Cannons add prospects for pennant race

WOODBRIDGE — The Cincinnati Reds made an overhaul Monday by firing general manager Jim Bowden and manager Bob Boone, but their high Class A team already had been thrown into a bit of disarray.

At one point prior to Monday’s rainout at Pfitzner Stadium, Potomac manager Jayhawk Owens dashed to the dugout and said, “All I want is for the phone to say I have no messages.” He got his wish then, but the light has been blinking quite a bit lately.

Over the weekend, the chaotic Cannons fell from first to last in the Carolina League’s four-team North Division as they were swept by new second-half division leader Frederick. The trip began on an ominous note when Potomac’s starting third baseman (Edwin Encarnacion), left fielder (Bryan Anderson) and top left-handed starter (Ty Howington) were promoted to Double-A just before the team left for Maryland. That night, the Cannons managed only one hit in seven innings in a loss to Keys ace John Maine.

“It’s been a revolving door here this year, unfortunately,” Owens said. “The good part of that is sending guys up.

“But this last one [with three players promoted Friday] was literally 20 minutes before we were on the bus to go to Frederick. They say it’s a game of adjustments; I guess we’ve just got to do that.”

With a 16-18 second-half record entering this week-long homestand, the Cannons still have time to right themselves and contend for a postseason berth. But in the past three weeks, eight key Potomac players have been promoted to Double-A Chattanooga with five being demoted from the Lookouts.

Three of the demoted players started a trek toward Frederick on Friday night. Top-10 Reds prospects Bobby Basham and Mark Schramek joined 22-year-old Brad Correll on a caravan from Chattanooga to Frederick. After staying with Basham’s family in Roanoke for a night, the trio made it to Frederick for Saturday’s game.

“They got to us for the second game of the series after traveling all day,” Owens said. “I almost didn’t put [Schramek and Correll] in the lineup, but I had to. All three of those guys are coming down here because they obviously have kinks in their games right now. The big thing is that they’re getting a fresh start.”

Basham, a 23-year-old right-hander from the University of Richmond, was ranked as the Reds’ No. 2 prospect last offseason by Baseball America. He had a 1.64 earned-run average in a full season at low Class A Dayton in 2002 before jumping to the Double-A Southern League to start this season. With the Lookouts this year, he was 5-10 with a 5.17 ERA and a .331 opposing batting average.

“It’s been a struggle. I haven’t exactly been a hundred percent,” Basham said. “The goal is to keep throwing and to learn something every time I pitch.”

Scheduled to make his Cannons’ home debut today or Wednesday night, Basham throws 90-93 miles per hour when he’s on his game. His velocity, though, has been inconsistent this year and has lack of arm speed has hurt his curveball and slider as well. At midseason, the Reds’ team doctors checked out Basham and told him he was healthy enough to continue pitching.

Schramek’s the 10th-ranked Reds prospect, but he too had difficulties skipping high Class A. After starting the season at Dayton, he was called up to Chattanooga in early June. In 42 games and 141 at-bats there, he was hitting .177 with no home runs and 10 RBI.

“I started off well in Dayton and then they sent me up to Chatt. I struggled there, as we all know,” said Schramek, a 23-year-old third baseman. “I just need to work on stuff here. I’m just not going to rush things.”

A supplemental first-round pick in 2002 out of Texas-San Antonio, Schramek and the Reds took until December to come to a contract bonus agreement of $200,000. In the interim, he worked out with a Japanese team and signed with an independent league team. His first professional games were with Dayton this spring.

“I was ready to go [at spring training],” Schramek said. “Seven months without playing live baseball, I was getting a little antsy.”

Before the rain Monday, Owens made out a lineup with Schramek in the sixth spot and Correll, a .230 hitter in 74 Double-A at-bats, in the three hole.

Basham, Correll and Schramek don’t have far to look for an example of someone who found his form after taking a demotion from Chattanooga to the Carolina League. Encarnacion, who had a two-hit game for the Lookouts on Sunday, batted .321 in 58 games with the Cannons after hitting just .220 for five weeks in Double-A.

As a Cannon, Encarnacion played in the Futures Game in Chicago. For Potomac, he hit six home runs and drove in 29 in 215 at-bats, while stealing seven bases and showing off a strong arm from third base.

“His first three weeks here, he was not happy,” Owens said. “He didn’t play like Eddie Encarnacion can play. That was the first time he was demoted in his whole life. The last month, we saw the Eddie we all know – he was a .330 hitter with power.”

The Reds’ shakeup will bring Triple-A Louisville manager Dave Miley to Cincinnati, but Owens expects to stay put. Rick Burleson will move from Rookie-level Billings to Louisville, with veteran Billings coach Jay Sorg taking over that ball club.

“There’s nothing I know of right now [that will affect more movement in the farm system],” Owens said. “Usually, when they make a move in the major leagues with the staff, rarely does it affect the lower levels with the minor leagues. The last thing you want is more turmoil.”