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Published: Sunday, 6/30/2002

Indians notebook: Shapiro confident young prospects will develop fast

BY RON MUSSELMAN
BLADE SPORTS WRITER

CLEVELAND - The Cleveland Indians have been getting batted around for trading ace pitcher Bartolo Colon.

But the blockbuster deal three days ago appears to have benefited the Tribe in one way - it landed them three young prospects from the Montreal Expos.

General manager Mark Shapiro is confident that shortstop Brandon Phillips, outfielder Grady Sizemore and pitcher Cliff Lee will help speed the Tribe's rebuilding.

“If you trade a player of Bartolo's caliber, you better not make an error,” Shapiro said. “We're as sure as we can be that these are guys that we can bet on.”

Phillips, who turned 21 on Friday, was rated Montreal's No. 1 prospect and the 20th-best prospect in baseball before the start of this season by Baseball America.

A second-round draft pick in 1999, he was promoted from Double-A Harrisburg, where he batted .327 with nine homers, 35 RBIs and 40 runs scored in 60 games, to Triple-A Ottawa two weeks ago.

Phillips (5-10, 170) will start at short for the United States team in the upcoming Futures Game as part of All-Star festivities in Milwaukee. He also has played second base and third base in the minors. He joined Triple-A Buffalo Friday.

“Brandon has the potential to be an impact offensive middle infielder at the major league level,” Shapiro said.

“I would like to get to the big leagues as quickly as possible,” Phillips said yesterday in a conference call with reporters.

Lee, 23, was 7-2 with a 3.23 ERA in 15 starts for Harrisburg. He led the Eastern League with 105 strikeouts in 861/3 innings, and was selected for the Double-A All-Star Game on July 10.

The 6-3 left-hander, a University of Arkansas product who was a fourth-round draft pick in 2000, has joined the Tribe's Double-A team in Akron.

“He's the most dominant starter in Class-AA baseball,” Shapiro said. “We had six different looks at him by six different scouts. We think he has the ability to be a No. 3 starter in the big leagues.”

The 19-year-old Sizemore, who has been assigned to Single-A Kinston (N.C.), was named the No. 3 prospect in the Montreal organization by Baseball America. He was batting .258 with 26 RBIs and nine stolen bases for Single-A Brevard County in the Florida State League.

The 6-2, 205-pounder accepted a $3 million signing bonus to join the Expos out of high school two years ago, shunning a football scholarship to Washington.

“Grady is a gifted athlete,” Shapiro said. “He has displayed the athletic skill and baseball instincts to rank him among the top prospects in baseball.”

The Indians, who sent former No. 1 pick Tim Drew to the Expos on Thursday night, along with Colon and an estimated $500,000 in cash, also received 34-year-old outfielder/first baseman Lee Stevens.

Stevens has hit 20 or more home runs in each of the past five seasons, including 25 last season. He has been injured much of the year and is batting only .190.

Stevens, who replaced Colon on the roster, hopes the change of scenery shakes him out of his season-long slump: “It's like someone has a voodoo doll of me. I need to get out of this.”

TOUGH CALL: Arizona's Bob Brenly is finding that managing an All-Star team can be a headache. For example, what to do now about Colon (10-4, 2.55 ERA).

“I don't know what the rule is,” said Brenly, who planned to discuss the situation with Major League Baseball officials. “I mean he's never won a game in the National League and to represent it on the All-Star team? It just makes my job that much tougher.”

ODDS & ENDS: Right-hander Curt Schilling, whose wife gave birth to a son, Garrison Michael Schilling, on Thursday, has rejoined the Diamondbacks and will pitch against the Tribe today. ... Tribe right fielder Matt Lawton missed his fourth straight game with an injured right shoulder. Lawton thinks he'll be ready to play by Tuesday. ... The Indians yesterday announced they have signed second-round draft pick, infielder Pat Osborn, from the University of Florida. He was chosen 72nd overall in this month's draft.



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