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01/09/2008 10:00 AM ET
Veteran players feeling Young at heart
Young's retirement puts Mottola atop active Minors categories
Chad Mottola, 37, has played 16 pro seasons, but is currently unsigned for 2008. (Mike Janes/MLB.com)

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It's like Mindy with no Mork. Ethel without Lucy.

A preseason feature about upcoming Minor League milestones without Ernie Young.

Young has been a mainstay in the Minors, ranking among the active Minor League career leaders in nearly every key offensive category.

Young finished 2007 leading all active players in home runs (at 319, the only player with more than 300), RBIs (1,136) and runs scored (1,052).

But the 38-year-old veteran of 18 pro seasons retired after an '07 campaign in which he was plagued by back problems and hit just .214 in 107 games for Triple-A Charlotte (White Sox) with 13 home runs and 42 RBIs.

It wasn't really a tough decision for Young to make.

"I couldn't perform at the level that I needed to and my numbers suffered because of that," said Young, who hit .281 in 1,680 Minor League games since being drafted by Oakland in the 10th round of 1990. "I wasn't going to keep hanging on and playing in the independent leagues just to get more stats."

So now Young moves over to the other side of the field, where he'll be the White Sox's hitting coach at extended Spring Training in Tucson before moving on to coach their short-season Great Falls club in the Pioneer League in 2008.

That leaves a trio of players to step into his shoes as the active Minor League leaders in a variety of categories: Chad Mottola, Scott McClain and Pedro Swann, with Mottola enjoying the lion's share of those spots at the top of the lists.

Already the active leader in hits with 1,859, Mottola is now the lone active player with 1,000 runs scored (1,002) and 1,000 RBIs (1,034). He also is the active leader in total bases with 3,050, more than 200 ahead of his nearest challenger, Swann (2,800).

The 37-year-old outfielder, who signed as a first-round pick in 1992 with Cincinnati, has played 16 pro seasons, including 59 Major League games. His 249 homers rank third among active Minor Leaguers and his 1,801 games stand second.

Mottola has played for seven organizations, most recently Toronto, but where he will continue to rack up his numbers is still up in the air.

He is one of several Minor League free agents on this list who is still unsigned for 2008, as that market really gets buzzing in January since the Winter Meetings are over and the front offices are back from holiday vacations.

McClain, however, has his '08 plans more settled as he re-signed with the San Francisco Giants for the coming season.

McClain, a 35-year-old veteran of 18 seasons, including four with Seibu in Japan, comes into the 2008 campaign as the active leader in homers with 262.

The corner infielder needs 55 runs scored to join Mottola in the 1,000/1,000 club, having reached the 1,000-RBI plateau in dramatic fashion Aug. 21 with a three-homer, five-RBI game. His 945 runs scored rank second.

Swann, 37, is the active leader in games played with 1,818. Not a power-hitting run producer along the lines of a Mottola or McClain, his consistency at the plate still puts him up there with the other two.

Originally drafted in 1991 by Atlanta, his 17 pro seasons have been spent with the Braves, Blue Jays, Orioles and most recently the Phillies, though he spent most of 2006 in the Mexican and Atlantic Leagues.

He is the active doubles leader with 366, followed closely by Wood (359) and Mottola (358), with nine seasons in which he's hit 20 or more doubles. His 1,809 hits rank him second while he's in fourth in RBIs (924) and fifth in runs scored (925).

Infielder Jason Wood deserves to be mentioned with this trio, even though he does not come into 2008 as the official leader in any of the categories .

One of the unsung feel-good stories of '07, the 38-year-old veteran of 17 seasons came into the year with a grand total of 52 Major League games under his belt, the majority with Oakland and Detroit in 1998 and 1999.

After signing with the Marlins prior to the 2002 season, he spent all of 2002-2006 with Florida's Triple-A affiliates before coming up with the club briefly in 2006. He made the big-league team out of Spring Training in 2007 and spent the entire season in the Majors, primarily as a pinch-hitter.

Even without any Minor League numbers in 2007, Wood ranks third in RBIs (979), hits (1,747) and games (1,785) and fourth in runs scored (940).

He re-signed with the Marlins this offseason and will go to Spring Training as a non-roster invitee.

The one key offensive statistical category featuring a whole different batch of names is stolen bases. There is a closely bunched quintet clustered at the top, led by infielder Bernie Castro with 413, with outfielder Tim Raines Jr. on his heels at 411.

Castro, a 28-year-old second baseman, just re-signed with his original club, the Yankees. In nine seasons, he's topped the 50-steal mark four times and the 40-steal plateau six times. In 2007 with the Nationals' Triple-A Columbus club, he stole 34 bases.

Raines, whose dad ranks fourth all-time with 808 Major League steals, just signed with Arizona. The 28-year-old veteran of 10 seasons, the first eight of which were with Baltimore, has stolen at least 20 bases every year and had 25 last season between Double-A Corpus Christi and Triple-A Round Rock for Houston.

The third spot is likely to change as Kansas City infielder Esteban German has 389 but has been up in the big leagues with the Royals for the past two years. That leaves room for outfielders Ruddy Yan (385) or Wayne Lydon (384) to gain ground and catch the leaders.

Yan, who is currently unsigned, looked for awhile as though he'd be the next player to top this list as he averaged 57 steals a year over his first six healthy seasons. However the currently unsigned free agent has swiped just 34 bags in his last two seasons in limited play.

Lydon, on the other hand, heads back to Spring Training with Toronto, the club he's been with for two years. After not stealing a base at all in his first pro season with the Mets in 1999, the 26-year-old Lydon has averaged 54 per year in the past six years with 29 in 2007, mostly at Triple-A Syracuse.

When it comes to pitching, the reigning dean, 37-year-old right-hander Pat Mahomes, is still active but he was unsigned at press time.

Mahomes, who spent most of 2007 in the independent leagues before returning to the Minors with three games at Triple-A Syracuse (Blue Jays) at the end, was the only active pitcher with more than 100 wins (102) and also led all hurlers with 1,191 strikeouts.

An eighth-round pick by Minnesota in 1988, Mahomes' Minor League numbers are made even more remarkable by the fact that he also pitched in 308 Major League games, including all of 1994-1995, 2000 and 2001, as well as the 1997-1998 seasons in Japan and much of 2006-2007 in the independent leagues.

While Mahomes is the only active pitching heading into 2008 with more than 100 wins, several hurlers could join him at the century mark this coming season.

Among them are free agent Spike Lundberg (95), the 2006 Southern League Most Valuable Pitcher; 37-year-old Chris Michalak (91) who posted a 3.33 in 100 innings at Triple-A Columbus (Nationals) and has signed with Cincinnati for '08, and free agent Tim Kester (90).

While Mahomes holds the current active title when it comes to strikeouts, he has several challengers, most notably free agent Matt Kinney. With 1,145 strikeouts, Kinney shows no signs of letting up. He fanned 141 at Triple-A Fresno in 2007, which was third in the Giants organization.

Only seven active pitchers have more than 1,000 strikeouts, but this year welcomes 11 additional hurlers with more than 900 strikeouts who could join those ranks.

One more active career leader holds a special distinction among these players. Right-handed reliever Todd Williams is believed to be not only the active career leader in saves with 223, but the all-time Minor League leader in that category.

We say "believed to be" because none of the "keepers of the stats" have officially kept track of this relatively recent category. But several surveys of the existing stats in the past decades indicate that Williams' total has not come close to being matched.

Lloyd Johnson, a past president of the Society for American Baseball Research and one of the editors of the Encyclopedia of Minor League Baseball confirmed that, for whatever reason, saves are not a category that has been officially tracked by the organization. That said, he feels confident that Williams does indeed hold the career record.

"I feel reasonably sure that he's head and shoulders above everyone else," Johnson said.

Williams, who is also the active leader in games (654) has amassed his 223 saves over 17 pro seasons with the Dodgers, Oakland, Cincinnati, Seattle, Yankees, Montreal, Tampa Bay, Baltimore and Colorado. Although he made his Major League debut in 1995 with Los Angeles, he did not collect his first Major League save until 2005 with the Orioles, which also happened to be the first season spent entirely in the Majors.

And he'd be perfectly happy to let someone else pass him in both categories.

"I've actually taken some heat for telling coaches and managers that I didn't want to go out for the ninth because I never wanted to see a Minor League save again," joked Williams, who is currently unsigned. "I'm sure I'll appreciate my accomplishments in the future, but for now I'd really like to get as much Major League service time as possible."

Right-hander Cory Bailey is Williams' biggest current challenger. Bailey, a 17-year vet who will turn 37 at the end of this month, left the Minors after the 2002 season with 172 career saves to spend four years in Japan and Taiwan before signing with the Cubs in 2007.

He was impressive in his return at Triple-A Iowa, collecting five more saves and posting a 2.86 ERA in 44 games. He is re-signed with Chicago for 2008.

Other key veteran closers to watch for on that leader list are right-handers Lee Gronkiewicz and Lee Gardner, as well as up-and-comer Dale Thayer.

Gronkiewicz, 29, who heads to Spring Training with a non-roster invite with Boston, has 155 saves in just seven seasons. He made his big-league debut in 2007 -- one game with Toronto -- but has not been used in as much of a stopper role in the past two years as in his first five, when he twice led his respective leagues in saves.

Gardner comes into 2008 with 131 saves, but he may not return to the Minors after finally making it up in a regular bullpen role with Florida in '07 and shining in middle relief, with a 1.94 in 62 games. He remains on the Marlins' 40-man roster.

Thayer may not stick around in the Minors long enough to make his statistical mark. With 123 saves in five seasons since signing with San Diego as a non-drafted free agent in 2002, he's posted a 2.24 ERA in that span and has had at least 20 saves every year. Traded to the Rays for veteran slugger Russell Branyan, he spent most of 2007 at Double-A Montgomery, going 9-0 with 21 saves and a 2.26 ERA.

That quintet leads the list of 10 active pitchers with 100 or more saves.

Lisa Winston is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.