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Compiled by Aaron Fitt, Chris Kline and Matt Meyers
August 5, 2005

At first glance, Orioles second baseman Nate Spears looks like he should be playing videogames at the mall or getting ready to pass a test for his driver's license--not anchoring the infield at high Class A Frederick.

The fifth-round pick in 2003 out of Charlotte High in Port Charlotte, Fla., might have the boyish looks, but he's more than held his own against older players this season.

"It feels good to be able to compete with players that are older than me at the same level they're competing at," Spears said. "I don't think about it too much and no one really give me a hard time about being so young though."

Spears, 20, has batted leadoff for most of the year and leads the league in fielding percentage at a .977 clip in 387 total chances.

Still, he wasn't named the best defensive second baseman in the CL by league managers. That honor went to Myrtle Beach's Martin Prado, who has a .974 fielding percentage in 351 chances.

"The difference is in the range," a National League scout said. "They both get to balls a lot of guys wouldn't get to, but Prado has quicker feet, smoother actions and his pivot on the double play is much better. And he's better and faster moving to his left and right."

"He's good, but not the best defensive second baseman," one CL manager said. "He's solid all the way around, but nothing really stands out at you and commands that attention the way Prado does. Prado's defense can save you runs, take away hits and is the difference in some games.

"Spears is a guy who will make all the routine plays, he's more blue-collar. He's a reliable pick-up (truck) while Prado is more like a Corvette."

While there might not be anything flashy about him, Spears garners comparisons to David Eckstein--a label that's just fine by him. He handles situational hitting well and excels at moving runners over. In short, he does all the little things the right way.

"It's a great compliment," Spears said of the Eckstein comparison. "He's a great player and hopefully I'll be up there where he is some day. I don't really get to where I'm comparing myself against big leaguers. It's just always been a personal goal to get there."



• Twins lefthander Francisco Liriano continues to impress just about anyone he comes in contact with--not that there's much contact as far as balls hitting bats. The 21-year-old Dominican allowed just one hit over seven shutout innings and struck out 13 in Triple-A Rochester's 4-1 win against Buffalo. Liriano throws three plus pitches for strikes--last night he topped out at 96 mph with his fastball, threw his hard-breaking slider behind in the count at 86-88 mph and his changeup sat in the 82-83 mph range. "He's so tough because his third best pitch is probably his fastball--and that's 95 (mph)," Bisons catcher Ryan Garko said. "He throws his slider and his changeup whenever he wants to. He's a guy you have to sort of wait out and hope he makes a mistake, but that didn't happen last night. He's the real thing."

"I call him Mr. Liriano now because that's the second time he's done this against us," Buffalo manager Marty Brown added. "We're talking a 13 mile-an-hour difference between his fastball and his changeup with the same, easy arm action. The bottom line is that this guy doesn't belong in this league. I can see him going up to help the Twins whenever they want him."

Liriano is now 6-1, 1.62 since getting promoted to Rochester in late June. He's allowed one earned run in his last 35 innings, striking out 41 while allowing 15 hits and nine walks over that stretch.

• There were two other strong outings in the International League of note Thursday, as Tigers righthander Joel Zumaya and Pirates righthander Brian Bullington were both solid. Zumaya, an 11th-round pick in 2002, allowed a run on four hits, struck out six and walked four over six innings in Toledo's 2-1 loss to Richmond. And Bullington, the first overall pick in 2002, allowed a run on five hits, striking out nine in six innings of work in Indianapolis' 10-8 loss to Norfolk.

• Yankees outfielder Melky Cabrera, who played six games in center field for New York in July, was sent down again, from Triple-A Columbus to Double-A Trenton. Cabrera was hitting .248with Columbus this season. Thursday, Cabrera went 0-for-4 in his first game back with the Thunder since late June.

• The Mets are trying to get Mike Jacobs more innings behind the plate as the season winds down. Jacobs, a 38th-round pick in 1999, has played primarily first base this season. Wherever he plays, Jacobs shows no ill-effects at the plate--he's hitting .358-7-34 in 134 at-bats when he catches, .296-13-41 in 203 at-bats when he plays first base, and .308/.360/.584 in 377 at-bats overall this season at Double-A Binghamton.

• In Devil Rays news, if you're looking for Double-A Montgomery outfielder Elijah Dukes, you won't see his name in a box score until at least Saturday. The toolsy yet troubled outfielder is serving his latest suspension, this time a six-gamer for getting into an altercation with an umpire after being ejected Sunday. Also news on the Biscuits' front--righthander Jeff Niemann had only "normal soreness" Wednesday after throwing 16 pitches in his first appearance, farm director and director of scouting Cam Bonifay told the St. Petersburg Times. Niemann, who topped out at 94 mph, missed nearly three months this season with shoulder soreness.

The best pitching matchup Thursday came in the Southern League (despite the Liriano vs. Fausto Carmona tilt at Triple-A Rochester) and Double-A Mississippi lefthander Chuck James squared off against Birmingham lefty Daniel Haigwood. James came out on top in the Braves' 2-0 win, allowing just four hits over 6 1/3 shutout innings. He walked two and struck out eight. Haigwood was nearly as impressive, allowing just one run on four hits in seven innings. He struck out 10 and walked two. On the season, James is now 9-1, 2.09 with 104 strikeouts in 86 innings since being promoted from high Class A Myrtle Beach. Haigwood, meanwhile is 2-1, 1.08 with 36 strikeouts in 33 innings for the Barons after being promoted from high Class A Winston-Salem this season.

• A promotion to Triple-A has done little to slow down Delwyn Young. The Dodgers second baseman, who hit .296/.346/.499 in 371 at-bats at Double-A Jacksonville has hit the ground running for Triple-A Las Vegas. The 23-year-old has hit safely in his first five games for the 51s and is 8-for-21 with four doubles and two walks.

• With 48 walks in 67 innings, Samuel Deduno has struggled with his command to say the least; however, strikeouts have not been a problem. The 22-year-old righthander had 12 of them over five innings last night for low Class A Asheville and now has 89 on the season. Although he only gave up one run, he did not factor in the decision.

• The Orioles' Brandon Snyder is coming on strong in the Rookie-level Appalachian League. The 2005 first-rounder is 8-for-14 in his last three games with two doubles and a home run. While splitting time between catcher, third base and designated hitter, the 18-year-old is hitting .291/.433/.557.

• Rangers top prospect Thomas Diamond posted a strange line Thursday night in Double-A Frisco's 9-4 loss to Midland. The 22-year-old righthander only registered nine outs, but six of them came via the strikeout. He also walked five batters in three innings, but he still managed to yield only one run, on a solo homer by Brian Stavisky in the fourth. Diamond, who had won his previous three starts in the Texas League, is 4-2, 4.08 with a mediocre 37-19 strikeout-walk ratio in 40 Double-A innings.

• Maybe the fifth time's a charm for Royals righthander Ryan Baerlocher, who has spent all or part of the past four seasons at Double-A Wichita. Now in his fifth year with the Wranglers, Baerlocher is posting his best numbers yet, bolstered by a complete-game, three-hit shutout against Tulsa last night. Baerlocher, who turns 28 on Saturday, improved to 6-2, 2.41 in 60 innings since being sent down from Triple-A Omaha in early June.

• The Giants have been cautious with their top pick in the 2004 draft, Eddy Martinez-Esteve, who had offseason surgery to repair a torn labrum in his shoulder. The second-round pick out of Florida State has raked in the high Class A California League at a .327-14-81 clip, but the organization has left him at San Jose rather than promoting him. One of the reasons is to get him comfortable in left field, after he spent the first two and a half months of the season exclusively as a DH. The Giants have eased him into the outfield, playing him for a game or two in left followed by a game or two at DH. But Martinez-Esteve has hit much better as a DH; he was 1-for-3 in last night's 10-3 win against Lake Elsinore, giving him a hit in seven straight games in which he has served as the DH. Since he began playing the outfield on June 18, Martinez-Esteve has hit safely in 17 of his 19 games as a DH, but he is hitting just .216-2-11 in 74 at-bats as a left fielder.

• Minor league home run leader Brandon Wood is mired in an August swoon. After hitting .382 in 102 at-bats during July, the Angels shortstop is off to a 2-for-17 start to August at high Class A Rancho Cucamonga. He went 0-for-4 in last night's 8-3 loss to High Desert, despite having rehabbing slugger Dallas McPherson hitting behind him in the Quakes lineup. McPherson went 1-for-4 with an RBI in his second Cal League game.

Justin Christian is making himself difficult to ignore. Signed out of the independent Frontier League in July 2004, the Yankees second baseman just keeps on hitting at high Class A Tampa. He already had recorded a pair of three-hit games this week, and last night he added a four-hit game in Tampa's 8-7 loss to Vero Beach. Christian doubled three times, giving him 21 on the year between low Class A Charleston and Tampa, and he stole three bases, giving him 43 (in 48 attempts) between the two levels. He is hitting .324/.396/.474 in 247 at-bats in the Florida State League.

• Rookie-level Helena keeps pounding Pioneer League opponents, even after the promotions of players like Ryan Braun, Charlie Fremaint and Angel Salome to Class A West Virginia. Thursday, shortstop Michael Bell, a 15th-round pick out of Grayson (Texas) CC, slammed his first two homers, while 21-year-old Dominican outfielder Agustin Septimo also homered twice in a 10-4 victory against Billings. Helena remained 5-0 in the second half and is hitting an absurd .325/.395/.521 as a team, all league-leading marks.

• Former Texas catcher Taylor Teagarden, whom the Rangers signed recently as their third-round pick, made his debut Wednesday and has gone 0-for-6 in his first two games. Teagarden, who helped lead the Longhorns to the 2005 College World Series championship, signed for a $725,000 bonus.

• Perhaps it’s time for the Mets to see if righthander Robert Manuel can handle a move to short-season Brooklyn or Class A ball. Signed as a nondrafted free agent out of Sam Houston State, the 22-year-old righthander improved to 7-0, 1.64 in the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League with a win against the Nationals. Manuel has walked just three in 38 innings while striking out 32. Manuel went 3-2, 3.12 this spring for the Bearkats.

Contributing: John Manuel.

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