Clemente, Parker ... now, Guillen?
BRADENTON, Fla. (AP) _ Only twice before in the last 40 years have the Pittsburgh Pirates had a right field prospect like Jose Guillen.
One was Roberto Clemente. The other was Dave Parker.
Between them, they combined for nearly 5,700 hits, three World Series championships and two NL Most Valuable Player awards.
Do the Pirates dare to mention Guillen’s name in such select company?
``I don’t want to put too much pressure on him, but he’s the best prospect I’ve seen in a long time,″ left fielder Al Martin said Tuesday. ``Some of the other prospects we’ve had here, the hype was too strong. But he is for real. He knows he’s good.″
The Pirates will soon find out just how good.
They were expected to confirm today what has been suspected for two weeks: Guillen, who is only 20 and has never played above Class A, is their right fielder.
Just how unusual is it for a Pirates position player to bypass the upper minors and jump directly into their starting lineup? The last to do it was shortstop Dick Groat _ and that was 45 years ago.
``It’s like being promoted from seventh grade to a law firm,″ Martin said. ``It’s that hard. But he can do it. I’ve seen prospects before who were all blown up, but Jose can flat-out play.″
When spring training began, the Pirates anticipated that Midre Cummings, now in his sixth season as a prospect, and Trey Beamon would compete in right field. Instead, Guillen has acted as if the job were his since the first workout in late February.
In exhibition play, Guillen has 23 hits in 18 games and is batting .390, with nine RBIs in his last nine games. His defense and throwing have been even better than his hitting.
Club executives hesitate to drop the names Clemente or Parker when speaking of Guillen, for fear of creating unrealistic expectations among Pirates fans. But his arm certainly compares to theirs.
``Since my first year, when I was 15, they have told me I have a good arm,″ Guillen said. ``I’ve just always had it.″
What will decide how long Guillen plays in the majors is his bat. And, just like Barry Bonds when he broke in a decade ago, Guillen lacks neither competitiveness nor confidence.
Asked if his psyche might be seriously damaged should he bat only .220 this season, Guillen said, ``I’m not going to hit .220.″
``I didn’t give him a chance when spring training started,″ Martin said. ``But he’s real loosey-goosey, and very comfortable. Maybe it’s because he played in the Dominican, which is a real tough league. He was 18 and 19, playing against Raul Mondesi, and he wasn’t in awe.″
The pitching-thin Pirates and their $8 million payroll may lose 100 games as predicted. But for the first time since free agency led Bonds and Bobby Bonilla out of town, there is real hope for the future of a team that has grown tired of living in the past.
Guillen will be the first, but likely not the last, in a succession of prospects expected to reach Pittsburgh within the next two years. Next up: shortstop Chad Hermansen, who hit .417 this spring, and power-hitting first baseman Ron Wright. Soon to follow: third baseman Aramis Ramirez, infielder Abraham Nunez and left-hander Jimmy Anderson.
``We have players who can not only be good, quality major league players, but could be stars,″ general manager Cam Bonifay said.
The first glimpse of the Pirates’ future may come when Guillen starts the April 1 opener in San Francisco.
``I will be so excited if I make it,″ he said. ``It would be so great. It will be a big jump, but I am very excited to try it.″