BASEBALL: Cougs in the pros

FOR ALL THE doubters who questioned Shea Vucinich's decision to bypass his senior year at Washington State to turn pro after batting just .262 this year, the early returns are in. And Vucinich is hitting both for average and power.

In his first 15 games in pro ball, Shea Vucinich has already equaled the four home runs he hit in 58 games with the Cougars this season. Vucinich is tied for second in the Rookie-class Pioneer League in homers, and he also ranks among the league leaders in batting (.339) and runs batted in (13).

Vucinich, Milwaukee's 20th-round draft pick, started at shortstop for three years at WSU. He's seen most of his recent action with the Helena (Mont.) Brewers at shortstop, but he's also seen time at second base, third base, left field and designated hitter.

MILWAUKEE ORIGINALLY ASSIGNED WSU relief pitcher Seth Harvey to Helena, but he wound up turning pro with the Arizona Brewers, the Brewers' Rookie-class affiliate in Phoenix.

After three appearances out of the bullpen, Harvey is tied for second in the Arizona League with two saves. He's struck out seven and walked none in four innings and is 0-0 with a 4.50 earned run average.

WITH PITCHER Chad Arnold still unsigned by the Los Angeles Dodgers, Michael Weber is the only other 2010 Cougar currently trying his luck in the pros.

Weber is batting .217 with no homers and six RBIs after 14 games with Yakima, an Arizona farm club, in the short-season Class A Northwest League.

Alex Burg is making his pro debut in the Northwest League after sitting out last summer due to knee surgery. A catcher in the San Francisco Giants system, Burg is hitting .171 with two homers and seven RBIs in 12 games with Salem-Keizer (Ore.).

Matt Way, Philadelphia's fifth-round draft pick last year, has been promoted during the season for the second straight year.

After going 7-4 with a 3.65 ERA at Lakewood (N.J.) in the low Class A South Atlantic League, Way took the loss Tuesday in his debut with Clearwater (Fla.) in the high Class A Florida State League. Way gave up five hits and three runs (all earned) in four innings. He came on strong at Lakewood after a slow start.

MEANWHILE, CLEARWATER'S first baseman out of WSU, Jim Murphy, Clearwater's first baseman out of WSU, continues to struggle with strikeouts. He's fanned 74 times in 241 at bats while batting .253 with two homers and 25 RBIs in 68 games.

Paul Gran, batting .464 (13-for-28) during a seven-game hitting streak, has raised his average to .270 since returning to Class A Jupiter (Fla.) in the FSL after a brief fling with Jacksonville (Fla.) in the AA Southern League. Gran, a third baseman in the Florida organization, has five homers and 16 RBIs in 44 games with Jupiter.

Travis Webb is 3-6 with a 5.52 ERA in 12 starts with Carolina (Zebulon, N.C.) in the Southern League. He opened the season with Lynchburg (N.C.) in the Class A Carolina League.

Jared Prince leads the Class A Hickory (N.C.) Crawdads with a .283 batting average. A right fielder in the Texas Rangers farm system, Prince has six homers, 21 doubles (tied for the team lead) and 46 RBIs in 69 games in the Carolina League.

Jeremy Johnson, a second-year pro out of WSU, owns a 3-1 record, no saves and a 5.51 ERA in 12 relief appearances with the Lake County Captains, a Class A team in the Cleveland suburb of Eastlake, Ohio. The Captains are the Midwest League affiliate of the Cleveland Indians.

VETERAN MINOR LEAGUER Jesse Hoorelbeke leads the independent Northern League with 15 home runs and a .662 slugging percentage with the Fargo-Moorhead (N.D.) RedHawks. The burly first baseman is batting .306 with 34 RBIs in 42 games after belting a game-winning home run in the 11th inning Wednesday.

Eddie Bonine has struggled a bit of late, but he's 4-0 with a 2.75 ERA in 28 games with Detroit. Mark Hendrickson, the other ex-Cougar in the major leagues, is 1-4 with a 5.52 ERA at Baltimore. Bonine and Hendrickson, middle relievers, have both pitched in 28 games.

Two Washington State pitchers trying to make their way in the pros were released recently.

Jayson Miller, a crafty southpaw out of Yakima, finished 15-21 in four years in the Anaheim Angels farm system. He was 0-4 with a 6.42 ERA at Arkansas (Little Rock) in the Class AA Southern League this season.

Aaron Troila posted an 0-2 record and 5.95 ERA in four games with Victoria (British Columbia) in the independent Golden Baseball League. The former Seattle Mariners farmhand has a 24-25 record over his seven-year pro career.

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