Pitching, speed could fuel turnaround New manager to get benefit of prime prospects

Baysox preview

April 04, 1997|By Kent Baker | Kent Baker,SUN STAFF

BOWIE -- On the field, things can only improve. Off the field, the improvements are mainly cosmetic.

That is the outlook for the Double-A Bowie Baysox, who enter their third full season at Prince George's Stadium with a roster buttressed by legitimate prospects and a home park that has become a minor-league showplace.

Last summer was a drag for the Baysox, who suffered from a shortage of quality pitching and team speed and stumbled to a 54-88 record, by far the worst in their four-year Eastern League history.

But new manager Joe Ferguson -- who managed Single-A High Desert into the California League playoffs in 1996 -- is optimistic about his current club.

"We've got the best of the best of both High Desert and Frederick [which nearly made the Carolina League playoffs]," said Ferguson, a former Dodgers catcher. "A lot of people are talking about these guys."

Ferguson notes that Bowie will possess "a really good balance of speed and power" in the lineup and a starting rotation with "five of the top arms you ever want to see."

If kept intact, the pitching staff alone should keep the team competitive. Advancing from Frederick are Sidney Ponson (7-6, 3.45 ERA, 28 walks in 107 innings), Julio Moreno (9-10, 3.50, 38 walks in 162 innings), Chris Fussell (5-2, 2.81 ERA before being hurt) and former No. 1 draftee Alvie Shepherd (6-5, 104 strikeouts in 96 2/3 innings).

And from High Desert comes the fifth starter, Steve Montgomery, who progressed rapidly in winter ball under Ferguson, and former Essex Community College reliever Matt Snyder (6-2, 3.75 ERA, 93 strikeouts in 72 innings).

"These kids are pretty mature as far as experience," Ferguson said. "And they have way-above-average fastballs and good off-speed pitches."

The one drawback is that returning reliever Aaron Lane will be the only left-hander on the staff.

Ferguson is convinced the everyday lineup "can manufacture runs even when it's not hitting well."

That's because speed is abundant in outfielders Eugene Kingsale, Wady Almonte and Bryan Bogle, shortstop Augie Ojeda, second baseman Jesse Garcia and even catcher Mel Rosario. Rosario, who had a strong first half under Ferguson, slumped at Bowie because of injuries.

Ojeda, who will be making his pro debut, is a last-minute replacement for returnee Juan Bautista, who fractured a hand late in spring training.

Power? That should come primarily from first baseman Chris Kirgan, who led the minors with 131 RBIs and led the California League with 35 homers, and designated hitter Johnny Isom, who had a Frederick record and Carolina League-best 104 RBIs last season.

The Baysox did well in spring training with "some people who came out of nowhere last year."

Bowie's poor showing on the field hurt attendance slightly last season. The team set a league record in 1995, drawing just fewer than 500,000 customers.

"We had to learn to find creative ways to entertain our fans," general manager John Danos said.

A better club, a more favorable schedule (last year's had 33 home games before June 1) and better weather should enable the Baysox to push the half-million mark again.

Additions to the stadium include an enlarged parking area beyond the left-field fence to accommodate 1,000 autos with access from behind the park, an expanded picnic area and some carnival-type games such as skee-ball.

The Baysox are also expecting to introduce a mascot for the first time and will hold a contest to name it.

"We've added some character," Danos said. "But we're also counting on a good ballclub."

Pub Date: 4/03/97

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