FUTURE MAJOR-LEAGUE PITCHER — make that near-future big-leaguer -- Denny Neagle of Gambrills is expected to start in Wednesday night's AAA Alliance All-Star Game in Louisville, Ky. The game will be televised 8 p.m. on Home Team Sports.
Neagle, a smooth, 22-year-old left-hander from Arundel High School-- our 1986 Anne Arundel County Sun Player of the Year, with a 9-1 senior year record -- has gone 8-2 for the first half of the season for the Portland Beavers of the Pacific Coast League, a Minnesota TwinsAAA affiliate.
Drafted on the third round by the Minnesota Twins in his junior year in 1989 at the University of Minnesota, Neagle has had a meteoricrise in the bushes and is only one step from the big show. In less than three seasons in professional baseball, Neagle has gone 31-8 overall, including last summer's overall 20-3 at the A and AA levels.
Neagle was pro baseball's only 20-game winner in the bushes last yearand has his sights on another banner season. At the all-star break, Neagle is second in strikeouts with 79 and a 2.97 ERA in the tough Pacific Coast League.
On Saturday, he failed to get the decision in the Beaver's 9-8 10-inning loss to Calgary. The 6-foot-4, 200-pound Neagle worked the first five innings and was touched for four runs while walking two and striking out four.
Neagle, who pitched a few games in spring training this year with the big league Twins, was namedto the California League Class A All-Star Game last summer after going 8-0 for Visalia but didn't get a chance to take the hill.
He was promoted to the Twins' AA club in Orlando, Fla., before the West Coast glitter game, and went on to post a 12-3 record there.
His pitching drew the attention of the Twins' brass and even some of the major league veterans last summer. At one stage in the second half of the season, while the Twins were struggling, a couple of the vets suggested that the front office call up Neagle to help.
The call never came, but the opportunity in spring training showed the front office's belief that Neagle will be a big leaguer one day soon.
Just lastweek, that call to the big show nearly came when ace right-hander Scott Erickson, with a 12-3 record and 1.83 ERA, was placed on the 15-day disabled list with a strained elbow. The Twins instead recalled veteran lefty David West from Portland to take the place of Erickson.
Fresh from his minor league rehabilitation assignment, West pitchedtwo-hit ball over seven innings as the Twins nipped East Division-leading Toronto, 1-0. That solidified West's spot on the big league roster and Neagle's at AAA -- for the moment.
With the Twins pacing the American League West Division by a game over Texas as of Saturday,and the starting rotation of Jack Morris, Alan Anderson, Kevin Tapani and Erickson doing the job, Neagle will have to wait.
Barring another injury to one of its starters, it's likely that Neagle will finish the season at Portland, where the Beavers won the Pacific Coast League First Round championship to qualify for post-season play. But come September, when major league clubs expand their rosters, it's likely Neagle will be called up.
For now, Neagle is putting in his time and learning all he can at the AAA level, which is only one step from the big show. He's anxiously looking forward to Wednesday night'sAll-Star Game in Louisville. So is a proud family back in Gambrills.
The Neagles and many others in Anne Arundel, including Neagle's former high school coach, Bernie Walter, will be tuned into Home Team Sports. If there's a change and Neagle doesn't start the game, he most assuredly will get in later.
Two other Anne Arundel County products doing well down on the farm are right-handed pitchers Steve Monson of Chesapeake High School and Rick Forney of Annapolis High School.Monson was recently promoted by the Milwaukee Brewers from their Class A club at Stockton, Calif., where he was 7-2, to AA El Paso, Texas. And he's off to a 1-1 start.
Forney, signed by Orioles scouting supervisor Jim Gilbert after a brilliant season at Anne Arundel Community College, is 2-0 for the Birds' Rookie club at Sarasota, Fla.
In his professional debut, Forney fired a five-inning no-hitter and last Thursday picked up the win by 4-3 over the Gulf Coast Braves.
Two of Forney's former Anne Arundel High School adversaries, Northeast High School graduate Donnie Gilbert and Andover High School alumnusEarl Williams, are still hoping some club will give them a shot at pro baseball.
It's amazing that the two, who are blessed with natural ability to swing the bat with authority, are not off playing down in the bushes.
Playing this summer for the Arundel Stars unlimitedteam -- run by two excellent coaches, Dan Fielder and Larry Schillenberg, who also is Anne Arundel Community College pitching coach -- Williams and Gilbert have combined for 23 dingers in less than 30 games.