Saturday, March 31, 2007

25-man not so final

The Rays have announced that infielder Greg Norton will have surgery Monday to repair torn cartilage in his right knee. He should miss at least a month.

Tampa Bay, after finalizing its 25-man roster earlier today, will have to adjust it to fill Norton's spot.

Saturday moves

The Rays sent five players to minor-league camp today, including their most valuable player from two years ago. Second baseman Jorge Cantu, who hit 28 home runs and knocked in 117 runs in 2005, was sent down -- and didn't take it well, according to reports.

If Cantu goes to Durham, and there are doubts he'll show up, that could cost Elliot Johnson some at-bats, but I don't think it will. One, I can't see Cantu staying too long and, two, I can't see the Rays delaying Johnson's development. Cantu had physical problems all last season and may need to consider a move to another position. Unless the Rays fulfill his trade request and move him to another team.

Catcher Shawn Riggans also heads to the minors with the Rays using Dioner Navarro and Josh Paul as their catchers. Riggans will benefit down the road from playing every day in Durham rather than riding the big-league pine.

Tampa Bay set its pitching staff Friday and sent three other position players out Saturday: infielder Jorge Velandia, outfielder Dustan Mohr (a former Alabama star) and catcher Raul Casanova.

There were two players released at the minor-league camp: outfielders Francisco Leandro and David Cardona. Leandro, 26, hit just .220 at Montgomery last year after posting a .355 average in 60 games at high-Class A in 2005.

Dukes gets thumbs-up

The Devil Rays set their roster today and center fielder Elijah Dukes will make his major-league debut at Yankee Stadium on Monday.

I was at Tropicana Field for the pregame workouts (after an hour's wait for a pass to reach the entrance) and jumped in on a group interview of Dukes. He made us laugh a time or two, gave thoughtful answers and was very cooperative. I even asked a question, but wasn't sure if he'd answer it. He did -- and gave a great response.

When the interview broke up, some of the others thanked him. I did something probably considered a tad unprofessional, since I won't see him again until at least next year. I wished him good luck. He looked at me and said, "Thanks, man." Impressive.

Friday, March 30, 2007

Wild pitches

Since the Devil Rays have set the major-league pitching staff, I'll give a guess as to how the high minor-league pitching staffs might shake out.

Starters: Scott Kazmir, Jae Seo, Jamie Shields, Casey Fossum, Edwin Jackson
Relievers: Shawn Camp, Ruddy Lugo, Jae Kuk Ryu, Juan Salas, Brian Stokes, Al Reyes, Gary Glover
DL: Jon Switzer

Starters: Jason Hammel, J.P. Howell, Jeff Niemann, Andy Sonnanstine, Mitch Talbot
Relievers: Steve Andrade, Tony Peguero, Jeff Ridgway, Dale Thayer*, Tim Corcoran, Scott Dohmann, Chad Orvella

*--Thayer would be the only one in Durham who wasn't in big-league camp.

Starters: Chris Seddon, Chris Mason, James Houser, Mike Prochaska, Derek Feldkamp
Relievers: Nick DeBarr, Jeremy Flanagan, Brian Henderson*, Jino Gonzalez, Richard De Los Santos, Brett Wayne, Evan Meek

*--Henderson caught in a numbers crunch.

I won't go any further, since I've seen so little of the Class A guys anyway and particularly since I don't have the guts.

More moves

The Rays sent pitchers Seth McClung and Chad Orvella and infielder Carlos Pena to the minors Friday. The moves put the team at 30 players. The 25-man roster has to be set Saturday.

Only one roster move at the minor-league camp today. Infielder Mark Schleicher, who started last year in Montgomery, asked for his release after the Rays told him they had him ticketed for Class A Vero Beach to start the year.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Rays start releases

Pitcher Dan Miceli, who made a rehab stop with the Biscuits last year, was released by the Rays today. That puts the big-league camp at 33 players and two days to make the final cuts to 25.

Tampa Bay also gave five minor-leaguers their release this morning, including the son of one of their big-league coaches. Pitcher Billy Evers is the son of Rays bench coach Bill Evers and had been in the organization the last three years. Pitchers Jason Cayton, Chad Pendarvis and John Skaggs and catcher Thomas Lagreid were the other releases.

Including the three pitchers sent down from the majors Wednesday, Tampa Bay now has 68 pitchers, 16 catchers, 31 infielders and 21 outfielders in its minor-league camp.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Former Biscuits in Arizona

The Kansas City Royals culled their roster today and Fernando Cortez fell short. Cortez hit a mere .407 this spring and did enough that the Royals kept him in big-league camp until their final cuts.

Kansas City is still deciding its last roster spot and Joey Gathright is in the mix. Gathright is hitting only .370.

Cortez will start the year in Class AAA Omaha but obviously made a good impression.

Rays down to 34 players

The Rays sent three pitchers from the big leagues to the minor-league camp Wednesday: former Biscuit Tim Corcoran, plus Scott Dohmann and J.P. Howell. Howell's move means Edwin Jackson will be Tampa Bay's No. 5 starter.

Howell will round out the rotation at Class AAA Durham with Jason Hammel, Jeff Niemann, Andy Sonnanstine and Mitch Talbot.

Outfielder Rocco Baldelli played in the Class AAA game today, had two hits and scored twice, while two major-league catchers also played. Dioner Navarro and Josh Paul. Navarro, who caught Talbot's six shutout innings in the Class AAA game, has been limited with hamstring problems. Paul took a foul ball off his hand Friday and was in the Class AA game. If both are healthy, that could bump Shawn Riggans back to the minors, despite his .343 spring average.

The major-league moves drop the camp to 34 players: 15 pitchers, four catchers, nine infielders and six outfielders. The Rays have to finalize their 25-man roster by Saturday afternoon and who they pick will have an affect on the minor-league assignments.

Dohmann was removed from the 40-man roster, which leaves a slot there for a non-roster invitee like Al Reyes or Gary Glover. Reyes is 1-1 with a 2.00 ERA in seven games this spring. Glover has made eight appearances, including one start, and is 1-2 with a 3.38 ERA.

Glover pitched in Japan last year and pitched in 149 major-league games from 1999-2005. Reyes missed virtually all of last season after Tommy John surgery. He first pitched in the majors in 1995.

Monday, March 26, 2007

Fla. governor sets standard for Riley

The Devil Rays announced today that newly elected Florida Gov. Charlie Crist will throw out the ceremonial pitch at their home opener April 6.

Since (1) Crist used to work for the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues, the governing body of minor-league baseball, as its general counsel, and (2) Alabama Gov. Bob Riley has made no similar first-pitch commitment -- that I know of -- I'll say Crist has the better arm.

Former Lt. Gov. Lucy Baxley showed some promise at the Montgomery Wings' final home opener in 2003 and I described her as a "fireballing right-hander from Ashford."

Riley and a granddaughter did perform in a between-innings game at a Biscuits game two years ago, and he successfully directed then-10-year-old Rebecca in a blindfolded search for team mascot Big Mo. "She's a lot more responsive than the Legislature," Riley said that night. "She follows directions a lot better."

OK, OK, but we need to see if the governor has any pop.

Let's see him step up to the plate, err, mound.

(Since there are mayoral elections in Montgomery this year, I need to find other politicians to pick on. It's all in fun.)

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Sunday camp day

The minor-leaguers had a "camp day" Sunday, which means they play intrasquad games at 10 a.m. and then have the rest of the day off. Beach, sleep, golf and sleep were the main goals for Sunday afternoon.

Evan Longoria hit a three-run home run off James Houser Jr. in the Class AA vs. Class AAA game, though both are expected to start the season in Montgomery. Houser is a lot bigger than I thought he would be. I'll agree to the 6-foot-4, but not to the 198 pounds. I met Houser's dad and he said he reads this blog. It's good somebody does.

Wade Townsend pitched in the Class A game and so did Argentinian knuckleballer Diego Echeverria. When I turned from the other game and saw about 22 off-duty pitchers crowded around that backstop, I wondered what was up and soon joined them when I saw it was a knuckleballer.

I forgot to mention Saturday's game at the Yankees' complex. Mike Prochaska threw four shutout innings, allowing two hits, in the Class AA game. Patrick Breen cracked an easy triple to right-center, but fell rounding second and retreated to a mere double.

A little late

I just opened my Sports Illustrated from two weeks ago and started running through it. Little did I know there was a story on the Rays, centering on Delmon Young, Elijah Dukes and B.J. Upton. The story predicts big things for Tampa Bay in a few years and includes a mock 2010 SI cover calling the Rays "the best team in baseball."

The issue is the March Madness preview. Obviously, I should have opened it earlier ... particularly since I tagged Wisconsin as the national champ in my bracket.

UPDATE: With the Final Four now set, let it be known that there was only one person in our office bonding experience that went 0-for-4 -- me. I would like to thank Wisconsin, Texas A&M (my runner-up), Kansas and North Carolina for the honor.

Saturday, March 24, 2007

In search of Shaggy

Well, my first project of spring training isn't going so well. Chairon "Shaggy" Isenia, who has been with the Biscuits since their inception, has retired and has apparently dropped off the radar of his former team and teammates. Nobody I've talked to has talked to him and "he's the type of guy you don't want to lose track of," one former Biscuit said today.

The number I had for him has a Florida area code and no longer works. The number the Rays had for him in Curacao, his home, no longer works. Finding that out was the first international call I've ever made. I even had to call my cell company to allow me to make it.

Isenia sent a letter to the Biscuits' front office last month thanking them for everything. Unfortunately, they didn't have the letter anymore a few weeks ago.

Shaggy was an Original Biscuit who only left the team when he was playing for the Netherlands in international competition. He played for the Dutch in the 2004 Olympics, just as he did in 2000, and played in last year's inaugural World Baseball Classic. Isenia was the longest-tenured member of the Tampa Bay organization. His 11-year career included 794 games played, 2,860 at-bats and approximately 1,673,229 smiles. He was a positive person.

Shaggy retired after the Rays decided not to re-sign him. His last game was Aug. 25, 2006, when he was knocked unconscious in a home-plate collision against Birmingham. Isenia spent a few days in the hospital and never came off the disabled list, but he was in uniform and part of Montgomery's championship celebration.

Then he hung up his spikes for good.

Friday, March 23, 2007

My first day of spring

Hopefully the boss won't see this, but today's wasn't a full work day.

I know I wrote this last year: It's always weird that first day seeing guys you haven't seen in months and reconnecting. There were plenty of those guys -- too many to try to name -- and I can think of many more who I didn't see today. I find it best to not pull out the notebook and pen at those times.

Also, found out some bad news. Pitcher Chris Flinn was released by the Devil Rays on Thursday. Flinn was an Original Biscuit who played with the team in each of the last three years. Flinn, a third-round draft pick in 2001, reached Class AAA for the first time at the end of last season.

I hit the big-league game between the Rays and Reds on Friday night. Delmon Young was as jovial and friendly as he was last year. He saw me before I saw him and came up to chat. He obviously has immense talent and can be a superstar.

Elijah Dukes was impressive. He was still his aggressive self on the field -- he legged out a triple -- and will almost certainly make the team. He wasn't as aggressive off the field. In the clubhouse, he played cards with teammates and I never heard him become overly boisterous. He's another guy with massive baseball skills.

Shawn Riggans was in the middle of an incident in the eighth of the Rays' 15-1 win. After Jonny Gomes hit a three-run homer, Riggans followed with a game of dodgeball. The first pitch was at his legs and the second near his head. Pitcher Wes Wilkerson was ejected and the benches cleared, though no blows were exchanged.

When the Rays took the field for the ninth, Riggans, as good of a person you could hope to meet anywhere, went to the mound to talk to Juan Salas and possibly tell him retaliation was not necessary. Salas didn't initiate another bench-clearing powwow.

Now for the boss: I did interview four players for a story in that special section that everybody can see April 5.

Flat out guesses

OK, here's my completely uneducated, show-how-much-I-know guesses on potential Biscuits this year. I've already pegged shortstop Reid Brignac and third baseman Evan Longoria to be on the Opening Day roster. Those, to me, were kind of simple.

I'll take Josh Arhart behind the plate after his .301-15-78 year at high Class A last year and Josh Asanovich at second base. Asanovich hit .293 at Visalia.

In the outfield, I see Fernando Perez in center and Shaun Cumberland in right. Patrick Breen should be back after coming up from Visalia at the end of July last year, just before Brignac and Longoria.

Perez runs fast enough that he stole 33 bases last year, but he needs some refinement (he was caught stealing 16 times). Cumberland had 16 homers and 98 RBIs last year -- and struck out 133 times, one off Perez's team lead.

Sergio Pedroza came to the Rays in a trade last year and played left, but the Rays said in the offseason that they wanted to try him at catcher. Not sure how that's going -- though I'll see soon enough.

John Jaso is a catcher by trade but caught only 24 games last year after some offseason shoulder surgery. He was mainly a DH for Visalia and swung a nifty bat: .309, 55 RBIs, 58 runs scored.

Maybe Jaso will also try some first base -- when Chris Nowak needs a day off -- though Jaso didn't do that last year. Nowak put up .308-11-103 numbers in the hitter-friendly California League.

I guess you want to know something about who's throwing the pitches instead of just about who will be swinging at them.

I tabbed Chris Mason as this year's opening day starter the night the Biscuits won the Southern League title in September. I won't stake my already-shaky reputation on that now, but I'll say he'll be in Montgomery's rotation. Mason was 12-10 with a 5.02 ERA last year at Visalia.

Let me repeat: Those were in the hitter-friendly California League. If I can think of a stronger term than "friendly," I'll share it. How about "hitter-nirvana California League?" There have been quite a few hitters get out of that and see their production drop. Pitchers, if they can crawl out of the mental bunker, can do a lot better away from Cali.

Let's put a tag on James Houser, Jon Barrett and Nick DeBarr. Barrett had a 2.93 ERA in that California League firing line, while Houser finished 12-4 with a 4.41 ERA. DeBarr was in Visalia and showed enough that the Red Sox took him in the major-league Rule V. The Sox returned him to the Rays early this month.

That's 14 guesses. The Biscuits can have 24 players on their active roster for the opener, though the Rays always send an extra hand or two on the "phantom DL."

I creep through the gates at spring training Friday. The minor-leaguers face the Yankee farmhands in an afternoon exhibition. I'll start there and work my way over to the Rays-Reds major-league game Friday night.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Guesses to come

I'm sitting in the Kansas City airport waiting to fly back from the NAIA basketball tournament and I realize I have yet to make my Biscuits roster guesses, the ones I made a year ago to kick off this lovely blog.

Don't fret, fans, I'll piece something together before arriving in St. Petersburg, Fla., on Friday.

I'll go ahead and make two guesses now for the Opening Day roster. I say they'll start April in Montgomery, but I make absolutely no promises that they'll end the month there.

shortstop Reid Brignac
third baseman Evan Longoria

I'll come up with more later and I'll definitely have the time. I fly back to Atlanta and drive to Montgomery today, then jump in a car Thursday and start the 500-mile trek to Tampa Bay.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Former Rays pick kicked off college team

Nick Fuller was the Rays' third-round draft pick last year who chose not to sign so he could play for the University of South Carolina. His time with the Gamecocks didn't last long.

Fuller, a right-handed pitcher, and outfielder Lonnie Chisenhall were kicked off the team Monday after being arrested Monday, according to today's The State. Coach Ray Tanner said "this case is now in the hands of the legal authorities." Both players are freshmen.

The way I understand the draft rules, Fuller won't be eligible this year. If he transfers to a junior college, he'll be eligible next year. If he either returns to USC or goes to another four-year school, he'll be eligible in 2009 -- and start his pro career about the time he could have been in Class AA had he signed out of high school.

None of that will matter if the charges are true.

The story says Fuller faces multiple charges of grand larceny and burglary, while Chisenhall faces one of each. The charges include stealing desktop computers from a school office, and cash from the USC coaching offices.

Here's the link ...

Monday, March 19, 2007

Magrane hauls out "biscuit malt"

Jim Magrane, who will receive a Biscuits championship ring though he wasn't with the team in the playoffs, eagerly awaits his new jewelry.

Magrane answered an e-mail Sunday about the ring. The right-handed pitcher signed in the offseason with the Washington Nationals.

Magrane wrote that he tracked Montgomery's playoff run after Class AAA Durham's season ended. Though he didn't have champagne, he had his own special celebration when the Biscuits won the title.

"I brewed up a special homebrew with a double helping of biscuit malt," Magrane said.

I'm no adult beverage expert -- biscuit malt?

"Don't believe me? Look it up," Magrane wrote. "Fat Tire, one of the best micros out there, uses biscuit malt in the recipe. I used double."

Magrane, who was 11-8 with a 2.98 ERA last year before his promotion to Durham on July 30, faced regular phone calls during the playoffs -- just like many of the other Tampa Bay minor-leaguers.

"I talked to a few guys who let me know how it all went down," Magrane said, "and (pitching coach) Xavier Hernandez called me on his way home to Houston the following day. It must have been a long drive."

The Biscuits gave rings to three players who were not in uniform for the playoffs. Pitcher Chris Flinn and shortstop Matthew Maniscalco were the others.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

More spring moves

The Devil Rays tossed four more former Biscuits to the minor-league camp today: first baseman Wes Bankston, right-handed pitcher Jason Hammel, second baseman Elliot Johnson and left-handed pitcher Chris Seddon.

That drops the number in major-league camp to 42.

Tampa Bay still has eight non-roster invitees in big-league camp. Six on the 40-man roster have been sent to the minors.

Brignac, Longoria sent to minors

The left side of Montgomery's season-opening infield got the boot Tuesday.

The Devil Rays sent shortstop Reid Brignac and third baseman Evan Longoria to their minor-league camp. They also sent out former Biscuits pitchers Jeff Niemann, Mitch Talbot, Andy Sonnanstine and Tony Peguero -- no chance the first three will be in Montgomery for the opener, small chance on Peguero.

Future Biscuits Josh Arhart, a catcher, and Fernando Perez, a center fielder, also went to the minor-league camp.

Tampa Bay started camp with 58 players and has now sent 12 of those down to the minor-league camp.

Friday, March 09, 2007

Ring's the thing

The Montgomery Biscuits will receive their 2006 Southern League championship rings next week at Tampa Bay's spring training complex in St. Petersburg, Fla.

The team will send front office representatives, including owner Tom Dickson, to the Devil Rays' minor-league complex on Thursday morning. Last year's players -- at least the ones in camp this year with Tampa Bay -- get their rings at a ceremony that will include Rays owner Stuart Sternberg, Rays president Matthew Silverman, general manager Andrew Friedman and Rays manager Joe Maddon, Dickson said.

The rings feature a blue stone with the team's Monte logo on top, a Southern League logo on one side, and a Devil Rays logo with the player's name on the other.

The players and coaches who are no longer with the Devil Rays will be sent their rings.