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A catching conundrum

Who to put on plate no easy pick for Fish

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2Winnipeg Goldeyes coach Rudy Arias spends the majority of his training camp time working with the catchers. The Fish currently have three receivers listed on its roster and as Arias' comment suggests, among manager Rick Forney's more difficult tasks is choosing someone to work behind the plate.

Luis Alen, Brett Wallace and Travis Howell are competing for just two positions and with the opening day roster deadline just six days out, the decision on who to keep is just as cloudy as it was last week. "All three are capable of catching a lot in our league," Forney said before his team took to the freshly cut grass at Canwest Park late Tuesday afternoon.

So who has the inside track on the two spots?

Given his production in 2007, when he hit .333 while playing impressive defence behind the dish for Winnipeg, it's hard to ignore Alen. He's a known commodity for Forney, someone who is not just a bunch of statistics on a piece of paper, and the manager likes the way he handles his stable of pitchers.

"There's always going to be a competition," said Alen. "There's always going to be someone who is trying to take your job."

If there was one negative to Alen's previous summer with the Fish, it was that he broke down physically at the end of the season. The fact he played 82 games of a 96-game schedule had a lot to do with that, but the 25-year-old thinks he's up to the task.

"I want to catch every day," said Alen, who spent the last two seasons in the New York Mets system. "I've learned a lot since the last time I was here."

Running with the Venezuelan-product presents an interesting gamble for Forney. Alen is on the edge of the affiliated-ball radar and it's not out of the realm of possibility that another major league organization will swoop in and take him away from Winnipeg -- after the Fish have made their roster moves.

"He's good enough and it's a situation where you put yourself at risk," said Forney.

By strange coincidence, Wallace came to Winnipeg via a trade with the expansion Lake County Fielders this winter on the same day the team announced the signing of Alen (Jan. 8).

A member of the Gary SouthShore RailCats the last three seasons, Wallace, 27, brings a work ethic and abilities similar to that of Alen, but with one major difference: He's won a Northern League title (in 2007). For a club that is looking to end a 15-year championship drought, that experience shouldn't be overlooked.

"Three great catchers and we're all working hard," an upbeat Wallace said. "It's hard (knowing one guy is going to be let go) and I'm sure Rick doesn't want to make the decision, but that's what he's supposed to do. He's created a good competition here. I love it, I love the challenge."

In years past, Forney has set up behind the plate like this: One full-time catcher on the roster, with a position player (3B Brett Metheny) willing to strap on the tools of ignorance once in a while.

When Metheny got hurt for a spell last season, the Goldeyes had to carry two receivers on the roster (Dustin Richardson and Jeff DeSmidt), though neither made an impact offensively.

The hard-throwing Howell has some of that versatility on his resume (he's had stints at third and first base over his short baseball career) and hopes to ride that skill set to a spot on the opening day roster.

"I'm not very fast so outfield is questionable," the 25-year-old laughed. "I can do it, but you probably don't want me out there every day."

Forney has until Monday afternoon to declare his opening day roster.

Fish wrap

Barb Wired: "He has the ability to stay off the barrel." - Winnipeg manager Rick Forney on his newest pitcher, hard-throwing Andrew Barb. The 25-year-old joined the club in Sioux Falls on Saturday. Forney expects Barb, who has a few seasons of affiliated ball under his belt, to be his eighth-inning set-up guy.

Roster Check: No new bodies in Goldeyes camp Tuesday, keeping the training camp roster at 26 players. Starter Ace Walker (12-6, 3.32 ERA in 2009) is expected to join his teammates for the workout today. Fellow righty Casey Hodges has an elbow problem and probably won't pitch this weekend, Forney said.

On Deck: With only two exhibition games, the Goldeyes are hoping for some good weather for the final pre-season weekend. Action resumes Friday and Saturday, when they host the Fargo-Moorhead RedHawks. Friday's contest is at 7 p.m. and Saturday's is an hour earlier. Both games will be on 1290 CFRW.

Coyotes? Goldeyes 2B Josh Asanovich is the lone player on the training camp roster who lives in Arizona. By default, he gets asked the question about the Phoenix Coyotes and whether they will stay in the desert but the second-year Fish wasn't biting. "It means nothing to me. I don't know anything about hockey."

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition May 12, 2010 C2

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