June 2010

Rangers are star-studded

The Rangers have eight, maybe nine legitimate All-Star candidates. Here they are: Josh Hamilton, Vladimir Guerrero, Michael Young, Elvis Andrus, Nelson Cruz, Colby Lewis, Neftali Feliz and Darren Oliver. Darren O’Day also has the numbers to be considered.

The Angels have two serious candidates for the Midsummer Classic they’ll be hosting on July 13: Jered Weaver and Torii Hunter. After that, you have to start reaching to make a case.

And you’re wondering why the Angels are chasing Texas in the American League West?

The only surprise is that they’re as close as they are. The Rangers could be running away and hiding.

Coming into Wednesday night’s middle game of the series, the Angels having held on to take the opener, the Rangers had outscored opponents by 80 runs in 76 games. The Angels had scored one fewer run than the other guys in 79 games.

The Rangers’ bullpen had the third-best ERA in the AL at 3.30. The Angels were second to last at 4.84.

It’s difficult to find an area where the Angels have been better than the Rangers. Mike Scioscia’s troupe was even running behind in steals by 14. Defense? The Rangers’ .983 team fielding percentage was tied for sixth in the AL, while the Angels were tied for 11th at .981.

The Rangers are batting .283, while their opponents are hitting .243. The Angels are getting out-hit, .264 to .259.

Rumors are swirling that the Angels are interested in Hank Blalock, Garrett Atkins, Adam Dunn. A quick-fix would appease fans, but would it really improve the club significantly? That’s the question management has to weigh.

The only player who could make a huge difference is out for the season: Kendry Morales. My view is that none of those names being tossed around in trade chatter would dramatically alter the landscape. I’d go with what they have and hope the athletes in-house catch fire in the second half.

They have been known to do that. And these Rangers haven’t yet demonstrated they can make it through the heat of September. – Lyle Spencer

 

Where’s support for Hunter?

The Angels are hosting the All-Star Game on July 13. It’s a pretty big deal. You’d think their fans would be doing everything they can to make sure one of their players — ideally, their best player, Torii Hunter — would be in the starting lineup for the American League.

You’d think that would be the case, but you’d be wrong. It’s a clear case of voter apathy in Orange and its neighboring counties. 

Angels fans are sitting around not voting, evidently. They do a lot of complaining about what they have and don’t have, judging by my emails, but they’re not too interested in voting. They’re content to let eight other players start the game, without representation from the hometown team that has won its division the past three seasons and five of the past six.

Hunter is seventh in the AL outfield. That’s ridiculous. You can make a case that the three guys leading in the balloting — Ichiro, Carl Crawford and Josh Hamilton — are all deserving. They’re having big seasons, and they’re talented, charismatic players.

I’d take Hunter in a heartbeat over any of the three.

I’m biased, of course. I’m around Torii every day and see what he does on the field, in the clubhouse, in general life. He’s as good as it gets. He should be in center field when this All-Star Game unfolds.

What’s really absurd is that a pair of Yankees — Curtis Granderson and Nick Swisher — are running ahead of Hunter in the voting. I’m pretty sure they’d both agree they’re not in Hunter’s class as all-around players.

Hunter is having another big year. He started one All-Star Game, in Milwaukee in 2002, and made one of the most memorable plays in the history of the Midsummer Classic, scaling the wall in center to snatch a home run away from Barry Bonds.

Hunter is clutch. He goes all out, all the time. He lives for the moment and represents his sport as well as any athlete anywhere.

It’s a shame the fans aren’t doing their part to take care of a guy who never stops taking care of others. — Lyle Spencer  

 

Revisiting a magical place

LOS ANGELES – It’s always like coming home when I cover a game at Dodger Stadium. I worked here for years, for the Santa Monica Evening Outlook and Los Angeles Herald Examiner, newspapers no longer with us, and the memories are rich.

Stepping into the visitors’ clubhouse on Friday, I told a group of Angels about the time I tried to ask Cardinals legend Bob Gibson – in a corner of the clubhouse occupied at the moment by Joe Saunders – about his hometown of Omaha, Neb., which happened to be my own. I was doing something about a connection with Gale Sayers, who also called Omaha home, how two of the premier athletes ever hailed from the same place.

Gibson, not in a mood to chat, told me in no uncertain terms to take a hike. He wasn’t interested in discussing Omaha with me, now or ever. I also interviewed the late, great Roberto Clemente in this room, in the company of the late, great Jim Murray, who asked most of the questions. I remember Clemente talking about how terrible he felt, how his back was killing him and he didn’t know if he could even play that night.

He lashed three line drives, as I recall, and made one of his magnificent throws from right field. Clemente was the second most exciting player I’ve ever seen behind the one and only Willie Mays.

Near the press box, manned for years by a wonderful fellow named James Mims, I ran into an old buddy, Bobby Castillo. A right-hander pitcher for the Dodgers from East L.A., Castillo is the guy who taught Fernando Valenzuela the screwball.

Castillo, eyes alive as always, and I had a few laughs before Fernando, an announcer now with the princely Jaime Jarrin, showed up as if on cue. He was the same impish, smiling guy I met in 1980 and tried, without much success, to teach English in Dodgertown the following spring. Little did we know he was about to emerge as a national sensation.

My boyhood hero, the great Tommy Davis, walked by wearing No. 12,  on his way to meet a group of fans. I shared a few words with Tommy D., who I covered briefly in his later years as a DH. Before breaking his ankle in a horrific slide – I was in the stands that night, high up in the left-field corner – Tommy D. was a Hall of Fame talent, I firmly believe. He was a great hitter and player, and he remains a gentleman of the highest order. He misses his old buddy Willie Davis, a dazzling presence who passed away much too soon.

Another familiar form arrived in Kenny Landreaux, another center fielder of superior quality for the Dodgers and other clubs. We reminisced, K.T. catching me up with some of the guys from those teams he enriched with his bat, glove and humor. Steve Brener, the Dodgers’ PR man from those days, surfaced, and in his company, of course, was Tommy Lasorda, the inimitable leader of teams I covered in the ’70s and early ’80s.

On Saturday night, Lou Johnson Al Downing — distinguished Dodgers of the ’60s and ’70s, respectively – strolled through the dining room, where Vin Scully was engaged in conversation.

There is no place like Dodger Stadium — the history it has preserved, its unsurpassed setting, the perfection of it all. I was here when it opened. I saw Sandy Koufax face Mays when giants ruled the game. I saw championships won and lost. Ownerships, managers and players come and go, but some things never change. This magnificent ballpark, thankfully, is one of those things. – Lyle Spencer 

Angels stockpiling athletes

OAKLAND – Having spent three days drafting 55 amateur baseball players with dreams of playing in the Major Leagues, Angels scouting director Eddie Bane wasn’t quite ready to rest Wednesday evening. He was getting in his car, his work far from over.

“Now I’m going to go try to sign some guys – the fun part,” Bane said by phone.

For the second year in a row, the Angels stocked up heavily with premium prospects, armed with early bonus picks from free agency losses. They had five of the top 40 selections in the First-Year Player Draft, and there was excitement in his voice when Bane talked about the potential haul.

If he can be signed, third baseman Kaleb baseman Kaleb Cowart of Cook County High School in Adel, Ga., could be a Chipper Jones-type performer down the road. The upside is enormous for this big kid who also can go to the mound throw fastballs in the 91-94 mph range if his bat doesn’t make loud noises. It’s always nice to have options in life.

Pitcher Cameron Bedrosian of East Coweta High School in Sharpsburg and center fielder Chevez “Chevy” Clarke of Marrieta were the two other Georgians claimed in the opening round, and they also had Bane feeling absolutely peachy.

“Bedrosian reminds me of Phil Hughes,” Bane said. “You can tell he learned a lot from his father [former NL Cy Young Award winner and consistently superb closer Steve Bedrosian]. He throws hard with a clean delivery, and he has a tight breaking ball.

“Chevy Clarke will stay in center. He can really throw, and he’s a burner. You kind of like to dream about the outfield we could have down the road.”

The Angels have two potentially superb center fielders in their system in Peter Bourjos and Mike Trout, both of whom can fly. Bourjos is close to Major League-ready at Triple-A Salt Lake, while Trout has star qualities already in evidence at Class A Cedar Rapids.

Randal Grichuk, taken in the first round with Trout last season, is his teammate at Cedar Rapids and has a chance to be a power-hitting corner outfielder in the big time.

Another outfielder with skills was added to the mix with the selection of Ryan Bolden in the supplemental first round. Bane can envision Bolden, from Madison (Miss.) Central High School, moving to right. Not everyone can play center.

“People don’t realize how young Mike Trout is,” Bane said, referring to the mutli-talented 18-year-old New Jersey product who showed no fear in competition with big leaguers this spring in Arizona. “He’s younger than some of the high school kids taken in this year’s Draft.”

Trout, who bangs the gaps and runs like an anchor leg on a sprint relay team, will be 19 on Aug. 7.

The Angels love to draft shortstops and move them around, knowing that you’ll find the best athletes there and in center field.

Supplemental-round pick Taylor Lindsey of Desert Mountain High School in Scottsdale, Ariz., is a hitter likely to be moved to third or second. But third-round pick Wendell Soto from Riverview High School in Sarasota, Fla., a superlative athlete at 5-foot-9, is destined to remain at shortstop.

The Angels added power arms in the Draft to go with their three compensation-round gems from 2009, restocking the system with pitching to go with all these athletes.

“I’m sure somebody will say we didn’t have a good draft, like they did last year,” Bane said. “But I really like our guys. Our staff worked hard and found a lot of talent. We’ll see what happens down the road, but I’m excited with what we got.”

Now comes the, um, fun part – signing these impressive athletes and arms. – Lyle Spencer

 

Shields recalls journey’s start

OAKLAND — The Internet was not the force it is today. Phones certainly didn’t provide immediate access to the world’s events, including results of Major League Baseball’s First-Year Player Draft.

So it was that Scot Shields, at home in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., discovered from a total stranger that he’d been taken by the Angels in round 38 in 1997 out of Lincoln Memorial University in Harrogate, Tenn.

“I found out in the mail the next day,” Shields said. “I was home, about two weeks after school had ended. My doorbell rang at about 9 a.m., and I rubbed the sleep out of my eyes and went to see who it was.

“It was UPS or FedEx. The package said `Anaheim Angels’ on it, and I could barely open it, I was so excited.

“I called my parents and told them I’d been drafted. Tom Kotchman [an Angels' area scout who managed the rookie team in Boise] called a few hours later, and we talked.”

Shields was amazed the Angels had taken him. He’d started and closed in college, once throwing an estimated 260 pitches in a 16-inning game. But he felt he’d blown an opportunity during an audition for Kotchman.

“A week before [the Draft] I drove up to Tampa and threw a bullpen for him, and I didn’t think it went that well,” Shields said. “I figured that was it.’

The day he received the package from the Angels containing a contract, Shields called his college coach and asked for some advice. He was told, basically, to “take whatever they offered.” That’s what he did.

“I drove to my dad’s work and signed with my mom there, for $2,000,” Shields said. “I was kind of pumped. I went to see my girlfriend in Michigan [Jaimie McGovern would become his wife three years later], and then about a week later I went to Boise and got started pitching for Kotchman.”

Shields was 7-2 with a 2.94 ERA in 30 games that summer, launching a career that would bring him to Anaheim in 2001 and again during the magical 2002 season — eventually landing him a role as one of the game’s premier setup men.

Only in baseball, to paraphrase Don King.

Maybe another story like Shields’ will emerge from round 38 in Wednesday’s final afternoon of bringing dreams alive for kids around the country. – Lyle Spencer

 

Morales surgery set Thursday

OAKLAND — Kendry Morales’ surgery for a fracture in his lower left leg will take place on Thursday, Angels manager Mike Scioscia said before Tuesday night’s game against the A’s.

“I think he’s scheduled for surgery Thursday,” Scioscia said. “I think he’s over the shock of it. I think he’s disappointed but has come to grips with understanding the process, the surgery. He’s got to listen to the doctors. It’s going to take time. Right now he’s anxious to get the surgery and rehab aspect [started]. He’s obviously disappointed.”

Morales suffered the fracture landing on home plate in the celebration following his game-winning grand slam against Seattle on May 29 at Angel Stadium. The initial diagnosis indicated that he could be back in September, but Scioscia said that’s all up in the air.

“I’m sure after the surgery we’ll get word from Dr. [Lewis] Yocum, whoever is in there, on the extent of what they had to do and the prognosis,” Scioscia said. Dr. Yocum is the team orthopedist.

The Angels, using three first basemen to replace Morales, are 8-1 since his injury and have moved to the top of the American League West with six consecutive wins in Kansas City, Seattle and Oakland. — Lyle Spencer  

 

Griffey: Top 5 in oohs and ahs

Before tonight’s game at Safeco Field, Torii Hunter and I were talking about Ken Griffey Jr., his greatness and unique style.

“When I was a young guy, I used to watch everything he did,” Hunter said. “I loved his swing so much I even tried to copy it — left-handed. He’s got to be one of the greatest players ever, and one of the most exciting.”

I started watching the game before Torii was born. I told him I had Junior in my all-time top five for pure entertainment value.

Here they go:

1. Willie Mays

2. Roberto Clemente

3. Mickey Mantle

4. Nolan Ryan

5. Ken Griffey Jr.

Four outfielders and the fastest gun in history.

It’s hard to leave out Sandy Koufax, Don Drysdale, Maury Wills, Fernando Valenzuela, Ozzie Smith, Rickey Henderson, Dwight Gooden, Darryl Strawberry, Eric Davis . . . and on and on. But those are my fab five.

Junior had it all, and he loved every minute he was on the field. A player for the ages, and the  best of his time. Barry Bonds might have been a better hitter, but he wasn’t the total player Griffey was in their primes. — Lyle Spencer 

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