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Who Needs Triple A?
When it comes to developing prospects, baseball seems to be going backward—or at least downward. In the last two years, an unusually large number of high quality players have jumped straight to the majors from Double A ball. In 1990 the leap was made by, among others, Twins pitcher Scott Erickson, White Sox pitcher Alex Fernandez and first baseman Frank Thomas, and Royals outfielder Brian McRae. This year the top three Rookie of the Year candidates bypassed Triple A: Astro first baseman Jeff Bagwell, Twins second baseman Chuck Knoblauch and Blue Jay pitcher Mike Timlin.
"Double A is for the every-day major leaguers of the future," says Dave Huppert, manager of the El Paso Diablos, the Brewers' Double A affiliate in the Texas League. "Triple A is more for insurance players, guys you call up for 15 days. Triple A is full of guys hanging around waiting for expansion. Teams now push younger prospects past Triple A."
There was no shortage of future major leaguers on July 10 in Huntsville, Ala., at the first Double A all-star game. (The players were divided into American League and National League squads, based on the major league affiliation of their teams.) Look for some of those players to be in the big leagues either later this year or at the start of next season. Some pitchers to note: Arthur Rhodes of the Orioles' farm team in Hagerstown, Md., who was 4-1 with a 2.07 ERA through Saturday; Pat Mahomes, a Twins' farmhand in Orlando, Fla., who was 8-5 with a 1.90 ERA; and Roger Salkeld, who was 7-5 with a 2.56 ERA for the Mariners' team in Jacksonville. Other players to keep an eye on include third baseman Jim Thome, who was hitting .337 for the Indians' affiliate in Canton, Ohio; shortstop Royce Clayton, who was batting .315 for the Giants' team in Shreveport, La.; and Chattanooga (Reds) outfielder Reggie Sanders, an Eric Davis clone who didn't play in the all-star game because of an elbow injury.
Some farm directors worry that players are moving too quickly from Double A to the big leagues. "There's a lack of discipline in the front offices of some major league teams," says Baltimore farm director Doug Melvin. Indeed, the Orioles themselves probably rushed pitcher Ben McDonald, who pitched only two games in the minors before making his big league debut in 1989. He has twice spent time on the disabled list since then.
And not every player who bypasses Triple A succeeds. San Francisco catcher Steve Decker hopped from Double A to the majors in September, started this season with the Giants, hit five homers in the first five weeks and then struggled before being sent to Triple A. Now Decker is back in San Francisco, but he was hitting only .222 through Sunday.
"Physically, there isn't much of a concern with players being rushed," says Pirate general manager Larry Doughty. "But sometimes there is a concern mentally. You must make sure that players you bring up are well grounded in the rudiments of the game."
Martinez y Martinez
The Dodgers could wind up with the best fraternal pitching combination since Dizzy and Paul Dean played for the Cardinals in the 1930s. L.A.'s Ramon Martinez, 23, already may be the best pitcher in the National League, and his brother, Pedro, 19, is one of the game's finest prospects. Pedro started the year with the Dodgers' Class A team in Bakersfield, Calif., but after going 8-0, he was promoted in June to Double A San Antonio. Through Saturday he was 5-4 with a 1.84 ERA and 53 strikeouts in 53⅔ innings.
At 5'11", Pedro is five inches shorter than Ramon, and he doesn't throw as hard (90 mph to Ramon's 95 mph), but their deliveries and their stuff are similar. "I'd love to play with him, give him advice," says Ramon. "I can teach him little things. He'll show me his changeup, and I'll say, 'Here's how I throw mine.' "