Not Far Away   (04/26/01)

Teams often leave spring training with an odd assortment of players.  Fans are left wondering why a guy hitting .475 is sent to the minors in favor of another who's hitting .220.  Or a young pitcher is sent down after striking out 25 batters in just 20 innings in favor of a veteran middle reliever with little left in the tank.

There are a variety of reasons why teams make those kind of decisions.  Sometimes it's to see how the players handle adversity, other times it's to see if the spring training performance was the real deal or just the result of a couple of good or bad outings.  In addition, the front offices know that the mindset of the players is just different in spring training as everyone understands the spring standings don't really count.

So April becomes a shakedown month.  General managers want to see if the spring performances will be carried over to the season and managers want to find out how the guys they brought north will do in real pressure situations, when the games count.  The thinking is that the time to find that out is in April when there's still plenty of time to make up any losses, not in September when a loss can knock you out of the playoff picture.  In theory, it's simply a matter of controlling variables

By the end of April, the hope is that the teams and managers have figured who they want for the long run and what their teams need.  Some teams have the solutions to their problems just a phone call away in the minors.  Here are some of the most likely candidates to get that call soon.

Smith, Roy        CLE   0-0  1.38   6  0   3  1  13.0  5   40   46   2   2  1  1  0  1   4  1  21  0  0
Bell, Rob         CIN   2-1  2.21   4  3   0  0  20.1  21  80   83   5   5  3  1  0  0   2  0  23  0  0
Moss, Damian      ATL   1-0  0.41   4  4   0  0  22.0  12  76   83   1   1  1  0  0  0   7  0  30  0  0
Chacon, Shawn     COL   2-0  2.25   4  4   0  0  24.0  18  87   98   6   6  3  3  0  1   7  0  28  0  0
Oswalt, Roy       HOU   2-2  3.24   4  4   0  0  25.0  23  94  100  10   9  2  0  0  1   5  0  26  0  1
Powell, Jeremy     SD   0-1  2.38   4  4   0  0  22.2  12  77   85   7   6  1  1  1  1   5  0  21  1  0
Wells, Kip        CHW   2-1  3.55   4  4   0  0  25.1  26 100  110  11  10  2  1  1  0   8  0  24  2  0
Garland, Jon      CHW   0-3  2.77   4  4   0  0  26.0  23  93  107   8   8  1  2  1  1  10  1  23  0  0

Johnson, Nick    NYY  .286  19  63  13  18  33  3  0  4  11  0  1  4  13  0  22  0  0  0  .524  .432  1
Redman, Tike     PIT  .365  21  85  11  31  48  5  3  2   8  0  0  0  10  1   9  3  3  1  .565  .432  0
Pena, Carlos     TEX  .333  13  39   5  13  19  3  0  1   2  0  0  1  13  0  13  1  0  0  .487  .509  0
Fernandez, Jose  ANA  .382  18  68  18  26  49  5  0  6  20  0  1  3   8  0  11  1  0  2  .721  .463  3

Roy Smith is a little old to be considered a top prospect.  But the Indians don't need someone who's gonna be a Hall of Famer.  They need a guy who gets batters out and Smith has done a good job of that for the past year.  Just two years from a career in the Independent Northern League, Smith stifled AA hitters to the tune of a 1.96 ERA in 2000.  He'll bolster an already strong Cleveland bullpen.

Rob Bell has classic power pitcher stuff.  But for some reason, he gives up homers at an alarming rate.  He was sent down to start the season to work out some kinks.  Even though his numbers look terrific so far, he still has a touch of the gopheritis.  The talent is there to be a very good starter for the Reds, something they desperately need.

Outside of Greg Maddux, the Braves starters are struggling.  Sure Tom Glavine has a 3-1 record.  He's also allowed 48 baserunners in just over 30 innings, a total that could have been much worse had he not gotten a very generous wide strikezone in one of his starts.  Odalis Perez has been knocked around pretty soundly and John Burkett is not the solution.  Damian Moss, however, could be.  He certainly doesn't appear to be struggling with AAA hitters.  Perhaps Cox and company will give him his chance.

Shawn Chacon has a power fastball and a big curve that he has struggled to throw for strikes for most of his career.  Throwing it in Coors Field will be even more challenging.  So far, he's managed to do it quite well in the mini-Coors at Colorado Springs.  He'll get his chance soon in the real Coors as there is no way that the Rockies front office can seriously consider keeping Ron Villone in the rotation for the full year.

Roy Oswalt became famous last year after a sterling effort in the Olympic Games.  He has as much ability as Scott Elarton or Wade Miller in Houston.  With Jose Lima's continuing struggles and the injury to Doug Brocail in the bullpen, the Astros could use another good arm.  Oswalt will probably be on the big league roster for good by the All-Star break.

Jeremy Powell has always had really good stuff.  For whatever reason, that ability simply hasn't translated to the major league level.  The Pads picked him up from the Expos this offseason and Powell could certainly help their rotation if he continues to pitch like he has in Portland.

With Cal Eldred out indefinitely and both Jim Parque and Mark Beuhrle struggling mightily, the White Sox will need some help in the rotation soon.  Kip Wells and Jon Garland are the most likely candidates.  Wells was cut late in spring, which usually means he'll be one of the first to return.  Garland struggled in Florida, but has turned his fortunes around with a fast start in AAA.  Once up, they will be the team's best starters not named David Wells.

Nick Johnson missed all of last year with a wrist injury that no one ever sufficiently diagnosed.  There was no surgery and no real rehab.  It just went away.  What hasn't gone away is Johnson's ability to hit and to get on base.  Paul O'Neill and Scott Brosius are unlikely to continue their current pace for much longer.  When they slow down, the Yanks will need Johnson to provide an offensive boost.

Minor league guru David Rawnsley was one of the few observers who really liked what he saw of Tike Redman in the Arizona Fall League last year.  Redman was timed under 4 seconds from home to first and showed good instincts in the field and at the plate.  Now if only the Pirates had the good instincts to call him up.  Or hire David Rawnsley.

Carlos Pena will one day be the Ranger's first baseman.  That time isn't now as Raphael Palmeiro is still a very good hitter.  However, Pena could get an opportunity at DH, or in the outfield if Ruben Mateo continues to struggle.  The Rangers could really use someone with Pena's on base skills - 13 walks in 52 plate appearances is an unbelievably good rate.

The Angels already have a great third baseman in Troy Glaus.  But they could some more pop out of the first base or DH spot and Jose Fernandez could provide it.  He's still young enough (26) to become a decent regular.  John Sickels compared him to Charlie Hayes, but he definitely has more power than Hayes.

There's More

While most of the early call-ups are from Triple A, a number of players currently in AA will make the majors this year.  Over the next few days, I'll take a look at the likely candidates.