Compiled by Kevin Goldstein, Chris Kline and Matt Meyers
Pirates first baseman Brad Eldred is still getting adjusted to life in Triple-A, but for a guy who hit 30 home runs in 213 Double-A at-bats at Altoona, it's likely only going to be a matter of time.
Eldred, a sixth-round pick in 2002 out of Florida International, is hitting .233/.278/.425 with three homers and 13 RBIs in 73 at-bats at Indianapolis. We caught up with the power-hitting first baseman to talk about his run with the Curve and how he got the nickname "Big Country" -- and it has nothing to do with the basketball career the 6-foot-5, 270-pounder left behind in high school.
On facing Mark Prior in college: "I guess you'd almost have to say (he's the best pitcher I have faced), just based on what he's done in the big leagues so far and what I've seen on the mound. But definitely one of the guys we saw last year -- Gustavo Chacin -- he was pretty nasty and he's doing really well for himself in the big leagues. Everything moves, it cuts in, sinks it away -- everything he throws has movement."
On hitting nearly a home run every seven at-bats during his time with Double-A Altoona: "I didn't really think about it a whole lot. During that time it seemed like I had a lot of two home run games, so if I didn't hit a home run for a week I'd hit two to make up for it. It was just a really good streak at the end of last year and the beginning of this year. It was just a lot of fun, basically."
On the emergence of his new nickname, "Big Country": "It wasn't that big in Lynchburg. The only ones who called me that were the coaches. Once I got to Altoona they started to blow that up. I guess some of the radio guys there heard the coaches and players calling me that. All of the sudden, they started saying it over the loudspeaker. Before you knew it, the whole entire city of Altoona started saying it and calling me that. The fans really got into it. I mean, I do like to go fishing and that stuff, but I mean, I'm from Fort Lauderdale. There isn't anything country about it."
On his adjustments to Triple-A: "There really hasn't been a whole lot. It's more in yourself, because a lot of the pitchers I'm facing here are the same guys I faced last year in Double-A. It's not that the pitching's that much different, I just haven't really had the results I've wanted. You have to make the adjustment within the at-bat -- you just can't waste an at-bat and move on to the next one. So far, I haven't had the success I've wanted, but I know it's coming."
On who would win in a wrestling match between he and former Pirates' slugger Walter Young, the Orioles' 296-pound farmhand: "I don't know. He actually has some weight on me, but I'm probably a little quicker. That'd be interesting to see for sure. We were actually roommates in instructional league. We never wrestled seriously, but we joked about it a lot."
-- Chris Kline, John Manuel
• Zach Duke picked up his International League-leading eighth win Monday night with a 3-0 victory at Durham, going 7 2/3 innings and giving up just three hits. Duke showed his plus curveball in dominating a Bulls lineup featuring B.J. Upton, Jonny Gomes and a host of Triple-A veterans, but he did most of his work with a two-seam fastball that usually sat in the 86-88 mph range. He impressed a scout on hand with his approach. "He threw a lot of fastballs," the scout said, "moved it in and out and wasn't afraid to throw the ball inside. His curveball looked really good, but he got a lot of outs just with his fastball."
• It was only a spot start, but Tigers righthander Virgil Vasquez certainly was impressive, tossing a one-hitter as Double-A Erie defeated Akron, 1-0. Vasquez, a seventh-round pick in 2003 out of UC Santa Barbara, allowed one hit -- a double by Javi Herrera -- and struck out five in eight innings. Vasquez was called up to make the spot start because the big-league club sent three players to Cooperstown to play in the annual Hall of Fame game yesterday. "His ball had life, and he had a good three-pitch mix of a fastball, slider and change-up," Aeros manager Torey Lovullo told the Akron Beacon-Journal. "To make his first (Double-A) start in a big division series like this, you gotta give the kid credit for getting up and answering the bell.'' Vasquez, who went by Matt at UCSB, was 4-1, 4.21 in 47 innings at high Class A Lakeland.
• Delmon Young hit two homers Monday -- both off Double-A Jacksonville righthander Chad Billingsley -- as the Biscuits defeated the Suns, 10-3. Billingsley, the Dodgers' No. 2 prospect, had arguably the worst outing of his pro career, allowing seven runs in three innings. "You just pay attention to what (a pitcher) is doing that day," Young told the Montgomery Advertiser. "Is he throwing strikes? Is his breaking ball working for him? You don't pay attention to that other stuff." Young is hitting .331/.403/.536 with eight homers and 36 RBIs in 166 at-bats. With Devil Rays' owner Vince Naimoli in the stands to watch the club's No. 1 prospect, a promotion to Triple-A Durham or beyond could be in the near future. Billingsley, meanwhile, fell to 3-3, 4.81 in 49 innings.
• With Mark Loretta out for up to two months, you'd think the Padres might give Josh Barfield a look at second base; however, with the way he has been performing in Triple-A, it appears unlikely. After going 0-for-3 with two walks last night, the Padres' No. 1 prospect now has six hits in his last 45 at-bats and is hitting .229/.289/.331.
• Felix Hernandez is so talented, it just doesn't seem fair. The Mariners righthander threw seven shutout innings last night for Tacoma while striking out nine. Barely 19 years old, Hernandez is now 6-3, 2.63 with 51 strikeouts and 23 walks in 51 1/3 innings. The strikeout-walk ratio could use work, which might be the only thing keeping him down at this point.
• At 22, Kyle Bloom might be a little old for the Sally League, but at least he is dominating. Drafted out of Illinois State in 2004, Bloom threw six scoreless innings while fanning five to earn the win over Charleston. The Pirates southpaw is now 3-1, 1.76 and has allowed just two runs over his last 17 2/3 innings.
• Van Pope is smoking the Sally League. The Rome third baseman went 2-for-4 last night with his fourth homer of the season. The Braves took him in the fifth round in 2004, and the 21-year-old Meridian (Miss.) Junior College product is now hitting .303/.389/.445.
• Dodgers third baseman Andy LaRoche stayed on an amazing tear, hitting two more home runs in high Class A Vero Beach's 12-9 win over Ft. Myers last night, assuming the minor league home run lead with 17. LaRoche is hitting .361/.398/.710 in 44 games for the Dodgers, and leads the Florida State League in home runs, slugging, hits (66) and runs (42).
• Keeping his prospect light flickering is toolsy outfielder Reggie Abercrombie, playing for the Marlins' high Class A team in Jupiter. Abercrombie, picked up by Florida prior to the season when the Diamondbacks removed him from their 40-man roster, slugged his 10th home run of the season last night and is batting .277/.341/.535 in 40 games for the Hammerheads, while showing unprecedented plate discipline with 13 walks. His career high for walks is 27.
• Keep an eye on: Padres righthander Clayton Hamilton, who improved to 7-1, 2.11 with seven shutout innings, allowing two hits and striking out nine in low Class A Fort Wayne's 1-0 win over Clinton. Hamilton, a 2004 17th-round pick out of Penn State whose fastball has topped out at 94 mph, has limited Midwest League hitters to a .204 average.