MINOR LEAGUE NOTEBOOK / STEVE KRESAL : James Can Hit, Proving He Can Field, Too
Joey James doesn’t mind being noticed just because he can hit a baseball. In fact, he has become used to it since his days at Newport Harbor High School and Orange Coast College.
But now that he’s playing professionally, James, a 6-foot, 220-pound left-handed hitter, would like people to know he can play some defense, too.
James, 24, is the first baseman for the Clinton (Iowa) Giants, San Francisco’s Class-A team in the Midwest League. In 67 games, he is hitting .283, with 11 home runs and a league-leading 55 runs batted in.
James is quick to point out that he has made a mere six errors, two in the first game.
“I’m starting to feel a lot more comfortable at first,” he said. “I’m getting used to being there. A lot of people don’t realize I’ve never played that much first base before this year.”
James was an outfielder at Newport Harbor and OCC, where he was a two-time all-state player. He then signed with UCLA, where he was mostly used as the designated hitter his junior year.
He was a 16th-round pick of the Cleveland Indians in 1988, but planned to stay at UCLA for his senior season. When it became clear he would remain the Bruins’ designated hitter, he signed with the Indians in mid-August.
“It was time to get started in pro baseball,” James said. “I realized if I was going to make it, I was going to be at first base. And I needed the opportunity to play it.”
But his professional career got off to a delayed start. He had signed so late in the season that he didn’t play in 1988. The next spring, at the Indians’ spring training camp at Tucson, he injured his left elbow in a collision at first base.
James stayed an extra month in Tucson to heal and to learn more about playing first base. But the time seemed wasted when he arrived in Watertown, N.Y., and was made the designated hitter for the Indians’ team in the Class-A New York-Penn League.
“I don’t know why they wanted me to learn a position that they weren’t going to let me play,” James said. He struggled with a .233 average and hit only seven home runs and drove in 31 runs in 59 games.
“I don’t want to keep bringing up the DH,” James said. “But that made it tough for me. It made it hard to concentrate, just sitting for a half hour then getting up for five minutes, then sitting back down.”
James got a break in the off-season, when he was traded to the Giants’ organization for outfielder Ken Gerhart. And though the Midwest League uses designated hitters, James was told from the start that he would be a first baseman.
“It made things better just when they told me that I would have a position,” James said. “I liked that. It meant I would be more involved in the flow of the game, and I knew that would make a difference.”
OCC alumni: James isn’t the only former Orange Coast player doing well in the minors these days. Dave Staton is leading the California League in home runs with 16 and is third in RBIs with 52.
Staton is the third baseman for the Riverside Red Wave, the Padres’ entry in the league. Staton hit behind James at OCC in ’86 and ‘87, keeping pitchers from intentionally walking James.
Greg O’Halloran, who caught at OCC in 1988, is having a fine season at Dunedin, the Toronto Blue Jays’ team in the Class-A Florida State League. O’Halloran, who played for the Canadian team in the 1988 Summer Olympics, is hitting .294 with nine home runs and leads the league with 53 RBIs.
Trivia time: In the film “Bull Durham,” catcher Crash Davis (Kevin Costner) supposedly set the minor league career home run record with 247. But, in reality, who holds the mark?
Finally: Bob Hamelin, the former Irvine High and Rancho Santiago College star, had been talked about as the next first baseman for the Kansas City Royals after making the jump from Class-A to triple-A ball in just two years.
But this season at Omaha began as a struggle for Hamelin, who hit no better than .170 the first two months.
But George Brett’s heir apparent is 13 for 30 in his last 10 games to raise his average from .164 to .210. He also has hit two home runs and has eight RBIs over that span to raise his totals to five home runs and 19 RBIs in 60 games.
Hamelin hit .308 with 16 home runs and 47 RBIs last summer at Memphis, the Royals’ double-A team, despite playing only 68 games because of a sore back.
Trivia answer: Hector Espino hit 484 home runs in the minors from 1960 to 1984. All but 31 of his homers came in the Mexican League. The Angels tried to sign him in the late 1960s, but a deal couldn’t be worked out.
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