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Your '06 Huntsville Stars

From Baseball America:


This year's edition of the Prospect Handbook contained a record 902 scouting reports--we crammed 2005 first-round picks Justin Upton and Mike Pelfrey into the appendix after they signed late--but there still were plenty more where those came from.


Every year, a few reports end up on the cutting-room floor. Players get bumped out of the book for a variety of reasons, such as trades or injuries. Then there's a case like the Marlins, who spent the offseason trading veterans for prospects, leading us to revise their top 30 list several times.


Below are 42 players, listed alphabetically, who were in the Handbook at one point but didn't make the final cut. We like to call them "The 31st Team." Remember, these are not the next-best players left out of the Handbook. They're a somewhat random collection of talent with a wide variance in quality.


Some of these players will go on to make a bigger name for themselves. Fourteen members of the 2003 and 2004 editions of The 31st Team have gone on to play in the majors, including Jody Gerut, Nate Robinson, Fernando Rodney and Ryan Shealy. Six players from 2005's 31st Team graduated to the 2006 Prospect Handbook: Drew Anderson, Dallas Braden, Nate Bumstead, Adam Donachie, Carlos Hines and Brian Stokes.


Carlos Villanueva, rhp, Brewers

Born: Nov. 28, 1983. B-T: B-R. Ht.: 6-2. Wt.: 190. Signed: Dominican Republic, 2002. Signed by: Rick Ragazzo (Giants).


The Brewers flipped Wayne Franklin and Leo Estrella to the Giants in spring training 2004 in exchange for Villanueva and Glenn Woolard. While Woolard had a solid run in 2004, Villanueva emerged as the better prospect with a dominating 2005 season in the high Class A Florida State League. He led the FSL with a 2.32 ERA and the Milwaukee system with 138 strikeouts, but he didn't do it with overwhelming stuff. He'll have to maintain fine command to continue his success at higher levels. Villanueva uses his fastball well, throwing strikes with it and generally keeping it down in the strike zone. His fastball velocity varies, at times sitting at a fringe-average 88-90 mph and at other times dropping to 84-88. His curveball and slider are just so-so pitches with little to differentiate them other than velocity, but he generally commands them well. His changeup makes him a prospect. It's a plus pitch that he has a real feel for, and he'll throw it any time in the count, allowing him to pitch backwards and making his other pitches more effective. Villanueva got hit hard after a promotion to Double-A Huntsville, in part because his conditioning is mediocre and he ran out of gas. He doesn't have much margin for error, but Villanueva has a chance to be a back-of-the-rotation starter. He'll open 2006 back in Double-A.


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Older hands expected to give Stars new look


Huntsville Times Sports Staff



You can choose the home-improvement analogy, depending upon how much optimism you want to allow. The Huntsville Stars have a leaky roof and they're trying to patch the holes, or there is a good foundation they're merely trying to bolster.


Whatever the case, expect the Stars' 2006 roster to be speckled with names heretofore not associated with the Milwaukee Brewers' system.


As Reid Nichols, the director of player development, promised last summer, the Brewers have looked outside the organization to help in some thin spots at the two top levels of the minors, at Double-A Huntsville and Triple-A Nashville.


The Stars and Sounds are in a sense auditioning newcomers these days.


"What we're doing now is playing a lot of six-year free agents,'' Stars manager Don Money said Saturday morning from Maryvale, Ariz., where he is managing the Nashville squad until Sounds manager Frank Kremblas moves down from big-league camp Tuesday.


"We want to make decisions on them, to send them here and there. So we're playing them and watching them.''


Catching and first base are a couple of concerns that immediately leap out. The Brewers are giving Jean Boscan, 26, a former Braves' farmhand, a look at catcher and Luis Lopez, 32, a veteran of the Japanese League, at first base.


Journeyman Jermaine Clark, 29, with cups of coffee with five big league clubs, would seem to have a shot at second base in Nashville. Outfielders Colin Porter, 30, and Ronald Acuna, 25, who hit .296 at Double-A New Hampshire last season, are other names of note.


"They've got to get a lot of playing time and see what they can and can't do,'' said Money. Other roster decisions will also be "dictated from the big league team. What they keep and what they don't.''


Stars notes: Pitcher Manny Parra continues his rehab and Money expects him to begin the season in extended spring training in Arizona. ... Chris Saenz is also on a slow recovery pace from surgery. ... Veteran catcher Kade Johnson is in camp again, but nursing a sore shoulder. He missed the entire '05 season. ... One first base prospect for down the road is Ned Yost IV, the son of the Brewers' manager. ... The Stars play an April 4 exhibition game against Alabama-Huntsville, then open the season with a five-game series at Mississippi beginning April 6. The home opener is April 11.

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From David Weiser's excellent www.starsboxscore.com:


We're a week away from the start of the season and days from a final roster, and while nothing has been reported, the tentative roster, from what I learned from Brett (Voice of the Stars Brett Pollock), rounds out like this: Greg Sain and Jeff Eure at 1st base, Callix Crabbe at 2nd base, Ozzie Chavez and Guilder Rodriguez at short, and Adam Heether at 3rd base ---- Kennard Bibbs in left, Steve Moss in center, and Drew Anderson in right ---- Lou Palmisano behind the plate. We have a pretty good idea, beyond Tim Dillard and Carlos Villanueva, that Mike Meyers, Khalid Ballouli, Corey Thurman, and Andy Pratt will be a part of the pitching staff, but that's about all I can say.

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That should make for an interesting A+ team with an infield of Braun, Escobar, and Hernan. I too am a bit surprised that Braun is headed to A+. He really should tear up the FSL and hopefully get a chance at AA later this year. Not really too excited about the huntsville team this year though some interesting pitchers.
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From Adam McCalvy of MLB.com:


At Double-A Huntsville, manager Don Money will get a group led by starting pitchers Tim Dillard and Carlos Villanueva, both of whom impressed club officials with their Spring Training performances, and promising middle infielders Callix Crabbe and Ozzie Chavez.


Ash said the club was a bit concerned entering the season about the team it will field in the tough Southern League.


"We've got this gap in prospects," Ash said. "Some of our better prospects in this next wave are at A-ball and down. But it worked out a little better than we thought it might."


Others expected to start the year at Double-A: Starters Jeff Housman, Corey Thurman, Khalid Ballouli and Matt Yeatman, who was recently re-acquired from the Minnesota Twins. The bullpen will include Stephen Bray, Mike Meyers, Andy Pratt, Gerrit Simpson, Alec Zumwalt and Joe Winkelsas, a 32-year-old who will serve as the club's closer.


"Nothing is more demoralizing than to lose games in the ninth inning," Ash said. "We feel if you don't have a prospect, if you can sign a guy who can close those games and hold those leads, you should do that."


Besides the second baseman Crabbe and the shortstop Chavez, Huntsville will get catchers Lou Palmisano and Jean Boscan, first baseman Greg Sain, third baseman Adam Heether and outfielders Steve Moss, Kennard Bibbs and Drew Anderson. The bench will include Jeff Eure, Guilder Rodriguez and Jose (Ron) Acuna.

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At first glance it looks like there are going to be more than a few low run scoring games for the Stars. That offense coud be brutal.
"Dustin Pedroia doesn't have the strength or bat speed to hit major-league pitching consistently, and he has no power......He probably has a future as a backup infielder if he can stop rolling over to third base and shortstop." Keith Law, 2006
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No Vinnie at catcher? Does that mean he'll start as catcher in AAA? If they are serious about turning him into a catcher, they really do need to give him an extended run at it.


Vinny is going to be the super utility guy at AAA. He'll get some starts and playing time at 3B (primarily), 1B, LF, RF, and C.


Huntsville's team looks - how should I say it? - Weak.

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Huntsville's team looks - how should I say it? - Weak.


It doesn't look overpowering on paper, does it? Little doubt the Brewers went out and acquired Greg Sain just to get some needed thump from a corner position there.


Dillard and Villanueva need to be really, really good (again), and hopefully the back end of the bullpen will secure what should be a lot of close low-scoring games.


Funny thing though in terms of wins and losses. Most of the much-anticpated Brevard County "next wave" roster will be made up of guys who went 60-78 in West Virginia last year.


If Don Money has the boys playing fundamentally sound ball, don't be surprised if this group of Stars give Huntsville fans a little show this season.


Remember, Gord Ash is overseeing AAA and AA opertaions now just to allow Reid Nichols to focus on A-ball and below.


But no, don't bet the house on a .600 winning percentage or anything in that stratosphere at AA.

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Plenty of new Stars will take field this week

Huntsville opens season Thursday at Mississippi

By MARK McCARTER, Huntsville Times Sports Staff



If nothing else, it should be good for scorecard sales at Joe W. Davis Stadium, so many new inhabitants of Stars' uniforms.


A majority of the Class of '06 will be newcomers or at least players with only brief previous tenures in Huntsville, or so it seems according to what Milwaukee officials call a "tentative roster" faxed by the Brewers to the Stars on Friday. Reid Nichols, the Brewers' director of player development, did not return calls from The Times to elaborate on the Stars' roster.


The Stars open their season Thursday at Mississippi, in the Jackson suburb of Pearl. The home opener is April 11 against Birmingham.


The Stars will make a quick appearance in Huntsville before hitting the road. They fly east Monday, then plan a brief workout at the stadium that night, according to manager Don Money. The Stars face Alabama-Huntsville in an exhibition game Tuesday at 6:05, then another workout and media day on Wednesday.


Among the "name" players headed to the Stars is catcher Lou Palmisano, a third-round draft pick and one of the organization's more highly touted prospects since being named MVP of the Pioneer League in 2003, his first pro season.


He'll be backed up by Jean Boscan, acquired in the off-season from Atlanta.


The starting outfield is brand new.


Ronald Acuna, 25, who hit .296 for Toronto's Double-A New Hampshire club last season, will be in left field. Steve Moss will be in center field and Drew Anderson in right. Both were at Single-A Brevard County last year. Kennard Bibbs returns as Huntsville's spare outfielder.


The infield will include mostly familiar names. Adam Heether, who finished the '05 season in Huntsville, will be at third, with Ozzie Chavez at shortstop. Callix Crabbe will return to second base.


Greg Sain, the '04 Southern League home run champ at Mobile, will be the first baseman, with Jeff Eure in reserve. Eure can also DH and play third. Guilder Rodriguez, with the Stars part of last season, will be the utility infielder.


The pitching staff, which traditionally has more last-minute changes than elsewhere on the club and might find a different name or two by Monday's flight, includes the return of Jeff Housman, who spent last season in Triple-A but was a key figure in the Stars' 2003 playoff drive.


Other pitchers returning to the Stars are Khalid Ballouli, Mike Meyers, Andy Pratt, Gerrit Simpson, Carlos Villanueva and Alec Zumwalt.


Newcomers include Stephen Bray, Tim Dillard, Corey Thurman, Joe Winkelsas and Matt Yeatman.

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Just want to increase the visibility of this for Huntsville-area fans, reprinted from David Weiser's www.starsboxscore.com:


Carlos Villanueva is personally asking if someone in the Huntsville or Madison area will rent him out a car for the season. Since Carlos and his teammate this year, Ozzie Chavez are from another country, it's difficult for them to get a car here. Nothing fancy. It just has to get them from their apartment to the field for the summer. They'd rather not impose upon their teammates every day for a ride and they would appreciate it very much. If you want to help them out, contact Johnny Phillips at Johnnymack55@wmconnect.com


(C'mon, Brewer front office, take care of Carlos, a key contributor in the making...Mass Haas)


The pitifully thinning ranks of the Huntsville Stars Booster Club had their first general membership meeting last Thursday, and although the membership keeps getting smaller, three new members came to join the ranks Thursday......... For the first time in years, there will be no autographed quilt raffled off at the end of the season. The club barely broke even with the promotion last year, so this year, hoping to get more widespread appeal, an autographed item from the Milwaukee Brewers, perhaps a bat or glove, was discussed as the raffle item as a fundraiser for the Booster Club........ The Boosters every year welcome the team, feed them with at least two big functions every year, entertain them with golf and bowling tournaments, and provide them with linen, housewares, and such from a loan closet when they arrive in April......... If you don't want to join, maybe you'd like to make a donation. Just go to Johnny's message board (the link is below) and follow the link to the Booster Club......... Join up. A trip to Mississippi or Montgomery looks to be in the future this year.


Very cool site to play around in if you never have:



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From Adam McCalvy of MLB.com:


Right-hander Ben Sheets threw a successful bullpen session before Monday's game and the team has decided to send him to Jackson, Miss., for a Minor League start Thursday.


Double-A Huntsville opens its season that day, on the road against the Mississippi Braves. Sheets will return to Milwaukee after his start to be re-evaluated by Brewers medical staffers before then heading out for another Minor League start at a site to be determined.


With Huntsville, Sheets will be monitored by pitching coach Rich Sauveur and athletic trainer Dave Yeager.


"They got together [with Brewers trainers] before the end of Spring Training because we knew that was where Ben might be heading," assistant general manager Gord Ash said. "Everyone is on the same page."


The Brewers chose the Double-A game over an assignment to Triple-A Nashville, which also opens its season Thursday at Omaha, Neb., because thunderstorms are in the forecast for the Triple-A game.


Sheets very likely could return to Huntsville to open their home season Tuesday the 11th against Birmingham, before debuting with Milwaukee on Sunday the 16th in New York.


Will be weird seeing Ben's name on those Link Report matchups...

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Mass Haas, thanks for the kind words about my website and for the link. I am in the process of changing it around some so it may not look too good right now but everything is still there. I'm trying to make it easier to use and also hope to add some more to it so it looks like I'm going to have to break down and start paying for the hosting and get rid of Angelfire's ads. I don't have the STARS record holders on there anymore since David was providing them and he now has them on his great site.

Great to see that Ben will be back in a STARS uniform. We won't get to see him, we're going down to Mississippi for the Sat. and Sun. games. One of the local news stations said tonight that his second start would almost certainly be in Nashville rather than Huntsville. I'll wait til I see it on Brewerfan though, it's MUCH more reliable than any of the local stations ......

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The Huntsville Stars opened their 2006 season with a 10-1 exhibition victory over the University of Alabama - Huntsville (9-27) Chargers. Charger pitchers walked eight, seven of them in the first three innings, including five in a 7-run 2nd inning. Greg Sain hit a 3-run HR for the Stars w/2 out in the 3rd inning. The box score is already up on my web site and I'm working on the details in my column.


Huntsville Stars Box Score

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Stars hoping Crabbe claws

Leadoff hitter staying persistent in second Double-A season


Huntsville Times Sports Staff, markcolumn@aol.com


At 7:05 tonight, with a major league ace still getting in his final warmup tosses in the bullpen and an amateur-level umpire behind the plate, Callix Crabbe will step into the batter's box to begin the season.


The first pitch will be thrown by a man with only eight games at this level, to a catcher who will eventually set the record for the longest name in major league history.


Ah, the magic of Opening Night. Five stories in one snapshot of the Huntsville Stars' inaugural 2006 game against the Mississippi Braves at Trustmark Park, in the Jackson suburb of Pearl.


Ben Sheets, the major league all-star currently on Milwaukee's disabled list, will start for Huntsville. He'll be on a 50-pitch limit, according to Stars pitching coach Rich Sauveur.


The game will be umpired, as will all games for the foreseeable future, by replacements because of a strike by the minor league umpires' union.


Sheets' mound opponent will be Sean White, who has pitched in 71 professional games - less than half of Sheets' major league total. White will be throwing to the Braves' highly touted catching prospect with the mellifluous name, Jarrod Saltalamacchia.


As for the man holding the bat, it's a second go-'round at second base for Crabbe, the 23-year-old from the U.S. Virgin Islands.


In his first Double-A season in '05, Crabbe batted only .243. Though he walked 65 times in 119 games, he also struck out that often. He made only 14 errors, but probably had that many mental ones that proved costly. It was a difficult climb from Single-A, arguably the most difficult leap in baseball.


"The speed of the game, the fact that you're going against players that have been around, you start to second-guess yourself,'' Crabbe said. "Now, coming into a second year, you're just that much more confident. The fact you know you can play the game. It's the same game as High A and Low A. Confidence is the main thing, knowing you belong here.''


After last season, he spent the winter in Marietta, Ga., helping build townhomes for a construction company. "That makes you appreciate the game that much more,'' he said.


Then came spring training, and something of a rebuilt Crabbe, "more loose and relaxed, more solid,'' said hitting coach Sandy Guerrero. "He was swinging the bat a lot better.''


Crabbe even had some playing time with the big-league club, starting a game against the White Sox and getting "a boost of confidence,'' he said.


There are some stereotypical notions about a leadoff hitter - speed, gets on base however he can, little power - that overshadow a most important quality: patience.


"You want to make (the opposing pitcher) throw four or five pitches, make him go deep in the count,'' Guerrero said. That enables the No. 2 hitter - Drew Anderson, in Huntsville's case - to see more of the full arsenal of pitches.


Crabbe hasn't been thinking that much about this first trip to the plate.


"Coming off a good spring training, you don't have that much to think about other than keep doing what you've done all spring,'' he said. "Part of being a mature player is sticking with what works. I want to keep that same feeling, visualize the same at-bats, and good things will happen.''

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Playing for Canada produces Classic memories

Contact Mark McCarter at markcolumn@aol.com,

Huntsville Times


Today, in search of insight on curling and memories of hockey, we go one-on-one with Mike Meyers, the Stars' Canadian-born relief pitcher. He was a member of the Canadian team in the recent World Baseball Classic, which seems a good place to start.


Q: How was the experience in the Classic?


Meyers: It was one of the best times I've ever had. It would have been a lot better if we had won some more games and hung around until the next round. But it was fun to meet some of the big league players I hadn't met. And it was fun to play the other national teams. It was good times.


Q: Growing up in Canada, did you pay attention to Canadian-born players?


Meyers: Yeah, you know I remember growing up watching Rob Ducey play. Everybody knew he was one of the Canadians playing at the time. Everybody kinda followed him.


Q: Who would we have heard of who was on your team in the Classic?


Meyers: Jason Bay (Pirates), Justin Morneau (Twins), Corey Koskie (Brewers), Pete Orr (Braves). Adam Stern (Red Sox), Matt Stairs (Royals). Pitchers, we had Jeff Francis (Rockies) and Erik Bedard (Royals). And Chris Reitsma (Braves) was the closer. It was all big league guys except at second base.


Q: What's your best memory from it?


Meyers: Obviously the best moment was beating the United States team (8-6, on March 1). If you asked anybody on the team, that would be the majority's answer.


We got a couple of runs there in the first inning and the second inning came around and we threw a couple more up there. It's was like, "Hey, let's keep it going there."


Q: How much did you pitch, and how did you get find out you were chosen?


Meyers: I threw one game against South Africa for an inning and two innings against Mexico.


I didn't know anything (about being a candidate) until January and they called and asked me if I wanted to play. That was a dumb question. The guy who takes care of all the national teams I've been involved with called me. I was driving home, picking up my son (Brody, 9 1/2 months) from the baby sitter when I got through working out.


Q: How did this impact your getting prepared for the season?


Meyers: It kinda bumped up my off-season process. I was just getting into throwing bullpens (sessions off a mound), so I had to speed everything up a week and a half or two weeks.


I flew down to Florida on March 2 and on March 3 I started against the Blue Jays (in an exhibition game) in Dunedin. I was coming off a wooden mound (indoors) into a big league game. I got thrown right into the fire.


Q: Can you please explain curling?


Meyers: (Laughing) It's funny, I came down here and went to school in the States (Black Hawk College, in Moline, Ill.) and the Olympics are on (in 1994) and nobody's even heard of it. We used to have to do it in gym class. It was fun to watch the last time. Like they said, it was one of the sports most watched.


Q: Did you grow up on ice skates?


Meyers: Oh, yeah. I played hockey until I was probably 14. I remember me and my dad going skating on a pond at my grandpa's place. We were always going on Sunday, skating around a rink.


Q: Did you have a favorite hockey player or favorite baseball player growing up?


Meyers: I'd have to say hockey. (Mario) Lemieux.


Q: What stereotype of Canada needs to be erased?


Meyers: That it's cold every day of the year. Especially where I live, it's not. (London, Ontario, about two hours from Detroit, an hour and a half west of Buffalo). Where I live now, in Illinois, it's the same as Canada. Whatever weather we get in Illinois, my parents get the next day (in Ontario).


Q: Say something in Canadian.


Meyers: Eh.


Q: What about the other Mike Meyers, or variations on the spelling, who are out there?


Meyers: Every single day, it's either the movie "Halloween" guy or the funny Mike Myers. I would say I hear more about the Halloween guy than the funny guy. I don't know why. I didn't even watch it. I don't like horror movies.

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they do know this is the Brewers' eighth season in Huntsville, right?


I love you guys and this site http://forum.brewerfan.net/images/smilies/smile.gif

But the answer to that question is no, nor do they care much (the majority of atendees anyhow).

I was considerably more surprized that Tejada, Chavez and Hudson didn't get a mention in that commercial than I was about Weeks or Fielder.

Sheets is the only Brewer who played for the Stars who might produce a vague glimmer of recognition, in the type of person that commercial was aimed at and even he doesn't get that much exposure outside specialist baseball shows.

Unless Minor League clubs are affiliated to the Sox, Yankees, Cubs, Cards or Braves(especially the Braves in the South), there really isn't any point in them advertising their affiliation. Most casual visitors don't care and those of us who do care would attend even if we were affiliated to Kansas.

If Weeks and Fielder achieve the status of Tejada and Chavez, they might eventually make the commercial - but not before it, just by virtue of being a Brewer.

If Kenny Ray makes it with the Braves, he'll be the first Brewer ever in a Huntsville commercial, that would be HUGE here.

Having said all that, they were truly awful commercials and Benny and Co aren't missing much by not being in them. (I also wonder if there may just be a financial reason why they didn't use any current MLB players)

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Thurman working hard as ever

By Lisa Winston / MLB.com


A week or two ago, my Around the Minors co-host Jonathan Mayo and I decided, on the spur of the moment, to add a segment to that day's show that we called, "Wow, look who's still playing!"


We each cyber-scooted off to scour the box scores and league-leader boards to find our favorite name that had dropped below the radar. It didn't take me long to find my candidate. There, atop the Southern League ERA leaders it read: Corey Thurman, Huntsville Stars.


I remember well when Corey Thurman was an up-and-coming prospect in the Kansas City Royals system: a big, strong, athletic kid who brimmed with enthusiasm and off-the-wall charm.


His interests off the field ranged from bowling to opera to reading poetry to "surfing the Internet" well before that was as commonplace as it is now.


At the 2001 Winter Meetings, the Toronto Blue Jays took a chance on him in the Major League Rule 5 Draft, and he was one of the fortunate few who not only "stuck" on the roster all year but actually made a positive contribution to the big-league team, posting a 4.37 ERA in 43 games.


After that, though, he seemed to fall off the radar in a hurry. So, seeing his name and his stellar stats gave me the opportunity to find out what had happened to "L'il Corey."


It included the dreaded words: rotator cuff surgery.


For most pitchers, attempting to make a comeback from rotator cuff surgery at age 27, more than a year removed from competing in the Minor Leagues, it would be considered a success just to make a rotation, stay healthy and get batters out on a regular basis. But Thurman has done the "comeback" concept one better.


Through his first six starts for his Double-A Southern League team, he ranked among the league leaders with a 2.20 ERA, having walked 10 while striking out 26 in 32 2/3 innings and allowing just one homer.


Thurman is not just "coming back." He appears to be on the way to being better than ever.


"I'm normally a slow, slow starter, so this was the best April I've had coming out of the gate," said Thurman, whose ERA that month was 0.98. "But you know, people say it's not how you start, it's how you finish."


For Thurman, to finish a healthy 2006 campaign, starting every fifth day and pitching without pain, would be the ultimate achievement.


It's been 10 years since Thurman was drafted by the Kansas City Royals in the fourth round in 1996 out of high school in Texas. After posting a 4.48 ERA over his first four pro seasons, he enjoyed a huge breakout year in 2000, as he won the Carolina League ERA crown with Wilmington, posting a 2.26, before moving up to Double-A Wichita. The next summer he went 13-5 with a 3.37 ERA at Wichita, enough to prompt the Blue Jays to call his name during the Rule 5 Draft.


He had a reputation as a big, strong, innings-eater, with a decent fastball in the low 90s and a devastating changeup, as well as a curveball and slider. In Toronto, in 2002, he worked exclusively in relief, something new for him. But as with everything in his life, he found the positives in that role. "It gave me flexibility," said Thurman. "And it helped me see how the game worked without all the pressure of being a starter."


The next year, when he no longer had to be kept on the Major League roster, he pitched 86 innings at Triple-A Syracuse, posting a 4.27 ERA as a starter again, as well as enjoying another brief stint in Toronto. But through the whole season he quietly suffered from a sore shoulder.


That fall he was released by the Blue Jays and signed with Cincinnati, but when an MRI on the shoulder showed a torn labrum, that contract was voided. He opted to try to heal through rehab rather than surgery, and a few months later the Reds signed him again. He posted a 1.65 ERA in five games at their Class A Advanced Potomac club in 2004 before exercising an out clause and signing with the Expos, who sent him to Double-A Harrisburg.


There, however, his arm trouble returned with a vengeance. His velocity dropped and his ERA skyrocketed. "It didn't feel right. There was no life on the ball, nothing," he recalled. "I knew I needed surgery."


Thurman went to the famed Dr. James Andrews in Birmingham, who operated, discovering that the problem was not his labrum but rather his rotator cuff. After the operation in November 2004, Thurman's former Blue Jays trainer hooked him up with rehab specialist David Wright, who runs Mind 2 Muscle, a weight-training facility in suburban Mississauga, Ontario.


Living near Toronto since his playing days there, Thurman has been working out with a single-minded passion, as well as attending junior college in the city.


Last summer, he pitched in a handful of games for the Florence (Ky.) Freedom of the independent Frontier League, to get some innings in a competitive situation. While there, he caught the eye of a Brewers scout and signed with the organization this past offseason.


Brewers Minor League Pitching Coordinator Jim Rooney was already familiar with Thurman from his own days with the Toronto system. "I knew from what I'd seen of him that he was a very good athlete who competed his butt off," said Rooney. "He has an outstanding changeup -- an out-pitch changeup -- and he's a competitor who takes great care of himself in his preparation and conditioning."


Rooney knows, as does Thurman, that his rehab is not yet finished. Thurman's fastball isn't completely back to where it was before the surgery, and he'll need that to raise it a few more ticks.


"I think that will come with the rehab," Rooney said. "We'll wait for a little more fastball to come back, and in the meantime, he needs to work on getting a little more consistent out front with his slider so he can go at hitters with three or four pitches."


The loss of the fastball velocity is something that Thurman is trying to use to his advantage, mentally as well as physically. "When I was younger and my arm was stronger, I would try to 'outstuff' people," he said. "Now it's about trying to outsmart them. Having seen how Major League pitchers go about their business, I've learned it's not necessarily about what kind of stuff you have, but how to use your mind to get people out."


That year in the big leagues taught Thurman a lot about not taking anything for granted, he said. And that goes for the friendships he made there, as well as the game itself. "The camaraderie of a team is what I missed most," he said. "They're your second family."


Thurman knows that until he is proven to be totally healthy, that family reunion will have to wait. "If I can go out there every fifth day for a whole season, everything else will take care of itself," he said. "I have no goals as far as ERA or wins, none of that. Those are nice, but when you're coming off an injury, every month is a new start."


And while he may not have the fastball of his youth, Thurman believes that what he's learned in the meantime has offset the missing miles per hour.


"Until I get a chance to get back up to the Majors and see myself against those guys, I won't really know," he admitted, "but inside my head I feel like I am a better pitcher than I was before."


I wondered, when I spoke to him, about all those interests he'd had back in the day. The interest in poetry has evolved into a love of rap. And obviously, coming off shoulder surgery, bowling is on the no-no list.


His favorite new hobby? "Getting as much sleep as I can," he laughed.


And I don't have to ask him what he dreams about.


Through six starts, Corey Thurman is among the Southern League leaders with a 2.20 ERA, having walked 10 and fanned 26 over 32 2/3 innings.



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Ballouli Receives Weekly Honor


Stars' pitcher Khalid Ballouli has been named the Southern League BC Powder Pitcher of the Week for the the week of May 1-7. Ballouli is the first Huntsville player to be so honored during the 2006 season.


Ballouli tossed eight shutout frames at home in the first game of a doubleheader against Tennessee on May 1 but was not involved in the decision, as the Smokies won the game 2-0 in 11 innings. He struck out a season-high nine batters, did not issue a walk and set down the last 15 hitters he faced.


The right-hander earned his second win of the season on Saturday at West Tenn after allowing four runs, only two earned, on six hits over five-plus innings. Ballouli retired the first six hitters he faced to extend his consecutive batters retired streak to 21 before issuing a leadoff walk to Tony Richie in the third inning. The former Texas A & M standout also came through with the biggest hit of the game, delivering a two-out, two-run bases loaded single to break up a scoreless game and key a four-run fourth inning in the Stars' 5-4 victory.


Ballouli is 2-1 with a 3.86 earned run average in his first six starts of the season. He was selected by the Brewers in the sixth round of the 2002 draft.



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