Palmer will bid for Padres role

Matt Palmer is moving south again.

One of the best guys and teammates ever to pull on an Angels uniform, Palmer is San Diego bound, having signed a Minor League deal with Buddy Black’s Padres. Anyone who has spent two minutes with Palmer is pulling for him to crack Black’s staff in any of a number of roles he can perform.

After starting his career in San Francisco, Palmer came to the Angels in 2009, unheralded and hardly noticed, and became a valued member of a great team. Palmer went 11-2 with a 3.93 ERA, winning his first six starts as an emergency replacement at a time when the Angels were treading water. They went on to win 97 games with Palmer moving back and forth from the rotation to the bullpen, always happy to do whatever Mike Scioscia needed.

The past two seasons haven’t been as kind to the man from Missouri, injuries keeping him down, but it wouldn’t be surprising to see him putting hitters away at PETCO Park this season.

If it works out, it could not happen to a better guy.

– Lyle Spencer

Reaching out to new candidates

As promised, the Angels are doing their due diligence in identifying their next general manager.

Kim Ng, former assistant GM of the Dodgers currently employed by MLB in international operations, is the latest to draw the interest of owner Arte Moreno’s management team, according to ESPN, which also reports that Rangers assistant GM Thad Levine has caught the Angels’ eye as a candidate.

Ng has extensive front office experience. In addition to her nine seasons with the Dodgers, she also worked for the Yankees, as an assistant GM, and the White Sox. She would become the first woman to be hired as a Major League GM if she is the choice.

Levine has ties to Southern California as well. A UCLA graduate, he worked for the Dodgers for a year before joining the Rangers and having a voice in their rise behind club president Nolan Ryan and GM Jon Daniels over the past six seasons. Levine spent six years with the Rockies in a variety of roles before moving to Texas.

Among other candidates who have surfaced in media reports are the Diamondbacks’ Jerry Dipoto and the Yankees’ Damon Oppenheimer and Billy Eppler. — Lyle Spencer

Angels looking east for GM?

Names are starting to drop in the Angels’ general manager pursuit. According to a tweet by the New York Daily News’ Mark Feinsand, the Yankees have granted owner Arte Moreno and Co. permission to meet with two of their executives, Billy Eppler and Damon Oppenheimer.

Another report, by Jon Heyman of SI.com, has the Angels eyeing Oppenheimer, the Yanks’ scouting director, and Jerry Dipoto of the Diamondbacks.

According to Peter Schmuck of The Baltimore Sun, deposed Angels GM Tony Reagins could be in the hunt in Baltimore for the Orioles’ GM job. The list of prospective candidates there is long.  – Lyle Spencer

Bourjos, Trout: Who’s swiftest?

Thoughts on a few hot topics of the day:

 
Peter Bourjos vs. Mike Trout

Who’s faster? And where will they play when they’re in the same outfield?

These are questions I get all the time. There is no definitive answer to the matter of speed. My guess is Trout is more explosive in the first 20 to 30 yards, but Bourjos would catch him and nip him at the wire at 100 yards. Everyone would like to see them race, but it’s actually better this way, keeping the debate alive as we watch these two  phenomenal athletes grow into whatever they become.

My guess is that Bourjos, with great reads and a better arm, will remain in center field and win close to as many Rawlings Gold Gloves as his mentor, Torii Hunter, who owns nine. Bourjos is already the best, in my view, and can only get better.

Bourjos has the ability to be a highly productive offensive player, hitting in the .280 to .320 range consistently with 50 to 70 steals. He has the hand and bat speed and the willingness to put in the necessary work to make it happen.

Trout’s ceiling is Sistine Chapel-esque: colorful and enormous. I’m not sure he’ll ever be quite as good as Bourjos defensively, but he’ll be close. And he has the talent to be one of the game’s best total hitters. Still not quite 20, he won’t come into his power for a few more years, at which time I think you’ll see him land in the 25-30 homer range with triple digits in runs scored and RBIs. He has the tools to contend for batting titles.

With Hunter, Vernon Wells and Bobby Abreu coming back, there’s no need to rush Trout. But he might force his way into the outfield rotation next season. If he does, I see him in left. And that’s where I see him for a long time, giving the Angels the best left fielder in the game to go along with the premier center fielder, Bourjos.

Something else to ponder: Bourjos, Erick Aybar and Trout forming the fastest, most electric top third of a batting order anyone has seen in a long time. Maybe ever. Aybar is almost as swift as Bourjos and Trout.

Oh, and the guy hitting behind them, cleaning up by driving in loads of runs? Mark Trumbo. This guy is on his way to becoming one of the game’s most feared power hitters. He has the skill and the will and, the most underrated part of the formula, rare common-sense intelligence.

The best is coming for Angels fans. Patience is no virtue, I understand, when it’s all about winning RIGHT NOW. But there’s a whole lot of gold here waiting to be mined in the future.
Mike Napoli vs. Jeff Mathis

The collision of the front-running Rangers, with Napoli fitting in beautifully behind the plate and in the lineup, and the pursuing Angels, with Mathis doing his customary solid defensive work while scuffling offensively, has touched off an old debate among the so-called faithful.

A small segment of fandom seems to appreciate what Mathis has done for a pitching staff that has been the foundation of the Angels’ success. A much larger segment preferred, and still prefers, Napoli’s booming bat. Now that Nap also is putting together an impressive catcher’s ERA with a superb Texas staff, his supporters – and those who just don’t like Mathis – are coming unglued on web sites attacking Mathis, manager Mike Scioscia for playing him, and yours truly for defending him.

The venom is totally out of proportion to the reality, but when emotion gets involved, all logic goes out the proverbial window. I’m an idiot, and so is Scioscia, evidently, for continuing to defend and, in Mike’s case, play a guy WHO CAN’T HIT .200.

Numbers, thrown out to defend any position, now hold the game hostage. It’s all about all these categories I can’t even define. Watching and enjoying the game is secondary now. Sometimes it’s as if the stat people would be thrilled if they just stopped playing the game altogether and let them give us the results through their computers. Everything is so cut and dried, preordained statistically, they might as well do that.

In response to all those who insist I am biased toward Mathis, I would ask you to please, if you get a chance, ask Napoli our relationship when he was with the Angels. I’m pretty sure he’d tell you he had no bigger supporter, in or out of the media.

I’m thrilled to see Napoli with a big smile on his face, having a great time. He’s a good guy. So is his best buddy, Mathis. Their relationship has remained rock solid through their years of competing for playing time, which tells you a lot about both of them.

They used to joke that if you combined their talents, you’d have Johnny Bench. And that wasn’t far from the truth. Given the relative popularity of the two, it’s obvious about 95 percent of fandom would take Bench’s power over his defense.

Mathis knows he needs to hit. That’s his problem. He has to relax and let his natural athletic ability flow. He’s one of the five best athletes in the clubhouse, and if that ever happens, if he ever unlocks himself, he can be a decent offensive player.

The Mathis haters, of course, will laugh, as always. Go ahead. It’s your prerogative. Just please try not to be so hostile in expressing yourself. It cheapens your position.

Howard Kendrick vs. Howie Kendrick

Most everyone calls him Howie, but I’m sticking with Howard for one reason: Jody, his wife, calls him Howard, and so do other family members, from what I understand. If that’s who he is to those closest to him, I’ll go with that. Mike Scioscia calls him Howie because he believes there should be a separation between the athlete and the private person. Mike and I sometimes disagree.

At Spring Training a few years ago, another person close to Kendrick told me “there’s nothing Howie about him,” adding that he’s just too nice a guy to even care what people call him.

Kendrick once told me that Howie first surfaced next to his name early in his career when a bubble-gum company put that on his card. I remembered seeing (and hating) Bob Clemente, not Roberto, on a card when I was a kid. So I guess that’s another reason why I write Howard Kendrick, not Howie.

No big deal. Just setting the record straight from my perspective. – Lyle Spencer

Wood can find redemption

ARLINGTON — Brandon Wood knew this might be coming, but when it did on Tuesday night at Rangers Ballpark – where teammate Joe Saunders had been given the news last year — it hit him like a thunderbolt.

His life with the Angels was over. Time to move on to whatever was waiting in the on-deck circle.

Nobody knows for certain why all that talent didn’t translate into production. My best guess is that those years spent riding the Salt Lake-Anaheim shuttle, waiting and waiting for his shot, gradually chipped away at Wood’s confidence.

When the opportunity to play regularly finally arrived last season, he overreacted to early struggles (and bad luck with line drives and long drives landing in gloves) and tied himself in emotional knots. He was unable to pull himself back together, pressuring himself inordinately.

Here is what so many demanding, today-is-everything fans can’t seem to understand: athletes, no matter how gifted, are cursed with the same insecurities and personal issues as the rest of us.

Wood always appeared supremely confident. He knew he was good, having excelled throughout his young life. But when he started questioning himself early last season, it began a cycle that overwhelmed him.

To his credit, he remained grounded and retained his sense of humor throughout. Teammates genuinely cared for him and felt for him. He’s a good guy, open, gentlemanly. If you have a heart, you hope good things happen to him now.

There are several places I would like to see him land. My first choice would be San Diego. The Padres’ manager, Bud Black, knows Brandon from their time together with the Angels and would understand how best to extract all that talent from this exceptional package.

Wood is a shortstop. He became a third baseman, and a good one, but in his heart and mind, he is a shortstop. It was fascinating to see how different he was when he was in the lineup at shortstop rather than at third.

He hit when he played shortstop. His one stretch with the Angels where he played consistently good baseball came late in the 2008 season when Erick Aybar and Maicer Izturis were down, and Wood was the shortstop by default for a month.

He was excellent defensively – good hands and range, strong arm, fine instincts – and hit in the .250 range, occasionally showing his stunning power. A confident Wood, at shortstop, has the ability to be a force. I truly believe that.

Another intriguing fit would be Arizona, his hometown team. He’d have to be a third baseman there, with Stephen Drew at shortstop, but the low-key environment, ballpark and comforts of home would be benefits.

Houston and Pittsburgh could find a role and at-bats for Wood. There are other places where a roll of the dice on an athlete with his skills would make great sense.

Know this: Wood is not giving up on himself. His eyes red, the shock and pain evident, he mentioned redemption several times after getting the news Tuesday night.

Wood admitted that he put too much pressure on himself last season, and it was a lesson learned. Given a real chance in the right environment, Wood might make somebody look lucky – and smart – by bringing him aboard.

This is not a lost cause. The talent, commitment and intelligence are there. Here’s hoping Wood unlocks the key and shows what he can do. – Lyle Spencer 

Angels reportedly sign lefty

According to a report from the Dominican Prospect League, the Angels have signed a left-handed pitcher, Nataneal Rodriguez, to a $180,000 contract.

Rodriguez is described as “a power pitcher whose fastball works between 92-94 mph and has topped out at 96 mph” in the release.

Rodriguez, 20, reportedly has the upside to potentially close or be a starter. – Lyle Spencer

Roster squeeze not so tight after all

TEMPE, Ariz. – If the Angels open the season with Joel Pineiro joining Kendrys Morales, Scott Downs and Reggie Willits on a crowded disabled list, they won’t have as many difficult roster decisions to make as originally projected.

There will be room for Brandon Wood and Mark Trumbo, for Chris Pettit and Hank Conger, for Rich Thompson and Jason Bulger. All had been considered possible Opening Day discards.

Thompson, Bulger, Wood and Bobby Wilson are all out of Minor League options and must be on the 25-man roster or disabled list to avoid being subjected to waivers.

With three off days surrounding the first 12 games of the season, the club can get by with four starting pitchers. This gives Pineiro the opportunity to fully recover from a muscle issue in his back by recovering at his own speed in camp.

Willits has been slowed by a left calf strain, clearing the way for Pettit to show he’s capable of being a quality backup outfielder with his slashing hitting style.

Wood’s has the ability to play three infield positions well and bring the threat of thunder off the bench along with depth at third with Maicer Izturis and Alberto Callaspo.

Trumbo will open at first base in Morales’ absence. Coverage there will come from Howard Kendrick, Wood and Wilson, who figures to open as Jeff Mathis’ backup behind the plate.

Thompson and Bulger provide middle relief support in the early going. When Downs returns, his left big toe mended, and a decision will have to be made, assuming Pineiro already has returned to the rotation.

If Conger is dispatched to Triple-A Salt Lake, it will be with the specific purpose of keeping him sharp catching regularly. He has the ability to be a switch-hitting weapon off the bench, but that doesn’t come into play in the American League as much in the National League.

Sure-handed shortstop Andrew Romine is a candidate to break camp with the club if Conger is sent to Salt Lake.

Reliever Kevin Jepsen, who felt tightness in his left hip while warming up on a cold, rainy Monday in Tempe, was feeling better on Wednesday and expects to be back in game conditions as early as Thursday. – Lyle Spencer

Make it Kendrys Morales

On further review, make it Kendrys Morales.

Known as Kendry Morales since signing with the Angels as a Cuban exile in 2004, Morales has let it be known that his given name is actually Kendrys. That is how it appears in the Angels’ press guide, and that’s what he prefers to be called.

His full name is Kendrys Morales Rodriguez.

Morales, fifth in the 2009 American League Most Valuable Player balloting, is rebounding from surgery on his lower left leg and hopes to be ready by Opening Day on March 31 in Kansas City. He has been hitting regularly and taking fielding practice but has not yet run full speed.

He fractured the leg on May 29 leaping on home plate after a game-winning grand slam against the Mariners at Angel Stadium. – Lyle Spencer

Garret: pure class, to the end

Garret Anderson’s retirement has inspired some moving, perceptive tributes from folks on this site, and that is very nice to see.

Too often, it seemed the public paid not nearly enough attention to what this remarkable yet undervalued athlete was doing.

When I came to cover the Angels for MLB.com in 2007, one of the items at the top of my priority list was to get to know the superb left fielder who’d spent most of his career in the shadows, for reasons that escaped me entirely.

It was the first road trip of the season, and we were rerouted to Milwaukee by a snowstorm that had buried Cleveland. I asked if he could set aside some time before a game there for a talk, and he said, “Sure. Get here a little early tomorrow and we’ll get to know each other.”

I arrived on time, for a change, and settled into an unoccupied locker next to his. He sat down, leaned back and we talked . . . and talked . . . and talked.

About an hour later, I walked away thinking this was one of the brightest, most intuitive, most interesting athletes I’d met in a long time.

And I had no idea, still, why he’d remained such a mystery man to the public all those years.

As the days and weeks past, I came to develop an appreciation of Anderson and an understanding of his low profile in spite of all his career accomplishments. It was his choice. He had no interest in being a public figure.

What he cared about was being a solid professional and a good dad and husband. Everything else was secondary.

If it wasn’t important to him to have people know him, applaud him, understand him, there was nothing wrong in that. Unfortunately, there was an assumption that he didn’t care enough, because he didn’t play the game like Pete Rose.

This is not uncommon among graceful, smooth, relaxed athletes. It was one of the reasons why Hank Aaron never gained the acclaim of Willie Mays or Mickey Mantle. Aaron was too cool, too relaxed. He made it look too easy.

A great player in his prime and a very good one the rest of the time, Garret Anderson was like that.

So was Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, an athlete I’d spent time with years ago.

There was an inner calm and confidence in the Garret Anderson I came to know, and it was that Garret Anderson who gracefully, in his fashion, announced his retirement on Tuesday.

I spent many hours in his company in clubhouses across America over two seasons, killing time, telling stories. Most of our conversations drifted toward the NBA, a shared passion. He was a superb all-around athlete, recruited by Division I schools to play basketball out of Kennedy High School in the San Fernando Valley, but he chose baseball and the Angels. Smart guy, Garret.

He loved to hear tales about the “Showtime” Lakers of the ’80s, a team I traveled with and wrote about for the Los Angeles Herald Examiner. He couldn’t hear enough about Magic and Kareem, Big Game James and McAdoo, Coop and Nixon and Byron and the rest.

It occurred to me during our conversations how similar Garret was to Kareem: bright and inquisitive yet introverted. Intimidating to some, because he seemed inaccessible, Anderson never was interested in self-promotion yet always was interested in subjects beyond the scope of his professional life.

He was, and is, a healthy, happy person, a man who laughs easily and often, in private, and loves his family. Now they have him full time, and that’s clearly the way he wants it. – Lyle Spencer

 

 
  

Trumbo in mix for playing time

TEMPE, Ariz. – Young slugger Mark Trumbo could thrust himself into the picture for the Angels with a strong spring, Angels manager Mike Scioscia said on Sunday in his daily session with the media.

“Mark’s got an opportunity to win a lot of playing time,” Scioscia said. “We’re going to get him acclimated to first base to begin with and get him some work in the outfield.”

A pitcher and all-around athlete when he was drafted in 2004 out of Villa Park High School, about 15 minutes from Angel Stadium, Trumbo has been primarily a first baseman in six Minor League seasons.

He has played some corner outfield the past two seasons but was not given any starts there in the Venezuelan Winter League, where he put up more big numbers after leading Minor League baseball with his 36 homers for Triple-A Salt Lake last year. A number of fans would like to see the Angels give him a look at third base.

“They tried him as a third baseman [after he signed], and we’ve talked about revisiting it,” Scioscia said. “He’s still a work in progress at first base. His tool set lends itself to the outfield.”

Trumbo, who goes 6-foot-4 and about 220 pounds, gets great leverage and drives the ball with tremendous power. His ongoing challenge involves pitch recognition and not putting himself in bad counts. He launched mammoth shots in the Pacific Coast League that his Bees teammates are still talking about.

—————————

Scioscia’s daily Kendry Morales report after an impressive hitting exhibition on Saturday: “There’s some work he needs to do. From the offensive side, that’s the least of his concerns. His first round of fielding drills was very encouraging. From the offensive side, I don’t think there’s any question he could swing the bat on Opening Day. Whether [or not] he can get through Spring Training with flying colors, there are definitely going to be some DH days for him to get a little different look.”

Scioscia’s daily Scott Kazmir report: “We’re seeing him throw the ball with better velocity and less effort, which should theoretically help his command. We’re seeing arm speed creating better spin on his slider. His changeup is a really good pitch. It’s early, but he never threw the ball last spring as well as he is now.”

Scioscia on Maicer Izturis’ durability issues: “He played 114 games two years ago and probably could have played 130. This guy works out as hard as anybody in the clubhouse. He’s experimented with trying to back off, with different routines. He’s had a little issue with durability. If we get anywhere from 90 to 110 games from him, we’re going to be very happy. If we get more, we’ve got to consider it a bonus.”

Scioscia on Mike Trout’s ETA with the Angels: “This guy’s as far advanced as anybody the past few generations we’ve seen. He’s got a great head. We’re excited to see him as a player, but we’re not expecting him to run routes in center like Torii Hunter did or run the bases like Chone Figgins did. There’s growth he needs before he’s a Major League baseball player. This guy’s got a plan every day. This guy’s going to be a very good player very soon. What his numbers are going to be in 10 years, nobody knows.”

 

————————————–

The second full day of workouts on Sunday was cut short by heavy rains that cleared the fields soon after the players had gone out to work. Brandon Wood began to swing on soft toss for the first time after experiencing some back stiffness.

 

The following Angels games will be broadcast over MLB Network this spring: Feb. 27, at Dodgers, noon PT; March 1, Reds, noon; March 3, Royals, 6 p.m.; March 4, White Sox, noon; March 6, Diamondbacks, 4 p.m.; March 8, Rangers, 8 p.m.; March 21, Cubs, 1 p.m. –Lyle Spencer

 

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.