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Insider Report: Pads are stocked with strong arms

BOSTON -- No organization has seen its pitchers emerge quite like
the
San Diego Padres have this season, and righthander Ben Howard fell right
into
that line with six excellent innings (3 H, 1 BB, 2 SO) in his first Double-A
start after a tremendous first half in the advanced Class A California
League
(8-2, 2.83 ERA, 101 2/3 IP, 86 H, 107 SO).

The 22-year-old Howard, who has topped out at 98 miles per hour this season,
was plagued by overthrowing the past two years (he went 11-21 between the
1999-2000 campaigns at two Class A levels) and "lost confidence in himself,"
according to Padres farm director Tye Waller.

"When you struggle, you start to second-guess yourself," said Waller.

Howard, a second-rounder from the 1997 draft, joined minor league ERA leader
and former Class A Lake Elsinore teammate Dennis Tankersley (1.38 ERA in 21
outings) in Double-A Mobile. Righthander Jake Peavy should be joining that
duo
shortly. A 15th-round steal from the '99 draft who scared off most teams by
maintaining that he would go to college, signed with the Padres and has
fanned 131 batters and allowed just 71 hits in 96 innings this season. When holiday bonus time comes around in the Padre offices, the organization
had better set aside a little extra for El Paso-based area scout Mark
Wasinger
. It was Wasinger who signed both Howard and Peavy.

Over and out
Reports out of Tampa Bay say that the season is over for
outfielder Josh Hamilton, the top overall selection in the 1999 draft. The
consensus choice as the game's top prospect entering the 2001 season,
Hamilton
has been a complete bust this year.

Hamilton hit just .180 without a home run over his first 23 games with Double-A Orlando, then spent six weeks on the sidelines with a back problem. He
then
went on rehab to Class A Charleston-SC, where Hamilton earned co-South
Atlantic League MVP honors after hitting .301 with 13 homers and 61 RBI last
season. Hamilton injured his quadriceps in his first game with Charleston on
June 21, sat out for the next three weeks and appeared in just three more
games before heading back to the disabled list with a strained quadriceps.
Hamilton reportedly will play in the prospect-laden Arizona Fall League
beginning in October.

The 20-year-old Hamilton, whom many scouts say was the best amateur player
they had ever seen, has seen more than his share of the injured list in the
past calendar year. First, he injured his knee last July in Charleston and
slumped to a .167 average over his final month there before undergoing
season-ending surgery in August. Hamilton, along with his family, was then
involved in a car accident during spring training, then had the back
problem,
followed by the tightness in his quadriceps.

Giants' hurler moving forward
San Francisco Giants Double-A righthander Jerome Williams snapped a three-start losing skid with a no-decision on July
23 against San Antonio, when he allowed two runs and seven hits over six
frames. The Texas League's youngest pitcher at just 19 years old, Williams
is
considered among the top arms in the Giants' system.

Williams went at least six innings in each of his last eight starts after
going that distance just once in his first nine outings. Among the advanced
Class A California League's youngest pitchers last season, Williams went a
hard-luck 7-6 with a 2.94 ERA in 23 outings. He was shipped to Double-A
Shreveport for the Texas League playoffs and responded with a two-hitter
against Wichita, a remarkable outing for a first-year teenager in a league
in
which most players are at least 2-3 years older than he.

"How can you tell him that he can't pitch (in Double-A) this season, after
what
he did last year?," asked Giants' farm director Jack Hiatt when asked why a
pitcher of Williams' tender age would be thrown into the Double-A level at
such a young age. "He competes well. He has no fear."

Hiatt reported that the organization had only the highest marks for the
young
righthander, whose rough start to this season could be attributed to some
personal issues which forced Williams to miss the first six weeks of the
season.

"He's been outstanding," said Hiatt. "He's a thoroughbred. He's going to be
a dandy."

Hiatt compared Williams to a younger version of Hall of Famer Juan Marichal,
whom Hiatt himself caught while with the Giants in the 1960's. Hiatt noted
that Williams, like Marichal, shows the ability to command the game from the
mound and is able to make adjustments when certain elements of his
repertoire
are not working for him. Williams has the unique ability to command four
pitches, throws consistently in the mid-90s and can throw any pitch in any
count, a rare trait in any young pitcher.

Around the American League

  • The Boston Red Sox are desperately in need of bullpen help
    at the big league
    level, and the club could do a worse than putting 1999 supplemental
    first-rounder Casey Fossum into that role. Fossum, a poised southpaw with a
    good fastball and a hard slider who led Texas A & M to the 1999 College
    World
    Series, struck out 10 or more hitters for the second straight start as he
    hurled seven-plus strong innings to lead Trenton past Bowie, 3-1, on July
    23.
    Fossum, who improved to a hard-luck 3-7, allowed a run and four hits with 11
    strikeouts over 7 1/3 innings to pick up the win. He yielded two earned runs
    or less in each of his last seven starts.

  • Kansas City Royals Double-A 1B Ken Harvey hit safely in 19 straight games
    (33-79, 7 2B, 2 3B, 3 HR, 24 RBI, 2 SB) July 3-24 to raise his average from
    .359 to a minor league-best .383. Harvey, who missed much of last season
    with
    a foot injury, was hitting a robust .383 since being promoted from Class A
    Wilmington back in May. He was hitting .278 at home and an astounding .453
    on
    the road since being promoted to Wichita. He went hitless in just seven of
    his first 50 starts after the promotion to the Wranglers. Harvey, who is
    currently at home in southern California attending to personal matters, is
    roundly regarded as perhaps the most pure hitter in the minor leagues. His
    hitting coach at the University of Nebraska, Mike Anderson, even described
    Harvey's swing as "smoother" than two-time All-Star and former Husker star
    Darin Erstad, who is considered among the game's top hitters.

  • Don't expect to see New York Yankees Triple-A 3B Drew Henson up in the
    Bronx
    anytime soon. The numbers on the $18 million former University of Michigan
    quarterback through his first 33 games: .200, 2 HR, 14 RBI. The 21-year-old
    Henson, who inked a six-year, big league deal with the Yankees after being
    re-acquired from the Cincinnati Reds in spring training, struck out in 14
    straight games July 8-24, over which time he went 8-for-56 with 26
    strikeouts.
    Henson did enter the season with just 169 games under his belt, most at the
    Class A level.

  • Many people may wonder how a 23-year-old like Mario Encarnacion with power
    and
    a sweet stroke could be deemed expendable by an organization like the
    Oakland
    Athletics
    , who traded the Dominican Republic native to the Colorado Rockies
    as
    part of the three-way trade that sent Jermaine Dye to the A's and Neifi
    Perez
    to the Royals. Well, it's the same organizational philosophy which led
    Oakland
    to part with Angel Berroa, a multi-skilled shortstop whom Oakland shipped to
    Kansas City in the Johnny Damon deal this winter: neither player shows the
    ability to draw a walk. Encarnacion drew just 17 walks against 61 strikeouts
    in 209 plate appearances this season for Triple-A Sacramento. Berroa's walk
    ratio is far worse. He drew just 13 free passes and has fanned 82 times in
    434 trips. "The organization won't even look at a player who doesn't walk
    enough," said one Oakland front office member. Jason Giambi walked nearly as
    much as he struck out as a minor leaguer. Even Miguel Tejada, like
    Encarnacion
    and Berroa an aggressive hitter from Latin America, showed good plate
    discipline as a minor leaguer (184 BB, 291 SO).

    Around the National League

  • According to Chicago Cubs farm director Oneri Fleeta, Triple-A 1B Hee Seop Choi could be back within the next week or so. The
    22-year-old
    Choi, who was signed out of South Korea for $1.2 million in the spring of
    1999
    and led the organization with 95 RBI last year in his first full pro season
    in
    the United States, has spent much of this season in the disabled list. He
    spent
    about a month on the sidelines in May/June with an injured left hand and
    returned for a week before heading back to the DL with the same injury.
    Choi,
    who led the prospect-laden Arizona Fall League in home runs, slugging
    percentage and extra-base hits last fall, is hitting just .229 with eight
    homers and 27 RBI this season.

  • Cincinnati Reds farm director Tim Naehring reports that Double-A OF Austin
    Kearns
    is close to returning from a right thumb injury, which has sidelined
    him since May 25. Kearns, who injured the thumb while sliding in a game with
    Double-A Chattanooga, "has been taking soft, dry swings," according to
    Naehring. The 21-year-old Kearns, who starred in the low Class A Midwest
    League and was considered on par with current Cincinnati outfielder Adam
    Dunn
    at the beginning of the season, will probably play in the Arizona Fall
    League
    to get some additional at-bats. Dunn flew past Kearns by dominating both
    Double-A and Triple-A, hitting two home runs in the Triple-A All-Star Game and made
    his
    big league debut last week.

  • The Reds promoted RHP Ty Howington from advanced Class A Mudville (3-2, 2.43
    ERA) to Double-A Chattanooga. The 1999 first-rounder went just 5-15 in low
    Class A Dayton in 2000 before rebounding to start this year 4-0 with a 1.15
    ERA in six starts there before being promoted to Mudville.