Results tagged ‘ Vladimir Guerrero ’

Napoli can settle in as DH

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. 

Napoli, Wood could be answers

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. 

  

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.   

Matthews, brass have emotional meeting

Gary Matthews Jr. views himself as an everyday Major League outfielder, so it came as no surprise when he stormed out of a meeting with the brass on Sunday at the team’s Spring Training facility and did not accompany the team for a trip to Surprise for a game against his former team, the Rangers.

“We just let Gary know where things stand at this point in the season, and that’s about all I can say about it,” manager Mike Scioscia said of the meeting also attended by general manager Tony Reagins. “We were honest with him, and he let us know how he feels.

“Gary wants to play, and that’s understandable. But the way things are right now, he’s the fifth outfielder, coming off knee surgery. We have Vlad [Guerrero], Torii [Hunter], Bobby Abreu and Juan Rivera, and those are four good players. Gary needs to focus on getting completely healthy and contributing when he can.”

Matthews, who has a full no-trade clause in his contract this season, would be owed a $500,000 assignment fee if dealt.

Matthews has said he would be more than open to a trade to a club that could use him on a regular basis, especially as a center fielder. He has three years left on a deal he signed after his 2006 All-Star season with Texas — $10 million this season, $11 million in 2010 and $12 million in 2012.

“As of today,” Reagins told reporters, “he’s going to be an extra outfielder. We gave him an update on his status. We were very forthright, but the details of the meeting will remain behind closed doors.”

Matthews changed into street clothes and left the facility, the team granting him permission to take the day off.

Matthews said he needed some time to “think things over.” After undergoing left knee surgery in late October, he “worked his butt off this” winter, according to Scioscia, and is in the midst of a strong spring, batting .258 with two homers, two doubles and a triple in 31 at-bats.

Vlad out of lineup, Conger in

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.

 

 

Fireworks continue: three straight bombs

Back-to-back-to-back. That’s what the Angels did on Thursday in their first look at Goodyear Ballpark, home of the Indians. Facing lefty Scott Lewis in the third inning after he’d already yielded two runs on four hits, Bobby Abreu, Vladimir Guerrero and Torii Hunter each went deep, using all fields — Abreu to center, Guerrero to right, Hunter to left.

Mike Scioscia once again had Chone Figgins, Howard Kendrick and Abreu at the top of the order, and through three innings they’d combined for a single and triple (by Figgins), a walk (by Kendrick, showing his plate discipline) and the blast by Abreu.

Showing he was fully recovered from the crash into the center field wall on Tuesday against the Rockies at home, Hunter lashed a double to left in his first at-bat. Even before his 400-foot shot to left, Hunter had lined a ball just foul into the left-field corner.

Jeff Mathis, catching Nick Adenhart, had two hits through two innings. Perhaps the best athlete among all catchers in the game, Mathis showed his speed when he stole second. This is a guy who could have been a defensive back at Florida State had he chosen football over baseball. How many catchers can say that?

 

Matthews wants to play every day — somewhere

Gary Matthews Jr. is determined to play every day, preferably in center field. The Angels — overstocked with quality outfielders – do not appear to have a place for him to do so on a regular basis.

“There comes a time if a decision is made . . . ” manager Mike Scioscia said, not finishing the thought. “We’ve got a lot of bats here. We’ll address things in time. We’re not going to make a decision today.”

Recovered from late October surgery on his left knee, Matthews has been more than impressive in Cactus League play. He has been spectacular.

Matthews’ two-run homer against the Padres in Tuesday’s 10-5 Angels victory was a tremendous drive to right field that, he later reported, “came within six inches of hitting my Bentley” in the parking lot.

He crushed this one almost as far, he believed, as the one against the White Sox in the new Camelback Ranch-Glendale park that teammates estimated at 450 feet.

Matthews, who doubled in front of Maicer Izturis’ three-run homer in his first at-bat, is hitting .412 with 16 total bases in 17 at-bats.

“My play’s kind of doing all the talking for me,” Matthews said. “My play speaks louder than what I can say to anyone. I wasn’t supposed to be back until mid-May, late-May. I’m fine. I’m ready to go back to playing every day.”

With Torii Hunter entrenched in center field and Vladimir Guerrero, Bobby Abreu and Juan Rivera ahead of him on the outfield depth chart, Matthews has a hard time seeing consistent playing time coming his way no matter what he does.
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He has gone to general manager Tony Reagins and Scioscia to express his desire to play regularly, and they have been candid with him, he said, about their point of view.

“You don’t play forever,” Matthews said. “I’m 34. Guys take such good care of themselves now. I’m 34. It’s not like I’m 24 and have time to sit around and waste years sitting around. That’s not what I’m going to do.”

That sounds very much like “play me or trade me,” a refrain as old as the game itself.

Kendrick could flourish as No. 2 hitter

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. , ,  

PECOTA trashes Angels

If manager Mike Scioscia needed any ammo to fire up his troops, it was grooved like a Doc Gooden fastball at the belt by stat maven Nate Silver in his PECOTA ratings for Baseball Prospectus.

Silver, it turns out, doesn’t think much of the Halos — specifically, what he sees as an aging offense creating more headaches for Angels pitchers than rival managers. PECOTA has the Angels finishing 16 games off their MLB-best 2008 pace with a mere 84 wins, barely managing to prevail in what it envisions as a weak AL West.

I can understand some anticipated slippage with Mark Teixeira and Garret Anderson departing; those are two high-quality offensive players. But Bobby Abreu has been a fairly consistent 100/100 man (runs. RBIs), and he should fit nicely between Chone Figgins and Vladimir Guerrero in Scioscia’s projected top third. Of course, a big spring by Howie Kendrick, Erick Aybar or Maicer Izturis could convince Scioscia to plant Abreu in the No. 3 hole, with Guerrero fourth and Torii Hunter fifth.

The rest of the lineup is deep and potentially much more explosive than PECOTA imagines. Mike Napoli has the tools to go 30/100 with enough at-bats, joining Guerrero on a surgically-repaired knee, and Hunter, Kendry Morales, Juan Rivera all are capable of exceeding 20 homers with 80 to 100 RBIs. If Hunter bats fourth, behind Vlad, he could surpass his career high of 107 RBIs from 2007.

Call me an incurable optimist, but this shapes up as a pretty fair attack — and it has a nice blend of youth and experience, top to bottom.

It was last year at this time that a lot of snipers were relegating the Angels to second place in the AL West behind Seattle, with its new ace,  Erik Bedard. Scioscia, I’m sure, got some clubhouse mileage out of that. I’m sure PECOTA and its views might surface in one of his pre-game chats with the players before too long.     

Abreu, Angels close to a deal

There is still no official confirmation, but it appears that the Angels and Bobby Abreu are hammering out a one-year deal worth $5 million plus incentives, according to multiple reports. Abreu would provide left-handed balance in a heavily right-handed offense and would join a four-man rotation for the three outfield spots and designated hitter role with Vladimir Guerrero, Torii Hunter and Juan Rivera.

This will give the Angels another crowded outfield,with Gary Matthews Jr. (recovering from knee surgery) and Reggie Willits pushed down the depth chart. Both are versatile outfielders with talents that could play in other cities if the Angels decide to shop them. Matthews will have to prove he’s fully recovered from the knee operation, and Willits also needs a good spring to reestablish himself as a quality Major Leaguer after an injury-riddled 2008.

The upshot of the Abreu move is that it pretty much slams the door on any chance of Garret Anderson returning after 14 years as the club’s most productive career hitter. With Adam Dunn going to Washington, Anderson is the most attractive hitter left in free agency not named Manny Ramirez.        

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