Despite a disappointing first month of the season, the hopes of Boston Red Sox farm director Kent Qualls remain high for the Augusta GreenJackets in 2000.
"We've obviously got a young team here, but talent-wise, I think we do have good talent here," said Qualls, who is in town to evaluate the Jackets this weekend.
"Just talking with the staff and with (manager Mike Boulanger) they're taking the right approach by trying to stay upbeat. And I think the players are responding. They're coming to work every day, coming to improve every day, and hopefully we can continue to do that and get better as season progresses," Qualls said.
With an average age of 20 years, 10 months, the GreenJackets are one of the youngest clubs in the South Atlantic League. That fact hasn't been lost on Qualls, who is emphasizing the need for patience despite an 11-18 record -- the second-worst mark in the league.
"We want to win and we want to be competitive, no doubt about it," Qualls said. "But right now, we're going to let it play out and see what happens here before we make changes. We believe in the guys that are here and that we've got the right guys here."
Though the team has struggled in the standings, Qualls points to several bright spots on the club after the first month.
The Red Sox on Friday named Jackets starter Brad Baker their minor-league pitcher of the month in April after the 19-year-old right-hander went 3-0 with an 0.83 ERA -- tops in the minors.
"We didn't think he'd get off to this fast a start," Qualls said of Baker, Boston's supplemental first-round pick in the 1999 draft. "As far as believing he could compete here and have a successful season here, we did believe he could do that."
Qualls also is pleased with the promising start by first baseman Luis Garcia, a converted pitcher who leads the club with a .300 average, six home runs and 27 RBI in 110 at-bats.
"He was a pitcher two years ago and hasn't played a position much, so he's been a pleasant surprise, no doubt," Qualls said. "Primarily, he has played the outfield, but is much improved at first base. If he continues to progress there, he'll only add to his value."
Starter Rick Riccobono and the Augusta bullpen -- particularly middle relievers Alex Solano and Michael Rupp and closer B.J. Leach -- has also been a plus.
"To me, at this point, it's more about individual progress," Qualls said. "Bo's got a good game plan in what he's trying to accomplish with each individual. And if each player gets better every day, the team's also going to get better."
Starter Dennis Tankersley, who was placed on the disabled list after being hit in the foot with a line drive in his last start April 29 vs. Cape Fear, will be activated today and make his sixth start of the season vs. Charleston.
The 21-year-old right-hander's injury wasn't as serious as initially thought, but was place on the DL as a precaution. Tankersley, a 38th-round draft pick in 1998, is 0-3 with a 6.55 ERA in 22 innings this season, but is tied for second on the club with 20 strikeouts while allowing only six walks.
Outfielder Angel Mendoza, who batted .263 with seven home runs and 46 RBI in 119 games for the Jackets last season, leads the Red Sox organization in batting with a .329 average for high Class A Sarasota. ... Also at Sarasota, outfielder Tonayne Brown (.261, 45 RBI, 25 steals for Augusta last season), is batting .304 with an organizational best 10 steals. ... At Double-A Trenton, infielder Angel Santos -- named Augusta's player of the year by the Red Sox last September -- is batting .164 with 19 strikeouts in his first 61 at-bats. The native of Puerto Rico, who will not turn 21 until August, is the fifth-youngest player in the Eastern League. ... Right-hander Josh Hancock, who was 6-8 with a 3.80 ERA in 25 starts for Augusta last season, is 2-1 with a 3.03 ERA in six starts at Sarasota.
An informal poll of several SAL managers and coaches indicate that most like the switch from three divisions back to two this season.
The league now has two seven-team divisions, which also affects the playoff structure. Unlike the past four seasons when eight teams qualified for he postseason, only four teams -- the first- and second-half champion in both divisions -- will earn playoff berths in 2000.
The change was implemented to shorten the season and create more balance in each division. The league is also planning to add two more clubs by next season, possibly in Alabama, Kentucky or Virginia.
AROUND THE SAL:
Charleston (S.C.) RiverDogs center fielder Josh Hamilton, the first overall pick in the 1999 draft by Tampa Bay, leads the league in batting with a .413 average through Friday. ... Delmarva Shorebirds left-hander Richard Stahl, a first-round pick by Baltimore in the 1999 draft out of Newton High School in Covington, Ga., is second in the SAL with a 1.44 ERA. ... Hickory first baseman/catcher J.R. House, a fifth-round pick by Pittsburgh last season and former record-setting high school quarterback out of Nitro, W.Va., is second in the league in batting with a .376 average; second in RBI (30) and tied for second in home runs (8). After shattering most of Tim Couch's national prep passing records, House considered signing to play college football with several teams, including Georgia ad Duke, before signing with the Pirates.
Vs.: Charleston (W.Va.) Alley Cats
Where: Lake Olmstead Stadium
When: 2:30 p.m.
Probable starters: Augusta -- RHP Dennis Tankersley (0-3, 6.55 ERA); Charleston -- RHP Rafael Rincones (0-5, 8.63).
Tickets: $7, $6, $5.
Promotion: Family Fun Fest -- Up to six family members pay only $10 for general admission seats.
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