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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.

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