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03-31-2006, 04:14 AM
03-31-2006, 09:16 AM
The Bats' most powerful bat
Slugger Stratton hopes he's finally put injuries behind him
By Brian Bennett
SARASOTA, Fla. — Attention all Louisville Bats fans who sit in the outfield bleachers, order a hot dog on the patio deck or park their cars just outside the gates:
Be on alert this season. Rob Stratton is healthy again.
There are few places in and around Louisville Slugger Field that can't be reached by Stratton, whose mammoth home runs during batting practice and games have earned him near-mythic status. It's fitting, then, that this epic slugger would be felled by an actual Achilles' heel.
The 28-year-old outfielder burst into Louisville late in 2004, signing as a free agent in July and blasting 12 home runs in 34 games. But he missed stretches with tendinitis in both his left and right Achilles' tendons.
Stratton wowed the Cincinnati Reds' brass last year in spring training by hitting four home runs in big-league camp. But just eight games into the Triple-A season he tore the left Achilles' tendon. Less than a month after the first surgery he tripped on one of his crutches getting into bed and tore the tendon again. An infection ensued, and he ended up having five surgeries in three months.
"It's been a tough couple of years," Stratton said. "But I'm through them now, and I want to see if I can stay healthy this year."
Stratton has hit 16 home runs in just 42 games as a Bat. That projects to 54 long balls over a full 144-game Triple-A season.
Huge power numbers aren't new to Stratton, who hit 32 home runs at Albuquerque in 2003 and hit a combined 30 between Binghamton and Norfolk in 2001. New Bats third baseman Earl Snyder, one of the International League's top power hitters the past few seasons, said nobody smashes the ball quite like Stratton.
"I'd hear people say, 'This guy has a lot of pop,' or 'This guy hits the ball a long way,' " said Snyder, who played with Stratton for four years in the New York Mets system.
"And every year I'd say, 'Listen. There's a guy I played with, and you have no idea how strong he is or how far he can hit a ball.' "
The problem was, Stratton always used to strike out a lot and hit for a crummy average. In mid-2004, though, he shortened his stance, and the difference was dramatic. He batted .353 the rest of the way in Louisville and hit .308 in last season's short run.
But will the Achilles' problems threaten his career? Stratton doesn't think so.
He said the injury stemmed from a twisted ankle in late 2004 that never fully recovered. He took a cortisone shot and tried to play through it, which was a bad idea.
He also thinks he put too much pressure on his feet by reporting to camp last year around 285 pounds. That was the result, he said, of not being able to train often after shoulder and elbow surgery in the fall of 2004.
The 6-foot-2 Stratton now checks in at about 260 pounds.
"I can't sit there and pinpoint one thing that was the cause of (the injury)," he said. "I'm sure it was a conglomeration."
The Reds re-signed him in the off-season despite the medical history but did not invite him to big-league camp.
"That's the way it is in baseball," he said. "You get hurt, and people pass you. Now I'm back trying to catch up. But I do feel like the Reds believe I'm a big-league player if I can stay healthy."
Stratton started running again in December and said he now feels 100 percent. The tendon still feels a little tight when he wakes up but gets loose as he moves around.
"He looks great," Bats manager Rick Sweet said. "He's been swinging well and playing good defensively."
With Louisville facing American League affiliates in its first 16 games this season, Sweet probably will use Stratton at designated hitter as an extra precaution. But Stratton pronounced himself "ready to go any time."
Those of you in the outfield seats have been warned.
Aaron Holbert, the Bats' team captain the past two seasons, underwent surgery yesterday to repair a torn meniscus in his right knee. The injury was discovered Tuesday night. The recovery time is 7-10 days, and Holbert said he should be ready to go shortly after the April 6 season opener.
The Reds optioned infielders Matt Kata and William Bergolla and relief pitcher Brian Shackelford to Triple-A yesterday morning.
03-31-2006, 09:21 AM
Bats look to have rare depth in '06
Reds have stockpiled former big-leaguers
By Brian Bennett
SARASOTA, Fla. -- Perhaps the Cincinnati Reds are planning on fielding two Triple-A affiliates this summer. Or maybe they're assembling the first Quadruple-A team in history.
That's what the Reds' roster-stuffing suggests, anyway. In the past few days alone Cincinnati has signed major league veterans Alex Sanchez and Terrence Long to minor league contracts, further crowding an already jammed outfield picture for the Louisville Bats.
"You look on paper, and we almost have two Triple-A teams," Bats outfielder Chris Denorfia said. "You can't ask for anything more from an organizational standpoint to have that kind of depth."
Depth isn't always good for players such as Denorfia, however. The 25-year-old was named the organization's minor league Player of the Year after skyrocketing through Double-A Chattanooga and Louisville, where he hit .310 in 91 games. He batted .263 in a brief big-league trial and starred in the prestigious Arizona Fall League.
Many thought Denorfia would make the Reds as a fourth outfielder, but even after a good spring he was sent back down to Louisville. Quinton McCracken, a late addition by new Cincinnati general manager Wayne Krivsky, likely will grab the fourth outfield spot after another candidate, Dewayne Wise, suffered an ankle injury last week.
The Reds still have several cuts to make before this weekend, with Andy Abad, Jacob Cruz, Frank Menechino, Matt Kata and spring phenom Brian Buchanan (.606 camp batting average) battling for the final big-league bench spots. The Louisville roster could change considerably depending on those moves.
"We have a variety of options," Louisville manager Rick Sweet said. "But we have no idea what the big-league club is going to do, so we don't even know what our options really are."
Sweet already has Denorfia and Rob Stratton penciled in as outfielders. He also has five-year major league veteran Timo Perez, who won a World Series ring with the Chicago White Sox last season. Perez recently left camp to attend to a visa issue in his native Dominican Republic, so his status for opening day is uncertain.
Then there's Long, who has played the past six seasons in the majors, and Sanchez, a speedster who was the first player to test positive under baseball's new performance-enhancing drug policy last year while with Tampa Bay. Both players probably will stay in Sarasota to get in shape for a couple of weeks before potentially heading to Louisville.
No wonder the Reds cut ties this spring with former International League MVP outfielder Raul Gonzalez, who signed instead with Indianapolis.
"We have a ton of guys," Sweet said. "The talent is very, very good."
The only settled everyday positions for Louisville are the corner infield spots, where rookie Jesse Gutierrez will play first base and slugger Earl Snyder will man third. The middle infield remains a question mark because of injuries to Ray Olmedo and William Bergolla. Two-time team captain Aaron Holbert and Jeff Bannon will fill in as needed. The Bats have two catchers in Steve Torrealba and John Castellano, but that could change with four catchers currently in Reds camp.
Why all the Triple-A caliber players? This off-season the Reds stressed adding depth to their farm system, which particularly was lacking in position-player prospects. And when Krivsky replaced Dan O'Brien in February, he added players he knew and liked to spring training.
"I think it shows that the Reds are making a conscious effort to get better by bringing in some ballplayers who can help them in the long run," Holbert said. "If they need somebody, they can bring up a guy with experience instead of not really having a clue who to choose if something goes wrong."
And all that veteran talent should only help the Bats' fortunes this season.
"Looking around at who's here, you can't help but think we're going to win 80 to 85 games," Denorfia said. "It will be fun to be on a team that's able to compete at that level."
One area in which the Bats lack depth is the coaching staff. Alonzo Powell was slated to be Sweet's bench coach this season but instead will serve as the hitting coach at Dayton. New pitching coach Lee Tunnell has been working with the big-league club as Reds pitching coach Vern Ruhle deals with cancer. Sweet said former Reds star Mario Soto likely will begin the year in Louisville to work with Bats pitchers.
03-31-2006, 12:32 PM
This "rare depth" article is probably great for Bats fans, but seeing so many past-prospect-age veterans clogging up your AAA roster is not so good if you're thinking about future major-league talent.
Besides, Sanchez is being made to start at High-A because of the layoff and Perez, last I heard, can't play in games where admission is charged.
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