Weeks looking strong for '08
Yost: Breakout season for Rickie Weeks "almost a done deal"
Brewers manager Ned Yost believes Rickie Weeks is poised for a breakout season in 2008.
"I consider it almost a done deal," Yost, whose sixth spring camp as Brewers manager opens this weekend, told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. "It's just a matter of time. You saw what he can do in August and September last year. It was unbelievable, the difference in how he swung the bat."
Struggling to recover from right wrist surgery performed in August 2006, Weeks finally reached 100 percent about a year later.
Weeks batted .327 in August and then hit nine home runs and drove in 14 in September. He had a .500 on-base percentage in August and a .409 on-base percentage in September.
"We knew it would be a year [for a complete recovery from the surgery], and it was a year, exactly," said Yost. "He was a different player after that."
Because of the way he finished the 2007 campaign, Yost said he will pencil Weeks into the leadoff spot to start the 2008 season.
"I can tell you right now that Rickie is going to lead off," he said. "That's one spot I can say is set, right now. I've got a pretty good idea of what we'll do, but I've got some other ideas I want to look at."
Braves' Johnson is ready to go: Kelly Johnson has confidence, health and a familiarity with second base going for him as he enters Spring Training with the Braves in '08.
Johnson's world was one of uncertainty at this time last year: He had missed the '06 season due to a right elbow injury and was making his comeback at a new position.
"I'm feeling really good," Johnson told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. "No pain in the arm -- just being able to have a little bit of a rest helped. I went full-bore on defense from the beginning last winter because I had to. This year I was able to rest until November, and then get strong. I've doubled my strength this year.
"[I] couldn't have asked for a better offseason as far as getting ready. I'm just a little more mentally refreshed. I couldn't lift many weights last year, couldn't go up with my arm. I had to do reps with lighter weight."
Johnson also believes he'll improve defensively now that he's comfortable at second.
"I was scared out of my mind last year," he said. "I heard guys saying 'Oh, Kelly can be the second baseman.' But in my mind I'm thinking, 'I've never played second base before.' It was like a tryout. And then I didn't get any action the first couple weeks in games, like, one ball hit to me."
Sweeney signing with A's?: Free agent first baseman Mike Sweeney says he's agreed to a Minor League contract with the Oakland A's.
"All we have to do is cross the t's and dot the i's," Sweeney told the San Francisco Chronicle. "The cake is done, but we need to put the icing on it."
Back problems have hindered Sweeney's performance the past several seasons. Sweeney has been performing Egoscue exercises to strengthen his back and feels like he is in great shape.
"My health has never been better," Sweeney said. "Since I've been doing this, I've had no problems, and I'll take this into Spring Training with my passion for the game and leadership."
Schumaker likes his chances in Cards outfield: Skip Schumaker believes he may finally have a chance to break into the Cardinals' lineup this year.
"You hate to see a guy like Jim Edmonds go, but it opens up a spot for someone," Schumaker told the St. Louis Post Dispatch. "In my case, kind of -- me."
But he also knows that nothing will be handed to him. "Maybe I'll get more opportunity this year, but I have to do the most with it," he said. "I can't assume I'll still be on the team after a couple 0-for-4's. I don't have the luxury knowing tomorrow that I'll come to the clubhouse and I'll be in the lineup again.
"We were very fortunate we had [Edmonds and others]. They moved on. Hopefully we're moving up."
Reds prospect Bruce takes pride in Junior billing: Prospect Jay Bruce doesn't mind high expectations, even having his Minor League manager compare him to superstar Ken Griffey Jr.
"Man, I take it as the biggest compliment," Bruce told the The Cincinnati Enquirer. "It's an honor, the utmost honor, to have that said about you. Griffey, if he hadn't gotten hurt, would have been the absolute best -- bar none -- player to ever step on the field. Growing up, he was my idol. Now that I've gotten to talk to him, I consider him a friend. That's awesome for me."
Bruce emulated Griffey's batting stance as a kid and still has a little "Junior" in his approach when he steps in the box.
"I'm still pretty straight up -- my elbow's up in the back like his," said Bruce. "But you can't teach what he has. I've got the biggest shoes ever to fill. I'll never even begin to be able to say, 'I have what Ken Griffey Jr. has.' "
Bruce shares something else with Griffey -- he believes that he was born to play baseball.
"I've felt that at every step of the way," he said. "I know I'm fortunate; I don't take anything for granted. What I love is the game -- I love everything about it. I love going to the park every day, I love the fun that I have, I love the fans when they come out. There's nothing better than a full house."
Thome to aid with March of Dimes benefit: Jim Thome will attend the 20th annual Comcast SportsNet awards dinner that benefits the March of Dimes on Monday (Feb. 11) in Chicago, and the people at CSN are honored to have him among those in attendance.
"The players' response has been really heartwarming," CSN President Jim Corno told the Chicago Tribune. "Jim Thome ran into one of our employees recently and she introduced herself. Jim told her he was happy to be a part of this dinner. It really made her feel good about our involvement and what it means not only to the March of Dimes, but to the athletes."
Thome says that it's something he is happy to do, and it allows him to appreciate what he has.
"When you see that and you are blessed to have healthy children, it just kind of reiterates why I want to be involved in this dinner and be out in the community," said Thome. "If there is anything as a professional athlete that maybe gives kids inspiration by me just saying something to them -- it is very humbling."
One of Thome's nephews is confined to a wheelchair due to a swimming pool accident suffered several years ago, and that allows Thome to further appreciate what many people go through.
"Dealing with that and watching him in a wheelchair, you know that even though these kids lose a little bit of ability, their heart is still there -- their heart and their pride," he said.
Anderson to get mentoring time behind Molina: Cardinals prospect Bryan Anderson isn't discouraged that the club already has Yadier Molina -- one of the game's top young catchers -- in front of him.
"I'd like to improve," Anderson told MLB.com. "I love catching. I'm still 21, I just turned 21. I get better every year, and I work really hard."
After hitting .298 at Double-A Springfield last season, Anderson wants now to focus on improving his defense.
"I know what I've got to improve on," he said. "I've got to improve blocking, footwork, and I think a big thing for me is staying in shape the whole season. It gets hot, and I'm not a 210-220[-pound] guy, so it's important for me to stay healthy and stay fit."
Wilson aims for better efficiency out of bullpen: The Texas Rangers would like C.J. Wilson to become a little more efficient on the mound this season.
In 14 save opportunities last season, Wilson averaged 17.6 pitches per inning. Too many high-pitch innings will keep Wilson from pitching on back-to-back days, throwing the bullpen off balance as other pitchers are called upon to close games and not fill their intended roles.
"C.J. is a great student of the game," pitching coach Mark Connor told the The Dallas Morning News. "You just can't pile up 25-pitch innings and be able to pitch multiple days in a short period. You have to get away from the swing-and-miss mentality some."
Wilson, however, understands that there's a fine line between being aggressive in the strike zone and taking too much risk.
"If I throw strikes to the right part of the zone, I'll improve the number of hits and base runners I allow," Wilson said. "But I'd rather throw two more pitches in an inning and be cautious and end up facing the guy I know I can get out than putting the game at risk. I'm just careful. I know it probably sounds a lot more stubborn than it is."
Navarro's in top shape for Rays: Dioner Navarro is glad he still had a job with the Tampa Bay Rays. The catcher had a horrible start to the 2007 season, hitting .177 with only one home run and 13 RBIs during the first half.
But the second half of the season was different. Navarro hit .306 with seven home runs and drove in 25 runs in his final 47 games. The strong finish made the Rays believe Navarro can be the team's starting catcher, but Navarro knows he can't duplicate the start of the last season this year.
"I need to have a good season," Navarro, who just turned 24, told the The Tampa Tribune. "I'm tired of people saying, 'Oh, he's too young.' I've been around long enough now."
Clark headed to San Diego: San Diego is close to adding a veteran leader to the club as the team and first baseman Tony Clark have agreed to the basics of a one-year contract.
"It's looking good," Clark's agent, John Boggs, told the The San Diego Union-Tribune. Padres general manager Kevin Towers also believes the deal should be completed soon.
Many people assumed Clark would re-sign with the Arizona Diamondbacks, the team he has played for the past three seasons and the area in which he lives during the offseason. But contract talks between Arizona and Clark broke down this offseason, allowing the Padres the chance to sign the veteran.
Clark, who is a switch-hitter, hit .249 with 17 home runs in 221 at-bats last year. Against right-handed pitchers, Clark hit .254 with 15 home runs in 189 at-bats.
Sheets hopes to encounter better luck: Ben Sheets, who has worked though injuries the past three seasons, is looking forward to a healthier 2008 season.
"He's due to have a full season without injury, and be a commanding pitcher in the National League," Yost told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. "He's had things that haven't been his fault. It wasn't his fault that a ligament in his finger blew out last year, or that he pulled a hamstring [in the final weeks].
"It's not conditioning. It's just a pattern of bad luck for him. Hopefully, that will change and he can go the full year healthy and be dominant like everybody knows he can be. Talk to anybody in the National League, and they don't like facing Ben Sheets."
This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.