The Augusta GreenJackets are next-to-last in the South Atlantic League with a .233 average, last in in runs (506) and on-base percentage (.294) entering the final weekend of the season.
But hitting coach Guadalupe "Jabi" Jabalera said the stats don't begin to tell the story of the great strides his students have made in 2002.
"In this league, you don't care about what they do now because they're so young," said Jabalera, who is closing out his first season as a coach in the United States after five seasons with the Boston Red Sox's program in the Dominican Republic.
"It's about work and getting their respect and confidence, and getting them to trust you like a friend. We have a beautiful relationship. I love those guys, and they don't know how well they're doing."
For many of the players, the feeling for Jabalera is mutual. They appreciate the 38-year-old coach's patience and commitment to helping them develop as professional hitters.
"I can see all the hard work with Jabi this season starting to pay off," said Jackets third baseman John Hattig, whose average has jumped from .251 on July 23 to .280 entering Saturday.
"The most important thing for me is to give them confidence and get them to trust you," Jabalera said. "These guys are my best friends. I spend more time with those guys than my family. You've got to be nice to them and get them to trust you and be ready to help when they need you. That is what I try to do."
FUTURE STAR: Pencil in Hanley Ramirez as the GreenJackets shortstop in 2003.
By all indications, you also can pencil him in as an early candidate for the South Atlantic League All-Star team.
For an organization devoid of position prospects, the Red Sox believe they have an emerging superstar in Ramirez, and a look at the numbers makes it easy to see why. Not since Nomar Garciaparra have the Red Sox been this fired up about a position prospect.
Making his Rookie-ball debut this season, Ramirez, 18, hit .341 with six home runs and 26 RBI in 45 games in the Gulf Coast League. He was promoted to short-season A Lowell Aug. 12, and is tearing up the New York-Penn League, batting .427 with 10 extra-base hits and 17 RBI in 17 games.
The Red Sox signed him as a switch hitter, but he now bats exclusively from the right side, which Red Sox assistant farm director Ben Cherington said has been the key to his success.
Former GreenJackets manager Mike Boulanger calls Ramirez the top prospect he has seen in three years with the Red Sox.
PUDGE II: If you're trying to find career stats and a bio on GreenJackets catcher Carlos Aleman in the Red Sox media guide, don't waste your time.
Before this season, Aleman was known as Ivan Rodriguez. He didn't switch names to avoid being confused with the all-star catcher with the Texas Rangers. He had no choice.
He was born Carlos Aleman on Dec. 21, 1979 in the Dominican Republic. But when he signed with the Red Sox in 1998, he took the Rodriguez alias and used a false birthdate that made him appear 17, not 19.
Like hundreds of other Latin American players, Aleman believed he would be more valuable if he was believed to be younger. He is one of more than 300 players (including Jackets outfielder Danny Figueroa) whose age discrepancies - and false identities in some cases - were discovered in the wake of Sept. 11. Heightened security and stricter visa regulations revealed that many players throughout the minor leagues are older than originally thought.
But the Red Sox still think highly of Aleman, who was promoted to Augusta from Lowell on Aug. 20, and is hitting .250 in four games with the Jackets.
His new teammates seem to be getting a kick out of having him around. The Jackets call him "Pudge," and tease him about having impeccable taste when it comes to identity theft.
"When you ask him for his autograph, make sure he signs it 'Ivan Rodriguez' because then it will be worth something," Jackets manager Arnie Beyeler said.
Reach Rob Mueller at (706) 823-3425.
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