Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Some local MLB draftees start pro careers

Conley and Kantakevich playing rookie ball in Bluefield; Jones and Brady play waiting game

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Former county stars Brian Conley and Pat Kantakevich have spent their first few weeks of professional baseball going through a period of adjustment, although through different perspectives of the game.

For Conley, a Quince Orchard High and Towson University graduate, the modifications to his game center around hitting a tougher brand of pitching, while Georgetown Prep graduate Kantakevich is fine-tuning his pitching repertoire while using a ball vastly different than the one he gripped during his successful four-year stay at the College of William & Mary (Va.).

The two are gaining that advanced education while members of the Bluefield (W.Va.) Orioles, the rookie-level club of the Baltimore Orioles, the parent club that drafted each last month in the 2008 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft.

Through this weekend’s games, Kantakevich, whose older brother John pitches in the Seattle Mariners organization, has been the one who has become more attuned to his new and more competitive surroundings. But Conley feels he is well on his way to experiencing the success he has known at every other level, including being named The Gazette Player of the Year in 2004.

‘‘I’ve felt pretty good,” said Kantakevich, who was taken in the 22nd round by the Orioles after posting a single-season school record with 10 saves for William & Mary. ‘‘I finally got my breaking ball back. The college baseballs have much bigger seams. The pro ball has a lot smaller seams so it’s hard to throw my breaking ball [slider and change-up] but it’s one of those things you have to get used to. I feel good. I haven’t had too many bad outings.”

Kantakevich had started his professional career by allowing two earned runs in 8 1⁄3 innings of relief work for a 2.16 earned-run average through Sunday’s contests. In his five appearances, Kantakevich, a right-handed hurler, had garnered a save and a win with seven strikeouts. The win came June 22 when he pitched 2 1⁄3 shutout innings against the Princeton (N.J.) Rays.

‘‘We haven’t really assigned roles yet but I’m a late-inning type of guy and they use me and another guy as a closer,” he said. ‘‘That’s what I hoped for and when they drafted me they told me I was going to be a reliever. That’s what I like and it’s nice to know they have enough confidence in me to keep the game close [or secure the win].”

While Kantakevich was settling into a familiar role, Conley was still trying to find his niche at the plate and in the field for that matter. Drafted as right fielder out of Towson, Conley opened the season at third base but said he’ll likely be moved back to the outfield soon although he believes he’s performed well in what was a position he manned early on at Towson.

‘‘They just wanted to see me at third base,” said Conley. ‘‘To be honest, I don’t know why they are switching me back. It will probably be one of those things where I’ll play third base once or twice a week [and the outfield the rest of time].”

As far as at the plate, through Sunday, Conley, who hit .352 with 16 doubles, 12 home runs, 65 runs batted in and 50 runs for Towson this past spring, was batting .196 (11 for 56) with a double, a triple, a home run, 13 runs scored, and three runs batted in in 16 games. Conley, a left-handed batter, seemed to be heating up a little bit, however, including a 2-for-4 night that included a triple Friday night.

‘‘You can tell it’s definitely a step up and definitely a little bit better,” said Conley of the pitching he is now facing. ‘‘Everyone throws pretty hard Sometimes in college, you’ll face a guy once every 5-6 games who is throwing in the low 90s. In this league, they’re all throwing in the upper 80s and low 90s. I think I’m starting to get used to it.

‘‘My approach is: Don’t be late on the fastball and react to the off-speed. I’m not hitting the ball like I want to. I’m putting the bat on the ball but I’m not finding the hole. Hopefully, I’ll get on a little hot streak.”

Jones remains unsigned

Former Landon and current North Carolina State outfielder Marcus Jones said Saturday night that although Washington Nationals officials are saying the right things, a deal to play with his hometown club has not been reached because the two sides have not been able to agree on monetary terms.

Although he did not specify the amounts discussed, Jones, selected by the Nationals in the 11th round, did say this: ‘‘As much as they say they want me in their organization, we’re still talking about a few numbers on a piece of paper. It is frustrating but it’s one of those things that has to work itself out. We’re still talking.”

Jones, a native of Washington, D.C., is not standing idle during the negotiating process as he recently committed to play for the Hyannis Mets of the Cape Cod Baseball League. He joined the squad last week.

‘‘I’m just trying to stay fresh and play somewhere,” Jones said. ‘‘The deadline [to sign] is Aug. 15 so I’ll have to make a move by then. We’ll see what happens. If I don’t end up signing I can go up to school and get my diploma [and finish his final year of college eligibility].”

Jones batted .318 with seven home runs and 49 RBI with 12 stolen bases and 45 runs for the Wolfpack (42-22) this past spring.

Orioles still watching Brady

John Brady said the Baltimore Orioles continue to follow his son Kevin Brady, a recent Gaithersburg High graduate and two-time All-Gazette Player of the Year honoree, as he pitches for the Maryland Orioles of the Cal Ripken Sr. Collegiate Baseball League.

The younger Brady, a flame-throwing right-handed pitcher, was taken by the Orioles in the 44th round of the June First-Year Player Draft after posting a 7-0 record with two saves and a 0.29 earned-run average in 48 1⁄3 innings this past spring. He was named the Gatorade Player of the Year for Maryland.

‘‘[Orioles scouts] have been out a couple of times to watch him,” John Brady said. ‘‘They’ll probably continue to do that the next couple of weeks. Then they’ll see how the other signings are going and then probably make an offer later this summer.”

So far, those scouts have to like what they’ve seen. In four appearances with the Maryland Orioles, through Saturday, Brady had compiled a 1-0 record with a 0.61 ERA in 14 2⁄3 innings. He had recorded 21 strikeouts and allowed one earned run on six hits.