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Minor League Baseball / Steve Henson : Skeels Unable to Mask Desire for a Trade

A prosperous situation for the San Diego Padres has placed Andy Skeels in a most uncomfortable position. And it has nothing to do with the fact that he is asked to squat behind the plate nearly every night.

The Padres are blessed with a full rack of talented catchers. At the top, of course, is National League All-Star Benito Santiago. Not far behind, at triple-A Las Vegas, is Sandy Alomar Jr., one of the hottest prospects in baseball. Further down the line, at Class-A Riverside, is Skeels, a Thousand Oaks High graduate who was drafted in 1987 after setting the single-season home run record (18) at the University of Arkansas.

Viewing his prospects of moving up in the Padre organization as dim, Skeels hopes that some smart shopper lifts him off the rack.

“I’m absolutely begging for a trade,” he said. “If I weren’t in this organization, I’d be in triple-A, no doubt.”

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After a slow start, Skeels has batted better than .300 for the past two months to improve his average to .261. He also has 14 doubles, four triples, one home run and 36 runs batted in. This is his second season at Riverside after playing his first professional season at Spokane, Wash., in the rookie Northwest League.

Heightening his frustration is a feeling that the Padres are reluctant to trade any of their catchers.

“They’re like a kid with lots of toys. The minute someone else wants to play with one, they say, ‘No, no, you can’t have that one,’ even though they haven’t given it any attention in a month,” Skeels said.

Tom Romenesko, the Padres’ minor-league director, talks like a kid with a chest full of toys.

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“We are fortunate to have two high-profile catchers, and we have several more interesting catchers at the minor-league level,” Romenesko said. “Catching is one of the most difficult positions in the industry, and you can never have enough.”

The backlog of backstops has piqued the interest of other teams, however. And there is interest in Skeels. “Andy’s been heavily scouted,” Romenesko said.

But until--or if--a move is made, there is nothing Skeels can do but strap on the mask and present to the world a broad smile and a hard swing.

“I’ve got to find out if I can play or not,” he said. “In our organization, I’m nobody. Their business is to play who they think is best. I’m a grown man, I can handle that. I’ll be at the park tonight.”

Buying time: After mostly watching from the bench as Arizona won the Division I national championship in 1986, Pat Waid of Camarillo probably figured the clock was running out on his baseball career. He was a backup outfielder again in 1987, his senior year.

But perseverance has paid off for Waid. He called around to independent minor-league teams and landed a tryout last year with the Salt Lake City Trappers of the Class-A Pioneer League. Not only did he make the team, he batted leadoff, played center field and was among the league leaders in stolen bases, with 15 in a 70-game season.

Waid, who played for two years at Oxnard College before transferring to Arizona, has improved his batting average from .280 last season to .326 and he has five home runs, 24 RBIs and seven stolen bases. Now, time is on his side.

“Pat has a real good chance of being picked up by a major league organization at the end of this year,” said Holly Andretta, the Trappers’ assistant general manager. “He was nearly signed by the Reds after last season and he has got a lot stronger since then.”

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Breaking ground: Gino Tagliaferri’s first professional hit was not a booming home run of the type that were his signature at Kennedy High the past three years. But because it was his first hit, his single up the middle Tuesday might be more memorable.

Tagliaferri, the City Section single-season home run champion, has made several adjustments since reporting last week to Niagara Falls, N.Y., of the Class-A New York-Penn League.

“He says the pitchers really throw gas,” said Gene Tagliaferri, Gino’s father. “He’s adjusting to the wood bat and he’s adjusting to the weather. It’s always cloudy and humid.”

Another change for Tagliaferri is his position--third base after a high school career at shortstop.

But the most change Tagliaferri will see is due Jan. 15, which happens to be his 19th birthday. That’s the day he receives the second half of his signing bonus.

Another hunch, by George: Longtime San Francisco Giants scout George Genovese of North Hollywood has signed several longshots who have enjoyed long careers in the major leagues. In addition to sure things like Bobby Bonds, Chili Davis and Jack Clark, Genovese has taken chances on players like Gary Mathews and Eric King, players no other scout would touch.

John Chiaramonte of Westlake High and Moorpark College is Genovese’s latest gamble. After signing in June, Chiaramonte was assigned to Pocatello, Ida., of the Class-A Pioneer League.

Primarily a knuckleball pitcher in high school, Chiaramonte has gotten progressively stronger and has developed an impressive array of pitches. The right-hander was 7-1 at Moorpark last season and was named the team’s most valuable player.

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“He’s averaging a strikeout an inning,” Genovese said. “He kind of reminds me of (Dan) Quisenberry, who wasn’t overpowering when he signed. John brings the ball from all over but he can be rough with his sidearm delivery. When he drops down, his ball really sinks.”

Genovese is impressed by Chiaramonte’s head as much as his arm. “I love his general makeup, he seems to be a competitor,” Genovese said.

Add Pocatello: The last Valley-area player signed by Genovese prior to Chiaramonte was Joey Speakes of Poly High. Speakes is also at Pocatello, where he starts in the outfield. A single performance in the 1987 City Section playoffs told Genovese volumes about Speakes.

“Poly knocked Chatsworth from the playoffs and Joey really performed in the clutch at bat and in the outfield,” Genovese said. “That one game told me that he was professional material. I decided that day to draft him.”


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