Sutton Makes Case for Promotion

Not that playing in a new stadium in front of capacity crowds or competing for the Carolina League Triple Crown isn't nice, but Larry Sutton would give it up in a second for a ticket out of Wilmington, Del.

Sutton won't come right out and say it, but the first baseman from Mater Dei High and Illinois believes he should be playing for the Kansas City Royals' double-A affiliate at Memphis, Tenn., not Class A Wilmington.

His credentials--Sutton ranks second in the league in batting (.318), fourth in home runs (17) and first in runs batted in (68)--seem to warrant a promotion.

But when there are talented first basemen ahead of you, and when you're not a player the organization has invested loads of money in, you must be patient.

"It's pretty obvious if I was a first-rounder, with the numbers I have, I wouldn't be in Wilmington right now," said Sutton, a 21st-round pick in 1992. "Every organization says it doesn't matter where you're drafted, that once you're on a team, everything is equal.

"But it's not true. The higher picks get more chances, more times to fail. If we fail once or twice, we get cut. I have to put up real good numbers just to get noticed."

You can bet Sutton has turned a few heads this season. After a sub-par year at Class A Rockford (Ill.)--(.269, seven homers, 50 RBIs)--the 5-foot-11, 180-pound left-hander has more than doubled his number of home runs, surpassed his RBI totals and equaled his number of doubles (24) from 1993--in just more than half a season.

But perhaps a more telling statistic might be walks. Sutton has only 50 of them this season and is on pace to finish under last season's 95 walks. Insignificant, you say? Not to Sutton.

After an excellent professional debut at short-season Class A Eugene (Ore.), where Sutton led the Northwest League in homers (15) and RBIs (58) and finished fourth in batting (.311) in 1992, Sutton noticed pitchers were handling him with a little more caution in 1993.

There were more off-speed pitches on 2-0 and 3-1 counts, and instead of jumping on them, Sutton waited for a fastballs. Too often, ball four came before a ball he could drive.

"I wasn't real aggressive and I got a lot of walks," Sutton said. "But Tom Burgess, our roving hitting instructor, sat me down during instructional league (last fall) and we had what was like a father-son talk. He told my I'm hitting in the No. 3 or 4 hole and I have to be more aggressive, that I couldn't wait for fastballs.

"We started working on taking off-speed pitches the other way, and it has really helped my approach at the plate. It's amazing what can be accomplished when you keep an open mind and you listen."

Sutton isn't sure how much he'll accomplish in the Royal organization, though. The path ahead is clogged with good first basemen--George Canale is batting .300 at Memphis, Joe Vitiello is batting .350 at triple-A Omaha (Neb.) and is backed up by former Houston Astro and Baltimore Oriole Glenn Davis, and Wally Joyner (.302) and Bob Hamelin (.266, 14 homers) are doing well at Kansas City.

And the Royals just used their first-round pick (16th overall) on Matt Smith, a high school first baseman from Oregon who signed with Kansas City last week.

"It kind of makes you wonder," Sutton said. "I don't know, all I can do is play hard where I am now, and hopefully at the end of the year things will happen. This is my third year, so Kansas City will either have to protect me (on the double-A, triple-A or major league roster) or I go on waivers. I'm trying to make people move me."

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Eat to win: The question has followed Scott Vollmer from Irvine High to Pepperdine to the Chicago White Sox farm system: Is he big enough to handle the rigors of catching?

Now that he has added 10-15 pounds to his 6-foot-1 frame, bulking up to 185, Vollmer is finally beginning to put those concerns to rest. So has his play--Vollmer is batting .276 with four homers and a South Atlantic League-leading 65 RBIs for Class A Hickory, N.C.

"I'm starting to hear less about my size," said Vollmer, who weighed 155 in high school and 170 when he signed with the White Sox in 1993. "It's still a factor, but I definitely feel I'll get bigger because I have every year. I hope to put on another 15-20 pounds."

Vollmer, who helped Pepperdine win the 1992 national championship, underwent a strenuous off-season weight-training program and an ambitious calorie consumption plan.

"I ate anything I could get my hands on, a lot of fruits, pasta, and big dinners," Vollmer said. "I just tried to eat all the time. Instead of having three meals a day, I'd have three big meals and snacks throughout the day."

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Regrets only: The Mujibar and Sirajul national tour, which brought laughs to the "Late Show With David Letterman," ended without a stop in Lake Elsinore, much to the dismay of officials from the Angels' Class A affiliate.

The team had extended an invitation to the salesmen-turned-cult heroes to take batting practice, work as batboys or groundskeepers or watch a game from the dugout. Lockers and uniforms were prepared for the Bangladesh natives, who have provided remote feeds from places such as Niagara Falls, Mt. Rushmore and Las Vegas.

"But I spoke with the Late Show folks, and unfortunately their journey to the Grand Canyon (Thursday) was the end of their trip," said Dave Louis, Lake Elsinore's assistant general manager. "Our staff is into doing different kinds of goofy things, and it would have been a fun way to get publicity."

The team won't give up in its quest for national exposure, though, and it might even target the host of the popular talk show.

"If you're going to see America, you've got to see California, and you've got to see a baseball game," Louis said. "Maybe they'll send (Mujibar and Sirajul) on a second tour, or maybe we can get Dave out here the next time he's in Los Angeles. This was a long shot, but they were very nice to us and said they liked our offer, that it just didn't work out."

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