of rehab, Snelling was looking forward to spring training this year. Then on the first day of camp, after taking just two or three swings during batting practice, Snelling felt a sharp pain in his right wrist. He had broken the hamate bone. Another operation, another six weeks of rehab.

That finally brought the usually upbeat Snelling to tears. "I cried quite a bit for two days, but I think anybody else would have done the same thing," he said. "The frustration had been building up inside for such a long time and I finally broke down. I try to stay positive, but it's really tough sometimes."

Snelling is finally back in action, taking the field a week ago in the Rookie-level Arizona League. After a 1-for-4 effort yesterday, he's on an eight-game hitting streak, but he's just trying to stay healthy and get into the playing groove again.

"I think it's only natural to have some apprehension when I started playing again," he said. "I used to say, 'Please don't get hurt,' but now I say, 'I refuse to get hurt.' Hopefully I'll have better luck with this motto."

Unfortunately for Snelling, he wasn't healthy enough to make the Australian Olympic team, so the Aussie squad that takes the field next week in Athens will be without what would have been one of its best players.

"They were putting the team together a month ago and I was on their list, but I knew deep down that I wouldn't be able to play," he said. "I finally had to tell them that I wouldn't be able to play. There was no point in making them wait because there are other guys who should have the opportunity to play in the Olympics."

Snelling played for Australia at the 2000 Olympics in Sydney, when the team finished a disappointing seventh place in the tournament, and he would have liked a chance at redemption.

"I know what that is like, and it's the best feeling in the world, so it was really hard telling them I couldn't play," he said. "That was one of the hardest things I've had to do, but I had to do the right thing and tell them."

At times, Snelling wasn't sure when he would be able to play again. The endless days of rehab started running together.

"Some days I'd wake up, feeling stronger like I was ready to swing a bat," he said. "Other days, I couldn't even think of swinging a bat. If you asked me a few weeks ago, there was no way I'd be able to swing a bat, let alone play in a game.

"You never get used to the frustration that goes with a long rehab. You know you get hurt too many times when your medical records take up four folders like mine."

One of the toughest parts about Snelling's medical history has been the repeated complications that seem to accompany each injury. Just two weeks after getting his cast off after hamate surgery this spring, for example, Snelling needed more surgery to repair cartilage in the wrist.

"I've basically had three surgeries without even playing in a game. I haven't been home (to Australia) in two years now. And for what?" he asked. "I wish I knew why I keep getting hurt. That'd make it easier on my mind. But if you keep asking why, then you're going to go insane."

Snelling is still just 22. When he left Australia at 17, he was given some advice that he still holds dear, maybe now even more than ever.

"They told me not to drink every night, stay away from women who love you because you're a baseball player, and you're a prospect for only a couple of years before they start forgetting about you," he said. "I found out how true that was . . . I'm just talking about that last one. I know a lot of people have already written me off, but I'm not going to let them drag me down.

"I haven't written myself off. I wouldn't have gone through everything I had over the last two years if I thought I was done. But I have to admit that sometimes I feel like everything is passing me by."

Before June 2002, Snelling was passing quickly through the Mariners system. He had a career average of .326 in 278 minor league games, never hitting less than .305. He was rated the top position player in a loaded Mariners system.

It wasn't long before Snelling was in left field in Seattle. Despite breaking his thumb in spring training, Snelling was hitting .326 with San Antonio when he was called up by Seattle on May 25.

Right after his knee injury, Snelling had reconstructive surgery and went to the Mariners' complex in Peoria, Ariz., to begin his rehabilitation.

"I talked to other players who had ACL surgery so I knew it would be hard, but I never realized just how hard. I wouldn't wish it on anybody," he said.

Having already given up his beloved skateboard and pick-up basketball, Snelling decided not to go home to Australia for Christmas. He didn't miss a day of therapy, even when he was the only one there, and the Mariners took a cautious approach by keeping him in extended spring training in 2003.

Coming out of extended spring, Snelling was sent to San Antonio, where he hit .333 in 47 games, earning a promotion to Tacoma. He went 18-for-67 (.370) there before being slowed with tendonitis and then a torn meniscus in late August.

Snelling never imagined it would be almost a year before he could play again.

"I know I've got to start all over again, but my goals have changed," Snelling said. "After all this, it's made me love the game more. I'm hungrier. I'd be nuts to say this was the best thing to happen to me, but maybe that's the reason it happened.

"I used to say that all I wanted was to make it to the major leagues, but now I want to stay there."

--JOE DOMAGALSKI

DISH PIECES

Lefthander Arnie Munoz has struggled since being promoted to Triple-A Charlotte, losing three of his last four starts. Munoz went 5 1/3 and allowed four runs on eight hits in a 4-0 loss to Toledo. Munoz, who dominated the Southern League earlier this season, is 1-5, 5.85 overall for the Knights this season.

Righthanders Mike Mussina--making his first minor league start since 1993--and Chien-Ming Wang combined to get the better of Indianapolis righthander Ben Hendrickson, as Triple-A Columbus defeated the Indians, 8-1. Mussina, making his first rehab start after recovering from elbow stiffness, threw three scoreless innings and struck out five. "He threw 91 [mph] tonight, which was great, and he threw all his pitches," Yankees vice president of player personnel Billy Connors told the Columbus Dispatch. Mussina is expected to rejoin the big league club next week. Wang finished the last six innings and allowed one run on three hits. Hendrickson allowed one run on nine hits over six innings of work.

First baseman Ryan Howard hit his first home run at Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre--his first in 36 at-bats. Howard, who hit 37 homers at Double-A Reading this season, has been slow to adapt to the next level, hitting just .222 after batting .297 at Reading.

Triple-A Nashville second baseman Freddy Sanchez has missed most of the season with pain in his right foot, and then a strained right quadriceps further slowed his return, but Sanchez is back raking again. Sanchez, who came over from the Red Sox for Scott Sauerback and Jeff Suppan last July, was born with a club foot, and the injury to his quad hampered his agility. While he has switched on and off between second, pinch-hitting duties and serving as the club's DH for most of the season, he has played the field in seven of the last eight games. He went 3-for-5, but still is just hitting .241 overall.

Second baseman Richard Lewis has been on a tear since being promoted to Triple-A Iowa. Lewis, who hit his first Triple-A home run, is hitting .482 in his first eight games with the Cubs.

Double-A New Hampshire lefthander Gustavo Chacin outdueled Altoona righthander Zach Duke as the Fisher Cats defeated the Curve, 4-0. Chacin went eight shutout innings and allowed just three hits and struck out five. Duke, who suffered his first loss in Double-A, went six innings, allowed one unearned run on four hits and struck out four. Chacin's season has been an eye-opener for the Blue Jays--he is 6-0, 0.59 over his last seven starts and 14-2, 3.05 overall.

The Matt Cain train keeps on rolling. Cain won again, going seven shutout innings and striking out five. He is 6-1, 2.33 since being promoted to Double-A Norwich.

Lefthander Tom Gorzelanny picked up his first win since being promoted to high Class A Lynchburg on July 9. Gorzelanny allowed one run on four hits and struck out five in six innings.

Outfielder Brad Snyder hit his first two homers since being promoted to high Class A Kinston. Snyder, who was held back in extended spring training due to an eye infection, is hitting .375 in his first week in the Carolina League. More impressively, Snyder's two bombs came on the road at Myrtle Beach; one of the toughest minor league parks to go deep in.

Left fielder Brandon Moss went 2-for-3 in his high Class A debut at Sarasota. Moss, who batted .339-13-101 in 433 at-bats at low Class A Augusta, was promoted August 9th.

Class A Charleston right fielder Delmon Young went 4-for-4 and is hitting .450-7-23 over his last 16 games.

Class A Winston-Salem righthander Brandon McCarthy took a perfect game into the sixth inning and won his sixth straight decision as the Warthogs defeated Wilmington, 7-0. McCarthy struck out eight and allowed four hits over eight innings of work. He is 6-0, 2.08 with a 60-3 strikeout-walk ratio in eight starts for the Warthogs.

Lefthanders Eric Everly and Demetrius Banks threw a combined no-hitter for Great Falls in the Pioneer League, combining for 16 strikeouts.


Compiled By John Manuel
August 11, 2004

Tony Giarratano wasn't overlooked in college; maybe he was overshadowed, though, by Tulane teammate Michael Aubrey, who was in the same class and was the national Freshman of the Year in 2001.

One thing seems certain, though. Giarratano might have been overlooked when it was time for the 2003 draft. The Tigers are reaping the rewards, as their third-round pick has developed into one of the minors' best shortstops.

In fact, one scout who recently saw Giarratano in the Florida State League said, "If they had that draft over again today, Giarratano would go in the first 15 picks, easy."

That's because Giarratano was hitting more like Aubrey while playing excellent defense at shortstop. He started the year at low Class A West Michigan, a notorious hitter's park, and batted .285-1-13 with more walks (25) than strikeouts (22). That earned him a promotion to high Class A Lakeland, where Giarratano continued to rake, hitting safely in his first 16 games in the Florida State League.

Giarratano had hit in 12 of his last 13 when he injured his left shoulder sliding head-first against Brevard County, and he hasn't played in a week, leaving his average at .376. His season could be done, and the injury may require surgery.

"There's some laxity in the left shoulder," said Dave Miller, the Tigers' senior consultant for minor league operations. "It looks like he could get back on the field in two or three weeks, but that's about when the season would be over, so he's probably a candidate for instructional league. Surgery isn't the first option."

While he played, a scout with a National League organization raved about Giarratano as one of the FSL's top talents.

"He's one of the better players I have seen all year in my minor league coverage," the scout said. "I saw him as a college junior, and either he's just gotten a lot better and stronger or I just whiffed on him, because I didn't think he'd be this good. He looks like an everyday player--60s (on the 20-to-80 scouting scale) across the board (except for below-average power), and he's got 60 instincts--and there's not much projecting that you need to do. He's almost ready.

"He's got a shoulder injury right now, and that's going to have to be something to watch, but if he's healthy, he might be an all-star kind of player."

The scout counts power as Giarratano's only below-average tool, but he has amped that up in the FSL by swatting five homers and 11 doubles (.505 slugging). He also has added 14 stolen bases and is 25-for-36 overall on steals. The only trouble sign, besides the shoulder injury, was his walk-strikeout ratio, 16-38, a significant drop from his West Michigan performance.

"He's got a good swing with some strength in it; I think he's going to be an above-average hitter, and he's good from both sides," the scout said. "He's a little better from the left side, but from both sides he shows good bat control, he makes hard contact and really centers the ball. He doesn't get a lot of backspin, so he's not going to hit a lot of home runs. But the bat speed is there.

"He's an aggressive, intuitive player with tools. It's a nice package."

DISH PIECES

Giarratano's former teammate, Aubrey, also has been troubled by injuries this year. He hasn't played since the Futures Game, still hampered by problems with his right hamstring. He hasn't played in a game for Double-A Akron since July 7, though farm director John Farrell hopes to have Aubrey activated this weekend against Erie. His duties will be limited to DH.

"It wasn't worse than we expected; he's just not making strides like we anticipated," Farrell said. "He is running and hitting on the field everyday. He missed a lot of time here and we just want to ensure that he finishes the year healthy."

The Indians plan on sending Aubrey to the instructional league in Winter Haven, Fla. in the fall, and to the Dominican League this winter. Aubrey hit .259 with just three extra-base hits in 16 games at Akron before the hamstring injury. He began the year hitting .339-10-60 with Kinston, and has a combined .430 on-base percentage and .507 slugging percentage for the year.

Team Canada named lefthander Phil Devey to replace Jeff Francis on its Olympic baseball roster. Devey, a 27-year-old former Dodgers farmhand and indy leaguer, was 1-5, 4.50 at Double-A San Antonio in the Mariners system, though he did have a 62-20 strikeout-walk ratio in 60 innings.

The Cubs promoted second baseman Richie Lewis to Triple-A Iowa, and he hasn't stopped hitting. Lewis' three hits in the first game of a doubleheader Tuesday extended his Triple-A hitting streak to six games and made him 11-for-26 since his promotion last Thursday. He's hit in 10 straight overall dating back to Double-A West Tenn, where he batted .324-10-57.

Double-A Erie outfielder Curtis Granderson has returned to the lineup after missing three games crashing into a wall making a catch, and he's picked up where he left off. Granderson hit his 16th home run last night, his seven in his last 10 games, and is 13-for-26 with five homers in August.

Erie second baseman Ryan Raburn also homered in that game, continuing his recent torrid streak. Raburn has six homers in his last eight games and 14 in 276 at-bats for the SeaWolves. "He's getting the rhythm and timing back in his swing," Miller said. "He's an exciting player, because the ball jumps off his bat. He's coming along at second base as well. He used to be a third baseman and he has a strong arm, but he's showing good range at second and getting better there."

The game of the night had to be Idaho Falls' 15-14 win against Casper in the Rookie-level Pioneer League. The Chukars took a 10-0 lead through three innings, powered by a four-hit, five-RBIs night from left fielder Brian McFall, but the Rockies stormed back behind the biggest game of Seth Smith's brief pro career. Smith went 6-for-6 with a pair of home runs and five RBIs, but Royals sixth-round pick Chad Blackwell was able to shut the door on a four-run ninth just in time to pick up the save for Idaho Falls.

Righthander Rett Johnson tossed a scoreless inning in his first action of the year, giving up one hit and one walk at high Class A Inland Empire.

Double-A Midland's John Baker continues to be a steady presence in the middle of Oakland's "Moneyball" draft class. The fourth-round pick in 2002 hit his team-best 15th homer last night in a 4-2 win at San Antonio. He's hitting .284/.357/.485 with 77 RBIs and 32 doubles. Baker has split time behind the plate with Jeremy Brown, who has batted .321 since July began to raise his season totals to .261/.362/.367 with five homers and 38 RBIs.

Righthander Kyle Waldrop, one of the Twins' first-round picks this season, earned a promotion out of the Gulf Coast League to the more advanced Rookie-level Appalachian League. The Knoxville native pitched six innings, struck out six and got the win, giving up only one run for Elizabethton last night at Johnson City. That's about 100 miles away from Farragut High in Knoxville, which Waldrop led to back-to-back 3-A state titles.

Pirates righthander Matt Guillory had his worst start of the year for short-season Williamsport, giving up seven runs on 11 hits in 2 2/3 innings against Jamestown. Guillory, an 11th-round pick this year out of Louisiana-Monroe, saw his ERA jump more than a full run in the outing, from 2.79 to 3.88. He's now 4-4 with 33 strikeouts and 10 walks in 51 innings, but fatigue might be setting in: batters hit .128 off him in two June starts, .205 in six July starts, and .577 in two August starts.

But Guillory is young, and Pirates farm director Brian Graham has been impressed with his poise in his first professional season. "He's got tremendous savvy, very good feel to his pitches, and he's very mature for his lack of experience in pro baseball," Graham said. "He's got a hard breaking ball, good sink on his fastball, and a good changeup. For a guy to come out of college and have three pitches he can throw for strikes is obviously very good."

Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre righthander Gavin Floyd lost his second straight start since being promoted to Triple-A. Floyd allowed eight hits in seven innings. He walked two and struck out four.

Triple-A Buffalo infielder Jhonny Peralta went 3-for-5 with three RBIs, and collected his 37th double and 13th home run of the season. "He's the best pure hitter I've seen this year," manager Marty Brown said. "And he's become more disciplined as the season's gone on. The first few years he was in the system, I've heard about him having a different stance in every AB, but that certainly hasn't been the case this year. He's refined his approach and has been a very good situational hitter for us."

Contributing: Chris Kline, Aaron Fitt.


Compiled By John Manuel
August 10, 2004

The Rockies aren't playing for much in 2004 anymore. Larry Walker has been traded, Aaron Cook is out for the year, and Shawn Chacon is still learning the ropes of closing.

Soon, the Rockies will audition their shortstop of the future. Veteran Royce Clayton has filled in this season, buying an extra year of development time for Clint Barmes. The 25-year-old is thriving in his second year at Triple-A Colorado Springs, and just as importantly, he's hitting away from Colorado Springs' thin air as well. If all goes as planned next year, Barmes will get what every minor leaguer wants--a shot at a big league job.

"He's a good, blue-collar guy who gets better every year," Rockies farm director Bill Geivett said of Barmes, a 10th-round pick in 2000 out of Indiana State. "We consider him to be an everyday guy in the big leagues. There's really nobody standing in his way next year; it's pretty much going to be up to him."

Barmes has seized opportunity in the past for the Rockies, such as when they drafted him and moved him from center field, which he played in college. First, they thought he could play infield in a utility role, or perhaps as a second baseman. Barmes consistently has forced the Rockies to raise expectations for him, showing them he could handle the everyday defensive responsibilities at short, where he excels at making the routine play. The 6-foot, 175-pounder has a solid arm and good footwork, though his range is fringy.

"For me, he's played extremely well at shortstop; that's been the biggest area where he's progressed," Geivett said. "He told me a couple of weeks ago that this is the most comfortable that he has felt at shortstop."

Barmes also has gotten comfortable at the plate. He's hitting .323/.368/.498 with 14 home runs, 43 RBIs and 36 doubles. He was leading the Pacific Coast League in hits (151) and doubles, and was tied for the league lead in runs scored (90).

Importantly, Barmes' numbers aren't solely a creation of Colorado Springs; the Sky Sox, after all, have team numbers similar to Barmes with a team .495 slugging percentage and .368 OBP. While Barmes' numbers clearly get a boost at home (.342, .556 slugging), he's hit on the road as well (.305, .444 slugging).

"The guy has some power, but he's not a power hitter," Geivett said. "He's been more of an all-fields hitter this year, which he needed to do, and he's improved his plate coverage. He really doesn't have a big weakness."

Barmes could use more patience (just 21 walks), and at 16-for-23 on stolen bases, he either needs to be more efficient or run less. But he's already shown the Rockies most of what they needed to see when they returned him to Triple-A. He's stayed healthy and made improvements.

The next place to see him should be Denver.

DISH PIECES

The next place to see righthander Jairo Garcia is Oakland. The Athletics called up the hard-throwing Dominican Republic native after a scoreless three-game, five-innings trial at Triple-A Sacramento. Garcia, 21, pitched two scoreless innings last night against the Twins as he replaced Chad Bradford, who was placed on the disabled list. Garcia started the season--his first when used exclusively in relief--at low Class A Kane County, shined after a callup to Double-A Midland and went 3-0, 0.68 between three levels overall, giving up just five runs (four earned) in 53 innings. Garcia walked 21--none in Triple-A--with 91 strikeouts.

The Mariners' lost season has included no Rett Johnson. The righthander left spring training camp and later returned to extended spring training, battling a bout of wildness. Johnson, who reached Triple-A Tacoma last year and has a 40-20, 2.95 career mark in the minor leagues, has been added to the roster at high Class A Inland Empire and could face Lancaster tonight.

Righthander Chin-Hui Tsao lasted only 1 2/3 innings against Sacramento last night throwing just 44 pitches with Rockies GM Dan O'Dowd in the stands. Tsao allowed three runs on four hits, including home runs to Nick Swisher and Jon Weber. Tsao has had lingering shoulder problems this season, but, if he passes a medical exam today, he will be cleared to head to Athens to pitch for his native Taiwan. "The health obviously is the biggest concern," O'Dowd told The Rocky Mountain News. "(Tsao) threw the ball fine, but he had below-average command, and I think he got squeezed a little bit by the (umpire). He will get looked at and if he's fine, he will be on a plane on Wednesday." Despite the rough outing, Tsao still touched 97 mph and sat at 92-94. "My arm was good. It felt normal," Tsao said. "Everything was just up (Monday). I think that (the Olympics) will be no problem for me. I'm excited to play in the Olympics."

Two members of the Greek Olympic baseball team tested positive for banned substances and were banned from the Games. Tigers outfielder Derek Nicholson tested positive for a diuretic, a weight-loss aid often used to mask other drugs. Nicholson, who hit a combined .267-6-37 between Double-A Erie and Triple-A Toledo this season, was expected to be one of Greece's starting outfielders and bat in the middle of the order. Lefthander A.J. Brack, who pitched in the independent Northeast League this season and projected as one of the team's starting pitchers, tested positive for the steroid stanozolol, according to news reports out of Athens.

Lefthander Paul Maholm, the Pirates' first-round pick in 2003 out of Mississippi State, returned to action in the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League in the completion of a suspended game. Maholm pitched four innings, giving up a run on five hits and striking out two. Maholm, who was 1-3, 1.84 at high Class A Lynchburg before his injury, was hit in the face by a line drive May 15 while pitching for the Hillcats.

Shortstop Hanley Ramirez hit his first Double-A home run as Portland downed Trenton. Ramirez went 3-for-5 with three RBIs and has hit safely in his last eight games with the SeaDogs.

Triple-A Las Vegas outfielder Cody Ross homered in his fifth straight game and for the eighth time in 10 games in a 5-4 win against Nashville. Ross, 23, has a 15-game hitting streak, improving his overall batting average from .218 to .286 while adding a .343 OBP and .561 slugging. The former Tigers farmhand, acquired in a spring trade for lefthander Steve Colyer, missed nearly two months from May to July with a broken hand, injured when his 9-year-old nephew slammed a car door on it.

Eric Crozier went hitless in his debut at Triple-A Syracuse since coming over in the Josh Phelps deal, but was hot last night, going 2-for-4 with a home run and a double. The 26-year-old first baseman/left fielder, who began the year with Buffalo, is hitting a combined .297/.377/.578 with 21 homers and 55 RBIs.

Triple-A Nashville first baseman Daryle Ward has been back in the lineup since Thursday and has four hits in his last five games. Ward was sent down to Nashville to rehab a thumb injury, and when he began taking batting practice again, he tweaked a muscle in his right side that shut him down for a longer period of time. "I feel good and we're getting to a point where I feel like I can contribute again," Ward said last week. An obvious indication of that was the raw power Ward displayed in early hitting, launching line drive, 400-foot homers out of Herschel Greer Stadium.

It was a night of multi-home run games across the minors last night. Triple-A Fresno right fielder Todd Linden, Double-A Chattanooga third baseman Edwin Encarnacion and Double-A third baseman Corey Smith all went deep twice. The 22-year-old Smith needs to get hot; the 2000 first-round pick is hitting just .244/.349/.402 with 15 home runs and 55 RBIs, and he has 95 strikeouts in 386 at-bats. He has continued to struggle defensively as well, committing 35 errors in 106 starts on the corner. Smith got hot through July, hitting .314 after hitting .189 in June and .167 in May.

Mariners righthander Felix Hernandez picked up his third Texas League win, allowing one earned run over six innings for Double-A San Antonio. He struck out seven and walked one, lowering his ERA to 1.98.

Class A Potomac second baseman Kevin Howard has built on a strong pro debut last year at low Class A Dayton. This season, the Miami product is hitting .307/.382/.444 in 394 at-bats with 10 homers and 68 RBIs for the Cannons. Howard went 3-for-4 with an RBI in an 8-3 win against Lynchburg.

Class A St. Lucie righthander Yusmeiro Petit continues to roll through the Florida State League. Petit struck out 11 in six innings in a 2-1 loss at Brevard County last night. Since being called up from low Class A Capital City, Petit is 2-2, 1.24 with 52 strikeouts in 36 innings.

Rangers first-round pick Thomas Diamond allowed one earned run on five hits, striking out five at Class A Clinton. Diamond, the 10th overall pick out of New Orleans, began his pro career at short-season Spokane, where he went 0-2, 2.35 in 15 innings. Since being promoted to Clinton, the righthander is 1-0, 1.80 with 18 strikeouts in 15 innings.

Dodgers first-round pick Blake DeWitt, who earlier in the season had an 18-game hitting streak, has heated up again at Rookie-level Ogden. DeWitt homered for the ninth time this season but just the first time since July 30 in a 12-8, 10-innings loss to Provo. DeWitt is hitting .273/.337/.476 with 27 RBIs, though he has just 15 walks and 54 strikeouts.

The Blue Jays' short-season Auburn affiliate continues to build on the best record in the minor leagues, improving to 37-11 with a 4-3 win against Staten Island. Righthander Casey Janssen, a fourth-round pick and senior sign out of UCLA, went 7 1/3 scoreless innings for the win and struck out seven, improving to 3-1, 2.48. Janssen was a two-way player for his first three seasons with the Bruins before sticking to pitching this season, when he went 10-4, 3.16.

Another former two-way college player, Rookie-level Danville third baseman Van Pope, is sticking to hitting and starting to get the hang of it. The former Mississippi recruit out of Meridian (Miss.) CC, who was the No. 1 prospect last summer in the Central Illinois Collegiate League, hit his third homer in six games for Danville in a 9-5 loss to Pulaski. Pope has hit safely in 18 of his last 21 games to improve to .275/.330/.444 with five homers and 25 RBIs.

The GCL Phillies handed righthander Dallas Trahern his first loss for the GCL Tigers in a 7-0 victory. Trahern gave up one unearned run in the encore performance to his combined no-hitter, giving up four hits this time in five innings. Righthander Andy Barb outdueled Trahern for five scoreless innings, while first-round pick Greg Golson went 3-for-3 with a double and triple, helping spur the Phils to a six-run eighth inning. Barb, a draft-and-follow signed as a 40th round pick in the 2003 draft out of Juanita High in Kirkland, Wash., got his first professional victory, giving up one hit and striking out four without a walk.

Contributing: Chris Kline.


Compiled By John Manuel
August 9, 2004

KINSTON, N.C.--Pirates lefthander Tom Gorzelanny stood perched on the top step of the visiting dugout at Grainger Stadium and appeared a bit frazzled by his task of the night--videotaping his teammates' at-bats.

After center fielder Rajai Davis flew out to left, Gorzelanny ejected the tape and threw in another for right fielder Vic Buttler. That routine continued throughout the lineup.

"I've learned a lot about these things the past couple years," the 22-year-old said, pointing down at the camera bag. "It gives you a different perception on the game so that you're actually in two games each week instead of every fifth day. I like doing it from the dugout better, because when you're in the stands you have to keep moving from place to place finding a seat."

Gorzelanny wasn't looking for a place to crash with a camera Friday--his home was on the hill against Kinston, where he allowed three runs over five innings and struck out nine.

"A lot of little dink hits," he said after the fifth. "I hate those things, but there's not a lot you can do about them."

Even though he remains winless since being promoted to the Carolina League, Gorzelanny was an all-star in the South Atlantic League and his stuff has only gotten better despite what the 0-4, 5.53 numbers might indicate.

"The hitters here are a lot more disciplined and you can't get away with leaving breaking balls over the plate," Gorzelanny said. "In the Sally League, I had faced most of those guys before. Here, it's taken some time to adjust to things. But everyone says this level is the separator--it's where you make or break--and I'm well aware of the challenge here."

Gorzelanny went 7-1, 2.38 in 87 innings at low Class A Hickory, but he's left more balls up in the zone since being promoted and has gotten hit hard. CL hitters are batting .261 against him after Sally Leaguers hit just .193.

"The one thing I really need to work on is staying consistent with my command, keeping the ball down--especially with breaking balls," he said. "But the main thing is command. I feel comfortable out there, and even though I still haven't gotten my first win at this level, I feel like I'm learning something new each time out. You just have to take something from every start and learn a lesson from it. That's what I've been trying to do."

There were questions about Gorzelanny's maturity in college. He was forced to transfer to Triton (Ill.) Junior College from Kansas after he encountered academic difficulties, but the 6-foot-4, 200-pounder quickly put those questions to rest.

"He's got a great aptitude and is always ready to go," Lynchburg pitching coach Scott Lovekamp said. "We couldn't be more pleased with his makeup and what he's shown us since getting here. He's been that way since he came to the organization."

"It was tough to leave my all my friends (at Kansas)," Gorzelanny said. "That was the hardest thing. But I just went to junior college, did my work and everything turned out for the best; probably better than it would have if I'd stayed at Kansas."

The move paid off, as the Pirates took him in the second round in 2003. He scared some scouts off because of lost velocity late that season, but he made mechanical adjustments at short-season Williamsport last season, getting his fastball back to the 91-94 mph range.

His secondary stuff has improved greatly this year, as he jumped to high Class A. He complements his fastball with a splitter, changeup, curveball and slider.

"I probably have the best confidence in my fastball and my slider right now," Gorzelanny said. "In Hickory, my slider was a lot easier to control than it is here. If you leave one hanging, even a little bit, forget it. I can't get away with a lot of those mistakes anymore."

--CHRIS KLINE

DISH PIECES

The Rockies told lefthander Jeff Francis he would not pitch for Canada in the 2004 Olympics. Francis lost his first start at Colorado Springs, but his first start at the high altitude was followed by a talk with Colorado general manager Dan O'Dowd about his plans for the month, which will not include Athens. "Obviously, everybody would love to play for their country in the Olympics," Francis told the Rocky Mountain News, "but maybe it means that there is something else in store. All I can do is wait and see what their plans are." O'Dowd didn't comment on specific plans for Francis, who gave up four runs and nine hits but walked none and struck out seven in seven innings of a loss to Fresno. Grizzlies first baseman Lance Niekro homered twice off Francis, his ninth and 10th of the season, to power the victory. Niekro has hit 11 homers between Fresno and high Class A San Jose in 217 at-bats after hitting 16 homers in 1,037 minor league at-bats entering the season.

As if the Devil Rays need more good news, second-round pick Reid Brignac has gotten off to an outstanding start to his pro career. The lefthanded hitter had two of Rookie-level Princeton's four hits in a loss Sunday against Bristol, but he's 11-for-19 with 10 RBIs in his first five games. Brignac, a shortstop out of St. Amant (La.) High, was a second-team prep All-American this year. Bristol lefty Tim Murphey, the White Sox' seventh-round pick this year, got his first pro win in a dominant performance, striking out nine and walking just two in five scoreless, two-hit innings.

If the Braves need him down the stretch, righthander Jose Capellan is showing signs that he's ready. The hard-throwing Dominican continued his meteoric rise with seven shutout innings Sunday against Toledo for his second win with Triple-A Richmond. He struck out seven to bring his season total between three levels to 130 in 116 innings, against just 35 walks. He's 12-3, 2.10 overall.

The Mets haven't traded all their prospects; they still have outfielder Victor Diaz, who continues to hit at Triple-A Norfolk. The 22-year-old has five home runs in his last 10 starts for the Tides, and his 2-for-4, four-RBIs effort Sunday improved him to .295-19-73 overall.

First baseman Casey Kotchman appears to be recovered from his recent shoulder injury. The Angels' top prospect had 11 hits in 15 at-bats against Omaha this weekend for Triple-A Salt Lake, improving his average there to .327, and added five doubles and a homer in his last two games.

The Diamondbacks haven't had much good news, but they are getting some at Double-A El Paso. Lefthander Matt Chico continues to improve after his promotion from low Class A South Bend, as he picked up his second straight win Sunday at Midland. Chico has allowed just six runs (five earned) in his last four games, covering 20 2/3 innings, while striking out 20. Outfielder Carlos Quentin supported Chico's latest win with three more hits, including his fourth Double-A homer, to improve to .375-4-28 with El Paso and .334-19-79 overall, with a .562 slugging percentage and .438 on-base percentage, thanks just as much to his 37 HBPs as his 37 walks. "At times he's a guy who does dive, but he challenges pitchers," Diablos manager Scott Coolbaugh said. "He's very strong mentally. He puts himself in a vulnerable spot, but he's big and strong enough to handle it. It hasn't changed his approach."

Two Astros righthanders had big starts over the weekend. High Class A Salem righthander Fernando Nieve threw a complete-game one-hit shutout Sunday to beat Frederick, improving to 9-6, 3.13. Nieve had not picked up a win since July 3 despite posting a 3.23 ERA in July. At Double-A Round Rock, Jared Gothreaux pitched eight shutout innings for the second time in three starts to beat San Antonio on Saturday, striking out six and giving up just three hits in eight innings. His sinker-slider repertoire has helped Gothreaux go 8-6, 3.90 this season.

High Class A Wilmington shortstop Michael Aviles doubled twice Sunday, his first two-baggers in August, during a 3-for-4 effort. Aviles' 30 doubles lead the Carolina League, and he's hitting .294-6-56 overall.

The Ian Stewart train keeps rolling at low Class A Asheville. The third baseman went 4-for-6 Sunday with his 26th homer of the season at Hagerstown, improving to .301-26-78 overall. Of note, 14 of his homers have come away from Asheville's cozy McCormick Field.

Royals first-round pick Billy Butler continues to rake in his pro debut at Rookie-level Idaho Falls. The 30th overall pick went 1-for-3 Sunday with two RBIs to improve to .394-4-39, and he boasts a 40-39 walk-strikeout ratio.

High Class A Jupiter lefthander Scott Olsen had his best start of the season Friday in a seven-inning complete-game against Brevard County. He struck out 15 and walked one in the shutout, improving to 5-6, 3.51 with 131 strikeouts and 49 walks in 113 innings.


Compiled By John Manuel
August 6, 2004

The Expos were expected to trade Orlando Cabrera all season, and the impending free agent brought two prospects with major league experience in return when included in the four-team trade headlined by Nomar Garciaparra.

The Cubs sent righthander Francis Beltran and infielder Brendan Harris to Montreal, with both reporting to Triple-A Edmonton.

Harris, 23, would seem to have more of a chance to play for the Expos-- who have veteran Tony Batista playing on a one-year contract at third base--than he did with the Cubs. The fifth-round pick out of William & Mary in 2001 overcame a spring surgery to repair torn cartilage in his left knee to reach the majors for the first time, going 2-for-9 with Chicago in a callup when Aramis Ramirez was injured. He also was putting together another solid minor league season at Triple-A Iowa, batting .311-11-35 with a .884 on-base plus slugging percentage.

"To tell the truth, with the group we had of coaches and players at Iowa, it was one of the best experiences I have had in pro ball," said Harris, who went 1-for-4 Thursday as Edmonton lost 4-0 against his old club, Iowa, in a complete-game four-hitter by John Koronka. "We were winning, and the team was just a great group. We had veterans like Calvin Murray and Trenidad Hubbard who were having big years and should be in the major leagues, but they were still upbeat and positive every day in the clubhouse."

Even though he had to leave a good situation, Harris considers the trade a positive. The Cubs had moved him to second base after bringing Ramirez aboard last season, and Harris had split time between second, third and shortstop this year. Harris, a career .305 hitter in the minors, should be able to settle in at third now, no matter where the Expos wind up.

"From what I gather from the guys on this team, the feeling is things will get better next year, because everyone expects the team to have new ownership," Harris said. "We all hope there are greener pastures ahead."

DISH PIECES

Matt Tuiasosopo, the Mariners' first pick in the 2004 draft, made his debut with short-season Everett after a promotion from the Rookie-level Arizona League. Tuiasosopo, who hit .412-4-12 in 68 at-bats in the AZL, went 2-for-4 with two RBIs in his AquaSox debut.

It took an outfield wall to stop Tigers outfielder Curtis Granderson's hot streak. Granderson left the game, an 8-1 loss for Double-A Erie at Portland, in the second inning after running into the wall making a catch of a line drive by Brett Roneberg. His 0-for-1 performance ended a six-game hitting streak in which Granderson had gone 13-for-25 with six home runs and 15 RBIs. "He'd been really swinging the bat, and he made another of his typically great catches," Erie manager Rick Sweet said Friday. "Hopefully, he only misses a day or two. He's a little sore."

Class A Dunedin shortstop Raul Tablado continues to tear up Florida State League pitching. He extended his eight-game hitting streak with his 18th homer of the season as Dunedin pounded Tampa and rehabbing Danny Borrell 9-2. Tablado, 22, is hitting .306-18-58 with a .358 on-base percentage and a .603 slugging percentage, which would lead the league if Tablado had enough plate appearances to qualify (he's 24 short).

Staying on the Blue Jays' tip, Syracuse left fielder Gabe Gross extended his hitting streak to 15 games with a 3-for-4, 4 RBIs effort in a 13-8 win against Ottawa. Gross hit his 29th double of the season to improve to .294-9-54 with .381 on-base and .454 slugging numbers.

And at Double-A New Hampshire, lefthander Gustavo Chacin continued his surprise season with seven no-hit innings in a 4-0 win against Bowie; Bowie got three hits off two Fisher Cats relievers. Chacin has won his last four starts and last nine decisions to improve to 13-2, 3.25. He's allowed just 103 hits in 122 innings.

Low Class A Lakewood righthander Scott Mathieson left his start after three innings after his back stiffened up while pitching against Augusta. The Phillies affiliate rallied to win 3-1 as outfielder Jake Blalock hit his franchise-record 36th double as part of a three-run fourth-inning rally against Gary Galvez, who took the loss for the GreenJackets.

Red Sox catcher Kelly Shoppach is still hitting just .227-18-56 at Triple-A Pawtucket, but he's hit four homers in his last five games, getting another in a 7-5 win against Rochester.

High Class A Inland Empire outfielder Jon Nelson went 3-for-6 with a homer and a double in the 66ers' 14-9 win at Rancho Cucamonga. Nelson, hitting .298-14-72, has tools, including above-average power and good speed considering his 6-foot-5, 210-pound frame, but needs to refine his offensive approach. The 24-year-old, who served a two-year Mormon mission, had two strikeouts Thursday to bring his season total to 119, and he had drawn just 21 walks.

While he wasn't as celebrated as other members of the 2002 "Moneyball" draft class, Brian Stavisky is starting to come around for the Athletics. He's hit in seven straight games at high Class A Modesto, improving to .344-15-65 with 31 doubles (his OPS is .968). The 24-year-old has moved slower than the A's had hoped, but he's also made progress defensively, where he remains a poor thrower. "We always felt that he could really hit," scouting director Eric Kubota said. "He's a gifted hitter, and he's just learning to get the ball up in the air, to have some loft power. He's also made remarkable improvement with the glove, both in left field and at first base."

Outfielder David Murphy has hit safely in his first four games back at high Class A Sarasota from a deep bone bruise in his right foot, driving in nine runs. He doubled, homered and drove in four last night in a 9-3 win at Lakeland.

Righthander Brandon McCarthy won his fifth straight start since his promotion to high Class A Winston-Salem, striking out eight against Frederick in seven innings. He gave up one hit while walking no one, improving 5-0, 2.45 since his promotion with 52 strikeouts and just three walks in 44 innings.

Righthander Tyler Clippard improved to 8-9, 3.22 for low Class A Battle Creek, tossing seven shutout innings and striking out eight in a 3-0 win against Cedar Rapids. The winning runs came on a three-run home run by Rafael Rodriguez, off Cedar Rapids' starter Rafael Rodriguez. Both players named Rodriguez, who are not related, are from the Dominican Republic.

Righthander Mike Parisi had quite a debut for low Class A Peoria. The ninth-round pick out of Manhattan struck out 10 in 7 1/3 innings, losing a no-hitter in the seventh on a leadoff triple by Chris Lubanski. Peoria won 4-0 as Parisi stranded Lubanski.

Double-A Frisco's Jason Botts hit his 21st homer and went 3-for-6 as the RoughRiders swept a doubleheader from Arkansas by a combined score of 20-1. Botts, a switch-hitter whom the Rangers have played at first base and in left field, is batting .296-21-72 overall with a .401 on-base percentage and .524 slugging.

Outfielder Eddy Martinez-Esteve made his debut with low Class A Hagerstown, going 2-for-5 in a 16-1 romp against Greensboro. Martinez-Esteve, the Giants' second-round pick out of Florida State, went 10-for-35 at short-season Salem-Keizer before the promotion.


Compiled By John Manuel
August 5, 2004

GENEVA, Ill.--The team with the best record in professional baseball got a little better toward the end of July, but it had nothing to do with a high-profile trade.

The Kane County Cougars (70-38), the Athletics' low Class A affiliate, simply benefited from the parent club signing their two supplemental first round picks--outfielder Danny Putnam of Stanford, and righthanded reliever Huston Street of Texas.

What's the best part of becoming a professional baseball player after a decorated college career? That depends on who you talk to.

"Thrilled to never see an aluminum bat in the box again," Street said.

"I'm happy that I'm wearing white cleats," added Putnam. "We had to wear black in college, and I really like the white ones."

Street, the all-time saves leader for the College World Series, Big 12 and Texas Longhorns, also appreciates the more instructional atmosphere, in a relaxed environment.

"I really like the discipline here," Street said. "Everyone on this team knows they need to get better to get to the next level, but you are responsible for your own progress. We're all professionals here now, and it's simply expected from us."

Tuesday night, Street took his first loss since Texas dropped a game to Baylor on April 17. So far, his pro debut has been a success by any measurement, with three saves in seven appearances and a 2.08 ERA. But, while a pair of college relievers drafted in 2003 (the Reds' Ryan Wagner and Expos' Chad Cordero) reached the majors that same year, Street is putting no such pressure on himself.

"I'm just trying to work inside more, hit my corners and work on my changeup," he said. "I only focus on the next batter I have to face here."

Putnam, who played two weeks for short-season Vancouver before arriving in Kane County, has been impressed by the quality of professional pitching, though it hasn't shown in his performance. He's hitting .297-5-15 combined in 115 at-bats.

"They just seem to never miss their spots. It's hard," he said. "In my second game here, I struck out four times — that used to be a bad weekend for me."

Like most Oakland draftees, Putnam has developed an early mastery of the strike zone, with more walks (29) than strikeouts (21) and a .455 on-base percentage. He was considered one of the most advanced bats available in the 2004 draft, and so far he's living up to that reputation.

"I love the grind here," he added. "In college, it was all about the weekend. Here we're playing a game nearly every day, so there's not time to get too high or too low."

--KEVIN GOLDSTEIN

DISH PIECES

Righthanders Dallas Trahern and Orlando Perdomo combined for a no-hitter for the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League, leading the Tigers to a 2-0 victory against the Braves. Trahern is not your ordinary 34th-round pick. At Owasso (Okla.) High, which finished the season ranked seventh in the nation, Trahern was a star two-way player and was signed away from an Oklahoma college commitment. He was the state player of the year and had a career 33-5, 2.50 record on the mound. He struck out seven in six innings. Perdomo, singed in 2002 out of Venezuela, fanned five in three innings of work. Only an error kept the combined effort from being a perfect game.

Lefthander Pedro Liriano had a losing but spectacular debut for Double-A New Britain. He struck out 10 in seven innings, giving up only a home run to Mike Cervenak. That was enough as three pitchers combined on the 1-0 shutout win for Norwich.

The Brewers promoted first baseman Grant Richardson from Rookie-level Helena to low Class A Beloit. A 14th-round pick out of Washington State in June, Richardson was leading the Pioneer League with 42 RBIs, 61 hits and 16 doubles. He was hitting .367 with five homers and had shown good discipline at the plate, drawing 32 walks and striking out just 20 times. "He's got a solid approach to hitting," Brewers farm director Reid Nichols said. "I like his stroke, I think he's going to be a good big league hitter."

Two righthanders who were dealt at the trade deadline made their new organization debuts. At Double-A Altoona, Matt Peterson got the win after giving up one run and three hits in five innings. The Curve crushed Akron righthander Jeremy Guthrie (4 IP, 10 R) to support Peterson. At Class A San Jose, Alfredo Simon saw his complete-games streak end at three with his first start with the Giants. He lasted six innings and gave up six hits and two runs for San Jose, striking out one, but Modesto's Brad Sullivan matched him, giving up one run in six frames. Modesto won the game in extra innings.

Third baseman Mitch Maier hit his first Carolina League homer, a three-run shot off Richard Stahl, in Wilmington's 5-3 win at Frederick. Maier has hit safely in 17 of 21 games with the Blue Rocks and is batting .267-1-8 in 75 at-bats.

Third baseman Andy LaRoche is heating up at Class A Vero Beach, hitting his eighth homer in a loss at Palm Beach last night. It was LaRoche's fourth home run in his last nine games.

The Midwest League had several pitching outings of note. A pair of 2004 first-round picks shined, as the Twins' Glenn Perkins pitched four one-hit innings for Quad Cities, while the Rangers' Thomas Diamond threw five no-hit innings against Wisconsin, striking out nine in the process. Righty Scott Tyler, in the second game of Quad Cities' doubleheader against Beloit, struck out 11 in six innings but still got the loss. Tyler, a 6-foot-5, 230-pound power pitcher with a fastball in the mid-90s, has three double-digit strikeout games in his last five starts and has 87 whiffs overall in 68 innings. He's 4-3, 3.19 in his second season in the MWL.

Sticking with the Midwest, Peoria catcher Daric Barton thumped his 11th homer in a 15-5 win against Cedar Rapids. Kernels starter Kevin Jepsen, one of the league's hardest throwers who has topped out at 98 mph, has lost five of his last six decisions to fall to 7-7, 3.23. He gave up five runs and seven hits in 3 1/3 innings. Barton's homer, his first since July 14, helped him improve to .305-11-51 overall, and he still has more walks (45) than strikeouts (34).

One of Barton's batterymates, righthander Mark Michael will miss the rest of the season after a Tuesday MRI showed a frayed rotator cuff in his throwing shoulder as well as a micro tear in the ligament next to the humorous. He will head to St. Louis to be examined by team doctor George Paletta. Michael, who pitched in the low 90s and touched 96 mph, was 6-6, 3.36 with 95 strikeouts and 39 walks in 121 innings.

Outfielder Hunter Pence slugged a pair of homers, including a ninth-inning grand slam, to power short-season Tri-City to a 6-0 win against Mahoning Valley. Righthander Ronnie Martinez, a 5-foot-11, 180-pounder out of the Dominican Republic, improved to 7-1, 2.00 with seven shutout innings in the victory.

In more Astros news, Rookie-level Greeneville's Mitch Einertson hit his 15th homer in a 9-7 loss to Princeton. His total leads all short-season leagues. "He's got a very short, compact swing and he makes a lot of hard contact," Astros farm director Tim Purpura said." When you do that, the ball's going to go places. When the hitting guys go through, they see he's got a lot of things going right for him, so they're not going to tinker much with his swing."

A's farm director Keith Lieppman said short-season Vancouver shortstop Gregorio Petit, "an unknown kid from Venezuela," has been opening a few eyes in (the Northwest League). He's an interesting guy to watch down the road." Petit's offensive numbers are not eye-popping--he's hitting .269-1-24 with 42 strikeouts and 11 walks--but Lieppman said Petit has good range and quickness in the infield and a really live body. "He's having an out-of-nowhere year," Lieppman said.

Contributing: Aaron Fitt, Will Kimmey.


Compiled By Will Kimmey
August 4, 2004

The "Real Deal" lived up to his nickname Tuesday night, as Twins righthander J.D. Durbin struck out a season-high 13 batters over seven innings in his Triple-A debut for Rochester.

Durbin allowed just four hits in the 3-0 win against Ottawa and did not walk a batter. He threw 91 pitches and topped out at 97 mph.

"That was as good a pitching performance as I've seen in years," Twins field coordinator Joe Varva said. "His arm slot was good, he attacked the hitter, he showed a good, hard curveball and was able to locate it to both sides of the plate."

Durbin's combination of command and velocity was encouraging because the righthander missed most of May and June following arthroscopic shoulder surgery to repair a slightly torn labrum.

Durbin was a second-round pick by the Twins in the 2000 draft and earned a midseason promotion to Double-A New Britain last year. He pitched well there last year, and in his first six starts this year before going down with the shoulder injury in early May. He went 2-0, 2.60 with 17 strikeouts and 11 walks in 28 July innings after returning, working at least six innings in his final three starts there to prove he was ready for the bump to Triple-A.

"He should have been promoted a long time ago," Varva said. "We were just waiting for him to come back and get his pitch totals up and promote him as soon as he could do that."

DISH PIECES

Double-A Mobile second baseman Josh Barfield went 2-for-4 with four RBIs in the Bay Bears' 11-7, 10-inning win against West Tenn. He singled home two runs in the 10th and leads the Southern League with 76 RBIs and has added 17 home runs and 20 doubles despite a mediocre .250 average. "When you look at his other productive numbers, they're pretty much on target," Mobile manager Gary Jones said. "He's going to be a major league player, but he's leading the league in RBIs and that says an awful lot. He rises in those situations, and he puts together solid at-bats in those situations." Barfield's .352 average with runners in scoring position underscores Jones' point. "If you take the average out and you look at the stats, you wouldn't guess he's hitting .250," farm director Tye Waller said. "He doesn't give ABs away and goes up there and battles."

A one-hour, 10-minute power delay shortened the short-season Northwest League all-star game to seven innings Tuesday night, as the Eastern Division won on a power display by MVP Ryan Harvey. The Boise outfielder, who was the fourth overall pick out of a Florida high school in 2003, produced a home run, double, walk and three RBIs in three plate appearances in the 6-4 win. Yakima's Chris Carter hit 18 home runs in three rounds to capture the home run derby, beating Eugene's Colt Morton (who leads the league with 13 home runs) in the final.

The Royals lost utility infielder Tony Graffanino to the 15-day disabled list with an injury to his left knee and promoted Double-A Wichita second baseman Ruben Gotay to replace him on the roster. Gotay, who played for the World Team in the Futures Game this year, was batting .290-9-68 with 22 doubles and a .373 on-base percentage in 404 at-bats for the Wranglers. The switch-hitter made his major league debut at second base for Kansas City on Tuesday night, going 1-for-3 with an RBI single. "If we're going to bring up any young prospect from the minor leagues, he must play," Royals manager Tony Pena told BA correspondent Alan Eskew. "He's not going to sit on the bench. We have to play him just to see what we've got."

Class A Potomac righthander Thomas Pauly put forth another stellar effort Tuesday night, allowing just one Lynchburg hit through six innings while striking out seven. Pauly, who set the Princeton career saves record, has moved between the rotation and bullpen this year, mixing five- to six-inning starts with two- to three-inning relief stints. Over his last 12 outings, Pauly has allowed more than two runs just once. Pauly is 5-3, 2.18 with 70 strikeouts, 13 walks and 35 hits allowed in 58 innings since June 28; his ERA plummets to 1.33 if you omit a six-run outing against Frederick on July 29. He's 7-6, 3.42 on the year.

Class A Peoria righthander Chris Lambert struck out seven Cedar Rapids batters and walked three Tuesday night in a 4-2 loss. He allowed just one hit and his first earned run as a professional over 4 2/3 innings to get a no decision. Lambert, the Cardinals' first-round pick out of Boston College, has a 0.66 ERA and 16 strikeouts in 14 innings, but his velocity has been down. He worked in the low-90s at Boston College and is trying to bounce back from his 92 innings of work there this season. He's pitching in the 85-88 mph range right now, topping out at 89. Cedar Rapids closer Bob Zimmermann earned his 20th save in the game with two strikeouts in a perfect ninth inning, topping out at 96 mph. Zimmermann has notched 66 strikeouts and 17 walks in 54 innings.

Another hard-throwing Midwest League closer, Eulogio de la Cruz, earned his 13th save at West Michigan. De la Cruz, 20, pitches with an electric fastball that sits at 98 and reached triple digits on six straight pitches in a recent outing. The Tigers are considering moving him to a starting role so he can work more on his offspeed pitches, but still see him as a future closer in the mold of two former hard-throwing Detroit farmhands: Fernando Rodney and current Rangers closer Francisco Cordero. "He's not as polished as those two were at the same stage of their careers, particularly Cordero, but he does throw harder," farm director Rick Bennett said. "This is a power arm we're talking about. He has rare arm strength."

Tacoma outfielder Greg Jacobs keeps hitting and hitting and hitting. He banged out four hits in five at-bats Tuesday night in an 11-6 win against Albuquerque and has registered at least one hit in 16 of his last 18 games. Jacobs is hitting .314 since earning a promotion to Triple-A on June 3.

Third baseman Brendan Harris collected two hits--including a solo home run--and three RBIs in his second game in the Expos organization, helping Edmonton to a 9-1 win over Nashville while BA's Chris Kline coached first base for the Sounds. Players mocked Harris for wearing the blue cleats he used as a Cubs farmhand rather than the dark green and black footwear that his new Trappers teammates have.

It's just getting silly for Tigers outfielder Curtis Granderson. He piled up five hits and four RBIs in six trips to the plate Tuesday for Double-A Erie, adding his 15th home run and 14th steal as he bids for a 20-20 season. The red-hot Granderson is 12-for-21 with six home runs and 14 RBIs in his last five games. Teammate Kyle Sleeth allowed just four hits over seven innings to get the win for Erie, though two of those hits were home runs. Sleeth has served up eight home-run balls in 41 Double-A innings after allowing just three in 68 innings at high Class A Lakeland.

Savannah and Lexington split a low Class A South Atlantic League doubleheader with the losing team in each game managing just two hits. Each winner had just five hits, making a total of 14 hits for 15 innings of baseball. Lexington righthander Mitch Talbot won the second game with a seven-inning effort that included seven strikeouts. Savannah won the opener, an eight-inning contest in which righthander Anthony Pearson allowed Lexington its only two hits, but still surrendered four runs--three earned--in his 2 2/3 innings of work because he issued six walks.

High Class A Kinston righthander Brian Slocum won his fifth straight start and 12th game of the year with a seven-inning one-hitter in the first game of a doubleheader against Myrtle Beach. The Indians won 3-0, and Slocum's effort was appreciated even more in the nightcap, when Kinston used five pitchers as the game extended to 13 innings before the Pelicans earned a 5-3 win.

Devil Rays outfield prospect Delmon Young cranked his 19th home run of the season for low Class A Charleston. He also drove home three runs and now has five homers and 19 RBIs in his last nine games.

Rome lefthander Chuck James racked up 11 strikeouts in 5 2/3 shutout innings, allowing a hit, a walk and a hit batsman to improve to 9-2, 1.62. His fastball sits right around 90 mph, but James makes hitters look bad with pinpoint location and a strong changeup. South Atlantic Leaguers are batting .201 against him.

Lowell lefthander Tommy Hottovy struck out six batters in a two-inning start Tuesday night. The Red Sox' fourth-round pick from Wichita State now has 21 strikeouts and no walks in 14 innings and hasn't allowed an earned run as a professional. He has yielded just eight hits.

Rockies shortstop Chris Nelson, the ninth overall pick out of a Georgia high school, swatted his first two pro homers for Rookie-level Casper and has eight hits in his last 11 at-bats. He's batting .381-2-7 with eight walks and 19 strikeouts in 63 at-bats.

Arkansas took a 3-0 lead into the seventh inning against Tulsa in a Double-A Texas League contest before Drillers third baseman Jeff Baker started drilling. He smacked a towering two-run homer in the eighth and drove him two more runs with a ninth-inning triple to lead his club to a 7-3 comeback win.

Righthander Jay Rainville, a 2004 supplemental first-round pick out of the same Rhode Island high school that produced Rocco Baldelli, continues to throw well for the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League Twins. He struck out seven GCL Reds in five innings, permitting two hits but no runs or walks. He has amassed 22 strikeouts and two walks in 21 professional innings with his heavy, low-90s fastball.

Indians prospect Ryan Garko played first base and notched three more hits (in five at-bats) for Akron, including his third home run in 18 Double-A games, to raise his average to .373.

Contributing: Alan Matthews, Pat Caputo, Kevin Goldstein.


Compiled By John Manuel
August 3, 2004

Justin Morneau is officially off Team Canada's Olympic roster. And Jeff Francis probably will make a trip to Denver, rather than Athens.

Morneau was taken off the roster thanks to his spot as the cleanup hitter in the Minnesota Twins' lineup. Team Canada has added righthander Shawn Hill to replace Morneau, after missing out on Hill when the roster was first announced.

Hill may have to replace Francis as Canada's ace. Francis made his fourth consecutive quality start for Triple-A Colorado Springs last night, going six innings and giving up only one run at Portland. He's made all four starts on the road and is 2-1, 1.08 with the Sky Sox, striking out 32 and walking just three in 25 innings. Between Colorado Springs and Double-A Tulsa, Francis is 15-2, 1.82 with 179 strikeouts and 25 walks in 139 innings.

In other words, Francis is probably ready for the major leagues.

"It's becoming increasingly difficult to keep him out of the big leagues," Rockies farm director Bill Geivett said. "We still haven't decided, but he's been pretty good in Triple-A. We'd like to see him pitch in the Olympics, but he's making the decision difficult."

Greg Hamilton, Baseball Canada's national team director, hopes the Rockies give his team a chance to aid Francis' big league development.

"We're hoping to have the opportunity to have Jeff pitch in some big games in the Olympics, and that the Rockies would view that as a positive," Hamilton said. "We've scripted when he would pitch, and he would stay on his regular cycle."

If Francis joins Team Canada, he would pitch Aug. 15 in the Olympic opener against Taiwan, then face Japan on four days' rest. He also would be lined up to pitch for a medal Aug. 25 if Canada goes that far. It's the same schedule Ben Sheets was on for Team USA in 2000 when he pitched the Americans to a gold medal.

If Francis is left off the team, his No. 1 slot likely would fall to Hill, who threw two shutout innings for Double-A Harrisburg last night. Like Morneau, Hill was on the roster last November when Canada qualified for the Olympics, but he was in the major leagues with the Expos when Canada's preliminary roster was announced. He later was sent down to Double-A and had a short stint on the disabled list. Hill is 5-6, 3.06 for the Senators and should be one of Canada's top starters.

"We are pleased to welcome Shawn to our roster and believe he will bolster an already strong pitching staff for our Olympic team," Hamilton said. "We thank Justin for his many contributions to our program in the past and wish him great success with Minnesota. We also appreciate the strong support the Twins offered us with respect to Justin's inclusion on our team, and we wish them the very best as they look to secure a spot in the playoffs."

Team Canada and Team Greece play an exhibition game Wednesday morning at Baltimore's Oriole Park at Camden Yards. The Greek team leaves that afternoon (weather permitting) for Athens, while Canada doesn't leave until Thursday.

Francis would join the team separately anyway, Hamilton said, hopefully after his next start. After that, Francis' next foe likely will either be a major league team or Taiwan.

DISH PIECES

Geivett said righthander Chin-Hui Tsao could still pitch for Taiwan in Athens. "If we can get him healthy, we'll let him go," Geivett said. "He will pitch on the 9th in Triple-A, and if his shoulder feels good, he should be able to pitch in the Olympics."

With B.J. Upton gone to the major leagues, fellow Devil Ray Delmon Young could be the minors' top prospect. Perhaps seizing that opportunity was on Delmon's mind Monday as he went deep twice for Class A Charleston (S.C.), which beat the Sally League's other Charleston (W.Va.) team 7-6. Young hit a solo shot to center field in the first inning and followed with a grand slam to center in the fourth. Young has hit in eight straight games, improving to .296-18-90 overall with a 29-90 walk-strikeout ratio.

Lots of promotions around the minors as August got underway. The Red Sox shuffled their shortstops, sending Hanley Ramirez up to Double-A Portland, where he went 0-for-3 in his debut. At high Class A Sarasota, where Ramirez hit .310-1-24 (including .349 in July after returning from a wrist injury), the new shortstop is Dustin Pedroia, whom the Red Sox drafted in the second round out of Arizona State. The former All-American went 1-for-4 with a double in his Florida State League debut.

The Twins also made several moves, starting with the promotion of righthander Jesse Crain to Minnesota to bolster the big league bullpen. Crain was 3-2, 2.49 with 19 saves in 41 games for Triple-A Rochester. He struck out 64 and walked just 17 in 51 innings while giving up 38 hits (five home runs). Crain didn't give up a run in 11 1/3 innings in July. Righty J.D. Durbin, who has come back nicely from arthroscopic surgery on his shoulder (labrum), replaced him with the Red Wings after going 4-1, 2.52 in 13 starts at Double-A New Britain. Taking Durbin's spot in the Rock Cats rotation is lefthander Francisco Liriano, whom the Twins acquired from the Giants in the offseason A.J. Pierzynski trade. Liriano had won his last three starts at high Class A Fort Myers, striking out 22 in his last 20 1/3 innings and giving up just five runs. Overall, Liriano was 6-7, 3.86 with a 118-42 strikeout-walk ratio in 112 innings.

Travis Ishikawa continues to heat up at low Class A Hagerstown. The Giants first baseman hit two homers in the Suns' 14-1 thrashing of Greensboro, pushing Ishikawa's season totals to .261-13-48. Moreover, Ishikawa was hitting just .204 at the end of May, but has batted .311 since then.

While the Dodgers bungled their catching situation in the major leagues over the weekend, they are developing a future backstop in high Class A Vero Beach's Russell Martin. He hit a grand slam, his 12th homer of the season, to help spoil the Daytona Cubs debut of outfielder Matt Murton, acquired in Saturday's Nomar Garciaparra trade. Murton went 2-for-3 with a double and a run scored. Martin scored four runs in the game (despite getting only one hit) as he drew his 56th walk of the season; he has just 43 strikeouts and is hitting .243-12-52.

High Class A St. Lucie outfielder Lastings Milledge greeted the return of Rick Ankiel rather rudely, tripling to lead off the game against the rehabbing big league lefthander. Milledge scored on Cory Ragsdale's sacrifice fly, and Ankiel settled down to strike out three of the last five batters he faced without yielding a walk. He threw 33 pitches, 20 for strikes, though his velocity peaked at 92 mph. Mets righthander Yusmeiro Petit stole some of the spotlight, striking out 11 in 6 2/3 innings and giving up only one run. The outing actually raised Petits ERA to 1.19 with St. Lucie, but Palm Beach rallied for a 2-1, eight-inning victory.

The Rangers have lost outfielder Will Smith for the season with a dislocated ankle. Smith batted .287-8-56 for Double-A Frisco, and will also have shoulder surgery while he's laid up with his ankle injury.

Righthander Clint Everts won his first game with high Class A Brevard County, striking out four and giving up only one run over five innings of a 3-1 win against Lakeland.

Contributing: Kevin Goldstein.


Compiled By John Manuel
August 2, 2004

It's impossible for Matt Tuiasosopo to justify his record bonus immediately. But he's giving it his best shot.

Tuiasosopo homered in his first pro at-bat for the Rookie-level Arizona League Mariners and hasn't stopped hitting since. He has hit .439-4-10 in 57 at-bats, and he's tied for fourth in the league in homers despite playing in barely half (17) the season's games.

Though he's at the lowest level of Seattle's farm system, Tuiasosopo's potential is evident. His huge upside is the reason why the Mariners gave the Woodinville (Wash.) High shortstop a $2.29 million bonus after taking him 93rd overall in the 2004 draft. That's a record amount for a third-rounder, surpassing the mark set by the Yankees' Drew Henson in 1998 and matched by the Expos' Grady Sizemore (a fellow Washington high school product) in 2000.

Like Henson and Sizemore, Tuiasosopo's price tag was bolstered by his ability as a quarterback. He was a top recruit of the University of Washington, where he might have pushed for playing time as a true freshman. His father Manu (with the NFL's Seahawks) and older brothers Marques and Zach (with the Huskies) all played football in Seattle, but Matt chose a different path.

Though his father and Marques played in the NFL, and he could have teamed with Zach at Washington this fall, giving up the gridiron wasn't too difficult.

"As the process went on, I finally realized that this is what I want to do," Tuiasosopo said. "It wasn't too hard to let go of football. Every morning when I woke up, this was what I thought about doing. I'm glad I made this choice. Playing baseball every day is the best job a kid could ask for."

His performance is the best the Mariners could have asked for. Seattle special assistant Roger Jongewaard was on hand for Tuiasosopo's debut homer and excitedly called vice president of player development and scouting Benny Looper. Looper admits that when he checks the performance of Mariners farmhands each day, he finds himself anxious to see Tuiasosopo's lastest exploits.

"He wasn't a first rounder, but he was our first-rounder," Looper said.

Seattle didn't have picks in the first two rounds of this year's draft. Though there was speculation that Tuiasosopo would be a natural fit for the Mariners because he was a local product who would be a great talent value in the third round, they didn't contact him until the day before the draft. He had played on the Area Code Games team they sponsor, just as Marques had in high school.

"I was so happy when I heard my name called by them on draft day," Tuiasosopo said. "That's the team I wanted to play for. I've been a Mariners fan ever since I was growing up."

Looper, who joined the Mariners a part-time scout in 1987, says no Seattle draftee has generated as much interest as Tuiasosopo, not even No. 1 overall picks Ken Griffey Jr. and Alex Rodriguez. The Tuiasosopos are well known in the city, and not just for their football exploits. Matt's sister Leslie starred in volleyball at Washington and currently serves as an assistant volleyball coach for the Huskies.

Tuiasosopo says it's not daunting playing for his homestate team, or trying to live up to his bonus or his family's athletic legacy.

"There's not pressure at all," he said. "I have a lot of family and friends for support. Even the coaches at Washington were very supportive of my decision."

He already has begun to adapt to pro ball. AZL Mariners hitting coach Tommy Cruz helped flatten out a little loop in his swing, allowing his bat to stay in the strike zone longer. His defensive adjustments have been more significant.

"Defense has been the biggest jump for me," said Tuiasosopo, who has seven errors in 13 games at shortstop. "I've had to get used to the speed. Even the big guys are fast. The first couple of days, I took my time on ground balls and they almost beat it out. I think I can do a lot better, but I've felt comfortable out there."

The biggest question surrounding Tuiasosopo is what position he'll play in the future. Some clubs projected him as a third baseman or outfielder because he's already 6-foot-2, 210 pounds. Looper says Tuiasosopo has the tools to play shortstop and will get every chance to stay there.

"You don't know how his body is going to mature, but we used to wonder about the same thing with Alex," Looper said. "Matt has real quick feet, certainly quick enough to play in the middle of the diamond. With our infielders, we want them to learn other positions. We don't know what spots we'll have open when they're ready for the big leagues."

Looper said the Mariners want Tuiasosopo to smooth out his defensive footwork and throwing mechanics before they consider promoting him to short-season Everett. There's no question, however, that his bat is ready for the jump.

--JIM CALLIS

DISH PIECES

Scott Kazmir made his debut with the Devil Rays organization an earned a victory in an 11-1 win at Carolina. A day after the lefthander was acquired via a four-player trade with the Mets, he fanned eight over five shutout innings, with seven of whiffs on fastballs. "I literally shook hands with him with one hand and handed him the game ball with the other," Montgomery pitching coach Dick Bosman said. "He was raring to go. That was a positive from the get-go."

Kazmir touched 95 mph with his fastball and pitched at 92-93, running his Double-A numbers to 3-1, 1.45 in five starts between Binghamton and Montgomery.

"He graded out with an above-average fastball, our scouts had that part on him, and an above-average curveball and we saw those things yesterday," Bosman said. "He has a quick arm, he's a good athlete with a nice clean delivery, nice arm stroke. And these things generally are the fabric of what you can work on--with three quality pitches--that can take him to the big leagues."

Lefthander Rick Ankiel comes up for air today, getting a rehab start at high Class A Palm Beach. Ankiel is coming back from Tommy John surgery as well as a much-publicized bout with Steve Blass disease. Ankiel's game will be broadcast live on the Internet at www.palmbeachcardinals.com at 4 p.m. Eastern.

Triple-A Durham immediately felt the departure of uber-prospect B.J. Upton to Tampa Bay, as Upton got his first big league promotion over the weekend. Durham's first game without its star shortstop saw the Bulls get no-hit by 31-year-old Japanese righthander Tetsu Yofu as Charlotte beat the Bulls 5-0. Yofu threw 140 pitches and struck out 10 while walking two; Charlotte also made two errors. The no-hitter ended the Bulls' 11-game winning streak.

The International League welcomed two of the Phillies' top prospects this weekend, with first baseman Ryan Howard joining righthander Gavin Floyd with Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. Howard went 2-for-8 on the weekend, driving in three runs Sunday in a 9-0 win at Richmond.

Angels first baseman Casey Kotchman, battling a shoulder injury, returned to the lineup at Triple-A Salt Lake, going 0-for-4 in a 2-1 loss at Memphis. Lefthander Jake Woods, starting to find his footing with the Stingers, threw a complete game in the loss, giving up four hits and three walks in eight innings. Woods has given up just three runs in his last 20 innings for the Stingers.

Triple-A isn't fazing Twins outfielder Jason Kubel. He homered twice in a 9-7 loss Sunday against Rochester, driving in six runs with three-run bombs in the first and fifth innings. The prospect the Twins wouldn't include in a trade for Kris Benson is hitting .347-9-48 in 248 Triple-A at-bats while slugging .540. Righthander Scott Baker had a solid start for the Red Wings, giving up four hits and one run in seven innings, but the bullpen blew a 6-1 lead.

Double-A Erie outfielder Curtis Granderson has heated up, following up a .344 month of July with a two-homer, 3-for-3 day to open August. Granderson, the Tigers' third-round draft pick in 2002, is hitting .295-13-64 overall with a 59-69 walk-strikeout ratio, and since June 1, he's drawn 34 walks with just 29 strikeouts.

Quite a Double-A debut for Steven Bondurant, who tossed eight scoreless innings and struck out eight in Midland's 4-0 win against Round Rock. Bondurant, who was leading the Midwest League in wins and ERA at 14-5, 2.08, gave up just three hits and walked one.

The news is not so good for righty Ubaldo Jimenez, who left his start at high Class A Visalia after just two pitches. Jimenez hadn't pitched since May 18 due to a pulled lat muscle, and he wasn't right in his attempted return Sunday.

Lefthander Tony Sipp stopped the stampeding short-season Auburn lineup with another solid effort, picking up his first pro victory. The Doubledays dropped to just 31-9; they lead the New York-Penn League with a .278 average, but Sipp held them to three hits over six innings. The 46th-round pick out of Clemson struck out nine without giving up a walk to get his first pro win.

Short-season Batavia lefthander Kyle Allen picked up his first save in dominant fashion against Jamestown, striking out nine in four shutout innings. Allen, a 16th-round pick out of Lewis-Clark (Idaho) State, gave up one hit and one walk and now has 23 strikeouts in 18 innings.

Cubs outfielder Ryan Harvey, the fourth overall pick in the 2003 draft, has started to heat up at short-season Boise. He hit his third home run in the last week Sunday in a 10-6 win against Everett, and at .274-9-29, he ranks fourth in the Northwest League in homers.

Taiwanese lefthander Chi-Hung Cheng, whom the Blue Jays signed last November, continues to pitch well at Rookie-level Pulaski. He went five shutout innings, lowering his ERA to 2.68, in a 4-0 loss at Bristol as the Sox pitched a combined one-hitter, with righty Matt Nachreiner throwing four no-hit frames for Bristol. It was the first start for Nachreiner, a fifth-round pick in 2003 out of Round Rock (Texas) High and former teammate of Rangers first-rounder John Danks, after coming from Rookie-level Great Falls, where he posted a 6.88 ERA.

Outfielder Denard Span returned to action with the Twins' Rookie-level Gulf Coast League club. Span had been out since May 17 with a right wrist sprain.

Contributing: Alan Matthews

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