Daily Dish: July 7

See also: Thursday’s Daily Dish
See also: Today’s Baseball America Prospect Report

WINSTON-SALEM, N.C.–Collin Balester is starting to remind people why he was the Nationals’™ top pitching prospect entering the season.

The 6-foot-5, 190-pound righthander went seven innings for just the second time this season in high Class A Potomac’™s 3-1 win against Winston-Salem on Thursday, allowing one run on five hits while striking out five and walking two. He picked up the win to improve to 4-3, 5.35 on the season with 56 strikeouts and 38 walks in 74 innings.

The numbers aren’™t impressive, but Balester has been pitching his best the last few weeks. He struck out a season-high eight while walking just one in his last start against Kinston, and he threw 5 2/3 innings of scoreless ball against Wilmington in the start before that. He has not allowed more than three earned runs in any of his last eight starts, dating back to a May 16 loss to Kinston. Balester has also improved his control since walking 16 batters over four starts in May and June. In his last five starts, he has issued just eight free passes.

“Collin’™s a guy that has always been able to pitch with the fastball and pitch upstairs quite a bit, so we’™re trying to get him into a little more of a command position while still lighting it up and going after it, and he’™s done that,” Potomac pitching coach Charlie Corbell said.

Balester’™s fastball sat in the 90-92 mph range against the Warthogs, touching 93 a number of times. He also racked up several strikeouts with his 76-78 downer curveball and flashed a decent changeup. His command lapsed a bit when runners reached base and his frustration with the home plate umpire was visible as his outing wore on, but he wriggled his way out of any jams by inducing ground balls.

“Collin’™s a very emotional and hyper kid, and he’™s got a lot of energy on the mound,” Corbell said. “He’™s a big, long, gangly guy who’™s still developing his body. What we really worked hard on is getting the repeatability in his delivery, where he’™s not spinning off quite so much and getting an opportunity to really live with the fastball. His fastball has a lot of hop to it.”

A scout with an American League club noticed Balester was dropping and driving off his back leg, which neutralizes the advantage of his height. But the scout said Balester has plenty of time to make that small adjustment. He just turned 20 in June and is holding his own in the Carolina League.


Talented Hoppers

Chris Volstad, Aaron Thompson, Sean West and Ryan Tucker were all drafted in the first 44 picks of the 2005 draft out of high school by the Marlins and all four are in the starting rotation for low Class A Greensboro. While it might not be the best, it could make the case for most talented rotation in the minors.

Three-quarters of them have had seasons that have been solid if not dominant, but Tucker has clearly enjoyed the least success of the quartet.

Last night; however, Tucker put together what would have to be considered his best start of the season. The righthander allowed one run over five innings while matching his season-high of seven strikeouts. Most importantly, he walked only one hitter and picked up his third win in the process as the Grasshoppers defeated Greenville 5-2. On the season, Tucker is now 3-8, 6.27 with 71 strikeouts and 42 walks in 70 innings.

The 19-year-old had his fastball sitting in the 92-94 mph range last night and touched 96. He was able to complement it with a hard slider that the Marlins are hoping will be his second plus pitch. Because of his impressive fastball, he did not have much use for his curve ball as an amateur and the Marlins think he is more suited to throw a slider because of his arm strength. Right now, they are having him focus mainly on the fastball and slider.

Coming out of Temple City (Calif.) High, there were concerns that Tucker’™s delivery was too max-effort. When you factor in his lack of a reliable second pitch, he might profile better as a hard-throwing reliever.



• Things have gone from bad to worse for Braves No. 1 prospect Jarrod Saltalamacchia this season. While he has made strides defensively, the Double-A Mississippi catcher is hitting just .197/.311/.297 with four homers and 25 RBIs in 239 at-bats this season. Saltalamacchia sustained a bone bruise on his left hand at the base of his wrist on June 28 and hasn’™t played since. He is not expected to return until after the all-star break . . . In other injury news, the Indians essentially lost outfielder Nick Weglarz for the remainder of the year after the 2005 third-round pick had surgery today for a broken hamate bone in his right hand. Weglarz, who the Indians expected to push the 18-year-old to low Class A Lake County to start this season, originally fractured the bone in spring training, but with intensified activity, the fracture needed surgery to be corrected. Weglarz played in just one game in the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League in late June, going 0-for-2 with a pair of strikeouts. He is expected to miss 6-to-8 weeks . . . We originally reported that Pirates catcher Mike McCuistion would likely miss the entire season after having shoulder surgery this past offseason, but the seventh-round pick in 2001 is back rehabbing at low Class A Hickory. McCuistion batted .293/.366/.433 last season at high Class A Lynchburg. He was hitting .287/.381/.429 in his first 70 at-bats this season . . . The Marlins are apparently aggressively promoting righthander Jose Garcia this season. Garcia, who was signed out of Dominican Republic in 2001, started the year at high Class A Jupiter where he went 6-2, 1.87 in 77 innings. He was promoted to Double-A Carolina–briefly–making just five starts before being called up again to Triple-A Albuquerque, where he debuted Thursday. He was just fair, allowing five runs on five hits and four walks in four innings of work. Garcia, who will be the lone representative of the Marlins organization in this year’™s Futures Game, went 2-2, 2.67 with a 28-10 strikeout-walk ratio in 30 innings for the Mudcats . . . The Mets called up their top starter and reliever prospects Thursday night for deployment in their four-games-in-three-days series against the Marlins to close the half. Righthander Mike Pelfrey, 22 and the ninth overall pick in 2005, will make his major league debut Saturday in one of the Mets’™ doubleheader games. Pitching for Double-A Binghamton, Pelfrey is 4-2, 2.71 on the season with 77 strikeouts and 26 walks in 66 innings. Though his most recent start, an 11-strikeout game against New Hampshire, might be his best of the season, Pelfrey had given up one run or less in five of his previous seven starts. Pelfrey’™s Binghamton teammate, righthander Henry Owens, also got the call. Though he’™s already 27, Owens numbers at Double-A are eye-popping–93 batters faced, 51 strikeouts, eight walks, eight hits, zero home runs . . . The Twins called up righthander Pat Neshek, 25, from Triple-A Rochester Thursday night. The side-arming Neshek had racked up 14 saves for the Red Wings while averaging nearly two innings per appearance. In his 60 IL innings, Neshek struck out 87 batters, walked 14 and allowed a .189 average . . . Angels lefthander Joe Saunders, 25, gave up two runs in six innings Thursday, walking six and striking out just two. Saunders recorded 12 of 14 in-play outs on the ground, continuing a season-long trend. For the year, Saunders is 10-3, 2.40 for Triple-A Salt Lake with an astounding ratio of 172-98 groundouts-to-flyouts. He’™s also been extremely durable, pitching a minor league high 120 innings, in which he’™s recorded 85 strikeouts and 35 walks . . . Triple-A Portland lost to Las Vegas in 14 innings Thursday in the longest home game in the Beavers’™ PCL history. Las Vegas completed a three-game sweep when Wilkin Ruan tripled to lead off the 14th and scored when the next batter, Wilson Valdez, laid down a bunt that was misplayed. Dodgers prospects James Loney (three hits) and Andy LaRoche (home run) had key hits early in the game . . . Jeremy Papelbon kept the Boise Hawks in first place in the short-season Northwest League’™s Eastern division and gained his second save of the season by giving up only one hit in 2 1/3 innings of relief as the Hawks beat Tri-City, 5-1. Papelbon struck out Geoff Strickland with the bases loaded in the seventh to end a late Tri-City threat.  Jeff Samardzija started the game, and only gave up one run in four innings of work . . . Pinch-hitter Chris Davis had the perfect end to Spokane’™s game against the Yakima Bears. Davis smacked a walk-off two-run home to give his Indians the 11-9 win in 12 innings. The two teams combined for 33 hits and 12 different pitchers. The game had been tied at nine since the ninth inning . . . North Carolina’™s loss in the College World Series marked Jay Cox’™ last game in Tar Heel blue. After thinking about his future for two weeks, the outfielder signed with the Colorado Rockies, beginning his season on Wednesday. As a junior, Cox hit .375/.462/.634 in the middle of UNC’™s lineup. “They just gave me a great opportunity, and I was just ready to start my professional career,” Cox told the Jackson Hole Star Tribune. In his first professional game, Cox reached base twice, once on an error and a single later in the game. “I was a little anxious after I got my first hit, but the biggest thing is I got the monkey off my back and now I can just sit there and relax.”

Contributing: Matt Eddy, Chris Kline, Kristin Pratt and Bryan Smith.