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Suns' roster as set as warm ice cream

March 31, 2003|by BOB PARASILITI

bobp@herald-mail.com

Mike Ramsey will have a unique way to figure out just who will be playing for the Hagerstown Suns this season.

The Suns' second-year manager will be boarding a plane from Arizona to Maryland on Monday. Whoever is sitting on the runway carrying San Francisco Giants' gear with him will be a member of the 2003 team.

Only about half the roster is certain as the Suns break spring training heading into the weekend, but the final cuts the Giants make before heading to Pac Bell Park will trickle down the organization and change the face of the Single-A club.

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"We're close to the roster we'll have for the season," Ramsey said from in Scottsdale, Ariz. "We set the roster on Thursday, but there is still some tweaking going on."

The Suns, who finished with a 63-77 record last season, will have a completely different look this season. A number of the players are coming out of college, meaning they have some experience playing baseball, as the Giants enter their third season in the South Atlantic League with a whole new crew of players.

For now, Ramsey knows his starting pitching rotation, catchers and seems set in the infield, but the possibilities are endless in the outfield and the bullpen.

Ramsey is more comfortable with what he knows than guessing about what he doesn't.

"I don't say much," Ramsey said. "I tell them what I think and then I just coach the guys they give me."

Five right-handers will make up the staff of starting pitchers, a grouping which includes a former Atlanta prospect, the Giants' 2002 top draft pick and a player who has been working out the high Single-A team.

Carlos Valdez, who came to San Francisco along with Damian Moss in the Russ Ortiz deal, will be the opening-day starter on Thursday in Greensboro, N.C. He will be followed by 18-year old Matt Cain and Daniel Portoreal.

"Valdez has good chance to be our No. 1 starter," Ramsey said. "He is 21 with a good arm and throws in the 90s (mph) and Portoreal just joined us after pitching with San Jose this spring."

The rotation will be rounded out by Glenn Woolard and Clayton Hensley, who pitched for Salem-Keizer last season. Hensley was 7-0 with a 2.53 ERA and 84 strikeouts in 81 2/3 innings.

Catching duties look to be an equal opportunity position as Brian Menhall and Dayton Buller are each scheduled to catch three games a week. Menhall hit .297 in the Arizona Rookie League last season while Buller has shown vast improvement in the spring. Steve Holm will be the third catcher.

"We are going to have to be adaptable, because things could change," Ramsey said. "I like Munhall because he is a good-looking, hard-nosed player, but so is Buller."

The first base and designated hitter positions will be shared by Travis Ishikowa, a 21st-round pick, and Jason Columbus, who Ramsey says has shown some power. Matt Dryer, a 15th-round selection from Miami, is also in the mix.

The center of the infield will be manned by second baseman Aaron Hornostaj and shortstop Jake Wald, the 15th-round pick out of George Washington.

Kevin Kelly, a Duke graduate, will be at third and will be counted on to supply some power.

The outfield had many faces, but it all revolves around center fielder Fred Lewis, the Giants' second-round pick of 2002, who hit .322 at Salem-Keizer last year. But Lewis will miss the first couple weeks while recovering from minor wrist surgery.

For now, Carlos Sosa will play left and Randy Walter, who had six home runs and 40 RBI at Salem-Keizer last season, is heading to right. Adalberto Paulino will start in center, but won't necessarily be out of a job once Lewis returns.

Other possible outfielders are David Stone - a Thomas Johnson graduate - and Karl Jernigan.

Also making a bid for playing time anywhere on the field is Pete Maestrales, a personal favorite of Ramsey.

"He can play third, outfield or DH," Ramsey said. "He can also hit and run the bases. He does a lot of good things, we just have to find a spot for him to play."

Without having a full roster in hand, Ramsey is still optimistic the Suns will have a decent year. Well, at least, the Suns will give it the old college try.

"The team, on the field, will be stronger than the one we had last year," he said. "We have the chance of having a good team. We have a lot of kids coming in from college and they are smarter and a lot further along in their development. We could be pretty good."

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