For Buffalo manager Marty Brown, it didn t take long to figure out that Grady Sizemore was special.
“I first saw him in spring training in 2003,” Brown said. “I timed him going down the line at 4.17, and a day later he hit a ball to shortstop and I timed him: 4.17 [again]. I m thinking, That s pretty weird; you don t find too many times the numbers are identical. ”
The next day Brown was telling some players about the quirky coincidence. But the hopes of getting a third reading that fast seemed squashed when Sizemore hit a little one-hopper to the pitcher, a prime time for a player to ease up and perhaps not run at full steam.
“His time was 4.17,” Brown said. “That s how Grady plays. That s the guy you pay your money to come watch because you know you re going to see 100-percent effort every night.”
And 100 percent of Grady Sizemore is quite a lot. Last season the 21-year-old outfielder hit .304 for Double-A Akron, belting 13 homers and driving home 78 runs while scoring 96 runs, the second-best total in the Eastern League. He was named the league s rookie of the year and finished as the runner-up for league MVP honors.
As a result Baseball America now considers Sizemore the top prospect in the Cleveland Indians system; in fact, he entered this year ranked the ninth-best prospect in minor league baseball.
Sizemore said the pressure that comes with being one of baseball s top prospects is something that doesn t affect him on the field.
“[I m] not really [concerned about it] because that s not stuff I can focus on,” he said. “I can t control that stuff so it s not stuff I worry about or think about when I m playing.”
Sizemore further cemented his position as one of the can t-miss stars in the Cleveland system with an impressive spring, his first with the big club. He hit .409 in 12 games and scored seven runs, but said his goal wasn t to make an impression on the Tribe front office.
“I just wanted to go in there, have fun, and learn from some of their veteran guys,” Sizemore said. “I just sat back, was quiet, and tried to learn from everybody else.”
Entering last night s game Sizemore was hitting .248 with Triple-A Buffalo, with three home runs, 18 RBIs and 16 runs scored. What has impressed his manager most is the variety of skills he brings to the game.
“Defensively he s got great range in the outfield and good anticipation skills [of the ball] off the bat,” Brown said of Sizemore. “He can hit for power. He has the ability to steal a base. But most of all he s got a great heart. He s a joy to have as a manager because when you send him out there every day you know what you re going to get.”
But both Sizemore and his manager know there still is work to do.
“[He needs to go] to the plate with a plan and follow through with it,” Brown said. “[He needs to] get at-bats and learn from each and every one. [He needs to refine] his skills as a base-stealer - first-step quickness and anticipation. He s going to be a very good baserunner.”
Sizemore agreed, adding, “Each level you go to you have to improve every aspect of your game. I m doing everything that I can, both offensively and defensively, to make myself better.”
But the young outfielder said he doesn t worry about his numbers, goals or ranking among the game s top prospects.
“I just try to go out there and play as hard as I can,” Sizemore said. “That s the way I always play the game. If you re playing the game, you might as well hustle on every play.”