Baseball

Lexington minor-leaguers swing for their dreams

Imagine an American League Central Division race like baseball had last year.

The White Sox and Twins each finished 88-74, with Chicago winning a tiebreaker.

In 2006, the Twins won by a game over the Tigers.

With minor-league spring camps in full swing, it's the season for dreams.

A Sox-Twins rivalry could someday feature a pair of outfielders from Lexington — Chicago's John Shelby, out of Tates Creek High and the University of Kentucky, versus Minnesota's Ben Revere, out of Lexington Catholic.

A Tigers-Sox/Twins race could feature another Lexingtonian. Detroit third-base prospect Michael Bertram is out of Lafayette and UK.

Before heading to camp, Shelby, Revere and Bertram spoke at the recent Lexington Legends caravan.

Ben Revere, Twins: "I'm, hopefully, trying to do it again," said the 20-year-old who led the minors last season with a .379 batting average. "Try and show everybody it wasn't a big-time fluke."

Revere showed his speed with 44 stolen bases, 10 triples and 17 doubles. Playing for the Beloit (Wis.) Snappers, he was named MVP of the High-A Midwest League. Baseball America ranks him as the Twins' No. 2 prospect.

Some criticized the Twins for taking Revere so high in the 2007 draft — first round, No. 28 overall. He never hesitated, though, hitting .325 with 21 steals in 2007.

Last season, Revere was motivated to dispel the naysayers. That still fuels his fire.

"I think I've got to keep it going because usually some people think, 'Oh, that's a fluke; he'll probably just start choking,' " Revere said. "But I've got to keep working hard. Hopefully, I'll make it to the big leagues and do good there so I can prove to everybody that I wasn't a bad pick."

Revere is scheduled to start this season with the High-A Fort Myers (Fla.) Miracle and jump to the Class AA New Britain (Conn.) Rock Cats at the all-star break. And then ...

"I may get a September call-up this year so, hopefully, I (can help) the Twins win the World Series," he said. "That would be nice."

Baseball America rates Revere as "best hitter for average" and "fastest base-runner" among Twins prospects.

Revere has proven that he is a quick learner. His 21-steal season came over 50 games. He more than doubled that, 44, in 83 games last year.

"At first I was getting caught stealing a bunch because I wasn't getting a big enough lead," Revere said. "We had a Hall of Famer, Paul Molitor, come in. He started working with me before a game and everything. He just really changed my base-running game a lot. ... Hopefully, if I don't get hurt, I'll probably have 50" in 2009.

John Shelby III, White Sox: The son of Orioles coach John "T-bone" Shelby has found a home in center.

A second baseman when he was a 2006 fifth-round draft pick, Shelby played there in the '06 short-season and much of '07. He opened 2008 in left for High-A Winston-Salem. He was returned to center late in the year.

His position of choice?

"Definitely center field," he said. "I love that. I feel at home out there. You get in as much action as you do at second base, so I feel like that's where I need to be at."

Shelby expects to be sent to Double-A Birmingham (Ala.) and hopes for a call-up to Triple-A Charlotte (N.C.).

Despite an early-season hamstring injury that hampered him for about a month, he swiped 33 bases over 114 games last year. That led all Sox minor-leaguers. Baseball America says he has the best speed-power combo among Sox prospects and puts him 10th in the organization.

He also finished last season with 15 homers and 80 RBI, with a .515 slugging percentage and 37 doubles.

"I wish that I had stayed healthy the whole year just to see what I was capable of doing," Shelby said. "But when I did get out there, I was really happy with everything that went on. Especially with the change in positions and whatnot, and just being able to stay focused. It proved something to myself, actually."

His goals this season are to stay in good health and to hone his play in center.

"I would love to make it to the big leagues this year," Shelby said. "I'm not going to put a cap on any vision that I have right now. I feel real good this year. Real good."

Michael Bertram, Tigers: Shelby's high school foe and college teammate was drafted far lower — 39th round, No. 1,162 overall, in 2006. But he is keeping pace.

Bertram shared time at third base in 2007 at Low-A West Michigan. He hit .251 with two homers and 32 RBI over 77 games.

Last year, with High-A Lakeland (Fla.), he improved to .285-8-55 over 102 games.

"Last year I was an everyday player, so I played every single day at third base," Bertram said. "And the year before, I wasn't an everyday player. I just kind of realized, mentally, how hard it is to go play at this level. Because when you play at this level every single day you've got to be able to go 0-for-4 and have terrible games, because you're coming right back out the next day and you've got another nine innings."

Bertram has been accompanied by first baseman and Kentucky teammate Ryan Strieby as each has risen through the Tigers system.

"He helps me out more defensively than anything," Bertram said. "Because he's like 6-6. He's like a big caveman over there. You just throw it anywhere, he's gonna catch it."

Bertram says he's likely to begin this season with Double-A Erie of the Eastern League.

"My goal is to hit .300 and help the team win a championship," he said. "Because we won a championship my first year at Grand Rapids, Mich., and there is not a sweeter thing in the world than winning that championship."

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