Winter Meetings bring flurry of MiLB activity

Extensive Rule 5 Draft, award ceremonies highlight annual gathering

(Joy R. Absalon/MLB.com)

By Lisa Winston / MLB.com | December 7, 2006 4:43 PM

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- The 2006 Baseball Winter Meetings were noticeably quiet and uneventful on the Major League front. But over on the Minor League side, there was plenty going on.

From Monday's Opening Session until Thursday's surprisingly active Rule 5 Draft, there was no shortage of activity for the attendees who were interested in more than whether the Boston Red Sox would finally trade Manny Ramirez or who would win the Ted Lilly Derby (though the fact that there even was a Ted Lilly Derby is an indication of just how quiet things were on the Major League side).

Things got started at the Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin Hotel with the Opening Session as Mike Moore, president of Minor League Baseball, and Pat O'Conner, the Minor Leagues' vice president and COO, both welcomed an overflow crowd on hand for the four days of meetings and events.

O'Conner emphasized the organization's "new vision," reminding the group of the many goals achieved in 2006, from the record attendance of more than 41 million fans to the newfound stability that the new CBA guarantees the sport through 2012.

Moore followed O'Conner and shared his plans to establish a "Fan For Life" program that will be officially implemented throughout the Minors in 2008.

"Create, in your ballpark, experiences and opportunities that will make kids fans for a lifetime," Moore urged the group. "It involves opportunities that allow kids to interact and create a real bond through their experiences at the ballpark. ... The stuff dreams are made of that will make kids a fan for a lifetime."

While Monday kicked off a busy schedule of league meetings, it also featured a lion's share of individual and team awards to be distributed. The awarding started right away with the Opening Session, where 15 Minor League general managers were presented as their respective leagues' Executives of the Year.

That select group received seats of honor on the dais at the afternoon's awards luncheon as well.

In addition, several other laurels were distributed that day.

Durham Bulls first baseman Kevin Witt, who will be taking his lumber overseas to Japan for the 2007 season, received the Joe Bauman Trophy to award him for leading the Minors in home runs in 2006. Witt's 36 roundtrippers earned him the title, and its $7,200 ($200 for each home run) as he edged out Texas Rangers farmhand Nate Gold by two.

Another player on hand was Baltimore outfield prospect Jake Duncan, who received the inaugural Bank of America Neighborhood Champion Award. Duncan, who played for the Class A Advanced Frederick Keys of the Carolina League in '06, was the winner among 70 candidates for exemplifying the game of baseball, sportsmanship, community involvement and individual contribution to his team.

Also honored at the luncheon were Reading Phillies assistant general manager Ashley Forlini as the Rawlings Woman Executive of the Year and the Los Angeles Dodgers as Baseball America's Organization of the Year.

Monday night featured the grand opening of the annual Trade Show, which featured more than 300 vendors and merchants this year.

Most of the participants were kept busy on Monday and Tuesday at meetings that ranged from league business to All-Star Games to travel to public relations, and just about everything baseball-related in between.

On Wednesday evening, four veteran scouts were honored as Scouts of the Year at the 23rd annual reception for the Scout of the Year Foundation. Chicago Cubs scouting director Tim Wilken, San Diego Padres scout Ray Crone Sr., retiring Kansas City Royals scout Bob Bishop and Los Angeles Dodgers assistant to the general manager Ralph Avila drew a standing room-only crowd to the large ballroom where their awards ceremony took place. Although the Rule 5 Draft held on Thursday morning is technically a Major League event, it always draws its share of Minor League fans because all the players who change hands have spent the previous season in the Minors.

Due to some new CBA rules which extended by a year the tenure before which parent clubs had to add players to the 40-man roster or risk losing them in the draft, the talent pool featured almost exactly the same players as last year's draft. As a result the predictions had been that it might feature a record-low number of selections.

Prognosticators were proven wrong, however, as 19 players had their names called in the Major League phase of the draft, up from 12 in each of the last two years.

The Meetings wound down Thursday afternoon and evening with the Closing Session and banquet.

The banquet, which was held in the ballroom of the Swan Hotel, featured the presentation of three major Minor League Baseball awards.

Joe McEacharn of the Double-A Eastern League received the Warren Giles Award, given annually to an outstanding league president.

The Round Rock Express of the Triple-A Pacific Coast League were presented with the Larry MacPhail Trophy for promotional excellence and community service.

And finally, the Altoona Curve of the Eastern League were awarded the year's top prize, the John J. Johnson Award for overall excellence by a Minor League team.

Despite the constant, even if not frenetic, pace on the Minor League side, you can expect a lot more action in 2007 when the meetings reconvene in Nashville.

Among the items on the next agenda will be the election of the new Minor League Baseball president as Mike Moore's term comes to an end, as well as a Rule 5 Draft that will once again include a new cast of eligible players.

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.

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