Making The Leap From Rookie Ball to AAA

In the waning days of the season, injuries caused a shortage of players at Las Vegas. Since it was only to be for a few days and since the team was traveling the road to oblivion, it was decided that rather than reach across the country to Jacksonville or even Vero Beach, it just made more sense to pull up somebody from Ogden, a short plane hop away.

That team had already clinched a playoff slot and had a large squad so it could spare a player or two. Besides, it would be a nice treat for kids who had played well.

So it was that catcher Juan Apodaca found himself vaulting from rookie ball to AAA in a single bound. How'd he do? Honestly, just about what you'd expect from a kid who had turned 19 during the season. He got up seven times and managed one single. Still, it was an experience he treasures. What's more, it was an invaluable learning experience.

"The pitchers up there know so much more about what they are doing, " he says, not surprisingly. "They're always around the plate and they work you. You know you may get just one pitch you can drive. Oh, there are pitches you can hit but not where you want to.

"In the Pioneer League you never know what to expect when you're at the plate. You have to be ready for anything because so many of them don't have control. It makes it tougher. When I came back I said I don't know if I can hit in rookie ball anymore."

Actually, Apodaca did quite well with the Raptors. He'd begun the year at Columbus but was hitting .244 when he was sent back to make room for Chris Westervelt coming off an injury. He then proceeded to add considerable punch to the Ogden order, finishing .278-10-31 in 42 games.

It's those 10 sent out of the yard that catches the eye. He's a strong 5-11, 180, one who always looked like he could drive for distance. This year he delivered.

Scout Camilo Pascual felt he had acquired a catcher who could become a good hitter when he signed Apodaca down in Venezuela in February 2003. Sent to the Dominican to play in the summer league there, he impressed coaches as well. He got off to a good start, only to be injured early so that wound up pretty much a wasted season.

Brought back to the Dominican in 2004, he started well again, hitting .306 for Santo Domingo #1. When it became obvious that this particular unit wasn't going anywhere, some of its more talented players were shuffled over to Santo Domingo #2, which was contending. Juan, however, didn't seem to bring his batting eye with him, slumping to .239.

However, the promise is there for he's definitely a player who seems to have the physical tools to become a solid all-around receiver. A good showing this past spring earned him the Columbus promotion and his performance at Ogden has enhanced his chances.

He's very much a work in progress in almost every phase of his game, catching, throwing, calling a game and hitting. There's that promise though in every aspect. That display of muscle at the plate in the Pioneer League, it is hoped, is an indication of the good things that may well come.

Chances are that he won't have to worry about hitting rookie league pitchers anymore. He's set to climb to the next level. If his learning curve continues on its present upward path, the day will come when he'll be ready for more than a token stay in AAA and beyond.

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