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March 6, 1999

AL West Notebook

Rookies to Know in 1999

by Jeff Bower

ANAHEIM ANGELS

While much of the Disney Corporation's vast empire has been built on the exploitation of children, that will not be the case for the 1999 version of the Anaheim Angels, as it is unlikely that any rookies will leave Tempe with the parent club (Troy Glaus and Jarrod Washburn are no longer rookies). Terry Collins believes that fielding a veteran team is the best way to end his five-year run as a bridesmaid, a philosophy that meshes nicely with the fact that the Angels have a very thin minor league system.

Second baseman Keith Luuloa will take advantage of a couple breaks - specifically Gary Disarcina's forearm and Justin Baughman's leg - and get considerable playing time this spring. If he can show that that the pop in his bat isn't just another Midland mirage, he may be able to snag the utility infielder role away from roster chaff like Andy Stankiewicz, or Jeff Huson. Center fielder Norm Hutchins could land a job as the fifth outfielder/pinch-runner if the Angels ever pull the trigger on the long-rumored trade of Garret Anderson or Jim Edmonds for a starting pitcher, but Orlando Palmeiro is already a good fit for that role. Hutchins is a toolsy guy with no plate discipline, and would be best served spending a lovely summer in Edmonton.

Pickings are equally slim on the mound, as the only first-year pitcher likely to see much action is southpaw Scott Schoeneweis. Even though Schoeneweis spent all of last year in Triple-A, he'll be back for a return engagement until injuries strike the rotation, which may not take long given Collins' frequently brutal usage patterns.

OAKLAND ATHLETICS

Unlike their divisional counterparts, the Athletics continue to employ the young talent that their fertile farm system produces and, as a result, won't be part of the AL West Y2K meltdown.

Third baseman Eric Chavez was the 1998 Minor League Player of the Year and is the early favorite to add the AL Rookie of the Year trophy to his hardware collection. The A's hot corner position is his to lose, but GM Billy Beane is so confident in Chavez' ability that he's deleted Mike Blowers' phone number from his speed-dial. Olmedo Saenz' big right-handed bat looks like a nice fit for the A's, whose batting order leans very much to the left. A minor league veteran refugee from the White Sox, Saenz can spell Chavez at 3B against tough lefties, DH and pinch-hit - all at the minimum salary. An interesting predicament is shaping up at catcher. Both Ramon Hernandez and Danny Ardoin had solid 1998 seasons at Double-A Huntsville, although Hernandez spent much of the time at DH due to shoulder problems. Hernandez has the higher upside and the A's want him to hone his defensive skills full-time at Triple-A Vancouver. The question becomes what to do with Ardoin? It wouldn't be surprising if the A's thank Spanky Macfarlane for the year he spent as A.J. Hinch's caddy and give the backup receiver position to Ardoin. A utility infield job will likely get doled out to Jorge Velandia, though he's done little to earn it. Eric Stuckenschneider may stick with the big league club and capture the final outfield job. This will cause fits for the Athletics' clubhouse manager, whose job it is to squeeze his surname onto a jersey.

The A's are desperately in need of quality arms, but their pitching pipeline from the minors isn't nearly as full. Lefty Mark Mulder is being touted as the prospect who will snap the Oakland pitcher development drought that extends back to the first term of the Reagan administration. The second pick of the '98 draft out of Michigan State, Mulder signed late and took his 94 mph fastball to the Arizona Fall League, where he pitched well. Though slated to start the season in Triple-A, a string of Oquistian outings by the back end of the Athletics' rotation should prompt Art Howe to punch his return ticket. Stubby 5'9" Chad Harville has caught the eyes of the A's coaching staff with his high-octane gas. Harville has closer written all over him, but will probably open the season in middle relief. Since Juan Perez is left-handed, a good spring could land him a set-up role in the bullpen. Hard-throwing lefty Eric Dubose may get a crack at the rotation sometime after the All-Star break, while the A's are high on Dominican righty Luis Vizcaino, who will probably have to settle for a September call-up as the springboard for a 2000 bid for the rotation.

SEATTLE MARINERS

Lou Piniella and Woody Woodward have spent their recent summers trimming the Mariners' farm system of its juicy plums to exchange them for dried prunes. If not for the booty received from the Astros in the Randy Johnson rental, there would be little to write about.

Carlos Guillen will be Seattle's starting second baseman in 1999. Savvy fans in the Pacific Northwest will quickly realize that the only thing they miss about Joey Cora is the opportunity to watch Jay Buhner cut the rug at Joey's annual Benefit Salsa Dance. While Guillen has been prone to physical injuries in the past, the upcoming season will be his first extended exposure to the emotional mortars that Piniella chucks. Often, they prove to be much more debilitating to young players.

Houston exiles John Halama and Freddy Garcia, along with long-time Mariner farmhand Brett Hinchliffe, are in Arizona vying for the fifth starter's spot. If Piniella can overcome his morbid fascination with the lifeless body of Billy Swift, Halama should win the position; he has nothing left to prove at the Triple-A level. Given Piniella's notoriously short fuse with pitchers and Butch Henry's frailty, Garcia and Hinchliffe are advised not to seek long-term housing in Tacoma. If Swift doesn't get bumped from the rotation, Mac Suzuki should inherit Bob Wells' now-vacant long relief job-which, by default, is an improvement. Despite not being invited to the desert, rumors persist that 19-year-old Ryan Anderson will don the teal and blue at some point this season. Anderson is a scouting director's wet dream: a 6'11" left-hander with a 98-mph heater, a hard curveball and a developing changeup, with just enough wildness that batters can't dig in. To avoid a Todd Van Poppel redux, Mariner management should petition King County for a restraining order on Mt. Piniella.

TEXAS RANGERS

It's quite possible that the Rangers will strike camp in Florida and head to the Lone Star State without a rookie on their Opening Day squad. Johnny Oates prefers a veteran team, and if Texas gets off to a good start and stays healthy, Ranger watchers may not see any new flesh until the rosters expand in September.

With the off-season departure of Domingo Cedeno, 30-year-old Scott Sheldon finally has a real shot at a job as a utility infielder. Sheldon has pretty good power to go along with a decent glove and batting eye, and may be able to leverage this opportunity into a major league pension. No doubt there were some tears shed in Big D when the Rangers failed in their quest to bring Roger Clemens home to Texas. Those moist eyes will vanish when the main trade bait, Ruben Mateo, totes his full toolbox onto the center field stage at The Ballpark. Although Mateo will open the season at Oklahoma City, make no mistake, Tom Goodwin's days are numbered. A return by Goodwin to his free-swinging ways will only hasten the arrival of this future star. Royce Clayton's long-term contract and Mark McLemore's looming implosion are the catalysts behind Kelly Dransfeldt's transformation from a shortstop into a second baseman. No matter how smooth the change may be, Ranger fans probably won't see the results of the metamorphosis until the fall.

Recently, general manager Doug Melvin announced that the Rangers are going to mimic the Atlanta Braves by giving at least one rookie significant playing time every year. Jeff Zimmerman appears to be The Chosen One for 1999, even though he is a long shot to make the team out of Spring Training. Armed with a wicked slider, the 26-year-old was stationed in a Northern League outpost only two years ago. When he lands a job in middle relief, it will complete an extremely circuitous journey to the majors. If any of the Texas starters suffer injuries or extended bouts of ineffectiveness, the door may open for Jonathan Johnson or Ryan Glynn. The Rangers' 1995 first-round selection, Johnson will likely get first dibs after spending all of last year in Triple-A.

Related Content:  Triple-A,  Rookies Of The Year

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