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Saturday, March 12, 2005
Updated: March 15, 10:48 AM ET
Time to promote Pujols, Pierre

By Peter Gammons
Special to ESPN.com

March 12

Jose Canseco was right. His book did cause a major upheaval around baseball, from triggering congressional subpoenas to the squirming that has been felt from players to front offices to the game's leadership as Canseco has opened up the subculture of the late 1980s and '90s.

This is not about Canseco needing money. Attention, maybe, but not money. This is about revenge against the owners who he felt knowingly looked away and simultaneously blackballed him; now Jose is delusional if he believes he could still be an everyday star player, because by the late '90s he had all the mobility and athleticism of a lighthouse.

But, for a number of reasons -- from the union to just not wanting to know -- we now know that everyone did look away, and Kevin Towers is the only man thus far whose conscience has led him to truth. It was impossible to prove on the record, as so many of us learned, and while Canseco is trying to bring down Bud Selig and the owners, they have ducked and left players to take the hit.

The whole story is juicy because of the names -- Barry Bonds, Jason Giambi, Mark McGwire -- involved, and it has taken on a Michael Jackson/Monica Lewinski life. It does not appear to have severely struck the audience: preseason ticket sales are at a record pace, spring training crowds have been very good, and you can get a Red Sox Opening Day ticket for $5,000.

Albert Pujols
Baseball should put its marketing muscle behind Albert Pujols
As Commissioner David Stern has rallied from a storm of bad publicity to make a pre-emptive strike by promoting the best young players in the NBA, so baseball should begin marketing its young personalities and people, not necessarily home run hitters. Certainly any campaign has to include Derek Jeter -- not only because he is visible in New York and has four World Series rings, but also because of his work ethic, character and devotion to team -- he is everything baseball needs to sell. Scott Rolen, Jason Varitek, Darin Erstad, Miguel Tejada, Paul Lo Duca, Mike Matheny, et al, are right in behind him.

Here is my list of the 10 young players baseball should market:

  • Juan Pierre: In spring training, he is in the cage hitting at 7 a.m., bunting at 8. During the season he begs to play every game. Before the opener of each series on the road, he is out before 2 p.m., rolling balls down the baselines to check the bunting grounds and throwing balls against the walls to gauge the caroms. He has constant energy, an infectious smile, and is a player every kid should emulate.

  • Albert Pujols: He is on pace to be one of the greatest hitters ever; at 25, he has a career 1.037 OPS with 358 extra-base hits, 304 walks and 279 strikeouts. Last year he had 46 homers and 52 strikeouts. He is meticulously serious and diligent about his craft, intelligent and the model superstar.

  • Vernon Wells: OK, he was hurt last season, but he is in Olympian shape, can mash, is articulate and striking.

  • Cesar Izturis: Just watch him in games and in practice.

  • Joe Mauer: Pray the knee holds up because he is every mother's son, although only Mrs. Mauer raised this good a catcher and hitter.

  • Mark Prior: Think Jim Palmer. Rich Harden may be close to getting to this list, as well.

  • Mark Teixeira, Mike Young and Hank Blalock: It's about team, talent and playing the game the right way.

  • David Wright: Trust me. Scott Rolen II.

  • Dontrelle Willis: One of the best college pitchers in the country, North Carolina's Andrew Miller, says Willis is his role model "because everyone who plays should have that much joy playing baseball."

  • David Ortiz: OK, he's 29, but besides the fact that he is a monster player and one of the best clutch performers in the business, he is one of the most popular and humorous. The man could sell anything, especially the game he loves.

    Until he returns from his knee injury, perhaps baseball should make Jody Gerut an introductory spokesman. Just publish his thoughts.

    Bonds' run past Ruth and towards Henry Aaron will focus on the past, as will BALCO and everything Canseco-related. But much -- maybe most -- of that is a past culture. The players have moved on away from Ephedra, mostly away from steroids, with goals testing and integrity. Now it is time to begin marketing those who represent the present and future values, beginning with Pierre and Pujols.

    Rookies to watch

  • Brandon McCarthy, RHP, White Sox: "He's the best young pitcher I've seen this spring," says one AL scout. "He can really pitch. He has a great changeup, outstanding breaking ball and his fastball is enough. The next Jack McDowell." Was 17-5 on three levels.

  • Gavin Floyd, RHP, Phillies: At the end of last season, his velocity was down in the 80s. It's back to 94, with the killer hammer. "I haven't seen better stuff this spring," says one scout. "He'll go right into that rotation, and his curveball is one of the best around."

  • Hanley Ramirez, SS, Red Sox: Picture the free safety at Miami, or the wing at North Carolina. That's what the 6-3, 200-pound Ramirez would be if he had grown up in Florida, and he'd be a college junior and, according to one scout, "the first pick in the draft." He started a triple play by going above the glass for the line drive, but it was his instincts -- breaking for the bag as he landed -- that impressed veteran players. "He can play anywhere on the field," says one Red Sox official, and he's played so well that only a No. 1 starter would pry him loose.

  • Huston Street, RH Reliever, A's: "He looks as if he's been closing in the big leagues for three years," says a scout. "Hard sinker, nasty slider. By mid-season, he'll be a major factor."

  • Phil Humber, RHP, Mets: He has delighted everyone -- 94 mph, good breaking ball and change, and he's shown Rick Peterson a filthy split, which has Peterson thinking Tim Hudson.

  • Tim Stauffer, RHP, Padres: "His stuff is good, he's poised, he belongs," says an NL scout. Most likely, he'll start in AAA if the Padres' rotation is healthy, but he'll be a factor before it's over.

  • Franklin Gutierrez, OF, Indians: Obtained from the Dodgers in the Milton Bradley deal, Gutierrez led the Venezuelan League in homers at 21. He has impressed Eric Wedge with his maturity, defense and bat. He and Grady Sizemore may be side-by-side for a long time at The Jake.

  • Scott Baker, RHP, Twins: Shot through the organization last season. Locates fastball down on both sides of the plate, has a little funkiness and run that gets under lefties hands. By mid-season, Baker could well be in the Minnesota rotation as they run at their fourth consecutive 90-victory season.

  • Travis Bowyer, RH Reliever, Twins: Big, hard-throwing reliever who was 9-3 with 97 strikeouts and 60 hits allowed in 90 innings between Fort Myers and New Britain. Ron Gardenhire loves him, because he isn't afraid to throw strikes. By the way, the Twins have power relievers all over the place.

  • Paul McAnaulty, 1B-LF, Padres: Kevin Towers points out that the 5-10, 220-pound McAnaulty was a DH in high school and college, and "he made his defensive debut in professional ball. He can flat hit. He's John Kruk, or Matt Stairs."

    News and notes

  • Doctors insist to the Twins that the swelling and stiffness that Mauer has encountered is normal, and they expected that he would have bouts with scar tissue and wear as he prepares for the season. "People who say we only need his bat haven't seen him catch," say Gardenhire. "We have umpires telling us how great he is back there, and what a target he presents. He's so soft receiving the ball, and he's such a great athlete he easily gets into position to throw. He can be a very good hitter, but he means more to us if he's catching. He and all the medical people insist that he'll be all right" ... Nick Punto will be back in the shortstop battle this week. "I just want to get on the field and prove I'm not injury-prone," says the energetic Punto. "Everything that's happened is freakish, but I still haven't been on the field." ... The Twins think Jason Bartlett will be a good front-of-the-order offensive player, but they want him to refine some areas of his defensive game, particularly throwing. ... Joe Mays has looked good, Kyle Lohse at times spectacular. With Juan Rincon, Jesse Crain, Bowyer and J.D. Durbin, Minnesota could have a nasty power bullpen in front of Joe Nathan come October, and that's without Lohse going back there

  • How insane is Red Sox fever? Go on eBay and see how many pairs of Opening Day ring ceremony tickets against the Yankees are going for between $2,500 and $5,000. ... With Curt Schilling not ready to open the season and Wade Miller, as expected, being viewed as the equivalent of a mid-season pickup, Terry Francona says "we'll just have to battle through that first month. Curt should be ready by the time we need a fifth starter, but we'll just have to do everything well." The Red Sox will play the Yankees in six of their first nine games with a rotation of David Wells, Matt Clement, Tim Wakefield and Bronson Arroyo. ... Byung-Hyun Kim has not been good, and the question is this: if he isn't throwing harder than 85 mph, who will take him at even $1 million? Colorado offered Jason Young, but he was 84-85 this week.

  • Ugueth Urbina was 87-91 in his second outing for the Tigers this week. The Cubs continue to deny interest. The Mets are interested, as the bullpen and a righthanded-hitting outfielder (they have interest in Alex Escobar) for depth are two issues. It's been a good spring for the Mets in that several issues have been positive: Clifford Floyd is in extraordinary shape, Mike Cameron wants to (and likely will) remain in New York and Kaz Matsui has played second well. When Matsui decided to come to the U.S., most teams wanted him as a second baseman, but he wanted to try short and it was the only way the Mets could get him.

  • Jason Kendall has shown the Oakland folks that he will get their pitchers to work inside, and he has worked very hard to built a rapport with all the young pitchers. ... The A's may be less inclined to trade Eric Byrnes before the beginning of the season because rookie Nick Swisher pressed in early games and struggled.

  • In his time in New York, Giambi has struggled because he wanted everyone to like him. Now, after being betrayed in his grand jury BALCO testimony and being publicly savaged, he's hardened. "I guess I'm at the point where I don't trust anyone," he says. "And I never thought I'd be that way"

  • Jayson Werth was set back a couple of weeks when he was hit by an A.J. Burnett pitch in the Vero opener, but Jim Tracy says, "Jayson can be special. He's a five-tool guy, and he's close to putting them all together. He's a key player for us" ... Tracy hasn't given up on the notion that Brad Penny and Odalis Perez can be ready for the start of the regular season. Penny's side session Thursday was his best thus far, described as "90 percent"

  • The comebacks of John Patterson, Tony Armas and Tomo Ohka have put the Washington Nationals at the point where they may be able to move a starting pitcher in a deal for a productive outfielder.

  • From one scout: "There isn't a righthanded pitcher who overpowers hitters more than Rich Harden. He has a chance to be the best in the American League, and soon."

  • One rumor that doesn't go away: Shawn Chacon from the Rockies to Texas.