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Stats hide Hoover's versatility

By MIKE READLING

© St. Petersburg Times,
published August 29, 2001


They're not the numbers you'd expect a Triple-A player with any hope of making the majors to put up: .203 batting average in 83 games, 3 home runs, 17 RBI. Not exactly top-prospect material.

What you won't see in that stat line, however, is No. 7. And for Durham's Paul Hoover, that's the most important one.

For the second straight season, Hoover has played seven positions for Durham, filling in everywhere except centerfield and pitcher, proving his worth far beyond home runs. Last season with Orlando, Hoover was named the Southern League's All-Star utility man after hitting .250 with three homers and 44 RBI.

He's turning that versatility into a nice career.

After the Rays drafted him in the 23rd round in 1997, he hit .303 with Princeton and was named to the New York-Penn League's All-Star team the next season. Baseball America tabbed him as one of the league's top 10 prospects. Hoover, 25, led St. Petersburg with 23 stolen bases in 1999 and spent most of last season with Orlando.

When he got to Durham, manager Bill Evers began turning the natural shortstop into a catcher. Hoover spent the better part of this year sitting behind Toby Hall and Pat Borders while filling in elsewhere when called upon.

When Hall was promoted to Tampa Bay, Hoover found himself catching more regularly. When Borders' contract was bought by the Mariners this weekend, Hoover found himself the only catcher on Durham's roster, so the Rays promoted Alex Marconi, the backup for Class-A Bakersfield, to Durham on Monday.

What that means for Hoover is more time behind the plate this final week of the season, more experience and the opportunity to come into spring training next year as Durham's No. 1 receiver.

PLAYOFF GLIMPSE: The Blaze clinched the final North Division playoff spot in the California League with a 4-1 victory over Mudville on Monday night. Bakersfield will make consecutive playoff appearances for the first time since 1991-92.

Durham entered Tuesday night 31/2 games behind Scranton/Wilkes-Barre for the final playoff spot in the International League. Durham never has missed the playoffs in its three seasons in the league.

FINALLY!: Bakersfield pitcher Brian Stokes began the season with a seven-game winning streak. Things have gone downhill since. Way downhill.

Stokes pitched five innings, allowing three earned runs on eight hits Friday night to earn his first victory since June 5, a span of 14 starts. He is 8-6.

STREAKERS: Durham's Jason Conti had a 15-game hitting streak snapped Sunday and Hudson Valley's Fernando Cortez saw his club-record 18-game streak come to an end the same day in a 3-2 win over Brooklyn.

CAREER HIGHS: Durham's Bobby Smith was 3-for-5, including a home run, Thursday, marking his second straight season with 20 home runs. ... Orlando's Stevenson Agosto matched his career-high win total by notching his eighth Thursday against Jacksonville. Agosto pitched a two-hit shutout, his second of the season, matching his career total. He had not held a team scoreless since 1997.

The no. 1s

Dewon Brazelton, the Rays 2001 first-round pick (No. 3 overall), recently signed a four-year contract. With his college experience, he could make an impact on the major-league level soon. However, if trends hold true, Brazelton could be in for more bus trips and cheap hotel rooms than he bargained. Here is a rundown on how past Rays first-round picks have fared (they did not have a first-round pick in 1998):

PAUL WILDER, OF, 1996/29th: The injury-plagued Wilder has not advanced past Class A and plays for Bakersfield. He is hitting .204 in 247 games over six seasons.

JASON STANDRIDGE, RHP, 1997/30th: Pitched the first no-hitter in organization history in 1999. Has moved up one level each season and made six appearances with Tampa Bay before being sent Sunday to Double-A Orlando. With Durham, he was 5-10 with a 5.28 ERA this season.

JOSH HAMILTON, OF, 1999/1st: Hamilton was rated the top prospect by Baseball America this spring but has struggled. After battling the flu for the first month, Hamilton injured his back, played four games and is in rehabilitation waiting for the Arizona Fall League to start.

ROCCO BALDELLI, OF, 2000/6th: At Charleston, Baldelli is hitting .249 with eight home runs, 23 doubles and 55 RBI. He hit .216 with Princeton last season and finished fifth in the Appalachian League with 232 at-bats. -- Compiled by Mike Readling

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