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
TEMPE, Ariz. – If the Angels open the season with Joel Pineiro joining Kendrys Morales, Scott Downs and Reggie Willits on a crowded disabled list, they won’t have as many difficult roster decisions to make as originally projected.
There will be room for Brandon Wood and Mark Trumbo, for Chris Pettit and Hank Conger, for Rich Thompson and Jason Bulger. All had been considered possible Opening Day discards.
Thompson, Bulger, Wood and Bobby Wilson are all out of Minor League options and must be on the 25-man roster or disabled list to avoid being subjected to waivers.
With three off days surrounding the first 12 games of the season, the club can get by with four starting pitchers. This gives Pineiro the opportunity to fully recover from a muscle issue in his back by recovering at his own speed in camp.
Willits has been slowed by a left calf strain, clearing the way for Pettit to show he’s capable of being a quality backup outfielder with his slashing hitting style.
Wood’s has the ability to play three infield positions well and bring the threat of thunder off the bench along with depth at third with Maicer Izturis and Alberto Callaspo.
Trumbo will open at first base in Morales’ absence. Coverage there will come from Howard Kendrick, Wood and Wilson, who figures to open as Jeff Mathis’ backup behind the plate.
Thompson and Bulger provide middle relief support in the early going. When Downs returns, his left big toe mended, and a decision will have to be made, assuming Pineiro already has returned to the rotation.
If Conger is dispatched to Triple-A Salt Lake, it will be with the specific purpose of keeping him sharp catching regularly. He has the ability to be a switch-hitting weapon off the bench, but that doesn’t come into play in the American League as much in the National League.
Sure-handed shortstop Andrew Romine is a candidate to break camp with the club if Conger is sent to Salt Lake.
Reliever Kevin Jepsen, who felt tightness in his left hip while warming up on a cold, rainy Monday in Tempe, was feeling better on Wednesday and expects to be back in game conditions as early as Thursday. – Lyle Spencer
TEMPE, Ariz. – Young slugger Mark Trumbo could thrust himself into the picture for the Angels with a strong spring, Angels manager Mike Scioscia said on Sunday in his daily session with the media.
“Mark’s got an opportunity to win a lot of playing time,” Scioscia said. “We’re going to get him acclimated to first base to begin with and get him some work in the outfield.”
A pitcher and all-around athlete when he was drafted in 2004 out of Villa Park High School, about 15 minutes from Angel Stadium, Trumbo has been primarily a first baseman in six Minor League seasons.
He has played some corner outfield the past two seasons but was not given any starts there in the Venezuelan Winter League, where he put up more big numbers after leading Minor League baseball with his 36 homers for Triple-A Salt Lake last year. A number of fans would like to see the Angels give him a look at third base.
“They tried him as a third baseman [after he signed], and we’ve talked about revisiting it,” Scioscia said. “He’s still a work in progress at first base. His tool set lends itself to the outfield.”
Trumbo, who goes 6-foot-4 and about 220 pounds, gets great leverage and drives the ball with tremendous power. His ongoing challenge involves pitch recognition and not putting himself in bad counts. He launched mammoth shots in the Pacific Coast League that his Bees teammates are still talking about.
Scioscia’s daily Kendry Morales report after an impressive hitting exhibition on Saturday: “There’s some work he needs to do. From the offensive side, that’s the least of his concerns. His first round of fielding drills was very encouraging. From the offensive side, I don’t think there’s any question he could swing the bat on Opening Day. Whether [or not] he can get through Spring Training with flying colors, there are definitely going to be some DH days for him to get a little different look.”
Scioscia’s daily Scott Kazmir report: “We’re seeing him throw the ball with better velocity and less effort, which should theoretically help his command. We’re seeing arm speed creating better spin on his slider. His changeup is a really good pitch. It’s early, but he never threw the ball last spring as well as he is now.”
Scioscia on Maicer Izturis’ durability issues: “He played 114 games two years ago and probably could have played 130. This guy works out as hard as anybody in the clubhouse. He’s experimented with trying to back off, with different routines. He’s had a little issue with durability. If we get anywhere from 90 to 110 games from him, we’re going to be very happy. If we get more, we’ve got to consider it a bonus.”
Scioscia on Mike Trout’s ETA with the Angels: “This guy’s as far advanced as anybody the past few generations we’ve seen. He’s got a great head. We’re excited to see him as a player, but we’re not expecting him to run routes in center like Torii Hunter did or run the bases like Chone Figgins did. There’s growth he needs before he’s a Major League baseball player. This guy’s got a plan every day. This guy’s going to be a very good player very soon. What his numbers are going to be in 10 years, nobody knows.”
The second full day of workouts on Sunday was cut short by heavy rains that cleared the fields soon after the players had gone out to work. Brandon Wood began to swing on soft toss for the first time after experiencing some back stiffness.
The following Angels games will be broadcast over MLB Network this spring: Feb. 27, at Dodgers, noon PT; March 1, Reds, noon; March 3, Royals, 6 p.m.; March 4, White Sox, noon; March 6, Diamondbacks, 4 p.m.; March 8, Rangers, 8 p.m.; March 21, Cubs, 1 p.m. —Lyle Spencer
Early March Cactus League games are about the process, not results. It’s more about how you feel than how you do, unless you’re trying to catch a manager’s eye.
Accordingly, Brian Fuentes accomplished what he set out to do in his spring debut on Friday at Tempe Diablo Stadium during a 7-5 loss to Colorado.
Entering in the third inning against his former club, Fuentes struck out the first man he faced, Ryan Spilborghs. He walked Troy Tulowitzki and yielded a single to Ian Stewart for a first-and-third situation. Miguel Olivo went down for a breaking ball and hit it to the wall in left for an RBI double.
After striking out Matt Miller, Fuentes’ day ended.
Not bad, not great. A good day’s work, which is exactly what the Angels’ closer had in mind.
“For me, I just want to show I’m healthy and throwing pitches where I want to, and for the most part I did that,” Fuentes said. “I did walk a man and started falling behind and made a bad pitch to Stewart, a breaking ball that stayed up. But the breaking ball to Olivo was a good pitch, down, and he hit it to the wall. I’m all right with that.
“I moved the fastball around and put pitches where I needed to, so it was a good day.”
It could have been a lot worse. Fuentes could have been stuck in traffic for more than three hours like Rockies starter Ubaldo Jimenez, who didn’t reach the ballpark until the game was underway because of a wreck on I-10.
“I didn’t move forever,” said Jimenez, who chose to drive on his own and not take the team bus. “I left [Tucson] at 9 and got here at 1:30.”
Jimenez entered in the fourth and worked two innings, yielding four earned runs on two walks and three hits while striking out three men.
Fuentes, meanwhile, was throwing more off-speed stuff than is his custom this early in the spring. He feels he has plenty of time to find his fastball command.
“I never really push it too hard in the spring,” he said. “No matter how many bullpens you have, you don’t have the same arm strength. I had two batting practices and three bullpens under my felt.”
Fuentes endured back spasms that set him back last spring, but he found his rhythm after a rocky start and led the Majors with 48 saves in 55 opportunities.
“I try not to base it on results and numbers,” he said, referring to his springtime evaluations. “Do you feel healthy or not? That’s all I focus on now.”
Fernando Rodney, who closed for Detroit last season and brings his heat to the Angels’ bullpen as a free agent, was cleared on Friday to begin throwing bullpen sessions after experiencing soreness in both shins.
“We haven’t discussed it yet,” Fuentes said when asked about how Rodney will fit along with Scot Shields, Kevin Jepsen and Jason Bulger in the back of a deep bullpen. “My personal opinion is having Fernando in the back of the bullpen is a good thing. I saw him in Detroit, and he’s thrown lights out.
“From the outside looking in, it’s good to have him.”
Angels manager Mike Scioscia has made it clear Fuentes is his closer, and that Rodney and Shields occasionally will spell him in the ninth inning when he needs a breather.
“His arm speed was good, his arm slot was good,” Scioscia said when asked about Fuentes. “He had good stuff. He threw a lot of pitches, 27, 28, and we didn’t want him getting in the 35-pitch range. That was a full workout for him.”
Angels starter Sean O’Sullivan yielded five earned runs on four hits and a walk while getting four outs, but prospects Trevor Reckling and Tyler Chatwood had impressive debuts. Each worked two innings, Chatwood holding the Rockies scoreless while Reckling yielded a run while striking out three hitters.
“Sully had a tough start,” Scioscia said, “but I thought our younger pitchers — Chatwood, Reckling — you could see the life in their arms. They weren’t scared. They went right after guys.”
Offensively, Maicer Izturis (two walks, single) had a perfect day leading off, and Terry Evans stroked a pair of singles, driving in a run. Mark Trumbo slammed an opposite-field double to open the ninth inning, and Michael Ryan drove in a pair of runs with a single and had a lenghty at-bat to prolong the ninth before the Rockies nailed down the win.
In a camp game at Scottsdale against the Giants’ Triple-A players, Angels starter Dustin Moseley went seven innings and made 88 pitches, four of them leaving the park. Moseley yielded six earned runs, walking one man while giving up 10 hits and striking out three.
In that same game, facing reigning NL Cy Young Award winner Tim Lincecum, Mike Napoli went 3-for-5 with two doubles and two walks. In the informal setting of such games, players can bat multiple times, prompting Lincecum to remark, “Man, that was a lot of Napolis.”
Young first baseman Mark Trumbo homered for the Angels.