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Spring Training Dish

By Josh Boyd
March 31, 2003

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz.--Matt Cain may have snuck into the first round last year, but there is nothing inconspicuous about this 18-year-old righthander. Drafted by the Giants with the 25th pick out of Houston High in Germantown, Tenn., Cain went 0-1, 3.72 in a light workload (19 innings; 8 games) for the Giants Rookie-level Arizona League affiliate last year.

Cain is headed to low Class A Hagerstown for his full-season debut, but he had an opportunity to prove his worth against the Giants Triple-A squad during Sunday's final intrasquad game before camp broke.

Cain sat at 89-91mph with hard downhill life and showed a put-away hammer curveball at 76-77 mph as well as an improved feel for his fading changeup. He has a power delivery and strong frame with projectable velocity. His loose, quick arm works well, and he registered at least five punchouts in four innings with his curveball. It is a hard biter that hitters had a tough time picking up. If he consistently deals the way he did on Sunday, Cain will dominate the less-experienced South Atlantic League hitters.

In the same game, third baseman Lance Niekro suffered a contusion on his wrist when a hard hit grounder took a bad hop. He left the game and had his wrist wrapped, but there was no word yet on the severity of the injury. Niekro has yet to play an injury-free season since being drafted in the second round in 2000.

In other injury news, outfield prospect Freddie Lewis has been out of action with a broken hamate bone and won't start playing in extended spring for at least two more weeks.

Righthander Jerome Williams worked at 84-89 with a free and effortless delivery, tantalizing hitters with his sharp breaking curveball.

Righthander Kevin Correia, drafted out of Cal Poly in the fourth round last year, was one of the most impressive pitchers in camp this spring. After debuting in short-season Salem-Keizer, he'll jump all the way to Double-A Norwich.

ANGEL FOOD

• The Angels are expecting lefthander Joe Torres to return to the overpowering form he showed in 2000, the year he was selected with the 10th overall pick. He managed to go 11-8, 3.52 for low Class A Cedar Rapids last year without the plus velocity he's relied on in the past.

The Angels believe the problem was related to tightness in his back and shoulder, and Torres worked with a specialist during the offseason to loosen up. "He was so constricted and tight," Angels farm director Tony Reagins said. "The key is for him to regain that looseness."

Torres has been a tick higher this spring (86-88 mph) than he was last year (84-86) but that's still a far cry from the low- to mid-90s he worked with in 2000. He pitched between 84-89 mph on Saturday, throwing four scoreless innings. He mixed in a good breaking ball and changeup, and is working on finishing his delivery, especially on his four-seamer.

• Catcher Jeff Mathis, who led Midwest League catchers in fielding percentage and threw out 37 percent on the bases, showed off his 65 arm (on the 20-80 scouting scale). He rifled a throw behind a runner leading off second for a pickoff, gunned down a runner stealing third and nearly caught one sleeping while leading off first. He has a quick release and outstanding arm strength with online carry. And oh by the way, he swings a quick bat with power to the gaps.

Meanwhile Reagins called fellow catcher Jared Abruzzo "the most impressive of the young guys in big league camp." Abruzzo has shed 20 pounds and is in tremendous shape with a chiseled, muscular frame. The Angels were still working on assignments, but could end up with Mathis and Abruzzo together in Class A Rancho Cucamonga.

• Righthander Kevin Jepsen was throwing 89-91 with a hard 83 mph slider and an improved delivery. Rich Fischer sat at 90 mph and worked between 89-91 with a long, easy arm action. Lean and athletic, Fischer has a good changeup with late sink and a solid breaking ball.

Righthander Derrick Turnbow, coming off two injury-plagued seasons, has reportedly been up to 98 mph this spring, but he was firing 93-95 mph fastballs on Sunday, and spinning a nasty 83 mph slider with hard bite and tilt. Turnbow is slated to start the year in Double-A Arkansas, but could be called upon if anyone in the Angels bullpen falters or gets hurt.

• Righthander Carlos Morban has been impressive this spring. He went 2-0, 5.19 in the Rookie-level Arizona League last year with 35 K's in 26 innings and has been working out with the Double-A group this spring. The 6-foot-6, 190-pounder has long legs and gangly, long arms. He reached 92 with some tailing action, but needs to hone his offspeed offerings, a slider and changeup. He tends to overthrow them into the dirt on the extension side.

That's it. Minor league camps broke on Sunday (some on Friday and Saturday, actually). I'll return to BA World Headquarters in Durham some 30-plus games and 200 innings of minor league exhibition games (and approximately 800 miles around Florida and Arizona in rental cars) later. We'll have one final wrap up of my personal top prospects from this spring training whirlwind later this week to kick off the regular season.

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