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
Angels pitching coach Mike Butcher was not on hand on Monday as the team opened Spring Training at Tempe Diablo Stadium in perfect weather. Butcher is recovering from surgery performed on Thursday for the removal of a cancerous nodule on his thyroid gland.
Manager Mike Scioscia said roving pitching coordinator Kernan Ronan and Triple-A Salt Lake pitching coach Erik Bennett would handle Butcher’s duties until he’s able to return.
Butcher laid out the groundwork for the spring during a meeting of the staff on Sunday morning.
“Butch did a lot of work with me over the winter,” Angels pitcher Matt Palmer said. “He was typical Butch, in a great mood, full of energy. I didn’t know anything was wrong with him until I went home after working out [Sunday] and got on the Internet. I was shocked.”
Butcher, a resident of Chandler, Ariz., also spent time over the winter working with Scott Kazmir, Jason Bulger and Kevin Jepsen.
Scioscia’s early-morning comments on Monday made it clear his preference is to have Maicer Izturis play at least 100 games, primarily at third base, and lead off, with Peter Bourjos holding down the center field job between Vernon Wells and Torii Hunter.
“Maicer is a guy who a couple years ago played  games,” Scioscia said. “It’s feasible for him to play in that range. I don’t know if he’s a 162-game guy, but hopefully we get him in enough games to take the pressure off other guys to be in that leadoff position. When he’s in the lineup, he’s going to lead off. If you project Izturis and [Bobby] Abreu 1-2, you’re going to have as good a 1-2 as you’re going to see.”
Izturis’ absence was felt last year when injuries limited him to 61 games and 221 at-bats. He was one of the club’s most versatile weapons in 2009 and is an exceptional clutch hitter.
As for Bourjos, who made a series of highlight-reel plays in his two months with the club last year, Scioscia said: “When we had Peter Bourjos in center and Torii Hunter in right field, our pitching staff pitched at an incredible level. That wasn’t a coincidence.”
Scioscia on new lefty Hisanori Takahashi, who excelled for the Mets in a variety of roles in his debut 2010 Major League season after working as a starter in Japan for the Yomiuri Giants: “He’s a pitcher who’s going to be lengthened out for Spring Training. He has the versatility for multiple innings and is on the depth chart as a starter. He’s way ahead of where a lot of pitchers might be. He’s [throwing] off the mound, throwing all four pitches. He hasn’t expressed any preference to [GM] Tony [Reagins], Butch or me. He was a starter in Japan. His value is his versatility.”
All hands on deck. There were no absences on the first day of camp. – Lyle Spencer
Judging by comments I’m receiving from readers, I should apologize for writing a story about Vernon Wells — tying his football past into the Super Bowl in his hometown — rather than commenting on something that didn’t happen (the return of Vladimir Guerrero to the Angels) or something that in all likelihood won’t happen (a deal for Michael Young).
I won’t apologize for doing my job, but I will comment on Guerrero and Young.
As for Vlad, one of the best guys I’ve ever covered, when the Wells deal was made, any chance of the great slugger coming back to Anaheim effectively disappeared. There’s no way Guerrero was going to agree to come back and share the DH and swing outfielder role with Bobby Abreu. That’s what would have awaited him in Anaheim.
The Angels are committed to giving Peter Bourjos every shot at center field, and that is wise. His sensational defense will save dozens of runs over the course of the season. With Bourjos flanked by Wells and Torii Hunter, the Angels have a potentially great outfield – two wise veterans with Gold Glove histories guiding and tutoring a rising young star with the ability to be the premier defensive centerfielder in the game.
That leaves Abreu, a necessary component to the offense with his ability to get on base and drive in runs, as the primary DH. The only way Vlad could have come to the Angels in a meaningful role was to return Bourjos to Triple-A Salt Lake and play Hunter or Wells in center, with Abreu at a corner and Guerrero the DH.
At a cost of roughly $8 million, bringing the payroll to about $150 million, that would have improved the offense. But the defense would have slipped significantly — and one of the most exciting young talents in the game (Bourjos) would have been toiling again in the Pacific Coast League.
As for the highly respected Young, the three years and $48 million left on his contract realistically make him difficult to move. The Rangers would have to eat a chunk of that salary or accept a big salary in exchange.
At $16 million a year, Young would be an upgrade at third base for the Angels, obviously, but the truth is, this isn’t Mike Schmidt or Evan Longoria or Ryan Zimmerman. Young is a good player and a great leader. Maicer Izturis is also a good player. If he makes five starts a week to remain healthy, backed by Alberto Callaspo and Brandon Wood, it’s not going to cost the Angels a division title. If Wood relaxes and claims the job, performing to his talent level, the Angels will be in fine shape at third base.
From Texas’ end, unloading your unquestioned clubhouse leader by kicking in millions of dollars makes little or no sense – especially if it would mean improving the club you’ve spent five of the past seven seasons chasing. Young figures to emerge as the first baseman in Texas or the primary DH and all-purpose role player. In either case, he remains a vital part of their attack in the No. 2 spot in manager Ron Washington’s lineup.
Unless he has become extremely unhappy with the turn of events in Texas, starting with losing his third base job to Adrian Beltre, and wants out, Young should adapt yet again to another new role and continue to be a productive player — and hero to young kids in Texas. That’s really the way it should be, if you can look at it objectively. – Lyle Spencer
Here’s what I like about the Angels’ big deal with Toronto: everything.
It’s an old-fashioned baseball trade, two for one – a pair of sluggers in exchange for one slugger with a glove of gold. Mike Napoli and Juan Rivera should flourish in Toronto, where the walls are inviting, and Vernon Wells brings a distinguished star-quality talent to Anaheim.
Critically for Wells, he gets off artificial turf. He joins a good buddy, Torii Hunter, in an outfield that could be the game’s best if Peter Bourjos continues to show all the right stuff. Any way manager Mike Scioscia decides to deploy these three guys, they’ll make it work. And if Bourjos isn’t quite ready, Bobby Abreu moves into left or right on a full-time basis.
Like all players, Abreu wants to play, not just hit. It will be an adjustment if he becomes a primary DH, but he’s smart and wants to win. He’ll do whatever is necessary to make his team better, an attitude I’m sure Wells will bring with him along with his credentials as a full-service star.
He has played under the radar his entire career in a place that hasn’t given him a lot of exposure, but he’s the real deal. Players know, and they respect Wells immensely.
Wells hit fourth last season and has been a No. 3 or No. 4 man his whole career. I see him slotting in at cleanup, between Hunter and Kendry Morales, but those three could end up in any configuration and, like the outfield, it would work.
Napoli should get to play every day in Toronto, something he has been yearning to do. I hope he gets a crack at first base, because I think that’s where he can be most effective. He was surprisingly adept at first in Morales’ absence last season, and playing every day there, in that park, Napoli could contend for a home run crown. He has that brand of power.
The deal also works for Rivera, who should get to play every day. That was not going to happen with the Angels.
It works best for Wells, in my view. Moving on to a natural surface after nine years on fake grass should do wonders for him. I know it has for Hunter, who doesn’t ache nearly as much as he did during his Minnesota days.
Just as moving to right is a good thing for Hunter long-term, extending his career by several years in my judgment, Wells also would be well served by a shift to left. Less wear and tear would keep him fresher and stronger over the long haul.
This has the makings of a dream outfield. The Angels, at considerable expense, have made a bold deal. I believe it will work for them. As for the Blue Jays, who surrender their best player, they figure in time to take a liking to the two new muscle men on the scene.
The best deals work to the benefit of everyone involved. This could be one of those. – Lyle Spencer
The Angels have lost their sizzle. They’ve made a few nice splashes in the bullpen with lefties Scott Downs and Hisanori Takahashi bringing balance, but that’s not going to appease the disenfranchised fandom. They’re craving some big-name recognition.
The Angels have to do everything possible to make a bold move in the wake of losing Carl Crawford to the Red Sox. The obvious target is Adrian Beltre, a gem defensively with a lively bat. He’s a tough sign, of course, with Scott Boras running the show, but this is important. The Angels need to make a statement, not only to their fans but to their own players. Beltre would do that.
But I wouldn’t stop there. I’d go get Johnny Damon.
Sitting out there in free-agent land, virtually unnoticed, is one of the game’s acknowledged winners and sparkling personalities. Yes, he’s getting up in years, and some Angels fanatics are weary of importing former Yankees in their sunset years. But Damon can still play. He had a solid season in Detroit – 36 doubles, .355 on-base percentage – and would solve the leadoff issue, at last.
Give Damon a one-year deal at fair market value and let him keep left field warm for Mike Trout along with Bobby Abreu, the two former teammates in the Bronx sharing left and the DH role. Damon is not a great defender, but he’s good enough – and, like Torii Hunter, he’d be enormously helpful to Peter Bourjos.
For a team in need of a personality implant, Damon has few peers. He’s universally respected and liked throughout the game as a standup guy, a winner. He’s tough and he’s smart. He would also give Hunter some breathing room in an Angels clubhouse that is not exactly brimming with exciting, articulate leaders.
There’s a reason why a dozen or so reporters mill around Hunter’s locker space for 162 games every year. He has something to say and doesn’t mind saying it. The Angels have some terrific performers, notably in the starting rotation, but they’re not exactly quote machines. They prefer low profiles.
Johnny Damon is high profile, and affordable. I say go get him while you’re busy trying to figure out how to land Beltre. I’ve heard Damon could be on his way to Tampa Bay, but he has to see how difficult and dreary it could be in the Trop this season with no Crawford, no Rafael Soriano, no Carlos Pena, a bullpen that needs reconstructed.
Come on out west, Johnny D. And bring that bright light that follows you around. This team needs to come in out of the darkness. It could use one of the most endearing “Idiots” ever to pass through a Major League clubhouse. – Lyle Spencer
ANAHEIM — The Angels didn’t get any more deals done by the non-waiver Trade Deadline, but that doesn’t mean they can’t or won’t make a move or two by the Aug. 31 waiver Deadline for postseason eligibility.
If they make a big move suddenly on the front-running Rangers in the American League West, the Angels could try to pluck a starting pitcher for the stretch run. The loss of Joel Pineiro was a huge blow, especially coming after Sean O’Sullivan had been included in the package shipped to Kansas City for Alberto Callaspo.
If the Angels don’t make a serious push in the next week or so, they could look to move chips of value. Among those who could pass through waivers and be dealt to contenders are closer Brian Fuentes and left-handed offensive weapons Bobby Abreu and Hideki Matsui. Other possibilities include right-handed thumper Juan Rivera – always dangerous this time of year – and a versatile infielder such as Maicer Izturis, who has two years left on his contract.
Fuentes has pitched superbly in the second half and would have appeal in a number of places. He’s unlikely to get the 55 finishes he needs to kick in his $9 million option for 2011; he’s not even halfway there with 26. Odds are he’ll be a free agent this winter, along with Scot Shields and Matsui.
Abreu and Matsui could be difference-makers in a place like the South Side of Chicago. The White Sox could use another left-handed run producer down the stretch. Abreu, especially, would have major appeal to his buddy, manager Ozzie Guillen. Abreu has $9 million coming next season and would be missed in a big way in Anaheim, but the Angels have a lot of decisions to make about their outfield in 2011.
It wouldn’t surprise me to see Peter Bourjos summoned from Triple-A Salt Lake before too long — unless the Angels put some heat on the Rangers and manager Mike Scioscia likes what he sees from his outfield.
There are few players in the game as fast as Bourjos, who can outrun mistakes in the outfield and place enormous pressure on an infield if he makes consistent contact. He has been making progress offensively at Salt Lake, to the point where he might not be overmatched hitting in the No. 9 hole.
After a long season spent chasing down drives in the gaps, and having turned 35, Torii Hunter might welcome some time in right with Bourjos bringing those swift, young legs to center. Like Andre Dawson, one of his youthful idols, Hunter could be reaching a point in his illustrious career where a move to right is career-extending. The man has done all he can in center, with those nine consecutive Rawlings Gold Gloves as evidence.
It has been my view for a long time that the one impending free agent who would have the most dramatic impact on the Angels next season is Tampa Bay’s Carl Crawford.
Like Hunter and Dawson, Crawford – whose speed is right there with Bourjos’ – could be at a point in his career where he sees long-range benefits in leaving behind the artificial turf of Tropicana Field for a grass field. A nice, refreshing place such as Southern California likely would have appeal to Crawford, who hails from Houston.
Leading off and playing center or left, the dynamic Crawford would transform the Angels, putting the juice back in the offense with Erick Aybar sliding into the No. 2 spot. Defensively and on the basepaths, Crawford has few equals. – Lyle Spencer
NEW YORK – Two games in Yankee Stadium, then four in Arlington, in that lovely Texas summer heat. The Angels, sitting five games behind the Rangers in the AL West, are in jeopardy of fading out of the picture if they don’t hold their own.
Adding Cliff Lee and Bengie Molina represented a show of strength by Texas, one the Angels aren’t likely to match. The players other clubs would seek for a performer who can lift their chances likely are prime-time prospects the club does not want to move – notably Mike Trout and Hank Conger.
There’s no way the Angels move Trout. This kid has star qualities, and he’ll get to The Show quickly. He can fly – we saw that in the Futures Game at Angel Stadium – and he has superior instincts in center field and at the plate. He’s the confident face of the future, along with a handful of other talented young Angels in the low Minors who figure to follow Trout to Anaheim.
Conger is a rare commodity – a catcher who can hit with power from both sides. Moving him would be a high-risk decision. He’s local, from Huntington Beach right down the road from Angel Stadium, and he’s loaded with personality. Just can’t see it happening.
The Angels need to look within to get back in this race. They need proven talent – Bobby Abreu, Hideki Matsui, Juan Rivera – to start banging away in a big way. They also need Scott Kazmir to rebound from his shoulder pain and deliver strikes and innings.
There’s a report on ESPNLosAngeles.com that the Angels are targeting the Royals’ Alberto Callaspo, a solid infielder. But he’s no better than Maicer Izturis, who was back on Tuesday night after missing five weeks, driving in a run against All-Star Phil Hughes in his first at-bat. Callaspo wouldn’t make a significant difference in closing any talent gaps.
The Angels should have a better grasp of where they are with their chances this season late Sunday, after wrapping up the four-game series against the Rangers.
If they’ve closed any ground on Texas, they might get serious about making a move before the July 31 non-waiver Deadline. But giving up prime young talent for an athlete who might help doesn’t make sense. If they fall deeper in the muck, it might be wise to write this off as the year Kendry Morales went down in a bizarre spill – and took the Angels with him. – Lyle Spencer
Angels manager Mike Scioscia is going with a new look starting tonight against the A’s and Mr. Perfect, Dallas Braden.
Here’s the lineup Scioscia plans to go with for now, with Maicer Izturis due to come off the disabled list (right shoulder tightness) next week and assume a larger role in the 1 or 2 spots:
1. Erick Aybar, SS
2. Howard Kendrick, 2B
3. Bobby Abreu, RF
4. Torii Hunter, CF
5. Kendry Morales, 1B
6. Hideki Matsui, DH
7. Juan Rivera, LF
8. Mike Napoli, C
9. Brandon Wood, 3B
The Angels were 60-35 last season with Abreu batting third and 27-19 when Hunter hit cleanup. These were their best records with those hitters in those roles. Only Vladimir Guerrero (43-39) batted fourth more often than Hunter. — Lyle Spencer
In the afterglow of the Angels’ 7-5 decision over the Blue Jays in the wonderfully flavorful international city of Toronto . . .
The offense comes alive with lightning (steals by Jeff Mathis, Bobby Abreu, Torii Hunter), thunder (towering homer to right-center by Kendry Morales) and artistic merit (opposite-field, two-out RBI strokes by Abreu and Hunter back-to-back; two-out run-producing hits by Juan Rivera and Maicer Izturis that proved decisive). These are the Angels you came to know and love last summer. Let’s see if it lasts a while.
Two pitches in bad places, a fastball by Jered Weaver up in Vernon Wells’ wheelhouse leading off the second inning, and a curve by reliever Jason Bulger that Adam Lind lost in the right-field bleachers in the eighth.
Artificial turf. Yes, it’s functional, in a twisted sort of way, and it’s nice that they can shut the roof and play when it’s stormy and freezing outside. But I’m sorry, I never could stand the stuff, from the moment I first saw it at the Astrodome so many years ago, and I still can’t take the fake grass after all these years. It’s sinful what it did to Andre Dawson and Eric Davis, to name two of many.
Everything Weaver did through besides unleashing two fastballs in the wrong places to Wells and Randy Ruiz in the eighth. The big kid who used to follow John Lackey around is becoming The Man before our very eyes, with the look, stuff and attitude of an ace. It’s a beautiful thing indeed if you’re an Angels fan.
A strong contender was Mathis’ athletic play in pouncing on a ball that skipped away from the batter’s box and erasing Lind trying to move up to third in the seventh inning. Very few catchers make that play. Mathis is an elite class defensively, and his eight-game hitting streak is starting to suggest that his postseason offensive eruption was no fluke. — Lyle Spencer
ANAHEIM – Like Chone Figgins, his former partner on the left side of the Angels’ infield, Erick Aybar is practicing what Bobby Abreu preaches.
Patience and the confidence to hit with two strikes are essential ingredients, Abreu maintains, in the makeup of any quality hitter – especially one who leads off for his team.
“A five-pitch at-bat is great,” Abreu said. “If a leadoff man is doing that, he’s doing the job. A 10-pitch at-bat? Wow. That’s twice as good.”
Abreu was in the on-deck circle Monday night at Angel Stadium when Aybar set a tone in the season opener with his 10-pitch walk against Twins starter Scott Baker.
By the time the inning was over, Aybar and Torii Hunter had scored on singles by Kendry Morales and Juan Rivera, and the Angels’ offense was rolling again. The thunder would come a little later from Jeff Mathis, Hideki Matsui and Kendry Morales, but it was the new generator, Aybar, who put it all in motion.
“We’ve got a lot of weapons here,” said Abreu, a quiet 0-for-4 in the opener. “Aybar has come a long way. He’s getting there.
“I give him credit for an outstanding job last night. He had good at-bats all night, working counts every at-bat. As he gets more confidence, he’s going to be more dangerous.”
Aybar singled twice in three official at-bats, seeing a total of 24 pitches and scoring two of the Angels’ runs in a 6-3 decision.
“I’ve learned a lot from watching Bobby and Figgins both, the way they hit,” Aybar said. “They’re very patient in working counts, and that’s what I’m trying to do.
“I’m more patient than last year. I’m staying back and seeing the ball well. It’s important to stay confident even if they get two strikes on you. They still have to throw the ball over the plate.”
Aybar led the Angels and tied for eighth in the American League last year with his .312 batting average. The electric shortstop had a .353 on-base percentage.
Figgins’ .395 on-base percentage in his final season with the Angels might appear out of Aybar’s reach, but keep in mind the 26-year-old Dominican Republic athlete did elevate his OBP 39 points from 2008 to ’09. If he does that again, he’ll be at .392.
After recovering from a right elbow sprain, Aybar burned up the Cactus League, hitting .571 in his final 28 at-bats. He finished the ’09 season scalding-hot, hitting .337 in his final 72 games, with 27 multi-hit games.
A switch-hitter with blinding speed, Aybar primarily batted eighth and ninth last season. In his 35 starts as the No. 2 hitter, between Figgins and Abreu, the Angels were 26-9. They won his only start as the leadoff man, a role Figgins occupied 158 times.
“We saw some things in Erick’s game this spring that were impressive,” manager Mike Scioscia said. “To get your leadoff guy seeing 24 pitches, which he did last night, that’s a big part of what a guy who sets the table wants to do.
“One game doesn’t make a season, but what we saw from Erick was very encouraging.”
Aybar’s big-brother figure, Abreu, is watching . . . from the on-deck circle. – Lyle Spencer