Sun, Jul 24, 2005 - Page 23 News List

Prospecting in minor leagues can yield diamonds

NY TIMES NEWS SERVICE , NEW YORK

Baseball history is littered with in-season trades in which a prospect who was dealt for a coveted veteran ended up surpassing the established player.

In 1987, the Detroit Tigers were in a pennant race and traded a pitching prospect to the Atlanta Braves for Doyle Alexander. Alexander went 9-0 down the stretch for Detroit, and the prospect, John Smoltz, has won 174 games and saved 154 for Atlanta in the last 17 years.

In 2002, the Yankees and the Oakland Athletics were looking for pitching help, so they organized a seven-player trade involving the Tigers that netted the Yankees the established right-hander Jeff Weaver and the A's the young left-hander Ted Lilly. Less conspicuous in the deal was Jeremy Bonderman, who ended up on the Tigers and now appears to be the best pitcher of the three.

With the trade deadline once again approaching, the next several days will be full of transaction reports involving little-known players.

Two prospects who are expected to draw interest are Portland Sea Dogs shortstop Hanley Ramirez and Bowie Baysox pitcher Hayden Penn.

Ramirez, the top prospect in the Red Sox organization, is a five-tool player Baseball America described as "the best athlete in the system with the potential to excel in all aspects of the game." The 21-year-old Ramirez is hitting .271 this season with 18 stolen bases.

The only issue is that he is currently blocked by Edgar Renteria, a former All-Star player who signed a four-year contract with the Red Sox this winter. Boston may be open to trading Ramirez for pitching help, but it is more likely that the organization would move him to the outfield to put his bat in their lineup.

Penn, 20, has been the subject of trade rumors all season and after a brief call-up to the Baltimore Orioles, he is back with the Double-A Baysox. His minor league record of 3-4 and his earned run average of 4.28 this year may not be impressive, but Baseball America says Penn "pitches above his age and experience, working inside, pitching to weak contact and showing a knack for reading hitters' weaknesses."

Struggling a bit after a fast start, the Orioles are still very much in the American League East and the wild-card races. They may be one veteran pitcher away from the postseason. Offering Penn for a shot at the Florida Marlins' A.J. Burnett or another strong starter may make sense to a team that has not been to the playoffs since 1997.

When the Tampa Bay Devil Rays promoted outfielder Delmon Young to Triple-A Durham from Double-A Montgomery last week, the only surprise was that he was not shipped straight to the majors. Last year's top draft pick, Young scorched the Southern League, hitting .336 with 20 home runs, 71 runs batted in and 25 stolen bases in 84 games. In Triple A, he was hitting .308 after collecting two hits Wednesday.

CLEMENS' SON TURNS PRO

Roger Clemens went the college route, playing for the University of Texas before heading to professional baseball. But his son Koby decided to head straight to the Houston Astros' system.

A third baseman who batted .523 as a senior at Memorial High School in Houston, Koby Clemens signed with the team after being drafted in the eighth round. He was assigned to the rookie-league Greeneville Astros.

VICTORY UNDERCUTS PROMOTION

The Double-A Mobile BayBears came up with a new way to draw fans while the team was struggling through an eight-game losing streak.

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