The big three

March 31, 2002|By Joe Christensen

Jason Johnson

Age: 28

Height: 6 feet 6

Weight: 219 pounds

Throws: Right

Acquired: In March 1999 trade with the Tampa Bay Devil Rays for Danny Clyburn and Bolivar Volquez.

2001: 10-12, 4.09 ERA

The skinny: An American League scout said Johnson has probably reached his peak already, in terms of his raw ability to pitch. The rest of his improvement will come through experience and refining his skills. "He throws hard and has two or three good pitches," the scout said. "His control's going to get better. On a championship club, I think he could be a No. 3, 4 or 5 starter." Johnson throws a four-seam fastball and has been working on a split-fingered fastball for an off-speed pitch. He pitched 196 innings last year but faded late, probably from fatigue. The Orioles signed him to a two-year, $4.7 million contract in January.

Sidney Ponson

Age: 25

Height: 6 feet 1

Weight: 237 pounds

Throws: Right

Acquired: Signed as non-drafted free agent in 1993 2001: 5-10, 4.94 ERA

The skinny: An American League scout said Ponson would probably be a No. 4 or No. 5 starter for a contending club but still has the potential to become a No. 2. "He's got No. 2 stuff," the scout said. "And he should continue to get better." Another AL scout, commenting on Ponson's burly midsection said, "If he's successful, it doesn't matter. David Wells might be overweight, but he's won 20 games. If he doesn't pitch well, then everyone says it's his weight." Ponson's fastball can reach 94 mph. His slider is improved, and the Orioles are trying to get him to use his changeup more. Ponson struggled through last season with tendinitis in his right forearm. The Orioles keep signing him to one-year deals, and this is probably his make-or-break season. He's eligible for free agency after 2003.

Josh Towers

Age: 25

Height: 6 feet 1

Weight: 188 pounds

Throws: Right

Acquired: Signed as the Orioles' 15th-round draft pick in the 1996 amateur draft 2001: 8-10, 4.49 ERA

The skinny: One AL scout said, "He's like [Greg] Maddux in that he has to be fine with his command or he's going to get hit. He's still a quality guy because he has above-average command. I like his intelligence." Towers went 5-1 with a 1.49 ERA in June but struggled once the hitters adjusted to his style. They knew he would throw strikes because he finished with just 16 walks in 140 1/3 innings. His fastball can reach 91 mph to 92 mph, but it usually registers at about 88 mph. Towers changed the grip on his changeup and curveball this spring, saying it helped make both of those pitches more effective. The good news is he finished with the third-most wins of all AL rookies. The bad news is he went 2-7 with a 6.45 ERA after the All-Star Game.

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