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06/07/2008 Archived Entry: "WORLD BASEBALL TODAY: Vol. 2, No. 23"

Sunday, June 8, 2008
by Bruce Baskin
Radio Miami International

The Tampa Bay Rays had the first selection in last week’s amateur draft, and the American League’s surprise team raised a few more eyebrows by passing on an in-state college star to pick high school shortstop Tim Beckham of Griffin, Georgia. Beckham is considered by scouts as a legitimate five-tool player, hitting .500 with five homers, 31 RBIs and 16 stolen bases this spring for his prep team.
The selection of Beckham marks the second consecutive season Tampa Bay had the first pick of the draft after calling pitcher David Price’s name in 2007. Beckham is the third high school shortstop taken with the top pick in the last five years, following San Diego’s Matt Bush in 2004 and Arizona’s Justin Upton in 2006.

Some people expected the Rays to take Florida State University catcher Buster Posey, himself a converted shortstop who has become one of the nation’s top offensive and defensive collegiate catchers over the past year. The Rays had in fact whittled their choices to either Beckham or Posey, but felt the young shortstop had more long-term potential. Posey slid to the San Francisco Giants, who picked him fifth overall.

After being notified of his selection, Beckham said, “It means everything in the world…I hope to become an All-Star and after that I want to be a Hall of Famer.” The Rays might be happy if he ends up being an upgrade over current shortstop Jason Bartlett, who was acquired in an offseason trade with Minnesota.

With the sixth pick of the draft, the Florida Marlins selected California high school catcher Kyle Skipworth. The left-handed hitting Skipworth, who runs 6’3” and 195 pounds, reminds some people of Twins catcher Joe Mauer. In fact, some scouts considered Skipworth the top catching prospect to come along since Minnesota took Mauer with the number one overall pick seven years ago.

Like the Rays, Florida had catcher Buster Posey as a potential first round pick, but after the Giants took Posey one pick ahead of the Marlins, the decision to select Skipworth became automatic. Skipworth becomes the second straight position taken in the first round by the Fish, who selected another California prep product, third baseman Matt Dominguez, with the eleventh choice last June. The selection of Skipworth marks the first time Florida has taken a catcher with their top pick since 1992, when they drafted Charles Johnson.

In a classy move, the major leagues held a symbolic draft of living ex-Negro League players prior to the regular draft. Those picked represented players who never had a chance to play in the big leagues. The Rays selected pitcher Walter Lee Gibbons, who played for the Philadelphia Stars, New York Black Yankees and Indianapolis Clowns in the 1940’s. The Clowns signed Gibbons in 1948 after seeing him pitch a game in Tampa. The Marlins took former Kansas City Monarchs pitcher Enrique Maroto, who played in the 1950’s. The 5’9” Maroto also played in his native Cuba before joining the Monarchs, and played minor league ball in the Cardinals and Senators systems, but never reached the majors.

Although the Seibu Lions have continued their season-long leadership of Japan’s Pacific League standings, the Nippon Ham Fighters are very quietly creeping up on them. Seibu leads the PL with a 36-21-1 record, but the Fighters are only four games behind at 33-26-1 mark. No team in the Pacific League has a winning road record, although Seibu is just one game under .500 away from home at 13-14. The Rakuten Golden Eagles are in third place at 30-27, Softbank holds fourth at 31-29, the Orix Bufaloes have moved up to fifth place with a 26-33 record and Lotte brings up the rear at 25-34. The PL collectively helped itself by going 41-30 against the Central League in interleague play last month.

The Hanshin Tigers remain on top of the Central League leaderboard with a 35-18-1 record, the best in Japanese baseball. The Chunichi Dragons are in second place at 28-23-3, but have won only two of eight games against Hanshin thus far this season. The Tigers and Dragons are the only two CL teams with winning record, but the Tigers have solid command of the standings in part by holding the only winning road record in Japan at 19-12-1. Hiroshima is third at 24-26-2, Yomiuri is fourth at 26-29-1, Yakult is fifth at 23-29, and Yokohama is in last with a 15-37-1 record, including just eight wins in 23 home games.

The recent signing of 31-year-old pitcher Justin Lehr by the Korea Baseball Organization’s Doosan Bears served to underscore the increasing attractiveness of playing in South Korea among import players. A former Oakland and Milwaukee pitcher, Lehr had a clause inserted in his contract this year with Class AAA Louisville that read, “If an offer is made by a South Korean professional club, the transfer fee shall be waived.”

Japan has long been the preferred foreign destination of American ballplayers, but Korea and Taiwan are increasingly being added to their lists of options. This year, former major league All-Star pitcher Jose Lima and three-time minor league MVP Roberto Petagine made the move to the KBO, adding to the number of credentialed import players. One of the reasons is that Korean teams pay better than their stateside minor league counterparts, but the level of play in South Korea has grown to make that an attractive aspect as well. The quality of baseball is one reason KBO teams topped the league’s goal of two million fans before the end of last month. According to league figures, Korean teams are averaging over 11,000 fans per game.

Taiwan’s Chinese Professional Baseball League is also establishing itself as a destination for foreign players. While Taiwanese baseball is generally ranked in quality third behind Japan and Korea among Asian leagues, the level of play and dollars are increasing there as well.

One case in point is ten-year minor leaguer Gary Burnham, who is playing for the CPBL La New Bears after spending ten years in the American minors. A former Phillies draft pick, Burnham is hitting .306 with five homers and 25 RBIs in his first season playing ball in Taiwan for the first-place Bears.

In a recent interview with the East Windup Chronicle, Burnham said his biggest adjustment has been the language barrier, and that players in Taiwan don’t shower at the ballpark after games. While the first baseman appears to be enjoying his stay in the CPBL, he mentioned a desire to play ball in Korea or Japan for five years before retiring.

The Mexico City Diablos Rojos reeled off eight straight wins to open the second half, including six on the road, to jump out to an early three-game lead in the Mexican League’s Southern Division. Tied for second behind the Diablos at 5-3 are their traditional rivals, the Tigres of Quintana Roo, and the Veracruz Aguilas. Campeche is in fourth at 4-3, the LMB South first half titlist Yucatan Leones are fifth at 4-4, and the Minatitlan Petroleros and Tabasco Olmecas are tied for sixth at 2-6. Oaxaca is following up their last-place finish in the first half with a Liga-worst 1-6 beginning for the second half.

In the LMB North, things are a lot tighter. The defending champion Monterrey Sultanes and Monclova Acereros are tied for first at 5-3, while Chihuahua is third at 4-3. First half champion Saltillo and Tijuana are tied for fourth at 4-4, Puebla is sixth at 3-4, and Laguna shares seventh with Nuevo Laredo at 3-5.

The Milwaukee Brewers will host three tryout camps in Europe this summer, marking the second time the Brewers have sought talent across the Atlantic after looking over players last year in Great Britain.
The first camp is scheduled for July 3 in Bracknell, England, while the second is slated for July 27 in Neunkirchen, Germany. The third and final camp will take place August 3 near Budapest, Hungary.
The trials are open to all players 15 to 23 years of age, and will be led by Milwaukee scout Sam Dempster. All players will be evaluated and entered into the Brewers’ scouting database.

There is a virtual three-way tie for first place in the eight-team Dutch Major League heading into this weekend. The Konica Minolta Pioniers have a 14-5 record for a winning percentage of .736, 22 percentage points ahead of 15-6 Corendon Kinheim and DOOR Neptunas. Kinheim and the Pioniers are engaging in a three-game series this weekend, facing each other for the first time since a bench-clearing braw on May 18 that led to player suspensions for both teams.

While Kinheim and Konica Minolta are beating each other up in a figurative sense, DOOR Neptunas has a chance to gain some ground thanks to being scheduled for a three-game set with 2-17 ADO. There’s also an intriguing series between Sparta Feyenoord and the Amsterdam Pirates, who are tied for fourth place with identical 11-8 records. Sparta has a better run differential than Amsterdam, but the Pirates are heading into the series with a four-game win streak.

Seven weeks into the Italian Baseball League season, Fortitudo Bologna has established themselves as the dominant team in the eight-club circuit. Besides building a four-game league with an 18-3 record, Bologna has been outscoring teams by an average margin of 7-2 per game. They’ll take on 12-9 T&A San Marino this weekend.

There’s a spirited battle between four teams for second place. Orioles Grosseto and Danesi Nettuno are tied for second at 14-7, but both San Marino and Parma are one game behind in fourth place.

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Replies: 1 Comment

Yo, Bruce,

I love this stuff - give me an estimate when we will see the first authentic World's Series.


Posted by Max Blue @ 06/08/2008 08:47 AM EST

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