Aspen Scores Big


††††††††††† Mark November 27th down on your calendars as the first day of Aspenís pursuit of the ultimate Strat-o-matic Brass-Ring. For the past two years they have really struggled and their fans, quite frankly, were fed up. In their inaugural season they were able to compete putting up a little more than 100 wins. However over the past two seasons they, simply put, stunk as they struggled to win 128 games.All the deals and drafts they orchestrated over the past few years have led them here to this moment in time, to this Free Agency to add the final pieces to what seems to be a very promising season.

In preparing for free agency the Rainmakers knew they needed a #2 or #3 starter, a Left Fielder and some middle relievers. There were several very good players available and they made some excellent offers. As it turned out on that cold Sunday morning in November the Rainmakers found out that the pitching ace, Bartolo Colon, was available and ready to sign on. Once the Rainmakers were able to secure their stating pitcher all the other pieces fell into place. They snagged outfielders Dave Dellucci and Randy Winn as well as veteran shortstop Omar Visquel. Along with the signings of relief pitchers Shigetoshi Hasegawa and Chris Spurling they seemed to have successfully met their teams needs.

††††††††††† Bartolo Colon will lead Aspenís pitching staff along with youngsters Rich Harden, Joe Blanton, Brad Hennessey

and Eric Bedard as well as veterans Jared Washburn and Ryan Franklin. Aspen will be able to use Franklin in the bullpen for long relief if needed.

††††††††††† Bartolo Colon doesn't throw 99 mph for a complete game anymore, and he has worked hard perfecting his game and not relying on his fastball. The key to his turnaround is his use of the changeup against righthanded hitters and his success in pitching inside. He still can throw 96 or 97 when he needs to, which makes his slider and changeup more effective. He continues to struggle with his off season work routine and, in the past, has come to Spring training out of shape.

††††††††††† With the signing of Randy Winn and Dave Dellucci Aspen has shored up their outfield, which already included Brady Clark and Ken Griffey JR. With four outstanding outfielders they probably will be moving one of them in a trade. More than likely Griffey looks like the odd man out. He is on the last year of his contract and he is less expensive than the rest. Look for Aspen to make a move.

Randy Winn can spray the ball to all fields and drive a ball on the inside third of the plate. He is able to handle the bat well, but he lacks the patience to be a top-of-the-order hitter. He generally is better off hitting lower in the order, where he sees better pitches.

He has voiced his desire to play Centerfield however his arm is average and hehas troubletracking flyballs. He doesnít particularly get a good jump on the ball and has a hard time tracking it. He is able to overcome these problems because of his speed. Aspen is intending on using him in Right or Left Field. Winn has said all along he will do whatever management wants as long as he can be an everyday player.



††††††††††† Allstar shortstop Jack Wilson had a very disappointing season last year and Aspen felt they needed to move in another direction so they signed veteran Omar Vizquel to a two year contract. Vizquel, who is a defensive genius and had a pretty good offensive year, will help with his glove and bat. His experience with his glove will help utility player Ryan Freel as he makes the transition to Aspens everyday second baseman.

††††††††††† In general, you should know that Omar Vizquel is one of the best fielding shortstops in baseball history. His career fielding percentage is at the top of the charts for major league shortstops. His specialty is the barehanded catch and immediate fire to turn a quick double play. He has good speed on the bases and a consistently high batting average, although he is not a power hitter. In 1998 and 1999 Omar was named to the American League All-Star Team. He is a 9-time Gold Glove winner, and Cleveland's first Gold Glove shortstop.

Omar takes his job very seriously and has a strong work ethic. He has said that when he takes the field, he feels he is representing his entire home country, Venezuela. He won the Hutch award for his dedication to the team in 1996.  He also does incredible amounts of charity work in Cleveland, including hosting a Saturday home-game program for kids, Omar y Amigos.

Shigetoshi Hasegawa and Chris Spurling are joining a group of superb group of middle relievers. Along with Chris Reitsma, Bob Howry, and, lefty,Scott Eyre these two will make up probably one of the strongest relief staffs in the league this year. Anyone of these guys is capable of setting up their closer Bob Wickman.

Whereas in 2003 Hasegawa was good at keeping the ball down, his pitches were flat and up in the strike zone far too often in 2004. That's a problem when you're stuff isn't overpowering by any means. Hasegawa's forkball and slider-pitches that hitters often pound into the ground-weren't nearly as effective. He frequently fell behind hitters. He also walked 31 batters. Hasegawa is regarded as a capable fielder with a quick, compact delivery that stifles the running game.

When they traded away Pedro Martinez and Scott Rolon their loyal followers were visibly shaken and let the front office know by not attending the games and filling the seats. Hopefully, with the moves made on this Sunday in November Aspenís front office is sending the Rainmaker fansthe message that they are tired of being the stepping mat of the league and are ready to take a chance this season at restoring glory once again.