Will shot turn into fadeaway? Orioles: Ex-basketball star Ryan Minor was once the next big thing. Now, he prepares for spring training wondering what's next.

February 04, 2000|By Roch Kubatko | Roch Kubatko,SUN STAFF

If he finds too large a crowd at third base this spring, Ryan Minor says, he'll gladly take some throws at first. Anything to get on the field. Anything to get inside the batter's box.

Anything to show the Orioles he shouldn't be fading from their plans.

There was a time not long ago when Minor didn't need to worry about such things, a time when he ranked among the organization's top prospects despite limited baseball experience. Learning on the job, Minor tore through the South Atlantic League while playing for Single-A Delmarva in 1997, and talk of his replacing Cal Ripken already had started to mount.

Soon after, so did some doubts.

As Ripken embarks on what might be the final season of his glorious career, Minor no longer is assured of taking the baton at third. Though nobody else in the organization has raced ahead of him at the position, Minor appears to have moved a few steps back. He's coming off two straight uneven seasons at Double-A Bowie and Triple-A Rochester, and failed to distinguish himself in 46 games with the Orioles last summer.

Asked whether he still believes he's in good standing within the organization, Minor said: "It's in the back of your head where you have doubts, but I think so. I'm going to work hard and show them I'm willing to do whatever it takes to play here. But if they have other feelings, it's up to them. I can't control that. I don't know if there's any other [prospects] in the organization who play third. I'd like to think I'll be given an opportunity to play. If they go out and sign a free agent, we'll know."

Minor, 26, joined an enthusiastic group of minor-leaguers who worked out at Camden Yards for two weeks in January. Among a gathering that included prized left-handed pitcher Matt Riley and two first-round picks from June's draft, outfielders Keith Reed and Larry Bigbie, Minor garnered his share of attention from club officials eager to get an early glimpse before spring training.

"He looks in good shape," said Don Buford, the newly appointed director of minor-league operations, after watching Minor hit in the indoor cage. "I'm excited for him because now he's had a few years in the minor leagues and certainly this will be a pivotal year for him if he's in Triple-A. And I think he's ready to accept the task and prepare himself for future years."

Minor seems resigned to beginning another tour with Rochester, where he batted .256 with 21 homers and 67 RBIs in 101 games last year. Ripken appears to have made a full recovery from lower-back surgery in September, and Jeff Conine will be taking grounders at third this spring along with utility infielder Jesse Garcia.

"It's up to management, what they think, but I still think I'm fine as far as my development," said Minor, who hit .194 with three homers in two stints with the Orioles last season. "The only thing I can do is go back to the minors and play some more. There really aren't a whole lot of spots here in the big leagues this year. But I'm going to try to win a job. That's my main goal.

"With a new manager [Mike Hargrove], you want to go down there and let him know you can play a little bit and try to win a job. I'll compete and do the best I can. I'll work hard, and if I have to go to Rochester, I'll go down there with a good attitude and not worry about it just because I'm not in the big leagues."

Some club officials were bothered that Minor wasn't in the winter leagues. He married on Oct. 30, and attempts to play somewhere never panned out.

Already behind other players his age because of his early endeavors in basketball, where he was a college All-American as a junior at Oklahoma, Minor can't afford to have his progress slowed anymore.

"I was looking to play in several places," he said. "It was tough to get in any place this year, so I stayed at home and worked on my family.

"I tried to keep in shape as much as possible. I worked out with my brother [Damon] for a couple weeks in Oklahoma. I really like to have the winter off just to relax from a long summer. With winter ball, sometimes you get something out of it and sometimes you don't. A lot of times, you're ready to come home. You're down there and you're tired and you start playing tired and can develop bad habits that way."

Buford isn't critical of Minor's winter agenda, but he stops well short of endorsing it.

"I always felt playing winter ball was an asset," Buford said. "The individual player has to go there with a sheer determination that it's going to benefit him in the long run. I played winter ball. One year I had over 1,000 at-bats. The next year, I didn't go back to the minor leagues. You become more knowledgeable of the pitching you're going to face.

"He's never really wanted to play winter ball, and that's not necessarily detrimental. I think it's an asset, but it's something he just didn't like doing."

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