Once he was deemed "the next Mo Vaughn," a promising power-hitting first baseman who homered off David Cone and Pedro Martinez in only 21 at-bats in 1998. But Calvin Pickering returned to California long before his minor-league season ended, his massive potential in question after a second consecutive confused summer.
Pickering, who turns 24 this week, entered his sixth professional season a career .313 minor-league hitter twice named the organization's Player of the Year.
He left it with a torn quadriceps, a .218 average and only six home runs to counter 70 strikeouts in 197 at-bats at Triple-A Rochester. Even worse for Pickering was his inability to grab a chance to succeed Will Clark once the veteran first baseman was dealt to the St. Louis Cardinals on July 31.
"It's too bad Pick wasn't available when things started happening [in July]," says Orioles director of organizational instruction Tom Trebelhorn. "This would have been his opportunity, I believe. Instead, they put another left-handed-hitting first baseman [Chris Richard, 26] out there. It's unfortunate, because I believe Pick could have shown something."
Pickering averaged one home run every 17.2 at-bats and an RBI every 4.5 at-bats prior to this season. But hampered by exaggerated swing flaws, he struggled this season to a .360 slugging percentage and one RBI every 6.5 at-bats.
Drafted in the 35th round in 1995 as a projected power-hitting first baseman, Pickering has battled weight and defensive difficulties for most of his career. The Virgin Islands native attempted to deal with his weight at a Duke University clinic following the '98 season and addressed his defensive liabilities with Orioles first base coach Eddie Murray during last year's Arizona Fall League.
More painful has been a perceived string of hurdles such as the signing of Clark before the 1999 season to a two-year, $11 million contract.
Pickering wept and threw his hat into a clubhouse trash can when told of his option to Rochester during spring training in 1999. After receiving seven at-bats during a brief May recall, he furthered his case by batting .386 and hitting 10 home runs last July but failed to receive a promotion until rosters expanded Sept. 1. Pickering batted .125 in 40 at-bats and appeared blocked for another season.
"Some people are still high on him. Some people are down on him. Some are in the middle," says Trebelhorn. "In my opinion, we have to get him well.
"He's got value, perhaps to this organization but certainly within the industry. You don't give up on that kind of power. This is a business and he is a commodity. Our challenge is to develop players and Pick has huge potential."