Los Angeles Angels: Winners and Losers Halfway Through Spring Training

Kevin Belhumeur@webb5008Contributor IIMarch 14, 2013

Los Angeles Angels: Winners and Losers Halfway Through Spring Training

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    With the acquisition of Josh Hamilton in the offseason, the Los Angeles Angels expect to compete at the highest level this year.

    But they may have to wait until the regular season to do so.

    With a 3-11 record in the Cactus League, the team currently lays claim to the worst spring training record in all of baseball.

    While the team's wins and losses may not have much significance in the preseason, individual player performances do go a long way in determining a manager's roster selections for Opening Day.

    The following list features winners and losers halfway through spring training. 

Winner: Hank Conger

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    Before the start of spring training, the backup catcher position for the Los Angeles Angels was up for grabs between Hank Conger and John Hester.

    With Conger's impressive form at the plate, however, that debate has all but been settled.

    The 25-year-old right-hander is batting .412 with a team-best 10 RBI through eight games. He has an on-base percentage of .444 and a slugging percentage of .824.

    Throughout the remainder of spring training, the Angels and their coaching staff will look for Conger to improve on the defensive side of the ball. In 48 starts in the 2011 regular season, Conger managed to throw out only 16 percent of base stealers. His fielding percentage behind the plate was .979, a number considerably lower than starting catcher Chris Iannetta's career mark of .995.

    With four throwing errors in only 30 innings played this spring, Conger's inconsistency on the defensive side of the ball has somewhat dampened an otherwise flawless preseason campaign.

    Per MLB.com, Angels Manager Mike Scioscia talked about the team's desire to see Conger's arm catch up to his bat:

    A catcher has to be able to deter a running game, there's no doubt. But that doesn't mean you're throwing rockets right on the corner of the bag every time. There's a level that you need where teams have to either work for their stolen bases or they know the timing's against them ... I think Hank has that ability to get to that level. There's no doubt he has the arm strength to control the running game to the extent we would need him. It's really going to be a function of that consistency.

Loser: Nick Maronde

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    Coming into this season, left-handed pitcher Nick Maronde was widely considered one of the best Minor League prospects within the organization.

    But judging from his spring training performances thus far, you wouldn't know it.

    Maronde has an abysmal 12.71 ERA with a 2.65 WHIP in four games.

    The good news? His sample size is small. Maronde has only pitched 5.2 innings in the Cactus League so far and will look to turn it around in the latter half of March. 

    The Angels will be relying on Maronde this season to help bolster their bullpen. As a unit, Angels relievers blew 22 saves and had a collective ERA of 3.97 in 2012, ranking third worst in the AL.

    The 23-year-old's strengths include his deceptive left-handed delivery and his strike-throwing abilities. In 10 games as a starter for the High-A Inland Empire 66ers in 2012, Maronde went 3-1 with a 1.82 ERA. In seven games as a starter at Double-A Arkansas, he had a 3-2 record with a 3.34 ERA.

Winner: Ernesto Frieri

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    Ernesto Frieri was the best thing the Angels' bullpen had going for itself last year.

    After coming over from San Diego in 2012, Frieri converted 23 of his 25 save opportunities for the Halos with an impressive 2.32 ERA.

    In four outings in the spring training Cactus League, Frieri has not allowed a run.

    In the offseason, Frieri has worked hard to add a cutter and a changeup to his repertoire. With two new pitches in tow, Frieri's electric fastball figures to be less predictable this upcoming season.

    Frieri's desire to improve on last season's success is a good sign for the 27-year-old. When asked about it, he said:

    This is the best level in baseball. You got to make adjustments to stay here. You have to keep working. Just because you had a great year, are you going to sit there and relax? No. That's not me. I keep improving myself. I like to compete, to get better, and to try new stuff.

Loser: Alberto Callaspo

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    Alberto Callaspo will be an integral piece of the Angels' batting order this season. Although he'll most likely be slated at No. 7 in the lineup, Callaspo will have plenty of opportunities to bring home runs with Hamilton, Trumbo and Kendrick batting Nos. 4-6.

    As for the preseason, in nine games of Cactus League play, Callaspo is batting a treacherous .208 with only one RBI. His on-base percentage is an anemic .269.

    Callaspo's spring training stats would be easier to dismiss if his numbers from last season weren't so marginal. In 138 games, he only hit .252.

    Angels fans will look for Callaspo (in addition to Iannetta and Bourjos) to turn the lineup over to Trout and company with runners on base. If these role players fail to set the table throughout the season, then look for Trout's RBI numbers to be modest in his sophomore season.

Winner: Josh Hamilton

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    Josh Hamilton's departure from the Rangers organization was anything but smooth.

    The left-handed slugger played poorly in the last two months of the season, which mirrored his team's collapse in the standings. With only nine games to play in the 2012 season, the Rangers blew a six-game lead over the Oakland A's in the AL West. In a winner-take-all Wildcard Playoff Game against the Baltimore Orioles, Hamilton went 0-4 and heard boos from the crowd.

    In the offseason, Hamilton criticized Texas fans:

    There are true baseball fans in Texas, but it's not a true baseball town ... They're supportive, but they also got a little spoiled at the same time pretty quickly. You think about three to four years ago (before two straight World Series appearances in 2010 and 2011). It's like, come on man, are you happier there again?"

    At the Angels' spring training facility in Tempe, Arizona, the scene could not be further from how things ended in Texas. Hamilton has been a big hit with Angels fans since the beginning of Cactus League play and made it a point to return the love:

    Best part of spring games is the fans. Thanks for coming out and showing ur support.

    — Josh Hamilton (@thejoshhamilton) February 27, 2013

    Although Hamilton hasn't had the best summer in terms of public relations, the 31-year-old has embraced the change of scenery and has been playing well in the mean time. Hamilton's stock as an Angel is definitely on the upswing.