O's learn Bautista is 23 instead of 21

Orioles notebook

Difference revealed when prospect applied for visa

February 21, 2004|By Roch Kubatko | Roch Kubatko,SUN STAFF

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. - The Orioles have discovered that minor league pitcher Denny Bautista, their prized acquisition in the August trade that sent Jeff Conine to the Florida Marlins, is two years older than his listed age.

Bautista, who immediately joined a select group of top pitching prospects in the organization after the deal, was born on Aug. 23, 1980. His birth date was listed as Oct. 23, 1982.

The Orioles learned of the discrepancy after Bautista, who lives in the Dominican Republic, applied for his work visa in the United States.

"It's not a big deal," said Jim Beattie, the Orioles' executive vice president of baseball operations. "It changes the perspective a little bit, but at the same time, it's a young arm that throws well. This goes on all the time."

The Orioles also discovered that shortstop Jose Morban, who most likely will join Bautista at Double-A Bowie, is two months older than listed when they acquired him last March and kept him on the roster all season as a Rule 5 selection. Morban was born in 1979.

Bautista, Morban and pitcher Eddy Rodriguez, who ended last season at Triple-A Ottawa, aren't expected to arrive in Fort Lauderdale before March 1 because of delays in securing their visas. It doesn't appear that Rodriguez's listed age of 22 has changed.

"We're trying to figure out why this happens," Beattie said. "Some of these visas, we applied for in November."

Foreign-born players have come under greater scrutiny when leaving their native countries since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. Ed Rogers, once a highly regarded shortstop prospect in the Orioles' organization, was found to be 2 years older during the 2002 spring training.

The Marlins were reluctant to part with Bautista in last year's trade, which also included minor league pitcher Don Levinski in exchange for Conine. He went 8-4 with a 3.21 ERA at Single-A Jupiter and 4-5 with a 3.71 ERA at Double-A Carolina last season, and also threw a scoreless inning in the Futures Game in Chicago.

The Orioles rate Bautista's overhand curveball and upper-90s fastball as above-average major league pitches.

Bautista is 28-20 with a 3.54 ERA in four professional seasons.

The age change "doesn't take away from the fact that the guy throws in the high 90s and has two outstanding pitches," Beattie said. "It changes what you think he's going to look like when he's a little more mature. He's a tall, skinny kid - 6-5, about 175 pounds. He may be like Ramon Martinez, which is OK. We can live with that."

New fit for J. Lopez

After reporting to his new spring training home yesterday, ahead of the majority of pitchers and catchers on the Orioles' roster, Javy Lopez slipped on a pair of white uniform pants that were too loose around the waistband.

He barely had gotten through the clubhouse doors, and Lopez already felt strange in another team's uniform.

That probably would have been true even if his attire had been perfectly tailored.

A man doesn't spend 12 seasons with the same club, as Lopez did in Atlanta, and not go through an adjustment period after changing organizations and leagues.

"It's weird to come here and not know everybody," he said. "It's very different."

Lopez disappointed his new bosses by missing FanFest earlier this month at the Baltimore Convention Center. He spent the weekend with his children in Atlanta, the last chance for them to be together until the All-Star break, and his absence became a bigger annoyance to the Orioles when they couldn't reach him.

Because his cell phone was accidentally left at his California home, Lopez didn't receive any messages from the team until his fiancee mailed it to him.

"It was a big confusion," he said. "People didn't know where I was. It's not going to happen again. I don't think I've ever missed a FanFest."

Fresh start for R. Lopez

If Rodrigo Lopez was going to view his successes in 2002 as part of the learning process, he'd have to do the same with his failures in 2003.

The Orioles' starter on Opening Day, Lopez lost 10 of his 17 decisions, spent six weeks on the disabled list with a strained oblique muscle and got off to a rough start in the Mexican Winter League.

"I have to put everything behind me. Last year wasn't my year," said Lopez, who went 15-9 two years ago to establish himself as the staff ace.

"I had bad numbers, but it still was a really good experience for me, with a lot of things that I can learn for years to come. My first year, everything worked good for me. I didn't have a chance to see myself in the difficult times."

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