Pickering gains polish, loses girth Eastern League All-Star overcomes slow start

Minor-league notebook

June 29, 1998|By Kent Baker | Kent Baker,SUN STAFF

He comes with a buildup to match his massive frame and a need to be very careful about how he handles both high expectations and his weight.

So far, Calvin Pickering is handling each issue just fine.

After a spring in which speculation abounded about his response to a jump from a lower Single-A league to the challenge of Double-A baseball, Pickering has buried all the doubts.

"In spring training, I just set my goal to be in AA. I wasn't going to go to Frederick [high Single-A]," said the 6-foot-3, 280-pound Bowie first baseman, now hitting .286 with 11 home runs and 51 RBIs. "There was a lot of pressure on the guys coming from Delmarva, the young and top prospects. You just have to make the adjustments."

Only 21, Pickering is the Orioles' first baseman of the future. He won the Brooks Robinson Award as the organization's Minor Leaguer of the Year in 1996, the first rookie-league player ever chosen.

And last year, after a .197 average in his first month with the Shorebirds, he smashed a system-high 25 homers and had 39 multiple-hit games while hitting .311.

Then, he went to Hawaii to play winter ball for his current manager, Joe Ferguson, and thrived again, batting .301 with a league-high 10 homers.

"Going there was the big thing," said Pickering, who'll represent the Baysox at the Eastern League All-Star Game at New Haven on July 8. "I worked hard on seeing the ball better and began being more patient and relaxing."

Ferguson said, "This guy is driven to hit. He is going to be a big-league hitter because he takes an out very personally."

The Virgin Islands native addressed issue No. 2 last winter by participating in the Duke University rice diet to "learn how to eat right. I did pretty good keeping my weight down and went to spring training in good shape."

Pickering reached his goal, getting assigned to the Baysox. But the inevitable slow start followed (4-for-41 at the plate) and the volume of the questions increased.

But Pickering wasn't worried. "I knew it was just a matter of time," he said. "I was hitting the ball good; it just wasn't finding the holes."

During his boyhood, Pickering played against former pros in the islands, "taking everything serious because a lot of scouts didn't see us down there."

He moved to Florida for his senior year of high school, but still wasn't drafted until the 35th round in 1995. He may turn out to be a steal, particularly if he improves his defense, the one portion of his game that requires refinement.

"I want to be a Gold Glover in the big leagues," he said. "But I have to work on it, especially the throw to second. I'm thinking on it too much and trying to guide the ball."

For Pickering, a very selective hitter for a man with such raw power, the best of the season may be yet to come, though he expects it to come in Bowie.

"There isn't any rush," he said. "I'll be in the big leagues by the time I'm 23. Whenever I get there, I get there."

Rochester Red Wings

Rochester sank into last place in the International League's Northern Division at the halfway point after losing four straight to Toledo. Despite the record, the Red Wings sent three players to the all-star team; starting third baseman Willis Otanez, second baseman P. J. Forbes and unbeaten pitcher Joel Bennett (9-0) . The team released shortstop Mitch Simons, and well-traveled pitcher Dave Fleming. The additions of David Lamb from Bowie and Jesus Tavares from the Orioles made 58 moves for the year. Closer Bobby Munoz allowed no runs in his first 14 outings after returning from Baltimore. Brian Sackinsky is restricted to relief duty as he continues to struggle with arm trouble.

Bowie Baysox

The starting rotation emerged at Bowie with a 2-0 record and 1.82 ERA over a seven-game span as the Baysox scuffled to stay in the playoff race. Matt Snyder was the leader, retiring 42 of 45 PTC batters in one stretch and striking out 26 in 19 innings. Rocky Coppinger rebounded with two strong outings and Nerio Rodriguez pitched two perfect innings on rehabilitation. Radhames Dykhoff lost his first two appearances after undergoing a 12-day layoff with the Orioles. Shortstop Augie Ojeda rejoined the team as the starter after a long recovery from a wrist fracture. Slick-fielding Jesse Garcia committed two errors at shortstop while briefly filling in. Baltimore-born Tim Garland hit safely in his first six games.

Frederick Keys

An infield shake-up took place at Frederick with Ivanon Coffie moving from third base to shortstop, Jerry Hairston from short to second base and Carlos Casimiro from second to third. The Keys finished third in the Northern Division's first half after losing their last three to champion Wilmington and eight of their last 11. The team sent pitcher Americo Peguero to Delmarva, and released pitcher Cameron Forbes and outfielder Miguel Mejia.

Delmarva Shorebirds

No. 1 draftee Darnell McDonald has flourished in the leadoff spot at Delmarva, batting .390 over a 12-game span. He scored 11 runs in seven games. Matt Riley continues to impress on the mound. He has not allowed an earned run in his first 18 innings and opposing batters have hit .098 against him. The pitching overall led the Shorebirds to 16 wins in 19 games and the best record in the South Atlantic League. Outfielder Roberto Rivera hit four homers in five games.

Rookie leagues

Gilberto Bello, converted from catching to pitching at Bluefield, recorded six strikeouts and two saves after 4 2/3 innings. He made one start at third base and went 3-for-7 in a 12-inning game. At Gulf Coast, Tim Raines Jr. went 2-for-3 in his debut with two steals.

Pub Date: 6/29/98

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