Sunday, August 20, 2006

Arizona guesses

The Arizona Fall League rosters are due out Monday and each major-league team, I'm told, will send seven players (four pitchers, three position players). Two pitchers have already told me they're headed to the desert, but who will be the others?

Jeff Niemann missed the first half of the year after offseason surgery. He could sip on a cup of major-league coffee in September before heading to Arizona.

Jeff Ridgway made 50 relief appearances between Montgomery and Durham before his country called. He's playing for Team USA in an Olympic qualifier in Havana that starts late this month, but said he's bound for the AFL, too.

As for the guesses, I have three position players and two pitchers to work with.

Wes Bankston went last year, but his extended stay on the disabled list might mean a return trip. Bankston missed six weeks with an oblique injury, though he's since been promoted from the Biscuits to Durham. He also played in the AFL last year.

Juan Salas has had a dominating year with Montgomery and Durham and has 46 appearances combined, but he's also not a highly experienced pitcher. Salas converted from third base to the mound barely two years ago. He'll probably be in the majors next year, so the AFL would be a good step.

I don't see Elliot Johnson or Shawn Riggans going. Johnson was tremendous the first half of the year and has tapered off lately. He has a hip injury that he said needs some extended rest. He also has a wedding. Riggans has put up stout numbers with Durham and has (from what I can tell) stayed healthy. He should be in Tampa Bay's plans for next year and the Rays shouldn't risk it.

I also don't see Evan Longoria going, but it's a chancy guess. Of course, if Longoria went, he'd finish his run through the time zones within four months of being drafted. He's already played for teams in the Eastern, Pacific and Central time zones, so a little Mountain time would finish it. Longoria has also been playing meaningful games since Long Beach State's season started and has had a whirlwind first pro season. The Rays have said they plan to try him at some other positions than his native third (specifically second). They'll do that in their instructional league.

Reid Brignac, on the other hand, could be on board. Brignac wasn't projected to stay at shortstop, but has continued to hit and hasn't been a defensive liability. The Rays may need to make a final decision on his future. So far, to my untrained eye, he hasn't shown a strong arm at short. He also hasn't missed any plays he should have made because of that arm.

John Jaso has played a mere 20 games at catcher because of surgery last offseason. He's clubbed the ball all season at Visalia. Arizona will be a good place to see if he will stay a catcher and how well he does against top-notch pitching.

In order to cast as broad a net as possible (and hedge my bets), I'll say Jason Pridie would also be a distinct possibility. Pridie has had a disappointing year with the Biscuits, but his speed and aggressive play make him intriguing. The Twins took him in the major-league Rule V draft last year.

That leaves me one pitcher.

Andy Sonnanstine would be ideal (his lack of overpowering "stuff" hasn't stopped him from getting hitters out), but he's also put up a lot of innings. With three scheduled starts left, he's on pace to exceed last year's 180 2/3.

Oh, I've got it. I'll go with Brian Henderson. He hasn't thrown a lot this season (41 2/3 compared to 55 last year and 63 1/3 in 2004). Henderson has 12 holds and hasn't had a heavy workload. Though this is his third season with the Biscuits, Henderson is only 24 years old.

Now I'll wait and see how wrong I am.

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