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Baseball
Jeff Pearlman
August 30, 1999
Shrink the Bigs? Forget expansion-some owners wonder if it's time to fold teams
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August 30, 1999

Baseball

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Hamilton, an outfielder, isn't going to school, but clearly he has been learning. He was promoted to Class A Hudson Valley in Wappingers Falls, N.Y., after hitting .347 for rookie league Princeton (W.Va.) with 49 runs, 20 doubles, four triples, 10 home runs and 18 stolen bases in 56 games.

Raising Ankiel
The Cardinals Take a Look

In the days after the Cardinals' Aug. 18 decision to call up ballyhooed lefthander Rick Ankiel, manager Tony La Russa labored to downplay the 20-year-old's arrival in the bigs. "He's going to get too much attention, when really it's as simple as there's a spot in the rotation that needs to be filled," La Russa said last Friday, three days before Ankiel made his major league debut against the Expos.

That was hardly a fanfare for the most touted pitching prospect in years (SI, June 28), and that's the point. The call-up couldn't have come at a more opportune time or place for easing in a talented pitcher who's still very green. St. Louis is far from the heat of a pennant race, and once again Mark McGwire is attracting what attention is being paid to the Cardinals. Plus on Monday the team played in a baseball wasteland: Montreal, where a modest press corps and the usual sparse crowd watched as Ankiel held the Expos to three runs in five-plus innings. A far greater turnout is expected for his second start, which will probably come at home on Saturday against the Braves.

Ankiel breezed through two minor league levels this year, going 13-3 with a 2.35 ERA and 194 strikeouts in 23 starts with the Double A Arkansas Travelers and the Triple A Memphis Redbirds, but is still rough around the edges. "There are times when he's overpowering with his fastball or his curveball or his changeup, but he hasn't brought all of that together consistently" says St. Louis pitching coach Dave Duncan. Ankiel's efficiency is also a concern: Working on a 110-pitch limit for Memphis, in 16 starts he made it to the seventh inning only twice. Those shortcomings can be fixed by experience; the next six weeks will most likely decide whether baby-faced Ankiel will mature in the majors or on the farm next season. "This guy figures to have a very good career sooner or later," says La Russa. "So is it sooner or is it later?"

Rookie Contributors
Let's See How They Hold Up

Considering the prospect of performing down the stretch and into the postseason, righthander Kevin McGlinchy, the Braves' 22-year-old rookie setup man, insists that as the pressure increases, his mid-90s fastball heats up. Of course, the most demanding moment of his baseball life to date was in 1996, when he started for Central Florida Community College in the Florida junior college tournament "I guess that's not like pitching in a real pennant race," says McGlinchy, "but it's all I've got."

McGlinchy is one of seven rooks set to play key roles in a pennant and/or postseason run. Here's an assessment of their preparedness.

Benny Agbayani, OF, Mets.
Although New York has rotated four outfielders all season, manager Bobby Valentine insists Agbayani will play "no matter what." Yet after hitting 10 home runs in his first 73 at bats, Agbayani through Sunday had hit just one in the next 50 games. He has a below-average arm and doesn't get a good jump on fly balls.
Playoff Readiness Rating: D+

Brian Daubach, IB, Red Sox.
He may not be the best fielding first baseman, but Daubach has been superb at the plate (.328, 19 homers, 68 RBIs). His cool demeanor also suggests he won't choke.
Playoff Readiness Rating: B

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