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April 20, 2000

AL East Notebook

Minor Issues

by Joe Sheehan

News and notes from the division's affiliates:

Baltimore: Two pitching prospects who had poor springs on and off the field are going in opposite directions at Triple-A Rochester. Jason Johnson is trying to reclaim is spot in the Birds' rotation, allowing just runs in his first three starts. With neither Jose Mercedes nor Calvin Maduro pitching all that well, Johnson's chance to get back to Camden Yards looks good.

On the other hand, Matt Riley, a discipline problem in the spring, has been pounded in two starts, putting up an ERA above 14.00. Between his early performance and the perception that he's immature, it's not likely that he'll make it back to Baltimore until September, if then.

The team's best prospect, catcher Jayson Werth, is off to a good start at Double-A Bowie. He's put up a .513 OBP on the young season. With only organziational soldier Tommy Davis and journeyman Joe DePastino ahead of him at Rochester, it's not likely that Werth will be at Bowie for long.

Boston: By midseason, the Red Sox rotation behind Pedro Martinez will look younger and better. The Sox have two quality pitchers at Triple-A Pawtucket who are ready to step in when Pete Schourek and Ramon Martinez have their bouts with injury and ineffectiveness. Tomokazu Ohka and Sun-Woo Kim have combined for four good starts so far, allowing a total of six runs in 24 innings.

For you trivia hounds, Ohka was finally charged with a minor-league loss--he was 15-0 at Double- and Triple-A last year.

The Trenton Thunder's Steve Lomasney, who may be behind only Pawtucket second baseman David Eckstein among the organization's position player prospects, started the year in a 1-for-25 slump.

New York: As we've mentioned, the upper reaches of the Yankee system are a bit shy of interesting position players. Don't be fooled by the torrid (.545/.793) start of Mike Coolbaugh. He's organizational filler.

The team's pitching prospects aren't doing too well, either: Triple-A Columbus has a team strikeout-to-walk ratio of 46-to-41. Ryan Bradley has been moderately effective in his new role as a reliever, while Ed Yarnall isn't exactly forcing the Yankees to recall him. He continues to struggle with his command, with more walks than strikeouts and three hit batters in 13 innings.

With Paul O'Neill possibly in his final season, there's opportunity for Jackson Melian to play his way into a job in 2001. He's started off hot at Double-A Norwich, although he's not walking much. Melian is a legitimate right fielder defensively, and is really the only internal option if anything should happen to O'Neill this season.

Tampa Bay: At Triple-A Charlotte, Aubrey Huff has picked up where he left off in 1999, hitting .370 with walks and power. Huff may be the second-best third-base prospect in the game, behind only Sean Burroughs, and yet it's possible he won't get more than token playing time for at least two years. That's what remains on Vinny Castilla's deal. Even setting aside cost, Huff is a better player than Castilla right now.

Optimistic Devil Ray fans can cling to the early-season success of ex-phenoms Bobby Seay and Matt White. Both pitchers opened the season with two good starts for Double-A Orlando. With the injuries to Wilson Alvarez and Juan Guzman as well as the lack of quality prospects at Charlotte, it's likely that at least one of these guys will be pitching in the Trop this season. Keep an eye on their workloads: both pitchers are injury risks.

Last year's #1, Josh Hamilton, has started well at St. Petersburg. He still isn't demonstrating any patience, with just two walks in the season's first two weeks. It's the only part of his game that's missing. With the D-Rays' outfield logjam, the team can move him up slowly and give him time to develop his approach.

Toronto: The SkyChief (Triple-A Syracuse) off to the hottest start has already been rewarded with a trip to Toronto. John Bale allowed just two hits in his first two starts, tossing 12 shutout innings. The left-hander's promotion was less a function of his performance and more of some disastrous work by the Toronto relievers. He's not ready, and will be back with Syracuse soon enough.

Uber-prospect Vernon Wells is off to a slow start, posting an OPS under 700. He's not the only quality prospect here: the double-play combination of second baseman Brent Abernathy and shortstop Cesar Izturis could start for Tampa Bay, and either player could end up in Toronto if Homer Bush's leg injury proves serious. Izturis, in particular, is a good glove man.

Joe Sheehan is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
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