Riding the Pine… Daily Update 03/06/2007

Scoreboard
Recaps:
Grapefruit
Cactus

Player Movement:
Cardinals – reassigned RHP Chris Lambert, C Bryan Anderson, C Michel Hernandez to minor league camp…
Giants – optioned RHP Kelyn Acosta to Double-A, RHP Merkin Valdez to Triple-A…
Orioles – reassigned RHPs Garrett Olson, Radhames Liz and Freddy Deza, and OF Cory Keylor to their minor league camp…

Around the Web:
Royal’s Alums to help with camp.
Brewer’s Prospect talks about defecting from Cuba.
Jose Reyes improving with glove.
College baseball update.

Prospect of the Day:
Martin Prado, 2B, Braves
Source and Scouting Report: Top Prospect Alert

Rumors:
Source: BenMaller.com

The top 10 prospects in baseball are Boston pitcher Daisuke Matsuzaka, Kansas City third baseman Alex Gordon, Tampa Bay outfielder Delmon Young, Yankees pitcher Philip Hughes, Cincinnati pitcher Homer Bailey (bad first name for a pitcher), Detroit outfielder Cameron Maybin, Tampa Bay third baseman Evan Longoria, Angels shortstop Brandon Wood, Arizona outfielder Justin Upton and Detroit pitcher Andrew Miller. Cubs pitcher (and former Notre Dame star wide receiver) Jeff Samardzija is the No. 80 top prospect…

After an initial review, lawyers advising the Angels have indicated the team probably would not have grounds to void the contract of outfielder Gary Matthews Jr. even if prosecutors can prove he received an illegal shipment of human growth hormone. In the absence of a criminal conviction, the Angels probably could not void the contract, even if they would want to do so, according to two highly placed baseball sources. The Angels signed Matthews to a five-year, $50-million deal in November. David Soares, the New York district attorney leading the inquiry into allegations of criminal sales of controlled substances, has said it focuses on distributors, not consumers. If no charges are filed against any alleged recipients, Matthews would not be at risk of conviction…Bartolo Colon’s rehabilitation of a torn rotator cuff seems to be following the best-case scenario this spring. The Angels right-hander will throw off a mound today for the first time since he was shut down because of shoulder pain in July. The eight-minute, fastballs-only session is a big step forward in Colon’s rehab and comes sooner than the Angels expected. Manager Mike Scioscia said Monday that Colon could progress quickly enough to join the Angels’ rotation in April. Early projections ranged from April to the All-Star break…Angels DH Garret Anderson said Mike Scioscia has not spoken with him about moving down in the lineup. “He doesn’t necessarily have to,” Anderson said. Anderson, the Angels’ all-time leader in hits and runs batted in, said he would be more comfortable batting fourth every day. “You become a creature of habit,” he said. “You get in the flow of the game when you’re in the same place every day. But it’s not going to affect me, where I hit”…

Late last July, the trade collapsed, and Roy Oswalt didn’t land with the Mets. Before last season’s trade deadline a little more than seven months ago, the Mets were trying to procure Oswalt, the Houston ace. They were talking with the Orioles about a follow-up trade to what would have been Baltimore’s acquisition of Oswalt from the Astros. Neither swap ever occurred. It was a memorable sequence, though, that’s still worth considering now, especially with the Mets facing the Astros today and with starting pitching still their most significant issue. Through conversations with six different MLB team executives with knowledge of the multiple-team trade discussions, here’s a detailed look back at the days and hours leading up to the Oswalt trade disintegration. Oswalt, one of the finest pitchers in the sport, was set to be a free agent after 2007, and when Houston began to be unsure about whether he would re-sign, the club became willing to hear proposals. To move Oswalt, however, the Astros wanted an established elite hitter…

It was a reflective Josh Towers who emerged from the training room after yesterday’s impressive start, ready to talk about his lost season and determined to fight for his spot in the Blue Jays starting rotation. “It was probably the best I’ve felt in a long time,” Towers said, his elbow and shoulder swathed in familiar icepacks, a quick smile playing across his face. In two innings, Towers struck out two and allowed one hit, a solo homer to Brad Eldred. “I just got ahead of myself a little bit … a nice, pretty mistake he got to hit,” Towers said. He finished the season with a spindly 2-10 record and a bloated 8.42 ERA. A guaranteed $2.9 million (all figures U.S.) deal for 2007 ensured Towers would not be cut. But the club went out and got three veterans who immediately leapfrogged him in the pecking order…

Braves starter Mike Hampton will throw another bullpen session today. If that goes well, manager Bobby Cox said he could make his Grapefruit League debut Friday against the Pirates. Hampton said he would probably throw one inning in his first game. His return would give the Braves hope – he’s a former 22-game winner, albeit eight seasons ago – who would provide a third proven veteran in a rotation with John Smoltz and Tim Hudson. But 17 months into his recovery, Hampton’s would-be first turn in the rotation in Grapefruit League play was skipped, and he said last week he was not where he needed to be in his recovery. That fueled speculation he wouldn’t be ready in April. “He hasn’t had any setbacks whatsoever,” pitching coach Roger McDowell said. “We’re taking it on a day-to-day basis. We’ll see how he responds to bullpen sessions, long-tossing and go from there”…Braves setup reliever Rafael Soriano’s Braves debut has been delayed by a sore shoulder, which manager Bobby Cox attempted to downplay. “A little sore shoulder,” Cox said. “He’s fine. [Just] got here a little late.” Soriano missed the first week of camp because of a delay getting his visa in the Dominican Republic. The Braves say he should be able to pitch this week…

Brewers 3B prospect Ryan Braun said the elbow soreness that has kept him out of game action for three days is not serious. “It came up a couple of days ago,” Braun said. “It’s just a little soreness. I’m trying to take care of it now before it becomes something serious.” Braun is allowed to take batting practice and groundballs but is restricted from throwing until the elbow soreness is gone…The Brewers trainer’s room was not a place for the squeamish after Tony Graffanino fouled a pitch off his left big toe in the first inning. The underside of the toe nail filled with blood, and a small drill was used to relieve the pressure. “The blood gushes out pretty good when they do that,” said Graffanino. “But it feels a lot better afterward”…

Former Cubs players Tom Goodwin and Curtis Wilkerson have surfaced as managers in the new independent Continental Baseball League. Goodwin, who played for the Cubs in 2003-04, will manage the Lewisville Lizards, and Wilkerson, with the Cubs in 1989-90, will lead the Tarrant County Blue Thunder. Both former Cubs live in the Dallas area, not far from their respective teams…

LHP Casey Fossum said he plans to throw one more live BP session and, assuming his surgically repaired shoulder still feels fine, he could be in Grapefruit League games by the end of the week. Devil Rays manager Joe Maddon wasn’t quite as specific about the timetable, but was no less enthusiastic about Fossum’s progress. “Wow,” Maddon said. “I mean, he’s much further along than anticipated. He might be ready. The ball’s really coming out of his hand well – not only his fastball, but his breaking ball, too. He had command, he was right around the plate. He repeated his delivery well. He was very good. It was very encouraging”…The buzz out of baseball spring training is that Tampa Bay has a surplus of exceptional young talent and could post its first winning season by 2008 and that the Washington Nationals are bad enough to lose 120 games this season…

The Dodgers made two more errors, giving them 14 in six games. But Grady Little seems unconcerned. “However you want to look at it, it’s the first week of spring training,” he said. “Early in spring training, a lot of times you talk about hitters swinging and missing when they’re at the plate. We’ve been swinging and missing a lot in the field”…Dodgers INF Damian Jackson said that coming back to Fort Myers (Red Sox camp) reminded him that his Dodge Ram was stolen in front of the team’s hotel in 2003…

The Marlins’ rotation hit another snag Monday when Ricky Nolasco failed to make his first start of the spring because of back spasms. Nolasco, who pitched in relief in the Grapefruit League opener last week, is scheduled to throw a bullpen session today, and manager Fredi Gonzalez said he expects Nolasco to make his next scheduled start, saying there is no concern at this point. “He had some back spasms, and we held him out,” Gonzalez said. “He will make his next start. It’s not a big deal”…

Mets slugger Carlos Delgado is convinced Shawn Green can get back to that Toronto level. “I’m sure he can, though I might be a little biased here,” Delgado said. “I’m one of the few people here who have seen the guy hit 40 home runs every year and drive in 130. “I’d like to believe it’s like riding a bike. You don’t forget. Sometimes you’ve got to think a little bit to get back to where it was.” Green is not there yet. After going 0 for 3 in Monday’s 2-1 loss to Cleveland on a cool afternoon with the wind blowing in at Tradition Field, he is hitless in 10 at-bats this spring with three strikeouts…Ralph Kiner, entering his 46th consecutive year in the Mets’ broadcast booth, spent more than 20 minutes telling stories about the early days with partners Bob Murphy and Lindsey Nelson. The Mets will honor Kiner before the July 14 game against Cincinnati. “When I played for the Pirates, they gave me a day to get out of town,” the 84-year-old Hall of Famer cracked. “It’s been a great ride, and I couldn’t have been luckier”…

After an ugly showing by pitchers Jerome Williams and Tim Redding, the future for the Nationals looks like it will get worse before it will get better…The buzz out of baseball spring training is that Tampa Bay has a surplus of exceptional young talent and could post its first winning season by 2008 and that the Washington Nationals are bad enough to lose 120 games this season…The Washington Nationals brought in D’Angelo Jimenez as a veteran who would battle for, and possibly win, a job as a backup infielder. But three games into his Grapefruit League season, Jimenez might be fielding his way out of the competition. Jimenez committed a pair of errors in Monday’s 14-5 loss to the Atlanta Braves at Disney’s Wide World of Sports, giving him four errors in his first three outings…

Brian Roberts and the Orioles are close to finalizing a two-year contract extension that would buy out Roberts’s first year of free agency in 2009, according to one source close to the negotiations. The deal, which could be announced Wednesday, is believed to be worth between $11 million and $13 million. If Roberts finalizes a two-year deal, all of the Orioles’ core players would be signed through the 2009 season: Miguel Tejada, Jay Gibbons, Melvin Mora, Aubrey Huff, Ramon Hernandez, Erik Bedard, Danys Baez, Chad Bradford and Jamie Walker all will become free agents after 2009…Orioles pitcher Jaret Wright said he is not suffering any significant injury but just normal spring soreness. On Sunday, Perlozzo said Wright pitched only one inning because his arm was not yet in shape. Wright has previously had shoulder problems. “There are things in the past I’ve dealt with,” Wright said. “I try to use spring to the fullest advantage now. It’s not just go out there and wing it every five days. You’ve got to build on stuff and go from there. It’s a slower process now”…The first cuts of the spring by the Baltimore Orioles resulted in demotions for two of their top pitching prospects. Garrett Olson and Radhames Liz, along with pitcher Freddy Deza and outfielder Cory Keylor, were reassigned to the team’s minor league camp in Sarasota, Fla. Liz allowed two runs in two innings and Olson allowed one run in two innings in Sunday’s win against the New York Mets…

Phils pitcher Jon Lieber maintains the trade rumors regarding him aren’t on his mind, nor are they a concern. “There are a lot worse problems going on in the world than what’s going to happen in these next two or three weeks,” he said. Toronto Blue Jays rightfielder Alex Rios was the designated hitter in a B game in Clearwater yesterday with Phillies officials in the stands. The Phillies like Rios. The Jays like Lieber. The teams have talked for months about different scenarios, but the Blue Jays won’t give up Rios for Lieber. Deals that would bring the Phillies less of a return have been discussed, but the Phillies don’t appear to be impressed…Phils leftfielder Pat Burrell has had a large ice pack on his lower back after recent workouts. He said he is experiencing some tightness, but is not concerned…

The Pirates’ 4.19 earned run average in the second half was fourth behind the Astros, Padres and Dodgers. Only Dodgers pitchers gave up fewer home runs (74) than the Pirates (77). Batters are Pittsburgh’s problem. The .264 second-half average was OK, but the Pirates hit the fewest home runs and were third from the bottom in doubles and walks. The team finished a distant last in slugging (.373 to the Brewers’ .402) and third from the bottom in on-base average (.319) So its OPS (On-base Plus Slugging) was last, thus it’s no surprise the Pirates scored the fewest runs in the NL in this period. The Pirates were outscored, 370-327, in the second half. So while it’s legitimate to say the second-half record is more indicative of the returning team than the overall 67-95 record, it’s just as clear the team needs vast improvement from its hitters…

Red Sox OF J.D. Drew is both puzzled and slightly hurt by the Dodgers’ lack of interest in re-signing him after he made that rather sudden decision to leave behind $33 million in guaranteed money over three years for a new deal. The outfielder signed a five-year, $70 million contract with the Red Sox. “Absolutely. We told them up front when we opted out that they were on top of the list, and we wanted to keep the channels open and talk about re-signing there. But after I opted out, they really showed no interest,” Drew said before the Sox’ 2-1 loss in which he was 0-for-2. “The thing with me is we were looking for some job security, and I know where the Dodgers were heading, and I didn’t want to become trade bait at some point down the road, and those were things that were very important to me, and it seemed like they didn’t want to pursue any of those avenues. So they moved on, and I kind of had to do the same thing”…That remains an issue for Josh Beckett, who revealed yesterday — after pitching three scoreless innings in a 2-1 loss to the Dodgers — that the Red Sox medical staff has found that the blisters tended to crop up at times when he had outbreaks of eczema. “It’s something I still have to be careful with,” said Beckett, who uses a product called CoQ10 to treat his eczema. “We’ve done a lot of testing and stuff like that, and the conclusion we’ve come up with since I’ve been with the Boston Red Sox is whenever I have eczema outbreaks, that’s usually when my finger gets sore. “Last year, we were able to keep that stuff under wraps, and hopefully we can do the same this year”…The Japanese media are gearing up for Daisuke Matsuzaka’s start against the Marlins today in Jupiter. Sox PR man John Blake sent the Marlins a list of 94 media members for the game…In Japan, Daisuke Matsuzaka was used to pitching every six days, throwing on average around 120 pitches per start, although that number dropped in recent years. He also would rest for 2-3 days after a start. Major league starters usually rest a day, then throw again the next day, before resting more. “Ideally, we’d like to see him pitch two days before a start so there is a rest day there, but we are also cognizant of what he is comfortable with,” Red Sox pitching coach John Farrell said. “I don’t want to say there’s all give and take, because then it’s ‘who’s leading this?’ But we are communicating a lot. He’s not so set in his ways that he’s not willing to listen. He wants to adjust to the American style to a certain point. We’re talking about taking a long-term view of his career versus just pitching for today. That doesn’t mean we’re going to baby him.” It means that Matsuzaka and the Red Sox [team stats] are going to adjust to each other for some time…

Josh Hamilton is battling shin splints, and Reds manager Jerry Narron said Hamilton needs a day off, and this is the perfect time. “I didn’t want not to play and I’d rather play a game hurting a little bit than practice while hurting,” said Hamilton. “It only hurts the first couple of steps out of the batter’s box. The pitchers have been covering me during batting practice, chasing the fly balls and telling me, ‘Save it for the game.’ ” Hamilton batted twice Monday against the Phillies and had another hit, a single, and a walk and is hitting .563 (9-for-16)…The Reds were happy that Jon Lieber drove his famed SuperTruck to Sarasota so they could witness firsthand its imposing might…

While admitting that plenty of luck is involved, one of Rockies 3B Garrett Atkins’ goals this season is to win the National League batting title. He hit .329 with 29 homers and 120 RBIs last season…Did You Know? Relief pitcher Danny Graves, who’s trying to win a spot in the Rockies’ bullpen, was the first Vietnamese-born player to appear in the major leagues. He was born on Aug. 7, 1973, on a U.S. military base in Saigon to an American serviceman father and a Vietnamese mother. The Graves family moved to the United States in 1975, shortly before the fall of Saigon, when Graves was 14 months old. Graves made his major league debut with Cleveland on July 13, 1996…

Surgery to repair torn cartilage in Mark Grudzielanek’s left knee went off without a hitch Monday morning, but the Royals continue to say there is little chance the veteran second baseman will be ready to play by opening day. “First of all,” manager Buddy Bell confirmed, “the surgery was a success. He’s fine. We can’t put a date on it as far as when we anticipate him coming back. But we just don’t anticipate him being back for opening day.” Grudzielanek previously indicated that he hoped to resume full workouts before the end of spring training and be ready for the April 2 season opener against Boston at Kauffman Stadium. The Royals continue to characterize that hope as overly optimistic and suggest April 15 as a more likely target. Privately, club officials say they aren’t counting on Grudzielanek to be fully recovered before May 1. Utilityman Esteban German becomes the starting second baseman in Grudzielanek’s absence. The injury also appears to open a roster spot for veteran shortstop Alex Gonzalez…

Tigers’ DH Gary Sheffield admitted he will miss the juice of playing in Yankee Stadium. Sporting the thin beard that all former Yankees seem to grow the moment they shed their pinstripes, Sheffield said that while his tenure in the Bronx may have ended on a sour note, he wouldn’t trade his experience in New York for anything in the world. “It was wonderful, man. Just thinking about it, I get chill bumps,” Sheffield said. “I’m going to miss 50,000 people screaming, the stadium about to come down. It’s the best atmosphere, by far”…

White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen can’t commit to Tadahito Iguchi hitting lower in the order because of the uncertainty of Scott Podsednik being ready by the start of the regular season. Podsednik is ahead of schedule in his recovery from a sports hernia operation nearly six weeks ago. Iguchi will stay in the second spot at least until Podsednik is fully recovered, said Guillen, adding that Darin Erstad will be “at the top of the lineup, somewhere, somehow”…

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