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Apolitical blues

Special to

Feb. 9

On your way
There are several enjoyable aspects to each spring, from trying to discover the next Adam Dunn to who's maturing towards stardom. In the latter interest and with suggestions from a number of wise baseball people, here are candidates for breakout seasons in 2002:

Position players
1. J.D. Drew, St. Louis. MVP?

2. Pat Burrell, Philadelphia. In his first full major-league season he hit 27 homers and knocked in 89 runs. Those numbers will seem paltry, soon.

3. Adrian Beltre, L.A. Last spring he had a hole in his side from a botched operation, had lost 20-25 pounds and could barely swing a bat. He'll arrive in Vero Beach this spring looking like a lightheavyweight. .300/ 30 HR/.900 OPS is imaginable.

4. Alfonso Soriano, Yankees. So much was focused on what he couldn't do, like the .304 on-base percentage. But he had 18 homers and 43 steals and was asked to learn a new position (second base)and adjust to walking just three times in the first two months. His learning capacity seems very high, and given his immense physical ability, could ride improvement -- what does he do if he goes from a .304 to a .340 OBP? -- to becoming a major force.

5. Carlos Lee, White Sox. After a second half slide trying to pull too much, he is at the point in his career where he is ready to mash. He's going to be hitting seventh, so there will be a lot of garbage numbers, as well. He can afford to improve his patience down there.

6. Erubiel Durazo, Arizona. Just let him play.

7. Vernon Wells, Toronto. GM J.P. Ricciardi believes Wells is an Andruw Jones type defender, and his bat potential is immense. The type of player who may be better in The Show.

8. Juan Uribe, Colorado. Ohmygod talent.

9. Daryle Ward, Houston. How Jimy Williams configures the Ward/Lance Berkman/Richard Hidalgo defense may give Brian Hunter a lot of face time, but the Astros believe 1. that all Ward needs is at-bats and 2. he will hit good right-handed pitching.

10. Ramon Hernandez, Oakland. Impatience has held him back in the big leagues, but after being the Baseball America Player of the Year this winter, he has two minor league and one winter ball batting titles and the capability of being an All-Star level catcher. Honorable mentions: Marcus Giles, Atlanta, depending on playing time; Corey Patterson, Cubs; Brad Wilkerson, Montreal.

1. Kerry Wood, Cubs. This is a guy who is already 33-19 and has 582 punchouts in 478 innings and all that stands between him and superstardom is one question: can his arm take that torque on his breaking ball.

2. Jason Marquis, Atlanta. The 2.69 second half ERA may be an indicator of what's to come as he becomes a regular starter.

3. Danys Baez, Cleveland. Three plus pitches, very intelligent ... As the Indians reinvent themselves from the 1995 Indians to the '54 Tribe, Baez is a vital cog.

4. Brandon Duckworth, Philadelphia. A lot to ask of someone with 11 career big-league starts, but he is the first of many talented young Phillies pitchers.

5. Kelvim Escobar, Toronto. Oakland tried to get him last July and trade Jason Isringhausen. Now Ricciardi has traded Billy Koch and given Kelvim his chance.

6. Derek Lowe, Boston. Now in his third life as a starter, if he has the sinker (3.57 GB/FB in an off year) to get a lot of easy outs, a good curveball and the makings of a plus change. He may now be mature enough to endure sitting for four days.

7. Sidney Ponson, Baltimore. The stuff to be a No. 2 starter has always been there, the maturity hasn't. He reportedly has dedicated himself this winter to physical and mental conditioning.

8. Joel Pineiro, Seattle. He may start the spring in the bullpen, but he may not last long there.

9. Matt Anderson, Detroit. This is his chance, and the second half of 2001 was an encouraging beginning.

10. Odalis Perez, L.A. Maybe a lot of us -- including Braves manager Bobby Cox -- were wrong, but he has the arm and the savvy to be a legit third starter.

11. Scott Schoeneweis, Anaheim. A consistent changeup from winning 16-18 games.

Honorable mention: Carl Pavano, Montreal; Brian Lawrence, San Diego (Rick Reed II?); Chad Fox, Milwaukee, if healthy, defines "nasty;" Victor Zambrano, Tampa Bay, who just may be the best of that entire staff in the right situation; Jon Garland, White Sox.

Alone, together
The Toronto Blue Jays celebrated their 25th anniversary last season. The Seattle Mariners are celebrating their 25th this season.

Each team started in 1977.

In a little while
The Texas Rangers were down 27 percent selling game tickets going into the weekend, and their season tickets were down from 19,000 to 12,000.

It could've been me
According to the new Baseball Register, Mark Wohlers did not have a postseason save in 1995.

Then, how did that World Series end?

I was in the house when the house burned down
Jay Buhner has thus far refused to have his number 19 be the first number retired by the Mariners. He says he is holding out hope that the first number retired belongs to Junior Griffey.

Feets don't fail me now
When the Brewers came to an agreement with (D)Izzy Alcantara this week, it ended the Red Sox attempts to sell the outfielder to Japan. It seems that the Japanese teams felt Izzy's catcher dropkick made him a character risk.

Shipwrecked in the '80s
The Boston Red Sox have invited Carlos Baerga, 33 celsius, to spring training with an opportunity to be the everyday second baseman. Baerga's last three season in terms of OBP:

1996: Cleveland/Mets, .293
1997: Mets, .303
1998: Mets/Padres, .300

Montreal's Troy Mattes had a .467 OBP last season while Colorado's Mike Hampton had a .309 OBP. If you don't know, Mattes and Hampton are both pitchers.

I'm a wild, wild woman and you're a very lucky man
The Dr. Bouxsein two best discs of the new year:

  • Shemekia Copeland, daughter of the great Johnny Copeland. Includes the above mentioned song, "It's Two A.M. ... Do You Know Where You're Baby Is" and "You Know your Man is Lying if his Lips are Moving ('I've been fed so many lines I keep a lie detector by my bed')." Best is "I'm a Wild, Wild Woman (and you're a lucky man)."

  • Shannon McNally, "Jukebox Sparrow." Definite bad girl.

    Bury my heart on the Jersey shore
    Joe Towarnicky did this Ozzie Smith/Omar Vizquel comparison for Lee Sinin's "Baseball Immortals:"

    Stat Vizquel Smith Advantage
    Career BA .274 .262 Vizquel
    Season-high BA .333 .303 Vizquel
    Career OBP .340 .337 Vizquel
    Season-high OBP .397 .392 Vizquel
    Career SLG .351 .328 Vizquel
    Season-high SLG .436 .383 Vizquel
    Career OPS .691 .665 Vizquel
    Season-high OPS .833 .775 Vizquel
    Gold gloves/seasons 9/13 (69%) 13/19 (68%) Vizquel
    Career fielding Pct. .983 .978 Vizquel
    Season-high Pct. .993 .987 Vizquel
    Max. annual salary $3M $3.5M Vizquel

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