Baysox's Hammonds waits turn, knowing O's aren't far away


April 16, 1993|By Kent Baker | Kent Baker,Staff Writer

Throughout his baseball career, Jeffrey Hammonds has preferred to wear a single digit on his back. That number usually has been 5.

But, as a member of the Orioles' organization, he has been forced to abandon his first preference.

"Unfortunately, that one's up in the rafters," said the team's No. 1 draft choice from last summer. "It belonged to Brooks Robinson. I'm just with the wrong team to wear 5. Because 7 wasn't taken, I grabbed it."

Many in the organization think it is only a matter of time before Hammonds makes the short trek from tonight's Bowie Baysox home opener at Memorial Stadium to the Orioles at Camden Yards.

"We're very pleased at this stage, that we were able to get a talent like him," said Doug Melvin, the Orioles player personnel director and an assistant general. "We don't want to put %J pressure on him, but he has All-Star potential.

"You could almost say he's a Rickey Henderson type, or a cross between Brady Anderson and Mike Devereaux," Melvin said. "He can bring excitement to a team like those guys with his defensive ability, athleticism and combination of skills to hit homers and steal bases."

How soon could Hammonds make the jump to the majors? Maybe by midsummer, depending on what happens with the Orioles, particularly in right field, where manager Johnny Oates is trying a platoon of Luis Mercedes, Chito Martinez and Sherman Obando.

Hammonds can wait.

"People keep asking me if I'm disappointed and mad because of where I am. I'm flattered by that attention, but I'm not quite as comfortable with my play as I want to be.

"The reason is not for me to know. All I can do is be a team player, and, when the time is right, it will be evident."

bTC Melvin said that when the time comes, it's possible Hammonds will skip Triple-A Rochester and go straight to the Orioles.

"We've discussed a little about a timetable, but we think the best thing is to let him play and his performance will dictate when we reach down for him," Melvin said.

"Bowie is a good place for him right now. Some good quality first-round collegiate position players made the jump from Double-A to the big leagues [including Frank Thomas and Robin Ventura]. He won't necessarily have to go to Triple-A. A lot of things will be taken into consideration before we make a move, including what's happening at Rochester."

Hammonds bypassed the start of his professional career last summer to play center field for the U.S. Olympic team in Barcelona. He led the fourth-place Americans with a .414 batting average and .586 slugging percentage.

He said he has no regrets about waiting for the pros. It was the second time he had made that decision.

As a high school player in Scotch Plains, N.J., he was chosen by the Toronto Blue Jays in the ninth round of the 1989 draft. He would have gone higher, but everyone in baseball knew he was '' committed to attending Stanford.

"Still, Toronto made a very good try," Hammonds recalled. "At the time, coming out of high school, $250,000 was a lot of money. But we had to pass."

Waiting paid off handsomely. With the Orioles three years later, he received approximately $1 million as the fourth player picked in the draft.

Baltimore fans received only one glimpse of Hammonds before he departed on the Olympic circuit. He went 2-for-4 with two stolen bases against Korea during a pre-Olympic tour game at Camden Yards on July 11. He signed that night amid considerable fanfare.

Hammonds called that game "an energizer. The contract had been hanging over my head, and I wasn't swinging the bat well then. But my family watched that game, and it turned out to be the turning point of my summer."

In the major-league camp as a non-roster player this spring, he went 7-for-17 (.412) with a pinch-hit home run, six runs and four RBI in 11 exhibition games.

"He didn't do anything to hurt himself," said Oates.

Upon joining the Baysox later in the spring, Hammonds continued his tear, going 6-for-9 with four runs scored and three RBI against Double-A competition.

In the first six games of the regular season, Hammonds is batting .407 with a home run and four RBI. Clearly, he is in a higher league.

Baysox manager Don Buford said he would like to keep Hammonds on his roster all season and concedes that if he loses his center fielder, it probably will be to the Orioles.

"I wouldn't see any reason why he'd have to go to Triple-A," said Buford. "This [Eastern League] is a pretty tough league. But what happens depends on how it goes upstairs."

"I never felt I couldn't compete at that level," Hammonds said of the majors. "I had the opportunity to show the staff what I was about."

Buford said Hammonds has the arm strength to play any of the three outfield positions and is a selective hitter who doesn't chase bad pitches.

Hammonds' history at the plate is one of contact. He struck out six times in 184 at-bats at Stanford last year and 12 times in 265 plate appearances in 1991. He finished his college career with a .353 batting average, 27 homers and 151 RBI in 174 games. An aggressive base runner, he also had 120 collegiate steals.

Hammonds, a one-season teammate of Mike Mussina's at Stanford, said he is eager to play at Memorial Stadium.

"I walked into that yard, and I could see a lot of history seeping out," he said. "Both Don [Buford] and Frank Robinson hit when we worked out. I'm looking forward to seeing the park coming alive again."


Opponent: London Tigers

Site: Memorial Stadium

Time: 7:05

Radio: WERQ (1010 AM)

Tigers starter: Felipe Lira (0-0, 1.80)

Baysox starter: Jose Mercedes (0-0, 3.00)

Tickets: Many general admission remain.

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