Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Carlos Santana Playing Third Base in Winter Ball

Cleveland Indians catcher Carlos Santana,  playing winter ball in the Dominican Republic, has moved out from behind the plate to try his hand at third base,  a position where he has not appeared since the minor leagues.

Though it remains to be seen whether he can play the hot corner in the majors, his experiment is being welcomed by Indians manager Tony Francona,  who used multi-position versatility to vault the Indians to a playoff berth at the end of the 2013 season.

"The more versatile he is, the better team we're going to have,"  Francona told radio hosts Jim Bowden and Casey Stern on the satellite network radio program Inside Pitch on Monday.  "...It may not be possible, but who knows."

Third base was Santana's original position.

Francona shuffled Santana between catcher,  first base and designated hitter last season to enhance matchups against various lefty and righty pitchers,  and create playing opportunities for Nick Swisher, Yan Gomes,  Mike Aviles and others.


Monday, July 01, 2013

Ex-Coach's Stock Rides with Matt Kemp

Former Dodgers hitting coach Jeff Pentland -- whose personal stock remains low after he was fired by the team in 2011 -- returned to Arizona from Los Angeles over the weekend with his accomplishments still in question as prized pupil Matt Kemp continues to struggle.

Kemp,  who had been working with Pentland for more than a month,  hasn't done much since the slugger returned from Albuquerque and a rehabilitation assignment with the Triple A Isotopes. When he went on the injured list April 30,  Kemp was hitting only .251 with two home runs.  Since his return,  he's hitting only .214 with no homers and a slugging average of just .286.

Though Pentland's resume includes considerable accomplishments after working with such luminaries as Barry Bonds, Sammy Sosa and Gary Sheffield,  he's making no promises about Kemp rediscovering his once prodigeous power and 40-homer potential.

"Will he hit a lot of home runs?  I can't answer that,"  the 66-year-old veteran told the Los Angeles Times before returning home to Mesa where he hopes to play Kemp's recovery into another full-time major league coaching gig.

The problem is, Kemp has yet to recover,  and the jubilation at Chavez Revine has a premature tone.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Greinke's Recovery Likely Deleyed by Docs' Choices

A medical team's decision to insert a rod into the left clavicle of Dodgers hurler Zach Greinke may, in all probability, add days, weeks, maybe even a month or more to his recovery time.

Greinke's collar bone was broken in San Diego Thursday after he hit Padres batter Carlos Quentin with a pitch and Quentin charged the mound, igniting a brawl.

Commonly in years past such injuries were treated by simply immobilizing the fracture with a constrictive noninvasive appliance and waiting for the bone to heal naturally. 

The medical community more often than not makes the incorrect assumption that more is better.  Sometimes less is more.

What does a surgeon do?  He cuts.  He doesn't wait for nature to take it's course.

In this case a surgical procedure arguably triggers ancillary slashing of tendons, sinew, bone and flesh, all of which takes time to heal.
 
Dr. David Geier, an orthopaedic surgeon and sports medicine specialist based in Charleston, S.C., is among those who tend to defend the practice.

"We used to treat clavicle fractures always without surgery. We've gotten a little more aggressive the last five years putting pins or screws in it," Dr. Geier told The Daily News of Los Angeles.

"Typically it's about a three-month process for the bone to solidly heal, but a non-contact athlete can probably go back sooner."

"...Batting can be very tricky for a while," Geier said. "If he's in the American League, you don't have to expose him to that, but you have to swing with that shoulder. That could make it a problem, too."

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Collapse of Braun Case Likely Opens Floodgates

The collapse of the Ryan Braun performance enhancing drug test -- which technically cleared the Milwaukee Brewers slugger of wrongdoing and lifts an impending 50-game suspension -- can be expected not only to undermine positive test findings for all ongoing and future cases, but even call into question past test results and even the testing process itself.

As a result of Thursday's ruling, hundreds if not thousands of potential drug screenings not only of baseball players but of worldwide athletes of virtually every stripe may become subject to routine challenge, now that this revolutionary precedent has been established.

Though Braun, 28, National League Most Valuable Player, tested positive for elevated levels of artificial testosterone -- which can amplify strength, endurance and performance -- medical authorities have known for at least 20 years that such urine test results are not entirely reliable.

Unmasked now as it is, it seems likely that public confidence in the testing process has potentially been undermined irreparably, opening the door for the creation of a virtual cottage industry of private laboratories, doctors and lawyers with the capability to temporarily or permanently block or otherwise impede future and past athletic suspensions.

Braun's suspension was overturned Thursday in a 2-1 decision by a three-member MLB appointed panel, marking the first time the testing process and impending penalty has been successfully challenged by a grievant.

A positive drug finding may be generated by a urine sample from an athlete who legally or unkowingly ingests a product that transforms into a controlled substance by the individual's natural metabolism. Such false positives have been know to be generated by the ingestion of as little as a single sesame seed such as those commonly found added to common bakery products.

Numerous otherwise innocuous foodstuffs or patent medicines can lead to false positives, but details of the Braun findings, nor the basis of his challenge, have yet to be explained, either by Braun, the three-member panel or Major League Baseball.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Twins 1B Justin Morneau Among Missing

Joe Mauer will be there. Ron Gardenhire will be there. Brian Duensing and Denard Span will, as will Tony Oliva, Rod Carew, Bert Blyleven, Tom Kelly, Dan Gladden and a host of other current and former Minnesota Twins personalities.

But where is Justin Morneau?

Morneau, the eight-year veteran whose MVP year saw him bat .321 with 34 homers in 2006, is among the missing as the team sets out on its two-week Winter Caravan promotional tour. His absence doesn't necessarily point to disaster, but it is none too reassuring either, given Morneau's health issues over the past three seasons.

If there was one person fans would want to see smiling, healthy and happy more than any other, it would be Justin Morneau. The tour runs through Jan. 30, but Morneau's not coming, now or later.

Various team testimonials depict the 6-foot-4 Canadian working out and healthy in sunny Florida, eagerly getting ready for 2012. But that's the same news that was reported last year when the ailing slugger missed half the year, then hit a mere .227 with just four homers in 264 at-bats.

Morneau, 31, because he makes up half of the team's critical M&M keystone with Joe Mauer, needs to recover his playing ability if the Twins are to avoid another disaster like the 2011 season. The problem is, in addition to other illnesses, Morneau has suffered mightily from post concussive syndrome, the result of a repeated blows to his head since he began playing hockey as a teenager.

The malady is marked by headaches, dizziness, nausea, blurry vision, inability to concentrate, sunlight aversion and other manifestations, none worse than an inability to function as normally as anyone else throughout the day, to say nothing of being able to play professional baseball.

It is not only the type of disorder that permanently sidelined former Twins corner infielder Cory Koskie, it IS the disorder. Said Morneau recently to the London Free Press: "I won't know how my body is going to react until I do baseball activities."

He told MLB News Network: "Something's not right."

Starlin Castro's Fate Likely Lies With Grand Jury

The fate of Cubs shortstop Starlin Castro -- who has been questioned in connection with a possible sexual assault -- likely lies with the office of State's Attorney Anita Alvarez, who can be expected to study police findings before deciding whether to send the young defendant through a gauntlet of courthouse appearances beginning with testimony before a Cook County grand jury.

Because Castro has not been charged with crime, authorities likely as not will resort to grand jury testimony from various witnesses,  including police, the plaintiff and the defendant, to determine whether evidence can substantiate accusations that otherwise cannot be resolved without a guilty plea, a finding of innocence at trial or a dismissal by a judge.  Thus the jurors have a dual responsibility in that they must see to it that justice is done while at the same time protecting the defendant against unfounded claims.

If the state's attorney's office finds evidence lacking,  the grand jury may not be necessary.  But if Castro is indicted, the case could be drawn out through much if not all of the 2012 baseball season, but not necessarily block Castro from playing while awaiting trial,  an event that could be postponed until fall or winter.

Though theoretically a defendant can also be bound over for trial without grand jury action if a judge determines probable cause as the result of a hearing,  the grand jury process is often favored in so-called classic cases of "he said, she said" contentiousness.

Castro's lawyers, Jay Reisinger and Michael Gillespie, said their investigation has determined that the allegations are "baseless."

The issues came to light after Chicago radio station WBBM 780 reported that Castro was the subject of a sexual assault investigation which allegedly occurred at a downtown apartment Sept. 29. A local woman whose identity is being withheld claimed said she had gone home with Castro after a night of drinking in a River North club.

She went to the emergency room the next day, prompting hospital officials to relay a description of her condition and other details to police, as required by law. Because the regular baseball season was over and the Cubs were not in post-season play, the next day Castro went home to the Dominican Republic, where extradition procedures can be difficult. While the U.S. legal system in based on English common law,  the Dominican Republic's system is based on Napoleonic Code, which in the United States is observed only in Louisiana.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Brett Lawrie Hot at Dish, Hot at Hot Corner

Though he continues to knock off rust after being waylayed for six weeks with a broken hand,  Blue Jays third base prospect Brett Lawrie is quickly rounding out not only with his bat but even his glove.

The 21-year-old former first-round draft pick returned to the Las Vegas 51s last week and quickly put up a 9-19 streak,  raising his Triple A batting average to .352,  with a .412 onbase percentage and .655 slugging with 16 homers in 261 atbats.  He also has stolen 14 bags.

Questions persist about his defensive play at third base,  as he has 14 errors,  but many came early in the season. Now he is beginning to look pretty flashy around the bag,  and at any rate he probably could not do much worse than Blue Jays potential starting third baseman Edwin Encarnacion,  a 29-year-old veteran who is anything but a defensive whiz.

After showing flashes of brilliance during spring training,  Lawrie,  a former catcher and second baseman,  continues to demonstrate major league readiness in the field,  as he barehanded a hard-hit grounder last week to keep it from going for extra bases,  then fielded another tricky bounce to help turn a 5-4 double play.

Meanwhile, fans are becoming inpatient,  especially after the Blue Jays made it clear the team is in no hurry to call him to Toronto.

"I've just got to keep playing, and hopefully I'll get an opportunity,"  Lawrie told The Las Vegas Review Journal.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Slowey to Undergo 'Touch' Examination

Twins manager Ron Gardenhire has scheduled a 10 a.m. press conference to disclose results of an early morning medical "touch" examination to determine whether bullpen pitcher Kevin Slowey has a hernia, a condition that likely will require surgery.

Slowey, a reliever who possibly would have been ticketed to be converted into a starter for the Triple A Rochester Redwings if he had been healthy, has been complaining of discomfort in his lower torso, which initially led his physicians to suspect he may have strained or torn his oblique or other lower rib muscles or groin.

A magnetic resonance imaging exam, however, clarified that was not the case, leaving a hernia as a probable cause of his complaints, though nothing is certain. Whatever it is, doctors so far have missed it, but will seek clarification with a simple visual inspection and "touch" examination.

Hernias, especially in the pelvis area, can be subtle to detect, but likely will be more apparent once doctors focus on the question, having narrowed down the possibilities.

Many people with hernias lead relatively normal lives, as long as they avoid serious exertions that would aggravate the condition. But baseball and other sports activities pose significant risk of worsening the problem.

The condition occurs when a weakness or hole in the outer abdominal wall -- perhaps as large as a 50-cent piece but probably much smaller -- allows fat or organic tissue to be pressured into or through the hole, causing discomfort, outright pain or even organ malfunctions.

The cure requires relatively simple surgery, so a relatively quick return to play, after a month or so of rehabilitation, would be reasonable. His sidelining would make it difficult, but not impossible, for the Twins to consummate a trade for Slowey, which evidently is being discussed behind closed doors.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Cardinals Move Albert Pujols Into Harm's Way

Cardinals first basemen Albert Pujols has easily borne the mantle of Superman since the first moment of his arrival from the planet Krypton, but every Superman has his kryptonite and  Pujols is no exception.

Ever since his .329 batting average and 37 home runs in his rookie year,  observers have tended to forget that not long after he burst onto the scene he sustained a grade 3 tear in the ulnar collateral ligament of  his right elbow.

Though Pujols has undergone a number of arthroscopic and other collateral surgical procedures and various cleanups since then,  the tear to his "Tommy John ligament" remains manifest and continues to present a threat to his playing ability, especially if he expends significant energy throwing across the diamond from third base to first base.

Thus it seems peculiar that the Cardinals have acquiesced to Pujols' volunteering to play the hot corner,  rather than staying strictly at his much less demanding first base position.

Exercise and other rehabilitative reconditioning has built up enough strength in the remaining,  or untorn,   strands of ligament to provide adequate strength for normal,  everyday activity, but not necessarily enough for playing baseball.

 As long as Pujols plays first base, he might be able to get by,  and so he has.  But in intense, pressure situations throwing hard from third base,  his elbow could come apart at any time.

Let's repeat that one more time:  his elbow could come apart at any time.  In other words,  he could be one throw away from a trip to the 60-day disabled list,  even perhaps from a potential career ending injury.

Certainly one would think that the Cardinals have not only the team's but also Pujols' best interests in determining how to best position him on the field,  but the unexpected move to third base, however intermittent,  begs the question: Can it be possible that the team is willing to risk his health knowing that he very likely will leave the Cardinals when his contract expires at the end of this year?

Parish the thought, but fact remains that the most prudent medical decision would be to keep Albert Pujols strictly at first base,  and better yet, if he does go elsewhere next season, transform him into an American League designated hitter.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Dusty Baker's Genius Rarely Fails to Surprise

In a world in which Copernicus  was  nearly drawn and quartered, da Vinci was barely one step away from the pillory and Einstein was ridiculed as "addle-brained," is it any wonder that the genius of  Reds manager Dusty Baker is so frequently misunderstood?

In an iconoclasm unparalleled since Baker chose Willy Taveras and his .275 on-base percentage as Reds leadoff batter, and scolded Adam Dunn for walking too much and "clogging up the bases," Baker has now selected swing-and-miss, right-handed power hitter Jonny Gomes to hit in the 2-hole.

Many less-gifted baseball strategists might have thought Baker should have opted in favor of the axiom that a high average, left hander would be better suited to bat second to ensure that the ball would be hit behind baserunners in order to promote their advancement.

That would be too obvious.  Baker has chosen instead the element of surprise.

Stunned by the switch,  frustrated infielders are left to helplessly bump into one another like blind moles on the dark side of the moon, or so it would seem.

Brandon Phillips is right handed, and might seem to be a better choice to bat second, because he is a much better hitter than Gomes, who is hitting .186 (with an OPS around .460 over the past month).

But seeing as Phillips has hit barely more than 20 homers a season with no more than a .275 average Baker cannot resist using him as a cleanup hitter while the highly regarded Jay Bruce (and his 10 homers) bats as low as seventh and gets plenty of time on the bench .

At least Gomes doesn't hit into double plays, owing to the fact that he strikes out more than a third of the time.

Critics so foolish as to question Baker's brilliance need not despair, however.  His lineup cards are a little like Cincinnati's weather; if you don't like it, wait a while and it will change. Baker has used an average of three different lineups a week since the season began.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Wedge Storms, Won't Take Ackley's Name In Vain

All that was missing from Mariners manager Eric Wedge's tirade was Dustin Ackley's name,  but he hardly needed to say it.

"I sure as hell am not going to continue watching this!"  Wedge warned reporters after his team upset western division rival Los Angeles but could only scratch out three runs against an unusually wobbly Jeff Weaver in the shutout.  "We are going to get better and we are going to do everything that we possibly can to get better."

Wedge's focus was his 25-man roster,  particularly the performances of  outfielders Michael Saunders and others,  whose efforts have left the team ranked 29th out of 30 in major league hitting. But how far away can an offensive infusion from Triple A Tacoma be  if Wedge is serious about his declaration that "we need something?"

Ackley, 21, a second base prospect relegated to Tacoma after a mediocre spring,  started out slowly this year as evidenced by his .280 overall  average.  But he has begun pounding on the door more recently,  going 19-41 for a .463 average with a bag, eight RBI and two homers over his last 10 games.

The No. 2 overall 2009 pick,  sometimes described as a left-handed version of all-time hits leader Pete Rose, was named the Arizona Fall League's most valuable player last year after hitting .315.  He projects as a high-average competitor with gap power,  but his glove is thought to lag behind his bat.

Fans and other observers are looking for his arrival sometime after the start of the super-2 arbitration clock,  which this year may occur during the first or second week of June,  but Wedge has refused to say much about the time for his callup.

Super 2 or no super 2,  the team claims Ackley's arrival has nothing to do with salary arbitration eligibility.  Little wonder;  Ackley's agent is Scott Boros,  whose track record suggests he will balk at Ackley signing an early contract extension under any circumstances.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Dodgers Force-Feed Top Rookie Jerry Sands

With reserve right-fielder Marcus Thames unlikely to come off the disabled list when eligible May 18,  rookie Jerry Sands looks to gain continued playing time as Dodgers manager Don Mattingly force feeds the youngster with starts not only in left field,  but at his natural position at first base.

The 6-foot-4,  240-pound Sands,  primarily filling Thames role as right-handed power bat off the bench,  has been starting almost every day in left field,  then moving to first base against left-handed pitchers while starting first baseman James Loney struggles with a .125 average against them.
 
Though half of Sands' 14 hits have been doubles,  and he has given a number of pitches a long ride to the wall, so far he has failed to take advantage of his opportunity,  with his average stuck at the.200 mark.   However,  he will not have reached the 100-at-bat benchmark until near the end of next week,  a juncture at which he is likely to be reassessed.

The Dodgers are desperate for punch, and will turn to veteran Jay Gibbons, a left-handed batter recovering from blurred vision, to start in left field against righties, thus putting Sands in a virtual platoon.

While Sands' emergence -- if it can be called that -- is purely opportunistic until now,  theoretically he could surprise observers by winning regular spot in the lineup if only he could perform even fractionally as well as he had been playing at Triple A Albuquerque when the Dodgers called him up as a stop-gap measure.

Sands, 23, the 2010 Dodgers Minor League Player of the Year, was hitting a homer in just about every 10 at-bats,  a total of five to open the season,  and pounding minor league pitching at a .400 clip.  With Thames out possibly into June,  time remains for Sands to prove himself.

Sunday, May 01, 2011

Alonso Willing But Reluctant to Go To Reds Outfield

Reds top hitting prospect Yonder Alonso -- stuck at Triple A Louisville because his promotion to Cincinnati is blocked at first base -- is willing to keep learning the outfield if that's what it takes to make the major leagues, though he would prefer to stay at his natural corner position.

"I think I'm a good first baseman;  I like playing first base;  I want to stay there,  but they've already got some guy up there,"  Alonso told Sirrius-XM Radio host Grant Paulsen on Paulsen's Sunday morning "Majors and Minors" program.

The "guy" playing first base for the Reds,  of course,  is none other than reigning MVP Joey Votto,  who is not likely to give up his position anytime soon.

"We text each other every day,"  Alonso said.  "I tell him,  'I hit a home run today,'  and he says back, 'I hit two!"

Alonso, 24, a former first round pick,  rejects calls for him to be traded,  hoping the day will come when he finally takes the field at Great American Ballpark,  at first,  in the outfield or on the bench.

"This is where I was drafted.  This is where I want to stay,"  he said.

The former Cuban national -- who fled the communist controlled Caribbean island when a boy -- is hitting .280 in his first 84 at-bats for the Redbirds, but is heating up.  He has four hits in his last 12,  including two homers.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

'Yogi Berra Plan' a Cure for Mauer's 'Cyberchondria'

Whether sidelined Minnesota Twins catcher Joe Mauer suffers from so-called 'cyberchondria' the early stages of arthritic knee or merely a virus, one thing is for certain: There is no cure better than the 'Yogi Berra Plan.'

The plan -- being advanced by Minneapolis Star-Tribune columnist Patrick Reusse -- brings to mind the creativity of the New York Yankees some 50 years ago when the team wanted to work emerging young catcher Elston Howard into the lineup.

Because Howard was blocked by Yogi Berra behind the plate, Berra was moved to left field. The Twins could do likewise with Mauer, who has undergone invasive knee surgery and currently is out of the lineup due to "bilateral leg weakness,' potentially linked to neurological and spinal complications involving structural deficiencies related to an arthritic knee.

Because Mauer's contract binds him to the club for the next six years, his absence from the lineup set off a round of blogosphere 'cyberchondria,' a newly termed phenomenon in which commentators, pundits and prognosticators peruse online medical texts to determine his pronosis.

 Look, take it from Doctor X, a licensed physician: Joe Mauer suffers from the advanced manifestations of a trauma-induced arthritic knee, a condition that will grow worse and worse until is fairly safe to predict that barring a miracle, if Mauer finishes his career in a Twinkies uniform, he certainly won't be wearing it behind the plate.

 Does that mean he can't finish this season as a catcher?  No. What it means is that Mauer's time is running out, and the sooner he stops spending a couple hours a day squatting the better off he'll be.

It also means that because outfielder Delmon Young's contract is coming up, a potentially costly negotiation, it is time to trade Young in a deal that will bring back a young catcher, and to move Mauer to Young's spot in the outfield.

 For the Twins, it's a matter of health.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Blue Jays Weigh Brett Lawrie's Readiness for Majors

If former Toronto Blue Jays manager Buck Martinez had anything to say about it --  top organizational minor league prospect Brett Lawrie would be in the majors already.

"If it were up to me,  I'd take him north,"  Martinez told his former colleagues at Sirrius-XM Radio after watching Lawrie closely at the conclusion of spring training.

Now working as a Blue Jays television announcer,  Martinez, however,  must leave the decision entirely to a committee of others,  none less important than Marty Brown,  Lawrie's manager with the Triple A Las Vegas 51s.  Brown sees things differently.

Hitting at a .441 clip in the early going,  Lawrie is doing all that can be expected of him in the Pacific Coast League, at least at the plate. But he has four errors,  and neither Brown nor anyone else seems willing to rush him into the field before he's ready.

"He's pretty special," Brown recently told the Las Vegas Review-Journal. "(His bat) is what's going to take him wherever he needs to go.  But we have to make sure, when he gets his opportunity to go, he's prepared to play third base."

Some observers have speculated it may take at least two months before he can be considered capable of playing the hot corner without embarrassing himself.  Others,  such as Blue Jays announcer Alan Ashby,  a former Toronto catcher, think he is ready today despite what might be considered anomalous errors.

A Canadian native,  Lawrie, 21, was traded from Milwaukee to Toronto on Dec. 6 for pitcher Shaun Marcum. He is a former No. 16 overall pick, and has seen time at second base and the outfield during his brief career,  reps which might better have been spent learning third base,  seeing as the Blue Jays are determined to convert him.  Coaches are working on Lawrie's footwork and throwing.

Favoring Lawrie for a quicker callup is the fact that so far this season, it appears that he can't do much worse than anyone else Toronto has at third, especially struggling third base starter Edwin Encarnacion.   Need, it should be remembered, is the tie that binds.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Small Sample Enough to Bench Royals 1B Ka'aihue

Royals first baseman Kila Ka'aihue was given only 13 at-bats against left-handed pitchers before being benched against them by manager Ned Yost; it was a small sample,  but evidence abounds that Ka'aihue  up until now has been greatly overmatched in such assignments at the major league level.

Having flailed helplessly against marginal Tigers lefty Phil Coke in three, recent successive plate appearances, it was clear Ka'aihue needed time off to gather himself and find a way to demonstrate that he has the potential to be anything more than a platoon player at best.

Yost sat Ka'aihue with the excuse of giving him "a break" against Twins lefties Brian Duensing and Francisco Liriano,  but with the Royals playing with surprising competiveness,  it's likely Yost wanted to avoid having a rally killer clogging the offense in the middle of the lineup.

 Though he has a walk-off homer,  Ka'aihue is hitting just .176 overall and .154 against lefties. Hitting coach Kevin Seitzer,  a master at the plate during his career,  has taken Ka'aihue under his wing.  In the meantime,  Royals top prospect first baseman Eric Hosmer awaits at Triple A Omaha.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Trial Continues for Punchless 1B Kila Ka'aihue

The Kansas City Royals trial by immersion continues for struggling prospect Kila Ka'haihue -- whose vulnerabilities have been laid bare by left-handed pitching as evidenced by his .154 average against them over the first eight games of the season.

Ka'aihue, a late bloomer at age 27, was made to look ridiculous in a recent confrontation with Tigers lefty Phil Coke, who fed him a dozen curve balls that held the so-called "Hawaiian Punch" punchless with three swinging strikeouts, all on pitches that cut the plate. Not a fastball in the bunch, and all from a hurler who is not exactly Sandy Koufax.

Now the six-foot-four, 235-pound first baseman's challenge intensifies as he must face three lefties this week, Brian Duensing and Francisco Liriano of the Twins, and Eric Bedard of the Mariners. By the time they get through with him, he might be happy to see a righty except for one thing: It will be Bedard's teammate Felix Hernandez, the fireballing ace. Though Ka'aihue has impressive minor league numbers, he put them up in the hit-happy Pacific Coast League, where today rival Eric Hosmer is off to a hot start, hitting 3-6 in the early going. The 50th state native must turn it up now if he wants to be considered anything more than a place-keeper until Hosmer arrives around June 1.

Friday, April 08, 2011

Josh Fields Wastes No Time Making Impression

Former major leaguer Josh Fields -- best remembered for hitting 23 homers in 373 at-bats as a surprise replacement for the 2007 White Sox -- wasted no time making an impression in his debut with Triple A Colorado Springs, going 1-3 with a walk, three RBI and a towering homer in an 18-14 loss to Tucson.

Heading a cast of 11 former major leaguers vieing for callups to the parent club -- Fields, 26, finds himself in a strong comeback position as he has been cast as a deep reserve for struggling Rockies third baseman Ian Stewart, 26, who has yet to play this year coming off knee and hamstring injuries. Fields is also backing up super utility man Ty Wigginton, 33, who is seeing reps at third, first and the outfield in Denver. Fields' homer came off former Padres major leaguer Wade LeBlanc, 26,, who gave up 10 hits and eight earned runs in 4.33 innings.

LeBlanc, who won eight games against 12 losses in 26 major league starts last year, is making a bid to return to San Diego. Another Colorado Springs standout was former major league speedster Willy Taveras, 27, master of the bunt single, who went 3-5 with a bag. Fields and Taveras could turn out to be useful spare parts at the major league level before the year is out.

Another interesting puzzle piece is former Mets first baseman Mike Jacobs, 30, who hit at a .300 clip with power when originally called up in New York six years ago, and cannot be ruled out as a potential backup to aging All Star first baseman Todd Helton, 36. Eric Young Jr., 25 -- son of original Colorado Rockies outfielder Eric Sr. -- has been up and down between Triple A and Denver over the past two years, and likely as not will supplant Jose Lopez, who is keeping second base open for him in Denver. Former Rockies infielder Chris Nelson is also with the Sky Sox.

Other ex-big leaguers at Colorado Springs include catcher Mike Pagnozzi formerly of the Cardinals and pitchers Billy Buckner formerly of the Diamondbacks, Clay Mortensen formerly of the Athletics and Sean White formerly of the Mariners.

Thursday, April 07, 2011

Kouz Gets Day Off; Why, Wally Pipp's Birthday?

Oakland Athletics manager Bob Geren has given Kevin Kouzmanoff the day off to rest after the starting third baseman committed three errors. Gee, thanks, skipper, where should I lie down, on the railroad tracks?

It's hard to imagine Kouz will be able to relax very much with a steaming locomotive gaining on him in the person of former Dodgers top infield prospect Andy La Roche, who in a brief trial is exhibiting all the characteristics of a post-hype, late bloomer.

Though La Roche hit an impressive .333 with 13 RBI and four homers in little more than 60 spring at-bats, realistically, it's much, much too soon to suggest that Kouzmanoff is actually going to be pipped, to use that arcane slang verb recalling Yankees first baseman Wally Pipp. Mister Pipp, as you remember, sat out for a day in 1926 and lost his job to some guy named Lou Gehrig.

Still, La Roche, who came to camp as a lowly, long-shot non-roster invitee, has not wasted his opportunity, hitting 3-6, a .500 clip, in two consecutive starts. Statistics in a small sample can be misleading, but there are a few noteworthy items in La Roche's pedigree that cannot be ignored:

No.1: he has a strong arm, big glove and has major league experience not only at third base but second and first.

No. 2: when he came up, scouts regarded him as an even better prospect than his brother, Adam La Roche, who owns a .271 career average and more than 160 homers in eight major league seasons.

No. 3: he is every bit as good as his brother defensively, and formerly had been regarded as better offensively after he hit .333, .322, .309, .309 in four of his 10 minor league stops before reaching the majors.

To be fair, Kouzmanoff is not chopped liver, having hit .260 with 23 homers for San Diego in 2008, though not otherwise distinguishing himself much. Still, it must be said that La Roche is blocked at third. More interesting are La Roche's possibilities at second base, where incubent journeyman Mark Ellis, who will be 34 in June, has missed significant time due to injury in nine major league seasons, never having had more than 500 at-bats but once.

For the record, Ellis missed the entire 2004 season among his five trips to the disabled list, and currently benched for his most novel malady to date, dizziness due to an inner ear problem. Also working in La Roche's favor in his bid for playing time is the fact that light-hitting starting first baseman Daric Barton, a left-hander who has hit only 26 homers in 371 major league at-bats, might give up a few plate appearances against tough left-handed pitching.

Any way you slice it, La Roche should be given ample opportunity to exhibit his talent this year, and may yet appear on the platform even if he has missed the train.