Pittsburgh Post-Gazette from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania on April 3, 1989 · Page 35
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Pittsburgh Post-Gazette from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania · Page 35

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Monday, April 3, 1989
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B-5 PIRATES '09 PITCHERS AUD PROSPECTS Pittsburgh Post-Gazette: Monday, April 3, 1989 Here's the wind-up, and the pitch . . . si if ft i i lit. i .( Ol 1 II 'V V John BealePost-Gazette photos Pitcher Bob Walk was a first-time All-Star last season. Comebacks by Dunne, Fisher key to Bucs' staff n By Paul Meyer Post-Gazette Sports Writer ast season, a starting rotation of Doug Drabek, .John Smiley, Bob Walk, I Mike Dunne and Brian Fisher had the Pirates 18 games over .500 (56-38) July 22. "That ain't bad," Manager Jim Leyland said. It would probably be better for Leyland if he knew that Dunne would return to his rookie form of 1987 and that Fisher, who had off-season surgery on his right shoulder and left knee, would be healthy. Fisher won't be available until at least the middle of April. He was placed on the disabled list last Thursday because of shoulder problems. Dorn Taylor, 10-8 with an Eastern League-leading 2.14 ERA at Class AAA Buffalo last season, will take Fisher's spot in the rotation. Dunne, 1 3-6 with a 3.03 ERA in 1987, was 7-11 and 3.92 in 1988. "He'll be fine," Leyland said. "He'll bounce back because he's got talent, and when you have talent, normally it comes out. I think he's going to be fine." It helped that Dunne had a good spring, especially control-wise. He walked 88 batters in 1 70 innings last season, but he walked only three in his first 19 innings in spring training. "He's got that bite back in his sinker," Leyland said. "When you don't have it, like he didn't much of the time last year, you get kind of afraid to throw the ball over the plate, and you get 2-and-0 and 3-and-l on the hitters." Pitching coach Ray Miller worked with Dunne and his sinker during the Instructional League last fall. "He's got a real sharp sinker," Miller said. "And it's a difficult pitch to hit, especially when he throws it at different speeds." Dunne pulled a rib-cage muscle in his left side late in spring training last year, and it bothered him much of the first half of the season. "Plus," Miller said, "there were six or eight games we won in which he didn't get the decision. That means that 7-1 1 wasn't as bad as it looks. "And for the first time, Mike watched what he ate over the winter and came into camp slim and trim." Dunne also has picked up a curve ball from Miller, so that he can vary his sinker-slider-changeup routine. "As long as he keeps the ball over the plate, he's intelligent enough to be a big winner," Miller said. "And he's determined to be successful. He has a great attitude. I think he'll be one of our bigger winners. I'm pretty excited about him." Miller was pretty excited about Fisher, too, until the right-hander hit a snag midway through spring training. "He wasn't even supposed to make a start until we were two weeks into spring training," Miller said. "But he started the second game of spring train-, ing." However, as he warmed up for his fourth start, Fisher felt a muscle knot up high in his right side. He missed that start, and there was some concern that he'd been set back quite a bit. In addition, that was during the time the Pirates were trying to acquire shortstop Rey Qui-noncs from Seattle. The Pirates told the Mariners they couldn't have Drabek, Smiley, Dunne or Walk. Fisher didn't need to be told that the Mariners could have him. There was no question Fisher worried about the possible trade. He wanted to stay with the Pirates. "Guys want to be here now," Leyland said. "Three years ago, everybody was asking to be traded. That says something about how far we've come." "I knew Seattle was looking for immediate help in its rotation." Fisher said. "1 wasn't really worried about it, but I knew I wasn't the first, second or third starter here. I was kind of a logical choice to be traded . But they the Mariners ' -iK VY 0 ma 4" tit i''is.'cv 3 tV3 4.-v?A "-.-'J Nl'r " Pirates pitchers, clockwise from top, starter John Smiley looks for relief from Jim Gott; Mike Dunne works to regain his control on the mound; and Brian Fisher starts the season on the disabled list. 111 wm Willi jmHffw.lJl I.UJWHHI whih E, , , t , I - ' ft , f i 1 I 1 ' wa -v r ft. Gmuiw w mm. t r ? ..v, . . If, . ! ef", ; fi.-'ul. '1 " t' ..f -v didn't want me, so that helped out." If Dunne rebounds and. Fisher can come back in time to give the Pirates 180-190 innings, they should be in good shape in the starting rotation. Drabek, Smiley and Walk, a first-time All-Star, combined for 40 wins last year, and even a little more offensive support in the second half of the season could have raised that figure to 50. Walk was 10-4 with a 2.47 ERA at the All-Star break, but finished 12-10 with a 2.71 ERA that was eighth-best in the National League. Neal Heaton, the left-hander acquired from the Montreal Expos last Tuesday, will begin the season in the starting rotation but could wind up in a relief role when Fisher returns. The presence of Heaton would give Leyland the balance he sought all spring, when the manager said he would like to have two lefties in the bullpen. The bullpen anchors of Jim Gott and Jeff Robinson combined for 1 7 wins and 43 saves, and will be relied on for more of .the same in 1989. The staff weakness could be middle relief, but if the starters pitch well, middle relief will be a lesser factor. "One of the big keys is that our starters give us innings and get us to Gott and Robinson on a consistent basis," Leyland said. "Of course, the Mets can say the same thing about getting to Roger McDowell and Randy Myers, and the Cardinals can say the same thing about Ken Dayleyand Todd Worrell. "But if we get to Gott and Robinson on a consistent basis, we're in good shape. If not, we'll struggle." 1 . . HP '. i Mi. A 'f J A" 5 ' ;i't" i 3 ' jo - "Og 4., MSB .v.? . ' f 4 5 r - if -7.UV. & ' 2 '' , " 4 s ' v' Among prospects, third baseman is King of the hill By Paul Meyer Post-Gazette Sports Writer f what Dave Trembley k J said of Jeff King last year I I proves true, the third LJ baseman should be ready for his best minor-league season. "Jeff King," the Harrisburg manager said, "could be one of those players who does better the closer he gets to the major leagues." King is about as close as he can get without being there. The player taken first in the 1986 draft should make his Class AAA debut with Buffalo. The next step, of course, is the major leagues. "If he really wants to, he can get here," said Hal McRae, the Pirates' minor-league hitting instructor. "It's up to Jeff now. And he seems determined to show people he can play in the major leagues. The ball's in his court. And all the questions about him should be answered in a year or two. Maybe this year." There have been questions about King, who had a three-year batting average of .372 and set school records with 42 home runs and 204 RBI at the University of Arkansas. Nobody questioned his ability. But people questioned his desire. "He's got to be eager to play," said Woody Huyke, the Pirates' manager at Bradenton of the Gulf Coast Rookie League. "Things have been given to him because he was a No. 1 draft choice. But you have to question his desire. When you grade his tools, he has tools that guys in the big leagues don't have. But his tools are much better than what he's shown." In three years in the Pirates' system, King is batting .258, with 48 home runs and 182 RBI in 270 games. He played only 37 games his first season for Class A Prince William because he signed late after a contract hassle. In 1 987 for Class A Salem, he hit .277 with 26 homers and 71 RBI, then batted .240 with two home runs and 25 RBI in 26 games for Class AA Harrisburg in a late-season call-up. Last year, in a full AA season at Harrisburg, King hit .255 with 14 home runs and 66 RBI in the pitching-dominated Eastern League. "And you're playing in mist and rain and cold in the Eastern League," Trembley said. "Plus, in AA, it's the first time you're seeing the slider. The pitchers have better command of their pitches. And it's the first level where you have relief specialists." King, who turned 24 the day after Christmas, wouldn't seem to benefit from another year in AA. "He'll play better the higher he gets," said Buzzy Keller, the Pirates' minor-league field coordinator. "I look for him to have a real good season this year. He has all the tools in the world." Whether or not Jeff King ever uses those tools to help make the Pirates a better club is a question that should be answered by 1990. At the latest. Because of his status as the first player taken in the country in the 1986 draft, third baseman King remains the crown jewel in the Pirate farm system. But there are others. Right-handed pitchers: Mike Walker, 23, was the Pirates' second-round pick in the '86 draft. Last year, he pitched for Salem, Harrisburg and Buffalo, going 2-3 with a 2.78 ERA in eight starts with the Bisons. His three-year, minor-league totals are 22-29 (3.90) in 67 starts, with 144 walks and 283 strikeouts in 420 innings. Keith Richardson, 22, was the Pirates' second-round pick in the 1988 draft. Last year, he pitched for Watertown, Augusta and Salem and was a combined 9-2 with a 1.03 ERA in 87 innings. The Georgia Southern product walked 15 and struck out 63 in 87 innings. "I think he's going to be in the big leagues real soon," Huyke said. "He's one of the quickest learners I've ever seen in baseball." Left-handed pitchers: Miguel Garcia, 22, was acquired from California as the player to be named later in the Johnnv Rav trade Aug. 29, 1987. At Buffalo last year, he was 6-2 with two saves and a 2.58 ERA in 25 games. He had a two-week stint with the Pirates, pitching two innings in one game. He's a second cousin of former Pirate shortstop Al Pcdrique. Butch Schlopy. 21, was signed as a free agent in July 1985. He was 7-4 with nine saves and a 1.90 ERA in 38 games for Augusta last year. "We made a concerted effort last year to sign left-handed pitching, knowing the organization needed it," Keller said. "And left-handers are getting a better opportunity to stay longer in the organization." Catchers: Tom Prince, 24, was the Pirates' fourth-round pick in January 1984. He was batting .260 with 14 home runs and 42 RBI for Buffalo last season when the Pirates recalled him July 28 after Junior Ortiz broke his collarbone. With the Pirates. Prince batted .176 with six RBI in 74 at-bats. First basemen: t Ben Shelton, 19, was the Pirates' tf M -..ji.i,. w i Su Ml 'J H Miguel Garcia second pick in the June 1987 draft. He hit . 1 95 with five home runs and 20 RBI for Augusta and .221 with four home runs and 20 RBI for Princeton last year. In 332 at-bats, he struck out 154 times. "Shelton is like Bobby Bon-iila." Huyke said. "He's a iwo-ear project. He can't hit the breaking ball et, but he's got all the tools to be a great ballplayer." Junior Vizcaino, 24, was the Pirates' 14th-round pick in 1987. Last year for Salem, he hit .261 with 11 home runs and 58 RBI in 89 games. "He's just getting ready." Keller said. "He has all the tools. He's big. strong and he can hit. He's jumped high in a hurry." Second basemen: Kevin Burdick, 25, was the 1 8th-round pick in June 1987. In 1988, he hit .32 1 with nine home runs and 49 RBI for Salem and .28 1 with five home runs and 22 RBI for Harrisburg. "He should play in the big leagues pretty soon," Keller said. "He's a bulldog." Glenn McNabb, 19, was the third-round pick in last year's draft. In 46 games for Princeton, he batted .247 with no home runs and 1 5 RBI. "He's a miniature Billy Martin," Huyke said. "He's all cuts and bruises. He can make the double play, and he's got enough tools." Shortstops: Tommy Shields, 24, was the 15th-round pick in June 1986. Last year, he hit .308 with two home runs and 2 1 RBI for Harrisburg and .314 with three home runs and 25 RBI for Salem. "I think Shields and Walker are the two best guys we took in the draft in '86," Huyke said. Carlos Garcia, 2 1 . was signed as a free agent Jan. 9, 1987. In '88. he hit .290 with one home run and 45 RBI for Augusta and .275 with one home run and 28 RBI for Salem. Outfielders: The Pirates have a wealth of young outfield prospects and that doesn't count Mark Merchant, the top draft pick in 1987. Mer- tr, J " . it. Jeff King chant, who hit over .300 in last fall's Instructional League, missed the last month and a half of the '88 season after breaking his collarbone while with Augusta. In 60 games there, he hit .242 with two home runs and 19 RBI. The top four prospects besides Merchant are Steve Carter, Wes Chamberlain, Robert Harris and Moises Alou. Carter, 24, was picked 1 7th in the June 1987 draft. He played for Harrisburg, Augusta and Salem last year, but a broken wrist cut short his season. He played the bulk of his games for Augusta, hitting .299 with three home runs and 43 RBI in 74 games. Chamberlain. 22. was the fourth-round pick in the 1987 draft. He hit .336 with one home run and 1 7 RBI in 27 games for Augusta and .274 with 1 1 home runs and 50 RBI in 92 games for Salem last year. Harris, 23, was the third-round pick in 1986. For Augusta last vear, he hit .271 with 29 RBI and 30 stolen bases in 101 games. Alou, 22, was the first pick in the January' 1986 draft. The son of Felipe and nephew of Matty and Jesus Alou batted .313 with seven homers and 62 RBI for Augusta last year. l lH ty :Uicr: S.'oit Little. 2b. was acquired from the New York Mets. along with Al Pednquc. for Bill Almon May 29, 1987. He batted .290 with six home runs and 52 RBI for Harrisburg last season.

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