Maui’s Victorino hopes to stick with Philadelphia
LAST IN A SERIES » Shane Victorino spent his first full season in the major leagues, while Tyler Yates and Brandon League finished in the big time after beginning the season at Triple-A.
Victorino, in his eighth professional season, ended up as Philadelphia's regular center fielder down the stretch as the Phillies made a run for the National League wild-card berth, but missed by one game.
"The season was all right. It could have been a little bit better," Victorino said. "I got the playing time in center and was playing well at the end. I have the confidence and want to keep that when I get to spring training."
The St. Anthony graduate got off to a good start and hit more than .300 the first three months of the season, but when he was used mostly as a defensive replacement and pinch hitter in July, saw his average dip to .267 on Aug. 4.
Things changed for Victorino when the Phillies traded Bobby Abreu to the New York Yankees just before the July 31 trading deadline.
"I got a lot more playing time and interleague play helped because I could DH," Victorino said. "There is a lot to look forward to next season.
He says he probably will sign a split (major-minor) contact for 2007.
"I have no intention of heading back (to the minors), but you never know what will happen in this game," said Victorino, who finished strong to end up hitting .295 for the year.
Victorino got five at-bats against Yates, a reliever for the Atlanta Braves.
"He struck me out with a slider the first time, but I think I got the better part of it. I got a hit at our place and hit at his place and walked once," said Victorino, a switch-hitter, who wants to improve his overall approach at the plate.
"The Phillies are talking about me being the leadoff hitter, but right I now like hitting in the 2-hole behind Jimmy Rollins," Victorino said.
Yates (Kauai High, Hawaii-Hilo) did not pitch last year after having rotator cuff surgery on Feb. 3, 2005. Released by the New York Mets, he signed and went to spring training with the Baltimore Orioles.
The Orioles planned to assign the right-hander to Ottawa in the International League, but because he was coming off surgery, kept Yates in extended spring training until the weather warmed up in Canada. However, after a month in Florida, the Orioles released Yates.
"I was very surprised. I thought I was on track or even ahead of schedule," Yates said.
His agent called teams in both leagues. The Oakland Athletics, who originally drafted Yates in 1998, were interested, but wanted him to fly to the West Coast and sign immediately.
"I ended up throwing a bullpen (session) for the Braves and Houston Astros. The Braves' head minor league guy (J.J. Picollo) was there. He called (Atlanta general manager) John Schuerholz and said we need to sign this guy," Yates said.
"A half hour after I threw, I got a call from Schuerholz and the next night he came to terms with my agent."
Sent to Richmond in the International League, Yates appeared in seven games, pitched just 8 1/3 innings with a 2.16 earned-run average, then was called up by the Braves.
"When I got the call, I said 'wow' this is quick," Yates said. "I don't know if I felt like I was ready, but I told myself, 'Tyler, this is where you want to be. You step up and start doing your job.' I wanted to prove to myself and everyone else that I belonged (in the majors) and wasn't one of those guys who just comes up for a while, then becomes a Triple-A journeyman."
Yates stayed with the Braves. He pitched in 44 games in short relief, finishing with a 4.12 ERA. He developed a split-finger fastball to complement his slider and fastball.
"I think I've solidified my job in the bullpen. I have no desire to be a starter again," Yates said. "A lot of the big dogs on the team have told me to get ready for next year.
"I had a lot of fun in Atlanta. I like it there and it will be a lot of fun to go back next year."
League, a second-round 2001 draft choice out of Saint Louis by Toronto, started the season with the Blue Jays' Triple-A team in Syracuse, N.Y.
"I had an all right spring, but I wasn't really locating the ball that well," said League.
At Syracuse, he was reunited with Rick Langford, the pitching coach who worked with League earlier in his career. The 6-foot-3 right-hander learned the split-finger from Mike Fetters in the offseason, but still wasn't comfortable with the pitch.
"It also was a confidence issue. Instead of throwing around hitters, I had to learn to let them make contact and get ground balls," said League, whose fastball can arrive at the plate in the mid to upper 90s. "I don't look at myself as a power pitcher. I throw a lot of slider and splits."
Everything improved under Langford's tutelage. It took 31 appearances in which League fashioned a 2.14 ERA while walking 15 and striking out 43 in 54 2/3 innings before the Blue Jays called him up for his third stint in Toronto.
League remained steady, compiling a 2.84 ERA and keeping his strikeout-to-walk ratio (23 to 8) a positive.
"Overall, I'm happy with the season and look forward to building on it," League said.