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proving grounds

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nat'l league mvp winner to be announced this afternoon.

cubs apparently on the verge of acquiring juan pierre for a couple of inconsequential minor leaguers. might be a good pickup for them, but i don't think (as many do) he would have been a good fit in st louis. among other things he is not inexpensive, likely to command in the range of $4.5 million this year (his last season of arbitration) and even more in 2007 when he attains free agency -- too much for a guy with a little-league throwing arm and a (in 2005) .680 ops. pierre broke in out here, in denver, and i'd have sworn he's on the dark side of 30, but in fact he just turned 28. he's in roughly the place david eckstein was after last season -- in a trough, couple years removed from his best season (and world series ring), and needing to prove yet again that he possesses enough skills to make a career of it. assuming the deal goes through, my guess is he'll finally solve the cubs' longstanding leadoff-hole problem.

other guys with things to prove and careers to make: the cards inked some minor-league free agents yesterday. never know, might find the next seabol or j-rod among'm. i'm always curious about their journeyman tales -- very young men not that far removed from hometown stardom who despite their great talent have mainly tasted failure as professionals. the most intriguing of the bunch is outfielder prentice redman, 26, a former 10th-rd draft pick of the mets and the younger younger brother of pirates outfielder tike redman. he apparently has great raw athletic ability, including tremendous speed (250 minor-league stolen bases), but he hasn't hit. it may be that the mets mishandled him; redman put up weak numbers in the low minors, showed some promise his 1st year in double a (2002, when he was still only 22), but followed up with a so-so year in 2003 at triple-a -- whereupon the organization seemingly wrote him off. he got shipped back to double-a to start 2004, fought his way back to triple-a by the end of the year, but was back in double-a again last spring. once again he clawed his way onto the triple-a roster, and he finally hit -- .297 / .352 / .461 in 256 at-bats. this two-year-old scouting report projects redman as a serviceable reserve outfielder, and he still has time (witness j-rod) to make good on that. he'll be at memphis; i'll be rooting for him.

also seeking salvation from minor-league purgatory:

catcher michel hernandez, 27: cuban-born right-handed hitter, joined the yankee system at age 19 and moved up to double-a right on schedule. but he must've earned the promotions on the strength of his defense; his ops's barely cracked the 600s in the low minors. he started to hit a little at triple a, which he reached at age 23 and where he has spent the last four years. his line at that level in 1000 plate appearances is .276 / .353 / .368 / .721 -- no power, but enough on-base ability to contribute. assuming (as i am) that he can play defense, those numbers would seem to qualify him for major-league third-stringdom or better. the cardinals apparently think so: they added him to the 40-man. i would expect to see him in st louis at some point next summer.

rhp brad voyles, 28 (career marks: 24-19, 3.06 era, 1.25 whip): didn't play college ball but still was not drafted until the age of 21, and then not until the 45th round. but he had three good years in class a ball and was unhittable out of the bullpen his first half-season in double-a: 32 innings, 19 hits, 44 strikeouts, and an era of 0.56. he capped off the year with 7 appearances for the kansas city royals -- 9 innings, 5 hits, 4 runs. that was in 2001; the following year he split his time between triple-a omaha, where he pitched alright, and kansas city, where he got pasted. same story in 2003 -- 2.99 era at omaha, 7.18 era at kc. in 2004 he became a starting pitcher, and last year he pitched pretty well in 14 starts -- good k/w data, but touched for 15 homers in only 88 innings. his line suggest that he can throw hard; dave duncan and dyar miller have helped guys like this before. if all goes well he might pick up some emergency innings out of the bullpen for st louis.

lhp rich rundles, 24 (career marks: 20-34, 3.53 era, 1.34 whip): a high draft choice (3d round by the boxos) but has moved very slowly through the minors, apparently due to injury -- his 159 innings in 2005 were a career high. has pitched ok at ev'y stop but at 24 still hasn't thrown a single triple-a pitch. appears to be a soft-tossing control specialist -- has allowed more than a hit an inning in his career and struck out just 5.7 guys per 9 innings . . . he regressed slightly last year in his second consec season at double-a harrisburg (eastern league).

lhp sam walton, 27 (career marks: 11-19, 4.93 era, 1.73 whip): is nuke laloooosh -- career strikeout rate exceeds 9 men per 9 innings, but his walk rate is 6.7 men per 9 . . . .mariners drafted him 7th round in 1997; he struggled through 2 years of rookie ball (check out the k/bb rates), then two years of low class a and had just begun his 3d year of same when something went wrong -- either he hurt his arm or simply got frustrated and quit. took off almost three full years, returned to class a in 2004 and was finally effective at that level; but since his promotion to double-a in mid-2004, he's thrown 40 innings with 39 walks and 35 strikeouts . . . . .

rhp john webb, 26 (career marks: 35-33, 3.96 era, 1.32 whip). a cubs draftee (19th round), needed a couple of tries to get the hang of high-a ball, then was so-so in two years of double-a (194 innings, 4.50 era). the d-rays grabbed him off waivers in spring training 2004, and by the end of the year he'd earned a big-league trial. went 10-6 at triple-a this past season with weak peripherals; looks like strictly an organizational player to me.