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Daily Dish

By John Manuel
March 19, 2004

SURPRISE, Ariz.--While Barry Zito and the Athletics were visiting the Royals at the two-year-old Surprise Complex, so were Colt Morton, James Darby and two teams of Padres minor leaguers.

At two of the seemingly endless fields at the newish complex, the work groups of the low Class A and high Class A affiliates of the Padres and Royals squared off in a pair of nine-inning games Thursday, games the two organizations split. The Royals won the high A matchup 11-2, while the Padres prevailed 8-5 in the low A game. The two games were played on nearly adjacent fields, ones close enough so that a foul ball on one would often wind up delaying the game on the other.

The only people watching were other Royals farmhands who weren't playing, inactive pitchers charting the games and a few family members of players and coaches.

Oh, and me.

First-Round Factors

The high A Royals group included both of the organization's first-round picks from 2003, outfielder Chris Lubanski and new third baseman Mitch Maier. Both had productive games, with Maier hitting a pair of singles, one that drove in Lubanski during a four-run fifth inning. The two played together last year in the Rookie-level Arizona League, and could play again this season.

However, the similarities end there. Lubanski, drafted out of a Pennsylvania high school, has explosive tools that were on display Thursday, especially his plus-plus speed. He scored easily from second on Maier's groundball single in the fifth, not even drawing a throw.

He also didn't get to show of his own throwing arm, but he says that's one area he has worked on as much as any since he signed.

"Compared to how I was in high school, I'm throwing so much better now," Lubanski said. "I'm getting a lot more carry on the ball; that's what we've been working on the most. It's about trying to use my legs more, and it's making a difference so far." Maier has defensive issues to work on as well, but of a much different nature. A catcher and sometime outfielder at Toledo, Maier has worked almost exclusively at third base this spring (he still shags the occasional fly ball). Royals minor league field coordinator Jeff Garber said the switch was made to move Maier's live bat through the system faster.

"He has tremendous potential offensively," Garber said. "He's a very good athlete, and he's taken to the position very well. He still has a lot of work to do there, but that's what this is all about. We're building a foundation to go with his skills, and he has good hands and enough arm for the position. Now he's working on his footwork. He's going to keep taking it slow, and he's learning." Maier said he's pleased with his progress but realizes he's far from a finished product.

"There's a lot that's similar to catching, but there's a lot that's different," Maier said. "I missed catching at first, but not really anymore. I like playing third base.

"A lot of it is going to be getting the repetitions for things like the bunt play. The first few times I did that, coming in and bare handing it, it was a huge challenge for me. I was all out of whack trying to go down and get the ball and throw. I'm better at it now, but I still need to improve. It's just going to take a lot of work." Maier is more pleased with his offense at this point. He credited his experience in the wood-bat summer leagues in which he played as a collegian, the Great Lakes and Cape Cod, for his fast adjustment to wood bats. He also got two more weeks of spring camp than most minor leaguers thanks to an invitation he got to big league camp.

"It was great to see because it shows you that (making it to the majors) is attainable, and at the same time you see how you can attain it," Maier said. "You see guys like Mike Sweeney and Joe Randa who have had long careers in the majors, and you see how hard they work and what they do to prepare. It makes you know how hard you have to work."

Make It Hardball

While the high Class A game had gotten out of hand, several players from both sides who had been milling about took a moment to watch the low Class A game, where the Padres had a sidewinding sideshow on the mound.

The Padres signed righthander James Darby out of Australia, with former international scout Bill Clark following up the lead of an Australian bird-dog scout. Darby, 20, is a 6-foot-3, 225-pounder with a fastball clocked at up to 94 mph during his stint in the short-season Northwest League last year, with Eugene. Despite the size and fastball velocity, Darby isn't your typical power pitcher.

He was discovered as one of Australia's top fast-pitch softball players and threw 87 mph from underneath in softball. The Padres signed him and brought him to the United States in 2002 to see what they had; he hit and pitched overhand before the Padres realized he would be more effective throwing from his natural arm slot--down under.

"He hit 94 last year, but he's not at that point yet this spring," minor league pitching coach Dave Rajsich said. "He's in the low 80s now, but he's just trying to get that release point consistent and get his mechanics to be in synch. He has arm speed and velocity you usually don't see from that kind of delivery." The Padres hope Darby's unusual power from that arm angle, along with his developing slider and changeup, can help him challenge lefthanded hitters better than the average submariner. Just like any pitcher, the key to making those pitches more consistent is good mechanics.

"I think the Padres figured out that this is my natural style of throwing," Darby said. "I had never played baseball before I signed, but I was playing outfield and first base and throwing overhand at first. I've been pitching this way since May 2002.

"It's just the way I've always pitched." It's just not the way hitters always get pitched. In his outing, Darby sawed off several players, including Royals first baseman Brian McFall, a 2003 third-round pick.

"That's not what you expect to see in the first week of spring games," McFall said. "He was tough to hit."

Amid a flurry of roster moves this week, the Braves assigned first baseman Scott Thorman to their high Class A Myrtle Beach roster.

The reassignment from big league camp was no real surprise, but Thorman, who represented Canada in the Futures Game last year, had been expected to open the season at Double-A Greenville.

While it's possible he could still end up in Greenville by the time the season opens, a second tour of duty--at least to start--might be good for the 6-foot-3, 200-pounder. Thorman is coming off a disappointing season, batting .243-12-56 last year after a breakout .294-16-82 campaign in low Class A in 2002.

"Him being in Myrtle Beach had nothing to do with the way he played this spring," Braves farm director Dayton Moore said. "He could end up at either place. He's a priority for us and he'll be competing for a job in Greenville. We liked him enough to put him on the 40-man roster. The important thing for all our players is to play in Atlanta."

Righthander Blaine Boyer was also assigned to the Myrtle Beach roster, which is right where he should be. Boyer went 12-8, 3.69 for low Class A Rome last season, fanning 115 in 137 innings. He, like most starters that move through Myrtle Beach, should benefit from pitcher-friendly Coastal Federal Field.

While it was just a cameo, Boyer made the most of his time in major league camp.

"He pitched outstanding," Moore said. "We moved him into a starting role last year and he just flourished. He took to it very well and really is having a great spring. I know he impressed Leo (Mazzone), Bobby (Cox) and John (Schuerholz) in camp. And him being with (Myrtle Beach pitching coach) Bruce Dal Canton this year will be a real plus for him."

The Braves also welcomed a familiar face back to camp Wednesday, when Alec Zumwalt was returned by the Devil Rays after being plucked in the major league Rule 5 draft in December.

Zumwalt went 6-3, 1.96 in 64 innings between Myrtle Beach and Greenville last season. Atlanta didn't want to lose him in the draft, but had too many arms to protect. When the Devil Rays offered him back for half of the $50,000 draft price, the Braves jumped at the opportunity.

"We're very happy about it," Moore said. "We had a lot of tough decisions, just like a lot of clubs, and had some guys we might have thought were closer than Zummie. But he's got a lot of intangibles and has only thrown about 125 innings. He has a lot of power to his pitches. We're really happy to have him back."

-- Chris Kline


• McFall earned praise from Royals coach Lloyd Simmons for his improved play around the bag at first base and his work ethic concerning his defense. However, he said, "He was drafted for his power and for his bat." McFall went 0-for-2 in the game but was still pleased with his performance. "It's more important that I didn't swing at any bad pitches today," he said. "Plate discipline is what I need to work on the most. Our organization preaches ‘selective aggressiveness.' I think with me, though, it's more pitch recognition, so I that's why I'm pretty happy with how I played today." McFall, out of nearby Chandler-Gilbert Junior College, has no trouble with the heat of 1 p.m. Arizona games and hopes to earn a spot of Class A Burlington's roster. He was a surprise third-round pick last season and uses his dark-horse status as motivation. "We just laughed during the draft last year when you guys were talking about me, because you didn't know who I was," he said of Radio's broadcast of the draft, co-hosted by this reporter. "I don't even think I was in the top 30 Arizona prospects, but it's fun to be kind of the underdog."

• It's hard to miss 6-foot-7 catcher Colt Morton around the field; at 240 pounds, he fills out the Padres' new dark-blue uniforms impressively. His Padres teammates have marveled this spring at his flexibility ("He's nose-to-knees every time," one marveled), his leadership skills and his power, saying he's been the most consistent and jaw-dropping power hitter in spring camp. "I'm having a good spring," said Morton, a third-round pick last year out of North Carolina State. "My knees feel good, my swing feels good and I'm having a good time. What more can I ask for?"

• Another catcher making an impressive showing this spring is Adam Donachie, the Royals' 2002 second-round pick. Garber said Donachie, who repeated Rookie-ball in 2003 while returning to switch-hitting (which he did in high school), was poised to make a leap forward in 2004. "He's got catch-and-throw skills that will play in the big leagues," Garber said. "But he's really making strides with the bat. He's showing power from both sides of the plate. He asked us if he could switch-hit again, but he had to show us he could do it, and he has."

By John Manuel
March 18, 2004

PEORIA, Ariz.--The Giants hinted in the offseason that Merkin Valdez might be advanced enough to make the leap from the low Class A South Atlantic League to the major leagues.

Wednesday, he showed off why.

Valdez, the organization’s top prospect, continued his strong spring training performance with two shutout innings against the San Diego Padres in the Giants’ 9-6 victory. Valdez wasn’t facing Padres starters with the exception of possible middle infield starters Khalil Greene (a rookie) and Ramon Vazquez, but he dominated the hitters he faced with some of the best stuff on display in baseball.

“He was very impressive,” said one scout on hand who covers the major leagues. “He was free and easy, he threw easy gas. He has the best arm and best stuff that I have seen this spring.

“It’s very impressive for a guy just out of the Sally League. He threw three pitches for strikes.”

This was Valdez’ best outing in big league camp, as he had given up two runs in two innings over two previous appearances. On this day, he was nearly perfect.

Valdez started by retiring Eugene Kingsale on a soft fly to center field, then got into a groove. He ran his fastball up to 99 mph against veteran catcher Tom Wilson, regularly pitching in the 96-98 mph range against the seven batters he faced. Just as impressively, he retired the veteran on an 87 mph slider, with Wilson rolling it over weakly to shortstop. Valdez also overpowered Jeff Cirillo to follow, sawing him off with a 96 mph fastball in on his hands and retiring him on a 1-3 putout.

In his next inning, Valdez got a weak flyball from Greene, followed by Vazquez legging out an infield grounder for a base hit. Valdez then struck out Jon Knott, who spent 2003 at Double-A Mobile, with an assortment of fastballs and sliders, finishing him off with 97 mph high gas. Finally, he got nonroster invitee Ben Reisinger on a weak popup to first.

Giants officials said in the offseason that Valdez had the capability to make the leap from the Sally League to the big leagues because of his fastball command, which was good Wednesday and has been excellent since the Giants heisted him from the Braves as part of the Russ Ortiz trade. Valdez went 9-5, 2.25 last year while leading the South Atlantic League in strikeouts with 166 in 156 innings.

Valdez further buoyed hopes with an impressive instructional league stint, which led the Giants to give him a brief stint late in the Arizona Fall League season. Again, he was impressive, giving up six hits in five innings but also striking out four without walking anyone.

That just served as a prelude for this spring. Then as now, Valdez was the best arm in Arizona.


• Angels righthander Bobby Jenks is one of the few pitchers in the game who throws as hard as consistently as Valdez. The 6-foot-3, 240-pound Jenks has been less successful throwing his fastball for strikes like Valdez does, however, and has made fastball command a point of emphasis this spring. “It’s just consistency of mechanics, making sure I work on my fastball because the only way it can get better is if I throw it a lot,” Jenks said. “I’m not throwing as many breaking balls this spring. I’m just trying to get more consistent.”

Jenks has thrived in winter ball the last three seasons, with two star turns in the Arizona Fall League and another in the Puerto Rican League this past winter, when he went 5-1, 3.14. Jenks attributes his winter success to getting in a rhythm with his mechanics--tougher to do with a big body like his--as the season goes on.

“I think I get better throughout the year,” he said matter-of-factly. “I think I’m starting to figure things out.”

• At Angels minor league camp, lefthander Joe Saunders, the team’s 2002 first-round pick, said his arm felt good as he attempts to come back from shoulder woes that sidelined him in 2003. Saunders attributed his rotator cuff tear and detached labrum last year to coming into camp in subpar shape.

"Your first offseason, I think sometimes guys are a little slack with it," Saunders said. "You come off a college season where you start throwing in January, then you pitch in college through May and then sign a pro deal and pitch through instructional league in September. It's a long season. My first offseason, I just took some time off and didn't do much work, and I paid for it by not being prepared for the season last spring. I won't make that mistake again."

Saunders didn't have surgery for his injuries, instead staying in Arizona for an aggressive rehabilitiation process. He said he was hoping his velocity would come back as the spring wore on but is pleased with his command and mechanics despite his long layoff.

• Minor league games have been getting started this week, with the Padres clubs playing against Royals teams all week. Tomorrow, the Angels and Athletics start days of games with their minor leaguers. Several minor leaguers contacted over the last few days gave BA a consensus opinion that minor league camp before games start could be the most boring thing they have ever done in baseball.

By John Manuel
March 17, 2004

TEMPE, Ariz.--At this time last year, if Ryan Sweeney was playing baseball, it was indoors.

"I called back home just yesterday," the Cedar Rapids, Iowa native said. "They said they had five inches of snow."

This time of year in 2004, Sweeney is in major league camp with the White Sox, nine months after being selected in the second round of the draft. In fact, Sweeney is getting a lot of starts this summer, including one Tuesday against the Angels at Diablo Stadium.

It's a safe bet that Sweeney didn't see many (if any) 93 mph fastballs in his prep career back in Iowa. That's what he saw Tuesday on his first and second pitches from Angels starter Bartolo Colon.

"The first one was a ball, it was a little down," Sweeney said. "The guys had basically told me that he wasn't afraid of challenging hitters, coming inside, and that's what he did with the second pitch. It was another fastball, and I was able to go down and get it."

Sweeney makes it sound so easy. Sure, any 19-year-old from a state that has never produced a first-round pick can just turn on a 93 mph Bartolo Colon fastball and lace a double down the right-field line.

That's what Sweeney did, one of several highlights for the 6-foot-4, 200-pounder in his first spring training. Sweeney wasn't able to get a hit the rest of the game, playing all nine innings and going 1-for-4 during a 9-7 White Sox loss. But Sweeney showcased an accurate throwing arm and made a scintillating catch at the warning track on a tailing line drive by another of the Angels' prominent free-agent additions, Vladimir Guerrero.

"I didn't think I had a chance at it when he hit it," Sweeney said. "I just dropped my head and ran back as fast as I could. Then when I looked up again, I saw I had a chance to make the catch and was able to go up and get it at the track."

In other words, Sweeney showed off all five tools in his athletic package Tuesday. His overall fielding lacks polish, and he has yet to unlock all of his raw power, but Sweeney has shown the White Sox all the athletic ability they saw when they drafted him 52nd overall last year and gave him a $785,000 signing bonus.

Sweeney said he'll be in the Class A Kannapolis work group when he's sent down from big league camp, and hopes to earn a midseason promotion to high Class A Winston-Salem. However, as BA correspondent Phil Rogers reports in the Chicago Tribune, Sweeney's 7-for-20 (.350) performance this spring has impressed White Sox officials enough to consider pushing him faster then originally planned.

Sweeney has outplayed the two college products who finished Tuesday's game with him in the outfield, with 2003 first-round pick Brian Anderson in left field and No. 1 prospect Jeremy Reed in center. Anderson had an RBI double in his only at-bat after replacing Carlos Lee.

Reed, ranked 25th on Baseball America's Top 100 prospects, came to his first big league camp hopeful of breaking camp with the big league club, possibly as the starting center fielder. After all, he led the minor leagues in batting (.373) and on-base percentage (.453) last season, with 242 at-bats in Double-A.

However, Reed admitted he has struggled with his swing, and it showed in his 0-for-4 performance against the Angels, which dropped him to 3-for-23 (.130) for the spring. He refused to blame his performance on a left wrist injury he sustained in November playing for Team USA in the Olympic qualifying tournament, an injury that left him wearing a cast for a month and a half.

"It changed how I prepared in the winter, but I was ready (for spring training)," Reed said. "I'm just struggling to find my swing a little right now."

Also hurting Reed's chances of starting the season with Chicago is the fast start of incumbent Aaron Rowand, who was hitting .522 (12-for-23).

"How Aaron is doing doesn't affect how I'm playing at all," Reed said. "Aaron doing well is great for him because he's a good guy who's worked hard, and it's good for the organization. It doesn't put any extra pressure on me."

Stauffer Takes The Field

PEORIA, Ariz.--Nearly 10 months since he last threw a pitch in competition, Tim Stauffer, the Padres' top pick in last year's draft, made his professional debut Tuesday.

It was on a diamond tucked in the farthest reaches of the organization's minor league complex against a group of Class A players from Kansas City. But he was out there, he threw free and easy, and he had no problem with the right shoulder that cost him more than $2 million last season.

Stauffer, the fourth pick in the draft last season after going 9-5, 1.97 as a junior at Richmond, was flirting with a $2.6 million bonus when he told the Padres he had some pain in his shoulder.

An MRI in July revealed weakness in the shoulder joint. No surgery was required, but the Padres withdrew their offer, and Stauffer eventually signed for $750,000.

Asked if he was the most-honest person in the world, Stauffer said "Hiding something like that will come back to bite you. I'm very comfortable with my decision to tell the Padres.

"If I'm good enough, I'll make that money back. If not, then I didn't deserve it."

Stauffer, who threw 323 innings between July 2002 and May 2003, threw one inning against the Royals, getting a broken-bat grounder to short on his first pitch. He then gave up a single to left and walked a batter. But with a pop to short and a grounder to first, he was out of the inning.

"It felt weird being out there," said Stauffer, who had a huge grin on his face as he left the field. "This is the longest break I've ever had without pitching. I felt good. I had the jitters a little. I didn't really find the zone or get a feel. But the shoulder felt good, and I was able to throw free and easy."

Stauffer's fastball was clocked between 88-91 mph Tuesday; he threw as hard as 95 mph at Richmond. He threw his fastball, slider and curve, but said he'll wait a couple more weeks before throwing his cutter. He's slated to open the season at Class A Lake Elsinore.



• The Angels gave righthander Chris Bootcheck the last two innings Tuesday, and Bootcheck gave up three hits and two runs while also throwing two wild pitches past catcher Jeff Mathis. Bootcheck regularly threw his fastball in the 88-91 mph range and threw 19 of his 29 pitches for strikes (unofficially). Bootcheck's cause wasn't helped when Chone Figgins misplayed a pair of playable line drives in center field after losing them in the sun.

• While Colon was throwing hard, heavy fastballs to start the game, 26-year-old righthander Jon Adkins finished the game doing the same for the White Sox. Adkins pitched only one inning and didn't put his pitches exactly where he wanted consistently, but he flashed a 93-95 mph fastball. He walked Figgins but picked him off at first before giving up a double to Robb Quinlan.

By John Manuel
March 16, 2004

PHOENIX--Nick Swisher was soaking up the sun and the attention of big league camp.

After the Athletics' 3-1 win Monday against the Mariners, most of the A's players already had left the field and the dugout for the clubhouse and the Hummer-filled parking lot. Swisher remained behind, though, signing anything thrown his way--balls, hats, ticket stubs, whatever.

"It's just so great--I'm loving every minute of it," Swisher said. "I'm just getting the biggest kick out of it. I'm from a small West Virginia town (Parkersburg), and to come out here and see all these people in the stands for a spring training game . . . I can't imagine how someone can't get up for this."

It was unclear if any of the fans even knew who Swisher is; the son of former big leaguer Steve Swisher, who like his father was a first-round pick, Swisher is hitting just .250 (4-for-16) in his first big league camp, but two of the hits have been home runs, including one off Arizona’s Casey Daigle in a 9-5 loss on Sunday.

Swisher got more publicity than the average first-round pick, though, thanks to "Moneyball," Michael Lewis' best-selling book. One chapter in Lewis' tome focused squarely on the 2002 draft class and the A's unique approach to that year's draft. Swisher was the first of seven players the A's picked in the first 39 overall selections, and the fallout from the book has helped make Swisher and fellow draftees such as Jeremy Brown, Joseph Blanton and Mark Teahen become known as the "Moneyball" class.

Brown, like Swisher, is in big league camp as a nonroster invitee. In fact the pair has been together in the A's system since they signed, and Swisher is glad to have a familiar face around.

"He's a year ahead of me, but we've been best buddies really since we signed--he's just a great guy and a great player," Swisher said. "We pull for each other. I think our whole draft class has a little spirit; I mean, it's the only draft class I've been part of, but I think we're a close group." Brown has struggled at the plate so far, going 0-for-8.

Brown, Swisher and Co. will continue to be thought of as a group, in part because Lewis is following up on the class with another book. In fact, Swisher said, he had dinner Sunday night with Lewis. "How great is it to have dinner with a best-selling author?" Swisher said with a grin.

Both players have drawn criticism from scouts for being subpar defenders at premium positions, and their defensive abilities probably will determine whether they become big league starters or role players. So far in big league camp, according to manager Ken Macha, they've performed well.

"Jeremy has been working hard at improving his throwing," Macha said. "He's gotten better at blocking the ball in the dirt. He worked hard in the offseason on his conditioning; he stayed around Phoenix in the offseason to work out.

"As far as Swisher, he's playing center field and doing a good job. He needs to work on getting good reads off the bat."


• The Diamondbacks reassigned several players to minor league camp Sunday, chief among them Scott Hairston. Manager Bob Brenly told the Arizona Republic that Hairston, who some had speculated could make the big league club with a big spring, needed to play second base every day in minor league camp. Also reassigned were righthanders Adriano Rosario and Phil Stockman and shortstop Jerry Gil.

• Another top prospect cut from big league camp was Brewers shortstop J.J. Hardy, whose left shoulder has had some "looseness" that has kept him from swinging. As Hardy told the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, "I can still run, field balls, do all that stuff but it hurts when I follow through on my swing. It's probably the best thing because I can't swing but it's still a little disappointing. I'm hoping I'll only be out another week. I think I'll be OK by the start of the season."

• Righthander Chad Harville, who has pitched 39 big league innings over three different stints since 1999, is making another bid to reach Oakland, and pitched a scoreless inning in Monday's 3-1 win against the Mariners. Harville used to throw in the high 90s from a maximum effort delivery, but was in the high 80s Monday with his sinker, keeping the ball down in the strike zone. He also flashed a decent curveball in retiring Luis Ugueto, Jamal Strong and Greg Dobbs.

• In a report in the Chicago Sun-Times, Cubs officials denied a weekend report in the South Florida Sun-Sentinel about a trade involving Chicago righthander Juan Cruz and Marlins minor league shortstop Josh Wilson. The other talk of Cubs camp was the struggles of righthander Francis Beltran, the MVP of the Caribbean Series. The 24-year-old, who missed most of the 2003 regular season with triceps tendinitis, wasn't throwing strikes.

• The Mariners are trying out second-year big leaguer Willie Bloomquist at multiple positions as he bids to replace Mark McLemore as the club's utilityman. Bloomquist played left field Sunday and first base Monday, much to the amusement of his former coach at Arizona State, Pat Murphy. Bloomquist, a 1999 first-team All-American and third-round pick, called in to Murphy's weekly radio show after Monday's game and reminisced about making three errors at first in his only try at the position in college. He handled all his chances flawlessly Monday, though.

By Chris Kline
March 15, 2004

WINTER HAVEN, Fla.--He doesn't look like a prototypical ballplayer, let alone a marquee prospect, based on his 6-foot, 220-pound frame, but Chris Shelton is quickly making his case to make the Tigers roster.

The Tigers snatched the first baseman/DH/catcher from the Pirates with the first overall pick in the Rule 5 draft, and Shelton's bat is making that choice look like a good one.

Through Sunday, Shelton was batting .364 (4-for-11) with two triples, four RBIs, two walks and two strikeouts.

"When you look at him, he doesn't look like a baseball player," Cubs righthander Nate Fernley said. "People used to call him strawberry head because of his (red) hair. But all he has done is hit at every level. Period."

Fernley would know. He's faced Shelton for the last three years in high and low Class A as well as in Western Athletic Conference play in college. Fernley played at Brigham Young while Shelton was a 33rd round pick from Utah in 2001.

Aside from hitting .279-0-14 in 122 at-bats with Double-A Altoona at the tail end of last season, Shelton has never batted less than .300 in three years of pro ball. He hits to all fields for average and power. He led the Carolina League in average (.359) and home runs (21) last season, adding 24 doubles en route to an MVP season.

Still, Shelton doesn't excite scouts because of his stocky build and lack of a bona fide position defensively. He draws comparisons to Craig Wilson, who came up through the Pirates system as a catcher as well.

"He can definitely swing it," one National League scout said. "There isn't any doubt about that. But just because he has that power and average now, doesn't necessarily translate over to the big leagues. Defensively, who knows?

"The Tigers picking him was probably the best thing that could have happened to him. He's having a great spring with a club that needs all the bats it can get. I like his chances to stick."

The Pirates experimented with Shelton at third base and left field during instructional league last year, but left him off the 40-man roster. Now given new life with a new club in a different league, he is serving as the Tigers DH this spring, getting plenty of chances to prove himself so that the club will keep him on the 25-man roster.

"He has a swing that covers the entire plate," said Dave Clark, who managed Shelton last year in Lynchburg. "Him hitting .350 last year wasn't by accident. He just has the natural instincts to take him through every at-bat."

"We sure like his approach at the plate," Tigers farm director Steve Boros said. "The thing about Chris is finding a spot for him. First base is his best position, but he's still a work in progress defensively. We've worked him out at third and behind the plate, but the thing that piqued our interest in him was his bat."

The righthanded hitting Shelton could be a valuable roll player against lefties, either starting or providing an option for Alan Trammell late in a game.

"We're looking for some righthanded bats and he's getting plenty of at-bats right now. We're taking a long look at him. He's a guy that could come in and play some first or DH for us. The best thing is he gives us plenty of options."


• Indians outfield prospect Grady Sizemore has continued to impress during spring t raining. Through the weekend, Sizemore was hitting .400 (8-for-20) with five extra base hits. He's also looking stellar in the field.

"He's younger than both the guys we drafted in the first round last year (Michael Aubrey and Brad Snyder) and is making a rap to be sent to the big league level," general manager Mark Shapiro said. "His approach to playing the game is intense with all-out tremendous effort. His athleticism is elite and his understanding is pretty good as well. He's a very talented, intelligent and determined player that's got a bright future ahead of him."

Sizemore hasn't been awed by the time in big league camp.

"I'm just trying to make the most of my time here," Sizemore said while sitting in front of his locker in the Indians major league clubhouse. "There's a lot to learn up here. It's just great to know so many guys in here. It makes things a lot more comfortable."

• In spite of hitting the ball well this spring, Indians third base prospect Corey Smith continues to try to do too much in the field.

With a runner on first on Friday, Damian Rolls hit a slow roller down the third base line. Smith charged the ball, fielded it cleanly, and then threw off his front foot to second to try to get the lead runner. The ball sailed over second baseman Brandon Phillips' head and into right field.

"I don't know if he's trying to take the ordinary play and make it spectacular or what," roving defensive field coordinator Ted Kubiak said. "But he's definitely making a breakthrough this spring. Being up there (at big league camp) for an extended period of time seems to be doing him some good."

Smith was having a better time at the plate, as he was hitting .333 (3-for-9) with a home run and four strikeouts.

• Devil Rays righthander Dewon Brazelton looked solid over two innings Friday, allowing three hits, but none of those were on good contact--the Indians got two broken bat singles. The Rays' first-round pick of the 2001 draft figures to be either the No. 4 or No. 5 starter coming into the season. He had great location on his fastball, constantly pounding the zone and then finishing off hitters with his plus-changeup, the best pitch in his arsenal. In all, Brazelton is 1-0, 1.80 in six innings this spring.

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