Saturday, February 24, 2007

Bat Speed an Issue in Sammy Sosa's Comeback

A suspicion has persisted for nearly three years now that the precipitous decline of former big-time slugger Sammy Sosa was linked to that fateful day three years ago when Pittsburgh's Solomon Torres beaned Sosa with a fastball, shattering his helmet and leaving the potential Hall-of-Famer helplessly gun-shy for the remainder of his career.

But after watching Rangers camera assistant Josh Frasier lob batting practice balls to him for 30 minutes Friday at Rangers camp in Surprise, Ariz., it became immediately apparent that Sosa's shortcomings are much more fundamental: his bat speed is gone.

Whether Sosa can rediscover himself remains an open question, as he showed a glimmer of the power that once enabled him to hit 588 career homers, hitting three deep balls to the outfield. But many of his swings went for meager liners or pops, an inauspicious beginning to the Rangers highly questionable effort to revive the 38-year-old's prospects after 16 months of relative inactivity.

Sosa hit just .221 with 14 homers in 380 at-bats for the Orioles before sitting out last year, having been spurned by every major league club except the lowly Nationals, who offered a mere $600,000 minor league contract and camp invitation, which Sosa declined.

This year was more of the same, with Sosa hawking his wares before a handful of scouts in Miami. Only the Rangers sniffed, extending him a non guaranteed $500,000 minor league offer payable if he makes the club, and then only on the condition that he will work cheaply thereafter.

Though Sosa claims he wants to hit another 100 homers or more before he retires, early indications are that he'll have trouble finding the at-bats to do so, as he'll be lucky to land a job as the Rangers part-time, right-handed designated hitter, an opportunity that likely will disinterest him.