Orioles in no hole at shortstop with Alexander sitting in wings Player-in-waiting has the tools to spell Ripken

September 18, 1992|By Milton Kent | Milton Kent,Staff Writer

Everything about Manny Alexander says he was born to play shortstop.

He has the speed, the range and the arm. And his hometown, San Pedro de Macoris in the Dominican Republic, is the factory outlet of shortstops, with the San Diego Padres' Tony Fernandez and the Toronto Blue Jays' Manuel Lee and Alfredo Griffin in the majors.

But for now, Alexander's role is to be shortstop-in-waiting, to sit and learn from one of the best ever, Cal Ripken.

"This is my first time being in the big leagues," he said. "I'm trying to be a help for the big guy, Cal Ripken, and learn and maybe in a couple of years, I'll be here and play."

It may not take that long.

Doug Melvin, the Orioles' assistant general manager/director of player personnel, said Alexander likely will spend next season with the Triple-A Rochester Red Wings. Frank Robinson, the Orioles' assistant general manager, agreed. But he left the door open.

"The perfect scenario would be we'd say Manny would start at Triple-A next year," Robinson said. "But those things have a way of changing sometimes. We may get to spring training and things may happen and we may decide that we need him here or we'll keep him here on this ballclub. He's ready."

And Alexander, the organization's most heralded prospect, should certainly be ready by 1994. The question is, will he be ready to supplant Ripken at shortstop?

Manager Johnny Oates has said he wants to give Ripken as much rest as possible next season while preserving his consecutive-games streak. It follows that when Alexander is ready for the majors, the Orioles could use the opportunity to move Ripken out of the most demanding defensive position on the field.

So 1994 could bring the long-rumored shift of Ripken to third base, thus moving Leo Gomez either to first base or to a new ballclub. Or Ripken might go to first base, thus forcing the club to make decisions on Glenn Davis and/or Randy Milligan.

Whatever the case, Manny Alexander looks like the Orioles' shortstop of the 21st century.

Alexander was called up to Rochester for the final week of the season, after Ricky Gutierrez was traded to the Padres as a part of a package for pitcher Craig Lefferts. Alexander was brought to Baltimore last week after Ripken hurt his ankle rounding first on a double.

Oates said this week that Alexander is not likely to get much playing time this season until the American League East race is decided.

"He knows why he's here," Oates said. "He's here as insurance for Junior [Ripken]. Later on, should the game or situation present itself, we'll get him a little bit of experience."

Alexander's value, both in and out of the organization, is high.

Robinson said Alexander's name has been brought up by every club that has been approached or has approached the Orioles in trade talks.

Within the organization, Alexander's stock is so high that the Orioles traded two top shortstop prospects, Juan Bell and Gutierrez, to Philadelphia and San Diego, respectively, to clear the path to the big leagues for him.

Robinson is especially high on Alexander's defensive skills, calling them major-league caliber, even with the 37 errors he committed with the Double-A Hagerstown Suns.

Robinson attributed the high error total to a combination of spotty field surfaces in the Eastern League and inconsistent official scoring.

"He does cover an awful lot of ground and gets to a lot of ground balls and he thinks he can make the plays no matter what," Robinson said.

"I cut the errors in half . . . and I'll say he made 15 or 16 errors. That's not too bad for a young shortstop that's coming along."

But Melvin would like Alexander to work more on fielding.

"Sometimes, plays come very easily for him," Melvin said. "He's got to stay focused on every play. He could be a little more disciplined."

Both Melvin and Robinson agree that the key to Alexander's ascension is his hitting.

"He needs better strike-zone judgment, but he is one of the better young players I've seen at having good instincts both in the field and on the bases," Melvin said.

"He is our true pure shortstop right now," Robinson said. "[Tim] Hulett can play shortstop on a spot basis, but Manny Alexander is the guy you would feel more comfortable with out there in a tough situation."

Alexander's 1992 statistics

0

........ ........ Hagerstown... Rochester

Average...... ......... .259........ .292

Games........ .......... 127........... 6

At-bats...... .......... 499.......... 24

Runs......... ........... 70........... 3

Hits......... .......... 129........... 7

Walks........ ........... 25........... 1

Strikeouts... ........... 64........... 3

Home runs.... ............ 2........... 0

RBI.......... ........... 41........... 3

Steals....... ........... 43........... 2

Caught stealing.......... 12........... 2

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