New outlook raises Almonte's stats

Baysox outfielder blossoms after marriage, fatherhood

Minor-league notebook

May 31, 1999|By Kent Baker | Kent Baker,SUN STAFF

A year ago, Wady Almonte's career in the Orioles' farm system was scraping bottom.

He had struck out nine times in 21 official at-bats at Bowie before tearing a ligament in his right elbow April 18 and heading for the disabled list and rehabilitation for the remainder of the season.

But the idle time served Almonte well. He got married and fathered a child, giving him different perspectives, on both baseball and life. When spring training arrived, he realized he was at a crossroads.

"I figured out that this year is very important for me," said the native of the Dominican Republic. "New kids come in every year seeking jobs. I know I have to work hard because I have a family to take care of."

"His whole attitude had changed when he came to spring training," said Baysox manager Joe Ferguson. "His energy level was higher, his thirst for direction was higher. He really wanted to know what was going to make him better and get him to the big leagues."

The application of that new outlook has been evident on the field. Almonte, 24, is finally making an impact in Double-A after two previous flops. And he is looking like the prospect the Orioles thought they had when Carlos Bernhardt signed him as a free agent in 1993.

The outfielder with the cannon-like throwing arm is among the team leaders in batting average, runs, hits, home runs, runs batted in and slugging percentage. His strikeout frequency has been pared to a modest level.

"I think the difference is I'm trying to hit the opposite way now and don't open up as quickly," he said. "I don't have as much trouble with the outside breaking ball and I see the ball a lot better."

Ferguson believes maturity has more to do with it than mechanics.

"Sometimes you have to go all the way to the bottom before you can see a light at the end of the tunnel," he said. "I'm very proud of Wady. He's matured, and that's what you have to be at this level because of the competition. He understands what he has to do."

"I think I'm a different guy than the year before," said Almonte.

Triple-A Rochester

The Red Wings are hoping for a lift from infielder P.J. Forbes, the spark plug of the 1997 Governor's Cup team and a .293 hitter with them last season. Forbes is scheduled to play four positions for the struggling Red Wings after being acquired from the Texas organization for future considerations. Injuries and absences left the Wings without a player on the bench for a doubleheader Thursday. Jesse Garcia is out for 10 days with a sprained wrist, and Lyle Mouton left to be with his wife during the birth of his first son, Cameron. In addition, Jerry Hairston was tossed from one of the games. Before suffering a partial tear of his left rotator cuff, lefty Terry Burrows had retired 31 of 32 left-handed hitters. Two lefties homered off him after the injury. He is out for at least a month. Wings by the numbers: 2-12 during a 14-game home stretch, 1-22 when trailing after six innings, 6-24 when opponents score first, shut out six times. Lack of punch (.237 team average) and base-running miscues have been problems for Rochester, which tops the International League in ERA. Gabe Molina stretched his Triple-A scoreless streak to 13 2/3 innings and has allowed a .174 opponent batting average. Scott Kamieniecki left his latest start after three innings with stiffness in the lower back. Jim Foster has yet to homer and has thrown out only eight of 44 base stealers. The heralded starting infield of Ryan Minor, Calvin Pickering, Hairston and Garcia has started only two games together.

Double-A Bowie

Yesterday, Javier De La Hoya got his eighth victory, the most ever by a Baysox starter by the end of May. It also leads the Eastern League. The Baysox have been beset by injuries, with Scott Gentile going on the disabled list with a strained forearm and Chip Alley (strained ankle), Johnny Isom (quadriceps) and Julio Moreno (slight elbow strain) all in Florida rehabilitating. The club signed veteran pitcher Ron Blazier and former Orioles farmhand Cesar Devarez, who went 5-for-13 in his first four games. Catcher Mike Lopez-Cao was sent to Frederick to make room for Devarez. Tim DeCinces was reinstated after serving three days of a club-imposed suspension. He had three homers in six games before the ban. Augie Ojeda had a 12-game hitting streak end when he had to attempt a sacrifice during his last at-bat. Rick Short hit in 13 of 14 games to climb above .300. Short has played five positions and hit in eight spots in the batting order. Bowie has not been more than two games ahead in the Southern Division, nor more than two games out of first place all season.

Single-A Frederick

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