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Daily Dish

By David Laurila
June 30, 2004

PAWTUCKET, R.I.--Kelly Shoppach is a throwback. He runs everything out, doesn't believe in showing up an opponent, and given a choice would play his entire career with one team. Those are qualities akin to an earlier era, but Shoppach wears them as proudly as he does his 2004 Pawtucket Red Sox uniform.

"It's how I was raised," he said. "It's the only way I know how to play."

A second-round pick out of Baylor in 2001 after an All-America season, Shoppach has been his club's player of the year in each of his two professional seasons, at Sarasota and Portland. He is considered the heir apparent to the Red Sox catching job--if he isn't traded first.

"It's special if you can play your whole career with one team," Shoppach opined, though that belief has come under duress as of late. Mentioned in trade rumors, most recently involving Carlos Beltran, he understands that is a part of the game he has little control over.

"I'd love a chance to be loyal to the organization," he said, "but they need to be loyal to me, too. I've known since the day I signed that trades are a part of the business, but hopefully I can spend my entire career in a Red Sox uniform."

With Jason Varitek eligible for free agency after the 2004 season, Shoppach is a valuable commodity beyond his trade value. While other organizations covet him, the Red Sox realize he would be a capable replacement should Varitek sign elsewhere.

"He projects as a plus-power hitter," manager Buddy Bailey said. "Defensively he's already major league ready. He has the ability to block balls and control a running game. His arm strength and release are both above-average."

Farm director Ben Cherington echoes Bailey.

"He brings a good package to the table," Cherington said. "He has a chance to be a quality performer at a premium position at the major league level."

Cherington also likes the attitude Shoppach carries onto the field. "He cares more about winning than personal accomplishments," he added. "He can have a good day, but if the team loses he isn't happy."

Shoppach commands the respect of his pitching staff, an attribute he understands the importance of. "Defense is the most important job for a catcher," he said. "And that includes their relationship with pitchers."

Teammate Frank Castillo, a 12-year major league veteran, is a believer. "He's calling some good games," Castillo said. "The guys on the staff trust him."

Offense is where Shoppach's game is a work in progress. He was hitting just .241-10-38 in 220 at-bats, with 77 strikeouts. "He's still experiencing some growing pains," Bailey said. "He has tremendous power to all fields, but his professional ABs aren't very high for someone playing at this level."

His power was on display earlier this season, when Shoppach hit one of the longest home runs ever at Louisville Slugger Field. His blast traveled an estimated 460 feet, and showed the kind of home run stroke that may someday bring the Fenway faithful to their feet.

While his power and defense are notable, Shoppach's old-school approach sets him apart.

"Hustle and hard work never go into a slump," he said. "I believe in going all out, all the time." This includes running to first base on a walk, a trait that brings good-natured ribbing from his teammates. "Sure we get on him about that," lefthander Phil Seibel said, "but we know that's how Shop plays, and we all appreciate that his effort is never less than a hundred percent."

These are labels that fit this hardnosed product of Texas. Bailey refers to him as "a gentleman," and there is no better way to describe his approach than "throwback." Assessing his future, there's one more label that's fitting: Kelly Shoppach is a "keeper." He hopes the Boston organization feels the same way.

DISH PIECES

• The New Hampshire Fisher Cats are feeling the ripple effect from Jamie Vermilyea's perfect game on Monday night. Various media outlets, including a few from Toronto, descended on Manchester yesterday to interview the 22-year-old righthander--with good reason. Aside from the perfecto Monday, Vermilyea has retired 34 Eastern League hitters in a row since being called up to Double-A on June 21. "I was watching him go out there inning after inning just trusting his stuff," manager Mike Basso told The New Hampshire Union Leader. "I had him last year and he pitched very well, but no one could have expected this."

• Double-A Trenton blew a four-run lead and fell to Bowie last night, 10-9, causing manager Stump Merrill to lock the clubhouse door for a closed-doors meeting with his club. "It's embarrassing," Merrill told The Trentonian minutes after his tirade. "Any resemblance between what we did tonight and baseball is purely a coincidence. We didn't put them away. We had a chance and we didn't do it. And then we gave the game away. They didn't earn it. We gave it to them."

• Also, Bowie first baseman Walter Young was ejected in that game after being hit in the head with a pitch by lefthander Sean Henn. The home plate umpire ruled that the ball hit off Young's bat. The 6-foot-5, 300-pound Young vehemently disagreed and was tossed.

• In more of a throwback-style ejection, Class A Clinton righthander Matt Lorenzo was tossed after plunking Lansing third baseman Francisco Salas--right after he gave up a homer to first baseman Kevin Collins, his 21st of the season.

• Lefthander Dan Meyer got touched up in his first start at Triple-A Richmond. Meyer, who recently garnered Southern League all-star honors after going 6-2, 2.22 for Double-A Greenville, allowed four earned runs and walked four in five innings against Louisville.

• Toledo DH/first baseman/catcher Chris Shelton continues to rake since being sent to Triple-A on a rehabilitation assignment. Shelton, the first selection in last year's Rule 5 draft by the Tigers from the Pirates, is hitting .389-0-5 in 36 at-bats. He has collected five multi-hit games in a 10-game span. "He has a swing without a hole in it," an American League scout said. "There's no question he'll hit in the big leagues--it's about finding a spot for him." Shelton has hit .286-1-3 for the Tigers this season.

• Triple-A Indianapolis righthander Ben Hendrickon shut down the hot-hitting Buffalo lineup last night, tossing a complete game and striking out nine. He especially got the better of Indians' top prospect Grady Sizemore, who went 0-for-5 with a strikeout. He also struck out second baseman Brandon Phillips and outfielder Alex Escobar twice. Hendrickson improved to 7-2, 2.48 in 87 innings overall.

• Yankees second baseman Robinson Cano has only played two games since being called up to Triple-A Columbus,but is already making a splash. Cano is 6-for-7 (.857) with a homer and three RBIs. Cano batted .301-7-44 at Double-A Trenton this season.

• Left fielder Conor Jackson has made the jump to Double-A appear seamless. Jackson, who batted .345-11-54 at high Class A Lancaster, is hitting .385-1-5 since being called up to Double-A El Paso on June 23.

• Class A Cedar Rapids shortstop Brandon Wood is improving his stock in the Midwest League, hitting .290-8-41 in 262 at-bats. He has collected 13 hits in his last 10 games.

• Pirates righthander Matt Capps continues to scuffle. Capps, who began the season at low Class A Hickory, went 2-3, 10.07 in 42 innings for the Crawdads. He was reassigned to short-season Williamsport and allowed five earned runs on nine hits in seven innings against New Jersey last night.

• Dodgers righthander Javy Guerra made his pro debut last night in the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League. Guerra, a fourth-round pick out of Denton Ryan High in Denton, Texas, allowed two runs on one hit and walked four in two innings.

• Braves third baseman Eric Campbell went 2-for-4 with an RBI and two runs scored last night in the GCL. Campbell, the Braves first selection in the draft (second round, 71st overall) out of Gibsonville Southern High in Owensville, Ind., is hitting .214-2-5 in 28 at-bats.

• Class A High Desert first baseman Travis Hinton was named the MVP for the host team in the California-Carolina League All-Star Game last night in San Bernardino, Calif. Hinton went 3-for-4 with two RBIs and a run scored. "I'm glad to have had a good day,'' Hinton told the San Bernardino County Sun. "We had a pretty bad first half so it was good to have fun playing baseball again." The California League won the game, 5-2.

• Class A Augusta left fielder Brandon Moss was named the MVP of the South Atlantic League All-Star Game held last night in Charleston, S.C. Moss doubled in the go-ahead run in the fifth and was the only player to have two hits in the game. Savannah righthander Clint Everts threw a scoreless inning in the third, inducing three groundouts.

Contributing: Chris Kline


By Chris Kline
June 29, 2004

The South Atlantic League has proved to be a learning experience for Charleston (S.C.) River Dogs right fielder Delmon Young so far, but the 2003 No. 1 overall pick has certainly made an impression in his first season as a pro.

Young, who just turned 18, is hitting .287-12-56 in 279 at-bats and has garnered all-star honors in the Sally League to go along with being selected to this year's Futures Game in Houston.

"That stuff is nice and it's a great honor in both situations," Young said. "But I mean, I don't feel like I've accomplished anything so far this season because we didn't win the first half. My goal right now is to help us win the second half and get into the playoffs."

Charleston fell short of winning the first half, as the Capital City Bombers claimed the first playoff berth this season. The River Dogs were off to a 4-2 start and in first place in the South Division in the second half. Young wants to get to the playoffs, but the Devil Rays want to further his development in the process, so there is some question as to how long Young will be with the Dogs.

Last year in the Arizona Fall League, Young said he though he could finish the 2004 season in the major leagues. His first exposure to full-season ball has moderated his timetable, however.

"I have no idea about (getting promoted)," Young said. "That's not my department. I don't make the decisions. I'm just here trying to be consistent. I've had a lot of ups and downs and I've been kind of hot and cold throughout this half. I'm just trying to be quick in making my adjustments and trying to survive here. It's been a good test on and off the field."

It certainly has been a test, especially when you consider this season has been the longest time Young has spent away from his Camarillo, Calif., home. He was happy the Rays sent him to the East Coast, considering they have an affiliate located just three hours from Camarillo in Bakersfield.

"If I had started in Bakersfield, it wouldn't really be like being away from home," Young said. "And I wanted to be where there would be less distractions. Plus, people there don't really pay attention to anything except the Lakers. I know that the Devil Rays sort of have a tradition of sending their number one draft picks here, so I was expecting it. They sent all those guys here to start--and it worked out pretty good for (Carl) Crawford, (Rocco) Baldelli and (B.J.) Upton. So it's nice to be in that line."

What impresses the Rays the most about Young has been his consistency and ability to not only hit for power but for average as well. He's also kept his strikeouts (61) to a reasonable amount.

"He's very selective at the plate," assistant general manager Tim Wilken said, "maybe more so than we thought at this point. But we've been more impressed by the steadiness that he's carried in his first season. He's had a lot of ups and downs, but nothing where he's drowning or anything like that. But at the same time, he hasn't really peaked yet, either."

Young has had an example of a steady, heady player to emulate all his life in older brother Dmitri, now with the Tigers. The two brothers are very close and keep in close contact throughout each season.

"He's been through all this," Young said. "And it ain't that bad. I mean, there's the travel and making sure you don't get into trouble--stuff like that. These are the most important things: eating properly, staying out of trouble and hitting the weight room on a daily basis."

One of the reasons the Rays picked Young first overall was because of the family ties, but beyond the pedigree, Young is his own player.

"He's sort of got the same mindset as his brother when it comes to the way he approaches the game," Wilken said. "But he's separating himself. He's a pretty sharp baseball person and it doesn't take him long to pick stuff up."

Young has had his difficulties with some pitchers in the Sally League this season, but no one has been more effective against him than Savannah rigththander Clint Everts.

In three starts against Charleston, Everts is 2-0 and has allowed juts one earned run. Young is 2-for-12 with five strikeouts against him.

"He's the toughest pitcher I've faced," Young said. "The first two times we faced him, it was basically fastball-slider and he just dominated us. He shoved it back in our faces. It only got worse the third time--which was like five days later. He broke out a changeup like I've never seen. It wasn't just a changeup--it was Eric Gagne-like. He had 10 strikeouts that day. We just couldn't figure him out. He just keeps getting better every start."

Aside from Everts' dominance, fan requests for Young's signature have become another constant that grows with every game, and figures to only increase from now on as Young moves up the organizational ladder.

"You've got to establish the boundaries early so it doesn't get out of control," Young said. "I sign for a couple minutes when I come out, then a couple more after BP and then after the game. But people have to understand the demand."

The Devil Rays understand the demand, because they know how good Young can be.

"I think we're just starting to get a glimpse of his potential right now," Wilken said. "He's going to be a heck of a ballplayer."

DISH PIECES

• Class A Lynchburg manager Jay Loviglio resigned last week, citing personal reasons. Loviglio was replaced on an interim basis by Pirates field coordinator Jeff Banister, and the organization is hoping to name a new skipper for the Hillcats sometime next week. "I completely respect Jay's decision to step down," farm director Brian Graham said. "Everyone knows that your personal life needs to come before your professional life."

• Class A Vero Beach shortstop Joel Guzman has been putting up strong numbers in the Florida State League. Guzman, who has strung together hitting streaks of 11 and 18 games this season, is hitting .315-11-42 in 276 at-bats.

• Braves lefthander Dan Meyer was promoted to Triple-A Richmond yesterday. Meyer was 6-3, 2.22 with 86 strikeouts in 65 innings at Double-A Greenville.

• Brewers outfielder David Krynzel has come off the disabled list and was assigned to Triple-A Indianapolis. Krynzel, who went on the DL with a shoulder injury April 29, was hitting .263-2-6 in 57 at-bats for the Indians.

• Twins righthander J.D. Durbin also came off the DL after having surgery to repair a partially torn labrum. The Twins' second-round pick in 2000 went two innings last night for Double-A New Britain and allowed two runs on two hits. He got the loss, though, as New Britain was the victim of a seven-inning perfect game by Blue Jays righthander Jamie Vermilyea. Vermilyea made just six starts at Class A Dunedin with 12 relief appearances, going 5-1, 3.09 prior to his promotion. The 2003 ninth-round pick out of New Mexico had pitched 4 2/3 shutout, hitless innings of relief (with two saves) since joining New Hampshire's staff.

• With the California-Carolina League all-star game getting underway tonight in San Bernardino, Calif., Class A Kinston lefthander Keith Ramsey got a chance to show his stuff in a spot start at Triple-A Buffalo last night. Ramsey, who has the tendency to give up the long ball--he's allowed 16 homers in 73 innings in the Carolina League this season--was impressive for the Bisons, tossing six shutout innings and striking out three.

• But the big news surrounding the Cal-Carolina all-star game was that the home team--Inland Empire--will enter the second half without its ace, righthander Felix Hernandez, who will be promoted to Double-A San Antonio. Hernandez, 18, was 9-3, 2.74 with a California League-leading 114 strikeouts in 92 innings. He struck out 11 in seven innings of his last start Saturday.

• Dodgers' first-round pick Justin Orenduff made his pro debut last night at short-season Ogden. The Virginia Commonwealth product only went one inning, allowed two hits and struck out two. "We were lucky to get him in there, and I had no idea how good his makeup was when we signed him," Dodgers scouting director Logan White said of the 32nd-overall pick. "He called me and told me that he didn't like sitting around and just wanted to get out there and get going. That says a lot about what kind of guy he is."

• Triple-A Oklahoma lefthander Sam Narron threw a complete-game shutout last night, blanking Omaha, 3-0. Narron went nine innings, allowed three hits and struck out five. The 15th-round pick out of East Carolina is now 4-0, 3.38 since moving up from Double-A Frisco.

• Someone should tell third baseman Dallas McPherson to slow down. McPherson hit two more homers last night for Triple-A Salt Lake, bringing his total to five bombs in his first seven games in Triple-A and 25 overall for the year.

• Righthander Merkin Valdez made his debut at Triple-A Fresno last night. The Giants' No. 1 prospect allowed four runs on six hits in five innings. He walked four and struck out five. Dodgers top prospect Edwin Jackson, who opposed Valdez, had nearly the same line in a no-decision (he gave up five runs, four earned) as his ERA rose to 5.29.

• Reds righthander Bubba Nelson showed signs of regaining his confidence in his first start since being reassigned to Double-A Chattanooga. Nelson allowed seven hits over seven innings to earn his first win in Double-A. Nelson struggled mightily this season at Triple-A Louisville, going 1-10, 7.09 in 60 innings.

• The Yankees first-round pick Phillip Hughes made his pro debut last night in the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League. The righthander from Foot Hills High in Santa Ana, Calif., went two innings and struck out three.

• Rangers outfielder Brandon Cashman, a 24-year-old in his second pro season, hit four home runs and drove in nine in short-season Spokane's 18-9 win at Everett.

• Righthander Eric Hurley made his pro debut for the Rangers' Rookie-level Arizona League affiliate, getting all four outs by strikeout in an 11-8 win against the Royals. Hurley, the 30th overall pick, gave up three hits and no walks.

Contributing: John Manuel.


By Chris Gigley
June 28, 2004

In his fourth season in the Braves system, righthander Kyle Davies is learning how to pitch. At least that's what he says. Others would say he has already proven he knows how, compiling a 2.92 ERA and 274 strikeouts in 283 career minor league innings.

Davies is finding the same success this season, compiling an 8-2, 2.92 record in his first 13 starts at high Class A Myrtle Beach. The difference is that Davies has added more control and consistency by taking a little off his pitches. Still, he was leading the Carolina League with 88 strikeouts. How?

"I'll be darned that by not trying to throw hard I've ended up throwing harder," he said with a little grin.

With his velocity still in the low 90s, Davies has found the control he was after and has put himself at the forefront of a pitching-rich system. He said his approach clicked when he faced the powerful Potomac Cannons lineup in early June.

"I'd faced them before and had trouble with their lineup," he said. "During my side sessions before that start, I worked on not overthrowing and making the same delivery over and over. It ended up being one of my best starts."

Davies lasted just 3 2/3 innings in his first meeting with the Cannons, surrendering six hits, five walks and five runs. But in his second try, he struck out six and walked three over six innings, giving up no runs on three hits and earning the win.

Davies said the adjustments he's making now are part of a process that began in 2001 in the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League, right after he was drafted in the fourth round out of Stockbridge (Ga.) High.

"When you're young, they tell you to air it out and see what you have," he said. "Then you learn how to pitch along the way, and that's what I'm working on now. Once you get your velocity down, you try to make your pitches consistent."

He has found that consistency, but his intensity on the mound made easing up on his pitches tough. The imposing 6-foot-2, 190-pounder attacks hitters with an arsenal of three pitches.

"He sits his fastball at 90 to 93 consistently for the entire game, and he has one of the best curveballs I've ever seen," said his catcher, Brian McCann. "It's his out pitch. If you're a lefty, you don't want to get two strikes with him."

Plenty of Carolina League hitters already have. He is well on his way to topping the career-high 148 strikeouts he dealt at low Class A Rome last season. The strikeout numbers could go higher as his developing changeup continues to get better.

Davies said he has already learned a great deal about the mental aspects of pitching from Pelicans pitching coach Bruce Dal Canton. He has used the lessons to succeed in a league that produces more challenging lineups than those he faced in the South Atlantic League.

"The six through eight hitters tend to be better at this level," he said. "And the hitters don't miss as many mistakes."

Davies hasn't made many. Myrtle Beach manager Randy Ingle attributed that to his nasty stuff and competitiveness. Ingle said he is equally impressed with Davies' approach to the game.

"He has a game plan when he takes the mound, but he's able to make adjustments when he needs to," Ingle said. "He's all business and very competitive out there."

DISH PIECES

• Class A Daytona center fielder Felix Pie hit for the cycle last night in a 15-14 win over Fort Myers last night. Pie went 5-for-6 with five RBIs and four runs and is hitting .322-5-32 in 261 at-bats. "Two days ago I was swinging at a lot of curveballs in the dirt," Pie told the Daytona Beach News Journal. "Today I just stayed back and hit the fastball."

• Two top Yankees prospects, catcher Dioner Navarro and second baseman Robinson Cano, were promoted to Triple-A Columbus. Navarro, one of the top catchers in the minors, was hitting .271-3-29 in 255 at-bats and Cano was hitting .301-7-44 in 292 at-bats at Double-A Trenton. Both will play for the World team in the Futures Game next month.

• Angels righthander Bobby Jenks struggled in his second start since returning from a stress reaction in his elbow. He went 3 2/3 innings and allowed eight earned runs on five hits for Class A Rancho Cucamonga. Jenks started his rehab last week in the Rookie-level Arizona League before moving to high Class A.

• Double-A Reading first baseman Ryan Howard continues to post huge power numbers in the Eastern League. Howard blasted two homers Saturday night and two more yesterday. He has driven in 40 RBIs in his last 24 games. Saturday might have been Ryan's more impressive performance, as both homers came against Expos lefthander Mike Hinckley. Howard is close to reaching the Reading single-season home run mark of 33, set in 1970 by Greg Luzinski. He is hitting .305-28-76 in 275 at-bats and .382 in June.

• Besides being tagged by Howard on Saturday, Hinckley is also headed to the disabled list with a sprained left ankle. He should miss only one start, however.

• Astros center fielder Josh Anderson made his high Class A debut Saturday for the Salem Avalanche and went 3-for-5 with a pair of steals and four runs in a 10-5 win over Kinston. Anderson stole another bag yesterday and is hitting an even .500. The Astros' 2003 fourth-round pick out of Eastern Kentucky was hitting .321-4-31 with 47 steals in 299 at-bats for low Class A Lexington before being promoted.

• Orioles righthander Chris Ray is making all the right adjustments since being promoted to high Class A Frederick. Ray struck out 10 in five innings Saturday in a 5-2 win over Potomac and is 2-1, 3.67 in 26 innings with the Keys. He went 2-3, 3.42 in 50 innings at low Class A Delmarva.

• The best doubleheader over the weekend for pitching took place in Lynchburg, where Class A Myrtle Beach took two games from the Hillcats. In the opener, Pelicans righthander Matt Merricks faced lefty Zach Duke. Merricks went the full seven frames and allowed one earned run on three hits, striking out four. Duke also threw a complete game, but allowed two earned runs on eight hits and struck out nine. In the nightcap, Anthony Lerew bested Lynchburg righthander Jonathan Albaladejo, with Lerew fanning 10 over six innings.

• Expos righthander Clint Everts continues to get better with each outing. Everts struck out 12 in six innings Saturday and is 6-2, 1.99 with 90 strikeouts in 77 innings. He has also made an impression on one of the game's brightest young stars, Charleston RiverDogs right fielder Delmon Young. "He's the toughest pitcher I've faced," Young said. "The first two times we faced him, it was basically fastball-slider and he just dominated us. The third time, he broke out a changeup like I've never seen. It wasn't just a changeup--it was Eric Gagne-like."

• Rookie-level Elizabethton shortstop Trevor Plouffe is off to a solid start in pro ball. Plouffe, a Twins first-round pick in this year's draft, went 3-for-4 with a homer and two RBIs Saturday and is hitting .350-1-6 in his first 20 at-bats.

• Pirates first-round pick Neil Walker went 2-for-5 in his second game in the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League--a game in which another first-round pick, righthander Bobby Bradley, started. Bradley, who has battled injury problems since the Pirates took him eighth overall in 1999 out of Wellington (Fla.) High, threw just two innings, striking out two.

• Devil Rays lefthander Chris Seddon allowed six earned runs on nine hits in six innings against Mobile. It was easily the 20-year-old's worst start of the year, but the Rays say he's on the right track. "He got a little roughed up the last time I saw him," assistant general manager Tim Wilken said. "But he's got a pretty good feel for pitching. It's a matter of him maturing physically and finishing off his pitches. He's not far away."

Contributing: Chris Kline.


By J.J. Cooper
June 25, 2004

He's a long way from the majors, but the Mets have plenty of reason to be patient with Matt Lindstrom.

After all, he's got one of the best arms in the minors, an arm that puts up mid-90s fastballs with a free and easy motion.

The 24-year-old righthander's fastball sits at 94-96 mph, as he pops the mitt with mid-90s stuff from the first inning to the sixth. And when he has to, he can also touch the upper 90s, and even triple digits--as he did in a June 15 start against Lakewood.

"On our gun, he hit 99, with a few 98s, but a couple of scouts had him at 100," St. Lucie pitching coach Rick Mahler said.

While Lindstrom is one of a very small group of starters who can flirt with 100 mph, he still has a lot of work to do to turn himself from hard-thrower into dominant fireballer. Despite his velocity, he's struck out just 19 batters in 33 innings since being promoted to St. Lucie in mid-May, and his numbers in high Class A are quite pedestrian--2-2, 4.36. Lindstrom earned the promotion to St. Lucie by dominating at Capital City, where he was 3-2, 2.85 with 48 strikeouts and six walks in 41 innings.

But considering his background, his slow start in St. Lucie is not that surprising. Lindstrom, the Mets' 10th-round pick out of Ricks (Idaho) Junior College (now BYU-Idaho) in 2002, went on a two-year Mormon mission. He's still catching up for the lost time; his mechanics remain raw, and his secondary pitches are all works in progress.

Mahler and Lindstrom are working on tightening his slurvy slider. He throws it at 80-81 mph now, though considering his arm strength, it should have the potential to be an 85-87 mph pitch. He's also trying to add polish to his changeup, and he's just now starting to learn how to pound hitters inside. And despite his velocity, Mahler said that Lindstrom might add a little more juice as he gets better at staying on top of the ball.

"He's got a lot to learn as far as pitching goes," Mahler said. "He's been working on the things he needs to work on. It's great have a guy with that kind of stuff to work with, because once he figures it out, he's got a special arm."

DISH PIECES

• Dodgers lefthander Greg Miller is progressing well in his rehab in Vero Beach. After having his shoulder scoped this spring, Miller is currently long tossing at 100 feet in his throwing program. "He still has some tendinitis in his bursa sac," scouting director Logan White said Friday. "With him, we're just taking baby steps at this point and we certainly aren't rushing anything. He's a little frustrated by that because he wants to get back out there as soon as possible. But we'll see how he progresses and go from there."

• Double-A Jacksonville outfielder Reggie Abercrombie is having a rough comeback season in the Southern League. On the mend from a torn ACL in his right knee that happened in the Arizona Fall League, Abercrombie is hitting just .174-2-18 in 149 at-bats. He has drawn comparisons to premium athletes like Eric Davis, Torii Hunter and Preston Wilson, and many scouts say Abercrombie is the best physical specimen in baseball. However, his skills still have a ways to come to catch up with his tools. "The recovery from that (surgery) is usually 9-to-10 months and he's come back faster than that, and I think not having a spring training has put Reggie behind somewhat," White said. "I think he's pressing and trying to overcompensate and thinking about yesterday instead of thinking about relaxing. I also think there have been so many expectations put on Reggie--I've heard people say that he has the best physical tools of anybody in the game, which is a hard statement to live up to. We just hope that he realizes that he can't get (to the big leagues) tomorrow and anytime that you press, you start going out of the zone and keep chasing pitches things start to unravel for you. But he's young enough and athletic enough to make the adjustments."

• Class A Charleston right fielder Delmon Young collected his first multi-home run game as a pro, smacking Nos. 10 and 11 last night against Columbus. Young, the starting right fielder in this year's Futures Game in his first professional season, is hitting .284-11-54 in 271 at-bats.

Some recent promotions of note:

• The A's promoted righthander Jairo Garcia, another Futures Gamer, to Double-A Midland after he went 1-0, 0.30 with 16 saves in 30 innings with a 49-6 strikeout-walk ratio at low Class A Kane County.

• The Cardinals finally promoted first baseman John Santor to high Class A Palm Beach. In his second Midwest League season, Santor was hitting .264-13-53 with 17 doubles at Peoria, though he had 69 strikeouts in 250 at-bats.

• The Padres had a host of promotions, led by righthander Tim Stauffer moving up again. The fourth overall pick in the 2003 draft started the year at high A Lake Elsinore (2-0, 1.78 in six starts) before a promotion to Double-A Mobile, where he went 3-2, 2.68 in eight starts. However, he's been hittable, giving up 56 hits in 51 innings with just a 13-33 walk-strikeout ratio. "That surprises me," said a veteran scout, "because our reports on him are not good. We've had him at 87-88 mph without much movement on his fastball." The Padres also promoted righties Gabe Ribas (from Lake Elsinore to Mobile) and Jared Wells (low Class A Fort Wayne to Lake Elsinore), and outfielder Marcus Nettles (Elsinore to Mobile).

• The Indians promoted outfielder Franklin Gutierrez to Triple-A Buffalo, and he homered while going 1-for-5 against Durham on Thursday in a 14-5 victory. Gutierrez, acquired from the Dodgers in the Milton Bradley trade, hit .309-5-33 with 23 doubles at Double-A Akron, though he fanned 72 times in 249 games.

Contributing: Chris Kline, John Manuel.


By Chris Gigley
June 24, 2004

Joe Borchard doesn't miss football, even though the former Stanford quarterback began his third straight season at Triple-A Charlotte this year. And following his worst year in baseball, he watched fellow first-rounder and college quarterback Drew Henson return to the gridiron.

"That was Drew's decision, and I hope it works out for him,” Borchard said. "But it didn't spark any interest in football for me at all."

If last season didn't, nothing would. There appeared to be no reason for the 6-foot-4, 220-pound outfielder to put together a lackluster season. In 2001, he batted .295-27-98 at Double-A Birmingham. A year later, he hit .266 with 22 home runs despite being hampered by a broken foot. The White Sox expected Borchard to break out last year, but he simply didn't.

He wound up batting .253--his lowest batting average as a pro--and hit just 13 home runs. It would've been even worse had it not been for a 12-game hitting streak toward the end of the year. Borchard remembered the turning point that led to the streak, a late-season doubleheader that began with an 18-inning game.

"In that first game, I had a couple of chances to win it," Borchard said. "I came up once with the bases loaded and flew out to deep center field. I flew out to deep center again in another at-bat. When you're struggling like I was, getting the game-winning hit would've felt pretty good."

Instead, Borchard had an epiphany. With his batting average at .229, he resolved to forget about his individual performances and focus on helping the team in the pennant race.

A funny thing happened. The Knights failed to play for the Governor's Cup, but Borchard went on a tear, batting .447 during his streak to close out the season on a high note.

He learned his lesson. The intensity that had made Borchard a part-time quarterback at Stanford didn't always help him as a ballplayer. An 0-for-4 night at Knights Stadium, for instance, typically led to batting cage sessions lasting until the wee hours of the morning.

"He's a very intense athlete who has a football mentality, and I think sometimes that can be a hindrance," said Nick Capra, Borchard’s manager in Charlotte for the past three seasons. "He was being too tough on himself and at times he tried to carry the team by himself."

"The biggest thing for Joe is relaxing," farm director David Wilder said. "But it's good that he's intense. It's easier to tone down a player than trying to get him going."

Another factor in Borchard's sub-par season was the pressure that has followed him since receiving a record $5.3 million bonus with the White Sox in 2000. It finally got to him. He alluded to that when asked whether his life became easier when he stopped playing football and focused solely on baseball when the White Sox drafted him.

"In one aspect, yes, but the expectations that come with the money can be more overwhelming than playing two college sports," he said. "When you're playing college sports, you're doing it just for fun."

But the late-season hitting streak, combined with Borchard's first winter away from baseball in 2 1/2 years, has the slugger enjoying the game again. This season hasn't been nearly as trying for him as 2003. By mid-June, Borchard nearly had reached his home run total last season, and his average hovered near .280.

Borchard said he is more relaxed this season because the worst for him is over.

"My biggest fear was going out there and playing poorly, and I did that," he said. "It just took me a while to regain my composure."

Adopting the more laid-back attitude of his native Southern California, Borchard saves his intensity for the batter's box, where he hits baseball with authority. Even clean singles produce an echoing pop unlike any other. According to Wilder, it's only a matter of time before White Sox fans get used to that sound.

"As far as this season is concerned, he was hurt for much of spring training (with a quad pull) and just needed more at-bats at Triple-A," Wilder said. "But in the time he did get in, he showed us he is a major league player."

Wilder said Borchard took his third straight assignment to Charlotte "with a tremendous attitude." Having the same manager with the Knights has also helped. Capra saw what Borchard endured last season and knows how to stay focused on things day-to-day.

"We've stressed trying to stay on an even keel," Capra said. "Once he accomplishes that, I think that will be the key to him staying in Chicago."

Borchard said he is now focused on returning to the White Sox and performing well enough to stick. He's been called up twice in the past two years, and the memories have remained with him despite hitting a combined .212 in 32 games.

"That first time you walk up to the plate, you just think, 'I'm here,'" he said. "Now, I just want to be ready when the opportunity comes again. Last year I wasn't, and it showed in the way I played."

The White Sox, however, have remained patient. Wilder said Borchard has flashed the tools and ability to make the organization believe its money was spent wisely in 2000. He scoffed at the suggestion that Borchard's past struggles might lead him down a path similar to Henson's.

"Joe's performance on the field isn't even close to Henson's," Wilder said. "Henson's best year was Joe's worst."

DISH PIECES

• Triple-A Buffalo outfielder Grady Sizemore quietly has been putting things back together since recovering from a stomach virus that caused him to lose 15 pounds near the end of spring training. "He's got all of his strength back after losing a significant amount of playing time," Indians general manager Mark Shapiro said. "At 21 years old to do what he's been doing after what he went through with that setback says a lot about what kind of player and person he is. He's as intense a competitor as there is." After going 2-for-4 Tuesday and ripping his 16th double of the season, Sizemore is now hitting .288-6-37 in 285 at-bats.

• The Indians might have to make a decision soon about struggling third baseman Corey Smith. The Tribe's No. 1 pick in 2000 out of Piscataway High (N.J.) has hit another wall in his development. Smith always has started strong, but seems to just run in place in the second half. "He's completely frustrated right now and nothing is clicking for him," roving infield instructor Ted Kubiak said. Smith, who is repeating a level for the first time in his pro career, has continued his past pattern of declining as the season goes on. He batted .305 in April, .167 in May and is hitting .179 so far in June. Overall, he is hitting .213-10-30 in 249 at-bats at Double-A Akron.

• Righthander Luis Ramirez made a splash in his debut at short-season Aberdeen, striking out 15 in five innings--including a string of 12 consecutive hitters.

• Triple-A Iowa left fielder Jason Dubois was perfect last night, going 4-for-4 with his 15th homer of the season in a 12-3 clubbing of Nashville. Dubois, who got a brief callup to Chicago this season, is hitting .305-15-43 in 154 at-bats overall.

• Triple-A Oklahoma first baseman Adrian Gonzalez could be the next young impact hitter to join the Rangers. Gonzalez is driving in runs in bunches right now for the Redhawks, with 15 RBIs in his last eight games. Gonzalez, the No. 1 pick overall in 2000, is hitting .303-7-51 in 211 at-bats.

• Reds righthander Chris Gruler threw for the first time yesterday since having season-ending shoulder surgery last season. Gruler, the Reds' first-round pick in 2002 (third overall), went four innings and allowed two earned runs on five hits.

• Red Sox No. 1 prospect Hanley Ramirez also returned to action in the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League last night since coming off the disabled list with a badly sprained wrist. Ramirez went 2-for-3 with a pair of RBIs.

Contributing: Chris Kline.


By Chris Kline
June 23, 2004

BURLINGTON, N.C.--It might be only two games into the season, but Astros third-round pick Jordan Parraz is already turning heads in the Appalachian League for Rookie-level Greeneville.

Last night, Parraz went 2-for-4 with a triple and his first RBI of the season. Scouts have already been comparing him to a young Ryan Klesko because of his big, athletic, projectable body.

The 6-foot-3, 212-pounder out of the Community College of Southern Nevada was used primarily as a pitcher during his stint with the Coyotes and went 4-2, 3.32 in 43 innings this season. He was drafted in the sixth round in 2003 by the Phillies, but didn't sign in hopes of bolstering his draft status by becoming a more complete player, serving as the team's left fielder and DH as well as being one of the best pitchers on the CCSN staff.

The strategy paid off for Parraz, who jumped up three rounds and was being pursued by several major league teams, including the Cubs--all of whom wanted him to play center field.

"They (the Phillies) drafted me strictly as a pitcher and these guys are giving me a chance to play in the outfield," Parraz said. "I definitely want to be a player over a pitcher, and I got more money and I got a higher round. I just think I enjoy playing better than being on the mound. I think I have more potential as an athlete in the field. But I always have my arm--if I can't hit, I can always go back on the mound again."

The way Parraz talks about it, draft day was just another day for him--nothing too exciting, just a day when the laid-back center fielder heard his name being called out over the Internet.

"It was pretty easy. I woke up and got a call from the Astros, then got a call from the Cubs, and they both were interested in taking me in the third round," Parraz said. "Then the Astros called me back and told me they were taking me. We were listening to the live broadcast and I heard my name and then I signed seven days later. It was pretty exciting and I was happy."

The Astros are also excited about having Parraz in the system. In addition to the Klesko comparisons, they like his work ethic and versatility in the outfield.

"He's definitely an outfielder to us," farm director Tim Purpura said. "He's a strong workhorse who projects as a center fielder to us, but has the ability to play left and the arm strength to play right. We're real happy just to get him signed and out there in the development process."

Parraz played just five games in center for the Coyotes, compared to 15 starts in left and the rest of the time was either spent on the mound or as the DH. He batted .398-2-29 with 11 doubles in 118 at-bats this spring.

But the limited amount of time and experience in the outfield has Parraz going through some understandable growing pains at the beginning of his pro career.

"The game's a little faster," Parraz said. "I haven't really played much in the outfield, so I know I need to play and get more experience out there. I'm hoping it'll slow down a little bit in time, and I think it seems a little faster just because I haven't played in a month and a half.

"I joined the club five days before the season started. Before that I was just kind of chilling out and working on my swing. I've been trying not to throw too much, just because my arm isn't quite where it should be because of all the innings I threw this season. It's not just in shape like it should be. The pitching kind of took its toll on me, but it's something I can battle through."

His bat has the most room for improvement, but Greeneville manager Tim Bogar said his defense and arm are well ahead of schedule.

"If you're talking about comparing him to Klesko, that's a tough comparison since he's a righthanded hitter, but I think his defensive tools are better at this stage already," Bogar said. "He's got good instincts and a lot of natural raw ability. He seems like a pretty heady player out there."

Parraz lists Albert Belle and Gary Sheffield as two players he admired growing up, both for their ability to play a solid outfield, rack up a ton of assists and swing the bat. Based on the base hit to the opposite field and the three-bagger he smoked into the left-center gap Tuesday night, his bat has potential.

"He seems like a kid that works real hard and he's shown a little pop," Bogar said. "His swing's a little long, but we'll get to that. I think he's going to be a pretty decent player. He sometimes lunges at balls, but it's a little too early to make a judgment on that with it being the first couple of days with all the nervous energy and everything.

"I like his swing; I liked it in BP. I think he has a quality swing and seems to be a pretty heady player that knows the game. He's going to help us."

DISH PIECES

• The Astros took righthander Jimmy Barrett off the 40-man roster last week, and he cleared waivers. Barrett, who has not pitched this season due to shoulder stiffness, was slow to recover from the problem. He is rehabbing at his Maryland home, Purpura said.

• Astros righthander Jimmy Barthmaier made his 2004 debut last night against Burlington, allowing two earned runs on five hits over 4 2/3 innings. Barthmaier was throwing a heavy fastball anywhere between 89-93 mph.

• In other Astros news, righthander Anthony Pluta is rehabbing at Greeneville. Pluta was throwing in the mid-to-high 90s at Class A Salem last season before needing Tommy John surgery. He's still trying to get most of his velocity back at this point. "Some guys come back sooner than others with that surgery," Purpura said. "Anthony had a setback five or six weeks ago and we're carefully monitoring him right now to make sure he's where we want him to be."

• Class A Lake Elsinore first baseman Michael Johnson dislocated his patella tendon last weekend and could miss up to six weeks. Johnson was hitting .241-11-41 in 231 at-bats for the Storm this season.

• Triple-A Ottawa righthander John Maine had one of his best outings last night since making the jump from Double-A Bowie. Maine allowed five hits over six scoreless innings, struck out 10 and walked two. He fanned Bulls shortstop B.J. Upton twice, and his fastball sat in the 88-91 mph range. It was Maine's first win in Triple-A since June 6.

• Angels lefthander Jake Woods was promoted to Triple-A Salt Lake and made his debut with the Stingers on June 20, going six innings and allowing three runs on six hits. Woods was 9-2, 2.60 in 90 innings at Double-A Arkansas.

• The most intriguing pitching matchup around the country last night was in the Rookie-level Arizona League, where rehabbing pitchers Bobby Jenks and Luke Hagerty squared off against one another. Jenks, who returned from the disabled list with a stress reaction in his right elbow, went 3 1/3 innings, allowed three runs on five hits, walked three and struck out five. Jenks spent two months on the DL last season with the same injury. Hagerty is returning after missing all of last season due to Tommy John surgery. He lasted just 2 2/3, did not allow a hit, struck out four and walked one.

Contributing: J.J. Cooper, Alan Matthews.


By Chris Kline
June 22, 2004

Philadelphia fans have a reputation for being some of the most passionate sports fans anywhere, and that may be putting it lightly. So imagine what it must be like to make your big league debut there.

While the new Citizens Bank Park might not have the same intimidation factor Veterans Stadium once had, the fans have not changed.

"I got a little taste of them while I was in the bullpen," Padres righthander Justin Germano said. "They are right on top of you in that park, and they were all over me from the time I started stretching until I left after warming up. It broke the ice a little bit and was more funny than anything. But once the game started and I was out there, I didn't hear a thing. Just thousands of people making noise."

Germano made his Padres debut in Philadelphia on May 22 and earned his first major league victory, allowing four earned runs over five innings. He made one more start in another hostile environment--at least for pitchers--at Coors Field.

He was reassigned to Triple-A Portland in early June, but learned a lot from his stint with the big league club.

"The biggest change is how those guys live their lives," Germano said. "I mean, it's not bad here or anything, but we're talking Motel 6 versus the Ritz Carlton. It kind of brings you back to reality. The fire is under me now to get back as quickly as I can."

The Padres have challenged Germano from the time they drafted him out of Claremont (Calif.) High in 2000 and sent him directly to Class A Fort Wayne. He was challenged this year, starting in Double-A Mobile, then jumping to Portland and then the majors.

"It's been fun," Germano said. "It's cool to go out there and dominate, but I like new challenges. I feel like I'm a more polished pitcher now that I have a lot of different experiences to draw from."

Germano also has a nice repertoire of pitches to draw from, featuring a fastball that sits between 88-91 mph, slider, curve and changeup. His fastball was consistently hitting 90-91 in his last start against Fresno and his slider, which sometimes looks more like a cutter, has been around 83-86.

"I've been feeling a lot more comfortable with it than I've been in the past," Germano said. "And lately it's been a lot more consistent."

The one knock on Germano is that he is around the zone too much. "The past couple of years I've started to realize some things," he said. "I've learned not to give in as easily to hitters anymore. I think part of it was I was afraid of walking guys, but in certain situations, you have to give up a walk to have more team success."

Germano was the Padres minor league player of the year in 2002, and the consensus among scouts was that his stuff was better then than now. His numbers reflect that. He went a combined 14-5, 2.93 between Fort Wayne and high Class A Lake Elsinore in 2002, compared to last season when he went 11-6, 4.26 for the Storm and Mobile.

"Last year, the numbers don't show what I thought was a better year for me in terms of development," Germano said. "I progressed a lot and made the jump to Double-A, where I had two bad starts. But I'm not trying to worry about numbers as much as I used to. I'm a little older now, so the way I look at it is if I can go out and give quality innings and give our team a chance to win--wherever it is--that's what it's about. If I get a win, it's a bonus."

And if it's in the big leagues, it's even more of a bonus. For now, Germano is focused on getting back there. He wasn't subject to a lot of the usual rookie hazing because the Padres usually wait until September to fully "embrace" first-year players on their squad.

"(Phil) Nevin has a boombox he carries on the plane," Germano said. "I had to take it on the plane for him and then carry it to his hotel room. It wasn't too bad."

DISH PIECES

• Toledo police arrested Mud Hens outfielder Richard Gomez during batting practice at Fifth Third Field yesterday and changed him with two misdemeanors. According to the Toledo Blade, Gomez' wife Tahira Nahera told police that he assaulted her and left their 6-month-old child unattended in their downtown apartment. Gomez was taken to the Lucas County Jail and charged with domestic violence and child endangering. He was released by 6 p.m. but did not play in last night's game, a 7-2 Toledo loss to Louisville. Also before the game, outfielder Marcus Thames was promoted to Detroit. He was hitting .329-24-59 in 234 at-bats for the Mud Hens.

• There were a flurry of roster moves yesterday, as the Diamondbacks promoted third baseman Jamie D'Antona and outfielders Conor Jackson and Carlos Quentin to Double-A El Paso. The trio batted a combined .323-39-162 at Class A Lancaster this season.

• The Indians moved up first baseman Michael Aubrey, righthander Dan Denham and catcher David Wallace to Double-A Akron. Aubrey was hitting .322-10-60 in 218 at-bats, while Wallace was hitting just .206-1-14 in 136 at-bats at Class A Kinston. Denham, who has turned a corner this season, was 7-4, 4.18 in 71 innings. The Tribe also promoted catcher Javier Herrera from Class A Lake County to replace Wallace on the Kinston roster. Righthanded reliever Todd Pennington also joined the K-Tribe after being out all season with a strained oblique muscle.

• The Blue Jays called up righthander Adam Peterson from Double-A New Hampshire to fill a spot in their bullpen. Peterson was 2-2, 2.54 with 38 strikeouts and 10 walks in 28 innings. Armed with a fastball clocked in the mid-90s, Peterson leads the Eastern League with 15 saves. He becomes the first Fisher Cat to make the majors.

Contributing: J.J. Cooper.


By David Laurila
June 21, 2004

Joey Gathright isn't a comic book superhero, but there are similarities. Arguably the fastest player in the game, he can fly around the bases. He can't quite leap tall buildings, but he has jumped over cars, door-to-door (although a clause in his contract prohibits him from doing so now). And while his athleticism is something to marvel at, so is his off-the-field hobby. "I like to draw Japanese anime," he said, "I've done it since I was a kid."

Only 22, Gathright's rise through the Devil Rays’ system has been a rapid one--and that's a good way to describe this native of Hattiesburg, Miss. "He's the fastest man I've ever seen," Durham shortstop B.J. Upton said.

Adds hitting coach Richie Hebner: "He can really cause havoc when he gets on base. He can turn a single into a triple before you know it."

The numbers bear that out. Last year he swiped 69 bases in 111 games between Class A Bakersfield and Double-A Orlando, and he has no intention of slowing down. "I just love to run," Gathright said.

Taken in the 32nd round in 2001, Gathright's ascent has also been a quiet one. With more highly touted prospects like Upton and Delmon Young drawing most of the attention, he has been able slip under many radar screens.

"It's kind of nice being unknown," Gathright said. "B.J. always has a crowd around him, and I can just walk by unnoticed. That allows me to focus on my job, and a lot of times I think B.J. would like to switch places with me where that is concerned."

Going unnoticed is something Gathright hasn't always looked upon so favorably. "I was hoping to go a little higher in the draft," he admitted, "and then I was worried that maybe I wouldn't get the same opportunities as earlier picks."

It didn't take long for him dispel those fears, though. "I learned pretty quickly that it all comes down to talent. Either you can play or you can't, and the coaches are smart enough to figure that out."

"The kid can play," Hebner said. "He hasn't been in Triple-A very long, but it's easy to see that he has a chance to be really good."

Bulls manager Bill Evers agrees, but is also quick to add that it's a learning process.

"I expect that he can play center field in the major leagues," Evers said. "But he's young and hasn't played a lot of baseball yet. He's starting to get a better understand of things like reading pitchers and taking good routes to balls in the outfield; he's getting better."

Gathright is hitting .304-0-3 and has stolen 13 bags in 15 attempts this season.

DISH PIECES

• Double-A Frisco shortstop Ian Kinsler is getting comfortable at his new level. A day after homering off a rehabbing Andy Pettitte, Kinsler capped his first week in the Texas League Saturday with a five-RBI night generated by two home runs off Round Rock's Ezequiel Astacio to give him five for his seven games. Kinsler is now hitting .419-5-13 in just 31 at-bats since moving up from Class A Clinton.

• Class A Lansing first baseman Brian Dopriak is putting together a solid season with the Lugnuts. The free-swinging Dopriak is hitting .299-20-55 in 261 at-bats and, more impressively, cutting down his strikeout-to-walk ratio--walking 22 times and striking out 64. In just 78 at-bats at Lansing last season, Dopriak fanned 22 times and walked just twice. "He's getting repetitions and learning the more pitches you see, the better pitches you get," Cubs farm director Oneri Fleita said. "He's a guy who likes to work and that will make him better."

• Double-A Binghamton manager Ken Oberkfell blew up at his relievers yesterday after righthander Kole Strayhorn blew a one-run lead against Portland. Strayhorn struggled early this season, blowing five of 11 save opportunities and losing the closer job. But with righthander Jeremy Hill on the disabled list with a sore elbow, Strayhorn was back in that role Sunday. "I honestly believe I could go out there and throw a strike," Oberkfell told the Binghamton Press & Sun Bulletin after Strayhorn walked the leadoff hitter, allowed a base hit and then walked pinch-hitter Mike Campo. "It's like these guys are afraid of contact. What's it going to take? I don't know. But someone has to step up. I don't know if they're too comfortable or what, but we can find plenty of guys down in A ball who are ready to come up. We're wasting good starting pitching. They can make all the excuses they want about mechanics or whatever. Make an adjustment, and throw strikes. It's pretty simple."

• Double-A Birmingham righthander Kris Honel threw for the first time since going on the DL with a sore elbow on Opening Day. Although he threw just 12 pitches over one inning, it is an encouraging sign for the White Sox's first round pick in 2001. Barons manager Razor Shines called it a "clean inning," and farm director David Wilder was happy to see Honel back on a mound facing live hitting for the first time in nearly three months. "He felt the discomfort and told us about it," Wilder said. "It was never anything serious, we were just being cautious with him. But it's a great sign--great to have him back and throwing without any discomfort."

• Three Barons players--shortstop Mike Morse, and lefthanders Brian McNichol and Dennis Ulacia were suspended for 15 days for an unspecified violation of team rules. Morse, arguably the best shortstop in Chicago's system, was hitting .287-11-38 in 209 at-bats this season.

• Righthander Shawn Hill was promoted to the Expos yesterday. Hill was 5-6, 2.87 in 78 innings at Double-A Harrisburg this season.

Contributing: Will Kimmey, Chris Kline.


By J.J. Cooper
June 18, 2004

The radar gun can't explain Yusmeiro Petit's success.

Sure, he'll occasionally light up a 92 on the gun, and his fastball hovers between 88-91 mph on a consistent basis, but the Sally League is full of guys who throw harder.

But no one in the league is doing a better job of sending guys back to the dugout shaking their heads. The 19-year-old Petit is 8-1, 2.14 with a league-leading 101 strikeouts and only 20 walks in 71 innings. That comes on the heels of his 85 strikeout/10 walk numbers in 74 innings in stops at short-season Brooklyn and Kingsport last season.

His secret? It's not his slider, which can be nasty some nights, but is still inconsistent. It's not his changeup, which is a solid secondary pitch, but not an out pitch yet.

What Petit has going for him is a delivery that keeps batters from picking the ball up until well after he's released it. And when they pick up his fastball?

"It seems to jump. It has life," Capital City pitching coach Blaine Beatty said. "It looks like it goes up."

Petit is blessed with the kind of life that makes his fastball play tricks on hitters. He's like a passenger-side mirror: objects may appear faster than expected.

"He's like a righthanded Sid Fernandez," said Beatty, who was coming up through the Mets organization around the time that Fernandez was consistently among the National League leaders in strikeouts.

Like Petit, Fernandez had a motion where the ball seemed to appear from out of his body. And like Petit, it meant that Fernandez was able to pile up strikeouts with a fastball that, on the radar gun, was only major league average.

Now it's not exactly fair to compare a Class A pitcher to a 15-year major league veteran, and besides, Petit doesn't have Fernandez’s soft build, although at 6-foot, 230 pounds, he also doesn't have any filling out left to do, either.

But there are some similarities in the way that few batters ever get a good swing against him. At this point he relies predominantly on his fastball, but against many teams in the Sally League, that's more than enough. Even when batters are sitting on the fastball, Petit keeps blowing them away, even when the radar gun flashes 88.

"You can just tell hitters don't get a good read on him. They don't get good swings," Beatty said.

But deception isn't Petit's only asset. He keeps the ball low in the zone, and he stays in comfortable control at most times.

"He plays at a mental capacity older than his age. He has very good mound presence. He doesn't get flustered," Beatty said.

Bombers manager Jack Lind has noticed it. Petit quickly developed into a staff ace. It's a role he relishes.

"You can tell he wants to be a leader. He has a really good presence on the mound," Lind said.

Over the rest of the year, the Mets will continue to have Petit work on improving his secondary offerings. Following the Mets advice, Petit scrapped his curveball (which was more of a slurve) to focus on developing his sharper slider. His changeup might be a little further along.

"It might be his second best pitch," Beatty said. "He has great arm action on it, and 99 percent of the time, it's knee level."

But as good as his changeup might get, Sally League hitters won't mind seeing it, because they seem to be having plenty of trouble picking up his fastball.

DISH PIECES

• For now, he's the other Ryan Harvey. But while Harvey, the Cubs' first-round pick in 2003, is getting ready to start playing short-season ball, low Class A Capital City Bombers left fielder Ryan Harvey, a Mets 19th-round pick out of UC Riverside last year, is hitting .362, second-best in the South Atlantic League. Last night at Greensboro, he put on a hitting clinic. In the first inning, Harvey pulled a home run over the wall in left-center. An inning later, he went the other way for a double to the right-center power alley. In the fourth inning, he pulled a double down the left-field line. He went back up the middle an inning later for a single. Then he returned to opposite-field hitting for his third double of the night with a line drive to right-center in the seventh. He didn't get another chance to try to hit for the cycle, as he was pulled after the seventh. For the night, Harvey was 5-for-5, with a home run, 11 total bases, six RBIs and three runs scored.

• Recent Texas League arrival Ian Kinsler remains a .400 hitter at the Double-A level, having hit safely in all five of his games so far. Kinsler, a Rangers 17th-round pick last year out of Missouri, is hitting .429-2-6 in 21 at-bats at Double-A Frisco. Last Saturday, Kinsler was promoted from low Class A Clinton, where he batted .402-11-52 in 224 at-bats.

• Double-A Round Rock shortstop Tommy Whiteman is having a breakout season, hitting for power and average while amassing twice as many hits as strikeouts. He was promoted to Triple-A New Orleans on Tuesday. Whiteman, who had two hits, including a double, and scored a run in his Round Rock farewell, will report to New Orleans Friday but return for the Texas League All-Star game in Midland Tuesday. Whiteman was hitting .336-8-45 in 277 at-bats for the Express.

• Double-A Jacksonville first baseman James Loney is beginning to come around after missing nearly a month with a broken finger. The finger became infected and also required minor surgery. Loney is hitting .255-2-10 in just 141 at-bats for the Suns this season. "I was really surprised when he came back (from the finger surgery), he was on," Dodgers roving hitting coordinator Bob Mariano said. "Even versus lefthanders, his plate discipline is always there and he seemed like he picked up real quick. The way our first base situation is in Los Angeles, I would think that if he had a solid second half, I wouldn't count him out for next year. He needs some more at-bats to get experience. I think he's going to be a solid everyday first baseman in the future."

Contributing: Alan Matthews, Michael Point.


By Chris Kline
June 17, 2004

Outfielders Chris Roberson and Jake Blalock are names that could spring up around the trade deadline in July as the Phillies try to fill a need for the big league club.

They also have great bloodlines in common.

Like his father Rick, who played for seven seasons in the NBA, Roberson is a naturally gifted athlete. While Blalock will be forever linked with his brother Hank, the surname is the only thing they have in common. Jake bats righthanded and projects to hit for more power and less average than Hank, and his upside is more comparable to Pat Burrell's.

"He's really put it together," farm director Mike Arbuckle said of Blalock. "Early on, he was late getting his hands started and his front side tended to fly out as part of the result of that. He always had the ability to jerk inside pitches out of the park, but now he's staying on the pitch and driving a lot of balls out to right-center field. For him, it's been all about improving his plate coverage."

Blalock is hitting .293-12-47 with 22 doubles at low Class A Lakewood. He has enough arm strength to play right field, but the Phillies see him as more of a left fielder in the long run.

"He's gotten a lot better making reads and getting jumps on balls," Arbuckle said. "His range might be somewhat limited, but he makes up for it with his arm. He's a quality left fielder."

Roberson is a speedy center fielder with plus-plus range and a fringe average arm. He stole an organization-high 59 bases last season, and he already has 15 steals at high Class A Clearwater in 2004. While his speed has stood out the most, Roberson also is making more consistent contact this season and Clearwater manager Mike Schmidt has used him in different spots in the order to make him learn the importance of versatility.

"Mike's been bouncing him around a lot, and he's responded well," Arbuckle said. "He's soaking up the little things about hitting in different spots in the lineup, which is making him a more complete player. He's really taking off."

Roberson is hitting .308-8-30. His strength could produce 15 homers a year at the big league level, but hitting instructors are discouraging him from loading up too much right now, stressing the importance of contact.

"He got to a point where he was a lot more consistent at the plate the second half of last season," Arbuckle said. "And that's carried over this season. He cut down on his swing and is really spraying the ball around."

Although the steals are there, Roberson was cut down 16 times last season and has been caught nine times in 24 attempts this season. The Phillies believe his success rate will increase as he gains more experience reading pitchers.

"He has the tendency to get a little antsy out there on the basepaths sometimes," Arbuckle said. "He needs to make better reads, and we're working with him on that and on his patience. He needs to trust himself and trust his speed."

DISH PIECES

• Blue Jays catcher Guillermo Quiroz's recovery from a broken bone in his left hand has been slower than expected. Quiroz went on the Triple-A Syracuse disabled list in early May and was slated to miss 3-4 weeks, but he's still another week to 10 days from swinging a bat. "He's about a week away, but that's only getting in a cage and taking some swings," Toronto assistant general manager Keith Law said. "We'll see how he responds to that before thinking about getting him back to game action." Quiroz was batting .258-2-8 in 22 games when he got hurt.

• Braves third baseman Andy Marte is out for at least a week with a high ankle sprain. Marte sprained the ankle trying to stretch a base hit into a double on Monday. "We don't anticipate him missing more than that, but we're going to be cautious," Atlanta farm director Dayton Moore said. Marte missed over a week earlier this season with an ankle sprain when he collided with Chattanooga third baseman Edwin Encarnacion. Marte is hitting .264-11-32 in 55 games at Double-A Greenville.

• Phillies righthander Gavin Floyd might not have a pretty won-lost record (2-4) at Double-A Reading, but his 2.34 ERA is second in the Eastern League behind Erie lefthander Wil Ledezma's 2.32. "The biggest thing that's impressed me about Gavin has been his ability to adjust from inning to inning," Arbuckle said. "He has a good feel for what's working for him at any given time. We were trying to get him away from throwing his curveball too much early in the season in order to get him to work on his changeup, but he's just going with what works from at-bat to at-bat."

• Devil Rays shortstop Nestor Perez broke a 36-year-old Double-A Southern League record last night when he played his 35th consecutive game at short without an error. The record was previously set in 1968 by Asheville shortstop Frank Duffy, who's best known for being traded for George Foster three years later. Perez is having the best offensive year of his career, hitting .321-0-11 in 42 games at Montgomery.

• Official rosters of this year's Futures Game will be announced Monday. The Dodgers announced today that former big league lefthander Fernando Valenzuela will manage the World team. The 25-man rosters and coaches for the U.S. and World Futures teams, are selected by Major League Baseball in conjunction with Baseball America and the 30 clubs.


By Chris Kline
June 16, 2004

The young catcher looked out and saw one of the game's top pitchers, righthander Kevin Brown, staring in at him.

It was in the middle of spring training in 2003, and it was only bullpen work, but Dodgers catcher Koyie Hill was trying to prove himself--not only to Brown, but to the Dodgers brass around him.

"He's definitely the toughest guy I've caught," Hill said. "It took some time to get used to him. The ball gets on you so fast and there's so much deception that it's tough to pick it up coming out of his hand.

"I felt like I was doing everything I could back there to make it look like I knew what I was doing."

After growing up playing shortstop and then moving to third at Wichita State, Hill found himself a new home--behind the plate.

The Dodgers picked him in the fourth round in 2000 and converted the corner infielder to a permanent backstop. While the move took time to adjust to, it is paying off for Hill now. He is one of the top catching prospects in the game.

"Everything's really come together," said the 25-year-old. "There was a long adjustment period just getting used to being back there and being involved in every pitch. That's probably my favorite thing about catching."

While Hill has good hands, athleticism and arm strength, he's been working hard to improve his receiving mechanics, release and throwing accuracy. So far this season, he's thrown out 17 of 62 opposing basestealers (27 percent), the same percentage as last year.

Hill made tremendous strides the last two seasons, working with roving catching instructor John Debus. And being with Triple-A Las Vegas manager and former big league catcher Terry Kennedy this year certainly doesn't hurt.

"He's given me a lot of good ideas about some of the small stuff," Hill said. "I feel like I'm more a complete catcher now than I was, say, in the past. What Terry does is give me little hints about more of the experience-type stuff."

Kennedy has also eased Hill's comfort zone this season.

"You always feel like there's someone you can go to," Hill said. "Playing for a guy like him, there's no tricking anybody. Most managers who never caught before might not pick up on some things he does. He knows what separates making good plays into solid, great plays."

Hill is also off to a solid first half with the bat this season, hitting .315-8-43 in 232 at-bats. More impressively, Hill has improved his average after hitting just .213 in April.

A line-drive hitter with a level swing from both sides of the plate, Hill makes consistent contact and sprays the ball to all fields, showing enough power to carry the alleys.

"I feel pretty good even though I got off to more or less a slow start," Hill said. "I've been kind of lucky in that I caught some breaks, a hit falls here or there and things start really going."

He was disappointed to return to Double-A Jacksonville last season for a second straight year, but that only pumped him up to pick up his game, and he ended the season in Los Angeles. Hill played three games in the big leagues last season, getting a double in three at-bats.

"It was more thrilling than overwhelming," Hill said. "I'm the type of person that is able to keep everything in the moment. Even if there are 50,000 people out there, it's the same game as when you were in Little League. You just have to keep the 50,000 people out of your head.

"The motivation and the want is always there. It's not that there needed to be a fire lit under me, but let's just say that fire is a lot bigger now to get back and stay there."

DISH PIECES

• Phillies' top prospect Cole Hamels went on the disabled list again Wednesday with elbow tendinitis. The 20-year-old lefthander was shut down near the end of spring training with tenderness in the elbow, but came back to join Class A Clearwater, going 1-0. 1.13 with 24 strikeouts in 16 innings. "He's tender again," assistant general manager Mike Arbuckle said. "He's got some tendinitis on the outside of the elbow and he's going to be down about 10 days. After that, we'll fire him back up again. It's frustrating because we're losing development time."

• Double-A Reading first baseman Ryan Howard might lead the Eastern League in strikeouts with 79, but he's maintaining his power production. Howard hit his 20th homer last night, and his average is climbing with his home run total. The Phillies' No. 3 prospect is now batting .291-20-54 in 227 at-bats. "He's really getting better from a contact standpoint," Arbuckle said. "We know about the strikeouts, but with the power and now the average, Ryno has been making some nice adjustments."

• The Giants promoted righthander Matt Cain Double-A Norwich. Cain, the organization's No. 2 prospect, was 7-1, 1.86 with 89 strikeouts in 73 innings at Class A San Jose.

• In other Giants news, third baseman Julio Cordido is also headed to the Navigators after hitting .300-2-34 in 247 at-bats for San Jose. San Francisco called up Nate Schierholtz from Class A Hagerstown to replace him on the San Jose roster. Schierholtz was hitting .296-15-53 in 233 at-bats for the Suns.

• The Rangers have put two of their 2003 draftees on the fast track. Class A Clinton lefthander John Danks was promoted to high Class A Stockton after going 3-2, 2.17 in 50 innings with the LumberKings. Last year's first-round pick allowed just 38 hits, walked 14 and struck out 64. Righthander John Hudgins was called up to Double-A Frisco after going 3-1, 2.35 in 65 innings at Stockton.

• Class A Capital City righthander Yusmerio Petit struck out 14 in a 16-2 win over Greensboro last night. Petit improved to 8-1, 2.14 with 101 strikeouts in 71 innings with the Bombers. It was his third double-digit strikeout game of the season.

• Rockies righthander Chin-Hui Tsao made his 2004 debut at Class A Asheville last night, and allowed one earned run over five innings and struck out six. Tsao is recovering from shoulder stiffness that caused him to open the season on the disabled list at Triple-A Colorado Springs.

• Lefthander Tom Gorzelanny remained undefeated on the season, as Class A Hickory downed Lexington, 8-2. Gorzelanny, the Pirates' second-round pick out of Triton (Ill.) Junior College last season, also struck out 11. He is 7-0, 2.37 with 83 strikeouts in 76 innings.


By Chris Kline
June 15, 2004

The way he talks about his killer numbers, you'd think Double-A Arkansas third baseman Dallas McPherson was sitting in a boat in the middle of a lake, casually lofting his fishing pole on another lazy cast.

"Man, it feels pretty good," McPherson said, without a hint of excitement in his voice. "I seem to be seeing the ball well right now."

That could be the understatement of the season so far in all the minors. McPherson is hitting .329-20-67 in 243 at-bats for the prospect-laden Travelers.

He also immediately deflects the attention away from himself and throws it directly to the guys around him.

"I've got a lot of good hitters around me," McPherson said. "They're allowing me to get better pitches to hit."

One of those guys is gone now, however, as first baseman Casey Kotchman graduated to Anaheim. Kotchman was reassigned to Triple-A Salt Lake when the club activated Darin Erstad from the disabled list Monday. But McPherson insists that has just fueled the Travelers' fire.

"Man, it's been awesome for all of us," he said. "When Casey got called up and started producing in the big leagues, we all started to realize how close we actually are. I think it's made us a lot better since he got called. We're working that much harder now because we have an example."

McPherson is seeing the ball a lot better these days, taking pitches and working himself into better counts. Last week, he had a career night in a doubleheader against San Antonio. Hold on to your seat--McPherson went 6-for-7 with four homers and eight RBIs. He's driven in 30 runs in his last 15 games.

"It was an unbelievable night," McPherson said of the doubleheader. "Things just worked out for me. I don't know, I was seeing a lot of fastballs for some reason and had a great day."

The one knock on McPherson has been his sketchiness defensively, but he's worked hard to hone his footwork and not rush his throws as much as he had in the past. He lowered his error totals last season and has committed 12 in 63 games this year.

"I feel like I'm getting better at it," McPherson said. "I'm getting to where I really trust my feet and instincts on plays. My arm angle's been a little off at times, but I'm trying to be more patient with my throws. Sometimes, I'm not trusting my arm as much as I should."

It would be foolish to doubt the mettle or the intensity of the former cadet from The Citadel. Last season, he shot himself in the finger with a BB gun and didn't miss a day. After returning from a bulging disc that sidelined him most of last April, McPherson ripped nine homers in 14 games, highlighted by a double and a home run against a rehabbing Randy Johnson.

When Johnson beaned him in the next at-bat, McPherson stared him down and then promptly stole second. The story has grown to legendary proportions since then, and McPherson said it's gotten out of hand.

"Everybody's making a big deal out of it, but it wasn't really the stuff of legends," the Randleman, N.C., native said. "I think it was a 2-1 count and he threw a two-seamer that kind of got away from him. I don't think it was intentional at all. And as for me stealing second, there were two outs and I was just trying to get into scoring position. He wasn't even looking at me at all. It was like I wasn't even there.

"Believe me, I've heard a lot of 'big fish' stories in my day and this is just another one that happens to include me and Randy Johnson."

DISH PIECES

• Kotchman didn't miss a beat after his demotion, going 2-for-2 with a double and an RBI in 6-4 win over Tacoma--his first game ever in Triple-A.

• Triple-A Louisville lefthander Brandon Claussen threw seven no-hit innings against Scranton-Wilkes Barre last night as the Bats went on to win 10-5. Claussen allowed six runs in five innings in a loss to the Red Barons on June 4, but he was a different pitcher yesterday. He walked three and threw 109 pitches before leaving to a standing ovation at the start of the eighth. "I just wanted to stay in the strike zone," Claussen told The Scranton Times. "Last time I faced these guys, they really stuck it to me, so I really concentrated on locating my fastball, and I had my changeup working. I wanted to make them earn the win." Claussen, who was dealt from the Yankees to the Reds along with lefty Charlie Manning and cash in the Aaron Boone deal last July, is 5-4, 5.30 in 70 innings for Louisville this season. Manning, meanwhile, is 4-4, 5.12 in 70 innings at Double-A Chattanooga.

• Astros righthander Taylor Buchholz has righted the ship somewhat after a dreadful start at Triple-A New Orleans. After an 0-5 start, Buchholz is 4-6 with a 6.36 ERA. In 64 innings he has allowed 85 hits, 47 runs, 12 home runs, walked 22 and struck out 50. "He's been throwing his two-seam fastball much more and with more confidence and is also using his changeup considerably more--15 or 16 times a game and during all counts," Zephyrs pitching coach Jim Hickey told Brian McTaggert of the Houston Chronicle.

• Cardinals righthander Brad Thompson made waves this season for his consecutive scoreless innings streak and now has moved to Triple-A Memphis. Thompson won his debut last night, allowing one earned run on six hits in 5 1/3 innings.

• Padres righthander Tim Stauffer is dealing at Double-A Mobile. Stauffer tossed seven shutout innings last night against Tennessee, but did not figure into the decision. Stauffer is 3-1, 1.47 in 49 innings for the BayBears since moving up from Class A Lake Elsinore May 9.

• Seating capacity was tested once again at Double-A West Tenn's Pringles Park. The stadium, built in 1998, holds 6,000 but drew 6,478 for another rehab start for Cubs right fielder Sammy Sosa. The Diamond Jaxx lost last night 4-2 to Birmingham, but Sosa was impressed with Barons lefthander Arnie Munoz, who struck him out swinging in the fifth. ''He pitched me pretty good,'' Sosa told The Jackson Sun. ''He challenged me. He's a good pitcher. When he struck me out, it was a pretty nasty breaking pitch. He can be in the major leagues any day. It was the first time I've seen him, and he impressed me." Munoz is 7-2, 2.05 in 75 innings this season, and Barons manager Razor Shines indicated that he will likely be called up later this week for Chicago's series against the Expos.

• The White Sox promoted outfielder Thomas Brice from low Class A Kannapolis, a level Brice was repeating, to high Class A Winston-Salem. Brice hit .318-6-31 with the Intimidators before his promotion.


By Chris Kline
June 14, 2004

Things always seem to have a way of working out. In this case, call it the Jacksonville Sun rising.

Suns lefthander Derek Thompson is all the way back--and dealing in the Southern League.

Thompson, who was first taken from the Indians by the Cubs in the major league portion of the 2002 Rule 5 draft and then purchased by the Dodgers, missed all of last season due to elbow surgery.

The injury allowed the Dodgers to place him on the disabled list for the season, keeping him on their 40-man roster so he wouldn't have to be returned to Cleveland.

"That was a crazy day," Thompson said of the Rule 5. "I was a Cub for about 10 minutes before I found out I was heading to L.A.

"Then I start throwing instructs and the elbow thing happened. It was frustrating, but I was happy to stay with the Dodgers. They've shown they're committed to me, and that kept me focused on my rehab and getting back as quickly as I could."

The surgery was similar to Tommy John, but without using another ligament. The doctors simply used the ligament already there and reattached it to the bone.

"It was basically just torn off the bone, so it was sort of like Tommy John," Thompson said. "It was a long time being in extended, just working to get my arm strength back."

But it's all the way back now. In his last three starts, Thompson's fastball is sitting at 91-94 mph, topping out at 95. He had a minor setback in his start Sunday against Carolina, however. In the top of the third, Thompson ran back behind home plate to back up a relay throw and severely rolled his right ankle.

"It was the worst pain I ever felt in my life," Thompson said. "The white Nike swoosh was dark green from the grass stain. It went completely sideways. It hurt like hell."

He is only expected to miss about 10 days with the ankle problem, and is just pumped up to have his velocity back--and to be throwing pain-free.

In his first several starts this year, Thompson was only throwing between 88-91, but the fastball has new life since then. His last live game action was with Class A Kinston in 2002, where he never got above 93 mph.

"I was really worried about it coming in to this season," Thompson said. "I was around 92-95 in instructs before the injury and had doubts about it ever coming all the way back. It took a lot of hard work and dedication to get there, but I'm back throwing heat again--that's all that matters."

No matter how much heat he has on the fastball, Thompson isn't exactly blowing away hitters in the SL. He has only 49 strikeouts in 64 innings and is 3-3, 2.95 overall. He hasn't allowed a home run this season, either, although he came close yesterday.

"(Mudcats catcher Josh) Willingham hit one to the opposite field, but Reggie (Abercrombie) robbed him," Thompson said. "I owe him one."

In addition to the 90s fastball, Thompson throws a slurvy slider around 76-79 and a solid 83-84 mph changeup. In short, he is a prototypical groundball lefty.

"I can't strike anybody out. I don't know what it is," Thompson said. "I have close to 100 groundball outs this year. I just can't get it by anybody. I gave up like 12 hits against Huntsville this year and they were the cheapest hits ever. None of them were hit hard. They were either ground balls they beat out or little bloop hits to the outfield."

Speaking of bloop hits, Thompson has one himself this season--the first time he's seen live pitching since Little League. He's hitting .067 (1-for-15). His lone hit came in his second at-bat against Greenville righthander Zach Miner.

"It was pretty pathetic," Thompson said, laughing. "I think it was a 1-2 fastball up around my eyes that just got over the shortstop's head. When I got to first, the guys were all over me asking me if I wanted the ball. It was retarded, but I still have that ball. It's funny, because they wouldn't let me hit, even in high school (at Land O'Lakes, Fla., High). Now I'm taking BP. It's been a real change."

A change for the better, even if he's not hitting. Thompson has raised eyebrows all over the SL and, more importantly, the Dodgers front office.

"He's been outstanding," scouting director Logan White said. "We were fortunate being able to keep him. He's been a pleasant surprise all year and worked very hard to get to where he is. He could be a big league guy down the road."

One thing he certainly doesn't lack is passion. Thompson loves the game so much, he gushes when talking about it and can't understand how all players couldn't feel the same way he does.

"I was reading something in Baseball America the other day about some fourth-rounder that was retiring because he said he didn't love the game anymore," Thompson said. "How can you feel like that? I don't understand it. We're the luckiest guys in the world. From the fact that we're getting paid to play to the fans to just the excitement of it--how in the world can it not be fun anymore?"

DISH PIECES

• The Rangers got bad news Monday morning when x-rays showed Class A Stockton outfielder Vincent Sinisi had a broken arm. Sinisi, the organization's second-round pick last year out of Rice, sustained the injury in an eighth-inning collision Sunday night with shortstop Joaquin Arias in short left field. Manager Arnie Beyeler said Sinisi would miss at least six weeks. He was hitting .310-6-40 in his first full season.

• The Indians expect lefthander Brian Tallet to begin a rehab assignment sometime in July, but fellow lefty Billy Traber's rehab is going a little more slowly than expected. "He's gone through various challenges in his recovery," assistant general manager Chris Antonetti said. "We anticipate him to begin throwing in the instructional league." Both pitchers are recovering from Tommy John surgery.

• Indians third baseman Matt Whitney is back and showing signs of life at Class A Lake County. Whitney did not play all of last season due to a broken leg he suffered playing basketball, but is hitting .263 in 19 at-bats--all as the DH. "It's very encouraging," Antonetti said. "He's a guy who could be an impact player in the future for us."

• Class A Lancaster right fielder Carlos Quentin missed the club's weekend series against Rancho Cucamonga for a good reason--to pick up his degree in political science at Stanford. Quentin is hitting .297-14-48 in 222 at-bats this season.

• Rangers shortstop Ian Kinsler has been promoted to Double-A Frisco. The 17th-rounder out of Missouri was hitting .402-11-52 in 224 at-bats at low Class A Clinton. He went 1-for-4 in his Double-A debut.

• Double-A Carolina first baseman Jason Stokes left the game in the fourth inning after injuring his left wrist on a two-run double in the third inning. There was no immediate information on the extent of the injury. Stokes is hitting .272-16-59 in 228 at-bats for the Mudcats this season.

• Mets third baseman David Wright moved up to Triple-A Norfolk over the weekend. Wright was hitting .363-10-40 in 223 at-bats at Double-A Binghamton.


By Chris Gigley
June 11, 2004

MONTGOMERY, Ala.--Rickie Weeks' first at-bat in June typified his first two months at Double-A Huntsville. The Brewers prospect got plunked on a 2-1 fastball and was picked off at first base a batter later.

Weeks pounded the dirt and grimaced in frustration, then walked somberly back to the dugout. He has managed to maintain a calm veneer, but Weeks' reaction to the pickoff showed he's clearly struggling through his first taste of failure.

Weeks starred at Southern last spring and finished with a .473 career average, the best in NCAA Division I history. He followed that up by hitting .319 in the Arizona Fall League. Yet in 53 games with the Stars this summer, Weeks has mustered just a .235 average.

Hype has had something to do with it. Weeks is trying to meet the expectations heaped on him since he was the second overall pick by the Brewers last year.

"Me and the coach have talked about that," Weeks said, referring manager Frank Kremblas. "I've gone into situations trying to do too much, but that's just another thing you have to learn in this game."

While Weeks had to get over his initial disappointment about his performance, more experienced eyes haven't been let down. Kremblas says Weeks' success in college and in the AFL have little to do with how he fares in full-season baseball.

"You're not playing every day in college and the fall league, but here it turns into a little bit of a marathon," Kremblas said. "He's going to get mentally and physically tired and will have to handle the bumps and bruises you get along the way."

Then there’s the pitching in Double-A.

"It’s a little bit of an adjustment coming from the SWAC," said Kremblas, referring to the conference Weeks played in at Southern. "He just needs to get comfortable here."

As Weeks settles in at the plate, the former college shortstop has already made himself at home at second base.

"My defense has definitely been the highlight of my season so far," said Weeks. "I feel great out there. There's not too much of a difference (between second base and shortstop). I've had to adjust to having a blind turn on double play balls."

Weeks had to get used to seeing balls come at him from new angles, but Kremblas said he hasn't had any trouble. In 53 games, Weeks made just five errors.

Overall, Weeks appears to have the mindset to survive the marathon of a full minor league season. When asked about the rigors of minor league life--the long bus rides, the exhausting schedules, the fast food--Weeks shrugged them off.

"Baseball is baseball," he said. "I have to go out there and play hard every day."

DISH PIECES

• Lefthander Chuck Tiffany went on the disabled list at low Class A Columbus with a strained lat muscle, but the Dodgers says it isn't anything major. The club has incorporated a Zack Greinke-like plan with their young arms--skipping starts from time to time. "He could have started, but he had a little tweak in his lat area," scouting director Logan White said. "He was actually mad about it. But it's something we're trying to do with a lot of our younger players. We'd like to keep their innings down by occasionally skipping starts here and there. He had this little tweak, so we thought now was as good a time as any. We think this is the right thing to do. The kids don't like it, though. They don't want to miss anything."

• Double-A Arkansas might want to consider playing more doubleheaders. Third baseman Dallas McPherson has taken to them, going 6-for-7 with four home runs. Outfielder Nick Gorneault likes them too, also going 6-for-7, though he went deep only once. McPherson is hitting .327-16-58 in 226 at-bats, and Gorneault is .314-8-41 in 223 at-bats.

• Double-A Carolina shortstop Josh Wilson has been on a tear, batting .474 (28-for-59) in his last 15 games to move up to .329-7-30 in 228 at-bats overall.

• Speaking of tears, Triple-A Omaha first baseman Calvin Pickering is responding to the pressure put on him by Toledo outfielder Marcus Thames for the minor league lead in homers. Pickering, who got off to a torrid start in what has been a comeback year for him, has hit seven homers in his last five games. He now has 23 homers, while Thames is second with 21.

• Indians lefthander Brian Tallet's rehab is on schedule. Out since last fall because of Tommy John surgery, Tallet threw batting practice rounds at the club's spring training facility in Winter Haven, Fla., this week. The Tribe will be cautious bringing him back, but he could be back on a roster this season.

Contributing: Chris Kline


By J.J. Cooper
June 10, 2004

San Jose pitching coach Trevor Wilson knows that he's fortunate.

There aren't many pitching coaches who get to watch a starter go out and touch 97 mph on one night, then turn around and watch another of his charges take the mound and hit 98 mph the next.

But with righthanders Matt Cain and Merkin Valdez on the mound, California League hitters are frequently frustrated.

"It's like having Randy Johnson and Curt Schilling in A ball," Wilson said. "I definitely feel blessed to have these two guys here. I know it probably won't last, but it's nice to have them. It's a luxury. I'm glad for the Giants to have these guys here."

Cain, 19, is dominating hitters despite being one of the youngest players in the league. After giving up four earned runs in his California League debut, he did not give up more than two earned runs in any of his next 11 starts, as he was 6-1, 1.73. His best outing was a June 2 start against Stockton, where he went seven innings, allowed two hits and a walk and struck out 14.

"When he's on, it's push button," Wilson said. "I don't do anything. I just hit the (pitch-count) clicker."

Cain is second in the league in ERA and strikeouts (84 in 68 innings), but he still has plenty of work to do. Right now, he's able to dominate high Class A hitters even on nights when he struggles to command his curveball and changeup. He already locates his fastball to both sides of the plate, a lively mid 90s pitch that touches 97 mph, leaving most hitters overmatched.

But on nights that Cain is getting his sharp-breaking curveball over for strikes, he's nearly unhittable. He's also showing a developing feel for his changeup.

Valdez might be a little more polished right now than Cain, which isn't surprising since he's three years older. In his first two starts since returning from a shoulder injury that had sidelined him since spring training, Valdez was 1-0, 1.74 with 12 strikeouts and one walk.

He's already close to stretched out--his pitch limit in his second start reached 80. And he's already again showcasing his mid 90s fastball that will hit 98 and a biting slider that he commands well.

It'll only be a question of when before the Giants' No. 1 prospect will be moving on.

DISH PIECES

• With short-season getting geared up to start in another week or so, clubs are making some moves to fill out rosters. Padres catcher Colt Morton is one of the more notable moves, moving from low Class A Fort Wayne to short-season Eugene. Morton has struggled this season, hitting just .150-4-11 in 127 at-bats with 45 strikeouts. San Diego's third-round pick in 2003 out of North Carolina State was splitting duties with George Kottaras for the Wizards. Kottaras has been much more productive, hitting .299-3-25 in 107 at-bats with a .400 OBP.

• The black hole for hitters at Coastal Federal Field continues for Braves prospects playing at Class A Myrtle Beach. Right fielder Jeff Francoeur is hitting .225-0-8 in 102 at-bats at home, but tearing it up on the road, hitting .354-10-23. "We complained last year because the ball didn't really carry well in Rome," Francoeur said. "But the wind never blew like it does in Myrtle Beach. It definitely is frustrating when you hit a couple really good and they get run down. But you have to realize the park you're in. I think everybody else knows that too, so it can work out for the best." By comparison, Francoeur hit .320-7-35 at home in his first full season at Class A Rome last year.

• The struggles continue for Class A Hickory righthander Matt Capps. The Pirates No. 14 prospect, Capps lasted just 2/3 of an inning Wednesday night and allowed three earned runs on four hits. A seventh-round pick in 2002 out of Alexander High in Douglasville, Ga., Capps is 2-2, 10.15 and has allowed 76 hits in just 39 innings. He will move down to short-season Williamsport along with righthander Blair Johnson. Johnson is 1-4, 8.68 in 37 innings for the Crawdads this season. "It's been a very valuable experience for both those guys in the Sally League this year," farm director Brian Graham said. "They've learned the lesson of the importance of command. Their stuff is fine; they're learning the ability of making adjustments. Those guys will succeed. They just have to take a step back to take two steps forward."

• In other Pirates news, lefthander Paul Maholm, out since getting hit in the face by a line drive against Class A Winston-Salem on May 15, is scheduled for a return in either late July or early August. Maholm's nose was broken and the orbital bones around his left eye were fractured when he was hit by a line drive off the bat of Warthogs first baseman Casey Rogowski. "We're hopeful to have him back on a mound by Aug. 1," Graham said. Maholm was 1-3, 1.84 in 48 innings at Class A Lynchburg.

• Speaking of Rogowski, the 23-year-old first baseman has seemingly turned a corner in his third stint in high Class A. Nicknamed "Rogo," the former state champion wrestler at Catholic Central High in Redford, Mich., is hitting .295-11-45 in 193 at-bats. Rogowski batted .246-7-38 for the Warthogs last season.

• Edmonton right fielder Ryan Church just won't slow down. Church, who came over to the Expos along with shortstop Maicer Izturis from Cleveland for lefthanded reliever Scott Stewart, is hitting .379-10-38 in 177 at-bats this season and could make his big league debut in Montreal sometime soon. Church also has a .661 slugging and a .449 OBP.

Contributing: Chris Kline.


By Alan Matthews
June 9, 2004

DAVENPORT, Ill.--During the late innings of another one-sided Peoria victory, Daric Barton sat perched on the top step of the Quad Cities dugout steps, peering over the rail, focused intently.

He'd already picked up a pair of hits and the game was safely in the hands of the Peoria bullpen, but Barton was still absorbing--observing outfielders' alignment, pitchers' tendencies and anything else that might help him gain an edge.

Thus continues the development of the Cardinals' first-round pick in last year's draft, who is in his first year of full-season ball.

Barton's mature mindset has accelerated his progression and is one of many reasons the organization views him as possibly its best hitting prospect, and one of the best pure hitters currently at low Class A.

Barton joined Peoria in mid-May after working his way back from elbow surgery in January. Less than 12 months removed from high school in Huntington Beach, Calif., Barton hit safely in his first 12 games with the Chiefs and was batting .419-7-22 in 74 at-bats.

"It's the same game; it's just a lot longer season," the modest but confident Barton deadpanned. "You have to be more mentally strong, just try to stay on an even keel. You can't let the ups and downs get to you."

If it sounds like Barton is a seasoned veteran, don't let it surprise you. At 18, he has figured out catch phrases and clichιs as quickly as he has Midwest League pitching, while impressing pretty much everyone he's come across along the way.

"You could tell right away when he stepped into the box, that's a man stepping into the box," Peoria manager Joe Cunningham said. "He has a game plan, a discipline and a demeanor that are way ahead of the average 18-year-old."

Barton's best tool is his bat. Strong and cerebral, he has a smooth swing that generates power to all fields and an advanced approach at the plate.

"Hitting is something I've been strong with my whole life," he said. "I always try to study (the opposing) pitcher and with me hitting fifth (in the order), that gives me four at-bats to study the pitcher--find his release point, figure out what he throws in what counts."

Barton has remarkable patience, as illustrated by his .543 on-base percentage and 19-11 walk-strikeout ratio.

"He sees a lot of offspeed stuff, down and away, curveballs, sliders, changeups in the dirt--and he just spits on that crap," Cunningham said. "It's a rare talent for someone his age."

Barton is not as advanced behind the plate as he is from the left side of it. Before playing 37 games at catcher at Rookie-level Johnson City last summer, Barton estimates he caught only six or seven games per year as a sophomore, junior and senior at Marina High, where he primarily played third base.

Clearly, Barton projects to hit for ample power to play a corner infield position. But the Cardinals, along with many other organizations, liked him as a catcher when they watched him play the position at the Area Code games in 2002 and during private workouts.

"Since I was little, catching was always something I really liked," Barton said. "And in the long run, it's the fastest way to the major leagues, especially with me being lefthanded."

He has caught on quickly, drawing praise from Cunningham as well as Peoria pitchers for his work behind the plate. He moves his feet well, enabling him to block pitches adequately and improve his release on throws to second base. Barton had thrown out five of 10 attempted base stealers with pop times ranging from 2.0 to 2.07.

"What he's done behind the plate since he got here has been impressive," Cunningham said. "He's got a future in the major leagues as a catcher."

DISH PIECES

• The brawls continue. Last night at Double-A Erie, Bowie catcher Octavio Martinez collided with righthander Rick Kirsten at home plate after a rundown and touched off a fight between Martinez and Erie third baseman Jack Hannahan. Martinez was safe and Kirsten, who was charged with an error on the play after he dropped the ball on contact, lost consciousness briefly as he fell to the ground. Hannahan raced across the infield and jumped Martinez. Both bullpens and benches emptied as the two players exchanged multiple blows. Martinez, Hannahan and SeaWolves hitting coach Pete Incaviglia were ejected. "He had plenty of time to slide and I saw him throw an elbow that hit Kirsten in the top of the head," Hannahan told the Erie Times-News. "I confronted him about it and he pushed me, and the rest happened." Suspensions and fines are pending as the Eastern League investigates.

•Double-A Carolina center fielder Eric Reed was placed on the disabled list with a broken wrist and is expected to miss 4-to-12 weeks. Reed is hitting .306-3-14 in 222 at-bats this season. He's swiped 24 bags in 55 games for the Mudcats.

• If Class A Charleston (S.C.) righthanded reliever Chad Orvella isn't on your radar screen, it might be time to break out the Windex. The Devil Rays' 13th rounder in 2003 out of North Carolina State is 0-2, 0.92 in 39 innings for the River Dogs. More impressively, he's struck out 63 and walked just five. Orvella has allowed four earned runs all season--all on solo homers.

• What's up with Triple-A Toledo rightfielder Marcus Thames? Thames is quietly challenging Omaha first baseman Calvin Pickering for the minor league lead in home runs, hitting his 20th last night in a 7-5 loss to Richmond. (Pickering belted his 21st last night against Colorado Springs.) Thames has hit five already in June and is hitting .320-20-50 in 206 at-bats. A 30th-round pick of the Yankees in 1996, Thames is well on his way to topping his minor league career mark in homers when he hit 31 at Double-A Norwich in 2001.

• Double-A Portland righthander Charlie Zink is still struggling to get his knuckleball to knuckle. Lacking command, Zink has walked 51 in 65 innings. Last night, the Red Sox' No. 17 prospect walked eight and allowed eight earned runs in just 4 2/3 innings, falling to 1-6, 5.40 overall.

• Double-A Huntsville duo Rickie Weeks and Prince Fielder combined to go 6-for-9 with a pair of RBIs and Fielder hit his 12th homer of the season off Birmingham lefthander Ryan Meaux as the Stars downed the Barons, 4-3. It was Fielder's second homer in his last 45 at-bats after not hitting one in his previous 75 at-bats.

• Class A Cedar Rapids righthander Kevin Jepsen tossed a one-hitter against South Bend, striking out six and walking two. Jepsen, the Angels' second round pick in 2002 out of Bishop Manogue High in Sparks, Nev., allowed a leadoff single by DH Mike Goss in the first inning, but settled down to pick up his fifth win of the year. Overall, Jepsen is 5-2, 2.35 with 65 strikeouts in 69 innings.

Contributing: Chris Kline.


By Chris Kline
June 8, 2004

Due to the sheer volume of work we are doing with the draft, we bring an abbreviated Daily Dish. With the draft winding down later today, get ready for the short-season stuff, which begins about 10 days from now . . .

DISH PIECES

• Brewers righthander Ben Hendrickson's stint with the big league club might have been short-lived, making just one start. He got the loss against the Dodgers in which he gave up four runs in five innings on June 2. But he is back and dealing at Triple-A Indianapolis. Monday night, Hendrickson threw 7 1/3 scoreless innings, striking out six. Hendrickson is 4-2, 2.59 with 47 strikeouts and 16 walks in 59 innings for the Indians this season.

• Twins first baseman Justin Morneau is also back in the International League after playing seven games with Minnesota. He continues to do exactly the same thing--hit like crazy. Last night, Morneau went 2-for-5 with two homers and six RBIs in Rochester's 13-3 win over Columbus. He is hitting .335-12-37 in 170 at-bats for the Red Wings.

• Triple-A Colorado Springs catcher J.D. Closser is making a case to join the big league club, hitting .338-1-29 in 148 at-bats and batting in the No. 2 hole. Considered the lesser prospect in the January 2002 deal that sent Mike Meyers to Arizona, Closser projects as the Rockies' starting catcher next season, if not before. A switch-hitter with power from both sides, Closser's defensive strengths have been his agility and ability to call a game. He has an erratic though strong arm.

• Triple-A Memphis left fielder John Gall is quietly having another strong season in his second year at the same level. Last year, Gall hit .312-16-73 in 461 at-bats for the Redbirds. And this year, he's putting up better power numbers compared to 2003, hitting .308-15-43 in 208 at-bats. His .567 slugging percentage is up from .473 a year ago.

• Double-A New Britain righthander Boof Bonser struck out 10 in 6 1/3 innings last night in a 4-2 win over New Hampshire. Bonser, who was part of the package that sent A.J. Pierzynski to the Giants, should see time at Triple-A Rochester sometime after the all-star break. This year, Bonser is 3-5, 4.48 in 66 innings, but has won his last two starts--both against the Fisher Cats.

• Double-A Reading first baseman Ryan Howard belted two home runs in an 8-0 win over Akron--with both homers coming off Aeros righthander Jeremy Guthrie. Howard, now hitting .260-17-45 overall and leading the Eastern League in home runs, has the ultimate laid-back demeanor for a 6-foot-3, 230-pound guy. "I'm just having fun out there all the time," Howard said. "There's no reason to let things get you down, take thing too serious or stuff like that." Howard, whose name has been mentioned in several trade rumors last season, is likely to be in rumors again this year to fill a need for the big league club as they make their stretch run, takes everything in stride. "I mean, I'm really fortunate to be where I am, so I can't worry about any of that stuff," Howard said. "I'm just taking everything one day, one game at a time."

• Angels righthander Ervin Santana is dealing at Double-A Arkansas. Santana is now 2-0, 2.45 with 31 strikeouts in 26 innings for the Travelers. Santana's stuff is electrifying, featuring a fastball that regularly hits the upper 90s and sitting at 93-97 mph. He also throws a nasty slider for strikes anywhere from 78-87 and also has a good feel for a changeup.

• Rockies lefthander Jeff Francis is making a statement at Double-A Tulsa to perhaps become our first Canadian Minor League Player of the Year. Francis won again last night and is now 9-0, 2.02 with 101 strikeouts in 80 innings.

• Marlins outfielder and No. 1 prospect Jeremy Hermida returned from the DL last night and went 2-for-4 with a double. He missed nearly a month with a strained hamstring and is now hitting .327-2-17 in 113 at-bats at high Class A Jupiter.

• Class A Burlington third baseman Mitch Maier is making a push to join high Class A Wilmington after the all-star break. Maier, a first-rounder in 2003 out of Toledo, is hitting .299-3-25 in 211 at-bats for the Bees.


By Chris Kline
June 4, 2004

WINSTON SALEM, N.C.--Zach Duke finishes his warmup tosses, takes off his hat, runs a hand through his hair and takes a deep breath. He stares at the black batter's eye in center field at Ernie Shore Field as the first batter is announced. The hat comes down, pulled over his eyes as he turns and faces home plate, his glove pulled close to his chest.

This is no regular 21-year-old out there on the mound.

This is serious.

Duke went six strong innings last night for high Class A Lynchburg, working his fastball between 91-93 mph, touching 94 and mixing in a plus curveball and changeup to earn his seventh victory of the season.

Duke, a 20th-round pick out of Midway High in Clinton, Texas, might not have dazzling stuff, but his poise and command make up for the lack of power.

"He's a command guy," Lynchburg pitching coach Scott Lovekamp said. "He doesn't have super stuff or anything, but I think you'd say solid average stuff across the board. He's got a really good delivery and his fastball plays faster than it appears. He can command both sides of the plate and he creates a good angle on his pitches, coming from a three-quarters slot like Andy Pettitte. When he comes inside on righties they often jump out of the way."

Duke showed three quality pitches last night, but didn't mix in his change until the second inning--and then only because he got into a bit of trouble.

After first baseman Casey Rogowski doubled to center, DH Brian Becker stood in from the right side. Duke started him off with a pair of 72 mph curveballs, both called for strikes. He then came back with a pair of fastballs and then got Becker swinging a change that dropped down into the dirt.

"(The changeup has) been hit or miss for him this year, and it's something we had in his player plan coming in," Lovekamp said. "He didn't really use it much last year. Early in the year, he used it a lot more than he's been using it lately. When his delivery's on, his changeup's good, but when he starts lunging a little bit, that's when it's not nearly as effective. But he's got a feel for it and it's not something we're particularly worried about."

Scouts rate Duke's curveball, a slow, sharp breaking bender as his best pitch, but Lovekamp disagrees.

"He can throw the curveball up there for a strike anytime he wants," he said. "It's not a hard curve, but he can spot it, throw it in any count and can bounce it in there when he needs to. But for me, I know his velocity is average, maybe above average for a lefthander, but when he's on and he's hitting his delivery, his fastball has a little more deception on it.

"You can call it that 'perceived' velocity that people talk about with (Mark) Prior or guys that really get (extension) out in front, that it looks a lot faster than it is. His 88, 89, 90 doesn't seem like it, based on a lot of hitter's reactions."

Currently, Duke is 7-2, 1.19 with 68 strikeouts in 61 innings. All three pitches are clicking now and he has the demeanor and the maturity on the mound to boot. While he has thrown between 80-85 pitches in most of his starts this season, he threw 92 last night.

"He's got great poise," said a special assignment scout with an American League organization. "He was never really out of control and has great mechanics. You can tell he's a quick learner. He just looks real comfortable out there and just has that presence you look for."

Duke needs to work on his stamina, however. He broke down at the end of last year, something he hopes to avoid in the future with more strength and conditioning work. His seriousness about his craft is sure to keep him at the top of his game.

" Last season was his first full year and most guys just aren't ready to go out there and make 28 starts," Lovekamp said. "Not only does he have that real quiet, serious personality, but his aptitude is off the charts. He's very quick to make adjustments on the mound within games. He's got everything he needs mentally and emotionally to be successful.

"He's got that same mentality as any kid growing up in Texas admiring the Woods, the Clemens and the Ryans. They were his heroes and those are some pretty good guys to look up to. He's one of the best I've ever had."

DISH PIECES

• Class A Jupiter expects to activate outfielder Jeremy Hermida, who has been on the disabled since May 13 with a sprained hamstring, this weekend. The Marlins' No. 1 prospect was off to a solid start with the Hammerheads, hitting .321-2-17 in 109 at bats. "It was minor, but he was off to such a great start that we didn't want to push him back right away," assistant general manager Dan Jennings said. "We wanted to make sure it was all the way healed so he didn't pop it or tear it again and miss the whole year."

• Indians righthander Jeremy Guthrie continues to be an enigma. Guthrie is now 5-1, 3.64 in 42 innings at Double-A Akron since being reassigned from Triple-A Buffalo. The Triple-A level has been more than Guthrie can handle after struggling there last year and again at the start of this season. In 19 innings with the Bisons, Guthrie went 1-2, 7.91, walking 18. The Tribe says he has made strides this season to correct the problems that have plagued him at the higher level. "The primary thing for Jeremy has been his pitch location and selection," assistant GM Chris Antonetti said. "Plus, he's such a cerebral pitcher that he was trying to out think his way out of situations. We've also worked with him to improve his stride direction, which affected his location." Monday night, Guthrie was still hitting 92-95 with his fastball, so the stuff is obviously still there. Triple-A is the next step--again.

• The Fort Worth Star-Telegram is reporting that Rangers righthander Ricardo Rodriguez will start Saturday after missing nearly six weeks of action due to an emergency appendectomy. Rodriguez last pitched April 13 before having surgery. He is 1-0, 2.77 with 10 strikeouts in 13 innings.

• The Blue Jays tried to take righthander Jesse Harper off their 40-man roster, but the Brewers snatched him up before he cleared waivers. Harper was 3-0, 1.00 with 18 strikeouts in 18 innings for Class A Dunedin this season. Last year, the 23-year-old went 13-4, 2.54 in the Florida State League.

• The Orioles promoted righthander Chris Ray to high Class A Frederick from low Class A Delmarva. A third-round pick out of William & Mary in 2003 went 2-3, 3.42 in 50 innings for the Shorebirds this season.

• Athletics third baseman Mark Teahen earned a promotion to Triple-A Sacramento after he batted .335-6-36 in 197 at-bats for Double-A Midland this season. The first-round pick in 2002 collected a hit in 40 of the 53 games he played for the Rockhounds.

• Two prospects got called up to the big leagues yesterday--catcher Yadier Molina (Cardinals) and righthander Dewon Brazleton (Devil Rays). Molina, one of the minors' best catching prospects, was hitting .310-1-14 in 126 at-bats at Triple-A Memphis. And for Brazleton, the road back to the big leagues has been a little longer than expected. He has been the lone constant in the rotation at Triple-A Durham, as the Bulls have had revolving door on the mound--starting 13 different pitchers in 51 games. Seven Bulls starters--Brazelton, Chad Gaudin, Dicky Gonzalez, Jeremi Gonzalez, Travis Harper, Jorge Sosa and Doug Waechter--have made appearances for the Devil Rays.

Contributing: John Manuel.


By Chris Gigley
June 3, 2004

KANNAPOLIS, N.C.--Many young ballplayers spend time in the minor leagues learning to resist swinging for the fences. White Sox farmhand Thomas Brice, however, is being encouraged.

The 6-foot-5, 220-pound Australian has the build of a power hitter, yet he mustered only a single home run in his first two minor league seasons. That's part of the reason White Sox farm director Dave Wilder returned the outfielder to Class A Kannapolis this season. Brice also saw limited playing time in spring training because of a wrist injury.

So far, Brice has made Wilder look like a genius. After his first two months in Kannapolis, the outfielder ranked eighth in the South Atlantic League in batting at .333 and was hitting for more power with six homers and 26 RBIs.

"Contact has never been a problem for him," said Brandon Moore, who's spending his second season as Brice's hitting coach in Kannapolis. "Now we're working on the mental aspects of the game--how to get good pitches to hit."

Moore said Brice has improved at making adjustments at the plate. He waits on pitches to drive but has good enough reflexes and poise to make solid contact on pitches he's fooled by. In a recent game against Hickory, for instance, the lefthanded hitter shortened his stroke to shoot a 1-2 breaking ball into left field for a single.

That's the kind of hitting Moore and Kannapolis manager Chris Cron were used to seeing from Brice. Cron served as a roving instructor for the White Sox last season.

"With Tom you got contact galore, but not a lot of power," Cron said. "He's got this knack for putting the ball in play, and that's something you can't teach. Through experience, I think he'll start to hit with more power."

Cron said he believes Brice's good reflexes come from playing cricket in Australia. Cricket was integral to the outfielder's baseball career--an Australian baseball coach saw Brice's arm and recruited him as a pitcher--but he said he doubts it's helped his hitting.

"I don't think it has, although people say I drop in a swing that doesn't look quite right once in a while," Brice said.

Even though Brice understood why he was assigned to Kannapolis again, he admitted to being disappointed by it at first. He quickly shook it off, however, as he noticed a prospect-laden outfield above him at Class A Winston-Salem, with 2003 draftees Brian Anderson (first-round pick), Ryan Sweeney (second round) and Ricardo Nanita (14th round, .384 average last year at Rookie-level Great Falls).

"I can't think too much about something I don't have any control over," he said. "Unfortunately for me, the White Sox have a stockpile of good, young outfielders in the system and someone had to be held back."

Yet Brice hasn't treated his second year with the Intimidators as a negative. He attributed part of his success to being familiar with the level of competition in the Sally League. That comfort level has helped him relax.

"Last year, I always put pressure on myself by worrying about who was watching," he said. "I realized it doesn't really matter."

Cron, for one, has appreciated Brice being back in Kannapolis.

"For being a 22-year-old kid, Tom's a true professional already," Cron said. "He hasn't complained about coming back here, he just wanted to play better. In his first two months, he's done that."

DISH PIECES

• Triple-A Portland outfielder Xavier Nady got promoted to San Diego when San Diego placed Brian Buchanan on the disabled list Wednesday. Nady was batting .314-4-16 in 118 at-bats for the Beavers. Nady missed 19 games with a right ankle sprain earlier this season.

• Triple-A Charlotte righthander Felix Diaz is on a roll in the International League. Diaz, who got knocked around in a brief big league promotion last month, has won his last three starts, including a 4-3 decision last night over Richmond. He is 8-0, 2.39 with 50 strikeouts in 59 innings overall.

• Triple-A Nashville righthander John Van Benschoten finally earned his second win of the season last night--despite allowing five earned runs on 10 hits. For the season, the Pirates' No. 1 prospect is 2-6, 4.83 and has given up 65 hits in 63 innings.

• Double-A New Britain righthander Boof Bonser has strung together four quality starts in a row after struggling early this season. Bonser, who came over from the Giants in a package with righthander Joe Nathan and lefthander Francisco Liriano, is 2-1, 2.07 over that span (26 innings).

• Welcome to the next level, Josh Banks. The righthander made his debut with Double-A New Hampshire last night, allowing seven earned runs on five hits and getting pulled after 2/3. It was quite an awakening for Banks, who went 7-1, 1.80 with 60 strikeouts in as many innings at Class A Dunedin before getting called up.

• Double-A Bowie closer Jacobo Sequea is slamming the door in the Eastern League this season. Sequea, whose listed age is 22, earned his 10th save last night and is 2-0, 1.69 with 24 strikeouts in 27 innings. Sequea, who signed with the Reds out of Venezuela in 1997, made 101 starts in the minors until the Orioles moved him to the bullpen last year, when he saved 20 games for Class A Frederick.

• Double-A Birmingham shortstop Mike Morse is quietly having a solid season. More importantly, the power has arrived. Morse already has tied his career-high mark in home runs with 10. At Class A Winston-Salem last season, it took Morse 432 at-bats to reach that number. He is hitting .308-10-31 in 156 at-bats.

• Class A San Jose righthander Matt Cain racked up 14 strikeouts over seven innings in a 7-0 win over Stockton last night. The Giants' No. 2 prospect is now 5-1, 1.72 with 76 strikeouts in 63 innings.

• Class A Beloit catcher Lou Palmisano is knocking on the Brewers' door for a promotion, hitting .309-2-29. Already on the fast track to move through the system because of his athleticism behind the plate and his ability to hit with power to all fields, Palmisano could go the regular route of many top Milwaukee prospects--skip high Class A High Desert and go directly to Double-A Huntsville.

• Class A Kinston improved to 37-15 Wednesday with a 12-5 pasting of Ricardo Aramboles and Potomac, giving the Indians the best record in the minor leagues. First baseman Michael Aubrey homered and drove in three while shortstop Anthony Lunetta had two doubles and four hits to help power the victory. However, injuries to shortstop Ivan Ochoa and DH/first baseman/catcher Ryan Garko could cool them off. Ochoa sprained his left shoulder while trying to make a diving stop on a ball, but is expected to be back next week. Garko did not play in the last four-game series against Potomac with what manager Torey Lovullo described as a "twinge" in his side. "He's a little banged up right now, but it's nothing major," Lovullo said. "He's been out there everyday." Garko is hitting .341-11-41 and leads the Carolina League in slugging (.618) and extra base hits (25) in 170 at-bats. He's been plunked 13 times by opposing pitchers this season, but is far behind former Stanford teammate Carlos Quentin, who leads all of baseball with 22 HBPs for Class A Lancaster. "I don't know what it is," Garko said. "I don't know if pitchers have something against Stanford guys or what."

Contributing: Chris Kline.


By Chris Kline
June 2, 2004

KINSTON, N.C.--Talk about overcoming a scary moment.

Class A Potomac righthander Richie Gardner was in his sophomore season at Santa Rosa Junior College, just coming back from a bout with mononucleosis and running through drills with his Bear Cubs teammates.

Players were scattered on either side of the diamond, working on covering bases with the pitchers getting a feel of where they were supposed to be backing up the play. While running back from behind home plate, Gardner was close to the mound when everything went black.

The catcher threw to third, who then fired across the infield, striking the 6-foot-3, 185-pounder in the side of the head.

"I didn't even see it," Gardner said. "I don't even remember most of that day."

Gardner spent a week in the hospital with a severe concussion--something that took him a long time to recover from and still affects him from time to time even today.

"My parents waited until last spring to tell me that for the longest time, I wasn't right," Gardner said. "Sometimes I still have moments where I just kind of brain fart. The guys were just joking around with me earlier today about it. I'll kind of start to talk and then just forget everything I was saying. They were like, 'Is that what you mean?' So they finally got to see in action what happens when you have a head injury."

Even though Gardner has the occasional memory lapse, he certainly isn't having any brain farts on the mound these days.

Currently dealing in the Carolina League, his numbers are more than solid--5-2, 2.40 with 55 strikeouts in 56 innings. He's dialing up his fastball between 90-93 mph, touching 94, and the pitch features great sink and a late break, tailing away from righthanders. His changeup, arguably the best in the Reds organization, features splitter-like tumble, and his slider is quickly becoming a legit third pitch.

"It's kind of like a slider, but it's more slurvy right now," Gardner said. "Sometimes I'll throw it slower, like in an 0-0 count. And when I want to get guys out without using the fastball, I'll get a little more on it."

For a guy who signed late last year and is starting his first season in high Class A, Gardner has shown great poise and intelligence on the mound. He got a no-decision in his latest start Monday, giving up four hits and two runs in five innings against Kinston.

"I like him a lot," Kinston pitching coach Greg Hibbard said. "You see him make a mistake and the next time he faces a guy, he makes an adjustment. He's got good feel and a great idea of what it takes to get guys out."

He also has a good idea of work ethic. His parents own a construction company in his hometown in Santa Clara, Calif., where he has worked since he was 14. "I did everything there," Gardner said. "I've been hoofing wood and pounding nails and stuff since I was a kid. I worked good solid 10-hour days. I know if I don't work hard, my dad will definitely get on me."

While Gardner has been putting up good numbers so far in his first pro season, he has still yet to face former Arizona teammate and Winston-Salem center fielder Brian Anderson, something he is anxiously anticipating.

"I keep missing him when we play them, but we're really good friends," Gardner said. "We were just talking about that. That guy, he'll never tell you that he's cool or anything. He'll always tell you he's the biggest dork, but he's an awesome friend and it's cool that we're in the same league." Gardner then smiles widely thinking about his first time facing Anderson sometime down the road.

"He swings first pitch a lot, so I'll probably offspeed him," he said. "But I'll challenge him, at least in his first at-bat. I mean, you can't walk him. It's going to be like, 'All right dude, it's me or you. Let's see what we have going on here.'"

DISH PIECES

• Giants lefthander Noah Lowry tossed a complete game shutout last night, as Triple-A Fresno downed Portland 5-0. Right around 100 pitches for the night, the 2001 first-rounder from Pepperdine allowed a single to center fielder Freddy Guzman in the first, and didn't yield a hit again until Guzman reached in the sixth. Lowry allowed five hits in the game and improved to 3-4, 4.33 in 54 innings this season.

• In other positive Giants news, top prospect Merkin Valdez made his season debut last night, pitching 5.1 innings for Class A San Jose. Valdez, who was in extended spring training recovering from a sore shoulder, struck out six and allowed just two hits, including a solo home run by Stockton third baseman Adam Fox.

• Cubs righthander Angel Guzman threw back-to-back solid rehab starts since coming off the DL. Guzman is 2-0, 4.03 with 20 strikeouts in 16 innings. "His velocity is back to where it was when he stopped pitching," farm director Oneri Fleita said. "Right now, he's trying to get his command back." There is no set timetable for when Guzman, coming off shoulder surgery, will be on the move, but look for him to get several more starts to polish up his command at the upper levels before seeing him in Wrigley Field. "We're handling things very conservatively," Fleita said.

• Expos lefthander Mike Hinckley got off to a good start Monday at Double-A Harrisburg, going six strong innings and earning his first win in his debut since arriving from Class A Brevard County.

• Orioles righthander John Maine is proving all too human at Triple-A Ottawa. Maine has lost his last three starts, allowing 11 earned runs on 16 hits in 14 2/3 innings. Maine is now 1-4, 5.74 in 31 innings since he went 4-0, 2.25 in 28 innings at Double-A Bowie.

• Devil Rays lefthander Chris Seddon hasn't missed a beat since landing in Double-A Montgomery. Seddon struck out five in five innings in a 4-2 win over Huntsville last night and is now 3-1, 3.00 in 21 innings. In his lone loss, Seddon allowed only one earned run in six innings against Greenville. "I don't care what uniform I'm wearing--a Biscuit or whatever," Seddon said. "I'm going to go out there, do the same things and have fun with it."

Contributing: Kevin Goldstein, Will Kimmey.


By Joe Domagalski
June 1, 2004

LAKE ELSINORE, Calif.--Tim Stauffer was a two-time All-American at Richmond and the Padres' first-round pick in 2003, yet these days he's better known for something he did off the field.

After the Padres drafted Stauffer with the fourth-overall pick last June, the two parties tentatively agreed to a $2.6 signing bonus. But before he signed, Stauffer had an MRI that revealed a partially torn rotator cuff and frayed labrum in his pitching shoulder.

Some players suggested Stauffer hide the results from the Padres until after he signed, instead of telling them about the injury and having to settle for a much smaller bonus.

Instead, Stauffer decided to disclose his injury and eventually signed for $750,000.

"I try not to think that I'm the guy whose honesty might have cost him $2 million, but instead got him $750,000," Stauffer said. "If you look at it that way, I don't think I did anything special. I just did what I had to do."

Stauffer found out this spring his decision would follow him everywhere he went. Whether it's the local papers or fans on the road, almost everyone who crosses paths with the 22-year-old wants to know about his $2 million decision.

"I never expected all this attention. I thought it would fade out pretty quickly," he said. "I just have to give it some time and maybe it will die down. It's something I have to live with until I give them something else to talk about."

Stauffer's pro debut spoke for itself. In six starts at Class A Lake Elsinore, he allowed seven earned runs with 30 strikeouts and nine walks in 35 innings. He was 2-0, 1.78 before being promoted to Double-A Mobile.

The way Stauffer sees it, the quick promotion signified his career getting on a fast track to San Diego.

"If there was no injury I probably would have started in Double-A," Stauffer said. "I think I'm pretty close to being the pitcher I was before the injury."

He was off to a good start so far in Mobile, going 1-1, 2.33 in four Southern League starts. His secondary numbers were a little worrisome, though: He had 12 strikeouts and eight walks in 27 innings and had allowed 31 hits.

"He needs to stay at this level for awhile and gather himself and get his feet on the ground and let the smoke clear," Mobile pitching coach Gary Lance said. "His head is spinning a little bit. We want him to come to a stop here and take a breath."

DISH PIECES

• White Sox lefthander Ryan Wing has not pitched all season and is contemplating season-ending shoulder surgery. "It's 50-50 whether to have surgery or to just to rehab the rest of the year," farm director Dave Wilder said. "If he pitches at all this season, it's going to be late in the year. And we want to make sure we can do whatever we can to get him back." The Sox are expecting a decision in the next week to two weeks on the prognosis of Wing, who went 9-7, 2.98 last season, leading Class A Winston-Salem to the Carolina League title.

• Righthander Andrew Brown, who came over to the Indians to complete the Milton Bradley deal, hasn't skipped a beat since landing at Double-A Akron. Brown is 1-0, 1.86 with 15 strikeouts in 10 innings for the Aeros. When the Tribe made the deal, it had until June 30 to complete it--with two other arms in the mix--but it didn't take nearly that long. "This is a guy who could be a top of the rotation or back of the bullpen guy for us down the road," general manager Mark Shapiro said. "We've clocked his fastball between 92 and 98 (mph). He's had a plus fastball every time we've seen him. It just depends on how plus. He also has a good curveball and a usable slider. As we went through this, it became very clear that Andrew had separated himself from the other guys. This is a chance to get him over here and indoctrinated into our organization."

• If you give up four runs in your Double-A debut, should it be considered a success? If you're Braves righthander Jose Capellan and you strike out 11 in the process, then the answer is yes. "He's really just locating his breaking ball very well to compliment a plus-plus fastball," farm director Dayton Moore said. "Right now, that's enough to get him by, but he needs to use all his pitches to keep moving and remain successful." The Braves turned off radar guns during many of Capellan's starts at Class A Myrtle Beach this year, trying to get him to focus more on pitching than simply the velocity of his fastball. Capellan's third pitch, a changeup, remains something of a work in progress, though he is working it into game situations. "He needs to get more consistent with it," Moore said. "We know that and he knows that, but up to this point, we're very pleased with what he's done."

• Speaking of the Braves, third baseman Andy Marte is heating up with the weather at Double-A Greenville. Hitting .271-11-29 in 166 at-bats, Marte also has 19 RBIs in his last 18 games. Seems like he's after Chattanooga third baseman Edwin Encarnacion, who is batting .311. The two are good friends and Marte rebounded from a sprained ankle early this season--trying to slide around Encarnacion at third base.

• Keeping things hot, Double-A Jacksonville first baseman James Loney is on a tear. Loney is hitting .448 over his last six games. He missed nearly three weeks at the end of April with a broken finger that became infected and required minor surgery.

Contributing: Chris Kline, Alan Matthews, Jim Ingraham.

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