PVBL: Vero Beach Bums
New Season, New Opportunities for Bums

April 1, 1999

Vero Beach, FL (AP) - Despite the heartbreaking end to two consecutive seasons -- being swept out of the playoffs -- the Vero Beach Bums begin 1999 with some new hopes, many old faces, and very guarded optimism.

In the 1998 offseason, a number of the Bums went in very different directions. Rex Hudler's MVP season may be destined to be his swan song; he entered spring training having lost a step and some punch in his bat. "He barely looks like the same player," said Bums manager Phil Garner, back for his third season of abuse at the hands of Bums GM and owner Jason Gohlke. (Garner was rumored to have lost his job after the Bums' second season-ending sweep, but it was merely due to a hot-headed statement by Gohlke that was blown out of proportion by the local media.)

In contrast, the Bums' prospects are starting to show real promise, despite not quite being ready for prime time. "These guys are coming along real good [sic]," said Garner, "especially Jim Collins, who we're calling the catcher of the future, and John Tankersley, a hard-throwing young pitcher. The most progress I think I've seen is from Harry Hoch, though, who will someday--very soon, from the looks of it--be a premier first baseman and a great hitter." Hoch batted .393 in spring training, but couldn't break through the roster behind Gregg Jefferies and Jeff King. Hoch was promoted from the Bums' rookie ball affiliate in Missoula, Montana (the Missoula Vagabonds) to their AA club, the Los Angeles (CA) Dodgers.

The Bums will also get needed help from recently acquired Phil Nevin, a versatile player who is filling the gap at SS left by the free agent Omar Vizquel. "That was a loss that hurt," said Nevin, "but I'm glad to have the opportunity to come in and contribute every day. I can't really fill 'Little O's' shoes, but I'll do my job as well as I can."

The Bums will return much the same outfield as last season. Gregg Jefferies and Ron Gant will share time in left, Brian Jordan will play right field, and Marquis Grissom will anchor the defense in center. Jefferies and Jordan will split time in the leadoff spot with the decline of Hudler and the loss of Vizquel. The infield is somewhat suspect, save for the steady defense and continual offense contribution from 1B Jeff King, last year's home run leader with 36. Dave Hollins occupies the other corner at third and will also contribute with clutch hits on occasion. With Hudler at 2nd, whose defense has never been spectacular, and Nevin playing out of position at short, backed up by the unproven Joseph Idstein, the middle infield seems to be a point of weakness on this year's Vero Beach squad.

"This is a team that will undergo some major changes in the next year," said Gohlke. "Apparently whatever we've been doing in the last two years hasn't been quite enough, although we have been one of the most competitive teams in the league 2 years running, and the only team to appear in 2 League Championship Series. This year I see as a transitional year, in which we feel we have a good chance to stay competitive but also will prepare for a bit of a shuffle. And I don't mind saying that."

The one aspect of the Bums' team that needs little if any change is the pitching staff. The Bums are blessed with three amazing young arms at the top of the rotation, an excellent closer in Trevor Hoffman, and a capable supporting cast. Albie Lopez, Cy Young winner in 1998, anchors the rotation. Lopez has the uncanny ability to place his 90-mph fastball anywhere he chooses, as well as his curve and changeup. Similarly, Valdes and Adams have excellent control and great pitches. Orlando "El Duque" Hernandez, a Cuban defector, has come into his own as the fourth starter, and perenially steady Kevin Ritz rounds out the rotation.

The Bums have decided to get rid of some dead weight in the bullpen, sending Kent Bottenfield to AAA to get more work. "Bottenfield is a good pitcher, but he wasn't pitching as well after we traded his brother Mike to Anchorage," said pitching coach Pete Vuckovich.

The Bums will open the season with this lineup:

               		  1998 Stats
RF Brian Jordan    .293, 9 HR, 4 3B, 29 2B
CF Marquis Grissom .284, 22 HR, 43 SB, 75 RBI, 104 R, 1 E
SS Phil Nevin      .243, 13 HR, 22 2B, .257 vs. LHP
1B Jeff King       .300, 36 HR, 111 RBI, 11 SB, 101 R, .557 SLG, 0 E
3B Dave Hollins    .256, 22 HR, 79 RBI, 43 2B, .313 BA vs. LHP
2B Rex Hudler      .293, 125 R, 48 2B, 13 3B, 27 HR, 76 RBI, 72 BB,
                    64/65 SB, 127 RC, league MVP
LF Ron Gant        .261, 28 2B, 5 3B, 26 HR, 70 RBI
DH Tom Pagnozzi    .245, 12 HR, .280 vs. LHP
 C Jim Collins     .250 in 4 games, .269 in 40 games lifetime.


LF Gregg Jefferies .271, .280 vs. RHP, 18 SB in 60 games.
CF Grissom
SS Nevin
1B King
RF Jordan
3B Hollins
DH Al Pechous      .300 in 4 games.
2B Hudler
 C Sandy Martinez   (rookie free agent acquisition)

CF Chuck Carr
SS Joseph Idstein


RHP Albie Lopez     21-7, 2.35 ERA, 142 K, 44 BB, 195 H, 202.2 IP
RHP Ismael Valdes   14-6, 3.26 ERA, 127 K, 37 BB, 196.0 IP
RHP Willie Adams    12-3, 2.72 ERA, 80 K, 21 BB, 139.0 IP
RHP O. Hernandez    5-6, 7 QS in 13 starts, 3.24 ERA, 105 H, 108.1 IP
RHP Kevin Ritz      11-9, 4.22 ERA, 115 K, 178 H, 83 BB, 200.2 IP

Long Relief:
LHP Angel Miranda   9-3, 3.58 ERA, 38 games, 71 K, 88 IP
RHP Kurt Hardie     8-4, 4.03 ERA, 73 K, 120.2 IP

Middle Relief:
RHP Barney Berres   3-1, 3.64 ERA, 59 games, 4/18 IRS.
LHP John Cummings   4-5, 4.24 ERA, 71 H, 68 IP.

Set up:
RHP Dave Weathers   2-1, 2.31 ERA, 44 games, 5/33 IRS, 12 Holds, 6 SV

RHP Trevor Hoffman  5-3, 25 SV, 2.49 ERA, 46 H, 17 BB, 54.1 IP

--written by Jason Gohlke