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BASEBALL
Peter Gammons
August 10, 1987
MAJOR IMPROVEMENT
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August 10, 1987

Baseball

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BALLPARK FIGURES

Scouts agree that a prospect's power potential is one of the most difficult qualities to assess. Many a minor leaguer with modest home run numbers develops into a major threat in the majors. Here are 15 selected big leaguers along with their best home run seasons in the majors and in the minors (minimum 100 games).

PLAYER

Majors

Minors

Jesse Barfield

40

16

Darrell Evans

40

20

Don Mattingly

35

10

Dwayne Murphy

33

8

Eddie Murray

33

17

Cecil Cooper

32

16

Kirby Puckett

31

9

George Brett

30

10

Doug DeCinces

30

19

Larry Parrish

30

16

Rickey Henderson

28

11

Ryne Sandberg

26

11

Mike Davis

24

6

Alan Trammell

21

3

Lou Whitaker

21

3

MAJOR IMPROVEMENT

Besides Oakland's Mark McGwire, who had 37 home runs at week's end, at least three other AL rookies have a shot at 30 home runs: Detroit's Matt Nokes, California's Devon White and Boston's Ellis Burks. In his most productive minor league season, McGwire hit all of 24 homers, and each of the other sudden sluggers had minor league bests of 14.

"The hardest thing to judge in a young player is power," says Pirate G.M. Syd Thrift. "There are so many adjustments and physical changes that take place." Says Blue Jays scouting supervisor Wayne Morgan: "Between aluminum bats and hitting styles, you can get completely fooled." And, according to the Mets' vice-president for baseball operations, Joe McIlvaine, "The two things you can't judge are a player's growth potential and his ability to learn to hit the ball out in front and drive it for power. When you look at an Eric Davis, a White, a Burks or a George Foster as a kid, they're slight, and it's hard to say they'll get bigger. Pedro Guerrero was a skinny teenager when the Indians signed him. Jose Canseco weighed 170 pounds in high school. Then you have hitters like Wade Boggs, George Brett and Don Mattingly who have outstanding line drive strokes, then adjust. Boggs went through the minor league draft unclaimed two years in a row [after finishing second in Double A and Triple A batting races] because no one thought he could hit homers. Dave Magadan may develop the same way with the Mets.

"McGwire was different. You could see he had great power, because he had such a great swing. But a lot of minor league and college sluggers raise questions because of the aluminum bat."

Florida State's Jeff Ledbetter set an NCAA record with 42 homers in 1982 and then couldn't hit a minor league fastball; onetime Tiger farmhand Mike Laga was a 34-homer slugger in Triple A who Sparky Anderson predicted would "make us all forget every power hitter who ever lived." Uh-huh. Laga has since been all but forgotten in Louisville.

On the other hand, many scouts scoffed at Pete Incaviglia's home run records at Oklahoma State and said he would never hit even an average major league fastball. He turned out to be the real thing.

OLD DOG, NEW TRICKS
After giving up a record 50 gopher balls last year and 31 in his first 22 starts this year, Minnesota's Bert Blyleven has begun gripping his fastball across the seams to make it sink, and he has been accused of scuffing balls to get added movement. "He doesn't have the get-up on his fastball he once had," says manager Tom Kelly. In one of Blyleven's first starts since making the change, he allowed only two fly balls against the Blue Jays then lost on a wild pitch.... NL clubs are clearly not going to mess with Jack Clark any longer. The Giants walked the Cardinals slugger nine times in four games recently. Willie McGee followed two of those walks by hitting into double plays. Mets manager Davey Johnson, who said he had never walked anyone intentionally in the first inning, did just that to Clark. As of Sunday, Clark had been walked in 12 straight games (three short of the National League record) and was within reach of the NL record for most walks in a season, 148, held by Eddie Stanky and Jim Wynn. Opponents will pitch around Clark as long as McGee and Tony Pena continue to fail to protect him with their bats.... Reports persist of a rift between Houston G.M. Dick Wagner and manager Hal Lanier, which could jeopardize Lanier's job. Meanwhile, Nolan Ryan is living a pitcher's nightmare. He has lost eight in a row even though his fastball was clocked at 97 mph last week. In six of his losses, Ryan has struck out at least nine; he has had seven losses and four no-decisions in which he has allowed four hits or fewer.

TEMPER, TEMPER
The Yankees may indeed be worried about Rickey Henderson's sore hamstring, but after rumors circulated about a possible suspension—one tabloid called him "the Sultan of Sulk," and he stopped talking to teammates—it looked as if he might simply tune out the Yankees for the rest of the year.... Padres manager Larry Bowa lost his infamous temper—with good reason—after a 15-5 loss in Cincinnati July 29 and asked the front office to start getting rid of some players. First on his list is apparently pitcher Eric Show, who, with the Padres down 4-0 in their half of the third, asked Bowa if he should bat. "That showed me he wanted out," said Bowa. Another on Bowa's hit list is third baseman Chris Brown, he of the endless list of injuries. Since being traded to San Diego by the Giants on July 5, Brown has played in as many games (13 of a possible 24) as reliever Mark Davis. The Padres offered Show to the Giants and the Reds, but neither bit. One NL scout says Show may not be the same pitcher since his beaning of the Cubs' Andre Dawson. "One thing Show did well was tail his fastball in on righthanded hitters," says the scout. "But lately he hasn't thrown more than a couple of pitches on the inside part of the plate."

ROYAL FLUSH
Rumblings about Billy Gardner's future in Kansas City have begun as the Royals struggle with their slug-or-sink style, to which Royals Stadium is not conducive (K.C. is next-to-last in the AL in doubles and stolen base attempts). Then there's the bullpen, which failed in each of five save opportunities in a 25-game stretch through last weekend.... It didn't take Charlie Kerfeld long to get back into the Houston doghouse. Two weeks after returning from the minors, the rotund reliever was caught by a TV camera munching on some ribs in the visitors' bullpen at Shea Stadium.... Now that the Angels have signed Bill Buckner, Brian Downing will eventually surrender his DH spot and return to leftfield, with Garry Pettis's salami bat being retired to the bench, or to the minors. Downing isn't happy about the move, because he'll have to spend time before games working in the outfield. At 36, he feels he is better off concentrating only on hitting.

BONUS BABIES

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