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U.S. Futures notebook
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07/13/2003  6:33 PM ET 
U.S. Futures notebook
Greinke, for one, not surprised by Royals success
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CHICAGO -- The surprising Kansas City Royals, losers of 100 games last year, are going to enter the All-Star break in first place in the American League Central. But not everyone is stunned by this development.

Zack Greinke, the best pitching prospect in the Kansas City organization and one of the top young hopefuls in the game, isn't at all shocked to see the Royals in first place. Greinke, a member of the U.S. Team Roster at the RadioShack All-Star Futures Game played Sunday at U.S. Cellular Field, was impressed by what he saw of the Royals during the spring.

2003 All-Star Game

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"All of us who were there in the Major League clubhouse in Spring Training knew this team could win," Greinke said. "The way (manager) Tony Pena pulled everybody together with his attitude, and with the talent they have, you knew it could happen. It was just a question of if they could do it. Getting Jose Lima didn't hurt either."

Lima is 5-0 in five starts since the Royals signed him to a free agent contract. Runelvys Hernandez, the ace of the staff in April, is expected to return from the disabled list soon. The addition of Lima and Hernandez makes it unlikely Greinke -- 11-1 with a 1.25 ERA in 15 starts at Class A Wilmington and Double-A Wichita -- will get called up before September, though his glittering numbers (13 earned runs in 93.2 innings with 13 walks and 84 strikeouts) make him an intriguing case and the subject of much speculation. Teams do not generally call up pitchers from Double-A ball, expecially contending teams, although there there have been exceptions.

Greinke, however, prefers to move at his own speed. He's only had one start with the Wranglers, a no decision where he allowed two runs on seven hits in 6.2 innings. He did not walk a batter and struck out six. It was an impressive Double-A debut for a pitcher who won't turn 20 until the fall.

"In some ways (getting called up) could be great but it also could be the wrong move," Greinke said. "Physically I think I'm ready, but I don't know if I have the mentality yet to where I could handle failure at that level. I don't know if it would be the right move for me at this point in my career. My time will come."

Burke on track: Second baseman Chris Burke, a former No. 1 pick of the Houston Astros, is enjoying a solid year at Double-A Round Rock but also enjoying the progress of his friend Adam Everett, who took over the starting shortstop job for the Astros earlier this season.

"I'm very happy for him, I've known him a while now and he's worked hard to get where he is," said Burke, seen by many in the Astros organization as Houston's second baseman of the future.

Burke is hitting .316 with two homers, 30 RBIs and 25 extra-base hits. He has been successful on 18 of 25 stolen base attempts.

"From a personal standpoint it's been a good year for me," Burke said. "From a team standpoint we haven't done well."

Burke said he made some adjustments to his game during the winter that have helped him become a better offensive player this season.

"I dropped my hands and lessened my leg kick," he said. "Nothing major, just a few things to try and help me become a better lead-off or top of the order guy they (the Astros) want me to be."

If this keeps up, Burke could soon be joining his old friend Everett in Houston, although the Astros are expected to get Jeff Kent back from the disabled list next Thursday. Kent is signed through 2004 with a club option for 2005. By then -- if not sooner -- Burke is expected to be ready to follow Craig Biggio and Kent in the line of standout second basemen in Houston.

"To follow two guys like that would be quite an honor," Burke said. "I saw the other day Biggio hit his 500th career double. That's amazing. He's a truly great player. So's Kent."

New experience: Hall of Fame catcher Carlton Fisk, manager of the U.S. team, likes the idea of bringing the best minor league players together for the Futures Game.

"I think it's a good experience for them and good for the game," Fisk said. "They didn't have this when I was coming up through the minor leagues. They get a chance to stay in downtown Chicago and play in a Major League park, that's a good thing, I think."

Would he have made the team in his day?

Smitherman wins it: Cincinnati prospect Steve Smitherman broke up a tie game with solo home run in the sixth inning, to win the seven-inning Futures Game.

The outfielder said he wasn't as nervous this time as he was earlier this month, when he was called up to the Reds and lined out in his only plate appearance against Pittsburgh and Scott Sauerbeck. When he homered Sunday off Travis Blackley, a left-hander with the Seattle organization, Smitherman wasn't sure the ball would leave the park.

"I thought I got underneath it a little too much," Smitherman said.

But the ball cleared the left field fence to give the U.S. the win. It was a good day for the two Ohio teams as well. Cleveland's Grady Sizemore was named the game's Most Valuable Player after going 2-for-3 with a homer and two RBIs.

Smitherman is a Type I diabetic. He was diagnosed as a diabetic when he was 11 years old. The condition does not impact his play but he must receive insulin shots every day and also keep a stash of candy bars and soft drinks at the ready.

"I get four shots a day. At one point it was two shots, but being in the game and they can sometimes go long it's easier to manage this way," Smitherman said. "I've had one episode, in Chattanooga, but I'm fine as long as I follow the procedures."

Waiting his chance: Detroit prospect Preston Larrison faced only two batters, but picked up the victory for the U.S. It matched the 22-year-old right-hander's victory total for the season. Larrison is 1-10 with a 5.32 ERA at Double-A Erie.

"If I have a strong second half I don't see why I wouldn't get called up," Larrison said. "I heard (Detroit is) going to a six or seven-man rotation in September, so that's good news."

Larrison has improved his performance in recent weeks and can't wait to continue his improvement in the second half of the season. A key for him has been getting ahead in the count more often.

"They want me at 60-70 percent first-pitch strikes and last month I was at 62 percent so that's pretty good," Larrison said.

Futures fodder: Thirteen months ago, when the Cleveland Indians traded Bartolo Colon, Tim Drew and cash considerations to the Montreal Expos for Lee Stevens, Brandon Phillips, Grady Sizemore and Cliff Lee, the Indians were widely criticized for the trade. But Brandon Phillips, though struggling offensively in this, his rookie season, is the starter at second base and Cliff Lee since his callup has shown signs that he will be an effective addition to the Indian staff. Sizemore is hitting .292 with nine homers and 54 RBIs at Double-A Akron and should be in the Majors in two years or so. Sizemore was named to the U.S. team. "I'm thrilled to be here with some of the best players in the game," Sizemore said. "I'm in awe." Sizemore was not expecting to be traded when it happened last summer but realizes now it might help his career in the long run. "This is a great organization and they've been very good to me," he said. "They're not rushing me and I feel real comfortable with where I'm at. It's been a fresh start for me." ... Neal Cotts, a talented lefty in the White Sox organization who started Sunday's Futures game, was almost called up to pitch Sunday at Cleveland. "This is a thrill for me," the Belleville, Ill., native said. "But I wouldn't have complained if (he'd been called up to the parent club)." ... ... Infielder Josh Barfield, son of former Major League Jesse Barfield, went 0-for-1 in his only plate appearance but did record a putout and an assist at second base. The 20-year-old San Diego Padre prospect is currently playing for Class A Lake Elsinore of the California League. "It was a honor for me to be here and good experience," Barfield said. "I'm very happy to get the chance to play in this game." ... David Kelton's name has been in the Chicago papers a lot lately as speculation about what moves the Cubs might make often include his name. The 23-year-old moved from third base to center field after Corey Patterson was hurt. Kelton played center field in Sunday's game. "I can't worry about (speculation), I just have to keep working hard (at Triple-A Iowa) and let the rest take care of itself," Kelton said.

Jim Molony is a reporter for This story was not subject to approval by Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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