Scouting The AFL: October 23

Chris Oxspring has been somewhat of a late bloomer, but he's found the time to win an Olympic gold medal and is looking forward to major league glory with the San Diego Padres. Plus, news from the Phillies players in the Arizona Fall League.

Every kid has dreamed about it, and it seems to happen every year. A seventh game. A chance to win (or go to) the World Series. You're on the mound, the whole world watching. The ultimate pressure situation. Or is it? Chris Oxspring might tell you differently.

"I think pitching in the Olympics compares to pitching in the Major Leagues. I mean, that lineup Japan's team had was as good as most of the Major League teams out there." By Japan's team Oxspring isn't talking about some exhibition game, he's talking about a Gold Medal Game. Yes, that's right Chris Oxspring has been on the mound playing not for a trophy or a ring, but for a medal. A gold one.

"He showed me his gold medal yesterday," Peoria Javelinas pitching coach, and Padres (Hi A) Mobile pitching coach, Gary Lance said, "it's pretty cool. You can't buy one of those. You have to earn it, and Chris certainly did."

While some clubs discouraged their top foreign born prospects from competing in the Olympics for fear they'd get hurt, the Padres had no problems with Oxspring representing his native Australia. "My agent talked to the Padres and they said 'Go.' They assured me there would be no repercussions and they told me to have a good time. I was lucky to be with a club that would encourage me." The Padres choice was certainly a gutsy one, especially with Oxspring having elbow trouble early in the year.

"It was just a strained elbow, but it was something that set me back a little."

Starting late isn't new to Oxspring either. "I've been playing baseball all my life, but I didn't get signed until I was 23. That's when I decided to come over to America, but I really didn't develop physically until I was 20 or 21, so I'm not sure anyone would have been looking at me out of high school anyway." So far though the 'catching up' process has gone quicker than anyone could have hoped.

Lance confirms this, "With Chris the thing was that his mechanics were all screwed up, but the arm was there. So we've worked a lot with lengthening his stride and just polishing him, but he's made up a lot of ground of the last season."

So much so that the Padres aren't shy about saying Oxspring has a better than average shot at making the big league roster. "I really only threw about 150 innings between the Olympics and the minors," Oxspring said, "but I had never thrown more than 70 innings before that, so I'm a little tired."

"His velocity is down a couple miles per hour," Lance agrees, "so we're taking it easy on him just because there was a lot of wear and tear on his arm."

For Oxspring there are bigger things than even the Olympics or World Series. His wife is back home in Australia, and he wants to make sure she'll be able to read anything that's written about him. "She doesn't get to see me throw that much, so I just want to show her all I can."

There figures to be quite a bit for her to read in the near future if he makes the Padres this Spring, and Oxspring is anxious to finish with a nosy reporter to he can go back to work. Anything in particular? "Just small adjustments now, one day it's my stride, the next my release point, the next day my overall balance." Just little things for now, so he will be ready for the big things to come.

Phillies in the desert: Ryan Howard is slipping a little in his quest for an AFL MVP Award. He is stuck on three home runs and is now seventh in the league in hitting with a .383 average. The Tigers Chris Shelton has passed him in the homerun race and he has also fallen behind in the RBI race. He does still lead the league in hits (18), Doubles (6) and extra base hits (10). Howard also ranks fourth in OBP (.473) and second in Slugging Percentage (.745)…Buzz Hannahan stole his second base of the fall on Thursday, but is struggling with a .214 average. Hannahan has struck out 10 times in 28 at bats…Carlos Ruiz is hitting .222, but has walked three times in 12 plate appearances to boost his OBP to a healthy .462 for Phoenix…Chris Roberson is working on his base stealing technique. Roberson has stolen two bases, but has been thrown out three times. The Phillies believe that while Roberson has speed, he lacks the knowledge of how to steal bases. They also believe he can learn that and become much tougher on the bases…Keith Bucktrot has a 0.90 ERA, but that's only good enough for sixth in the league. All of the others ahead of him haven't surrendered a run this fall and have posted 0.00 ERAs in the early going…The AFL leaders in games pitched have seen action in eight games. Dan Giese has pitched in seven and is 1-0, 3.60. The right-hander has struck out six in ten innings of work.

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