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To keep up with his fellow freshmen, Johnson will have to keep growing—in skill, not height. At the end of last week, roughly the midpoint of spring training, these young pitchers had a good shot at starting the season in the majors:
•Gordon. As a five-year-old under his dad's instruction in Avon Park, Fla., Gordon would stand five feet away from a garbage can and flick baseballs into it with a snap of his wrist. That helped him develop his curveball, or his "equalizer," as Royals manager John Wathan calls it. "Now it feels natural to throw the curve," Gordon says. "I can be behind 3-0 and throw it three times. I have one curveball that's slower, which I use when I just want to get the ball over. And I have one that's pretty hard that just gets down."
Trouble controlling his curve and spotting his 86-mph fastball kept Gordon in Class A ball for most of his first two pro seasons and part of last year. But then Flash caught fire and blazed a trail through the minors, moving from Appleton, Wis. (172 strikeouts in 118 innings, 2.06 ERA), to Memphis (6-0, 0.38) to Omaha (3-0, 1.33) to Kansas City. In his first appearance with the Royals, on Sept. 8, he retired six Oakland A's in order, including a whiff by MVP Jose Canseco. Though Gordon's record during his five-game stint was 0-2 with a 5.12 ERA, he picked up 18 strikeouts in 15⅔ innings.
•Martinez. When he was discovered by the Dodgers five years ago in Santo Domingo, the 6'2" righthanded Martinez weighed 122 pounds. Just before signing with L.A., he pitched for the 1984 Dominican Olympic team and then spent five months stuffing himself to gain weight. Now Martinez, who will turn 21 on March 22, is 6'4" and 175 pounds and has a 90-mph fastball. His strikeout pitch, however, is a changeup. "I like it when they swing hard and miss," he says with a smile. Martinez was 1-3 with a 3.79 ERA in nine appearances last year. "He's awkward," says Dodger pitching coach Ron Perranoski, "but as he gets loose, he gets better."
•Hanson. During his freshman and sophomore years at The Peddie School in Hightstown, N.J., Hanson, a 23-year-old righthander, dropped out of baseball temporarily and took a stab at golf, and he was so good in basketball as a senior he considered playing hoops, instead of baseball, in college. But his direction was decided when he received a baseball scholarship to Wake Forest and played for the U.S. national team in 1985, going 5-1 with a 1.42 ERA in international competition. "I think it really helped me to get away from baseball for a couple of years," he says. "When I got back into it, I really wanted to do well."
Even though he's a power pitcher, the 6'6" Hanson has a 3-to-1 ratio of strikeouts to walks over the past three seasons. In six starts for Seattle in September and October, he was 2-3 with a 3.24 ERA. Meanwhile his golf game has gone into decline. "I used to shoot in the high 70s," he says. "Now that's history."
•West. At 6'6" and 220 pounds, West is a bit on the plump side, but he's a befuddling blizzard of arms and legs on the mound, with a natural motion that gives his fastball a nice bite. His 1.80 ERA at Tidewater last year was the lowest of any Triple A pitcher, and his .273 batting average was better than all but two of the Tides' regulars.
The Mets' staff won't have room for this 24-year-old lefthander unless a trade is made. But if West doesn't start the season in New York, it won't be the first time his patience has been tested. In 1985, he made his debut in Shea Stadium, pitching for Class A Columbia, S.C., against Charleston, and went 7⅔ no-hit innings before the game was called so the Mets could play. Almost a month later he got partial credit for a no-hitter when two relievers finished the game in Columbia.
•Harkey. With the third pitch of his first major league start last September, Harkey beaned the Philadelphia Phillies' Phil Bradley. In his third start he beaned Pedro Guerrero of the St. Louis Cardinals. His Chicago teammates then established a bean pool in anticipation of his next victim. "I was nervous, but it wasn't the kind of nervousness you have before a wedding," Harkey says. "It's the kind where you want to do well." He did, finishing with a 2.60 ERA and without denting another helmet. Now 22, Harkey, who had a 16-4 record in the minors last year, is already being compared to another 6'5" Cub righthander, Ferguson Jenkins.
•Milacki. This affable 6'4", 220-pound righthander disappeared for his first three pro seasons because of a series of nagging injuries, but he came into his own in 1988 thanks to a changeup he taught himself. His 17 victories were the most in the Baltimore organization last year, and he got two of the Orioles' three wins after Sept. 11, including a three-hit shutout of the New York Yankees. Says Milacki, "I'm like someone who came out of the dark and said, 'Here I am.' "