Los Angeles Angels: Biggest Winners and Losers of Spring Training
Or is that a headache? After all, the Angels (8-19) were only a few losses away from warranting the old “scare them” speech so eloquently given by Skip in Bull Durham.
“8-16 … how’d we ever win eight games?”
Regardless, based on their meager record and injury/pitching issues, it's safe to say the Angels may have more to worry about than what was originally expected a few months back. (I have even begun to doubt my recent barrage of scribbles that proclaimed the squad does have enough pitching this season.)
As usual, I regress (and will now deny).
So, what happened?
As spring training goes, there will always be teams and players that have success, there will also be others that experience a giant slump.
The Angels had a little bit of both.
They had a few losers.
General manager Jerry Dipoto knew the bullpen was the gleaming point of concern after the end of the 2012 season. Now, following a shaky spring, the organization has to worry about the same thing, again.
Will it ever end?
There have been small glimpses of progress. Both lefties—Mitch Stetter and Sean Burnett—looked decent in the game against the Chicago White Sox last Monday. Ernesto Frieri has done his part to at least give manager Mike Scioscia confidence in the ninth inning. Ryan Madson has the bullpen sessions stretched up to about 40 pitches (h/t LA Times' Mike DiGiovanna).
However, those positives are only shielding a larger issue.
The rest of the ‘pen has been inadequate, leaving Scioscia to liken the collective efforts thus far to an expletive that rhymes with "kitty" (h/t OC Register's Jeff Fletcher via twitter).
While I would not proclaim this as a time to completely panic, it does make sense for the organization to be out looking for arms to help the cause. Unfortunately, I’m not convinced they have found the right option yet.
The Minor League System
The Angels' minor league system is ranked last, according to Baseball America, and this spring training highlighted the evidence for that ranking.
Kaleb Cowart aside, the rest of the crop that got playing time with the big club, headlined by Kole Calhoun and Nick Maronde, did not perform well. Sure, they are young. They need game experience; I get it. But that doesn't mean there can't be a little flash of brilliance now and again.
Because the team is currently loaded with MLB-ready, All-Star talent, the depth in the minors can be overshadowed, ignored for another time. However, the poor ranking should leave concern for the club; this spring has clearly shown that they are a long way off from developing the “next generation.”
And that’s a problem for a team that will be considered “old” much sooner than some would think (or hope).
If there was going to be a year for Conger to make a statement that he belongs at the MLB level, this was the year. Chris Iannetta was the only guaranteed player at the catcher position this year; the backup was open for the taking. It was Conger's to lose.
Based on the Angels signing Chris Snyder and Conger's throwing issues, it looks like 25-year-old switch-hitter has lost it.
He is hitting .333, mixed with decent power, so there still could be a chance. But I doubt the club takes that big of a risk, especially with Scioscia (ex-catcher) running the ship.
Yes, they had a few winners, too.
Romine has moved up from being a “home-grown possibility,” to “home-grown possibility…that has some real talent.”
With Erick Aybar gone for a portion of the spring (WBC), and Bill Hall hobbled over and over, Romine took his opportunities and made the best of it. The bat control was surprisingly impressive, using the entire field. And the way he moved on the field—decent side-to-side coverage—was equally impressive.
The fact that he can play multiple positions around the infield, and that Bill Hall is no longer an option (for now?), Romine is almost guaranteed one of the final roster spots.
(Yes, Louis Rodriguez had the higher average this spring (.311) and he can play multiple positions as well, but the switch-hitter, to me, doesn’t carry the same off-the-bench uses that Romine does.)
There hasn’t been a more impressive non-roster invite than Shuck. I had him picked early in the spring as one player that could make the team, and it’s starting to seem like a real possibility.
He is hitting .354 and his defense is more than strong enough to warrant a spot as a backup. Given the fact Calhoun has not performed well—and he is the only other player listed for that final outfield spot—I look for Shuck to get the nod.
If he doesn’t, there will definitely be other teams interested in his services.
You didn’t think we were going to get out of here without talking Vernon Wells, did you? Good, me neither.
Wells is a winner on so many levels, affecting such different aspects of the Angels organization that he has to be on the “winners list.” And I’m being serious.
His trade to the New York Yankees did come with concerns, mainly the Angels spending any amount of money on a player no longer on the roster. I know, is this Mike Hampton economics?
But the upside far outweighs the downside. Yes, the Angels will have to spend some money, however, that amount is greatly reduced by the Yankees picking up $13-plus million of the $42 million owed to Wells (h/t MLB.com's Alden Gonzalez). That will free up cash for the Angels, which will give them spending flexibility—a helpful tool not always at the disposal of MLB clubs.
Wells' departure also paves the way for Peter Bourjos to take control of center field, decreasing some of the pressure for the young, fan favorite. With Wells shipped off to New York, Bourjos can continue building on an impressive spring (.333 average), without having to look over his shoulder after every strikeout, understanding that center field is his to lose.
Was it time to part ways with Vernon Wells?
Even though Wells was making good this spring, hitting like he was originally expected to back in 2011, it was time for the split. Yes, the bench will take a hit, missing that veteran voice left blank by the departure of Torii Hunter, but there are worse things.
He may have been a good “clubhouse guy,” but he is not a bench/role player, and that was what he would be this season with the Angels.
It was something Mike Scioscia recognized saying (h/t MLB.com’s Alden Gonzalez):
For an everyday player on the bench, usually it's a tougher task when you are not used to that role. Last year, we saw that with Vernon. I think Vernon is a guy that needs to get out there and get his at bats and learn from some things that aren't working. He needs that playing time.
Sometimes it’s about getting rid of the headaches.
Or, is that memories?
(Note: All stats provided were courtesy of MLB.com unless otherwise noted.)
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