MINNEAPOLIS – Angels fans are bailing left and right. I hear it every day in emails. They can’t take it anymore. They can’t watch. They can’t even listen to the games. It’s too frustrating, too distressing.
This is what happens when a team goes from really good to so-so virtually overnight. You want to know, you demand to know, if this is a temporary blip or a preview of dark times ahead, a return to the dead-ball era in Anaheim.
I’m no prophet, but I’ll take the blip route until I see or feel something that leads me to believe the organization is in the freefall imagined by so many doomsayers.
What makes this season so difficult – no, impossible – to accurate gauge is the loss of Kendry Morales. This man was the centerpiece of the offense, fifth in the American League MVP balloting last season. His loss has had an impact on the entire lineup, to say nothing of the attitude in the clubhouse.
The Angels had three players they couldn’t afford to lose – Torii Hunter, Jered Weaver and Morales – and they lost one of them. They simply haven’t been the same with seven different bodies trying to fill the Morales void at first.
Would Morales’ presence – he had developed into a quality defender at first — have been enough to make up the difference between the Rangers and the Angels? Hard to say. But I think it’s fair to say they’d be much closer than they are to Texas – maybe three, four games off the lead. And well within striking distance.
The Angels players and staff know this, but they can’t talk about it. It would sound defeatist, and that’s the last thing you want with so much season left on the schedule. But it’s the truth, and sometimes the truth needs to be expressed.
As for the future, if I’m an Angels fan – my job description doesn’t allow for that – I’d be excited. Peter Bourjos is on his way to being one of the game’s most exciting players, and Mike Trout is coming right behind Bourjos: incredibly swift, developing power with the confident bearing of a young Pete Rose at age 19.
Bourjos has pretty much owned Target Field today with speed, power, arm, instincts. On his first Major League homer, a laser into the left-field seats against Kevin Slowey, Bourjos was at first base when the line drive hit the seats. That was amazing to see. On his triple to right center? Simply flying.
All those fans — you know who you are — who were ready to quit on Bourjos after 20 at-bats, as they did Brandon Wood, don’t understand that nobody conquers this game instantly. Willie Mays and Mickey Mantle, arguably the two greatest athletes to play the game, wanted to go home after failing in their first months in the bigs.
Bourjos and Trout in the outfield someday with Torii Hunter as the veteran anchor is a vision thrilling to ponder.
Eddie Bane and his scouting staff have had two consecutive intriguing drafts. If the kids from the 2010 Draft group – headed by position players Kaleb Cowart, Chevez Clarke, Taylor Lindsey and Ryan Bolden and pitcher Cam Bedrosian – show as well as the ’09 crop, the Angels are in the process of restocking their system with premium talent.
It’s easy to get depressed and negative, turn off the lights. But if you leave them on and give it a chance, you just might have some fun at the party. – Lyle Spencer
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
Day one of the First-Year Player Draft, from a casual fan’s point of view, couldn’t have gone much better for the Angels.
In the first round, they landed a couple of high school kids who can mash. Randal Grichuk, from deep in the heart of Texas, and Mike Trout, a Jersey kid, could be the Tim Salmon (that would be Trout, naturally) and Garret Anderson of the next generation.
In conference calls, these fresh-faced youngsters sounded optimistic and upbeat and thrilled on one of the biggest days of their lives. Ah, to be a teen with a whole world of possibilities.
Nobody knows where their destinies will take them. That’s the thing about the MLB Draft — it takes years to get the final word. But it certainly will be a lot of fun following the paths of these kids.
Trout is a center fielder and an athlete, a basketball and football player. Grichuk — pronounced Gri-chick — is a born hitter. Here’s to good health and long, productive careers for both.
As a proud Santa Monica High School alum, I was thrilled with the Angels’ first compensation pick, southpaw Tyler Skaggs. A fellow Viking, he’s tall and gifted and I will chart his progress closely.
After right-hander Garrett Richards from Oklahoma — he’ll be buddies with Reggie Willits in no time — the Angels went on a run of southpaws, loading up in an area of need. Of course, I have to be a little partial to third-round pick Joshua Spence, an native of the wonderful land of Australia. You never can have too many Spences on the scene.
Eddie Bane, the Angels’ scouting director, is immensely respected in the game for his ability to not only identify talent but to believe in the judgments of his area scouts.
Nobody can look into the future, but something tells me this someday will be remembered as one of the greatest drafts in franchise history. If I’m wrong, you’ll have to look me up in four or five years to find me and tell me how dead wrong I was..