Looking for a Minor Miracle

Salt this name away, Rockies fans: Scott Randall.
As the club's fourth season winds down with an ineffectual bang (four Bombers with a hundred RBIs each--first time in the National League since 1929) and a resounding whimper (8 million bucks' worth of Saberhagen and Swift still on the shelf), you can sniff a hint of change in the air.

By next July, every player in Don Baylor's starting lineup will be over thirty--not too old to do the macarena, but getting a bit long in the tooth when it comes to knocking off the Braves or Dodgers or Astros in the playoffs.

By spring 1998, the Rockies' third generation of prospects will start working up to the big club. Amid the crop are two dozen pitchers, the highest priority for Rockies general manager Bob Gebhard and Dick Balderson, the vice president for player development. Want to gauge the value Rockies management puts on strong young arms? In the June draft, fourteen of the Rockies' first fifteen picks were pitchers.

So then. Scott Randall.
If you want to see the possible future of Colorado Rockies baseball--which is to say baseball with real, live talent out there on the mound as well as guys swinging tree trunks at the plate--have a look at Scott Randall, the winningest pitcher in the entire organization. Last year at Portland, he went 7-3 with a 1.99 earned run average. This season, at Asheville, North Carolina, the Rockies' affiliate in the Single-A South Atlantic League, the slender right-hander from Goleta, California, won fourteen games and lost four, and his 2.74 ERA was just about half that of the parent club's current 5.68. In 154 innings of work, he struck out 136 batters while walking only 50. Phenomenal. Especially for an eleventh-round 1995 draft choice out of Santa Barbara City College.

Granted, the Asheville Tourists' ace, age twenty, spent the second season of his professional career facing not Mike Piazza or Barry Bonds, but assorted Savannah Sand Gnats, Piedmont Boll Weevils and Hickory Crawdads. With his teammates, he endured ten-hour bus rides up to Maryland to face the Hagerstown Suns, squeaked by on $1,000 a month and kept a sharp eye on menu prices: Meal money in the Sally League comes to $15 a day. Still, it was quite a year. Randall and fellow starter Chandler Martin combined for seventeen wins in 1996 before either pitcher lost a game, and in the first half of their split season, the Tourists treated their fans at 3,400-seat McCormick Field to a runaway with the Central Division title. Their 47-20 record before the All-Star break was the best in all of baseball.

"I don't think my stuff got any better this year," Randall says. "But I got more consistent--and smarter about what pitch to throw in what situation."

On the afternoon of July 23, that pitch was mainly Randall's 88-mile-an-hour two-seam fastball, which dips out of the strike zone and induces ground balls by the dozens. After chasing a hint of rain out of the sky, Randall fought off a bout of wildness warming up in the bullpen, then threw a no-hitter against the Fayetteville Generals. He struck out eleven and allowed only one runner to reach base, on a second-inning walk. Only two Generals hit balls out of the infield, and in nine innings Randall threw just 84 pitches.

"I didn't start the day very well," he says. "But it all came together somehow."

For most twenty-year-olds, a 7-0 start, fourteen wins and a late-July no-hitter would have made a season. But Randall wasn't done yet. On August 14 in Augusta, Georgia, he pitched eight perfect and eleven hitless innings, fanning eleven opposing Greenjackets and walking only one. Asheville manager P.J. Carey pulled his weary starter in the bottom of the twelfth, and the club went on to win the game 2-1--in nineteen innings. Not very Bichette-like, no taste of the Big Cat in there. But just the kind of thing Rockies fans might learn to appreciate by, say, the year 2000.

Two days after the Augusta start, Randall came down with strep throat, lost twelve pounds while lying in bed for two weeks and hasn't pitched since. But neither a touch of tendinitis at mid-season nor a sore throat is likely to keep the young phenom from moving on and up. Why, only last week, after being named the Tourists' most valuable player, he was promptly driven to Kostas' Menswear in Asheville and fitted with a brand-new blue suit. Life in the bush leagues being what it is, he'd already moved out of his apartment.

At 6-3 and 178 pounds, Scott Randall is still a growing boy and not yet considered a power pitcher. But his current pitching coach, Stan Kyles, expects him to add fifteen or twenty pounds to his frame, two or three miles an hour to that sinking fastball and some snap to his curve. In all likelihood, he'll move up to Salem and Double-A New Haven next season. Like the Rockies' emergent Jamey Wright and another twenty-year-old farmhand, 1994 first-round choice Doug Million, Randall is one of the brightest hopes for sub-football scores at Coors Field in seasons to come. Million, by the way, went 10-8 this year at New Haven of the Eastern League with a 2.74 ERA, 139 strikeouts and a worrisome 100 walks.

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