Konerko will play leftfield with Albuquerque, and when he finds his stroke, he could return as an outfielder. Grade: D
Derrek Lee, Marlins. Lee was acquired by Florida from the Padres in an off-season trade for Kevin Brown. His rookie year has seemed like a bungee jump. He had a poor spring, which allowed another rookie, Ryan Jackson, to get most of the early-season playing time at first base. When Lee got his shot, he hit .321 with six homers, including two grand slams, and 17 RBIs in just eight games from April 7 to 17. Since then he has taken another plunge, hitting .200 with one homeland six RBIs in 19 games through Sunday.
At 6'5", Lee, who once hit 34 homers in a minor league season, possesses a long fluid swing with the kind of torque that reminds scouts of a young Darryl Strawberry. Not surprisingly, that swing has also led to 26 strikeouts in 83 at bats this season. Marlins manager Jim Leyland has played him selectively. "I like Lee a lot, but he's a rookie," Leyland says. "Everybody talks about young guys like they're the second coming of Babe Ruth, and it's not fair to these kids." Grade: C
Travis Lee, Diamondbacks. He was the most hyped of the Fab Five, mostly because he had received a $10 million deal from expansion Arizona before he had played a professional game. Last season he hit 363 at Class A High Desert and then .300 at Triple A Tucson with a combined 32 homers and 109 RBIs.
This year Lee has displayed a smooth, compact stroke to go with excellent patience at the plate. He went 3 for 4 on Opening Day, including the Diamondbacks' first home run. The most consistent of the five rookies, with eight homers, 19 RBIs and 19 runs scored, he has yet to make an error, while showing excellent range on defense. "We took a lot of grief for that $10 million," Arizona manager Buck Showalter says, "and it may turn out to be a bargain." Grade: B+
Throwing a Career Away
Pitching for Triple A Pawtucket on May 5, Steve Avery faced 19 Ottawa hitters in three innings and got ahead in the count on one of them. He allowed four runs (three were earned) on four hits, including a homer. He struck out two, walked six and threw balls on 10 of his last 13 pitches, including one over the head of the hitter on his final pitch. Afterward Avery said, "I was just glad to get out of there before I hurt someone."
What has happened to the lefthander who won 50 games for the Braves before he turned 24, was the '91 NLCS MVP and was so headstrong that his temper flared whenever a pitching coach even dared to visit the mound? "I think I have lost some of that toughness," Avery says.
There are varying explanations for Avery's demise. Many scouts trace his troubles to the day he pulled a muscle in his side in July '96, a nagging injury that caused him to fool with his mechanics. Atlanta general manager John Schuerholz wonders if Avery hurt his arm and tried to pitch through it. Last week Avery, who once threw in the low 90s, was being clocked at no better than 79 to 81 mph. Also, his curveball has lost its bite. Avery, who hasn't had a winning season since '94, struggled through '97 in Boston (6-7, 6.42 ERA) and admits now, "I didn't know where the ball was going."
So it was a shock when Red Sox manager Jimy Williams defied the wishes of the front office and gave Avery an 18th start with four days left in the season—a start that allowed Avery to exercise a $3.9 million contract option for '98. Now the south-paw privately says that he made a mistake in returning to Boston, where, until his demotion to Pawtucket on April 30, he was little more than baseball's highest-paid pinch runner. Williams was afraid to use Avery in tight games, so he pitched only 4? innings and had a 9.64 ERA "He knows he needs to pitch," says Williams. "We know he needs to pitch. He was getting stale."