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. – 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
Outfielder Mike Trout, the No. 1 prospect in the Major Leagues according to a survey of industry executives and scouts by MLB.com, heads a list of 25 non-roster invitees to big-league camp in Spring Training at Tempe, Ariz. Angels general manager Tony Reagins made the announcement.
The list includes nine pitchers, five catchers, seven infielders and four outfielders.
“This is a great opportunity for our young prospects to get a feel for what we do in the spring, our philosophies about how to play the game the right way,” manager Mike Scioscia said. “It’s been invaluable to our young players through the years.”
The pitchers are right-handers Ryan Brasier, Ryan Braun, Ryan Chaffee, Tyler Chatwood, Eric Junge, Garrett Richards and southpaws Matt Meyer, Trevor Reckling and Andrew Taylor.
Catchers Anel de los Santos, Jose Jimenez, Carlos Ramirez, Kevin Richardson and Alberto Rosario will enroll in Camp Scioscia. Infielders Alexi Amarista, Gabe Jacobo, Kevin Melillo, Efren Navarro, Darwin Perez, Jean Segura and Gil Velasquez and outfielders Trout, Tyson Auer, Angel Castillo and Travis Witherspoon round out the group of 25 invitees with dreams of reaching The Show. – Lyle Spencer
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
NEW YORK – Two games in Yankee Stadium, then four in Arlington, in that lovely Texas summer heat. The Angels, sitting five games behind the Rangers in the AL West, are in jeopardy of fading out of the picture if they don’t hold their own.
Adding Cliff Lee and Bengie Molina represented a show of strength by Texas, one the Angels aren’t likely to match. The players other clubs would seek for a performer who can lift their chances likely are prime-time prospects the club does not want to move – notably Mike Trout and Hank Conger.
There’s no way the Angels move Trout. This kid has star qualities, and he’ll get to The Show quickly. He can fly – we saw that in the Futures Game at Angel Stadium – and he has superior instincts in center field and at the plate. He’s the confident face of the future, along with a handful of other talented young Angels in the low Minors who figure to follow Trout to Anaheim.
Conger is a rare commodity – a catcher who can hit with power from both sides. Moving him would be a high-risk decision. He’s local, from Huntington Beach right down the road from Angel Stadium, and he’s loaded with personality. Just can’t see it happening.
The Angels need to look within to get back in this race. They need proven talent – Bobby Abreu, Hideki Matsui, Juan Rivera – to start banging away in a big way. They also need Scott Kazmir to rebound from his shoulder pain and deliver strikes and innings.
There’s a report on ESPNLosAngeles.com that the Angels are targeting the Royals’ Alberto Callaspo, a solid infielder. But he’s no better than Maicer Izturis, who was back on Tuesday night after missing five weeks, driving in a run against All-Star Phil Hughes in his first at-bat. Callaspo wouldn’t make a significant difference in closing any talent gaps.
The Angels should have a better grasp of where they are with their chances this season late Sunday, after wrapping up the four-game series against the Rangers.
If they’ve closed any ground on Texas, they might get serious about making a move before the July 31 non-waiver Deadline. But giving up prime young talent for an athlete who might help doesn’t make sense. If they fall deeper in the muck, it might be wise to write this off as the year Kendry Morales went down in a bizarre spill – and took the Angels with him. – 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..