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Posted: Tuesday March 13, 2001 5:48 PM

Spring Loaded  

By Stephen Cannella

Sports Illustrated While the spotlight has been on Gary Sheffield, three lesser-known players have leaped to prominence in spring training, aided by circumstance as much as by stellar play.

Josh Hamilton, Devil Rays. One of the highest profile prospects in the majors, Hamilton, the top pick in '99, has made his manager, Larry Rothschild, forget his most notable feature. "When I see him out there, I don't think about his age," Rothschild says of Hamilton, 19.

Defensively Hamilton, who has parts of two seasons of Class A ball under his belt, is ready to play center in the majors. Rothschild wants to see how he hits and handles the daily grind but says the youngster is "real close" to earning a roster spot. Most impressive is Hamilton's maturity. He has easily handled the hype that has followed him all spring. "He's the real deal," says veteran outfielder Greg Vaughn, "but he doesn't act like it."

Chris Richard, Orioles. The silver lining in Albert Belle's retirement is that it means more at bats for Richard, 26, a lefthanded slugger who lit up big league pitching last year after coming over from St. Louis. In 56 games with the Orioles, Richard had 13 homers and 36 RBIs. He had only 199 at bats but finished in the top 10 among American League rookies in homers, RBIs, hits (55), doubles (14) and total bases (112). "Certain players have what I call good eyes," says manager Mike Hargrove. "At crunch time they don't look like a deer in headlights."

Richard appeared mostly at first base last year, which is why he figured he'd be dealt again after the Orioles signed free-agent first baseman David Segui in December. However, Hargrove, enamored of Richard's lefthanded bat, sent him to the outfield this spring, and he'll probably start in right on Opening Day.

Alfonso Soriano, Yankees. Can a guy's future be simultaneously bright and murky? Soriano, a shortstop, has been the most impressive player in the Yankees' camp, having gone 16 for 36 with three doubles and seven runs scored in his first ten games. Yet he has a rather large roadblock in his path to a roster spot: Derek Jeter. Says manager Joe Torre, "If he's going to help us, it isn't going to be at shortstop." Soriano could start in left, or he could end up in a different uniform -- nobody discusses a trade with New York without inquiring after him. One thing is clear: He'll help someone somewhere.

Issue date: March 19, 2001

For more Scorecard see this week's issue of Sports Illustrated, on newsstands Wednesday, March 14. Click here to subscribe to SI.

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