August 24, 2000
Now that the roster has been announced, I'm much more optimistic about the United States Olympic baseball team's chances than I have been. While I disagree with some of the choices, the fact is that most of these guys take walks and some of them hit for power. Some even do both. The pitching choices seem to reflect an overall strategy that I hadn't found in USA Baseball's public comments. There are some excellent choices here.
Nevertheless, the selection committee has still made some plain bad decisions. I understand that there were a lot of limitations on who would and could play, and that some teams supposedly didn't cooperate at all with USA Baseball (Boston Red Sox, Cleveland Indians, New York Yankees, rumors borne out by the puzzling lack of their best talent here, even talent they obviously weren't going to need or use). Players that I hoped would be available, like Aubrey Huff and Adam Piatt, got callups. Ryan Anderson is injured.
Even with those caveats, I can't help but think that this is a team that could have been dramatically better with only a few changes. There are 30 major-league teams with about 25 players at both Triple- and Double-A ball, half of them American. That's 750 players, and some of those must have been available to play center field.
Here are the position players for the U.S. 2000 Olympic Baseball team. On Friday, we'll cover the pitchers, along with commentary on the overall makeup of the team and the likely lineup cards.
Name Pos B AVG OBP SLG G PA H 2B 3B HR BB SO SB CS Borders C R .276 .313 .430 90 357 93 16 0 12 20 63 6 2 Jensen C R .235 .386 .412 10 42 8 3 0 1 8 5 0 1 Kinkade C R .364 .471 .509 15 66 20 5 0 1 11 11 0 1 Abernathy 2B R .295 .348 .399 111 455 124 25 2 5 34 38 21 15 Burroughs 3B L .291 .383 .401 108 450 114 29 4 2 58 45 6 8 Butler 2B R .288 .353 .421 120 473 124 34 1 7 43 45 1 3 Dawkins IF R .234 .311 .380 88 378 80 20 6 6 36 69 18 10 Everett SS R .246 .362 .348 118 493 104 24 2 5 70 96 11 4 Mientkiewicz 1B L .331 .403 .524 125 520 153 32 3 17 58 65 7 5 Neill OF L .298 .418 .479 107 450 112 36 1 10 74 102 9 3 Sanders OF R .307 .358 .512 110 440 126 21 3 19 30 103 8 8 Wilkerson OF L .258 .398 .473 56 227 48 11 1 9 41 51 5 4 Young OF R .263 .357 .541 118 496 114 16 0 35 62 108 10 1 Coolbaugh UT R .264 .376 .495 112 433 97 25 0 20 65 94 6 2 Gilbert UT R .338 .456 .540 80 328 92 17 4 10 56 63 11 9
When they said they were going to get some veteran catching to handle the young, untamed pitching, they weren't kidding. I suspect he's here to take Terry Steinbach's place on the team. Pat Borders had two decent seasons and one good one in his 12-year major-league career, along with nine really bad ones. Poor plate discipline, poor power. As much as this pains me to write, I wish Steinbach could have remained healthy so he could have been selected.
Marcus Jensen played some in the Pan Am games, getting 24 plate appearances and hitting well. He drew four walks and had six hits, including three home runs. He has some major-league experience to boot, so he's a good pick to get some playing time.
Mike Kinkade spent some time at nearly every position during his time with the Mets. He has never hit well in the minors for any extended period, but he's been doing really well this season, and he's 27, so this might be the burst of glory.
I have to admit that I don't understand why he's here. He doesn't bat left-handed, he doesn't steal bases or draw walks or even get plunked for dollars, Nick Johnson-style. But it could be worse: they could have taken Jim Leyritz.
Tagged as a future star, Sean Burroughs has shown some power this year (only two home runs, but 29 doubles). He drew 58 walks and struck out 45 times in 450 plate appearances in the Texas League. His defense is described as "rough".
Brent Butler was considered a top prospect not too long ago, but a terrible year at Double-A Arkansas got him shipped out of the Cardinals system. He's playing in Colorado Springs now, which inflates his statistics (.288/.353/.421). Butler is drawing more walks this year, which is good, but he's got a ways to go. I think the selection committee was fooled by his park-inflated numbers.
Despite making it to the major leagues back in May, Travis Dawkins has struggled as a Double-A repeater, which doesn't bode well for him. In 378 PAs, Dawkins hit six home runs and 20 doubles, but he's still not walking--just 36 so far--and he's still striking out a lot, 69 times. In fact, his season so far resembles almost exactly his 1998 season with Burlington in A ball. Once regarded as a big base-stealing threat, he's swiped just 18 in 28 attempts, which isn't good.
Dawkins is likely on the team because he was on the 1999 Pan Am Games team that finished second to Cuba, securing the U.S. one of two Western Hemisphere berths in the Olympics.
Adam Everett is not having a monster season at Triple-A, as his his power has been doubles-only. He is still walking, which is good. He's reportedly an amazing fielder; if you can get that and on-base ability in the same shortstop, well, that's a fine deal.
In getting a full season of major-league experience at the expense of David Ortiz, Doug Mientkiewicz played a good defensive first base and didn't hit a lot. He's having a monster season this year, so his selection makes sense, but this is a position to stick an extra monster hitter.
There was word the team would pick Carlos Pena, born in the Dominican Republic but who moved to the fair state of Massachusetts with his family. That would have been an awesome pick. Heck, J.R. Phillips is still floating around somewhere, terrorizing minor-league pitching, and I'm sure he'd have loved to go.
Mike Neill delivered the two-out, 10th inning, game-winning hit to beat Mexico and get the U.S. team into the Olympics. He had just seven at-bats in those Pan Am Games, but he still talks about the experience. He's going to be a huge offensive force: he draws walks, hits a homer once in a while and he hit two doubles in the time it took me to look up his stat line.
It's too bad that Mike Neill never had a major-league career, his development hampered by a shoulder injury. At least this way, Neill has a chance to do something great and historic anyway. I wish him all the best.
Anthony Sanders has one of the worst walk rates of those selected, just 7%. He has never and, we can safely assume, won't, learn to walk in the next three weeks. He brings power to the plate, though: he's already hit 21 doubles and 19 home runs.
Brad Wilkerson had a great college career, including a stint on the Team USA Juniors in which he shutout Taiwan in the final game. Wilkerson won two College World Series, all while pitching and driving the ball all over the place.
I think that's a big part of his selection: USA Baseball has talked a lot about bringing in players who could handle the pressure, and Wilkerson has certainly proved that much. He still hasn't proved he can really hit, though. He controls the strike zone well, with the highest walk rate of anyone selected, but he doesn't hit doubles or many home runs. As much as I'm a proponent of plate discipline, I want outfielders to hit for power, the more, the better. Like Ernie Young.
Ernie Young is one of the minor-league sluggers who make organizations hesitant to promote their pitchers to Triple-A just yet. He'll take his walks and drives pitches into the stands. Like Mike Neill, in a just world he'd be playing and Fonzie Bichette would have had to take Young's turn in the PCL. An ideal cleanup hitter for the team.
Mike Coolbaugh is finally drawing some walks and enjoying the benefits. He can play third base and the outfield, but I can't find any comments on how well he manages, so he could be Charles Gipson or he could be John Mabry. As a bat off the bench, he could serve this team well.
"Get off my lawn," I imagine Shawn Gilbert yelling at neighborhood kids, shaking a bat that Paul O'Neill cracked in BP one day and discarded. Gilbert has been having a heck of a year in Albuquerque, but I'm here to tell you: in 13 minor-league seasons his line is .259/.342/354. His selection is largely due to his service in the Pan Am Games. He plays all over the place, but Baseball America thinks he may actually be thought of as the starting center fielder. And Corey Patterson isn't going because he'd have been an alternate? Argh.
Derek Zumsteg can be reached at email@example.com.