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Wright Is Ready for Next Step

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His schedule is occupied almost as much by interviews and photo shoots as practice and starts, which can be a bigger annoyance than you might think. Jaret Wright is trying to become a major league ace, and no amount of ink or airtime will make his baseball journey shorter.

Hard work and focus is what the rising star needs right now. Still, time commitments aside, Wright recognizes life could be worse.

Wright is young, healthy and a heck of a lot wealthier than the average 21-year-old because of that thing he does with his right arm. The former Katella High standout, and son of a onetime Angel pitcher, quickly reached the big time, and the word is out.

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A year after being momentarily derailed by a broken jaw, Wright makes his major league debut for the Cleveland Indians tonight. Wright will start for the Indians against the Minnesota Twins at Jacobs Field.

“I just got finished doing a couple [of interviews] with TV and I have some [magazine] interviews coming up,” Wright said recently. “Sometimes it gets a little tough, like after a rough start or something, but it’s really not that big of a problem. It’s sure better than if nobody wanted to talk to you.”

Little chance of that. Wright is the Indians’ brightest pitching prospect and one of baseball’s most promising as well, meaning obscurity is no longer an option. He has been promoted twice this season, from double-A Akron (Ohio), to triple-A Buffalo (N.Y.) to Cleveland.

But the whirlwind tour of Cleveland’s minor league system hasn’t been a problem for Wright.

“I don’t feel like I was rushed at all,” Wright said. “I want to move up. I don’t have any complaints.”

Wright was Buffalo’s No. 1 starter. In seven starts since being promoted from double-A Akron, Wright was 4-1 with a 1.80 earned-run average. He struck out 47 and walked 19 in 45 innings, and opponents batted .185 against him, tops among Bison starters.

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Wright was similarly effective at Akron. In eight starts for the Aeros, he was 3-3 with a 2.45 ERA and 59 strikeouts in 54 innings.

Not surprisingly, the reviews of his performance at Akron and Buffalo were as impressive as his numbers. The Indian organization is as much abuzz over Wright’s velocity (his fastball has been clocked at 98 mph) as his command and presence on the mound despite less than three full seasons in the minor leagues.

It seems that the only dissenting voice on Wright is Wright’s. In his last several starts, he wasn’t as dominating as he likes to be, and that’s just not acceptable to him.

“I think my mechanics have been a little out of rhythm and I’ve been working on fixing it,” said Wright, Cleveland’s top pick in the 1994 draft. “I just don’t like being out of sync.”

The Indians’ decision-makers aren’t lighting candles quite yet. There is even talk in the organization that Wright will remain with the Indians for the remainder of the season. Wright, though, refuses to get caught up in the speculation.

“No one has told me anything, so I’m not thinking about it,” Wright said. “It’s just like the thing with all the [media] attention. The worst thing you can do is get to thinking about this stuff.

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“That doesn’t mean I don’t think about playing for the big club at Jacobs Field, because I do a lot. But I can’t let anything get in the way of me doing the things I need to do to get there and stay there.”

Wright, The Times Orange County 1994 high school player of the year, was 5-6 with a 3.00 ERA for Columbus (S.C.) of the Class-A South Atlantic League in 1995, his first full season in the minors. Wright struck out 113 in 129 innings.

He was cruising along last season for Kinston (N.C.) of the Class-A Carolina League when a freak accident violently interrupted his fun. Wright suffered a broken jaw at the California-Carolina League All-Star game, June 18 at Rancho Cucamonga’s Epicenter, when he walked into a practice swing by Durham Bulls’ player Ron Wright.

At the time, Wright was 4-4 with a 2.53 ERA and 76 strikeouts in 67 2/3 innings.

Wright missed nearly two months after undergoing oral surgery. But he picked up where he left off when he returned, going 3-0 with a 2.43 ERA over his final six starts. Overall, Wright was 7-4 with a 2.50 ERA and 100 strikeouts in 101 innings.

“I learned to appreciate a lot of things during that time--like the ability to eat solid food,” Wright said. “I tried to stay in shape as best I could, but it was tough.”

Wright’s ascent hasn’t been a surprise to the Indians. You don’t make a guy the 10th overall pick in the draft and give him a $1.2-million signing bonus if you doubt he has the goods.

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His bonus is believed to be the highest ever received by an Orange County player. Wright’s command, especially advanced for a then-high school power pitcher, size (6 feet 2, 230 pounds) and arm strength initially attracted scouts. And his pedigree probably didn’t hurt either.

Jaret’s father, Clyde, is among the Angels’ all-time pitching leaders. He signed with the Angels in 1965 and reached the big leagues a season later. Clyde pitched for the Angels until 1973.

Clyde had his best season in 1970, finishing 22-12 with a 2.83 ERA. He is one of only five Angel 20-game winners, joining Nolan Ryan, who accomplished the feat twice, Dean Chance, Andy Messersmith and Bill Singer.

Jaret said his family will be in Cleveland to watch his debut tonight. They did not see him pitch at Buffalo.

“I’m looking forward to seeing them,” he said. “Hopefully I’ll have a good game.”

The Indians hope so too.

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Out of action: Derek Baker (Tustin High, Rancho Santiago College) probably won’t play baseball this season.

Baker, a member of the Texas Rangers’ organization, has been out since spring training after suffering a torn muscle in his right shoulder. Ranger officials were optimistic the third baseman might make it back from rehabilitation this season, but they now believe the process could last at least another six months.

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The Rangers selected Baker, who also played for USC, in the third round last season. In 46 games at Class-A Charleston (S.C.), Baker batted .244 with eight doubles, five home runs and 31 runs batted in.

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