Oates likes first look at Mills

March 02, 1992|By Jim Henneman | Jim Henneman,Staff Writer

SARASOTA, Fla. -- After one look, a few rave reviews and highly favorable first impressions, there is one question that begs to be asked about Alan Mills.

What is he doing in the Orioles' camp?

A 25-year old pitcher who throws 90 mph and is projected as a quality major-league performer isn't supposed to be traded just to make room on the roster. Not for two minor-league players who supposedly haven't even been determined yet.

Mills himself doesn't ask why, he's just happy to be anywhere he has a chance to win a big-league job. "I thought I should have been up [with the Yankees] last year more than I was," he said after his first day in an Orioles' uniform. The Orioles were able to obtain Mills two days ago because the Yankees had only a few hours left to trade him after having designated him for assignment 10 days before. They had to make room for third baseman Charlie Hayes, obtained from the Phillies in a deal made five weeks ago but not announced just before training camp began because the Yankees had to create a spot on their 40-man roster.

Unable to make a deal, the Yankees ultimately designated Mills as the one to go. The Orioles had to do the same thing with Francisco de la Rosa in order to add Mills. The Yankees will get two players in return, one reportedly off the Orioles' major-league roster.

But, if Mills has the potential everyone says he has, this is a very intriguing trade.

"There has to be reasons why he hasn't been able to stay in the big leagues," admitted pitching coach Dick Bosman after watching Mills for the first time. "If you throw that hard and you're not in the big leagues, obviously you're not in command of your pitches.

"He's got arm strength and he's got velocity -- and when you have those two things you've got a pretty good chance of having a good breaking pitch," said Bosman. "And he showed a hard slider."

Mills came to the Orioles with nothing but praise from the Yankees, which means they either made a serious mistake or are overloaded with young pitching talent. "I've been in their camp since Feb. 15, knowing I was going someplace else for the last 10 days," said Mills. "It was a funny feeling, but you have to stay focused on the job at hand."

A lot of the Orioles weren't even aware of the trade when they saw Mills for the first time. "To tell you the truth, I didn't know who he was," said Glenn Davis, the first batter to face Mills in batting practice.

"He throws the ball very, very good," said veteran catcher Rick Dempsey, who caught Mills during batting practice. "Who did we give up to get him?"

That, of course, could be the key to this trade, but Orioles' officials don't seem too concerned that they are over-paying for potential.

"You could see from the reaction of the hitters, they had that smile on their face, that he has good stuff," said manager John Oates, an interested observer. "What surprised me was how many strikes he threw. For a guy with a history of being wild, I thought he threw the ball over the plate with a lot of consistency."

The Orioles aren't ready to make a spot on their opening-day roster for Mills, at least not just yet, but will be trying to answer some of the question in the next month. "How long will it take to get to know him?" Bosman repeated a question. "Probably the rest of spring training.

"That's enough time to determine if he should be on this staff or not," said Bosman. "The first thing I look for is mechanics, and after one look I'd say he's pretty good. There will be some things I'll suggest."

Bosman is among those anxious to find out why somebody with Mills' reported talent would be available relatively cheap. "Maybe it's mental," Bosman said. "Maybe he nibbles too much. Maybe he doesn't trust his stuff enough. Maybe he gives the hitters too much credit. Those things are common with young pitchers -- and that's what we have to find out."

In the meantime, the addition of Mills to the bullpen is also an indication that the Orioles aren't completely comfortable with what was the strongest part of their pitching staff a year ago. Mike Flanagan, Todd Frohwirth and Jim Poole were a big part of the bullpen's success last season. The first two were non- roster invitees to camp and Poole was obtained on waivers from Texas, under circumstances similar to Mills.

"I don't take anything as a given, and certainly one-year doesn't make a given," Oates said about his relievers. "We still need depth in our bullpen in case of injuries, or if somebody doesn't pitch."

The Orioles are counting heavily on Flanagan, Frohwirth and Poole, who is currently sidelined with a sore shoulder, but can't bet the ranch that they'll all duplicate last year's performance.

Mills has an option left, so he could start the season in Rochester. But it's apparent the Orioles consider him a legitimate candidate to make their staff.

If he does, Mills could force a trade, which veteran Mark Williamson believes would involve him. For the moment, the Orioles won't acknowledge that they are pursuing any more deals.

However, the makeup of the roster practically dictate they explore all possibilities.

In the meantime, the Orioles will try to find answers to the questions about Mills.

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