One look at baseball’s minor league rosters, and it’s a wonder whether this many Mainers invaded the South during the Civil War.
Tip Fairchild, Eric Cavers, Mark Rogers and Greg Creek have all reported to Class A teams south of the Mason-Dixon line. Bryan Lambert will be joining Fairchild and Cavers in the South Atlantic League once he’s done with a rehab assignment in Florida later this month.
Aaron Easton is also in Florida trying to latch onto a minor league team after being released over the winter.
Fairchild, the former Monmouth and University of Southern Maine star, and Cavers, a standout at Oxford Hills and Franklin Pierce, are once again teammates, moving up from Houston Astros’ short-season Class A affiliate in upstate New York to their mid-level A affiliate in Kentucky, the Lexington Legends.
Cavers is one year removed from a torn labrum in his right shoulder and is expected to split time at catcher for the Legends. Fairchild, a right-handed pitcher, has been tabbed as a “piggyback starter,” meaning he won’t be starting games unless someone gets injured, but will still be working on a starter’s schedule.
“Every fifth day, I’ll be throwing four or five innings, and maybe do an inning out of the bullpen in between just like starters do their side sessions between starts,” he said. “It will be just as many innings as any starter, I just won’t be starting games.”
Fairchild was scheduled to make his first appearance Friday night, but Thursday night’s season-opener was rained out, so he’s been moved back a day.
Among Cavers and Fairchild’s teammates is third baseman Koby Clemens, the son of free agent pitcher Roger Clemens. Fairchild said the subject of if and where the senior Clemens will play this year hasn’t come up.
“I wish we knew,” he said. “I don’t even know if he knows.”
Lambert ahead of schedule
Fairchild said the Legends are big in Lexington, drawing 10,000 fans each night against teams like the Washington Nationals’ affiliate, the Savannah (Ga.) Sand Gnats, which is where Lambert, the former Edward Little star, has been assigned.
Lambert, a 6-foot-9 reliever, suffered a setback just before spring training, tearing the medial meniscus in his knee while working out at his alma mater, Brandeis University. He had arthroscopic surgery on March 2 and started running and throwing about two weeks ago. He said his rehab is now a week ahead of schedule.
“If it had to happen, it didn’t come at a terrible time,” Lambert said from the Nationals’ spring training complex in Melbourne, Fla. “I’m only going to miss two-to-three weeks of a six-month season.”
The Nationals kept Lambert in Melbourne for extended spring training and placed him on Savannah’s disabled list, meaning “they want to get me out of here and up there,” he said. The plan is for him to throw his first batting practice Monday, pitch in his first game later in the week, then pitch on back-to-back days before reporting to Savannah.
“I’m learning the difference between college rehab and professional rehab,” he said. “In college, they get you back out there as quick as possible. Here, they err on the side of caution.”
Lambert said the toughest thing has been getting back the feel for his slider and split-finger fastball. Once he does, he hopes to compete for the Sand Gnats’ closer’s role.
Rogers working out kinks
Rogers, the former Mt. Ararat fireballer and No. 1 draft choice of the Milwaukee Brewers, is also in Florida, having been assigned to the Brewers’ high A affiliate in the Florida State League, the Brevard County Manatees.
///The 20-year-old right-hander started the Manatees’ second game of the season Friday night, giving up,. He was coming off a strong spring in which he surrendered just one run in his last five starts.
“The spring went really well for him,” said Craig Rogers, his father and Mt. Ararat’s baseball coach. “He had a really good instructional season (last fall, where he allowed just one earned run in his last eight starts).”
Rogers struggled at Class A West Virginia last year (2-9, 5.11 ERA) as the Brewers broke down his throwing motion to get the young phenom to stop throwing across his body, which increases the risk of a pitcher injuring himself.
“Basically, what he had to do was re-learn his throwing technique and he basically had to re-learn all of his pitches,” Craig Rogers said.
Rogers gained confidence in his new mechanics in the Arizona Fall League and in spring training, adding a slider to his repertoire that already includes a mid-90’s fastball, sharp curve and change-up. Heading into the season, he was ranked 44th on Baseball America’s list of the top 100 prospects.
Creek, a standout at Maranacook and the University of Maine, is playing first base for the Myrtle Beach (S.C.) Pelicans, the Atlanta Braves’ high A affiliate in the Carolina League. The 23-year-old played a handful of games there last season after batting well over .300 for the Braves’ Rookie League club in Orlando, Fla.