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Prospects for Torres Heat Up


Shortly after the Angels had made him their top pick in the 2000 amateur draft, Joe Torres proclaimed his desire to make the big league roster within three years.

Nearly two years later, the 19-year-old left-hander is pitching for Class-A Cedar Rapids, where he is finally starting to show significant progress during what he hopes will be his first full minor league season.

"I give myself a B grade overall," said Torres, who was 4-1 with a 2.28 earned-run average before Friday. "I feel like I have a lot to work on before I can progress in the system."

Torres' debut season was solid enough. He went 4-1 with a 2.54 ERA in 2000 with the Angels' rookie-league club in Boise, Idaho, raising expectations.

But he was a different pitcher in spring training the next year. His velocity dropped sharply and team officials, suspecting a shoulder injury, put Torres through a series of tests.

No injury was revealed.

"My arm felt fine," Torres said. "I thought it was just mechanical flaws."

Torres spent the season bouncing between Cedar Rapids and Provo after two stints in extended spring training. He pitched 48 1/3 innings, compiling a 5.82 ERA in Cedar Rapids and 4.02 in Provo. Not exactly what the Angels had expected after drafting Torres 10th overall.

The 6-foot-3, 185-pounder has returned to form this season, thanks to a renewed focus, improved mechanics ... and frigid weather. He credited 20-degree temperatures and snow showers with helping him in the early going.

"It's tough for hitters in the cold weather," said Torres, who went 3-1 with an 0.44 ERA in April.

Tony Reagins, the Angels' director of player development, said Torres deserves the praise.

"He is regaining the form he had in high school," Reagins said. "Our pitching people have been working with him from a mechanical standpoint because he hasn't been pitching the way he had when he was drafted."

In other Angel system news:

* First baseman Casey Kotchman, the top prospect after having been selected 13th overall in last June's amateur draft, has hit .385 in the last 15 games for Cedar Rapids, raising his average from .220 to .273 heading into the weekend. Still, Kotchman has been overshadowed by teammate Jeff Mathis, the 33rd pick, who leads the Midwest League in doubles with 22 and hits with 69. Mathis, a catcher, is hitting .333, though he is in a seven-for-30 slump.

* Rancho Cucamonga third baseman Carlos Duncan drove in seven runs for the second time this season after hitting a career-high three home runs in a 15-13 loss to Lake Elsinore on May 24.

* Salt Lake right-hander Mickey Callaway missed tying the franchise record of eight consecutive wins with a no-decision May 18 against Memphis. Shortly thereafter, Callaway, who is 7-0 with a minor league-best 1.37 ERA, was put on the disabled list with a sore back.

Dodger system

It has been a whirlwind first few months on the job for Gerry McKearney, general manager of the Class-A South Georgia Waves. Only three weeks before the start of the season, a new ownership group, Mandalay Sports, uprooted the club from its longtime home in Wilmington, N.C., and plunked it down in Albany, Ga.

McKearney remembers showing up for work the first day and seeing a moving van and workmen unloading the club's old office equipment.

"We've been working around the clock to get things going," said McKearney, who previously worked as general manager of the rookie-level Provo Angels. "I'm pleased with what we put together."

McKearney said his small staff would now turn its attention toward marketing the club in what is considered a more desirable baseball market. Restrictions on scheduling and beer sales at the club's old stadium at UNC Wilmington also prompted the move, McKearney said.

The Waves (30-23), averaging about 1,000 fans a game, are in a three-way tie for first place in the Southern Division of the South Atlantic League.

Two weeks ago, South Georgia right-hander Francisco Cruceta looked like the second coming of Pedro Martinez. The Dominican Republic native was 4-1 with a 1.16 ERA that ranked third among all minor leaguers. Cruceta has since dropped two of three decisions but maintains a respectable 3.04 ERA with 56 strikeouts in 53 1/3 innings.

Ricardo Rodriguez, a right-hander for double-A Jacksonville, has allowed no runs and six hits in 17 1/3 innings since returning from biceps tendinitis, which caused him to miss the first six weeks of the season. Rodriguez was named Southern League pitcher of the week after combining with two relievers on a two-hit shutout Wednesday as the Suns defeated Birmingham, 3-0.

California League

Stockton's six starting pitchers are a combined 18-2 with a 2.74 ERA in 27 games this month. Left-hander John Koronka raised his record to a minor league-best 10-0 Thursday by pitching seven innings in a 10-3 win over Visalia.

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