Camp short on Orioles, but long on comebacks

THE BALTIMORE SUN

SARASOTA, Fla. -- It happens every spring. A young pitcher wows the coaching staff with his live arm. A veteran attempts a comeback. Somebody is trying to recover from a career-threatening ailment.

It happens every spring. Even this year, when there are no major-leaguers. It's just happening in the minor-league camp.

In the role of Player Rebounding from Serious Illness: shortstop Juan Bautista.

Just 19, Bautista suffered from anemia while playing for Rookie-level Gulf Coast last year and had to undergo a spleenectomy. Thinly built anyway at 6 feet, 163 pounds, Bautista lost a lot of weight and returned for just 21 games at the end of the season.

He's regained many of the lost pounds and will start workouts today in the early instructional camp. The Orioles like his smooth defense. Player development assistant Lee MacPhail likens his style and build to that of New York Yankees shortstop Tony Fernandez.

In the role of Veteran Making A Comeback: infielder Jeff Huson.

He played six years in the big leagues, 1988 to 1993, with the Montreal Expos and Texas Rangers. But Huson was demoted to Triple-A Oklahoma City in 1993, and played in just 83 games for the 89ers in '94, hitting .301 with 18 stolen bases.

Orioles manager Phil Regan is searching for a utility man, and depending on the fate of the replacement games and how long the strike lasts, Huson could enjoy a unique opportunity to impress. His primary competition, second baseman Manny Alexander, is in the Dominican Republic and could face visa delays once the strike is settled.

In the role of Veteran Making A Comeback, Part II: infielder T. R. Lewis.

Lewis possesses, MacPhail says, one of the sweetest swings in camp. But he's suffered through years of medical problems. In 1990, he was in a car accident; his girlfriend eventually died from her injuries. Lewis suffered shoulder damage, hampering his ZTC development.

Nevertheless, he got off to a good start for Triple-A Rochester in '94, hitting .319 in his first 141 at-bats. But an errant throw by Alexander broke Lewis' right hand as he was sitting in the dugout, effectively ending his season. He has six years of professional experience, and he's still only 23.

In the role of Young Gun: pitcher Sidney Ponson.

Ponson, a native of Aruba, is 17. But he's won the attention of the Orioles for his maturity on the mound, his presence. "He reminds me a lot of Alex Fernandez in that respect," MacPhail said.

Pitching for Gulf Coast in '94, he walked 17 hitters in 73 innings, striking out 53 and allowing 68 hits. Ponson, a right-hander, is years away from pitching in Camden Yards. But then again, it seems as if everyone else is, as well.

In the role of Left-hander Finessing His Way Into the Picture: Mark Lee.

Lee has enjoyed so many lives, like so many left-handers. Since 1988, Lee has gathered a collection of uniforms that would fill a good-sized closet -- Lakeland, Glens Falls, Toledo, Kansas City, Memphis, Stockton, Denver, Milwaukee, Oklahoma City and Iowa. If he doesn't know all of the other minor-leaguers in camp, he's probably pitched against them.

Lee last pitched in the big leagues in 1991 with Milwaukee. He pitched in 54 games in relief last summer, allowing a combined 90 hits and walks in 61 1/3 innings, and it would be easy to say this is Lee's last real shot at the big leagues. But he's a left-hander.

In the role of Camp Sleeper: catcher B. J. Waszgis.

He hit 21 homers and drove in 100 runs for Single-A Frederick last year, and has developed into a marginal prospect. A converted infielder, Waszgis needs to improve his catching abilities. He has a tendency to fight the ball now, rather than

catch it. But a 24-year-old catcher with power? An intriguing prospect.

In the role of Prime Prospect: pitcher Rocky Coppinger.

When Coppinger was punching out hitters as a high school phenom in El Paso, Texas, everyone knew he could throw hard. But he injured a knee as a junior, got a little too heavy for the scouts and wasn't drafted until the 19th round in 1993.

Coppinger rebounded in junior college, and signed just before the midnight deadline last May.

This turned out to be a good move for the Orioles: He allowed 51 hits in 73 1/3 innings and struck out 88 for Rookie-level Bluefield, and was rated as the seventh-best prospect in the Appalachian League by Baseball America.

It happens every spring.

UP AND COMING

The Orioles' more developed prospects, such as outfielders Alex Ochoa, Curtis Goodwin and Armando Benitez, are on strike because they are part of the team's 40-man roster. Here's a thumbnail look at the organization's top young prospects not yet required by baseball rules to be part of the 40-man roster:

KIM BARTEE .. ..OUTFIELDER What he does well: A burner who has stolen 71 bases in 86 attempts in his first 1 1/2 years as a professional. Ticketed for Double-A Bowie.

ROCKY COPPINGER ... PITCHER What he does well: Throws hard. Dad named him Rocky after the boxer Marciano because "he looked all beat up and ugly" at birth.

TOMMY DAVIS ... ..THIRD BASEMAN What he does well: Drafted in the second round in 1994, Davis batted .273 for Single-A Albany in 61 games last summer. A

first-team All-American in college.

CALVIN MADURO ... PITCHER What he does well: A nondrafted free agent signed in 1991, Maduro struck out 137 and walked 59 in 152 1/3 innings for Single-A Frederick last year.

SIDNEY PONSON ... PITCHER What he does well: Ponson, who walked 17 and struck out 53 in innings in the Gulf Coast League, is one of five Arubans signed by the Orioles the past four years.

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