Suddenly, the Orioles' farm system is loaded with good catchers.
Almost bereft of prospects behind the plate a few years ago, the organization has shored up the position with signings, trades and good drafts.
At Rochester, 1991 draftee B. J. Waszgis is playing his second season and delivering one big hit after another. On successive Sundays, Waszgis homered to win games in extra innings.
At Bowie, switch-hitter Mel Rosario -- acquired in a deal with San Diego last year -- has a five-RBI game, a .320 batting average and a six-game hitting streak. He also threw out six of the first eight would-be base stealers and picked off two runners.
At Frederick, Jim Foster has recovered from a hand injury that hurt his hitting last season and entered the week with a .347 average, four home runs and a stunning five steals.
A 1993 draftee, Foster probably belongs at Double-A, but to catch every day, he is back in the Carolina League.
Depth is so evident that minor-league veteran Eric Chavez, who hit 18 homers for the Keys last season, was sent to the South Atlantic League for more opportunities to play.
"We felt we needed some help, so we went out and got it," said Orioles director of player development Syd Thrift.
Former major-leaguer Tim Laker is the backup at Rochester, Ryan Luzinski at Bowie and Leroy McKinnis at Frederick. All were acquired in the off-season.
Haynes on roll again
Jimmy Haynes is back in the groove. Once the system's top pitching prospect, Haynes struggled with the Orioles in 1996. But now he is leading the International Leauge in strikeouts, opponents are hitting .186 against him and he has allowed only 15 hits in 24 innings.
"I'm starting to see the Jimmy Haynes of old," said Waszgis after a 10-strikeout, 6 2/3-inning start Sunday. "He's really worked out his mechanical problems."
On the downside is another arm injury to Rochester's Brian Sackinsky, who pitched in three Orioles games last year.
Sackinsky came back from retirement for another try this spring and was pitching a no-hitter through 5 1/3 innings of the Red Wing home opener when his right elbow gave way.
He is out for the season with ligament damage, and his career may be over.
Mix and match
With only 12 position players, Bowie manager Joe Ferguson doesn't have a lot of latitude to switch lineups. But he is certainly making the most of what he has.
In the first 14 games, Ferguson used 14 different lineups.
"You're always trying to find consistency," he said. "We want to know now who fits where."
The Red Wings lost, 8-5, in the first game played at Frontier Field after Sackinsky had pitched them to a 5-0 lead through six innings.
Opening night drew 13,227 fans, the largest crowd since the 1963 opener against the Arkansas Travelers. A left-hander named Pat Gillick allowed a home run to Richie Allen in that game.
"I've been to a lot of minor-league parks and this is the kingpin of them all," Gillick said.
Luzinski has taken the grand tour of the system's upper levels.
He started on the Frederick roster, then was lent to Rochester when Waszgis left the team. After a week there, Luzinski went back to Frederick, played in one game on the road, then was assigned to Bowie.
Luzinski's Eastern League debut was at Reading, where his father, Greg, played in 1970.
Around the horn
Rochester had a six-game winning streak broken Sunday and is 5-0 in extra-inning games, with all the wins coming within a week. The Red Wings have sold 8,000 advance tickets for the Orioles exhibition game June 12, which has been set as the makeup date for an Orioles-Red Sox rainout. They stand to lose up to $200,000 if the game is canceled. Bowie's pinch hitters, 0-for-21 last year, had six hits in their first 11 at-bats. Fireworks night at Bowie, postponed by high winds last Friday, has been rescheduled for May 17. OF Johnny Isom loves Saturday games. On consecutive Saturdays, he went 7-for-8 with two doubles, a homer and seven RBIs. Frederick 2B David Lamb, shifted from shortstop this season, was a surprising second in the Carolina League with 16 RBIs. Aruban-born P Radhames Dykhoff had 21 strikeouts and an 0.73 ERA after 12 innings. Delmarva is the only team in the system with a losing record. The reason? Weak offense. The Shorebirds were hitting .210 entering the week, last in the South Atlantic League. Australian-born pitcher Cameron Forbes did not allow a run in his first 16 innings and has struck out 23.
Rochester--C Kris Gresham (knee), Sackinsky, P Archie Corbin (sore arm); Bowie--OF Eugene Kingsale (knee), SS Juan Bautista (broken hand); Frederick--P Billy Percibal (arm); Delmarva--OF Maleke Fowler (sprained ankle), C Bobby O'Toole (broken hand), SS Eddy Martinez (sore arm).
Pub Date: 4/25/97