MESA, Ariz. — The sights and sounds are still the same, but there is a different feel to spring training for Salt Lake's Triple-A baseball team in 2001. It's the Stingers, not the Buzz; it's the Angels, not the Twins; and it's Mesa, Arizona, not Fort Myers, Florida. Heck, there isn't even a single alligator in the nearby ponds.
It is still baseball, however, as camp winds down and the season is just one week away. The Stingers' roster is still in a state of flux with three players being sent down from Anaheim, with the 29 players meaning the team is still four men over the roster limit.
Among the five outfielders on the roster, three played with Edmonton last season. Scott Morgan struggled at the plate for the Trappers after being traded by Cleveland, hitting just .247, but the 6-foot-7-inch right-handed hitter is just one year removed from being the Indians' minor league player of the year with 34 homers and 101 runs batted in between Double-A and Triple-A. Morgan will be counted on to provide the long ball, having averaged nearly 25 home runs per season prior to the 2000 season, a season hampered by a cyst problem on his wrist.
Nate Murphy is coming off a .257 season at Edmonton in his first season at the Triple-A level with eight homers and 38 runs batted in 119 games for the Trappers. Murphy covers a lot of ground in the outfield, recording nearly 300 putouts last year with 16 assists to lead the team.
Juan Tolentino is also coming off his first year at this level, hitting .245 with 11 homers and 58 RBIs. Tolentino had stolen 96 bases over the 1998 and 1999 seasons, but only swiped 16 bases last year and was thrown out 14 times. This will be his fourth straight season of playing for manager Garry Templeton, having played for him at Single-A Cedar Rapids in '98 and Double-A Erie in '99 before last year at Edmonton.
Two others still in camp are right-handed hitting A.J. LeDay and left-handed batting Derick Urquhart. LeDay, signed as a free agent in the off season, hit .283 at Double-A Mobile in the Padres organization with 12 home runs and 70 RBI, while Urquhart hit .238 in 56 games at Double-A Erie. Neither has played at the Triple-A level.
BEE LINES: The three players sent down to the Stingers were first baseman Larry Barnes, shortstop Wilmy Caceres, and third baseman Jose Fernandez. More moves are expected Friday or Saturday with those players not reporting to the team until it arrives in Salt Lake City next week . . . Those in uniform for the Stingers lost 5-2 to Tacoma Wednesday, but outcome was somewhat deceiving. The Rainiers' parent club, Seattle, left them with just three relief pitchers and all were limited to 12-15 pitches per inning. Twice in the game, Salt Lake City had runners in scoring position with less than two outs when the inning came to an end with the pitcher having reached his limit . . . Scot Shields, who is expected to be in the Stingers' starting rotation to begin the season, threw a solid 5 1/3 innings, allowing only one earned run on four hits, while striking out five and walking one.
Steve Klauke is the voice of the Salt Lake Stingers. His broadcasts can be heard on ESPN radio, 1230 AM this season.