Would move for Buhner hurt O's OF prospects?

BASEBALL

November 20, 1994|By TOM KEEGAN

Scottsdale Scorpions center fielder and Orioles prospect Curtis Goodwin was having his pre-game meal, a cup of soup, when he was given a tip.

L Phil Regan would be in the stands tonight, Goodwin was told.

"Who's that?" Goodwin asked.

When it was obvious Goodwin was not joking, he was asked to name the new manager of the Orioles.

"The pitching coach from the Cleveland Indians, but I don't know what his name is," Goodwin said.

His name, of course, is Phil Regan.

Even if Goodwin doesn't know Regan's name, Regan knows Goodwin's, and has known it for some time. And Alex Ochoa's, Damon Buford's and Sherman Obando's. Maybe even Mark Smith's and Jim Wawruck's.

Everyone in baseball is well aware the Orioles are deep in young outfield talent. But do the Orioles know themselves?

The Orioles are bringing Seattle Mariners free-agent outfielder Jay Buhner to Baltimore for a physical. Buhner will command a minimum of three years and close to $15 million, meaning the Orioles would have an outfield of Brady Anderson, Jeffrey Hammonds and Buhner through 1997, a nice blend of speed, power and arm strength.

The move makes sense for 1995, especially considering that Hammonds' knee reconstruction has placed his season-opening status in jeopardy. But think about 1996.

Ochoa has one of the best outfield arms in the game and projects as a potential No. 3 hitter. Goodwin, a slap hitter who knows how to steal bases and plays a terrific center field, projects as a leadoff hitter. They are not being groomed to sit the bench in the major leagues.

Buford, one of the best center fielders at any level, deserves a shot in 1995. He might even develop into a better hitter than expected, as did Kansas City's Brian McRae. He certainly will not if never given the opportunity.

Buford, Goodwin, Ochoa and Obando, if he progresses beyond Herman Munster-caliber defensively, vying for one outfield vacancy in 1996 would be an ideal competitive situation that could bring out the best in each of them. Yet, if they come to camp with the outfield alignment already set, then they all would be stripped of any incentive to get better. Plus, their trade value would diminish.

Buhner, who has a strong arm, an underrated glove, a powerful bat and a winning attitude, is the best outfielder on the free-agent market. But his wants (a three-year deal) and the Orioles' needs (a one-year outfielder) don't intersect.

A Chicago White Sox strategy is in order here. Sign an outfielder for one year, watch him produce to put himself in line for a big raise, then let him get the raise elsewhere. Ellis Burks filled the role for the White Sox in 1993, Darrin Jackson in 1994.

Someone such as a Milt Thompson could become the Orioles' one-year wonder. The money saved by not signing a top-of-the-line outfielder could be used on strengthening the pitching staff.

Not surprisingly, Goodwin said he would not tie up an outfielder long-term if he were the Orioles.

"Why?" he said. "Unless there's a real big reason to do it. Unless he's all-world, another Ken Griffey, has a great arm, Carl Lewis speed, leaps like Michael Jordan and is real strong, why do it?"

Tired Sackinsky a sleeper

By the time he finishes his duty in the Arizona Fall League, Orioles prospect Brian Sackinsky will have pitched almost 230 ,, innings this season, only 10 coming in April.

When Bowie opened its 1994 season, Sackinsky was the fifth starter, the one skipped when the schedule called for a starter to be skipped. Now, Sackinsky shapes up as the minor-league starting pitcher with the best chance of reaching the big leagues first.

Sackinsky's workload has led to a tired arm, which in turn has led to a tired fastball. Nevertheless, Sackinsky is getting hitters out at the Arizona Fall League.

"This gives me a chance to do some things I might not do if I had my normal zip," Sackinsky said.

One thing Sackinsky is doing is sinking the ball, a pitch that should he perfect it will help him to cut down on his high home run totals.

"It's all starting to come together for me," Sackinsky said. "I'm just now getting to the point where I have confidence in all my pitches and I'm dissecting hitters, pitching to their weaknesses. I'm getting very close to my ultimate goal of pitching in the big leagues. Very close."

Terry Francona, Double-A manager for the White Sox and manager of the Scorpions team for whom Sackinsky pitches, agrees.

"When you throw three pitches for strikes, you've got a chance to have success in the big leagues," Francona said. "It wouldn't shock me to see him there this season."

Ochoa making a splash

Sackinsky's isn't the only Orioles arm to impress Francona. Ochoa's arm strength is among the hottest topics of conversation at the Arizona Fall League.

"He's got a very special arm," Francona said. "You don't see an arm like that too often. The neat thing for me is it's so accurate."

Ochoa, a right fielder, has played some center in Arizona.

"That's been good for me," Ochoa said. "The one thing I need the most work on is going back on balls and I've gotten a lot of work at that playing here."

Ochoa is not assuming anything about where he will start next season.

"I'll just try to have a great camp and if everything falls into place, maybe I have a chance," he said. "If not, I'll go to Triple-A and put up some good numbers."

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