Results tagged ‘ Chone Figgins ’

Halladay, Angels could be a dream fit

The word is out that the Blue Jays are listening to proposals for Roy Halladay, who has few peers among starting pitchers. No team values starters more highly than the Angels. They have made inquiries, knowing how much Halladay’s talent and endurance would mean in a rotation that has been patched together all season as a result of injuries and tragedy in the form of the death of Nick Adenhart.

The obvious question is this: How high can, or would, they go to import a dominant starter at the top of his game, signed through next season? He’s making $14.25 million this season, $15.75 next year.

The Blue Jays reportedly would want a quality shortstop — the Angels are loaded there — and young pitching talent in exchange for a man who gives you seven to nine innings of high-level work every fifth day.

Probably the only commodity the Angels value as highly as starting pitching is young talent, and therein lines the rub.

Staying healthy for the first time, Erick Aybar has established himself this season as one of the premier young shortstops in the game. He could be featured in an attractive package. If the Blue Jays prefer power, Brandon Wood is one of the elite young mashers in the game, just waiting for his opportunity in Triple-A Salt Lake to show he’s the real deal.

The Angels are rich in young talent. They have youthful pitching (Sean O’Sullivan, Jordan Walden, Trevor Reckling, among others) that would have to appeal to Toronto. It’s conceivable but unlikely they would consider moving one of their established starters — Ervin Santana or Joe Saunders, most likely — in a Halladay deal.

The Jays are in a position of strength and don’t have to do anything. But they’re in a top-heavy division, chasing the Yankees, Red Sox and Rays in the AL East, and as great as Halladay is, it’s highly doubtful Toronto can put together a surge to catch them.

The Phillies are seen as the leading candidates to land Halladay, if he is moved. They have the youthful talent to get it done and clearly are in need of a front-line starter. The level of the Angels’ need is not as high as Philadelphia’s, but as they showed last July with Mark Teixeira, they’re not averse to making the big, bold move.

The Angels have a lot of decisions to make this winter, with Vladimir Guerrero, John Lackey, Chone Figgins, Bobby Abreu, Kelvim Escobar, Robb Quinlan and Darren Oliver all eligible for free agency. Taking on Halladay’s contract would be no issue with so much payroll potentially coming off the books.

When the Padres’ Jake Peavy was available over the winter, the Angels gave it serious consideration but never made a big pitch. There were concerns about how his shoulder and elbow would hold up over the long haul. With Halladay, who has been as durable as they come with superior mechanics, that is not an issue.

This is about as tempting as it gets. For Halladay, who has made it clear he wants to pitch for a winner if he leaves Toronto, the interest would have to be mutual. The Angels offer pretty much everything a player can want. Just ask Torii Hunter. He’ll talk all day about that.  

      

Mentor Abreu a daily influence

Bobby Abreu is not just a source of walks, base-hits, runs scored and RBIs. He’s an endlessly rewarding source of information, insights and perspective for younger teammates of all shapes, positions and nationalities.

Chone Figgins watches teammates pick Abreu’s brain every day. As mentors go, he’s invaluable. Among those who have benefitted from the veteran’s wisdom are Juan Rivera, Kendry Morales, Maicer Izturis and Torii Hunter, as well as Figgins.

With Vladimir Guerrero’s production way down after his pectoral muscle tear, Rivera and Morales have arrived as forces in the middle of the lineup to pick up the slack, along with Hunter and Mike Napoli.

Rivera, Morales and Abreu all flourished in June. Rivera (24) and Abreu (23) were first and second in the AL in RBIs, Rivera batting .290 and slugging .590 while Abreu hit .303 with a .483 slugging percentage.

Morales batted .282 with a .588 slugging percentage. The first baseman unloaded five homers, three fewer than Rivera.

Morales and Rivera are in constant contact with Abreu.

“He’s teaching them to have a plan,” Figgins said. “Bobby always talks to them about their approach, not their swing. He never discusses swings — always your approach.

“For Juan and Kendry, and also for Izzy, hearing that every day from Bobby has obviously been a big plus. A lot of times he’s reinforcing what they’re doing. He stresses making sure you go after your pitch. If you put yourself in good hitting situations and get something good to hit, put a good swing on it.

“Bobby has shown over the years how effective his approach is, and all these guys are taking advantage of it.”

In the midst of what is shaping up as his finest offensive season across the board, Hunter has made the point that he’s a more disciplined hitter than at any point in his career.

“I thank Bobby for that,” Hunter said. “He’s shown me a lot of things. The man knows his stuff.”  

Wood expanding his horizons

Brandon Wood is a natural shortstop who learned how to play third base capably. Now he is increasing his versatilty by another position, playing first base with remarkable dexterity for someone with no experience with the big glove.

This scouting report comes courtesy of Sean Rodriguez, who played alongside Wood in the Triple-A Salt Lake infield as recently as Friday night in Reno during an extra-inning game the Bees lost despite Wood going deep and driving in a pair of runs. Rodriguez, playing second, marveled at how quickly his buddy has adapted to another new position.

“Woody made some great plays down there,” Rodriguez said. “He went across his body to catch one throw that kept them from winning in regulation. The ball would have probably sailed into the stands, but Woody’s an athlete, and he showed it on that play.

“There was another ball headed for the hole, and I was on my way to try to make the play. But Woody got there first and got the out throwing to the pitcher covering. He was there in a heartbeat, man. That was a big-league play.

“He’s 6-3 with soft hands and quick feet. He’s a natural down there at first. But he’s a little concerned, I think, that people might start to think he’s not a shortstop. Believe me, he can play short in the big leagues. No question in my mind.”

Wood had two excellent performances for the Angels at third base, filling in for Chone Figgins, before getting sent to Salt Lake. The Angels won both those games, and Wood had a positive impact each time. He came up big against CC Sabathia in Yankee Stadium with a clutch hit igniting a decisive rally.

Wood carried a .333 average with one walk and two strikeouts in 10 plate appearances to the PCL. He’s batting .299 with 14 homers and 35 RBIs in 44 games. His OPS (on-base plus slugging) is .986.

Wood has made major strides in pitch recognition and plate discipline. How long the Angels can keep him down on the farm remains to be seen, but it’s increasingly baffling to a lot of people that a club that ranks last in the American League in homers and eighth in slugging can’t find a role for one of the premier power prospects in the game.    

Kendrick sidelined, Quinlan gets start

Angels second baseman Howard Kendrick was a late scratch from the Angels’ lineup on Sunday against the Dodgers with cramping in his left hamstring. Chone Figgins was moved from third base to second, with Robb Quinlan inserted at third base.

Hamstrings raise instant red flags with Kendrick, who was limited to 92 games last season by two trips to the disabled list for a strained left hamstring — April 14 to May 29 and Aug. 28 to Sept. 21.

Figgins has been almost exclusively a third baseman this season but has extensive experience at second and can make the transition seamlessly.

Quinlan, who had been struggling offensively, is coming off his best game of the season, delivering a double and two singles in four at-bats in Saturday night’s 5-4 loss in 10 innings.

“I’m trying to get my swing back to where I had it in the spring,” Quinlan said. “It felt a lot better last night. Hatch [hitting coach Mickey Hatcher] is helping me get it back. In Seattle, everything was by me. My timing wasn’t there. It just wasn’t pretty, the two games I played there. Sometimes it takes a little time. We’re going in the right direction.”

Quinlan’s start at third is his first of the season. He has made four starts at first base and one in right field, along with three as a DH. Figgins is making his first start at second this season, having started 40 of 42 games at third.

Kendrick has made 37 starts at second, with Maicer Izturis getting five starts there. Izturis has lower back stiffness, manager Mike Scioscia said, but should be available if needed. 

Middle threesome flourishing

Even in the absence of Vladimir Guerrero, no reasonable Angels fan can complain about the production the Angels have been getting out of the middle of their order.

Torii Hunter, Kendry Morales and Mike Napoli have been about as good as any middle threesome in the game.

Hunter (nine homers, 27 RBIs coming into Saturday’s game), Morales (six homers, 23 RBIs) and Napoli (six homers, 17 RBIs) have accounted for 21 of the club’s 27 homers and 67 of its 163 RBIs.

Hunter is slugging at a .613 clip, eight in the American league, and this is being done in a pitcher-friendly home park. Napoli (.585) and Morales (.537) also are slugging at impressive rates, in the general neighborhood of Guerrero’s career slugging mark of .575.

When Vlad returns, perhaps in the next week to 10 days, it would seem to make sense to slide into the No. 3 spot in the order, with Bobby Abreu moving up, as originally planned, in the No. 2 hole between Chone Figgins and Guerrero. That would keep Hunter, Morales and Napoli aligned in the middle of the order, Napoli with his ability to get on base (team-high .423 on-base percentage) setting up the bottom third.

When asked Saturday about the possibility of Abreu hitting second when Guerrero returns, manager Mike Scioscia said it has come under discussion in staff meetings. When your faithful correspondent volunteered to join those meetings and offer input, Scioscia had no response — perhaps his way of saying, “Thanks, but no thanks.”

Just trying to help, big guy.  .

Reggie savors big night

Back in the starting lineup for the first time since last September, Reggie Willits had a big night behind the amazing Matt Palmer on Wednesday.

With a burst of speed, Willits triggered the five-run third inning that gave Palmer the lead with an infield hit. Stealing second with another burst, Reggie scored the first run on Torii Hunter’s line single. With another hit later in the game, Willits was hitting .333 as the night ended — and his family was there to see it live.

“Jaxon, my 4-year-old, was really excited,” Willits said. “But Eli [who is 1] fell asleep. It’s funny, they had a shot on TV of Amber [Reggie's wife] holding Eli when he was asleep. My parents were watching, and it was the first time they’ve seen him since February. So they were pretty excited about that.”

Willits feels he’s close to being back to full strength after an injury-riddled 2008. If that’s the case, the Angels have another weapon in their offensive arsenal. Willits hit .293 as a rookie, a club record, with a .391 on-base percentage that also was the best-ever by an Angels rookie.

One of the game’s best bunters and a solid defender at all three outfield spots, Willits stole 27 bases with an efficiency rate of 77 percent in ’07.

“Reggie can play, man,” said Mike Napoli, who has seen Willits flourish in the Minors hitting in the first and second spots in the order. “It’s good to see him get back out there and give us some spark.”

Willits was in the lineup, batting second, as a late addition after Gary Matthews Jr. experienced tightness in his lower back before the game.

“I love hitting in the two hole,” Willits said. “It gives me a chance to use what I have. I started seeing a lot of pitches and drawing walks at [Triple-A] Salt Lake before they called me up, which told me I’m getting my eye back.”

Manager Mike Scioscia applauded Willits’ performance in his first start since last Sept. 22.

“Reggie had a real good game,” Scioscia said. “It’s a good thing to see, a guy who can’t play for a little bit and does a good job. Reggie brings some things that are important to us.”

Willits and Bobby Abreu, with their uncommon ability to draw out at-bats with selectivity and foul balls, could drive a starting pitcher to distraction behind Chone Figgins, another disciplined hitter who can put together an eight-pitch at-bat.

The one familiar problem for Willits is the crowd in the Angels’ outfield. Reggie was back on the bench on Thursday.  

   

Willits, not Wilson, gets the call

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.  

 

Napoli, DH

Here’s how the Angels will line up against Andy Pettitte — rain is falling on a tarp in the late afternoon — at Yankee Stadium:

1. Chone Figgins, 3B

2. Gary Matthews Jr., RF

3. Bobby Abreu, LF

4. Torii Hunter, CF

5. Mike Napoli, DH

6. Howard Kendrick, 2B

7. Robb Quinlan, 1B

8. Jeff Mathis, C

9. Erick Aybar, SS

Jered Weaver, P

 

This is a big night for Napoli and his fans.Manager Mike Scioscia putting the big bopper in the DH spot could be a one-night stand, or it could be the start of something big — and productive.

Napoli has a big, long swing — and the highest home run ration in history among catchers. Critics would scoff that it’s a small sample, representing just 50 home runs, in relation to past receivers of renown such as Yogi Berra and Johnny Bench and Roy Campanella.

But Napoli is a born hitter. Jeff Mathis is a terrific catcher, young and getting better all the time. It makes great sense to have both of these guys in the lineup, as often as they can handle it. That’s why it seems like the right thing to do — Napoli as DH, catching occasionally, with Bobby Wilson summoned from Triple-A Salt Lake to back up Mathis.

Quinlan, a .417 career hitter against Pettitte with a double, two RBIs in 12 at-bats, also gets a start at first base in the wake of a rough night for Morales in the series opener. Kendry was hitless in four at-bats, striking out three times, after a recent surge of hits.

Old school to the bone, I do not like the idea of carrying 12 pitchers. I didn’t care for going to 11, frankly. I recognize that the bullpen has been beaten up a little bit in the season’s first month, but four position players off the bench reduces a manager’s options late in games. I’d rather have that extra bench player than a reliever who is there primarily to soak up innings in lost causes, after a starter has been knocked out early.

We’ll see if it lasts, Napoli as a DH, or if it’s a one-time thing. But I like it. I like it a lot. I think Napoli, with 550 to 600 at-bats and free of the physical burden of catching frequently, can hit 40 homers and drive in more than 100 runs.

“Nap’s got big-time power, man,” Hunter said the other day. “The guy can mash.”

Tonight, Napoli will be protecting Hunter, the cleanup man, in the No. 5 hole.

Surely, a factor in Scioscia’s decision is Napoli’s history against Pettitte. He’s 3-for-5 with a double. But when he’s locked in, seeing the ball well and driving it, no yard can hold him. Napoli in the batter’s box is a weapon.   

How good would he have been?

In Seattle now with the Angels, feeling their pain and unimaginable sense of desolation over the loss of Nick Adenhart, I am trying to carry on, but I still am numb, disoriented, not entirely here. My coping abilities clearly have limits.

It’s been six days. Six decades won’t be long enough to get over this.

This is essentially what Shane Loux was saying yesterday after a remarkable performance against the Mariners on a frigid day at Safeco Field in front of a packed house that had come to welcome Ken Griffey Jr. back to his original baseball home. We use the word courage much too often in sports, but I feel it’s a courageous effort for the Angels to just take the field at this time, let alone play the game at a high level.

Loux expressed a sentiment shared, I’m sure, by every Angels player, coach, manager Mike Scioscia and the entire organizational staff when he said Nick was in his thoughts all day long – and hasn’t left his thoughts since the horrible news came on Thursday morning.

The reader response to my post on Nick was heartwarming, but it also served to drive home the enormity of this loss. He was just getting started. I can’t seem to get past that right now, how it was all in front of him.

Friends have called, expressing various reactions, and one question I’m asked over and over is this: How good would Nick Adenhart have been if his career had played itself out?

My response generally goes something like this: “He’d have been great. How great, obviously, we’ll never know.” And that’s just tragic beyond words. He should have been allowed to fulfill his destiny.

When I first started watching Nick seriously, in 2008 in Arizona during Spring Training, I saw a remarkable resemblance in manner to Bobby Welch in his early days with the Dodgers. I recall writing something about that and then discussing it with Nick. I was drawn to his easy, laid-back manner, how he was so interested in everything I had to say about the game he loved. A lot of young people are preoccupied, quite naturally, with their own lives, but I sensed that Nick really enjoyed hearing about players from earlier times, what made them tick.

I also told him all about Don Sutton, another pitcher I covered who made it to the Hall of Fame with tools very similar to those of Nick Adenhart. Sutton wasn’t overpowering, but he could put his fastball where he wanted it and had a big, over-the-top curveball that complemented it beautifully. Sutton was a serious student of the game as a young man, absorbing everything he could, and that went a long way in making him the durable craftsman he became across two decades.

Sutton, I decided, was the type of pitcher Adenhart could become. Nick also had a dynamic changeup to go with the 92-94 mph heater and the 12-to-6 curve, and he had the burning desire to be great. It was concealed by a relaxed, almost nonchalant personal style, but I saw it in his eyes and felt it when we talked.

I’ll cherish for the rest of my days those conversations we had over the past two springs, how thrilled I was to watch him in his final performance against the Athletics. He pitched his way through trouble like a veteran that night, confident and in command.

Before the game, I was talking with Chone Figgins and Howard Kendrick when Nick walked past on his way to the training room. We’d talked about how he’d matured, how ready he was – and he gave me a look and a grin that told me everything I wanted to know.

He was ready for the challenge, fully prepared for the challenges awaiting him. He had found all the answers he’d been searching for, and now it was his time.

So, here’s my answer: I think he could have joined Don Sutton in the Hall of Fame someday. That’s how talented, how driven, Nick Adenhart was as a baseball player. As a person, he was a slam-dunk Hall of Famer, about as good as it gets.

Hunter scalding hot

Torii Hunter made it four homers in three games today with another blast  over the wall in center field. He knows he’s locked in when he’s smoking balls to the middle of the field, and that’s where he is right now. Before the homer, he launched one that was caught at the wall in right center that would have been gone in Texas.

Mike Scioscia has to like what he sees at the top of the order, with Chone Figgins smacking line drives all over the place and Howard Kendrick looking very comfortable in the No. 2 hole. Kendrick will learn that he’ll see a high percentage of fastballs hitting between Figgins and Bobby Abreu, who has tested pitchers’ endurance for years with his remarkable discipline.

As for Vladimir Guerrero, who crushed a double to cash in Abreu before Hunter’s bomb, everything appears to be in fine order for a 35 HR/125-RBI campaign. With Kendry Morales, Juan Rivera or Gary Matthews and Mike Napoli or Jeff Mathis coming up behind the top five, the Angels are going to score runs in numbers. And Erick Aybar/Maicer Izturis will serve as, in effect, a leadoff man in front of the leadoff man, Figgy.

I don’t think what we’re seeing this spring, this offensive explosion, is an aberration, a case of cleaning  up on bad pitching. This is a good offense — and it could be a great offense if the big guns (and the top two) stay healthy. And even if they don’t stay healthy, they won’t lose a thing if  Robb Quinlan, Brandon Wood, Matt Brown, Sean Rodriguez or Reggie Willits stand in for a spell.

The Angels have enough position players to field another quality Major League team. It almost isn’t fair when you see what they have in relation to what some other clubs are putting on the field.   

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