Waiting game wears on Myers


SARASOTA, Fla. -- Less than four years ago he was tabbed as the young pitcher who would signal the rebirth of the Orioles.

A year later, less than 12 months out of high school, he was rated the second-best prospect in the organization -- behind Craig Worthington.

Today, in light of the success of Gregg Olson, Ben McDonald and Mike Mussina, he is the Orioles' forgotten No. 1 draft choice. In a recent survey, Baseball America didn't even list him among the Orioles' 10 best prospects. That is either an indication of the organization's increased strength or his own rapid decline, probably a little of both.

In a way it seems like more than four years ago that Chris Myers was the seventh player picked in the amateur draft. He has spent enough time in Hagerstown to qualify for residency, while shuffling between Single A and Double A.

Two pitchers selected behind him in that 1987 draft, Pete Harnisch and Anthony Telford, moved rapidly to the big leagues. A victim of youth and physical immaturity, Myers has watched the parade and noticed that somebody was missing.

"I got the feeling that everybody was passing me by," Myers, 21, admitted after yesterday's workout. "I started to wonder when it would be my turn.

"I saw guys coming out of college and going up right away and wondered why that can't happen to me," said Myers, who is participating in his second big-league training camp.

In the beginning the Orioles purposely held Myers back because of his age, and it bothered him. "Judge me by what I can do, not by how old I am," he told player personnel director Doug Melvin a year ago.

The record (6-11, but with a 3.52 ERA at Hagerstown last year) doesn't indicate that Myers has been overly restricted. But neither the lefthander nor Melvin believes the record tells the whole story.

"One of the things that has worked against him has been the success of the pitchers we got out of college," said Melvin. "People forget that he's not yet 22 years old [he will be in April]," said Melvin. "And because he's missed some time, a lot of people think he's coming off a serious arm injury -- but he isn't.

"He's been bothered by some tendinitis in the shoulder, but part of that could be that he's just maturing physically. It's a big adjustment from high school to professional ball. You can't compare him to pitchers like Olson, McDonald and Mussina, who have all come out of strong college programs.

"This is a big year for Chris, and what happens in spring training could be very important to him. We thought that would be the case a year ago, but he was one of the victims of the lockout that you don't think about. He has the kind of ability that it isn't going to take a great year at a certain minor-league level for him to make a move."

Still, there is no question the Orioles have been a little disappointed in Myers' progress. "I hope Chris reads Baseball America," said one observer, who doesn't agree with the publication's assessment, but feels Myers needed a motivational kick.

"I think maybe we have ourselves to blame a little bit," said Melvin. "Maybe we expected too much too soon.

"Not many pitchers can pitch effectively at Double A at the age of 21," said Melvin. "I would say that a kid out of high school, even if he's a high pick, would be on a five-year program [to reach the majors], so Chris is not really behind schedule -- and might be a lot more advanced had he not lost spring training a year ago."

This year he's already made a big impression here on those who know him best -- coaches at the minor-league level. "Just looking at him, you can tell he's stronger," said Tom Brown, pitching coach at Hagerstown last year. "This should be the year for him to make a move."

"You can tell he's worked hard over the winter," said Mike Pazik, who has seen Myers in each of the last two years. "It's like night and day."

Myers seems more sure of himself this year, despite 1990's disappointments. "I think the tendinitis could've been avoided had I had the proper work with my shoulder," said Myers, who admitted the transition from high school may have been more than he expected. "I worked this winter at a sports and therapy clinic. I had equipment available to me, and I used it six days a week. I would be very surprised if anything happens to my shoulder this year."

Though he didn't reach his goal of Triple A last year, Myers still has raised his sights this season. "I know they [the Orioles] need lefthanded pitching," he said, "so I'd like to win a spot. But if I don't, I hope Triple A [Rochester] will be the worst, and maybe I can get a callup before the season is over."

"Chris has felt that we've held him back a little in the past, because of his age," said Melvin. "This could be the year we push him and say, 'OK, here it is, show us what you can do.' "

* FALSE ALARM: In camp for more than a week, Dwight Evans missed yesterday's workout, but it didn't seem to alarm anybody but the media.

"He has a little swelling and fluid in the right knee," said manager Frank Robinson. "He had the knee cleaned out this winter, so it's nothing unusual."

* KNUCKLING DOWN (UP?): "Boonie, you've got to ease up, you're going to kill all my catchers," Robinson told reliever Daniel Boone.

Boone is the 37-year-old lefthander signed last year out of the Senior League. He features a knuckleball that is as perplexing to catchers as it is to hitters.

"I'm just trying to get them used to it," said Boone.

"Used to it?" said Robinson. "You're wearing them out."

* THE PALMER METHOD (CONT'D): Robinson acknowledged that when Jim Palmer first pitches in an exhibition game, it will be as a starter.

"Whether you start or finish doesn't matter, it's the innings you get in," said Robinson. "There will be times I'll start a reliever and let him pitch an inning or two just to make sure he faces the good hitters.

"But in Jim's case he will start -- at least the first time," said Robinson. It may come against Boston March 11 at Bradenton, the first of three home games the Orioles have in this area, and it will be the first televised game (HTS) of the spring.

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