Baysox's Ojeda tunes up his hitting Shortstop knows good bat is his ticket to majors

Minor-league notebook

August 10, 1998|By Kent Baker | Kent Baker,SUN STAFF

The first thing one notices about Augie Ojeda is his almost-flawless glove work.

Bowie's shortstop rarely makes a blunder in the field and has been named the best defensive infielder in the Orioles' farm system by Baseball America.

"He doesn't have great range, but he's got a quick first step, moves to the ball nicely, charges quickly and is very sure-handed. If he gets his hands on it, it's an out," said Baysox manager Joe Ferguson.

That's all well and good, but this is the 1990s and Ojeda knows that slick glove men are common in the middle of the infield. It's going to take some offense to get him to the major leagues.

"My defense overshadows my hitting, I know that," said Ojeda, a Los Angeles native who was drafted on the 13th round in 1996. "A shortstop's focus, his bread and butter, should be his defense.

"But I concentrate a lot on my offense. These days most middle infielders are bigger and stronger and hitters. You've got to hit to move."

That's why Ojeda is, indeed moving. After some struggles at Bowie last year, he got his bat together with a .344 average after being sent to Single-A Frederick and hasn't stopped contributing since.

He had a combined .303 average at three levels last season and is in the same neighborhood now. Not bad for a guy listed at 5 feet 9 in the press guide -- clearly a stretch up close.

"Augie has gotten his share of hits. He can move the ball around with pretty good bat control," said Ferguson. "I see him playing somewhere in the bigs."

Ojeda got a late start this season after feeling a sharp pain while taking a swing in a March exhibition game. A month later, he was found to have a fractured hamate bone, which was removed by surgery April 24.

After returning in June, he had trouble batting left-handed (he's a switch-hitter) because of the scar tissue. Now, he feels comfortable from both sides.

A three-year college player, including one at the University of Tennessee, Ojeda was a member of the bronze-winning 1996 U.S. Olympic team in Atlanta.

"That was a dream come true," he said. "Fifty thousand people chanting USA, USA, every game. It was indescribable."

Triple-A Rochester

The Orioles are experimenting with Willis Otanez, Rochester's Otanez slugging third baseman, at first. Otanez has a career high in home runs and is second in the International League in homers and RBIs. Everett Stull had an 0-3 record and 13.29 ERA as a starter; as a reliever, he is 1-0 and has allowed only one earned run in 10 innings (0.90). Eugene Kingsale got his first game-winning hit last week, a double in the 11th inning. Julio Vinas, the Red Wings' top hitter, is sidelined by a pulled hamstring. Orlando Miller, who was hitting .292, was released to make room for P. J. Forbes on the roster. With 14 home games left, Rochester had a shot at reaching 500,000 in attendance despite having a last-place team.

Double-A Bowie

Calvin Pickering is on track to break the Bowie records for home runs (four short of Otanez) and RBIs (11 shy of Johnny Isom and Billy Owens). He heads the Eastern League in RBIs, two ahead of 1997 Baysox first baseman Chris Kirgan of New Haven. Bowie is struggling to make the league playoffs and entered yesterday's games 5 1/2 games behind second-place Trenton in the Southern Division. Jerry Hairston has hit safely in all but one game he has played at Bowie. After returning from Frederick, Rick Short knocked in runs in five straight games.

Single-A Frederick

The Keys' offense has tailed off, but not Tim DeCinces. The son of former Oriole Doug DeCinces had a 14-game hitting streak and batted .371 in a 16-game span, including 9-for-15 with men in scoring position. Josh Towers continues to have the best control in the Carolina League. He has walked only nine all season, one in the second half. In five starts covering 32 innings, he walked none. Joel Stephens, recovering from colon cancer, was working out with the team but had to leave after a recent physical exam. He returned home. Brian Falkenborg has begun throwing again after missing more than 1 1/2 months with elbow problems.

Single-A Delmarva

Matt Riley, who joined the Shorebirds on June 7, took over the team lead with 100 strikeouts in 58 innings. Yet he has dropped four straight decisions despite a 1.55 ERA. Delmarva remained in control of its destiny with an eight-game lead in the wild-card race and 23 to play before the postseason. The Shorebirds weathered a four-game losing streak, their longest of the year. Brian Hughes, up from Gulf Coast, started 18-for-33 (.545) and hit his first pro homer. Daren Hooper broke the club strikeout record set last year by Pickering. Hooper has 140. The activation of Brandon Huntsman (sore back) gave Delmarva a full 25-man roster. Carlos Medina had 27 strikeouts over a 14-inning span after returning from a suspension.

Rookie leagues

Top draftee Rick Elder is off to a nice start at Gulf Coast, which is battling for a playoff spot. Elder had the only two hits in a game won by the Orioles, 3-2, when they were hit by Rangers pitchers six times. He batted .303 through his first 18 games. Bluefield's Sonny Garcia was named organization pitcher of the month for July after going 3-1 with a 1.95 ERA. He tops the Appalachian League in ERA and is averaging almost 13 strikeouts per nine innings.

Pub Date: 8/10/98

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