Quick jump in center for O's

Newcomer Singleton impresses in a hurry with bat, glove, speed

March 02, 2002|By Roch Kubatko | Roch Kubatko,SUN STAFF

JUPITER, Fla. - Early impressions are tough impressions.

Orioles manager Mike Hargrove uses this reminder to preface his evaluation of new center fielder Chris Singleton. It's a little too soon to draw conclusions on any player, even one who is driving pitches to all fields, chasing down fly balls and running the bases aggressively.

Even one who has outshone every Oriole through two exhibition games.

After stroking a three-run homer to account for all the scoring in Thursday's opener, Singleton doubled in his first at-bat yesterday and raced home on an infield hit. He's making quite an impression, no matter how early.

Singleton's home run, a liner that snuck over the fence in right field, came in his second at-bat with the Orioles after a late January trade with the Chicago White Sox. He hit seven last season, his third year in the majors.

The double went to left-center field and began a two-out rally. Dropped from second to third in the order - Mike Bordick didn't make the trip - Singleton came home on a chopper by Jay Gibbons that deflected off shortstop Orlando Cabrera's glove. He barely beat the throw from second baseman Jose Vidro, punctuating it with a hard slide into catcher Brian Schneider.

"It's two outs, you've got to go hard," he said. "Let's say he does field that ball and he throws it to first base and it short-hops the guy and the guy bobbles it. If you're going hard around the bag, you've got a real good chance to score. In my mind-set, I was going hard. When I came around the bag and saw that he missed it, I'm like, `I'm going to keep going. I've got my momentum going and it's going to be a tough play for them to get me out at home.' "

Try getting him out of the lineup. He'll be penciled into center field every day, allowing Melvin Mora to be used in a utility role.

"I see a professional approach to what he does," Hargrove said. "He's a real quiet guy but works hard, pays attention to details, knows his game and stays within what he does, uses the whole field to hit. He's a professional and he's a very good example for our young kids."

Singleton also has made two running catches in two games, going back on a ball Thursday and sprinting to right yesterday before calling off Gibbons. His defensive skills were the principal attraction for the Orioles, who relinquished their minor-league Player of the Year, Willie Harris, to get him.

"More than anything, I'm motivated internally rather than externally, like, `OK, I've got to show this and show that.' I'm more motivated internally, like, `OK, this is what I want to do.' This is the approach I want to take when I'm up there, even the kind of at-bats I want to have," he said.

"I figure if I do those things, then everything else will take care of themselves. I've kind of got my own thing going on with myself."

Meanwhile, the Orioles have a serious competition going on behind the plate, where catchers Brook Fordyce, Fernando Lunar and Geronimo Gil are fighting for two spots. Hargrove won't declare Fordyce the starter, though he said it's a "safe assumption" that Fordyce wins all ties.

"But I reserve the right to change that assumption," he said.

Gil had no equal yesterday, throwing out two runners attempting to steal and lining a single to right. He also drove a ball to left that barely hooked foul as it cleared the fence.

Acquired from Los Angeles in July, Gil has the highest ceiling among Orioles catchers. He has a stronger arm than Fordyce and is more of an offensive threat than Lunar, but he also has another minor-league option, while Lunar would have to clear waivers. The Orioles were willing to trade Lunar back to Atlanta for B.J. Surhoff this winter, but only if the Braves picked up most of Surhoff's salary.

Hargrove said he's in no rush to make a decision on which catchers he keeps and which is No. 1. "It'll go the entire spring. But every time they do something good, it goes as a point in their favor."

"Gil has some holes as a hitter, but he's got some pop. He hit the heck out of that ball that he pulled foul. If the wind's not blowing, that ball stays fair. He does a lot of things that causes your heart to beat a little faster."

NOTES: Orioles shortstop prospect Ed Rogers remains in the Dominican Republic, and club officials are looking into the possibility that he's as much as three years older than his listed age of 20. Rogers is a top-five prospect, according to Baseball America. ... Left-hander Erik Bedard, who was scheduled to pitch two innings, didn't make the trip because of an illness. John Stephens was bumped up a day and tossed two scoreless innings. ... Two games into their spring schedule, the Expos still haven't used Jose Canseco in the outfield. ... Josh Towers and Rick Bauer will be the first two Orioles pitchers used in today's game against the Dodgers.

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