E-Twins swing into action at J.C. tonight

By Allen LaMountain

   The 2002 Elizabethton Twins arrived in 'Betsy for their first taste of life in the Appalachian League on Monday.
   With Ray Smith taking the managerial reins once again, and with a staff that includes Jeff Reed and Jim Shellenback, 'Betsy's young rookies will have the benefit of a wealth of major league experience to help them as they try to climb the ladder to the big leagues.
   For Reed, this season will provide him with what he thinks will be as much a learning experience as a teaching one.
   "I think I can learn a lot from Ray," Reed said. "That's one of the reasons I wanted to work here, and another is the opportunity to help these guys along and help them learn. This gives me the opportunity to stay near home and stay in the game at the same time."
   Elizabethton has posted the best record in the Appalachian League for the last two years, and are one of the winningest clubs in Appy League history, having gone to the league championship series the last two seasons, and another trip to the dance isn't out of the question for this group, either.
   Once again 'Betsy appears loaded on the mound with the return of lefty Jared Hemus, who pitched well in his first stint with the club, posting a 6-1 record with a fine 1.48 earned run average.
   Hemus struck out 49 and walked just 16 in 48.2 innings of work, and he also registered three saves from the bullpen as well.
   "I expect Hemus to start out in the bullpen," said Shellenback. "He might become a starter, but he has some things to work on. He'll have to work on getting more than one pitch over the plate and get better command. He got off to a late start and that hurt him."
   Hemus knows what his role will be and feels that he will be up to whatever task Smith and Shellenback have for him.
   "My performance at spring training wasn't what it should have been for me to advance, but it hasn't affected my confidence," he said. "I'll be able to work on the things that need improving in my game here, and the Twins have such a great staff, that I just want to get everything I can out of working with them."
   Last year's second-round pick Scott Tyler, an imposing 6-6 right-hander out of Downingrown, Pa. joins this year's squad, and Shellenback expects to see something from him.
   "He's young and has a good arm," Shellenback said. "He has made a lot of progress with his off-speed stuff and he gets his fastball into the '90s."
   Smith feels that this could be a solid group of prospects to work with, and win with.
   "I'm still trying to put names and faces together a little bit, but we have some good talent here," Smith said. "I'm anxious to see if they can play. I think we can win some games here."
   Nick Blackburn, another big righty, from Norman, Ok. could be a factor in the rotation, as could German Tim Henkenjohann, who Shellenback really likes, saying, "He's real green, but he has a good arm."
   The infield should be solid defensively, but with some punch also, as Peter Martinez returns at second base. Martinez batted .224 with 22 hits, but half of those hits were doubles, as Martinez recorded 11 two-baggers, which placed him third to Cory Agar (15) and James Tomlin (14) last year.
   Agar, who struggled with a .172 batting average at Fort Myers, will try to regain his stroke under the tutelage of Reed and Smith.
   Agar showed a lot of promise after a .275 season in which he cracked a team-high eight homers, and also led the Twins with 33 RBI. Agar will work on his defense and game calling as much as his hitting, and may have to adjust to moving to first base as well.
   "Coming back here will give me a chance to get some at-bats and try to get rolling again," said Agar. "I need to work on becoming better defensively, and sharpening those skills. I'll get a lot of practice time in at first base as well as catcher, and it doesn't matter to me where I play. I just want to get into the lineup."
   Edgardo LeBron returns after a .209 season, but to his credit LeBron played hurt most of last year on a very sore ankle. LeBron has good range at third base and has a nice throwing arm as well.
   LeBron also began to show signs of becoming a more selective hitter toward the end of the year, coming up with some clutch base knocks for 'Betsy late last season.
   "I know I can do better than last year," said LeBron. "Consistency is the key. That is what I will be working on this year."
   Inocencio Hiraldo (.282 GCL) should get a lot of playing time at shortstop.
   Trent Oeltjen, a fine fielding outfielder, batted .233 after a late call up to 'Betsy. Oeltjen, who is best remembered in 'Betsy for his home-run robbing catch of Princeton's Jonny Gomes last season, has a quick bat and offers lots of speed to the lineup.
   Garrett Guzman, a lefty swinger from Las Vegas, Nev., arrives in 'Betsy having posted some strong numbers with the Gulf Coast Twins last season. Guzman has some speed and pop in his bat as well, having led the GCL Twins in extra base hits last season, to go along with a .355 batting average.
   Knoxville native Justin Sims is on board looking for an outfield spot, as are Doug Deeds and Scott Whitlock.
   The Twins coaching staff is one that Smith feels can get the very best out of this group of players.
   "Jeff is a traditional baseball guy," Smith said. "He loves the game and really takes the game seriously. He will be a good teacher, and is a guy that's enthusiastic about that aspect of the game. Shelly knows how to teach solid pitching fundamentals, and pitching is so thin these days that it's a priority to find good arms and develop them."
   The Twins take the field tonight at Cardinal Park as they open on the road in Johnson City. Game time is 7.