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Yankees discover talent in Tampa

By BOB PUTNAM, Times wires
Published June 9, 2004

Thanks to a driven owner with unlimited resources, the New York Yankees have acquired players other teams can only dream about.

Jason Giambi, Alex Rodriguez, Kevin Brown. The list goes on and on. Such shrewd maneuvers have allowed the team to stay among the elite.

But to achieve league-wide dominance, have the Yankees done so at the expense of their farm system?

For years, the Yankees have been unable to produce their own stars, often using their top-tier talent as trade bait to land marquee veterans in a push to make the playoffs. This offseason, Nick Johnson and Alfonso Soriano, players who made their way through the minors, were traded away.

So devoid are the Yankees of blue-chip talent, they do not have a prospect listed in the top 40 by Baseball America.

Their best minor-league player, Dioner Navarro, is ranked 41st and is blocked from any big-league promotion by Jorge Posada.

Despite all the gloom, there are signs the system may blossom again.

The foundation starts in Tampa.

The Yankees' advanced Class A affiliate has played well the first half of the Florida State League and is second in the Western Division.

The league has taken notice of the team's success. Tampa had seven players selected for the FSL all-star game, tying Palm Beach for most in the league. The game will be held Saturday at Tradition Field in St. Lucie.

Heading the list of all-stars is a trio of right-handed pitchers - Matthew DeSalvo, Edwardo Sierra and Jon Skaggs - who make up one-third of the Western Division's staff. But that shouldn't be much of a surprise considering they rank in the top five in team ERA.

The good fortune has not just been with the pitching staff. Tampa's offense also is among the best in the league in batting average and the other position players that made the all-star team are catcher Jon Mark Spowl, outfielder Tommy Winrow and infielders Shelley Duncan and Bronson Sardinha.

"I like that Tampa team," Damon Oppenheimer, the Yankees scouting and farm director, told Baseball America. "Rudy Guillen in centerfield is a talent. Bronson Sardinha is off to a great start - he's getting on base, walking, making strides at third base. Those are two legit talents. (Right-hander) Edwardo Sierra has a huge arm. We have a lot of interesting pieces there."

With a mix of top draft picks and solid veterans, Tampa has the talent to make a run for a title.

And that's all that matters to George Steinbrenner.

DUNEDIN: The Blue Jays, who lead the Western Division, have four all-stars - pitchers Josh Banks, Edward Buzachero, outfielder Jayce Tingler and designated hitter Vito Chiaravalloti. Banks will not be able to play because of a promotion to Double A.

CLEARWATER: The Threshers, last in the Western Division, have two all-stars - infielder Ryan Barthelemy and outfielder Chris Roberson. Roberson was named the Phillies minor league player of the month in May. He hit .360 with six home runs, five triples and 21 RBIs.

[Last modified June 9, 2004, 01:00:39]

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