Perhaps no player better embodies the Angels’ remarkable organizational depth and versatility than Sean Rodriguez, who is emerging as their new Chone Figgins with his ability to play capably all over the field.
“From the perspective of being an everyday player, he’s opened up a new dimension being able to play the outfield every day,” Angels manager Mike Scioscia said on Wednesday as Rodriguez was back with Triple-A Salt Lake following two superb games in left field in Minnesota over the weekend. “He’s got enough thunder in his bat to play corner outfield. He can play second base every day, shortstop, third base. He’s a baseball player, a terrific athlete.
“The way he handled himself on the defensive end [at the Metrodome] is a plus. We’ve seen glimpses of the power he has. He’s putting it together.”
The Angels elected to return Rodriguez to Salt Lake and keep Reggie Willits on the 25-man roster because of Willits’ ability to do multiple things late in games — pinch run, get a bunt down, hit-and-run — and his superior experience in center field, where he’ll support Gary Matthews Jr. in Torii Hunter’s absence.
Rodriguez, a natural center fielder who played there at G. Holmes Braddock High School in Miami, transformed himself into a quality middle infielder after signing with the Angels in 2003 as a third-round choice in the First-Year Player Draft.
Developing his infield skills while hitting with power as he climbed the organizational ladder, Rodriguez returned to the outfield, playing all three positions along with the infield, to enhance his appeal as an all-purpose talent. It helped Figgins carve out his career, and now, having settled in full-time in one role, he’s one of the game’s elite third basemen.
Summoned to the big club from Triple-A Salt Lake, where he’s been pounding Pacific Coast League pitching all season, all Rodriguez did in two starts in Minnesota was lash a pair of singles and make two excellent defensive plays in his first start in left field, then bang a homer over the center field wall the following day.
Arriving in Chicago, Rodriguez learned that he was heading back to Salt Lake to make room for Vladimir Guerrero, coming off the disabled list after recovering from a muscle strain behind his left knee.
“It was fun while it lasted,” Rodriguez said. He couldn’t hide his disappointment, just as Brandon Wood and Bobby Wilson days before him.
Scioscia raved about the impression made by the 24-year-old Rodriguez last season at second base during a lengthy stretch in May with Howard Kendrick and Maicer Izturis both injured.
“This guy can play the game,” Scioscia said.
Rodriguez is batting .290 at Salt Lake with 23 homers and 79 RBIs in 81 games. Wood is batting .316 in the PCL with 17 homers and 55 RBIs in 74 games, while Terry Evans checks in at .290 with 22 homers, 76 RBIs in 105 games. Rodriguez has a narrow edge over Wood in slugging, .603 to .597, with Evans at .526.
Vladimir Guerrero will make his return to the Angels lineup tonight against the White Sox as the designated hitter, batting in his customary cleanup spot between AL Player of the Month Bobby Abreu and Juan Rivera.
Catcher Bobby Wilson is being returned to Triple-A Salt Lake to make room for Guerrero on the 25-man roster.
Guerrero and Torii Hunter have been on the 15-day disabled list since July 10. The Angels were 17-3 with their customary 3-4 hitters out of the lineup.
Guerrero, sidelined with a strained muscle behind his left knee, is batting .290 with four homers and 21 RBIs.
Hunter, out with an adductor muscle strain on his right side, will need a little more time, manager Mike Scioscia said, because he’ll be in center field when he rejoins the lineup. Hunter could play a few Minor League rehab games this weekend to get ready.
The Angels will face the Yankees this weekend without the heart of their lineup.
Torii Hunter and Vladimir Guerrero, the third and fourth hitters in the Angels’ lineup, were placed on the 15-day disabled list on Friday. The move will take Hunter, selected for the American League roster in the players’ poll, out of what would have been his third All-Star Game appearance.
Recalled from Triple-A Salt Lake to help fill the void were infielder Brandon Wood and catcher Bobby Wilson. Wilson’s presence as a backup to Jeff Mathis will free up Mike Napoli for designated hitter duty.
Guerrero, 34, has a strained muscle behind his left knee and a lower hamstring strain. He landed awkwardly pivoting to make a play in right field against the Rangers on Tuesday night.
Hunter, 33, has an adductor strain in his right side, an area he has been favoring for almost two months. He initially injured his right rib cage banging against the wall at Dodger Stadium making a catch on May 22 and re-injured the area crashing into a wall in San Francisco on June 15.
He missed only one game, after the June 15 mishap, but was forced out of the lineup on Wednesday night when he couldn’t run full tilt the night before against the Rangers.
“I didn’t want to go on the DL – that’s not me – but maybe it’s for the best,” Hunter said. “The way I have it figured, I should be ready to go on July 22. The All-Star break helps, since those days count.”
Guerrero, who had right knee surgery last September, was playing in his second game in right field after tearing a pectoral muscle in an exhibition game on April 2. Serving primarily as a DH, he is batting .290 with four homers and 21 RBIs in 46 games. Guerrero has missed 38 games this season while on the DL.
Hunter, who already had declined an offer to participate in the State Farm Home Run Derby in St. Louis at the All-Star Game, is batting .290 with team highs in home runs (17) and RBIs (65) in 77 games. This is his first trip to the DL with the Angels and his first since 2006.
An eight-time Rawlings Gold Glover, Hunter has been as good as ever defensively while enjoying potentially a career year with the bat.
Wood, 24, is batting .313 with 17 home runs and 52 RBIs in 70 games for Salt Lake, ranking third in the Pacific Coast League with a .592 slugging percentage.
Wood, a natural shortstop who can play third and first base effectively, excelled in two starts – including one big hit against CC Sabathia of the Yankees in a victory at Yankee Stadium – before he was sent to Salt Lake.
Wilson, 26, is batting .261 with seven homers and 27 RBIs in 65 games at Salt Lake. With Wilson in support of Mathis, Napoli can return to the DH role, where he flourished during Guerrero’s absence.
The arrival of Bobby Wilson from Triple-A Salt Lake means the Angels can now have Mike Napoli’s lethal bat in the lineup every day if they choose to do so.
It seems like a slam dunk, given how Napoli has produced in the designated hitter role: 10 for 17, bullets and bombs flying everywhere.
“I like the whole DH thing,” Napoli said before Tuesday night’s game against the Red Sox at Angel Stadium. “I also like catching, too.”
When Napoli catches, however, it means their best receiver — Jeff Mathis — is not in the lineup. Napoli is a big Mathis fan, being his roomie and best buddy, and vice versa. In their perfect world, they’re both in the lineup on a regular basis. And the only way that can happen is for Napoli to DH or play first base, something that could happen down the road.
Steady Robb Quinlan is Kendry Morales’ backup at first now. Quinlan is eligible for free agency after the season, and he’s expected to pursue greener pastures — and more at-bats — elsewhere. That means there could be at-bats available for Napoli at first, where he has played and played well according to teammates, in the Minor Leagues.
The whole point is to keep Napoli healthy and in the lineup. He has missed chunks of the past two seasons with injuries, playing a total of 153 games in 2007 and 2008. That’s about as many as he should play in one season, something he can do as a DH/first baseman.
It’s remarkable, given his frequent absences with shoulder, hamstring and ankle injuries, that Napoli has the highest home-run ratio for a catcher in MLB history — 51 bombs in 790 at-bats.
Imagine what he could do without the wear and tear of catching, with his legs, serving as his foundation, fresh in the late innings rather than worn down.
Napoli is a good athlete, but Mathis, a high school sensation as a quarterback in Marianna, Fla., is an extraordinary athlete. He makes plays few catchers can even consider, notably on dribblers and bunts near home plate. His hands and feet are amazingly quick, and pitchers rave about his pitch selection.
“It’s incredible, the things Jeff can do back there,” Napoli said.
Angels pitchers, overall, have fared better with Mathis. His catching ERA is about a half-run lower per game than Napoli.
Wilson, with a strong arm and a presence behind the plate, also is a quality receiver — and he can hit, using the whole field.
Wilson provides protection in the late innings, and Angels manager Mike Scioscia said he wouldn’t hesitate to use the new guy.
All of this is temporary, it needs to be pointed out. When Vladimir Guerrero returns from his torn right pectoral muscle, presumably sometime next month, he’ll usurp the DH role until he can return to right field. But Napoli can savor the opportunity now.
“It’s a lot less stressful, DHing, than catching,” Napoli said. “You can think about hitting all the time. I watch the game — I’m still into the game — but I can go down in the video room and check out the pitcher between at-bats and do my routine I’ve developed to stay loose.”
He certainly sounds like a guy who thoroughly enjoys this role.
Brandon Wood realistically couldn’t have done any more to keep his spot on the 25-man roster, but he’s back in Salt Lake, getting the at-bats that were not available in Anaheim.
What the Angels have in mind for Wood, now and long term, I don’t know. I suspect he’s their fallback at third base if Chone Figgins departs via free agency, but I also think he could slide in on a daily basis there next year if Figgins is retained as an outfielder or an all-purpose player.
Trouble is, if Figgins thinks that he’s going back to being something other than any everyday third baseman, it’s doubtful he’d want to come back. He loves having a position and a role, and who can blame him? He has shown himself to be a quality third baseman and one of the game’s best leadoff hitters.
Manager Mike Scioscia acknowledged before Wednesday night’s game against the Blue Jays and the great Roy Halladay that the decision-makers had considered bringing up Bobby Wilson to back up Jeff Mathis, with Mike Napoli sliding into the DH role on a regular basis.
Apparently, they decided it wasn’t time for that bold move and recalled instead Reggie Willits, a versatile and highly underrated role player who can do many positive things for a club.
Personally, I’d find a place for Wilson and Willits, but Scioscia feels he needs 12 pitchers and will continue to carry 12 until the pitching staff comes together. That could happen in June, July, perhaps not at all.
Again, this is just my opinion, but Napoli should be in the lineup every day, and the only way that’s going to happen is as a DH who occasionally catches and/or plays first base. What he does with a bat is too valuable to risk with the kinds of injuries that have sent Napoli to the DL the past two seasons.
In his two starts as a DH, Napoli celebrated with six hits in seven at-bats, with two walks and three RBIs. The one out he made sent an outfielder to the wall at Yankee Stadium.
The guy is a lethal hitter. I think he could approach Miguel Cabrera’s numbers in Detroit as an everyday DH. Mathis and Wilson are quality defensive players, both capable of hitting in the .250 range. Mathis has shown that even though he doesn’t hit for a high average, he is clutch. We’ve seen him deliver big hits under pressure frequently, and there’s a reason for that — he’s an athlete who happens to catch. You’ll never see a more athletic catcher.
Wilson has paid his dues and is ready for a role in the big time, along with a half-dozen teammates in Salt Lake. Wood, back with the Bees, is an everyday Major League talent right now with no place to play in Anaheim with the Angels’ abundance of quality infielders.
Like Napoli, Wood, playing every day, has the ability to hit 30 homers and drive in 100 runs. He won’t hurt you at third or at shortstop, either. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.
As they used to say in Brooklyn, wait’ll next year.
Vladimir Guerrero is gone for a long spell with his torn pectoral muscle. It might be mid-June before we see him swing a bat again with meaning. Something needs to be done to generate more power, more force, in the Angels’ lineup. But it doesn’t necessarily require a deal.
The Angels need to at least try to make better use of two potentially lethal weapons already at their disposal: Mike Napoli and Brandon Wood.
With Guerrero out, this would be an ideal time to see what Napoli can do as a designated hitter. My feeling is that he’s a natural-born slugger who would emerge as a consistent power source once he’s liberated from the taxing physical demands of catching. That job beats a guy up, drains him. There have been few players like Johnny Bench, who played in an era when games were much shorter and strike zones were larger, meaning fewer pitches to call and absorb.
Jeff Mathis is a superior receiver, as athletic as any catcher I’ve seen. Playing regularly, he’ll hit in the .250 range with some power. Napoli as DH is an idea whose time has come. With his long swing — we’ve seen what he can do when he’s locked in — he could be 35-homer, 110-RBI guy.
Which brings us to Wood. We’ll never know what Brandon can do until he gets a shot at some consistent playing time. His power is as real as Napoli’s. Brandon made big strides this spring in selectivity and discipline. He looks ready to become a solid player, perhaps a big-time run producer. And there is nothing at all wrong with Wood’s defense, at shortstop or at third base. There must be a way to work Wood into the rotation on the left side of the infield.
As this is written, we’re 15 games and six innings into the season. The Angels have 12 home runs — six by Torii Hunter, three by Napoli, three by everybody else.
Wood had four home runs and eight RBIs in seven games at Triple-A Salt Lake, batting .346. Bobby Wilson, who would be summoned as the backup catcher, is hitting .300 and slugging .733 with three homers and six RBIs in eight games.
The Angels are carrying 12 pitchers. Eleven should be enough. If you’re using your 12th guy, it’s pretty much a lost cause anyway.
Hitting 94 mph on the radar gun and the catcher’s target with regularity, Kelvim Escobar took another step on Saturday toward a return to the Angels’ rotation.
Throwing against Giants Double-A hitters in a camp game in Scottsdale, Escobar retired the first 10 hitters he faced before walking the final man. He finished with two strikeouts, throwing a total of 40 pitches. The Giants didn’t hit a ball out of the infield.
Escobar threw 24 strikes, hitting 91-93 mph regularly. He also made an athletic defensive play on a high chopper.
“I felt good,” Escobar said. “I think it was better today than the last time – location was
good, breaking stuff was better. I was more under control. Today, I was focused more on hitting my spots. The other day I think I was too excited.
“I was mixing my pitches, throwing two-seamers. I wanted to get better feel for my breaking pitches and my two-seamer. I told my catcher (Bobby Wilson) before the game I wanted to work on my breaking pitches.”
The shoulder, he said, “feels good.” He said he thinks he’s going to pitch against the Padres next, possibly in San Diego on Friday.
“I think it’d be good for me if I get to face big-league hitters and the
environment – the stadium, the lights and everything,” he said.” Playing with my
teammates again – it’ll be exciting.”
Pitching coach Mike Butcher alluded to Escobar’s “steady progression,” praising the “sharpness of his pitches and the movement on his breaking pitches.
“I think right now the value for him is just getting healthy, getting out
there and pitching,” Butcher said. “He looked pretty sharp today. It’s very impressive what he’s doing.”
Vladimir Guerrero, whose bat has come to life with a double and homer in his past two games, is not in the lineup today. He has an eye infection and is on antibiotics.
With Jeff Mathis and Bobby Wilson catching Dustin Moseley and Kelvim Escobar, respectively, in camp games in Scottsdale, Hank Conger is getting his first starting assignment in the Cactus League behind the plate.
Conger, in the eyes of manager Mike Scioscia, has the ability to hit major league pitching right now. The former No. 1 pick from Huntington Beach is projected to play at Double-A Arkansas this season. He’s still viewed as a catcher, but his development defensively has been slowed by shoulder issues. The Angels are eager to see how he fares in game conditions.
Mike Napoli, who made his first appearance behind the plate in Tucson on Friday, going five innings and throwing out a runner trying to steal, said his shoulder felt good when he got up today — a very positive sign. He said he had no problems throwing long toss in the outfield — another good sign.
Mike Napoli was beaming on Friday morning even before he saw the lineup card for the game against the Rockies featuring his name in the No. 4 slot as the Angels’ designated hitter.
Daybreak brought good news. Napoli woke feeling no pain in his right shoulder after testing it for the first time on Thursday since undergoing arthroscopic surgery in late October, cleaning up a little mess that had cost him a month of the second half.
“I threw 70, 75 feet, around 20, 25 times,” Napoli said. “It went well, and I’m not even sore today. I was a little worried how I’d feel when I got up, but it was fine, no pain.
“The last time I threw was the last game last season, so it’s been a while. I feel strong.”
Even if he’s not ready to cut loose with enough velocity to catch by the season opener on April 6, Napoli wants to make the 25-man roster as a DH until he’s ready to go behind the plate.
Manager Mike Scioscia has maintained that roster flexibility would go into that decision, which would force the club to carry a third catcher — Bobby Wilson or Ryan Budde — to back up Jeff Mathis.