Powell Finally Making Transition From College Ball to Class A

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Dante Powell has played baseball most of his life, but he quickly learned that life in the minor leagues is an adjustment.

"You don't have time to do much more than just play baseball," Powell said. "In college, we'd play three, sometimes four games a week, so playing every day has been a big change for me. All the at-bats and the travel wear on you. I'm getting used to it, but it's been tough."

This is Powell's first full pro season. He was a first-round draft pick of the San Francisco Giants in 1994 after helping Cal State Fullerton reach the semifinals of the College World Series. He then played the short rookie season with Everett, Wash., hitting .309 with five home runs and 25 runs batted in.

He has been with San Jose, the Giants' Class-A team in the California League, all season and has played center field in all but two of the team's games. He's hitting .254 with 10 home runs and 65 runs batted in.

"Things could be better," Powell said. "But I think I'm getting more used to what it takes now. I'm trying to get more rest, so I can be ready to play each game. You have to be tough mentally for it."

Powell has been batting fifth or sixth in the order, and he said he's a bit surprised that he hasn't batted higher based on the speed he brings to the lineup.

Powell has 38 stolen bases, second on the team.

A highlight for Powell this season was a two-run double off the center-field wall that gave the North a victory in the California League all-star game in June.

"I'm pleased with the way the team's playing right now," he said. "We're in first place in our division, and it looks like we're going to be in the playoffs, so I'm looking forward to that. And from everything I've been told, the Giants are pretty pleased with what I've done."

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Pitcher Dan Ricabal, who also was a key figure on the 1994 Titan team, was with the Dodgers as a replacement player during the strike and is being used as a middle-inning reliever this season for San Bernardino.

Ricabal, who signed as a free agent, pitched in relief last year in Yakima, Wash., in the Northwest League after spending most of his Titan career as a starter.

"It's a different role and it's taken some adjusting," Ricabal said. "I sort of liked being a closer last year. It was exciting. Usually you had a chance to decide the outcome of the game and I liked that. But as a middle-inning guy, the game isn't on the line as often when you pitch, and frequently it's a matter of coming in when the team is well ahead or behind."

The middle-inning role is one of the reasons Ricabal (3-1) has only four decisions and two saves although he has pitched more than 60 innings in relief.

Does Ricabal miss being in the starting rotation?

"Absolutely," he said. "It's great going to bed the night before a game and knowing it's going to be your game to win or lose the next day. I hope that I can put up good enough numbers to have another chance at starting later on."

Although he was a closer last year, Ricabal said he doesn't see himself returning to that role. "I doubt that I have the speed to be in that role long-range," he said. "On the upper levels now, they're looking for someone who can throw fastball strikes in the late innings."

Ricabal is pleased that he has pitched well lately after a slow start. "I've pitched with a lot more confidence in the second half of the season, and it's made a difference," Ricabal said. "Being able to pitch in the replacement games may have given me a false sense of security, but I just didn't do well early."

Ricabal said he expects the last month of the season to be especially important to him. Like Powell, Ricabal is assured of being in the playoffs. "We won the first half championships so I'm looking forward to the playoffs," he said.

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Another former Titan, Jeremy Carr, is the leadoff batter and second baseman for the co-op Bakersfield team this season, and has been helping the Blaze with his speed and glove as well as his bat.

Carr, who signed with the Kansas City Royals after the 1993 college season, was leading the Royals' organization in stolen bases. He is hitting .248 with 46 stolen bases.

"I'm not hitting for as high an average as I hoped I would, but I'm driving the ball more, hitting more doubles and making more solid contact," Carr said. "I still feel I've improved because I'm handling all pitches better now. I'd been more of a fastball hitter in the past."

Carr played last year with Rockford, Ill., in the Midwest League, hitting .256, after starting out with Eugene, Ore., in the Northwest League. "I feel this definitely can be my best year so far if I can finish strong," Carr said.

Carr said he has found California League pitching strong. "It's much better than I saw in college," he said. "All the pitchers throw hard, and they all throw nasty stuff."

California League notes

Two former Orange County players recently were promoted from California League teams to double A. First baseman Rod McCall, who played at Orange Coast College, moved up to Canton, Ohio, after hitting .336 with 20 home runs and 68 runs batted in for Bakersfield. Outfielder Tommy Adams of Mission Viejo moved from Riverside to Seattle's farm team in Wilmington, N.C., after hitting .287 with eight homers and 40 RBIs.

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California League Road Map

Many Southland baseball have found the California League too good to be true. The league includes teams that are not too far away from home for the adventurous fan, with several state-of-the-art ballparks and back-to-basics prices. And there's the added attraction of seeing future Angels and Dodgers in Lake Elsinore and San Bernardino.

A Trip To The Minors

When formed: 1941

First season: Anaheim had a team in the California League's first season in 1941, but the league had dropped to four teams by 1942 before suspending play during World War II. Play resumed in 1946.

Future star: A's slugger Mark McGwire tied for the league lead in home runs (24) and runs batted in (106) in 1985.

Angel connection, Bill Lachemann, Angel coach and brother of Manager Rene Lachemann, managed the Palm Springs Angels from 1987-89.

League Locations

Here's a look at the teams and their major league affiliates:

A. Bakersfield (Independent)

B. High Desert (Baltimore Orioles) team based in Adelanto

C. Lake Elsinore (Angels)

D. Modesto (Oakland Athletics)

E. Rancho Cucamonga (San Diego Padres)

F. Riverside (Seattle Mariners)

G. San Bernardino (Dodgers)

H. San Jose (San Francisco Giants)

I. Stockton (Milwaukee Brewers)

J. Visalia (Independent)

Source: League records, Encyclopedia of Minor League Baseball

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