Minor leagues due for major roster shuffling


SARASOTA, Fla. -- Kevin Harmon was hired to be the trainer for the Rochester Red Wings, the Triple-A affiliate of the Orioles. In theory, his work as the team's traveling secretary is a secondary responsibility.

Not this year. The strike has complicated the life of Harmon and other trainers/traveling secretaries throughout the minors, because there is going to be a mass of player movement.

"It's going to be very interesting," said Syd Thrift, the Orioles' director of player development.

The complications begin right at the top. When minor-league seasons open this week, each team will be at or near its roster limit. However, teams will be forced to cram another 10 to 15 players into the mix in the next month, because most of the top prospects -- who were on strike with the major-leaguers -- haven't even started training yet.

Once they get into shape, teams will begin optioning these young players to the minors, creating a ripple effect throughout the organization.

For example, the Orioles have a glut of outfield prospects, from the majors to Single-A. Suppose that on April 17 -- the first day teams can option their prospects to the minor leagues -- the Orioles send Alex Ochoa, Jim Wawruck and Mark Smith to Rochester.

What, then, should the Orioles do with Kimera Bartee, Tyrone Woods and Brad Tyler, the Red Wings' outfield? If Bartee were sent down, there would be similar roster trouble at Double-A Bowie. The Orioles will have trouble finding enough playing time for the catchers in their system, as well.

To help deal with logistical dilemmas, Major League Baseball has expanded the minor-league rosters. Instead of the normal roster limit of 23, Rochester and Bowie will carry 25 players. Instead of the usual 25, Single-A Frederick and High Desert (Calif.) will be allowed 27.

The rosters, Thrift said, will be fluid, lots of players moving up, lots going down. Rochester will open the season with Jeff Huson at shortstop and with pitchers John Shea and Frank Seminara getting regular innings.

However, as the major-league camp winds down and the season opener approaches, Shea and Huson and possibly Seminara are expected to be added to the big-league roster.

Thrift said minor-leaguers have had and will continue to have extra opportunities this year. Bartee, for example, had regular tutelage from the major-league coaches, who normally would have been working with big-leaguers. In a normal year, Bartee probably would have started in Double-A.

Instead, he's at Rochester.

"I tell you, these guys are getting a great chance to make an impression," Thrift said.

They owe many thanks to the owners and players. Kevin Harmon, however, may not be quite as pleased.

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