09/24/2003 12:00 PM ET
Team USA 30-man roster released
USA Baseball Olympic roster
Grady Sizemore, the Most Valuable Player of the Futures Game this past July during All-Star festivities in Chicago, plus two returning Olympians, highlight the 30-man Team USA roster released jointly Wednesday by Major League Baseball and USA Baseball.
The roster will be paired down to 24 players next month when the team trains in the Arizona Fall League and heads into the Americas Qualifying Event in Panama City, Panama, from Oct. 30 to Nov. 11.
The top two teams in the 12-country competition will qualify for the eight-team baseball tournament next summer in the 2004 Olympics in Athens, Greece.
"We're very enthusiastic about the club we have assembled," said Dean Taylor, a co-chairman of the Team USA steering committee that has been culling players from a 60-man roster for the last two months. "It's a highly talented group of players. It will be very difficult to trim the roster to 24 players at the end of the Fall League.
"We're going to Panama with one thing in mind: to head to Athens and defend the gold medal."
Outfielder Ernie Young, of the Detroit Tigers organization, and pitcher Todd Williams, from the Tampa Bay Devil Rays, were both members of the U.S. team that won the gold medal under manager Tommy Lasorda at the 2000 Olympics in Sydney, Australia.
Young batted .385 with a homer and eight RBIs in Sydney, while Williams was 1-0, didn't allow an earned run and gave up only three hits in five innings over five appearances.
Sizemore, a highly touted prospect from the Cleveland Indians, took home the Larry Doby Award as the MVP in the RadioShack All-Star Futures Game, as the U.S. defeated the World team, 3-2, in a seven-inning affair at Chicago's U.S. Cellular Field on July 13. Sizemore went 2-for-3 with a homer and two runs batted in.
Sizemore, an Eastern League All-Star, hit .304 with 13 homers and 78 RBIs playing for Cleveland's Double-A Akron club this season.
Sizemore will have stiff opposition for an outfield spot from the veteran Young and other top prospects such as Terrmel Sledge of the Montreal Expos, and Jeremy Reed from the Chicago White Sox.
Young, a 34-year-old veteran of 14 professional seasons, has played parts of five seasons in the big leagues with the A's, Royals and Diamondbacks, amassing a .224 average, 27 homers and 90 RBIs in 280 games. He's played 3,304 games in the minor leagues and spent the 2003 season with Detroit's Triple-A Toledo club in the International League where be batted .264 with 21 homers and 84 RBIs.
"The outfield is wide open," Taylor said. "We have six guys, who will be all battling. We'll see what happens."
Team USA is projected to take 12 pitchers and 12 position players to Panama, Taylor said, in what will resemble a minor league All-Star team.
The team will be managed by Frank Robinson, 68, who has spent the last two seasons managing the Expos after tours at the helm of the Indians, San Francisco Giants and Baltimore Orioles.
"This is completely different than anything I've done (in baseball)," Robinson said. "That was another attraction to it. How many times do you get to do something for your country?
"Usually you only get a chance to be a good citizen. This is something that I can do to help my country, representing it as a manager of this ballclub. I can give something back to my country which I've never been able to do."
Pitchers and catchers are scheduled to report to the team's Maryvale training facility in Phoenix on Oct. 3 with the full squad due later that week. A 12-game exhibition schedule against teams in the Arizona Fall League is set to begin Oct. 10.
A player who was not on any 25-man MLB roster by Aug. 31 is eligible to play on the team. The steering committee and a selection committee of MLB player personnel directors and scouts had originally tabbed 60 players.
Only players on a 45-man list, including what ultimately will be 21 reserves, are eligible to play in Panama. That list must be submitted by the end of September.
The steering committee, along with input from Robinson, is in the process of selecting a coaching staff, which won't be announced until sometime next week, Taylor said.
Robinson will inherit a roster culled from the elite of baseball's minor league system.
Among those players invited to camp are Oakland first base prospect Graham Koonce, this season's Pacific Coast League MVP and Seattle third base prospect Justin Leone, the Player of the Year in the Texas League.
Playing for Oakland's Triple-A affiliate and PCL champion Sacramento, Koonce led the league with 34 homers and had 115 RBIs and a .403 slugging percentage. Playing for Texas League champion Double-A San Antonio, Leone was fourth in the circuit with 21 homers and tied for third with 92 RBIs. He also added 20 steals.
"That's quite a lot of steals for a third baseman," Taylor said.
Sledge, who is a highly regarded prospect in Robinson's Montreal organization, was third in the PCL in batting playing for Triple-A Edmonton with a .324 average. He added 22 homers and 92 RBIs.
Also of note on the expanded roster is catcher Joe Mauer, a highly touted prospect in the Minnesota Twins organization and the No. 1 pick overall in the 2001 June free agent draft of amateur players.
Mauer split his season with Single-A Fort Myers in the Florida State League and Double-A New Britain in the Eastern League. He hit .338 with five homers and 85 RBIs at the two stops.
"I've been fortunate to play for USA on three different (junior) teams," Mauer said. "Each time I've had a good time doing it. It's brought me overseas to play against different competition and to play a different style of baseball. Playing each country, being out on the field is a little different."
Of the 15 pitchers coming to camp, 10 of them are right-handed and the other
five are left-handed.
Williams, a 32-year-old right-hander, has 13 seasons of professional experience, including Major League stops with the Dodgers, Reds, Mariners and Yankees where he combined to go 3-3 with a 5.50 ERA in 50 relief appearances. This season, he was 3-2 with a 1.55 ERA in 56 relief appearances for Tampa Bay's Triple-A Durham affiliate in the International League.
Jeremy Fikac, a 28-year-old right-handed reliever, also has some Major League experience, having made 65 appearances during the 2002 season for the San Diego Padres. Fikac was subsequently traded to Oakland and spent the 2003 season in Sacramento where he was 3-3 with a 2.25 ERA in 42 relief appearances.
Originally the steering committee had hoped to announce a 32-man roster to go to camp Wednesday. Taylor, though, said that the announcement didn't preclude Team USA from making some additional roster moves in the next week.
"We wouldn't close any door," Taylor said. "Our task here is to put the best team we can on the field for Team USA. So we wouldn't leave any stone unturned."
Barry M. Bloom is a national reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.
By Barry M. Bloom / MLB.com