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Compiled By John Manuel
In Double-A Reading first baseman Ryan Howard, the Phillies have one of the minor leagues' hottest hitters.
Now righthander Alfredo Simon is emerging as one of the minors' hottest pitchers, plowing his way through the Florida State League.
Ranked the Phillies' No. 6 prospect coming into the season, Simon took half a season to adjust to high Class A, but he clearly has found a comfort level. While his streak of consecutive shutouts ended at two, he pitched his FSL-leading fourth complete game of the season last night against Fort Myers, winning 5-2 on a seven-hitter.
"Really, for him it's all about location," Clearwater pitching coach Steve Schrenk said. "He averages 93-94 mph with his fastball; he'll throw it anywhere from 90-95, and now he's locating it better and getting ahead of hitters. He's really gotten better at pitching to both sides of the plate.
"When he was getting behind, he was just throwing the ball right down the middle, and no matter how hard he threw it, guys were catching up. Then the other day he threw just 82 pitches in his (second consecutive) complete game, and he threw about 85 percent fastballs."
Simon improved to 7-9, 3.27 on the season with his third straight complete game and fifth win in his last six decisions. He's allowed just 121 hits in 135 innings while walking 38 and striking out 107.
Simon has grown from a listed 6-foot-4, 215 pounds to about 6-foot-5, 240, according to Schrenk, and maintains his velocity deep into his starts. In his back-to-back shutouts, the last pitch he threw in each game registered 93 mph.
While Simon throws hard, he doesn't have the strikeouts you like to see from a power pitcher. Schrenk said he expects Simon to strike out more hitters as he harnesses the command of his lively fastball and improves his slider and changeup, which are still in the formative stages.
"His other pitches are coming along," Schrenk said. "His slider is doing better. We've got him throwing it a little harder. His fastball is not straight; it moves and sinks, it has some life.
"He's starting to dominate this league; the last (four) starts, he's been really good. Maybe if you see one more good start--a stretch of two or three consistent weeks--he could be ready (for a promotion)."
He also could get ready for a move. With the trade deadline just about here and the Phillies stuck four games behind the Braves in the loss column, Simon could be part of a trade proposal. Schrenk, who reached the big leagues himself and is in his first year as a minor league coach, said other organizations have scouted Simon's recent starts heavily.
Expos lefthander Michael Hinckley has struggled since returning from an ankle sprain that caused him to miss a couple of weeks at Double-A Harrisburg. Hinckley pitched three shutout innings in his first start back on July 18, but has given up nine runs (seven earned) and 12 hits in his last nine innings, taking his first Double-A loss last night against Reading. The Phillies' Gavin Floyd fell just short of a complete game in Reading's 7-2 victory, giving up eight hits and four walks but also just two runs in going 8 2/3 innings. Floyd, who struck out two and hit two batters, improved to 6-6, 2.57. Following the game, Floyd was promoted to Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre.
If the Giants are going to call righthander Merkin Valdez to the big leagues soon, it will be as a reliever. The organization moved the hard-throwing righty into the bullpen at Double-A Norwich, and Valdez got his first save in a 5-2 win against Trenton, pitching a perfect inning and striking out one. Canadian righthander Chris Begg, in his last start before the Olympics, went six solid innings to improve to 7-1, 2.54 at Norwich. Navigators outfielder Dan Ortmeier homered twice and drove in six runs in the doubleheader, his first homers in July and just his third since a May shoulder injury that has bothered him all year. He's hitting .237-7-42.
Blue Jays righthander Francisco Rosario had another encouraging step in his return from Tommy John surgery. Rosario, whose season has gone in fits and starts as he battles lingering soreness in his arm, threw two scoreless innings last night and has thrown six scoreless frames in the last week for Double-A New Hampshire.
Diamondbacks righthander Matt Henrie got his first win since his promotion to Triple-A, tossing six innings in relief and giving up one run in Tucson's 3-1 win at Iowa. Rehabbing Oscar Villearreal went three scoreless frames to start the game before Henrie, who went 9-4, 5.28 at Double-A El Paso, entered the game. Henrie has a fringy fastball, but El Paso manager Scott Coolbaugh said his curveball is good enough to profile Henrie as a solid middle reliever, and several Texas League managers agreed. "His fastball has some sink, and he'll get some double plays," Coolbaugh said. "But his curve, it's good enough to be a strikeout pitch. It's a good, sharp curve and he commands it well."
Righthander Steve Kelly won his third straight start at Double-A Chattanooga, improving to 9-5, 3.02 in a 12-1 victory against Jacksonville. Kelly, a fourth-round pick in 2001 out of Georgia Tech, posted a 1.95 ERA in 37 innings in July. Third baseman Edwin Encarnacion homered twice and doubled in while driving in four.
Right fielder Jon Zeringue, the Diamondbacks' second-round pick in June out of Louisiana State, continues his strong debut with high Class A Lancaster. He had three hits to give him four straight multi-hit games in the JetHawks' 7-5 loss to Lake Elsinore. Zeringue is hitting .367-1-14 since joining Lancaster on July 6, with a .520 slugging percentage.
Lefthander Glen Perkins, the Twins' first-round pick out of Minnesota, took his first pro loss with low Class Quad Cities, though he allowed just two runs in six innings while striking out seven. The Swing lost 2-1 at Burlington. Another first-rounder in the Midwest League, Cardinals righthander Chris Lambert, tossed 4 1/3 scoreless innings for Peoria at West Michigan. Lambert has yet to allow an earned run in nine pro innings (three runs overall) and has nine strikeouts.
Padres lefthander Sean Thompson had one of his best starts of the season, striking out 10 in eight innings at low Class A Dayton. Thompson gave up two hits and one run while striking out 10, lowering his ERA to 2.54. Thompson, a fifth-round pick in 2002 from Thunder Ridge High in Denver, also has 113 strikeouts in 110 innings, and opponents have hit just .215 against him.
Compiled By Chris Kline
Shin-Soo Choo doesn't get to go to the Olympics. His home country, South Korea, didn't qualify for the 2004 Games, losing out last year to Japan and Taiwan when it came to earning one of the two qualifying spots for Asia.
That leaves Choo to play a full season in the Texas League, and with the Mariners enduring their worst season in more than a decade, it could lead to Choo's first taste of the major leagues in September.
He seems poised to join a parade of Mariners farmhands, from pitchers Travis Blackley and Clint Nageotte to infielders Bucky Jacobsen and Justin Leone, who have made their big league debuts in 2004. The last-place Mariners are giving as many prospects as they can a look.
"It's been interesting on that standpoint," Double-A San Antonio manager Dave Brundage said. "One part of you can't wait to see how guys you helped develop do when they get to the major leagues. But our organization as a whole is set up to try to win the World Series. Hopefully, down the road, this helps us reach that goal."
Choo could be next come September. He earned another Futures Game appearance this season and has been steady throughout for Brundage and the Missions, batting .308-10-62 with a solid 41 walks and 76 strikeouts in 386 at-bats. Choo also won the Best Outfield Arm category in BA's Best Tools survey, which will appear in the next issue of the magazine, in voting by Texas League managers. However, managers were more impressed by his all-around game than by his arm.
"He does a lot of things well," El Paso manager Scott Coolbaugh said. "He always seems to be in the middle of something good for them. He's a pretty complete player. He can really be a tough out; he battles pitchers up there. He plays defense really well and has the best arm that I've seen in the league; it's tremendously accurate."
Choo, 22, said at the Futures Game that he wanted to put his speed to better use. "I'm going to try to work more on stealing bases," he said in excellent English, considering he has only been in the country four years since signing with the Mariners in 2000. "In the first half, I was a little scared to get caught. I need to be more aggressive on the bases. I need to be more aggressive with everything in the second half."
Choo has been more aggressive and is just 5-for-8 on steals since the Futures Game. Brundage, however, seconded Choo's decision.
"He's still learning how to run the bases and getting a feel for how to steal," Brundage said. "It was a weakness for him before; now I'd say his baserunning is a strength.
"It's a good thing for him to be more aggressive; we have encouraged that. He still has a lot to learn about the game."
Choo's aggressiveness at the plate has not led to a reckless loss of plate discipline, either. His 13 walks in July are a season high, and his average for the month (.354), buoyed by 12 multi-hit games, is also his best of the year.
In other words, Choo is getting better. And he better get better, because that next step to Seattle won't be easy.
"He's still learning, and he's still young, so he'll make mistakes," Brundage said. "But he learns; he has great aptitude and wants to learn, and he has done that this year."
Contrary to published reports (including one in this space yesterday), righthander Chin-Hui Tsao may not be done for the year. Rockies farm director Bill Geivett reports that Tsao threw a long toss session Wednesday and reported no problems. Not only is the door open for a possible return this year for Tsao, but he could pitch in the Olympics for his native Taiwan. Tsao is battling shoulder soreness related to problems with his labrum.
Double-A Reading first baseman Ryan Howard hit his 37th home run of the season last night and also passed the century mark with 102 RBIs in 100 games. Some have questioned why the Phillies have kept Howard in Double-A all season, however, particularly with the power numbers and the fact that he's 24. "The only reason I see them keeping him there for as long as they have is to increase his trade value," a scout with an American League organization said. "You don't keep a guy at his age with the power numbers he's put up in Double-A this long. How challenged could he be?" Phillies general manager Ed Wade is on record saying he wouldn't deal the organization's top two pitchers, Cole Hamels and Gavin Floyd, leaving Howard as the obvious prospect to come up as the trade deadline approaches. The Pirates have already reportedly turned down a deal involving a package that included Howard for righthander Kris Benson.
Triple-A Edmonton righthander Jon Rauch earned his first win since coming over to Montreal from the White Sox. Rauch allowed two earned runs on five hits in seven innings, and struck out five in a 5-2 win at Memphis. Shortstop Maicer Izturis went 2-for-3 with two walks in the victory, continuing his tear; over his last 30 games, Izturis has hit .440. The younger brother of Dodgers shortstop Cesar also has drawn 41 walks and struck out just 19 times this season.
Indians righthander Jake Dittler continues to struggle to find a groove this season. Dittler went five innings and allowed five runs on eight hits. He walked two and struck out five. He missed nearly a month due to upper back stiffness, and is 3-7, 3.95 in 73 innings this season at Double-A Akron.
Double-A Bowie first baseman Walter Young continues to put up big power numbers, even though his average has hovered around .250 for most of the season. Young hit his 24th homer to back righthander Dave Crouthers, who got the win as Bowie defeated Erie, 14-7. Crouthers, 7-5, 4.93 overall with 104 strikeouts in 102 innings, allowed three earned runs and struck out five in five innings.
Dodgers righthander Chad Billingsley is flourishing at Double-A Jacksonville. L.A.'s first-round pick in 2003 out of Defiance (Ohio) High has won both of his starts since being promoted from Class A Vero Beach, where he went 7-4, 2.35 in 92 innings. Billingsley is a power pitcher who can run his fastball up to 97 mph, sitting in the 90-94 range. He also features both a late-breaking mid-80s slider and a hammer curveball. For the Suns, Billingsley is 2-0, 1.64 with 13 strikeouts in 11 innings. He went five innings in his second start--a 4-2 win against Chattanooga--allowing two earned runs on four hits and struck out seven, besting Lookouts righthander Richie Gardner in the process.
Double-A West Tenn lefthander Renyel Pinto struck out 11 Huntsville hitters last night--including second baseman Rickie Weeks three times and first baseman Prince Fielder twice--in a 6-0 Diamond Jaxx win. Pinto, a native of Venezuela, allowed only one hit over seven innings. He leads the Southern League in strikeouts with 136.
The obvious pitching matchup of the night was in the Texas League, where two fireballers took the hill between San Antonio and Round Rock. Missions righthander Felix Hernandez got the better of Round Rock righthander Ezequiel Astacio, as San Antonio won 8-3, tagging Astacio for five earned runs in six innings. Astacio nonetheless struck out 11, bringing his season total to 142, second in the league behind Jeff Francis, who's now in Triple-A. Hernandez went six innings, allowed one run on four hits and struck out five.
Blue Jays righthander Ismael Ramirez is 4-0, 1.03 over his last four starts, including an eight-inning, three-hit, 10-strikeouts performance last night in a 13-0 win against Vero Beach. Ramirez improved to 10-5, 3.02 overall having won six straight decisions. "He goes out there and challenges hitters," Dunedin manager Omar Malave said. "He's got three quality pitches in his fastball, slider and changeup, but throws his four-seamer most of the time. When his slider is working, it can be a real put-away pitch for him."
Expos righthander Clint Everts made his high Class A debut for Brevard County and took the loss against Palm Beach. Everts allowed two runs on four hits and struck out five in five innings.
Righthander Yusmeiro Petit tossed a seven-inning complete-game shutout in high Class A St. Lucie's 2-0 win at Lakeland, striking out 10 and giving up just three hits. Including his stint at low Class A Capital City, Petit improved to 11-4, 2.11 for the season with 34 walks and 152 strikeouts in 107 innings.
Contributing: John Manuel.
Compiled By Chris Kline
When the Pirates drafted Rajai Davis in the 38th round of the 2001 draft, they wouldn't have been disappointed if he took a little while to adjust to pro ball.
Davis was a toolsy outfielder with good speed, but it was thought that he would have some work to do at the plate. Davis was a switch-hitter at Avery Point Junior College in Connecticut, but the Pirates scrapped his lefthanded swing, looking to let him develop his natural righthanded swing.
"He had very raw tools," Pirates farm director Brian Graham said. "He was a kid that could run, but very raw."
Since scrapping switch-hitting, Davis has shown a more polished approach at the plate than expected. He's hit at each of his three minor league stops, bringing a .320 career average into the season.
This year, he's doing it again. A recent 1-for-16 slump has dropped his average to a still-robust .306-2-28 with a Carolina League-leading 37 steals (in 45 attempts) and 114 hits. He also ranks in the top five in the league in batting, runs scored (62) and triples (5). He's also holding his own as a righthanded hitter against righty pitchers, batting .298 against them with nearly as many walks (30) as strikeouts (35).
"He's definitely doing what we hoped he would do and maybe a little bit more," Graham said. "He's done a great job; we're very pleased for him. He'll get an opportunity to play Double-A next year, if not sooner."
Davis, listed at 5-foot-11, 180 pounds, did much of his damage during a torrid stretch from June 20-July 14. He hit safely in 14 straight games, with nine multi-hit games, two home runs, two triples and two doubles during the stretch. The streak raised his average from .290 to .331.
Davis has shown average defense in center with an average arm that would also allow him to play in either corner outfield spot. At the plate, he's shown the ability to handle the leadoff spot--he took a .396 career on-base percentage into this season and has a .377 on-base percentage this season with 40 walks and 48 strikeouts in 372 at-bats.
On the Olympics watch, the Netherlands' preliminary roster didn't include two of the nation's top young prospects, but Twins lefthander Alexander Smit and Mariners outfielder Wladimir Balentien are both expected to play in Athens for the Dutch team. Twins farm director Jim Rantz said Smit already has left Rookie-level Elizabethton to join the team, while Balentien got the news Wednesday while playing for low Class A Wisconsin, where he's hitting .281-15-46. "I just know I'm happy because it's a great opportunity," the Curacao native told the Post-Crescent in Appleton, Wis. "I've got this chance, so now I have to do my best. I'm very excited."
The Olympics appear to be out of the picture for Rockies righthander Chin-Hui Tsao, who was expected to be Taiwan's ace. Tsao has missed much of the season with shoulder injuries, and the Rockies have now diagnosed his injury as a degenerative labrum. No surgery is planned, according to a report in the Denver Post, but Tsao is unlikely to pitch now for Taiwan due to the injury.
Triple-A Durham right fielder Matt Diaz might have seen his 22-game hit streak come to an end last week, but that doesn't take away from what he's accomplished this season. Last night, Diaz went 3-for-4 and knocked in two--hitting his 37th double of the year. He's hitting .325-16-69 for the year with a .568 slugging percentage, though Diaz has just 19 walks and 72 strikeouts in 375 at-bats.
Triple-A Indianapolis center fielder David Krynzel went 2-for-4 last night in a 6-0 win at Norfolk, raising his average to .296. Krynzel has hit .318 in July since returning from a broken foot. Manager Cecil Cooper rates his leadoff hitter as the best in the International League this season. "What makes him such a good baserunner and a good leadoff guy is the quick burst he has," Cooper said. "I think he's the fastest guy going from first to third. He's an instinctive type of guy that I compare a lot to Grady Sizemore. He does whatever it takes to get on--drag bunts, push bunts . . . and he can hit with power. For me, he's the complete package."
Triple-A Edmonton scored 12 runs on 10 hits in the top of the 12th inning to knock off Memphis, 15-3 yesterday. First baseman Jorge Toca went 5-for-7 with three runs scored; right fielder Val Pascucci was 5-for-8 with six RBIs, and second baseman Rick Short went 6-for-8 with three RBIs. Memphis reliever Evan Rust bore the brunt of the Trappers' offensive explosion, lasting just 1/3 of an inning as Edmonton scored 10 runs on six hits. "We just decided to wake up and start hitting," outfielder Ryan Church said. "I don't mean to sound clichι or anything, but it really got contagious. Everyone was hitting. It was ridiculous."
Braves right fielder Jeff Francoeur returned to a ballpark last night, although it was mainly just to see some former teammates and talk to fans at Class A Rome. Francoeur is on the disabled list while recovering from a broken cheekbone he sustained after getting hit in the face while squaring around to bunt. "It was really scary," Francoeur told the Rome News-Tribune of the incident. "After I got hit, I looked down at the ground and blood was just pouring down. I thought it was coming from my eye, but it was actually coming from my nose." Along with the broken cheekbone, Francoeur's nose was severely swollen, and the orbital bone beneath his right eye was broken in six different places. The surgery lasted four hours as doctors inserted a metal plate to rebuild the cheekbone. Initially, the Braves thought Francoeur would miss the remainder of the season and could possibly play this fall in the Arizona Fall League, but that timetable has since changed. He is now slated to begin a rehab Aug. 6. "I've been pretty fortunate," Francoeur said. This could have been a lot worse. Now I'm just ready to start playing baseball again."
Marlins righthander Peter Bauer made his Triple-A debut at Albuquerque last night. Bauer allowed one earned run on six hits and struck out four in seven innings--besting Portland righthander Tim Stauffer in the process. Stauffer allowed just two earned runs on six hits in six innings.
In another good pitching matchup, Tacoma righthander Clint Nageotte out-dueled Colorado Springs lefty Jeff Francis, handing Francis just his second loss of the season. Francis allowed one earned run over six innings and struck out nine, while Nageotte allowed just one hit over seven innings. Tacoma went on to win 8-1.
Double-A Arkansas catcher Jeff Mathis hit a game-winning walk-off homer off Frisco righthander Steven Rowe last night to give the Travelers a 4-3 win. Mathis has struggled in July, batting .176 in the month. Mathis, the Angels' No. 2 prospect and the subject of most trade rumors surrounding the Angels, is hitting .248-12-42 in 317 at-bats this season overall.
Triple-A Iowa righthander Sergio Mitre struck out 13 in six innings, but still took the loss against Tucson. Mitre allowed three earned runs--two on homers by center fielder Luis Terrero and catcher Corey Myers.
Third baseman Bronson Sardinha has been on fire since being called up to Double-A Trenton. Sardinha went a combined 7-for-10 with six runs scored in a doubleheader at Norwich yesterday. He has scored 13 runs in his last eight games.
In another double-dip, Class A Charleston's (S.C.) Delmon Young and Wes Bankston were the keys to the RiverDogs swept two games at Rome. Young went a combined 5-for-7 with four RBIs and Bankston was 5-for-8 with five runs driven in.
Short-season Tri-City third baseman Matt Macri has been on a tear in the Pioneer League since signing out of Notre Dame. The Rockies' fifth-round pick went deep twice last night and is hitting .364-6-32 with 12 doubles and four triples in 132 at-bats.
Rookie-level Helena righthander Josh Wahpepah is also off to a solid start since signing. The Brewers' third-round pick out of Cowley County (Kan.) Community College allowed just one hit over six innings yesterday. Wahpepah is 3-0, 2.70 in 30 innings overall.
Contributing: John Manuel.
Compiled By Chris Kline
Even though the Angels have split up the double-play combo of Erick Aybar and Alberto Callaspo this season, the tandem that became known as "Hoover and Oreck," has been doing just fine on their own this season.
Callaspo moved from second base to shortstop and was bumped up ahead of Aybar to Double-A Arkansas. While he has struggled somewhat defensively--committing 21 errors in 84 starts--his bat has been solid. Through 407 at-bats, the 21-year-old Venezuelan is hitting .280-4-35.
"He's still learning his way around (shortstop)," Arkansas manager Ty Boykin said. "He's learning that he can make the play in the hole and go to his left, but the routine play is more of our concern right now. He likes it over there, though."
Aybar, however, has been more impressive.
Currently in the midst of a 19-game hitting streak after going 2-for-5 for Class A Rancho Cucamonga last night, the 20-year-old Dominican is hitting .357-10-45 in 409 at-bats. He leads the league with 41 steals, though he's also been caught a shocking 29 times.
Aybar has been held hitless in just two games since June 10, helping vault him to the California League batting lead. He's added 18 doubles and nine triples, ranking second in the league in that category, for a .518 slugging percentage.
As the numbers show, Aybar has more thump in his bat and drives the ball more consistently. He doesn't show the same type of bat control as Callaspo, however, and tends to be more of a free swinger (21 walks, 46 strikeouts).
"He's a lot of fun to watch, both on offense and defense," Inland Empire manager Daren Brown said. "He's a tough out and also has the ability to make a spectacular play."
The younger brother of Dodgers' prospect Willy Aybar, Erick is flashier than Callaspo with natural shortstop actions, great instincts, quickness and a strong, accurate arm.
He has all the tools to play short, though some scouts are concerned about his 5-foot-11, 160-pound frame and project him as more of a utilityman down the road.
That doesn't seem to faze any managers in the California League this season, though.
"He's got great range and footwork and makes plays that only Ozzie Smith could," Lancaster manager Wally Backman said. "He's made some errors, but most of those are on balls that no one else could get to."
Class A Hickory lefthander Brian Holliday and righthander Chris DeMaria threw a combined no-hitter last night against Charleston (W. Va.). Holliday, a 12th-rounder in 2002 out of Moon Area (Pa.) High, struck out 11 and walked two in 7 1/3 innings, earning his seventh win. DeMaria, a 17th-rounder out of Long Beach State in 2002, struck out two over the final 1 2/3 to complete the no-no.
Triple-A Rochester righthander Jesse Crain threw 2/3 of an inning of mop-up work in a 4-3 loss to Louisville last night--and his velocity sat at its usual 95-96 mph. Crain has racked up 19 saves in the International League this season, but he has more than just his heater. "He's very aggressive and comes right after you with that velocity," Buffalo manager Marty Brown said. "But it's not only the velocity you have to be concerned with, because he's got a great secondary pitch in his slider that keeps you guessing all the time." Crain is 3-2, 2.54 with 63 strikeouts in 50 innings for the Red Wings this season.
Bossman Junior just keeps going. Last night, Triple-A Durham shortstop B.J. Upton went 3-for-5 with four RBIs in a 12-5 win over Charlotte. And everyone in the IL knows what kind of talent he has. "What's not to like? He has everything as far as tools go," Indianapolis manager Cecil Cooper said. "He knows the game beyond his years, and you can see that big league mentality in the way he carries himself, the way he goes about his business. A lot of people question the defense, but they're young mistakes. He's not scared to take a chance and that says a lot about him. If anything, they're aggressive errors." Upton has committed 25 errors in 64 games with the Bulls this season.
Fireballing righthander Jose Capellan didn't miss a beat in his Triple-A debut last night in Richmond. The Dominican native allowed a run on eight hits and struck out four in a 5-1 win against Columbus. Yankees righthander Chien-Ming Wang also made his Triple-A debut, allowing five earned runs on eight hits in six innings.
Triple-A Portland center fielder Freddy Guzman went 4-for-6 with his 33rd stolen base of the season in a 16-11 win against Salt Lake. The Beavers teed off on Salt Lake pitching, amassing a 24-hit attack. The speedster formerly known as Pedro de los Santos is hitting .310-1-17 in 210 at-bats since being called up from Double-A Mobile.
The Rangers made wholesale pitching promotions in the organization this weekend. Righthanders Thomas Diamond and Eric Hurley, the Rangers' two first-round picks in 2004, were promoted, with Diamond heading to low Class A Clinton and Hurley taking his place at short-season Spokane. Diamond struck out four in four scoreless innings in his last Spokane start, while Hurley pitched three scoreless the same day (Friday) in the AZL. Righty Travis Hughes, the latest pitcher to be the closer at Double-A Frisco, moved up to Triple-A Oklahoma, joined by righthanded starters Kameron Loe and Chris Young. To fill the void at Frisco, the Rangers moved up lefty Ben Kozlowski and righty Josh Rupe from high Class A Stockton.
The Expos gave righthander Clint Everts an in-season promotion at just about the same time as last year, moving the 19-year-old up to high Class A Brevard County. Expos first-round pick out of William & Mary, lefthander Bill Bray will begin his pro career with the Manatees. In other Expos moves, second-round pick Erick San Pedro was moved from the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League to low Class A Savannah. The catcher out of Miami went 1-for-2 in his debut with the Sand Gnats.
While low Class A Augusta left fielder Brandon Moss has emerged as one of the hottest hitters in the Red Sox' system, another corner outfielder is having a comparable season at high Class A Sarasota. Matt Murton has quietly put up good numbers and has been more than solid defensively. The supplemental first-rounder out of Georgia Tech went 3-for-4 in a 2-1 win over Jupiter last night and is hitting .310-11-54 overall.
Class A Daytona lefthander Jon Connolly threw a nine-inning two-hitter last night in a 4-0 win over Tampa. Connolly, who came over from the Tigers for lefthander Felix Sanchez this spring, struck out 11 and did not allow a walk. While he is 8-2, 2.43 since landing with the Cubs, skeptics wonder how he'll be able to compete at the higher levels. Connolly's fastball sits between 83-88 mph, and he relies on a plus-plus changeup and excellent command.
Dodgers righthander Jonathan Broxton struck out six in 6 1/3 scoreless innings in a 4-0 win over Dunedin last night. Known as "The Bull," Broxton brings 97 mph heat and a sharp, breaking slider to the mound, though his fastball usually sits in the 90-94 range. He is 8-5, 3.16 with 122 strikeouts in 105 innings overall.
Class A Kane County lefty Steven Bondurant picked up his 14th win of the season last night with a 7-0 shutout over Fort Wayne. Bondurant, a 15th-round pick out of South Carolina last season, allowed just one hit and struck out seven in seven innings.
At first glance, Class A Hagerstown first baseman Travis Ishikawa's numbers don't look like anything special--.246-11-42 in 284 at-bats. But after getting off to a slow start--he hit just .192 in April and .207 in May--the Giants' 21st-rounder in 2002 out of Federal Way (Wash.) High has put it together in July, hitting .300-3-15 in 90 at-bats.
Talk about an interesting character. When the Indians drafted Matt Knox in the 13th round in 2001 out of Millersville (Pa.), he was selected as a power-hitting first baseman. But Knox hit just .247 in 927 minor league career at-bats. A fierce competitor, he once crumpled up and ate a box score after he went 0-for-8 in a game against Lynchburg. He was sent to the mound one night last season to mop up an ugly loss, and struck out two. This year, Knox has been reborn as a closer at short-season Mahoning Valley, and the results have been solid. Through 13 appearances, he is 2-2, 2.79 with 30 strikeouts in 19 innings.
With all the off-field drama behind him, Padres No. 1 pick Matt Bush can finally concentrate on the game. Bush went 2-for-4 with a pair of RBIs in the Rookie-level Arizona League last night and is hitting .235 in his first 17 pro at-bats.
Double-A Greenville third baseman Andy Marte has been on a tear, hitting four homers in his last six games. Marte, the Braves' No. 1 prospect, is hitting .286-16-42 in 286 at-bats.
Orioles' eighth-round pick David Haehnel picked up his eighth save of the season last night at short-season Aberdeen. The Illinois-Chicago product has been stellar this season, allowing just two earned runs and striking out 28 in 18 innings.
Athletics second-round pick Kurt Suzuki hit his first homer as a pro last night at short-season Vancouver. The Cal State Fullerton product is off to a red-hot start, hitting .361 in his first 36 at-bats.
Rockies' second-rounder Seth Smith was deep twice last night for Rookie-level Casper. Smith, an outfielder out of Mississippi, is hitting .336-3-27 in 128 at-bats.
The Royals first-round pick Billy Butler went 4-for-4 with two runs scored at Rookie-level Idaho Falls. The 14th selection overall out of Wolfson High in Jacksonville , Fla., is hitting .362 in 130 at-bats.
Contributing: John Manuel, Allan Simpson.
Compiled By Chris Kline
For Brad Sullivan, the 2004 season is starting to turn into a success, no matter what the numbers say.
Sunday night, the numbers were some of the best the Athletics righthander has put up for high Class A Modesto. Sullivan went seven innings, giving up just two runs while striking out five and walking one. He allowed six hits in a game the A's won 3-2 in 13 innings.
The other numbers that matter to Sullivan were on the radar gun. The pitchers charting the game for Modesto informed him that his fastball, which he threw in the low 90s in college at Houston, was back into the 88-90 mph range last night.
Moreover, the power slider that helped Sullivan lead the nation in strikeouts as a sophomore, when he was a first-team All-American, was back in the 80 mph range.
The improved velocity, solid performance and team win had Sullivan so excited, he was up nearly at dawn Monday, ready to work toward his next start.
"It was my best game all year," Sullivan said Monday morning. "I am finally getting a grip on what the organization wants me to do with my mechanics. I am starting to feel good about things."
It hasn't been easy for Sullivan to feel good about either the process of rebuilding his mechanics or the results of his first full pro season. The A's were concerned about his delivery precluding fastball command and possibly leading to a future injury, and began working last year in instructional league to change the way Sullivan throws.
"I was flying open a lot, jumping off the mound, landing with a stiff front leg, using all arm," Sullivan said. "I have worked hard to fix the problems in my mechanics. I know my ERA is high, but I consider this a good season regardless."
The 2003 first-round pick (drafted 25th overall) expects the improved mechanics and confidence to repair his overall 5-8, 4.73 record over the season's final month. Sullivan has had some highs, such as a three-start stretch in May when he went 3-0, 2.33, and eight shutout innings against High Desert on June 3.
But he's also had lows as he's struggled with his slider and his new delivery. He's allowed 125 hits in 105 innings (opponents are hitting .297 against him), and his strikeout rate has suffered; he's fanned 71 while walking 35.
The strikeouts have dipped in part because the A's want Sullivan to rely less on his slider and curveball, which were both above-average pitches for him in college. He gradually has increased the number of sliders he throws per game, getting back into double digits now.
In the interim, Sullivan has worked to use his two-seam fastball more and has gained enough confidence in his changeup to use it to attack lefthanded hitters.
"The focus has been on commanding my fastball and working on my changeup," Sullivan said. "I had my slider at the beginning of the year. I lost it in the process of learning the new stuff they wanted me to work on, and I'm finally putting all together now.
"This is the hardest I have worked at accomplishing something. I still have some things to work on, but I think I am finally over the hump."
Triple-A Salt Lake first baseman Casey Kotchman is banged up again. Kotchman made it back to the Stingers' lineup Friday after missing 19 games with a right wrist sprain, but left the game in the 11th inning with a shoulder injury when he dove for a ground ball. He is listed as day-to-day.
Braves righthander Jose Capellan will make his first start at Triple-A Richmond tonight after being promoted from Double-A Greenville over the weekend. Capellan won his last five starts for the G-Braves and is a combined 10-2, 2.22 with 115 strikeouts in 97 innings between Greenville and high Class A Myrtle Beach this season.
He only went eight innings this time, but Padres righthander Justin Germano keeps making a case to rejoin the big league club. Last night, Germano allowed two runs on five hits and struck out four. In his last two starts, Germano tossed back-to-back complete game shutouts. He is 4-4, 3.91 in 74 innings at Triple-A Portland this season.
The crazy game of the night was in Moosic, Penn., as Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre topped Toledo, 19-18. All 18 starters collected a hit and scored a run and both clubs combined for 41 hits. Right fielder Mark Budzinski led the Red Barons, going 4-for-6 with nine RBIs--batting leadoff. First baseman Joe Vitiello went 4-for-6 with six RBIs, including two homers, for the Mud Hens.
The nightmare season continues for Double-A Harrisburg lefthander Luke Lockwood. Last night, Lockwood allowed six earned runs on six hits in just 1 1/3 innings. Lockwood, an eighth-round pick of the Expos in 1999, is 1-15, 5.43 for the Senators this season. His lone win came back on April 19.
Class A Rancho Cucamonga shortstop Erick Aybar has been super-hot lately, collecting his second straight four-hit game last night in a 12-5 loss to Lancaster. Aybar, the Angels' No. 8 prospect, also has an 18-game hit streak during which he has hit .356.
Class A Stockton lefthander John Danks went a career-high seven innings last night, but did not figure into the decision in a 4-3 win over San Jose. Danks allowed one earned run on three hits and struck out seven, lowering his ERA to 5.06.
Indians righthander Adam Miller made his debut at high Class A Kinston yesterday. Miller was on a pitch count of 85 and lasted 4 2/3 innings; he allowed three hits and struck out five. "We're not real sure if we want to get him above 90 (pitches) or not," Kinston pitching coach Greg Hibbard said. "But he was impressive. The thing that stood out to me the most was the way he carried himself and his aggressiveness and mannerisms on the mound. He didn't feel intimidated out there and didn't back down from anybody. There are some mechanical things he needs to work on--he drifts a little too much over the rubber--but when we get that ironed out, I think he'll be more of a true power guy." Miller's fastball sat consistently between 94-96 mph against Potomac yesterday, touching 97.
Texas product and Athletics first-rounder Huston Street earned his first professional save yesterday in an 8-5 win for Class A Kane County. The righthander has allowed one earned run over 3 2/3, striking out eight and walking two.
Class A Delmarva outfielder Nick Markakis is raking his way through the Sally League. The Orioles' first-rounder in 2003 out of Young Harris (Ga.) High went 4-for-6 with three doubles in a 10-5 win over Hagerstown yesterday. He is hitting .358 over his last 45 games.
He might not be moving as quickly as he expected, but Class A Charleston (S.C.) right fielder Delmon Young went deep twice yesterday and has driven in 29 RBIs in his last 25 games. "He has a chance to be a special player, but when I saw him, he seemed fairly average," said an AL scout. "Average bat speed--he was sitting fastball and guys were just blowing it by him all day." Young, the No. 1 pick overall in last year's draft, is hitting .289-16-78 with 85 strikeouts in 367 at-bats for the RiverDogs this season.
Compiled By John Manuel
The Brewers' two top power-hitting prospects haven't fought for the limelight in Double-A Huntsville. Instead, Prince Fielder and Brad Nelson have learned from each other and, as a result, were the only two Stars to appear in the 2004 Southern League all-star game.
"It's always good to have two guys who are run producers on the same team, where they can feed off each other," Brewers farm director Reid Nichols said. "When one guy gets on, the other one can drive him in."
That's happened a lot. Fielder generally hits in the third spot ahead of Nelson. Both were near the top of the Southern League home run and RBIs leaders, and both went deep Thursday night in the Stars' 11-10 win at Mobile. For each lefthanded slugger, it was the 16th home run of the season, and they're tied for fourth in the league in the category.
Nelson, whose three-run shot in the 10th inning proved to be the game-winner, improved to .276-16-59 with his first homer since June 26. Fielder continued to swing a hot bat in July with his seventh multi-hit game of the month, bringing his overall numbers to .270-16-56.
The biggest effect of the two playing together has been Nelson, normally a first baseman, moving to left field . . . though Nelson has one complaint. "He's taken a bunch of my RBIs," he joked.
Turning serious, Nelson added that Fielder helped him learn how pitchers will approach him. The way pitchers attack Fielder is generally how they go at Nelson.
Nelson has had the added benefit of hitting behind a power hitter who sees plenty of pitches in every at-bat. Fielder's sharp batting eye has made opposing pitchers work to get him out. The 6-foot, 260-pound first baseman had a team-leading 45 walks and was leading the Stars in runs scored (54). Fielder's command of the strike zone is also why the Brewers didn't hesitate to jump him from low A Beloit to Double-A this year.
"Prince already had a pretty good eye coming into this season," Huntsville manager Frank Kremblas said. "He probably gets tougher pitches to hit than Brad because pitchers are more mentally fresh when he's up. After a tough at-bat, pitchers tend to relax for Brad."
Nelson has helped pitchers at times, though, with his lack of patience, particularly early in the season (23 strikeouts in his first 68 at-bats). Nelson has struck out a team-high 97 times with just 34 walks.
"Brad wasn't taking the walks he was given when pitchers were throwing around him," Kremblas said. "But since then he's done a lot better at being patient, and his power has come along because of it."
Nelson has helped Fielder, too.
"There's no way pitchers can pitch around me," Fielder said. "Having Brad hitting behind me has helped me get back on track when I'm not hitting."
Nelson has used this season to regain his form prior to a wrist injury that nagged him all of 2003. Both players admitted to having a friendly competition between them, but Nelson said they don't need that to motivate them.
"We've had a little fun," said Nelson. "But I think we've put more pressure on ourselves to put up the numbers we need to put up."
Both players are also at the same stage of development in the field. Nichols said Fielder has improved his footwork around first base, while Nelson has gotten comfortable in left field, where he moved last season in advance to accommodate Fielder.
"Brad has been very good at catching balls, throwing to bases and reading balls off the bat," Nichols said. "It's been a good conversion for him."
Righthander Ezequiel Astacio carried a no-hitter into the seventh inning before Frisco shortstop Ian Kinsler singled up the middle in Round Rock's 3-0 victory. Astacio departed after eight innings, allowing only a walk, a hit batsmen and the single. He held his mid-90s velocity late in the game and registered a career-high 13 strikeouts. "My command was good," Astacio said. "I didn't even care about the no-hitter. I just went out and threw like I normally do." Santiago Ramirez worked a scoreless ninth for his 28th save. San Antonio's 7-0 loss to Arkansas moved Round Rock into a tie atop the Western Division standings.
Frisco second baseman Jason Bourgeois was working through mechanical adjustments in his swing during his first full season at Double-A. The 22-year-old was hitting .251 with 17 extra-base hits in 382 at-bats.
"He came out of Arizona Fall League with a toe tap in his stride and all throughout spring training and early in the season we couldn't get any rhythm or timing out of his swing," Rangers assistant general manager Grady Fuson said. "We've got him going back to where he was before, without the toe tap-type stride, and we've even lengthened his stride to give him a little more leverage in his swing."
Bourgeois batted .329 in a half-season at high Class A Stockton last year--his best offensive output since being drafted in the second round in 2000.
"He's gotten a little greedy," Fuson said. "He hasn't been quite as disciplined as he was a year ago. If Jason became the offensive player that we thought he would be entering the season, there's no reason he can't come to be an everyday player in the big leagues. "When he is right he is a very disciplined hitter that can drive the ball to all fields, when he stays in that mode of taking every at-bat like a leadoff guy."
In the promotions department: Indians righthander Adam Miller jumps to high Class A Kinston from low Class A Lake County, where he went 6-4, 3.56 with 98 strikeouts and just 27 walks in 86 innings.
John Maine continued his climb, and debuts in the big leagues tonight. The Orioles righthander was 8-5, 3.72 in 104 innings between Double-A Bowie and Triple-A Ottawa.
Mets catcher Justin Huber went 2-for-3 with a double and two RBIs in his Triple-A debut with Norfolk. Huber, who began the year in the Florida State League while coming back from a strained chest muscle, hit a combined .267-13-41 with a 51-65 walk-strikeout ratio prior to joining the Tides.
The Reds sent righthander Chris Gruler, the No. 3 overall pick in the 2002 draft, up to low Class A Dayton as he continues his comeback from shoulder surgery. Gruler had a 1.82 ERA in 25 innings in the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League so far this year.
The Cardinals promoted lefthander Carmen Cali to Triple-A Memphis. The 5-foot-10 Cali, 25, was a Southern League all-star for Tennessee, going 1-2, 2.98 with 13 saves. Using a fastball that sat in the mid-90s during the SL all-star game in Chattanooga, Cali had 47 strikeouts and 19 walks in 45 innings and was holding righthanded hitters to a .230 average.
The Cardinals have more good news on the mound, as Jordan Pals continued to handle the FSL. Pals, a soft-tossing 6-foot-8 righthander, didn't get a decision and saw his ERA rise in his start Thursday at Sarasota, but he gave up only one run in six innings. The 23-year-old out of Eastern Illinois is 2-0, 0.75 in 24 innings for Palm Beach after going 5-3, 2.84 at Peoria.
Righthander Cla Meredith and third baseman Chad Spann gave the Red Sox two pieces of good news Thursday. Meredith, the organization's sixth-round draft pick this year out of Virginia Commonwealth, has yet to give up a run as a pro in 13 innings (spanning 12 games). He got his sixth save with two strikeouts and now has 18 whiffs to go with three walks. Spann, returning from left knee surgery, played in his first game since May 19 and went 2-for-3 in the GCL.
A pair of Athletics' first-round picks made their pro debuts for short-season Vancouver. Outfielder Richie Robnett went 1-for-4 while catcher Landon Powell, in the lineup as the DH, went 0-for-4 for the Canadians.
Few minor leaguers are as hot at the plate as short-season Spokane catcher Mike Nickeas. The Rangers' fifth-round pick out of Georgia Tech went 3-for-4 with four RBIs in Spokane's 11-1 win at Boise. Nickeas is hitting .333-6-24 with 10 doubles and has a 1.008 on-base plus slugging percentage.
Nickeas' competition among 2004 draftees includes second baseman J.C. Holt, the Braves' third-round pick out of Louisiana State. Holt extended his hitting streak to eight games Thursday with two singles at Pulaski and is hitting .329-1-12 with 10 doubles, 10 walks and 10 strikeouts. He's made three errors in his return to second base after playing primarily center field for LSU.
Contributing: Chris Kline, Alan Matthews.
Compiled By John Manuel
The amount of talent coming out of the Tidewater area of Virginia has earned a lot of attention lately.
From one of the majors' newest players (Mets third baseman David Wright) to the minors' top prospect (Wright's good friend B.J. Upton) to Team USA's best hitter (Virginia third baseman Ryan Zimmerman), it's been a great summer for players from the Norfolk/Virginia Beach area.
Sometimes, it's hard to remember that Rangers righthander Josh Rupe is part of that group. Rupe spent one year at Liberty before transferring to Louisburg (N.C.) Junior College, where the White Sox saw him and drafted him in the third round. The 6-foot-2, 195-pounder came to the Rangers in last July's Carl Everett trade, part of a bounty that included outfielder Anthony Webster and righthander Franklin Francisco.
It's a trade-deadline deal where the side that got the prospects appears likely to win out. The White Sox have since re-acquired Everett for two more prospects, while Francisco has emerged as a key member of the Rangers bullpen. Webster has missed a month at high Class A Stockton with a nagging groin injury, but he's hitting a solid .267-7-39 with 17 steals in 20 attempts.
Rupe, however, might have the highest ceiling of the trio. He missed nearly two months with a forearm strain, but he's come back strong and is emerging as the ace of a revamped Stockton rotation.
While the Ports use the tandem starter system, Rupe has sizzled in his four appearances since earning a promotion from short-season Spokane, where he was on a rehab assignment. His worst outing came last night, when he gave up three runs (two earned) on three hits and one walk in five innings. He struck out six and got the victory.
He's pitched 18 innings so far, giving up just 12 hits and four walks while striking out 14 to go 2-0, 1.47. Stockton pitching coach Andy Hawkins says he's not far from being ready to contribute in Texas.
"He's got an average major league arm and four major league average pitches," Hawkins said. "He's throwing the heck out of the ball right now. The way he goes about getting hitters out is what's most impressive about him. He's not giving in to any hitter.
"You can't sit fastball in fastball counts. He's not afraid to go offspeed and pitch you backwards, and he's got quality breaking stuff to do it."
Hawkins said Rupe's fastball is sitting in the low 90s and has good life down in the zone. He's also throwing a good downer curveball and an effective changeup, but his hard slider might be his best pitch.
"It's probably more of a cutter; it's got true cut fastball action," Hawkins said. "He's throwing his cutter around 87-88 (mph), and when he does that and locates it, it's a really nasty pitch."
Rupe's arrival has helped Stockton reel off nine wins in its last 10 games, putting the Ports in a tie with San Jose atop the California League's North Division. He joined a prospect-heavy rotation that includes righthanders Wes Littleton and Nick Massett as well as lefthanders John Danks and Ben Kozlowski; Massett and Kozlowski are both Tommy John surgery alumni. Hawkins is just glad he has excellent arms to work with, pitchers who are working toward lowering the Ports' 4.69 team ERA. In July, the team ERA is just 4.26.
"No doubt, it's a staff with some arms that have potential," Hawkins said. "I've been on the other side of that, and this is better."
A pair of big league promotions: The Indians gave Grady Sizemore his first big league at-bat last night after promoting him for the first time. Sizemore had recovered from a weak start to post .292-7-49 numbers at Triple-A Buffalo with a .442 slugging percentage. And the Red Sox will give lefthander Abe Alvarez, a 2003 second-round pick, his first big league start today. Alvarez, who only has lasted more than six innings once as a professional, is 8-6, 3.53 at Double-A Portland with a 24-82 walk-strikeout ratio in 99 innings.
As the Yankees make a run at Randy Johnson, the Diamondbacks are sure to take a hard look at New York's prospects such as righthander Ramon Ramirez, who ranked as the Yankees' No. 5 prospect after the 2003 season. Ramirez has a disastrous start at Triple-A Columbus, going just 0-3, 8.50 and giving up 25 hits in 18 innings, but he's starting to right himself at Double-A Trenton. He improved to 2-3, 4.52 with the Thunder with his victory Wednesday, giving up two runs and seven hits in seven innings while walking three. Ramirez also struck out a season-best 11, his third double-digit strikeout effort in his last five starts, and he has a 70-20 strikeout-walk ratio in 64 innings for the Thunder. Ramirez pitches with a low 90s fastball that tops out at 94 mph, and he has improved the command of his fastball and changeup recently. However, he's still giving up a lot of hits--Eastern Leaguers are batting .277 against him.
Frisco's 15-4 victory at San Antonio was powered by a two-homer, seven-RBI night by first baseman Jason Botts, who is finally putting his massive size (6-foot-6, 240 pounds), strength and plate discipline together to hit for power. Botts added his 19th double to go with his 18th and 19th homers; his previous career high in home runs was 13, set last year. Botts is hitting .289-19-61 for the year with 52 walks and 92 strikeouts. Shortstop Ian Kinsler added his sixth Double-A home run.
Third baseman Jake Gautreau, a 2001 first-round pick who has battled intestinal colitis during his career, has gotten hot at Triple-A Portland. Gautreau extended his hitting streak to 10 games with his third and fourth homers for the Beavers since his promotion June 23. He's hitting .317-4-21 in 82 at-bats with Portland, with 11 RBIs in his last three games. The two homers backed up righthander Tim Stauffer, the Padres' 2003 first-rounder, who improved to 3-0, 4.02 for the Beavers with six innings of work, giving up five hits, three walks and two runs while striking out four.
Speaking of the Padres, Mobile second baseman Josh Barfield is finding his power stroke. His two-run homer last night against Huntsville was his second in three games in fifth of July. Barfield improved to .248-15-64 with the homer and is hitting .286-5-14 in July with a 10-13 walk-strikeout ratio, making this his best month of the year.
On the hot-hitting 2B tip, Class A Vero Beach's Delwyn Young is having a scorching July, improving his overall numbers to .276-16-57. His 4-for-8 effort in a Wednesday doubleheader, which included a home run and a double, gave him a seven-game hitting streak, and he's hitting .356 for the month with a .685 slugging percentage. He's hit safely in 20 of his last 21 games. Righthander Jonathan Broxton dealt a complete-game (seven innings) shutout in the first game, a 2-0 Vero Beach victory. Broxton struck out nine and walked none in the four-hitter, improving to 7-5, 3.36 overall with 116 strikeouts and just 35 walks in 99 innings.
Royals outfielder Chris Lubanski, the fifth overall pick in the 2003 draft, has heated up at low Class A Burlington. He had two more hits Wednesday and has hit safely in nine straight starts. He's batting .333 in July and .261-9-36 overall.
Indians outfielder Franklin Gutierrez, who earned a promotion to Triple-A Buffalo last month, has played just once in July with a bruised ligament in his right elbow.
Elbow surgery has limited him to DH duty, but Brian Buscher is starting to hit at Class A San Jose. The Giants' fifth-round pick last June hit his first pro home run during a 4-for-5 game at Bakersfield, an 8-4 San Jose victory. Buscher also doubled in his fourth multi-hit game in his last five starts, raising his average to .275.
Class A Daytona first baseman Brandon Sing continues to rake, hitting home run No. 29 in a 6-4 loss yesterday to Lakeland. Sing, who had homered in just one of his previous 14 games, now has gone deep in consecutive games, which he's done nine times this season. He's four away from the Florida State League record, which has stood since 1951.
The Twins promoted lefthander Glenn Perkins, their first-round pick out of Minnesota, to low Class A Quad Cities. Perkins had given up three runs in 12 innings while striking out 22 at Rookie-level Elizabethton.
Outfielder Seth Smith, the Rockies' second-round pick out of Mississippi, hit his first pro home run for Rookie-level Casper. Smith, who recently had a 13-game hitting streak snapped, is hitting .321-1-20 in his pro debut.
Athletics righthander Ben Fritz left his start at Double-A Midland after getting only one out Wednesday; the Wichita Eagle reported Fritz left with elbow tendonitis.
In another promotion, the Angels are sending lefthander Joe Saunders, their 2003 first-round pick, up to Double-A Arkansas from Class A Rancho Cucamonga. He was 9-7, 3.41 in 19 games for the Quakes. In 106 innings, he gave up 106 hits and just 23 walks while striking out 76.
Compiled By John Manuel
ZEBULON, N.C.--On a night when rookie pitchers Brandon Claussen, Daniel Cabrera, Zack Greinke, David Bush and Sean Burnett were all in action in the majors, the Double-A Southern League offered a marquee matchup of its own featuring a pair of pitching prospects on their way to the big leagues.
Lefthander Bill Murphy and Carolina played host to Greenville, which sent righthander Jose Capellan to the hill in a showdown between two arms who appeared in the Futures Game nine days earlier.
Capellan--who touched 99 mph in Houstonout-pitched Murphy and strolled away with his fifth victory in his ninth SL start in Greenville's 8-2 triumph. He leaned heavily on his heater Tuesday, tossing 90 pitches, more than two-thirds of which were fastballs that sat at 94-95 mph, topping out at 96 mph. Capellan (5-1) carried a three-hit shutout into the fifth inning when Carolina rallied with three singles, including a bouncer that deflected off Capellans right hand.
The 23-year-old Dominican stayed in the game, but allowed a two-out, two-run single to the next hitter, Matt Demarco. Capellans frustration showed as he shouted into his glove on his way to back up the play.
The flair is part of Capellan's demeanor. He works quickly and aggressively, pitching to both sides of the plate, and attempts to overpower almost every hitter.
"So many guys you see, you want to have that attitude," said a National League scout attending the game. "Not everyone's a Greg Maddux. A lot of hard throwers have that aggressive attitude--look at (Roger) Clemens when he came up. Now, through experience, he's learned to temper that aggression . . . and (Capellan) should do the same. He wants to succeed, that's where it comes from and it's something you like to see early on.
"This is a good-looking power pitcher. Like a lot of power guys, he has to develop his breaking ball and develop a third pitch if he's going to stay in the rotation."
Murphy's up-and-down summer continued as he fell behind early and allowed a season-high six earned runs in five-plus innings. He walked the first batter he faced then left a 1-1 fastball over the plate that Braves shortstop Tony Pena drilled for a two-run home run, easily clearing the left-field fence.
Murphy, 23, was acquired by the Marlins from the Athletics in the Mark Redman deal in the offseason. He issued his fourth walk in the sixth inning, and when right fielder Jackson Melian doubled, Murphy was lifted after 92 pitches, 49 of which were strikes.
"He is going to be a pitcher who is going to have to pitch from the center of the plate out, and tonight his command did not allow him to do that consistently," the scout said.
"He's going to be a command, finesse, feel type of pitcher. He had some trouble with his command tonight. Really, he was better with his changeup command than his other pitches, but he has a way of missing bats, which you recognize right away. The key for him is overall command."
Murphy pitched at 87-88 mph with an 80 mph changeup and a 78 mph curveball that at times showed good action down in the strike zone. He recorded one of his four strikeouts in the third inning, when he got third baseman Andy Marte looking on a nasty hook.
"We saw two completely different guys here tonight, but two guys that will both wind up pitching in the big leagues," the scout said.
The Salem (Mass.) News reported that righthander Jeff Allison, who in 2003 was the Marlin's first-round pick and Baseball America's High School Player of the Year, was in stable condition after being admitted to an area hospital. Additionally, the Miami Herald reported Allison was admitted after an apparent drug overdose. Allison, 19, has admitted he tested positive for marijuana and also has been treated for an addiction to the painkiller OxyContin. Baseball America will have more on the Allison story shortly.
David Wright won his big league competition with his buddy B.J. Upton: The Mets are promoting the third baseman to New York. Wright has a tall order when he gets his first start tonight against Montreal--replacing Mike Piazza in the lineup, with third baseman Ty Wigginton sliding over to first base. Piazza injured his left wrist in a collision at first base Tuesday night. "We don't think Mike is going on the DL, but we're calling up Wright anyway," general manager Jim Duquette told the Associated Press. "It's our feeling he's ready for the jump." The only ones bummed about the situation are the Triple-A Norfolk Tides, for whom Wright hit .303-8-16 in 109 at-bats. "We had a bunch of appearances lined up for him, and we had a poster of him coming up Sunday," Tides media relations director Robin Wentz said, referring to Wright being a native of the Tidewater area. "It's not the first time it's happened to us. We milked the (weekend) matchup with B.J. Upton a little bit, at least."
Speaking of promotions, the Twins sent righthander Scott Baker to Triple-A Rochester. Baker started the year at high Class A Fort Myers (4-2, 2.40) and then made 10 starts at Double-A New Britain. He went 5-3, 2.43 there with 72 strikeouts and just 13 walks in 70 innings.
Baker's new Rochester teammate, outfielder Jason Kubel, is on another tear. He homered for the third straight game Tuesday night, his sixth in Triple-A, and raised his average to .349 with a four-hit night.
Keeping it on the Twins tip, Dutch lefthander Alexander Smit had his best start of the year for Rookie-level Elizabethton. Smit, just 18, struck out 11 and gave up six hits in seven shutout frames in a 3-0 win against Johnson City. He has 43 strikeouts and just 10 walks in 28 innings thus far this season and has yet to allow a home run.
The game of the night was in Binghamton, where lefthander Scott Kazmir had one of his best starts as a pro, only to lose 2-0 to Double-A New Hampshire. Kazmir struck out 10 and gave up just two hits and a walk in a career-high eight innings. He was perfect through six before walking Tyrell Godwin to lead off the seventh; Kazmir then made an errant throw on a subsequent sacrifice bunt. Futures Game MVP Aaron Hill followed with a two-run single for the game's only offensive flurry. Finesse lefty Gustavo Chacin out-pitched the Mets' 2002 first-round pick, throwing seven no-hit innings and striking out eight to improve to 10-2, 3.77. Binghamton broke up the no-hitter with Gil Velazquez singled to lead off the ninth against reliever Travis Thompson.
Rome lefthander Jacob Stevens, who had given up two earned runs in his last 58 1/3 innings, saw that streak end in an 8-0 loss at Charleston (S.C.). Stevens gave up seven runs in 5 2/3 innings on the night. The Riverdogs got inside-the-park home runs from Jason Pridie and Wes Bankston, with Bankston's being the first inside-the-park grand slam in Riley Park's eight-year history. Bankston's grand slam came when outfielder Matt Esquivel stumbled and fell head-first into a wall in foul territory after missing the fly ball, and Bankston circled the bases as Esquivel lay injured. Esquivel had to be helped off the field.
Low Class A Lake County righthander Adam Miller broke a personal two-game losing streak with his best outing of July. He had eight strikeouts in six shutout innings of a 13-3 win at Lakewood, allowing three hits and one walk to improve to 7-4, 3.33. Miller, a supplemental first-round pick in 2003, has 106 strikeouts and just 28 walks in 92 innings. "He's got easy power stuff," said one scout with an American League organization who covers the South Atlantic League. "The night I saw him, they could have used him in Cleveland. He was 94-95 (mph) with his fastball, he touched 97 and showed a plus slider at 87. The catcher that night just couldn't handle him. He had major league stuff."
One we missed yesterday: The Red Sox' first pick in the 2004 draft, second-rounder Dustin Pedroia, went 4-for-4 with a walk in his first game with low Class A Augusta.
Righthander Justin Germano extended his shutout string to 23 innings for Triple-A Portland with his second consecutive complete-game shutout. In a 10-0 win against Tacoma, Germano needed just 104 pitches and struck out seven. He's 3-4, 4.11 overall for the year.
The Beavers will play the rest of the season without first baseman Tagg Bozied, who snapped the patellar tendon on his left knee Monday night after hitting a game-winning home run. Bozied was hitting .315-16-58 for the Beavers.
Devil Rays lefthander Jason Hammel has pitched well since his promotion to high Class A Bakersfield, improving to 2-0, 1.38 with a win Tuesday night against San Jose despite giving up Nate Schierholtz' first Cal League home run. Hammel, who gave up two runs (one earned) in six innings Tuesday, was 4-7, 3.23 at low Class A Charleston prior to his promotion.
Orioles outfielder Jeff Fiorentino hit his third homer in four games for low Class A Delmarva in a 6-5 win against Hagerstown. Fiorentino, a third-round pick this year out of Florida Atlantic, now has five homers in his first 73 pro at-bats.
Righthander Alfredo Simon appears to have turned a corner for the Phillies, tossing his second straight complete-game shutout with high Class A Clearwater. The organization's No. 6 prospect, who struck out 11 in a four-hitter last Thursday at Jupiter, was stingy again last night against Brevard County. He allowed two hits and no walks while striking out three, improving to 6-9, 3.44. Simon, a 6-foot-4, 215-pounder, has excellent velocity in the mid-90s range.
Third baseman Brad Snyder, one of the Athletics' two first-round picks in last year's draft, landed on the disabled list at Class A Kane County with a strained hip flexor. Drafted out of Stetson based primarily on his on-base ability, Snyder was having a successful first full season, hitting .313-11-54 with a .434 on-base percentage.
Contributing: Kevin Goldstein.
Compiled By John Manuel
Adversity is something Expos personnel are becoming accustomed to. With the franchise's relocation looming, everyone from front-office staff to farmhands has learned to persevere through uncertainty.
Larry Broadway has mastered the routine in his second full year with the organization. The 6-foot-4, 230-pound first baseman suffered through a dreadful opening month--batting .120 through 20 games--but had rediscovered his stroke and was hitting .268-17-44 through 310 at-bats at Double-A Harrisburg.
In fact, Broadway has hit safely in his last nine games, with two home runs and three doubles in that span. He's hitting .310-9-21 in 42 games since June 1.
"The last two to three weeks he's been more aggressive," Harrisburg manager Dave Machemer said. "He's got a great approach at the plate . . . He's going to play in the big leagues."
Broadway enjoyed a good start in his first tour of big league camp in spring training, but the 2002 third-round pick from Duke tweaked a muscle in his back that contributed to the slow start during the cool month of April in the Eastern League.
"Whether it was his back or the weather or just putting too much pressure on himself, he didn't get off to the start he wanted," farm director Adam Wogan said.
Broadway was staying back on pitches and generating more power and leverage with his fluid, powerful swing in the past two months. He was aggressive at the plate during a four-game series versus New Hampshire following the all-star break, turning in a 9-for-16 series including a 4-for-4 effort in the first game of the second half.
"I hope he continues to do what he's done since May," Wogan said. "He needs to prove he can hit this type of pitching then go out and have a good winter."
Before his back injury, Broadway made a positive impression in spring training and has reinforced the organization's optimism this summer. He hit 20 home runs and slugged .532 between low Class A Savannah, high Class A Brevard County and Harrisburg in 2003.
Two years removed from college, the 23-year-old Broadway isn't ready for the majors this season, though his ETA could be as early as 2005.
"I don't think any of us think he's ready, but he has raised eyebrows," Wogan said. "He displayed an awful lot of power. There were some games in camp where he hit some balls a real long way. He made a lot of believers here."
Broadway is sound defensively, as well. He was voted the Eastern League's top defensive first baseman in BA's yet-to-be-released Best Tools survey. He isn't fast, but has good instincts and soft hands and works well around the bag.
"He has a huge wingspan and gets to a lot of balls," Double-A Erie manager Rick Sweet said. "More than any other first baseman (in the league) he has hurt us the most with balls down the line and in the hole. It's not speed; it's first-step quickness. And I swear he's got an extra six inches on each arm."
The Dodgers top two shortstop prospects, Joel Guzman and Chin-Lung Hu, received connected promotions Monday. Guzman, who represented the Dodgers in this month's Futures Game, was promoted from Class A Vero Beach to Double-A Jacksonville, while Hu took Guzman's place in the Florida State League after beginning the year with low Class A Columbus in the South Atlantic League. Guzman, 19, is enjoying a breakthrough season, batting .307-14-51 with a career-high 21 walks in 87 games after struggling last season (.241-13-53 between Columbus and Vero Beach). Signed at 16 to a Dominican-record $2.25 million bonus in 2001, Guzman has plus power and arm strength, but many scouts project a move to third base because of his size (6-foot-5, 222). The Taiwanese Hu, 20, was batting .298-6-25 with 17 stolen bases for Columbus, and shows surprising pop for his small stature (5-foot-9, 150), along with fine defensive tools. Both players went hitless in their debuts with their new teams.
The Dodgers also promoted righthander Chad Billingsley to Jacksonville. The 2003 first-round pick was 7-4, 2.35 at Vero Beach with 111 strikeouts and 49 walks in 92 innings. Opponents were hitting .208 against him.
Lefthander Brandon Claussen will be making his Reds debut in Cincinnati. Claussen, who won his only big league start last year for the Yankees before being included in last July's Aaron Boone trade, was 8-6, 4.66 for Triple-A Louisville, with a 111-47 strikeout-walk ratio in 100 innings. Claussen was 2-1, 1.45 in his last three starts prior to the promotion with 27 strikeouts in 18 2/3 innings.
The Brewers also promoted one of their top pitching prospects, with righthander Ben Hendrickson getting the start last night; he gave up seven hits and six runs in three innings of a loss to the Reds. Hendrickson had little left to prove at Triple-A Indianapolis, where he's 8-2, 2.27 (leading the International League in ERA) in 17 starts. In 99 innings, Hendrickson has allowed 93 hits (just six home runs) and has a 22-74 walk-strikeout ratio.
Two former big leaguers were spotted throwing in the Rookie-level Arizona League. Brewers righthander Ben Diggins made his third appearance of the summer, and Giants righthander Jesse Foppert returned to action for the first time in a game, allowing one run in one inning. Both are on the mend from Tommy John surgery; Diggins had his on Aug. 8 last year, while Foppert's was Sept. 16.
The White Sox promoted righthander Jeff Bajenaru to Triple-A Charlotte to replace Gary Majewski as the closer. Majewski was sent to the Expos in the Carl Everett trade. Bajenaru, a former two-way All-American at Oklahoma, was 2-0, 1.34 with 12 saves at Double-A Birmingham before the promotion, with 51 strikeouts and just 11 walks allowed in 34 innings. He picked up the save against Indianapolis last night with a scoreless inning, allowing one hit.
Third baseman Matt Craig is trying to reverse his slide at Double-A West Tenn. The switch-hitting former Richmond Spiders star hit his 15th homer last night in West Tenn's loss to Birmingham. Craig, who missed much of spring training and almost all of April after having arthroscopic knee surgery, has hit just .243 since he batted .373 in May, but he's hit five home runs every month this season and is slugging .502 for the year.
Class A Lakewood outfielder Michael Bourn is showing all the skills associated with a leadoff hitter. He went 2-for-6 against Lake County last night and stole two more bases, giving him 39 in 44 attempts. And even though Bourn struck out three times against the Captains in a 10-3 victory, Bourn still has more walks (60) than strikeouts (55) on the season.
Speaking of effective leadoff hitters, check out high Class A San Jose's Fred Lewis. The Giants thought their 2002 second-round pick out of Southern was so raw last year that he essentially lucked into his .361 on-base percentage and 68 walks, but he's showing this year that it was no fluke. Lewis drew two more walks Monday against Bakersfield, hit his sixth home run and went 2-for-3 with two runs scored. He's hitting .304-6-40 for the season with a .432 on-base percentage, 60 walks and 69 strikeouts in 293 at-bats.
Contributing: Kevin Goldstein.
By John Manuel
Two news items over the weekend lead off this week's Daily Dish:
#1: Australia released its preliminary Olympic roster, following Canada's lead with a club heavy on minor leaguers and veterans of international competition.
Former big leaguers such as lefthanders Graeme Lloyd and Jeff Williams and catcher Dave Nilsson head the roster, which also includes 17 active minor leaguers. Former Braves bonus baby Glenn Williams, in his third season at Triple-A Syracuse at age 27, is having the best season of any Aussie player this year, hitting .265-21-65 while playing third base.
The top prospects included on the roster include Mets catcher Justin Huber, outfielders Thomas Brice (White Sox) and Trent Oeltjen (Twins), and righthander Chris Oxspring (Padres). With a 4-3, 3.88 record at Triple-A Portland, Oxspring isn't far from reaching the major leagues, and he struggled with the decision of whether or not to play for his country.
"That's why choosing to play in the Olympics was such a hard decision," Oxspring told BA correspondent John Maffei of the North County (Calif.) Times. "Kids dream of representing their country, but when you're at Triple-A, you're so close to the major leagues. I talked to the Padres and asked about my immediate future. They said if I go to Athens, it won't change their opinion of me. That gave me piece of mind."
The complete Australia roster:
Pitchers: Craig Anderson (Mariners), Adrian Burnside (Tigers), Graeme Lloyd, Wayne Ough (Mets), Chris Oxspring (Padres), Ryan Rowland-Smith (Mariners), John Stephens (Red Sox), Richard Thompson (Padres), Jeff Williams.
Catchers: Justin Huber (Mets), David Nilsson.
Infielders: Trent Durrington (Brewers), Gavin Fingleson, Brendan Kingman, Craig Lewis, Rodney van Buizen (Dodgers), Brett Tamburrino (Twins), Glenn Williams (Blue Jays).
Outfielders: Thomas Brice (White Sox), Paul Gonzalez, Nick Kimpton (Angels), Trent Oeltjen (Twins), Brett Roneberg (Red Sox).
#2: The Yankees have restructured parts of their Tampa operations with the hope of getting better results from the amateur draft.
Lin Garrett, whose title remains vice president of scouting, is no longer in charge of the draft. Instead, he will handle international scouting chores. Damon Oppenheimer, who as vice president of player development and scouts is viewed as a rising star by owner George Steinbrenner, replaces Garrett and will be in charge of amateur and professional scouting.
He will relinquish his farm director duties to senior vice president of baseball operations Mark Newman. Gordon Blakeley, who was the farm director in 2003 and has an extensive background in scouting, remains a special assignment scout. Blakeley's emphasis remains the major leagues, as he's heavily involved in the Yankees' trade-deadline efforts, but he also will work with Garrett in international scouting, as he signed Orlando "El Duque'' Hernandez, Hideki Matsui and Jose Contreras.
Steinbrenner has been critical of recent drafts and put his minor league staff on alert in February that he wanted to see improvement in the draft and player development. In an April interview, Newman admitted, "We've had a couple of not very good drafts. There's no use (kidding) about it. Hopefully, we have learned from our mistakes, and I think we're making up for them."
The Yankees' 2004 draft, headlined by prep righthander Philip Hughes, generally received good reviews and was less conservative than in years past, but Steinbrenner and Newman saw fit to make the changes late last week. Hughes has not pitched since making his pro debut June 28.
Speaking of the Olympics, longtime BA correspondent Andy Linker reports that Canadian righthander Shawn Hill was essentially kept off the Canadian roster by maneuvering by the Expos organization. Hill was kept on the big league roster--his first trip to the majors--until just after Canada's preliminary roster was finalized. Hours later, Hill was reassigned to Double-A Harrisburg. Hill was a key starter last fall when Canada qualified for the Olympics and had expressed a desire to pitch for the Olympic team. Hill can only be added to Canada's roster now if one of the roster's 10 pitchers is promoted or injured. "I (missed making the team) by 24 hours," Hill told Linker in the Patriot-News in Harrisburg, Pa. "The timing of it was so bad. Right now, I'll still be here in August. I don't know what's going to happen, but this is not quite the way I expected it to be." Hill was put on the disabled list Sunday with a right elbow strain after pitching just one inning on Saturday.
Team Canada's ace might be too good to make the trip to Athens. Lefthander Jeff Francis (Rockies), in his first start for Triple-A Colorado Springs, pitched seven shutout innings, allowing only one hit and one walk while striking out 12. He picked up his 24th win in his last 26 decisions and lowered his combined ERA for the season to 1.86.
A pair of promotions led to two league debuts for Giants righthanders. Merkin Valdez, who entered the year as the organization's No. 1 prospect, made his first start for Double-A Norwich, giving up four runs in five innings while striking out three. Valdez, who earlier in the year made an emergency callup start at Triple-A Fresno, was 3-1, 2.52 for Class A San Jose prior to the promotion with a sterling 44-5 strikeout-walk ratio in 36 innings. Replacing him at San Jose was 2004 fifth-round pick Garrett Broshius, who pitched five innings and struck out six while giving up one run.
A gruesome accident put Class A Burlington catcher Adam Donachie into an Iowa hospital with a skull fracture. Donachie, a 2002 second-round pick, was leaving the Bees' dugout to be the team's first-base coach when he was hit above the left eye by a practice swing of Kila Kaaihue, who was set to lead off that inning. Donachie was helped to the clubhouse, then taken to Great River Medical Center, where a CT scan revealed a skull fracture. He was airlifted to the University of Iowa hospital and was in the hospital through Sunday.
Sunday night was righthander Chris Lambert's pro debut for low Class A Peoria. The first-round pick out of Boston College gave up three hits and three unearned runs while striking out three in 1 2/3 innings. He didn't get a decision. "The first inning I had jitters and I was trying to be too perfect, but I calmed down the second inning," Lambert told the Peoria Journal-Star. "It's exciting to be out there with some fans, and my family's here. It's good to get it out of the way. There will never be another first outing again."
The Astros' first pick in the 2004 draft, outfielder Hunter Pence, hit his first pro home run Sunday night in short-season Tri-City's 4-3 loss to Auburn. Pence, a second-round pick out of Texas-Arlington, was hitless in his first three games (0-for-10) but has hit safely in his last six, going 10-for-25 with five doubles and a homer in that span.
Cubs lefthander Luke Hagerty, moving up to short-season Boise as he continues his rehabilitation from Tommy John surgery, had a rough second start for the Hawks. He got one out, gave up three hits and three walks, and all six baserunners scored.
Mike Davies, whom the Rockies have shifted from the mound to first base, has become one of the minors' hottest hitters at Rookie-level Casper. Davies went 4-for-5 Sunday with a homer and two RBIs, improving to .400-5-21 in 25 games. Davies was a highly-recruited two-way player who had committed to Long Beach State but switched in 1999 to go to Mount Hood (Ore.) CC, near his Beaverton home, and signed with the Rockies as a 39th-round pick in 2000. He went 12-8, 3.67 as a pitcher but battled arm trouble and was switched to first base, where he's embarked on a 13-game hitting streak.
Rookie-level Provo's double-play combination, second baseman Ryan Leahy and shortstop Sean Rodriguez, made their way into the record books Friday night when they both went 6-for-6 in Provo's 23-6 win against Missoula. Research by the National Baseball Hall of Fame Library confirmed it to be the first time teammates each had six hits in a professional game since 1896. Leahy, a nondrafted free agent who signed as a fifth-year senior out of Boston College, had five runs scored and an RBI. Rodriguez, a third-round pick last year who began the season at low Class A Cedar Rapids, had six RBIs and four runs scored. He's hitting .473-3-21 in 74 at-bats with Provo after batting .250-4-17 in 196 at-bats for the Kernels.
Contributing: George King.
By Chris Kline
Ryan Doumit has the talent to play in Pittsburgh. The question remains whether he can stay healthy enough to get there.
Playing at Double-A Altoona, the 23-year-old switch-hitting catcher is currently limited to DH duties due to a partial ligament tear in his elbow. It's the latest in a series of injury setbacks for the Pirates' second-round pick out of Moses Lake (Wash.) High in 1999.
"I had a herniated disc in 2001 and broke a finger around the all-star break in 2002," he said. "I had mononucleosis to start this season, and now it's the elbow. Injuries are a part of the game, but I want to be on the field every day."
Fortunately for Doumit, the injury isn't serious enough to require surgery. A month away from throwing is the prescription, but until then it's hitting only, which is frustrating for a backstop looking to improve his receiving skills.
"I was hoping to catch 120 games this year," he said, "but obviously that isn't going to happen. I have a good arm, but need to improve my receiving and game calling. Unfortunately, right now there's not much I can do but watch."
According to Altoona hitting coach John Wehner, Doumit also needs to fine-tune his offensive game.
"He needs to work on his plate discipline and using more of the whole field," Wehner said. "But he's got tools. He has power from both sides, and his talent is hard to ignore."
There's no disputing that a healthy Doumit can produce with the bat. Avoiding injuries last season, he responded by hitting .275-11-77 with 38 doubles with high Class A Lynchburg. Even while struggling at times this year, he went into the all-star break at a respectable .270-10-31. Those numbers include home runs in each of his last two games, one a blast off Portland lefthander Abe Alvarez.
Doumit has come a long way from Moses Lake, which five years ago produced an amazing draft bonanza.
"It's a small town," he said, "but we actually had three guys drafted in the first two rounds in 1999. B.J. Garbe (currently in New Britain) went in the first, and then Jason Cooper (Akron) and I went in the second. We had a good program, but it's still kind of hard to explain. I guess it must be something in the water."
It's a shorter drive from Altoona to the three rivers of Pittsburgh, and Doumit recently had a taste of PNC Park. The Pirates' new venue played host to a game between the Curve and the Erie Seawolves, and it was an experience he won't soon forget.
"It was awesome," he said, "a thrill for everyone on the team. It's the future home for some of us, and we all got a taste of the big leagues for a day. It really makes you want to go back for more."
Triple-A Nashville catcher J.R. House was called up to the big leagues yesterday. House, who has been running in place the past two seasons in Triple-A, upped his stock this season--he hit .269-12-39 in 208 at-bats. He also might give the Pirates some versatility at the big league level, as he also split time between first base and left field this season.
Mariners shortstop Matt Tuiasosopo, the club's top draft pick in the third round who received top 10 money ($2.1 million) to lure him away from a football scholarship, is off to a great start in the Rookie-level Arizona League. Tuiasosopo is hitting .533 with two homers in his first 15 at-bats.
Astros outfielder Mitch Einertson hit his 11th home run of the season and is leading the Rookie-level Appalachian League. Einertson, Houston's fifth-round pick out of Rancho Buena Vista High in Oceanside, Calif., is batting .291 overall.
Class A Augusta outfielder Mickey Hall has hit five homers in his last four games and now has 10 overall this season. Hall, a second-rounder out of Walton High in Marietta, Ga., is hitting .246-10-38 in 244 at-bats.
Short-season Tri-City third baseman Matt Macri went 4-for-6 with six RBIs, falling a single short of the cycle last night. Macri, the Rockies' fifth-rounder out of Notre Dame, is hitting .368-3-23 in 95 at-bats.
The Rangers' first-round pick Thomas Diamond is absolutely dominating at short-season Spokane. Over 8 1/3 innings, Diamond--a righthander out of New Orleans--has allowed five hits and struck out 19.
Eighteen-year-old Tigers righthander Jair Jurrjens, a native of Curacao, tossed a seven-inning one-hitter in the Gulf Coast League--three weeks ago, he spun a nine-inning three-hitter. Jurrjens is 3-2, 2.76 in 33 innings overall.
Triple-A Norfolk third baseman David Wright hit two homers last night in his first game since The Futures Game on Sunday. Wright is batting .326-8-15 in 98 at-bats since moving up from Double-A Binghamton.
Rockies third baseman Jeff Baker hit a home run in his debut at Double-A Tulsa last night. Baker was hitting .330-11-64 in 267 at-bats at Class A Visalia this season prior to his promotion.
Triple-A Rochester first baseman Justin Morneau's return trip to Minnesota appears imminent, jeopardizing his spot on Canada's Olympic team. With Doug Mientkiewicz on the disabled list with a bruised hand, the Twins can no longer keep one of the best pure power prospects in the minors. Morneau is hitting .306-22-63 in 288 at-bats this season.
The Mets have been making moves in their system lately, promoting outfielder Lastings Milledge to high Class A St. Lucie Wednesday. Righthander Yusmeiro Petit was moved to St. Lucie two weeks ago. Lefthander Scott Kazmir was promoted to Double-A Binghamton last week and won his second start last night, striking out five in five innings. Milledge was hitting .321-8-35 in 196 at-bats at low Class A Capital City this season. Milledge fanned 42 times and drew just five walks.
Class A Lancaster righthander Mike Schultz struck out five Rancho Cucamonga Quakes in one inning last night. Schultz, a second-round pick of the Diamondbacks in 2000, came into the game--a 19-4 Quakes win--and struck out leadoff hitter David Gates and then got Adam Pavkovich swinging, but a wild pitch allowed him to reach first base. After the next three batters reached base, Schultz got Reggie Willits swinging for the second out before the fourth strikeout, one of Greg Porter, who also reached on a wild pitch. Schultz got his fifth victim when he fanned Gates for the second time for the final out of the inning.
Five of the Athletics' first nine picks played in the College World Series, so they've taken a little longer to come to terms than the average draft pick. But Oakland made solid progress this week, getting two of the key players in the CWS championship series under contract: Texas righthander Huston Street (supplemental first round, 40th overall) and Cal State Fullerton catcher Kurt Suzuki (second, 67th overall). Both will join teams today, with Street heading to low Class A Kane County and Suzuki going to short-season Vancouver. The club was also close to finalizing deals with Fresno State outfielder Richie Robnett (first, 26th overall) and South Carolina second baseman Kevin Melillo (fifth).
Joe Blanton isn't dominating Triple-A hitters the way he did earlier in his professional career. The A's righthander posted a .214 opponents average entering the year, including a .174 mark to close last season at Double-A Midland. But Pacific Coast League batters are hitting .277 against him this year, and for the first time in his career, Blanton's strikeout rates have dipped below one per inning while his hits allowed his risen above that mark. He was 5-5, 3.99 with 83 strikeouts, 28 walks and 124 hits in 115 innings for Sacramento. "He's just been inconsistent," farm director Keith Lieppman said. "I saw him a few weeks ago with 11 strikeouts against Salt Lake. That's really the only thing; his stuff is fine. It's just not being consistent from start to start. It's just about preparation. Remember, last year at this time, he was just promoted to Double-A, and that was his first full season."
The Pirates promoted lefthander Zach Duke to Altoona. Duke was leading the Carolina League in ERA at 10-5, 1.39 for Lynchburg, having given up just 73 hits in 97 innings with a sterling 106-20 strikeout-walk ratio
In other promotions, the Orioles sent third-round pick Jeff Fiorentino up to Class A Delmarva from short-season Aberdeen; the Cardinals jumped outfielder Dee Haynes to Triple-A Memphis from Double-A Tennessee; and the Rangers jumped righthander Matt Lorenzo from low Class A Clinton to high Class A Stockton.
Contributing: Kevin Goldstein, Will Kimmey, John Manuel.
By Will Kimmey
Sacramento's Nick Swisher didn't play in the Triple-A all-star game Wednesday night, but maybe he should have. Admittedly, it's a bit petty to trot out a list of snubs for any all-star game, much less a minor league one, but Swisher's statistics stack up just fine against those of any outfielder on the Pacific Coast League club.
"He's done very well," Athletics farm director Keith Lieppman said. "I know his average is like .260 but he leads the league in walks and has a good on-base percentage."
Swisher ranks seventh in the PCL with a .428 on-base percentage thanks to a league-leading 80 walks (against 64 strikeouts). He's also tied for second with 64 runs scored. And he's shown power with 18 doubles and 16 homers, good for a .506 slugging percentage.
Really only Edmonton's Ryan Church can claim a better overall first half. The rub must have been Swisher's .258 batting average. At least the A's know the value of on-base percentage versus batting average.
It's a familiar midseason story for Swisher, the 16th overall pick out of Ohio State in 2002. He hit .296-10-43 with a .418 OBP during the first half at high Class A Modesto in 2003, his first full season, but slumped to .230-5-43 with a .324 OBP after a promotion to Double-A Midland. More troubling was that Swisher hadn't shown much of the plus power the A's projected and had 76 strikeouts against 37 walks.
"He had a great first half in Modesto, so we called him up to Midland and he kind of had it handed to him," Lieppman said. "But he was good in the Arizona Fall League (.275-1-9 with a .404 OBP), great in spring training and has taken off from there."
Lieppman attributed some of Swisher's second-half drop last year to the outfielder's fatigue while completing his first full season. Swisher embarked on an intense weight-training regimen this offseason, adding 10 pounds to his 6-foot frame. He hit the ball well, but the added mass detracted from his agility in the outfield, and there were already questions about Swisher's being fleet enough to play center field.
"He was really buff in spring training--heavily muscled. He was ripped." Lieppman said. "It wasn't fat, but I think he might have spent too much time working out. He's kind of lost that the last few months, and it's really helped his defense and moving around out there."
Swisher dropped back to his customary 190 pounds, and the conditioning should help him avoid tiring down the stretch again this year. The A's are comfortable with the kind of player he's turning out to be. In fact, he reminds them of one they already have patrolling Network Associates Stadium in Oakland.
"He's a Mark Kotsay-type in center field," Lieppman said. "He's got that same mentality and is a similar hitter. He just needs to keep working on routes and angles in the field."
Should Swisher maintain his current pace, he could land a late-season audition in the same lineup as Kotsay.
"A lot depends on what kind of club surfaces in September, whether we're in the race or not" Lieppman said. "But Nick is a guy in a good position in terms of call-ups."
El Paso shortstop Sergio Santos has eight hits in his last 20 at-bats and has upped his average to .281 for the season. A big-bodied shortstop in the mold of Alex Rodriguez, Santos has a cannon arm to go along with solid feet and range. His arm allows him to wait longer on balls, resulting in bad hops or rushed throws, and his hands aren't best suited for short. While many scouts predict a move to third base or the outfield for the Diamondbacks' No. 2 prospect, Santos has cut down on his lofty error totals this season with 22 so far. In a year and a half as a pro before this season, he committed 62 errors at short. Santos went 2-for-3 with three RBIs last night in a 9-3 win over Midland--a game in which El Paso teammates Conor Jackson and Carlos Quentin went deep.
Indians catcher/first baseman Ryan Garko was promoted to Double-A Akron yesterday. Garko, a third-round pick out of Stanford last year, was hitting .328-16-57 with 17 doubles this season at Class A Kinston. "All he's done is hit for us all year," Kinston manager Torey Lovullo said. "And his defense has been underrated as well. He's been solid behind the plate and at first base, he's a guy I compare a lot to someone like Tino Martinez. He's made a lot of strides in the first half." Garko committed just three errors in 26 starts at first and 21 behind the plate.
Class A Salem righthander Fernando Nieve got touched up last night at home against Kinston. Nieve allowed four earned runs on 10 hits in 6 1/3. In his first full season of play last season at low Class A Lexington, he led the Astros' system with 14 wins and struck out 144 in 150 innings. "He should try to repeat what he did last season--that's the goal," farm director Tim Purpura said. "So much of a young player's development has to do with confidence, and a year like last year helps build confidence. The thing you worry about a little bit is he doesn't backslide, and we felt like he took everything he learned last year and integrated it into what he's doing this year. He's starting to get that quiet confidence that comes with time." Nieve is 8-4, 3.11 with 90 strikeouts in 101 innings overall.
While Altoona second baseman Jeff Keppinger took home the MVP of the Eastern League all-star game, it was New Hampshire righthanded reliever Brandon League who stole the show. Warming up in the pen, his fastball was hitting 96 mph. In the game, League's fastball lit up the radar gun at Prince George's Stadium in Bowie at 102 mph and the crowd gave League a standing ovation (scouts clocked the pitch at 99, however). He threw just seven pitches in a scoreless inning.
It was a marathon night in San Jose again last night as the Giants downed Class A Modesto, 2-1 in 14 innings--two days after the two teams played a 15-inning game that lasted five hours and three minutes. San Jose also won that game, 8-7. The total time elapsed for both games was eight hours, 52 minutes.
Class A St. Lucie third baseman Aarom Baldiris went 3-for-4 last night, pushing his average to .306. Rated the Mets' second-best third baseman behind Triple-A Norfolk's David Wright, Baldiris has hit over .300 in all but one of his six minor league stops.
Dodgers center fielder Reggie Abercrombie has responded since being reassigned to Class A Vero Beach, hitting .308-3-5 in 78 at-bats. Abercrombie, a five-tool player who lacks refined hitting skills, hit just .173-4-20 with 66 strikeouts in 168 at-bats at Double-A Jacksonville before being sent down. "I think the thing with Reggie is that he was just pushing too much, putting too much pressure on himself," scouting director Logan White said. "The game can sometimes speed up on you and you find yourself in a hole. He's at a point now where he's getting some confidence back."
Low Class A Delmarva lefthander Adam Loewen lasted just two innings last night against Kannapolis. Loewen allowed one hit and struck out one. This season, Loewen is 2-3, 4.27 in 53 innings. His control isn't all the way back from when he struggled in big league camp this spring--Loewen has walked 39 and struck out 53.
Lefthander Jason Vargas is too good for the New York-Penn League. The Marlins' second-round pick out of Long Beach State threw five more scoreless innings last night in Jamestown's 7-5 win against Mahoning Valley, and has allowed two runs (one earned) in 15 2/3 innings since signing. He also has 17 strikeouts and has allowed just 16 baserunners.
The Dodgers didn't adopt a "Moneyball" approach to their draft completely, but they made a few stats-savvy picks, and one of them is raking in the Rookie-level Pioneer League. Former Stetson catcher Chris Westervelt went 2-for-5 with a homer last night in Ogden's 9-7 loss to Helena, but he's hitting .413-6-15 in 15 games. Teammate Blake Dewitt, one of the Dodgers' two first-round picks, also went 2-for-5 to improve his average to .316, but DeWitt also made two errors that led to two unearned runs in the defeat.
Twins second-round pick Anthony Swarzak had his best start as a pro last night in the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League in a 3-0 win against the Red Sox. Swarzak, a righthander out of Ft. Lauderdale's Nova High, allowed just two hits and struck out six in seven scoreless innings to improve to 2-1, 2.33.
Pirates fourth-round pick Joe Bauserman, a former Ohio State quarterback recruit, threw four scoreless innings in a 3-1 loss to the Reds last night. Bauserman gave up one hit and walked two in his second start as a pro.
Contributing: Chris Gigley, Chris Kline.
By John Manuel
HOUSTON--While the Futures Game is arranged as a U.S. versus the World setup, the international competition that counts isn't far away. The 2004 Olympic baseball tournament--which won't include the defending gold medal champions, the United States--starts in a month in Athens, Greece.
Baseball Canada is expected to announce it's Olympic team Thursday, and Team Canada will look a whole lot better if Rockies lefthander Jeff Francis and Twins first baseman Justin Morneau are on the roster. Both natives of British Columbia have played for Baseball Canada teams in their past, and Morneau played for Canada in the qualifying tournament last November in Panama, hitting four home runs to help the Canadians earn one of the two spots for the Americas.
"I think Justin really wants to be there," Francis said. "He's got a lot invested in it because he was on the team that qualified."
Morneau's passion for his homeland is obvious. One of his triceps is covered with a large maple-leaf tattoo with his number inscribed in the middle. It was visible in the locker room because he had cut off the sleeves on his Baseball Canada Under Armor shirt.
"It's a funny thing, because it's not my decision and it's out of my hands," he said. "But at this point in the season, I've been in the minor leagues most of the year, so at this point I'd rather almost just go to the Olympics. We'd get together in two weeks, so as this point I might as well go."
Morneau has been to the majors twice before, earlier in 2004 and last season. He checks on the news in Minnesota as well, thinking he could get called up a week ago when Twins starter Doug Mientkiewicz injured his hand in a pre-game, batting-practice mishap. But Mientkiewicz--himself an Olympic hero--wasn't seriously hurt, keeping Morneau in the minors and keeping his Olympic hopes alive.
"It would be pretty cool, because I think it's a once-in-a-lifetime chance," Morneau said. "Will Canada qualify for the Olympics again? I'm at this age where I'm in the minor leagues and still have a major league career ahead of me; everything's coming together for this to be the best time.
"I'd love to be able to walk into that stadium (during the Olympic opening ceremonies) with 80,000 people representing my country. It would be an amazing honor, an amazing moment."
Francis was more nonplussed about his Olympic possibility. One of the minors' hottest pitchers, he just earned his first promotion to Triple-A, reporting to Colorado Springs after the Futures Game.
"It would be a tough choice in some ways," Francis said, "but I think I'm here to pitch in the major leagues, so if it was between the major leagues and the Olympics, that would be tough."
Morneau said he expects the team to include many veterans who were on the qualifying team roster, such as infielders Todd Betts (Triple-A Columbus, Yankees) and Stubby Clapp (Triple-A Syracuse, Blue Jays), as well as lefthander Adam Loewen (Class A Delmarva), who was the Orioles' first-round pick in 2002.
Francis would likely be Canada's top starting pitcher, and has worn the national team's uniform before in 1999, as a member of the junior national program. He stayed with the party line, saying the decision is out of his hands and up to the Rockies and Baseball Canada. But one prospective teammate is hoping he'll suit up.
"We don't have much starting pitching," Morneau said. "He's a lefthanded starter who could be our number one guy. It would be huge to have him there."
Two other possibilities are righthanders Shawn Hill and Ryan Dempster. Hill, who was on last fall's qualifying team, probably will not be included, as he's pitching in the Expos bullpen. Dempster, however, is an intriguing possibility, a former major league all-star (2000, when he was with the Marlins) who is working his way back from injuries at Triple-A Iowa in the Cubs organization. Dempster, a native of British Columbia, has pitched 27 innings this season--the last 8 2/3 at Iowa--as he returns from Tommy John surgery.
"I didn't even think about that," Morneau said, "but I can't imagine that will happen."
Double-A Chattanooga first baseman Jesse Gutierrez played the hometown hero last night in the Southern League all-star game, going 3-for-5 and coming a triple short of the cycle en route to being named the game's MVP. It was the first all-star appearance of his four-year pro career. "Considering this is my first time in a game like this, it's a great feeling," Gutierrez told The Birmingham News. "Every time you step on the field should be your best performance. You never know who happens to be watching." Mobile righthander Chris Rojas had a Roger Clemens-like night--the starter for the West allowed seven earned runs on six hits in the first inning--the same night The Rocket allowed a six-spot in the major league all-star game in Houston. The West won, 10-6. The Triple-A All-Star Game, pitting the International League against the Pacific Coast League, will be played tonight in Pawtucket. The Eastern League (at Bowie) and independent Atlantic League (Camden, N.J.) all-star games will be played tonight as well.
Triple-A Durham right fielder Matt Diaz headed into the all-star break with a 22-game hit streak. Diaz is hitting .327-12-56 in 321 at-bats for the Bulls this season and leads the IL with 35 doubles.
Staying on the Triple-A track, the Buffalo Bisons are simply raking right now, with a IL-leading .296 team batting average. They also have a team .364 on-base percentage and .496 slugging percentage, which helps explain the team's average of 5.99 runs per game. With the exception of Russell Branyan's .280 average, everyone in their everyday lineup is hitting over .300--led by third baseman Jhonny Peralta's .338. "We've really kicked it in the last month, month and a half," manager Marty Brown said. "We know we're going to be in ballgames and I think it's helped out our pitching staff relax and throw strikes. Overall, things have been getting better and better pitching-wise. And offensively, those guys just feed off each other."
Rockies center fielder Jeff Salazar has struggled to get used to the pitching at Double-A Tulsa. Salazar, an eighth-round pick out of Oklahoma State in 2002, was hitting .347-13-44 at Class A Visalia. In his first eight games with the Drillers, he had just seven hits in his first 33 at-bats.
Right fielder Jonathan Zeringue has been a solid addition to the Class A Lancaster club, which lost a ton of production when Conor Jackson, Carlos Quentin and Jamie D'Antona were promoted to Double-A El Paso last month. The Diamondbacks' second-round pick out of Louisiana State this year is hitting .467 in his first 30 at-bats. Zeringue went 4-for-5 in an 11-5 win over Rancho Cucamonga.
Red Sox knuckleballer Charlie Zink is still having command issues since being reassigned to Class A Sarasota. Zink went 4 2/3 last night, allowing three earned runs on five hits and walking four. The righthander struggled this season at Double-A Portland this season, going 1-8, 5.79 in 93 innings. He walked 72 and struck out 50 during that span.
Orioles lefthander Richard Stahl made his first start since coming off the disabled list from a groin pull, tossing three scoreless innings at short-season Aberdeen. Stahl was 4-4, 3.69 in 54 innings at Class A Frederick this season.
The Cardinals have converted outfielder Tim Lemon to the mound, a sound move considering the 1998 second-round pick had a .216 career batting average and never advanced beyond Class A. Lemon's fourth career start Monday night at Rookie-level Johnson City was his best, as he tossed five no-hit innings. He walked four and struck out one to start a combined no-hitter as the Cardinals beat Greeneville 4-0.
Contributing: Chris Kline.
By Chris Kline
With all the hullabaloo around this year's Futures Game in Houston, we figured it was a nice opportunity to check in with last year's MVP--Indians outfielder Grady Sizemore. Sizemore went down with a stomach bug that caused him to miss the end of spring training and lose 15 pounds, but the player farm director John Farrell calls the model for the organization is back raking at Triple-A Buffalo this season. Through 369 at-bats, the Tribe's No. 1 prospect was hitting .304-7-47 with 21 doubles and eight triples.
How much work did it take to get not only your strength back after the stomach virus, but be able to make adjustments to the Triple-A level?
"It was tough to get over that, but I had pretty much gotten over it by the end of spring training. I felt pretty confident going into the season and I don't really look at that as the reason why I struggled early. But it's a new league, new pitching and it took some time to make those adjustments. It's a lot tougher here, so I had a rough start at the beginning and now I'm just kind of battling it out everyday."
What was your experience like last year at the Futures Game in Chicago?
"It was a fun experience, a great, great time and I just went into it looking to have fun. It was an all-star kind of break and it was good to take a step away from the season, relax and play ball."
What's the biggest difference between playing a corner spot in the outfield and playing center now?
"Playing center, the ball doesn't move as much. You have more ground to cover, but in left or right the ball kind of tails away from you. And a lot of guys say dealing with the mound is a problem for a center fielder on throws, but I don't really think about that--I just try to hit the cutoff man."
Do you ever really think about the fact that you're only 21 playing Triple-A against pitchers that are sometimes six or seven years older than you?
"Not really. I feel like I've been playing for a long time. I know it's only been like the fourth or fifth year, but I feel like it's a big part of my life and I feel like I'm right up there with them. I don't look at it like 'Oh, gosh, I'm facing so-and-so tonight' or anything like that. You can always learn something from someone in this game no matter how old they are. Everyone is good up here; every night is kind of an eye-opener and you can pick little things up all the time."
The first thing everyone talks about when your name comes up is your intensity and your businesslike approach to the game. What is your biggest challenge everyday?
"It's just to get better--to challenge myself everyday to be a better player. I want to be a better player today than I was yesterday. That's what I try to do everyday and what keeps me going."
You turned down a scholarship to play quarterback at Washington; do you ever miss football?
"In the offseason, a little bit, yeah. I mean, it's the fall and you're sitting bored in the house with nothing to do on Sundays. But I don't know. I don't regret anything at all. I still love playing baseball and football's just something I like to watch."
For the record, are you related to Ted Sizemore?
"No, I am not. Some people just don't know too much about me I guess."
Britney or Beyonce?
"Beyonce. I'm just not a Britney Spears fan."
Dumb & Dumber or Dodgeball?
"Dodgeball. I loved that movie."
How do you feel about one of the most overplayed songs in sports: "Let's Get It Started," by Black Eyed Peas?
"I don't know. I don't listen to it anymore and do my best to kind of block it out when I'm on the field, but sometimes it's impossible. I've heard it so many times now, it's a little old."
Indians lefthander Chuck Lofgren made his pro debut on the mound Monday for short-season Burlington. He labored through one inning, throwing 36 pitches and allowing four runs on two walks and three hits, including a three-run homer by Bluefield DH Cory Shafer. Lofgren showed impressive velocity, touching 96 mph and racking up three strikeouts. "The kid looked pretty good out there for his first time," Indians roving instructor Ted Kubiak said. "Obviously he's got a lot of things to work on, but that's why he's here. He showed a lot of poise out there and certainly didn't look like an 18-year-old." Lofgren, a two-way star at Serra (Calif.) High that the Indians selected in the fourth round, is in a unique situation, pitching every fifth day and serving as the DH once a week. He went 1-for-3 with a single in his first pro at-bat on July 9.
While Lofgren's debut was rocky at best, Bluefield righthander Brad Bergesen had a much easier go of it against the B-Tribe last night in Burlington. The Orioles fourth-rounder out of Foothills High in Pleasanton, Calif., tossed one inning, striking out one.
The latest trade rumor has Pirates' righthander Kris Benson being dealt to the Phillies for Double-A first baseman Ryan Howard. Howard leads the minor leagues with 33 homers and is also hitting for average (.313) this season, despite striking out 104 times. The slugger is the best chip the Phillies general manager Ed Wade is willing to trade for much-needed pitching help. The GM said he wouldn't include top pitching prospects Cole Hamels or Gavin Floyd in any trade offer.
Padres righthander Clark Girardeau continues to deal his way through the California League after being promoted from low Class A Fort Wayne on June 22. A seventh-round pick out of South Alabama in 2003, Girardeau is 2-1, 1.32 in 27 innings for Class A Lake Elsinore. He took the loss Monday after tossing seven innings and allowing two earned runs. Girardeau went 4-4, 5.02 in 72 innings for the Wizards this season before the promotion.
Double-A El Paso lefthander Matt Chico continues to struggle since being promoted from Class A Lancaster. Chico allowed eight runs on seven hits in 3 1/3 innings Monday against Round Rock. He's lost all four decisions in Double-A and is carrying a lofty 11.20 ERA. At Lancaster, Chico went 8-5, 2.57 in 88 innings.
Double-A Wichita righthander Denny Bautista has been impressive since coming over in the trade for righthanded reliever Jason Grimsley in late June. Bautista threw a nine-inning complete game Monday, allowing just one earned run against Arkansas. He is 2-0, 1.61 in 28 innings since coming to the Royals organization.
By John Manuel
HOUSTON--Jeff Francis is on his way to Colorado Springs, earning a promotion to Triple-A.
Dallas McPherson won't be excited. After a promotion from Double-A Arkansas to Triple-A Salt Lake, the Angels third baseman hoped he had seen the last of the Rockies lefthander.
"He was the best guy I saw all year in the Texas League, and now we're going to be in the same league," said McPherson, one of the minors' top home runs hitters. "He's real tough to hit, and it's not just because he's lefthanded."
McPherson struck out when facing Francis in Sunday's Futures Game at Minute Maid Park, one of two hitters Francis fanned in his perfect inning of work as the World team starter. In fact, McPherson compared the 6-foot-5 Francis to Randy Johnson, not because of his velocity as much as his height and the extension Francis gets in his delivery. "It's like he's handing the ball to the catcher," said McPherson, who famously took Johnson deep last year when the Big Unit was on a minor league rehab assignment.
Mariners prospect Shin-Soo Choo echoed McPherson's sentiments, saying Francis put together his dominant first-half at Double-A Tulsa primarily by working off his fastball.
"His fastball is about 90-91," Choo said, "but it feels like he is throwing 94. He is very tall and it feels like he is close to you when he pitches. His fastball has good tail and location. Many pitchers are afraid to pitch inside, but not Francis. He is not scared to come inside with his fastball."
That helps explain Francis' ridiculous numbers. He won 10 of his last 11 decisions last season at high Class A Visalia (with a 1.06 ERA in that span), and continued his success at Tulsa in the first half this year. He registered double-digit strikeouts in eight of his 17 starts for the Drillers and was 13-1, 1.98 at the time of his promotion. In 114 innings, Francis allowed just 73 hits and 22 walks while striking out 147.
Francis' reputation entering the season was not that of a strikeout pitcher, even though he had 192 whiffs in his first 191 career innings. He says the spike in his strikeout numbers is the result of increased command of his fastball and improvement in his curve.
"I've just been more consistent this year, putting my fastball where I want it, doing that with every pitch," he said. "It's really true that getting ahead of the hitter makes such a difference. It's proven that batting averages go down when hitters are behind in the count, and that's what I'm trying to do--get ahead."
It sounds simple, and Francis' .180 opponents batting average shows he has grasped the principle. Scouts who saw him as an amateur also noted Sunday that he has tightened his curveball, a hard pitch that hit 83 mph during a strikeout of Devil Rays prospect B.J. Upton on Sunday. One of the scouts said Francis appeared to have a quicker, tighter delivery, which helps explain his excellent fastball command.
Francis has his bags packed for Colorado Springs and was scheduled to arrive there today for his first Triple-A action. How long he'll be there depends on several factors. The Rockies could summon him to Denver soon, but farm director Bill Geivett has said the organization prefers to get its pitchers some experience pitching in Colorado Springs' thin air before they have to do it when it counts, at Coors Field.
Also, Francis could be selected for Team Canada's Olympic roster. He would likely be Canada's top starting pitcher, and has worn the national team's uniform before in 1999, as a member of the junior national program. Francis stayed with the party line, saying the decision is out of his hands and up to the Rockies and Baseball Canada. But one prospective teammate is hoping he'll suit up.
"We don't have much starting pitching," said Twins farmhand Justin Morneau, who was a member of the Canadian team that qualified for the Athens Games last November in Panama. "He's a lefthanded starter who could be our number one guy. It would be huge to have him there."
That might make Morneau the only hitter happy to see Francis.
In a game full of impressive pitching performances, Padres righthander Tim Stauffer was among the most impressive pitchers who didn't blow mid-90s gas. Stauffer's fastball had excellent sink and run in his 10-pitch effort in the second inning. He struck out Tony Blanco (Reds) and Jorge Cortes (Pirates) before retiring Dioner Navarro (Yankees) on a weak grounder to first base. Stauffer was in the 90-92 mph range with his fastball, right where he usually pitched at Richmond before the Padres took him with the fourth overall pick in 2003. Stauffer has since had weakness in his shoulder that affected his signing bonus (from $2.6 million to $750,000). Understandably, Padres officials who watched his dominant inning were impressed and relieved by his progress, as Stauffer already has reached Triple-A Portland. He's 6-2, 2.74 overall this season between three stops, with 29 walks and 77 strikeouts in 105 innings. "I've been working on (the movement) on my fastball for my last couple of starts, so it was good to see that happen today," Stauffer said after his outing.
Another name turning heads Sunday was Braves righthander Jose Capellan, who gave up one hit and struck out two in an inning of work. He also was the hardest thrower on a day dominated by power arms. Mets third baseman David Wright got his only hit in three trips off a 99 mph Capellan fastball, who threw 15 pitches, with only one of his 12 fastballs registering under 96.
World teammate Felix Hernandez also impressed, giving up one hit and getting one strikeout in his lone inning. Hernandez, the 18-year-old Mariners farmhand already promoted to Double-A San Antonio, hit 97 with his fastball and alternated it with a wicked 82-84 mph curveball that one scout called "unfair." Choo said he first saw Hernandez, his new teammate, at instructional league last fall. "I was amazed," Choo said. "He was throwing 95-96, really easy, and also with a very good curveball. We all were asking him, 'Who are you? Where did you play this year?' And he said, 'Everett.' We just said, 'Wow.' He's so young and so good. This year, his location is much better, and his fastball averages 96. I'm glad he's on my team."
Batting practice was where the hitters got in their best licks in Sunday, and Upton may have had the most impressive round in the best group, which included his best friend, David Wright, game MVP Aaron Hill, Brewers farmhand Rickie Weeks and McPherson. Upton had one of the longest, loudest shots, hitting one off the All-Star Game sign just under the train in deep left field. Wright also reached the sign, while McPherson hit a shot to straightaway center, over the 436-foot sign. "I'm a doubles guy," Hill said. "I tried to hump up and hit out and almost broke my back." Dodgers shortstop Joel Guzman, who batted ninth for the World team, sprayed homers to all fields in BP and also cleared the train in left-center.
Lefthander Wil Ledezma might have taken the loss for the World team, but he got good news afterwards when the Tigers informed him he would be joining the big league team after the all-star break. Ledezma led the Eastern League in wins (10), ERA (2.42), strikeouts (98)and innings pitched (112) during the first half this season.
In non-Futures Game related action, Triple-A Durham center fielder Joey Gathright was running wild against Buffalo, racking up seven steals in three games in the four-game weekend series. Despite going 8-for-12, Gathright only hit two balls out of the infield, making his speed that much more impressive. "He's got a lot of speed, always tries to put the ball in play and make things happen," Buffalo manager Marty Brown said. "He's the kind of leadoff hitter that you don't run into much anymore. Whether he can hit or not, I don't know, but he's definitely mastered the swinging bunt against us."
The Royals promoted third baseman Mitch Maier to high Class A Wilmington on Saturday. Maier was hitting .300-4-36 in 317 at-bats at low Class A Burlington. He went 1-for-4 with a double in his debut. The Royals had no question his advanced approach at the plate would play fine at Wilmington, and considered starting him there this year. They ultimately decided he needed some time at a lower level to continue his defensive transition from catcher to third, where he made 19 errors in 71 games with Burlington.
Double-A New Hampshire righthander Jamie Vermilyea came back down to earth Sunday against Harrisburg. After rolling off 13 consecutive scoreless innings since being promoted from Class A Dunedin--including a seven-inning perfect game against New Britain--allowed six earned runs on seven hits in just four innings.
Braves righthander Kyle Davies struggled Sunday for the first time since being promoted to Double-A Greenville on June 28. Davies allowed six earned runs in just 4 1/3 innings against Tennessee. Davies is now 2-0, 4.24 for the G-Braves. He went 9-2, 2.63 in 75 innings at Myrtle Beach this season.
Shortstop Mike Morse has picked up where he left off before being part of the package that sent Freddy Garcia to the White Sox. Morse is hitting .290 in his first eight games with Double-A San Antonio. He was hitting .287-11-38 in 209 at-bats for Double-A Birmingham before the deal.
Contributing: Chris Kline.
By Chris Kline
Class A Myrtle Beach right fielder Jeff Francoeur will miss at least 4-to-6 weeks after being hit in the face while attempting to bunt. While leaning out over the plate, Francoeur squared around to bunt and the ball skipped off his bat, hitting him in the right cheekbone.
He was taken off the field in an ambulance to Frederick (Md.) Memorial Hospital and released. He is being flown to Atlanta to be examined by team doctors today.
"It's a right cheekbone fracture and he's been cleared to fly to Atlanta to see our specialists," Braves farm director Dayton Moore said. "The good news is through the initial prognosis, there is no damage to the eye."
Francoeur was scheduled to be promoted to Double-A Greenville after the major league all-star break and was also slated to play in the Arizona Fall League this October.
"The important thing now is to have him thoroughly examined by our team doctors in Atlanta," Moore said. "With injuries like this, we'd say he's expected to miss 4-to-6 weeks, but we won't have a timetable until he's seen them. We will want to make sure everything's healed properly and eventually get him cleared to play (before making a decision on playing in the Fall League)."
Frederick righthander Brian Finch, who was on the mound at the time, was visibly upset after the freak incident occurred to Francoeur. Finch walked the next two batters and then gave up a three-run homer to Ray Serrano. Myrtle Beach won the game 6-1.
Francoeur was having another solid season for the Braves this season. Ranked as their No. 2 prospect behind third baseman Andy Marte, Francoeur was hitting .287-13-49 and was named to the Carolina League all-star team this season.
Frederick outfielder B.J. Littleton told the Frederick News Post yesterday that he had been suspended for 15 games by Major League Baseball for testing positive for using a banned substance.
He purchased the supplement at a GNC store, but was told not to reveal the substance. "It was a mistake," Littleton told the News Post. "I read the label on the back and it showed none of the banned substances. When I took the test, it showed up." Littleton is hitting .288-1-16 in 240 at-bats this season.
Reds righthander Richie Gardner continues to move up the ladder through the system. Gardner, who was the starting pitcher for the Carolina League in this year's California-Carolina League all-star game, made his debut for Double-A Chattanooga last night. Gardner allowed two earned runs over six innings of work. He was 8-3, 2.50 in 86 innings at Class A Potomac this season.
Marlins first baseman Jason Stokes returned to the lineup at Double-A Carolina after going through a three-game rehab stint in the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League. Stokes was recovering from a wrist injury. After going 0-for-4 last night, Stokes is hitting .267-16-59 in 232 at-bats.
Phillies center fielder Marlon Byrd was optioned to Triple-A Scranton-Wilkes Barre June 21 because he wasn't producing in Philadelphia and hasn't done much since being sent down. In 76 at-bats with the Red Barons, Byrd is hitting just .250, leaving the Phillies' center field options for the second half in the hands of Doug Glanville and Jason Michaels.
One player who could have an impact on the big league club, perhaps in the stretch run, is Indians lefthander Brian Tallet. Tallet has made three rehab starts on the road back from Tommy John surgery and will be pitching out of the bullpen at Double-A Akron--for now. Tallet began throwing one-inning stints, but the club will begin stretching him out slowly. "He'll be throwing out of the bullpen for the remainder of the year," farm director John Farrell said. "He's been a free and easy 89-91, and his delivery actually looks better now than it did prior to surgery. His touch and extension on his changeup is probably the biggest improvement to me. He tended to cut things off before. He's well on his way back and is someone who could be contributing in the big leagues by September provided he doesn't have any setbacks." The Tribe plans on keeping Tallet in Akron for a few more starts before moving him to Triple-A Buffalo.
Akron righthander Jake Dittler hasn't thrown since June 18 due to back spasms and missed his last start after coming down with strep throat, but is expected to start tomorrow at Erie.
What more can Angels prospect Dallas McPherson do this season? The Triple-A Salt Lake third baseman hit his eighth home run since his promotion last night in an 11-4 win at Las Vegas. McPherson is hitting .393-8-20 and has hit safely in 12 of his 15 games with the Stingers.
Infielder Raul Tablado is having a breakout season for high Class A Dunedin, hitting his 13th home run last night in the Blue Jays' 5-4 loss to Brevard County. Tablado, 22, is tied for fourth in the Florida State League in homers, though he doesn't have enough at-bats to qualify for the batting title. He missed a month with a pulled quad early in the season and is hitting .343-13-40. Of his 57 hits, 28 are for extra bases and he's slugging .669. "He's gotten stronger," manager Omar Malave said, estimating Tablado now packs 200 pounds on his 6-foot-2 frame. "He's gotten a lot more confident; that's impressive how he got hurt when he was going good, but he came back and picked up right where he left off. He's an intelligent hitter, and he's putting his experience and talent together now."
Marlins shortstop Robert Andino, just 20, has continued to rake since a promotion to high Class A Jupiter. He went 4-for-5 in a 6-4 loss to Tampa last night and is 7-for-11 in his first two games with the Hammerheads. A second-round pick in 2002 out of Miami's Southridge High, Andino hit .281-8-46 for low Class A Greensboro before his promotion.
Dodgers outfielder Jereme Milons has worked his way closer to the front of Class A Columbus' deep list of prospects. The center fielder hit his ninth homer last night in a 12-0 victory at Charleston (S.C.), and his 3-for-6 game improved him to .299-9-47, and he leads the team with 23 stolen bases. "It sounds like he's putting things together," an area scout said after watching the Catfish last week. "He's really come on with the bat. His speed's always been his best tool; he's at 4.1 (seconds) or less to first base from the right side. Now he's putting some of his other tools together." Milons, 21, was a 21st-round pick in 2001 out of Starkville (Miss.) High.
Contributing: John Manuel.
By David Wilhelm
Mike Ferris just played his first game in the short-season New York-Penn League, but he's already looking to bigger things.
"My immediate goal for the summer is to be at (low Class A) Peoria," said Ferris, who went 0-for-4 in his pro debut for New Jersey on Wednesday night. "I think I can be there by the end of the summer. If I do that, I can say I had a successful summer."
The Cardinals chose Ferris, a slugging first baseman from Miami (Ohio), in the second round of the draft and signed him for a $600,000 bonus Monday. He had hoped to sign by the time New Jersey opened its season June 18, but negotiations between his representative and the Cardinals didn't gain momentum until after the College World Series ended June 27.
"It's been going on since the draft," the 6-foot-2, 225-pound Ferris said. "But once the College World Series was over, it picked up. The Cardinals showed more of a sense of urgency to get me signed. Just like I didn't want to be sitting around all summer, the Cardinals didn't want me sitting around, either.
"I didn't know what to expect as far as how long it was going to take. I'm glad to have it done. The last couple of weeks, I was getting anxious. I'm glad it's over and I'm ready to get going."
Ferris, a lefthanded hitter and thrower, batted .361-21-62 with 15 doubles, 60 walks and 29 strikeouts in 208 at-bats as a junior this season at Miami. He added a .513 on-base percentage and a .755 slugging percentage to earn first-team All-America honors.
"I wanted to sign. I wanted to get going," said Ferris, adding that returning to Miami was never a consideration. "With the year I had in college, there was no reason to go back to school."
The Cardinals were so high on Ferris that they considered taking him with their first-round pick (19th overall), but instead opted for Boston College righthander Chris Lambert. Ferris was surprisingly still available when their next pick came around, No. 60 overall.
Ferris had been working out at his family's home in Cincinnati since the draft. He spent two days with New Jersey before he made his debut Wednesday against Tri-Cities.
Ferris already is acquainted with two of his New Jersey teammates who played against him in the Mid-American Conference: Ohio University righthander Chris Bova and Toledo outfielder Sean Dobson.
"I'm getting used to the pro atmosphere," Ferris said. "Playing every day is going to be an adjustment, but I don't think it's going to be a whole lot different. It's the same game. The wood bat will play a role. I think that's going to be the biggest adjustment. It will be a two- or three-week (process).
"I'd love to go out and play great. The first couple or three weeks will be just getting back in the swing."
Lefthander Jeff Francis has earned another challenge. The Rockies have promoted the Canadian ace to Triple-A Colorado Springs after his latest masterpiece for Double-A Tulsa. He dominated Arkansas in a 6-4 victory, throwing seven scoreless innings, allowing one hit (a first-inning single by Nick Gorneault) and striking out 14 Travelers. After the bullpen nearly blew it, sidearming closer Ryan Speier secured the victory with his 29th save, getting the last four outs. Francis went 13-1, 1.98 for the Drillers, with eight double-digit strikeout efforts in 17 starts. In 113 2/3 innings, he gave up just 73 hits (nine home runs) and 22 walks while striking out 147.
Speaking of lefthanders earning promotions, Scott Kazmir is headed to the Mets' Double-A Binghamton affiliate. Kazmir has righted himself since a poor start to the year, bouncing back from a rib cage strain that caused him to miss a month. He pitched six scoreless innings Monday against Sarasota, improving his ERA to 0.78 over his last four starts (23 IP, 2 ER). Overall, Kazmir is 1-2, 3.42 in 50 innings, with a 51-22 strikeout-walk ratio and 49 hits allowed.
"He's pitched really well lately," St. Lucie pitching coach Rick Mahler said. "Early in the year, he was just hurting. Once he did find his rhythm, he was able to finish his pitches." Those pitches include a fastball in the 90-95 mph range, Mahler said, averaging around 93, as well as a changeup Mahler termed "outstanding."
Outfielder Elijah Dukes returned to action at high Class A Bakersfield, and the toolsy 20-year-old has hit safely in his first five games since the move. Dukes hit a solo homer Wednesday at Lancaster and is 7-for-18 since the promotion. The former North Carolina State football recruit started the season repeating low Class A and hit .288-2-15 with 14 stolen bases in 15 attempts. He had been inactive since a June 8 ejection in Charleston, when he lost his temper after a strikeout, and placed on the short-season Hudson Valley roster. "The original decision was to option him to Hudson Valley," Devil Rays farm director Cam Bonifay told the Charleston (S.C.) Post and Courier, "and then we thought the best thing was to let him work out in St. Petersburg before reinstating him." Bonifay said.
The Giants' two Futures Game representatives, righthanders Matt Cain and Merkin Valdez, both pitched Wednesday and were limited to two innings in preparation for their trip to Houston. Valdez struck out two for high Class A San Jose, while Cain gave up a run for Norwich.
In another promotion, the Yankees moved last year's first-round pick, Eric Duncan, up to high Class A Tampa. Duncan, 3-for-10 since the promotion, hit .260-12-57 at low Class A Battle Creek. Duncan has slumped since June began, hitting just .184-3-21 in 29 games at Battle Creek with 40 strikeouts in 114 at-bats. He recorded 84 whiffs overall in 288 at-bats prior to the promotion.
As predicted, the Rangers decided Josh Rupe was ready for a greater challenge, promoting the righthander from short-season Spokane to high Class A Stockton.
A cornucopia of Triple-A prospects descended on Durham Bulls Athletic Park during the Bulls-Rochester Red Wings series. The Red Wings lineup features the likes of Justin Morneau, Jason Kubel and Terry Tiffee, while the Bulls' lineup starts with Joey Gathright, B.J. Upton, Jorge Cantu, Matt Diaz and Jonny Gomes (with a Midre Cummings detour in the cleanup spot). Diaz, 26, had the game-winning hit in the Bulls' 7-6 victory, a two-run ninth-inning double that gave him 32 two-baggers for the season. Diaz already had extended his hitting streak to 16 games and is hitting .376-8-37 in 34 games since June 1.
Double-A Akron first baseman Michael Aubrey left Wednesday's game in the fourth inning with a hamstring pull. The severity of the injury wasn't immediately known. Aubrey is 15-for-58 (.259) since his promotion to Akron.
Righthander Garrett Mock continued his strong start to his pro career. He threw six shutout innings at short-season Yakima last night, and the Diamondbacks' third-round pick out of Houston has yet to allow a run in 10 1/3 frames so far as a pro.
Devil Rays' third-rounder Wade Davis was impressive in his last start for Rookie-level Princeton. Davis, who struggled in his first two outings, went five innings and allowed one earned run on four hits Monday. The 18-year-old righthander out of Lake Wales (Fla.) High, showed off a hard-biting slider to go along with a fastball in the low-90s. "For an 18-year-old kid, he's got a pretty good idea," Burlington pitching coach Ruben Niebla said. "He's got a nice, easy delivery, impressive fastball and good slider with late break. I liked him a lot. Nice poise, good command."
Contributing: J.J. Cooper, Chris Kline, John Manuel.
By Chris Kline
GREENSBORO, N.C.--Sometimes, guys seem to come out of nowhere.
But no matter how it appears, Class A Augusta left fielder Brandon Moss hasn't exactly come out of the woodwork--unless you're talking about emerging as one of the best hitting prospects in the Red Sox system.
After being drafted as a second baseman in the eighth round in 2002 out of Loganville High in Monroe, Ga., Moss landed in the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League and hit just .204-0-6 in 113 at-bats.
The 20-year-old outfielder worked hard that offseason to improve his stroke and make adjustments to the pro level, and he came back to hit .237-7-34 for short-season Lowell the following season.
"When I got to Lowell, everything just fell apart and my confidence went way down," Moss said. "I had worked so hard before that, just trying to get it together, and it sucks to work that hard and get no results out of it."
Moss appeared to be running in place. Until this year.
The Moss show has been fully unveiled this season in the South Atlantic League, where he is hitting .356-8-56 with a 37-48 walk-strikeout ratio in 306 at-bats for the Greenjackets. He worked hard again this past offseason on his approach at the plate and is finally getting some results.
"It's definitely a surprise to be doing so well, but I worked really hard this offseason at my approach at the plate," Moss said. "I kind of went back to the way I hit in high school where I wasn't standing completely straight up. Last year, I struck out a lot because I had no balance in my swing. It was all just swinging at everything. So I really got back to being balanced and set up right and it really has cut down on my strikeouts. If you strike out less, you're putting the ball in play all the time and that's what I've been trying to do."
Moss's breakout season is leaving an impression on the Boston brass as well.
"We knew he was a good hitter coming out of high school, but up to this point he's exceeded expectations," farm director Ben Cherington said. "He's refined his overall approach at the plate and really worked hard to become a better hitter. He's got a better understanding of the game now. He's hitting close to .360--but it's a hard .360."
Cherington also calls Moss a "high-energy" guy--a label that has proved to be a double-edged sword. He leaves everything on the field--no matter what happened the day before.
"I've always been a loud mouth, which has been a problem for me too," Moss said. "When we lose or if I go 0-for-4 and the next day I come back all happy-go-lucky, people took it the wrong way like I wasn't taking it seriously. But it's not me not taking it seriously; it's me forgetting about it. It's like it's a new day and who cares? I was 3-for-5 yesterday but who cares? That doesn't mean anything about today.
"That's just the way I go--I don't care about anything that happened yesterday. If you carry it into the next day, you're going to be pissed off the whole day. Who needs to be around some guy like that?"
So far this season, everything has fallen into place for the lefthanded-hitting Moss. On top of the staggering numbers, he appeared in his first all-star game and took home MVP honors. He doubled in the go-ahead run in the fifth and was the only player to have two hits in the game.
"That was something that I really didn't expect to get," Moss said, laughing. "I was just out there and swinging at everything just because I was having so much fun and I was totally caught up in the moment. I didn't really hit anything hard there. I just found some hits and took home the MVP, so that was really nice."
The all-star experience was also a breeding ground for new friendships and catching up with some old ones.
"That was the best experience I've ever had in baseball--by far," Moss said. "It was amazing. I got to hang out with a couple guys I was already friends with in Ian Bladergroen and Ryan Harvey. They're just really great guys. And I got to meet Delmon (Young). I never really talked to Delmon before and he's a great guy. It was neat to see what some of those guys are like. It was definitely the best time ever."
No matter how hard of a .360 Moss is hitting right now, he was happy to see Capital City righthander Yusmeiro Petit get called up to high Class A St. Lucie--tagging him as the toughest pitcher he faced this season.
"I just can't hit him," Moss said. "No question about it--he was the toughest. I'm 1-for-6 off him with five strikeouts. He's good--he really is good. You just can't pick the ball up off him."
Moss used to say that about a lot of pitchers. That hasn't been the case in 2004.
A pair of Twins first-round picks posted solid starts last night. Lefthander Glen Perkins, out of Minnesota, made his professional debut and went four scoreless frames for Rookie-level Elizabethton, striking out seven while giving up just two hits. Righthander Kyle Waldrop, out of Farragut High in Knoxville, Tenn., got his first pro victory in his third start, going five innings and giving up one run while striking out six in the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League.
In another pro debut, righthander Thomas Diamond hit 95 mph on the stadium radar gun and had five strikeouts in two scoreless innings of work for short-season Spokane. He was relieved by rehabbing Josh Rupe, who threw five more scoreless frames and struck out five to improve to 2-0, 1.50.
Padres righthander Clark Girardeau struggled somewhat in the low Class A Midwest League, but he's responded well to a callup to high Class A Lake Elsinore. He gave up just two hits and one run in eight innings against Inland Empire last night, improving to 2-0, 0.89 in three California League starts. Girardeau was just 4-4, 5.02 at Fort Wayne, though he won his last four decisions there.
Righthander Denny Bautista seems to be settling in with his new organization. Traded from the Orioles to the Royals last month for big league reliever Jason Grimsley, Bautista got his first win for Double-A Wichita last night against Frisco, spinning seven scoreless innings while striking out nine. He improved to 1-0, 1.89 since the deal in three starts, striking out 24 in 19 innings.
First, Class A Capital City lost ace righthander Yusmeiro Petit to a promotion to high Class A St. Lucie. Now, the Bombers will be without their top hitter, as first baseman Ian Bladergroen tore a ligament in his left wrist in the first game after returning from the South Atlantic League all-star break. "It was just one of those freak things," Bladergroen told The State in Columbia, S.C. "I took a swing and felt a little pinch. I tried to keep going but felt a lot of pain, so I came out of the game." Bladergroen, who was hitting .342-13-74 at the time of the injury, has an MRI scheduled for later in the week to determine the extent of the damage.
At least the Bombers still have Lastings Milledge, who went 5-for-10 during a doubleheader split at Asheville. Milledge, now batting .333-7-34 in 168 at-bats, went 4-for-5 with a solo homer in the 15-4 loss in the nightcap, and a scout who saw him recently came away impressed. "He's got just lightning-quick bat speed," the area scout said. "You can definitely dream with him. He's not a big guy, and while I only saw him one game, he looked pretty raw defensively. But the bat is just real, real quick. He's got a chance to have serious power." Milledge has 16 doubles and a .565 slugging percentage that would rank fourth in the South Atlantic League (Bladergroen's .595 leads) if he had enough at-bats to qualify.
Triple-A is agreeing with Tommy Whiteman. The Astros shortstop went 3-for-3 Tuesday against Oklahoma to extend his hitting streak to nine games, and he's hitting .317 in 16 games overall with New Orleans.
Triple-A Nashville righthander John Van Benschoten has established himself as one of the Pirates' top prospects on the mound, and he has righted himself since a disastrous 0-3, 9.17 performance in April. He struck out seven Tuesday in six innings, giving up four runs in a no-decision at Memphis. He also got off the schneid at the plate with his first home run as a professional; Van Benschoten led Division I in homers with 34 in 2001, his last season at Kent State.
Marlins first baseman Jason Stokes returned to action to rehab his wrist injury, playing in the GCL. He went 1-for-4 with a double in a doubleheader against the Expos.
White Sox fourth-round pick Lucas Harrell, a righthander out of Ozark (Mo.) High, made a splashy impression in his first professional start. After making three appearances out of the Rookie-level Bristol bullpen, Harrell hurled five perfect innings last night as the starter, striking out four against Kingsport. Harrell relies mostly on his fastball, which he throws in the 90-93 mph range.
Contributing: John Manuel.
By J.J. Cooper
Josh Karp's stuff still screams success.
He features a 91-94 mph fastball and a plus changeup. He has the sturdy build (6-foot-5, 210 pounds) of a front-line starter.
But then you look at the stats, and the head scratching begins.
Karp's 3-8, 5.38 stats at Triple-A Edmonton aren't pretty. Neither is his .300 average against, or his 39-71 walk-strikeout ratio. Coming on the heels of last year's 4-10, 4.99 season at Double-A Harrisburg, Karp appears to be moving further away from a major league callup.
But Expos minor league pitching coordinator Brett Strom doesn't see it that way. He sees Karp's stuff, considers the hitter-happy conditions of the Pacific Coast League, and expects Karp to still be a productive major league starter.
"Lots of pitchers have medium success in the PCL and have great success in the major leagues," Strom said. "It's a very good hitter's league. Karp has more than held his own."
Karp is still working to improve his breaking ball, which often flattens out. And too often, his otherwise nasty stuff still gets away from him, ending up in the batter's wheelhouse.
Command is still the biggest part of Karp's to-do list. He learned that in three starts this season against Sacramento. Facing a group of hitters who are trained in the A's system to take balls and work counts, Karp lasted no more than three innings in any of the three starts, walking 14 batters in 8 2/3 innings.
"Their take-take approach makes a pitcher work. It works very well against pitchers without great command," Strom said. "Pitchers in the low minors get used to guys swinging at pitches off the plate. It kind of sets you back on your heels when they don't offer at it."
Sacramento has given Karp a lesson in the need for fastball command. But that doesn't mean that the Expos are souring on their first-round pick in 2001.
When Strom looks at Karp's PCL struggles, he thinks of the late Darryl Kile, who went 5-10, 6.64 in Tucson in 1990. The next season, he was 7-11, 3.69 in Houston.
"If we had waited for Darryl Kile to have a breakout year in Triple-A, he would have never gotten to the big leagues," said Strom, who Tucson's pitching coach at the time. "We realized that his curveball would be better in the (Astrodome) than it was in Tucson."
"(Karp's) got a chance to be a frontline starter," Strom said. "If we didn't believe that, he'd still be in Double-A, because his numbers weren't great in Double-A. You have to trust what you see."
Clint Everts had his best start of the season over the weekend, and he did it against the most fearsome lineup in the South Atlantic League. In six innings, the Expos' top prospect limited the Asheville Tourists, the Sally League leader in home runs, to only one hit. "Everything was working for me," said the righthander, who also struck out 12 Tourists to bring his season total to 90 at the all-star break. "I felt like I could throw anything in any count." The pitch he favors most, however, isn't what you think. Everts relies on a tight curveball and big league changeup to baffle hitters, not his fastball. "He's interesting, because a lot of guys have to work on their breaking pitches first, but for Clint it's the opposite," Savannah manager Bob Henley said. "Getting his fastball going just takes a lot of work, sweat and time."
Double-A Jacksonville lefthander Derek Thompson had his first shaky start on Saturday at Greenville, allowing five earned runs in the first two innings before "settling down" to stifle the Braves over the next five frames. "I don't understand why (the media) says that stuff," Thompson said. "I was settled down when I started. They were just hitting everything. Everything fell down for them." His changeup, one of his best pitches this season, didn't matter much--it was clocked between 85-87 to go along with a 91-94 mph fastball, not much of a change. Thompson, however, went on to strike out a career-high eight in the game.
Suns first baseman James Loney only saw four pitches in his first three at-bats Sunday against Double-A Carolina righthander Bill Murphy, but the second at-bat showed why Loney is considered one of the top first base prospects in the minors. On a 1-0 count, Murphy came inside with a 91 mph fastball and Loney turned on it, driving it high off the wall in right center.
Blue Jays' top catching prospect Guillermo Quiroz returned to the lineup after missing nearly two months with a broken bone in his hand. Quiroz went 0-for-8 in his first two games, but has hit safely in his last five--with four hits in his last seven at-bats.
Cardinals righthander Anthony Reyes was promoted to Double-A Tennessee over the weekend. Reyes, who was in the same rotation at Southern California with Cubs righthander Mark Prior, has struggled with injuries since being selected in the 15th round in 2003. His fastball is back in the low 90s and his slider is biting again. Reyes went 3-0, 4.66 in 37 innings at Class A Palm Beach and went seven innings and allowed two earned runs in his Double-A debut Friday.
In other promotion news, the Rockies sent outfielder Jeff Salazar to Double-A Tulsa, while the Marlins shot shortstop Josh Wilson to Triple-A Albuquerque and catcher Josh Willingham to the major leagues from Double-A Carolina. Salazar hit .347-13-44 with 17 stolen bases at Class A Visalia, leading the league in runs (79) and hits (109) while ranking second in batting. Wilson was hitting .315-10-41 with 21 doubles for the Mudcats, while Willingham was leading the Southern League in slugging (.581) and ranked second in on-base percentage (.428) while hitting .282-17-55.
Indians lefthander Mariano Gomez made his first rehab start at short-season Mahoning Valley on Saturday. He had been on the disabled list with a strained ligament in his left middle finger--the same injury that caused him to miss the last two months of last season. Gomez allowed two hits in two innings of work for the Scrappers. He was 0-1, 3.07 in 15 innings at Double-A Akron this season before going on the DL.
Speaking of Indians rehabbing lefties, Brian Tallet made his second start of the season Saturday at low Class A Lake County. Tallet went a full inning this time around, retiring all three batters he faced. The LSU product lasted just 2/3 of an inning in his first start at Mahoning Valley last week since recovering from Tommy John surgery in the fall.
Mets righthander Yusmeiro Petit struck out nine over four hitless innings in his Florida State League debut Saturday. Petit, who has been compared to a righthanded version of Sid Fernandez, was 9-2, 2.39 with 122 strikeouts in 83 innings at low Class A Capital City this season.
Double-A is posing no problems for Giants righthander Matt Cain. Cain, who will represent the organization along with righthander Merkin Valdez at the Futures Game in Houston next week, is 2-1, 1.88 in 24 innings since getting called up from Class A San Jose on June 17.
Switch-hitting shortstop Luis Soto is on a tear in his pro debut in the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League. Soto, signed by the Red Sox for $500,000 after displaying his tools on the U.S. showcase circuit last season, is hitting .350-4-7 in 40 at-bats.
Astros center fielder Josh Anderson, a fourth-round pick out of Eastern Kentucky, hasn't missed a beat since a promotion to high Class A Salem in June. He started the year at low Class A Lexington, where he batted .324-4-31 with 47 steals. In his first seven games for the Avalanche, Anderson is hitting .375 with nine more steals.
From one Anderson to another, White Sox first-rounder Brian Anderson has made a seamless transition at Double-A Birmingham. Anderson, who was promoted to the Southern League on July 1, is hitting .350-1-6 in his first five games for the Barons. He hit .319-8-46 in 254 at-bats at high Class A Winston-Salem this season, garnering all-star honors.
Class A Rome lefthander Jake Stevens is continuing to roll his way through the South Atlantic League. The third-round pick out of Cape Coral (Fla.) High in 2003 is 6-1, 1.43 in 69 innings. Most impressively, Stevens hasn't allowed an earned run since May 21.
Blue Jays righthander Cam Reimers made his 2004 Triple-A debut at Syracuse, allowing a run over seven innings to earn his first win. Reimers, who made 10 starts for the Skychiefs in 2002, went 7-4, 2.78 in 94 innings at Double-A New Hampshire this season.
Rockies righthander Chin-Hui Tsao took another step Monday toward returning to Coors Field. Tsao, who made rehab starts at low Class A Asheville and Double-A Tulsa after recovering from shoulder stiffness that kept him in extended spring for the first half of the season, struck out seven in six innings at Triple-A Colorado Springs last night. "My shoulder was tired after my rehab start in Tulsa," Tsao told the Colorado Springs Gazette. "Today it felt better. I threw a lot of sliders, not too many changeups. I was just having fun." Added manager Marv Foley: "He gave the impression he's close to being a top performer anywhere. Last year, he was a polished product when he led the Texas League in ERA, and was 3-3 after being promoted. I'm certain he'll get better and better. Today was a very encouraging start."
Maybe it was the song . . . Last night, Triple-A Durham shortstop B.J. Upton visited the press box to request that his intro song be changed. In his first at-bat--on the first pitch he saw--Bossman Junior blasted his 11th homer of the season off Rochester lefthander Dave Gassner. Upton, however, also made errors 17 and 18 of the season in a Bulls loss.
Contributing: Chris Gigley, Chris Kline, Gary Martin.
By Tom Halliburton
HOUSTON--Paul Ricciarini intends to maintain Astros scouting department's current philosophy and help it to function more efficiently.
General manager Gerry Hunsicker appointed the 54-year-old Pittsfield, Mass., native to replace David Lakey as its scouting director Monday. Lakey opted for a reassignment after eight years as director of scouting.
The Astros have shuffled their scouting deck considerably, but they plan to retain their philosophy of placing a strong emphasis on selecting Texas-area talent.
"I see myself as an extension of David," Ricciarini said. "I'm a people guy. And the bottom line is we're not going to make any changes philosophically."
Unnamed sources agreed that Lakey opted for a reassignment after internal strife existed, which culminated with the recent dismissal of national crosschecker Kevin Burrell. Those sources indicated Hunsicker realized that problems existed that could hinder the club's future ability to bring in talent.
Hunsicker offered the scouting director's position to Ricciarini, who served for the past five seasons as the club's coordinator for professional scouting.
A 25-year veteran of the Astros organization, Lakey has chosen to continue to work for the club as a pro assignments scout. Ricciarini immediately paid tribute to Lakey after accepting his position.
"We all owe David a debt of gratitude," Ricciarini said. "Sometimes these jobs take away what you're really paid to do and that's evaluate talent.
"I'm excited. I'm really charged up to take on the challenges that are forthcoming. I know those challenges are awesome. I'm all about enjoying people and working with people so it's a fun journey."
Ricciarini's near 30-year career has consisted of scouting work with Blue Jays, Braves, Mets and Reds organizations prior to his Houston tenure. He was the East Region scouting supervisor for the Mets.
A 1974 University of Texas graduate, Lakey had much more of a predominant Texas background, leading some baseball observers to wonder if the Astros would shift their focus from Texas prospects with the hiring of Ricciarini, who lives in Pittsfield, Mass.
"I don't think so," the Astros new scouting director said. "We've had pretty darn good success with the philosophies we've used. We're going to continue to emphasize a strong presence in Texas. It's definitely a healthy source of regional talent as opposed to the numbers of players available in northern regions. But I'm not harboring any attitudes toward any region."
Indians righthander Travis Foley has been on the disabled list since May 15 with a strained ligament in his elbow. The Tribe just shut him down and the injury will not require surgery at this point. "He's on a limited throwing program right now," farm director John Farrell said. "We're hoping to get him back soon, but his progress will dictate that timetable."
White Sox left fielder Brian Anderson was promoted to Double-A Birmingham yesterday and went 0-for-3 in his debut. Anderson, who represented the organization in the California-Carolina League All-Star Game on Tuesday, was hitting .319-8-46 in 244 at-bats.
Center fielder Jeremy Reed made his debut for Triple-A Tacoma last night--his first game since coming over to the Mariners in the Freddy Garcia deal. Reed went 2-for-4 with a homer. He was hitting .275-8-37 in 276 at-bats at Triple-A Charlotte this season.
Triple-A Tucson center fielder Luis Terrero returned to action last night in his first game since being suspended for an on-field altercation on May 25. Terrero went 2-for-4 and is now hitting .339-7-32 in 171 at-bats.
OK, Double-A Reading first baseman Ryan Howard is officially on a tear. Howard hit two more home runs last night, bringing his total to 31. He's hit nine homers in his last eight games and has recorded seven multi-homer games this season.
Mariners 18-year-old righthander Felix Hernandez made his Double-A debut at San Antonio last night, striking out eight in six innings while giving up one run. The Mariners' No. 1 prospect went 9-3, 2.74 with 114 strikeouts in 92 innings at high Class A Inland Empire this season. However, the Missions lost the game as Hernandez was outdueled by Frisco's John Hudgins, who struck out 11 in seven shutout innings. Hudgins, the Most Outstanding Player of the 2003 College World Series and the Rangers' third-round pick last year, allowed three hits and no walks. Neither starter factored into the decision.
Double-A West Tenn righthander Chadd Blasko went on the DL today. He left Sunday's game after just four innings because of tightness in his shoulder. He is expected to miss at least one start. Blasko is 5-4, 5.67 in 67 innings for the Diamond Jaxx overall this season.
Phillies' first-round pick Greg Golson is off to a solid start in the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League. Golson, the 21st pick overall out of John Connally High in Austin, Texas, is hitting .273 in his first three games as a pro.
Brewers' first-round pick Mark Rogers made an impressive pro debut yesterday for the Rookie-Level Arizona Brewers. The fifth overall pick out of Mount Ararat High School in Maine pitched two perfect innings, striking out five.
The Blue Jays promoted righthander David Bush to the major leagues, and he was scheduled to start Friday night. Bush was 6-6, 4.06 in 99 2/3 innings at Triple-A Syracuse this season, with an 88-20 strikeout-walk ratio. He's allowed 108 hits and seven home runs.
Contributing: Chris Kline
By David Laurila
Braves outfield prospect Ryan Langerhans has earned brief promotions to Atlanta in each of the last two seasons. But he wants his next ticket to Turner Field to be a one-way, and recognizes that this may be a pivotal year for that dream to come true.
Based on his first-half performance at Triple-A Richmond, that return may be just over the horizon--this time for more than a cup of coffee.
A third-round pick out of Round Rock (Texas) High in 1998, the 24-year-old has been solid but not spectacular in climbing the organizational ladder. Even with the impressive numbers he's putting up this summer, it's still the steady, workmanlike contribution that typifies him.
"The best part of his game is that he's solid in all aspects," Richmond manager Pat Kelly said.
Versatility is the key to Langerhans' success. He plays all three outfield positions well, with the speed to handle center and the arm strength to make the longer throw from right.
"He was the best defensive option last September," Kelly said, "which is one reason for his promotion to Atlanta."
That introduction to the majors--he had only one at-bat in his brief 2002 promotion--consisted of 15 at-bats over 16 games. He recorded four hits, the first being a single off of Pirates righthander Brian Meadows.
"I had an opportunity to face guys like Randy Wolff and Braden Looper," Langerhans said, "so I know what it's like to step in against quality major league pitching."
Still, he recognizes that a spot on the Atlanta bench may not be as valuable to his development as hitting in the No. 3 hole on a regular basis at Richmond.
"They want me to play every day down here and get as many ABs as possible," he said. "I understand that. My goal is to make it back up, but I need to show that I deserve that chance. I think this is a big year for me, and hopefully I can put it all together."
So far, he's on track for that return trip. Langerhans is hitting .280-10-42 with 19 doubles, and leads the International League in runs scored. He leads the Triple-A Braves in several offensive categories, including total bases and extra-base hits. Kelly is monitoring his progress with interest.
"Urgency can sometimes be a good thing," Kelly said. "And Ryan had a super first half. If he stays with his approach--working counts and getting good pitches to hit--he's going to fulfill his potential."
Burlington righthander Chris Coughlin threw the first nine-inning perfect game in 83 years for the Bees last night in a 3-0 win against Beloit. The only threat to break up perfection came in the eighth inning, when Snappers first baseman Vinny Rottino hit a popup to shallow center field. Chris Lubanski came racing in and made a diving catch to rob Rottino of a single. "The last inning, my heart was about to beat out of my jersey, so I don't remember much," Coughlin told the Associated Press. "I haven't breathed since the fifth inning. It's the best thing I've ever done. I've never even come close to pitching a no-hitter." Coughlin struck out 11 and did not issue a walk in the perfecto. He is 2-1, 5.79 with 27 strikeouts in 28 innings.
Orioles lefthander Ryan Hannaman had shoulder surgery and is out for the season. Hannaman began the year 0-1, 8.03 with 16 walks in 12 innings at high Class A Frederick before heading to the club's extended spring training facility in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., to work on improving his command.
Indians lefthander Brian Tallet made his first rehab start on the way back from Tommy John surgery. Tallet went just 2/3 of an inning Wednesday night, but the club was happy with the results. "We are definitely encouraged by the start," assistant general manager Chris Antonetti said. "His stuff was crisp, but more importantly, he felt healthy. It was a good first step." Tallet used his entire repertoire--fastball, slider and changeup--in the 4-3 loss to Auburn.
Double-A Reading righthander Gavin Floyd has struggled recently--Floyd went seven innings last night, allowing five earned runs on eight hits. He is now 3-5, 2.84 in 92 innings.
Braves righthander Kyle Davies was promoted to Double-A Greenville and made his first start yesterday. Davies, who was 9-2, 2.63 in 75 innings at Class A Myrtle Beach, picked up where he left off in the Carolina League, going seven innings, allowing one earned run and struck out seven.
Double-A Round Rock right fielder Charlton Jimerson is on a tear in the Texas League. Jimerson has 10 hits in his last seven games, including going 4-for-6 with two RBIs and three runs scored night last night in a 13-1 pounding of Arkansas. Jimerson is hitting .262-10-42 with 26 steals in 286 at-bats.
The Three Amigos--El Paso's Conor Jackson, Carlos Quentin and Jamie D'Antona--powered the Diablos to a 4-2 win over Tulsa last night, defeating righthander Chin-Hui Tsao. The Amigos combined to go 7-for-10 with three RBIs and all four runs scored. Tsao allowed four runs on nine hits in six innings.
Class A Daytona first baseman Brandon Sing broke the club's single-season mark for home runs, hitting No. 25 last night against Brevard County. Former Cubs third baseman Ron Walker set the previous mark of 24 in 1998. Sing can now take aim on the Florida State League record of 33, set by Ed Levy of the Sanford Giants in 1950. Sing, a 20th-round pick of the Cubs out of Joliet (Ill.) West High in 1999, is hitting .294-25-74 in 252 at-bats.
Speaking of home run records, Double-A Reading first baseman Ryan Howard inched closer to the Phillies' single-season mark, hitting his 29th of the season last night. The club record is 33, set by Greg Luzinski in 1970.
Dodgers center fielder Reggie Abercrombie was reassigned to Class A Vero Beach. Abercrombie, one of the most toolsy players in the game, struggled terribly during the first half at Double-A Jacksonville, hitting just .173-4-20 in 168 at-bats after returning from an ACL tear last fall.
Class A St. Lucie lefthander Scott Kazmir had his best outing of the season last night, picking up his first win of 2004. Kazmir went six shutout innings, striking out six and walking three to lower his ERA to 3.89.
Pirates' No. 1 pick Neil Walker had another good night in the Gulf Coast League. Walker went 3-for-4 with a pair of runs scored and is now hitting .316-0-1 in 19 at-bats.
Mariners lefthander Travis Blackley was called up to the big league club today. Blackley went 7-2, 2.63 in 86 innings at Triple-A Tacoma this season. He takes the roster spot of righthander Clint Nageotte, who was optioned back to the Triple-A roster.
Contributing: Chris Kline.