Brandon Wood, with all of five professional games of experience at the position, found himself on the lineup card at first base and batting seven against the Yankees’ CC Sabathia on Sunday at Angel Stadium.
“It’s a challenge I’m looking forward to,” Wood said. “I’ve played enough there now at [Triple-A] Salt Lake to get a feel for it. It’s definitely a different look and feel, but I’m getting more comfortable every time I play there. By the third or fourth game, I was checking things off: I can do that, I can do that.
“One thing I didn’t realize is how much is involved at first in terms of physical activity – all the squatting, moving around. I find that my legs are more tired after playing first than at short or third.”
A shortstop all his life, taken in the first round of the 2003 First-Year Player Draft out of Horizon High School in Scottsdale, Ariz., Wood has been the gem of the farm system since ’04. He has been brought along slowly – the Angels are loaded with quality players at shortstop and third base – but has shown clear signs in limited opportunities this season of putting it all together.
His first three starts this season have been at third base, where he has excelled spelling Chone Figgins. Wood made a superb back-handed stab on Saturday, robbing Johnny Damon of a hit in the fifth inning, and responded in the bottom half of the winning with a homer to right center against Andy Pettitte. It jump-started the Angels’ offense, and they went on to prevail, 14-8.
Wood had two hits against Sabathia in New York on May 2, including an opposite-field single that ignited a decisive rally.
“A play like the one Woody made can give you a boost of confidence,” teammate Reggie Willits said. “I’ve seen that carry over to your next at-bat – and you saw what happened. Woody has big-time talent, no question about it.”
Wood agreed that his defensive contribution might have sharpened his focus in his at-bat against Pettitte. He was ahead 3-1 in the count when he went after a pitch down and on the outer half of the plate and sent it rocketing into the seats in right center.
“He has ridiculous power,” Willits said. “I’ve seen him hit some shots you wouldn’t believe in the Minors.”
Wood, who swung at only two of Pettitte’s first 10 pitches on Saturday, walking in his first at-bat, is making an impression on the man in charge.
“Brandon is making significant strides, offensively and defensively,” manager Mike Scioscia said. “He’s looked good at first in Salt Lake. He’s athletic, with good hands, and he is taking to it well, just as he did at third.”
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..
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.
Gary Matthews Jr. was a late scratch on Wednesday evening after experiencing tightness in his lower back. Replacing Matthews in right field and in the No. 2 spot in the order against Red Sox knuckleballer Tim Wakefield was Reggie Willits, making his first start of the season.
Willits,recalled from Triple-A Salt Lake on May 5, is hitless in two career at-bats against Wakefield.
Willits, who set a club record for rookies in batting average (.293) and on-base percentage (.391) in 2007, has had two at-bats in three game appearances this year. He’s 0-for-1 with a sacrifice, having gotten a sacrifice bunt down on Tuesday night as a pinch-hitter for Juan Rivera.
Willits, fifth in the 2007 American League Rookie of the Year balloting, is trying to recapture the form that made him a valuable member of that division-winning team after an injury-riddled 2008.
Matthews is hitting .271 with 12 RBIs and 11 runs scored in 19 games as an all-purpose outfielder and occasional DH.
Before Tuesday night’s game, Willits was joking with Rivera about replacing him after Rivera had gunned down a runner at the plate with a perfect throw from left center.
Asked if he had ever bunted in a Major League game, Rivera searched his memory and recalled a two-strike bunt he executed in 2005. The slugging Venezuelan actually had two sacrifice bunts that season.
Nobody could imagine Vladimir Guerrero ever being asked to bunt, however. It turns out Guerrero does have one sacrifice bunt in his professional career — with the Expos’ rookie team in 1993, his first pro season. He was 18.
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.
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.
Howard. That’s what his wife, Jody, and his family members call the Angels’ second baseman, known in the baseball world as Howie Kendrick. I tried calling him Howard in print for a time last season — he told me it didn’t matter one way or another to him — but it seemed to confuse readers, so I went back to Howie.
He told me this morning that he became Howie after a baseball card company asked if it could call him Howie rather than Howard. It picked up momentum when he was in the minor leagues, and he’s been Howie ever since — even though those close to him call him Howard.
So … on to the news of the day. When the season opens and he’s announced as Howie Kendrick at Angel Stadium, he could be in the No. 2 spot in the order, between Chone Figgins and Bobby Abreu. It was manager Mike Scioscia’s initial plan to bat the highly selective Abreu second, followed by Vladimir Guerrero and Torii Hunter. But Kendrick’s strong spring and growth as a hitter seems to be moving Scioscia toward a new look.
I love the idea of Kendrick batting second, the more I think about it. For one thing, it will give him as many as 70 to 80 more at-bats than he would get hitting down in the order, and this guy could be a batting champion very soon. He drives the ball to all fields and doesn’t strike out a lot, and he’s an exceptional baserunner. Figgins likes the idea of Howie hitting behind him, and Abreu has batted third most of his career. So it makes sense on a number of levels.
Scioscia made an interesting point about why Kendrick doesn’t walk more. He squares up balls and puts them in play at a high rate. But he is learning how to work counts, and he’s totally into the game. Reggie Willits, one of the smartest guys I’ve been around, hit in front of Kendrick in the minors and thinks Howard has everything you’re looking for in a No. 2 hitter.
We’ll see where it goes from here. Scioscia has been known to experiment with lineups. Maicer Izturis also is highly capable of being a solid No. 2 hitter, and Erick Aybar also has made strides in his selectivity. But Kendrick is a special hitter — a “freak of nature,” Willits calls him, with utmost respect. , ,
Even though Angels skipper Mike Scioscia has left a distinct impression that he doesn’t want his pitchers swinging the bat this spring in National League parks, Joe Saunders apparently couldn’t resist.
Following a triple to the left-center gap by fleet Peter Bourjos with two outs in the second inning Saturday, Saunders went the other way on an Aaron Heilman delivery and slapped it into left field for an RBI single.
Saunders, an exceptional golfer from the right side, swings the bat left-handed, as he does everything else. Joe got more exercise than he bargained for when Chone Figgins followed with his second double of the day, to the same left-center gap Bourjos hit. Third-base coach Dino Ebel wisely held Saunders at third, and he stayed there when Reggie Willits fouled out to left.
Figgins also had a hand in a textbook relay in the second inning, cutting down Milton Bradley at third. Terry Evans ran down Bradley’s drive into the right-field corner and hit cutoff man Sean Rodriguez, who threw a one-hop bullet from shallow right that Figgins snagged on one hop, applying the tag on Bradley.
Rodriguez demonstrated his exceptional range later in the inning when he went behind second to backhand a grounder by Esteban German and nail him at first with an off-balance throw.
In his second at-bat leading off the fourth inning, Saunders was clearly back with the program. He didn’t take a swing, looking at a third strike.
Center fielder Reggie Willits was a late scratch for Monday’s Cactus League game against the Rockies in Tucson with tightness in the adductor muscle in his left leg. There was no immediate word on the severity.
Willits was on base in all three of his at-bats on Sunday with a single and two walks. He was replaced in center field by Terry Evans, with Adam Pavkovich inserted in right field.
Jeff Mathis got the Angels rolling with a solo homer against lefty Franklin Morales. A single by Kendry Morales and Brandon Wood’s RBI double handed John Lackey a 2-0 first-inning lead, and he shut down the rockies in the bottom half of the inning with solid command in his first outing of the spring.
On a gorgeous Sunday in Tempe, the mind wanders briefly, and here is what settles in: A massive deal involving the Angels and Padres.
Ten for two.
From Anaheim to San Diego go the following: Nick Adenhart, Dustin Moseley, Shane Loux, Kevin Jepsen, Erick Aybar, Freddy Sandoval, Matt Brown, Kendry Morales, Reggie Willits and Terry Evans.
From San Diego to Anaheim: Jake Peavy and Adrian Gonzalez.
The Padres get a new team, virtually, and the Angels have a powerhouse that causes tremors throughout the game.
Bud Black adds three starters (Moseley, Adenhart, Loux) while subtracing one. He gets a future closer in Jepsen. He gets a superlative shortstop in Aybar and a kid from Tijuana (Sandoval) who can play three infield positions and hit. He gets a quality corner infielder in Brown and a first baseman in Morales to replace Gonzalez. He gets an outfielder (Willits) who can play all three spots and will produce a 370-.380 on-base percentage and 40-50 steals leading off as an everyday player. And he gets a power hitter in Evans who can leave any yard.
Mike Scioscia gets one of the best pitchers alive in Peavy and a first baseman in Gonzalez who is very close to the equal of Mark Teixeira. The Angels still have plenty of quality reserves left over, owing to an astonishing stockpile of talent. Yes, they add payroll with Peavy and Gonzalez, but the long-term benefits are immense.
The Padres get almost 60 years worth of contracts at an immediate cost of roughly $4 million for the 2008 season. The Angels have Peavy and Gonzalez locked up for at least three more years apiece. This would not be a half-season of Teixeira.
Peavy gives the Angels the Majors’ dominant rotation; Gonzalez is a No. 4 hitter who, free of PETCO Parks dimensions, hits about 40 homers and drives in close to 140 runs behind Chone Figgins, Bobby Abreu and Vladimir Guerrero.
Win, win. Everybody wins, once Padres fans realize that even with fan favorites Peavy and Gonzalez, they are looking at potentially a long, long season. Guys like Aybar, Willits, Morales, Adenhart and Jepsen would form a solid foundation for years to come.
Granted, there’s not much likelihood something like this would come to pass. But hey, a guy can daydream, can’t he? Isn’t that what Spring Training is all about?