Opening Day is now upon us! I can’t wait for the Angels to get their season off and running tomorrow. I am pretty encouraged from the numbers that the Halos have put up from this year’s Spring Training. The thing I was most impressed with was their offensive efficiency. We had been accustomed to seeing the Angels put up 10+ hits in a given game and only manufacture 2, maybe 3 runs a contest. This spring, the Angels put together a league-best record of 26-8, manufacturing, just under 8 runs per game and scoring double digit runs in 10 contests. For a player breakdown, here are some of the players who have impressed me this spring, as well as those who left something to be desired from them.
Kendry Morales – 1B – Spring Stat Line: 85 ABs/.400 avg./3 HR/17 RBI/11 2B/2 3B/18 R
After the Halos lost first baseman Mark Teixeira and his fat contract in free agency to the big-name free agent black hole that is the New York Yankees, Kendry Morales now had his shot to step in as an everyday first baseman. He had been playing behind Casey Kotchman and Teixeira, leaving him virtually no shot at getting an everyday starting role until now. Kotch got sent to the Braves in the Teixeira mid-season rental deal and now Tex is off getting millions in NYC, but Kendry had put together an impressive spring to where Halo fans may feel just fine with Morales over Big Tex. He is a fine, young talent at only 25 years of age, and hits for power from both sides of the dish, something you don’t come across to often. I’m looking for KMo to show the baseball world the talent and promise that the Halos have seen all along. Heck, Mike Scoscia even said, “If we’re wrong on this guy, then it will be the worst miss we’ve ever had here.”
Erick Aybar – SS – Spring Stat Line: 54 ABs/.407 avg./3 HR/11 RBI/3 3B/15 R/5 SB
We all remember how the Angels got eliminated from the postseason last year. The botched suicide attempt. …Yeah let’s just move on from that. That’s been Erick Aybar’s mentality, and the stats don’t lie. The kid’s been doing great at the plate and has as much range in the field as any shortstop I’ve ever seen. Aybar lobbied for the starting job last year with the versatile Maicer Izturis, and that would be the case again heading in to Opening Day. We will have to wait and see tomorrow night whether or not Erick or Maicer will get the nod at short for the season opener, but Aybar made a strong case for manager Mike Scioscia to give him the job off the bat.
Jeff Mathis – C – Spring Stat Line: 53 ABs/.340 avg./4 HR/13 RBI/6 2B/14 R
Mathis, to put it lightly, has struggled mightily with the bat in his big league appearances. Mathis and the word “strikeout” have pretty much gone hand-in-hand whenever he’s been at the dish for the Halos. However, Mathis calls a great game, and last year, compared to Mike Napoli’s starts, Mathis would allow one whole run fewer than Napoli. This means, say Napoli’s pitchers had an ERA of 4 whenever he starts at catcher, that means that Mathis’s pitchers would have an ERA of 3 on his starts. Coming from a catcher himself, Halos’ skipper Mike Scioscia said, “If you string out 162 games, and you have one catcher who’s giving up one run a game less. As net runs go, he’s 162 runs ahead. There’s a defensive aspect of catching we pay a lot of attention to. I think a catcher will influence a game more with his defense than he will with his four at-bats.” Now that Mathis is hitting (go figure), and Nap had a down spring, (.179 average, striking out nearly once every three at-bats) I’m hoping that Mathis will get the opening day job, but Scioscia loved platooning the two in for one another last year. Hopefully it can just be one guy this year, but we’ll have to see how the season unfolds for both Jeff and Nap.
Other solid springs:
Brandon Wood – SS/3B – Spring Stat Line: 59 ABs/.322 avg/4 HR/13 RBI/5 2B/14 R
Played solid defense at third and short this spring, and like Mathis, had always seemed to have trouble with the bat at the big league level. Hit very well over the course of this spring training, but did not make the Opening Day 25-Man roster.
Howie Kendrick – 2B – Spring Stat Line: 62 ABs/.339 avg/2 HR/13 RBI/4 2B/15 R
One of the most gifted hitters to ever come through the Halos’ farm system, Kendrick continues to produce. Kendrick played well last year, hitting .306 with 26 doubles in 92 games, but injuries haven’t allowed him to play more than 100 games in a season since he’s been given the starting role at second.
Chone Figgins – 3B/utility – Spring Stat Line: 71 ABs/.380 avg./1 HR/10 RBI/2 3B/17 R/9 SB
Still one of the biggest threats on the basepaths in all of the Major Leagues, Figgy is still getting it done. He plays sensational defense anywhere on the field, whether it be at third, second, or in the outfield, and just has a knack of “hitting it where they ain’t.” Chone should be getting the Opening Day start at third, as he has the past few years.
Is that all you got?
Juan Rivera – OF – Spring Stat Line: 61 ABs/.230 avg./1 HR/12 RBI/3 2B/6 R
Come on now, you’re telling me a big guy like Juan Rivera slugs the same amounts of home runs in Spring Training as Chone Figgins? Sweet lord, Juan, we all know you can do better than that. Juan is still a guy with a cannon arm in the outfield, but it remains uncertain if he or Vlad will hold down the DH spot. If Juan can get a full season of hitting under his belt, he may be able to replicate and eclipse his impressive ’06 numbers (.310 avg./23 HR/85 RBI/27 2B in 124 games).
Mike Napoli – C – Spring Stat Line: 39 ABs/.179 avg/3 HR/9 RBI/1 2B/8 R
Nap has never been one to hit for a high average. He just blasts those long bombs from time-to-time. Not as good of a defensive catcher as Mathis, but certainly has had the edge on Jeff with the bat. Last year, Napoli hit .273 with 20 homers, whereas Mathis hit a dismal .194 with 9 homers in 16 more starts than Napoli. We all know the power is there, and Nap had as good of an eye at the plate as anyone in the line-up last year with the 2-month exception of Mark Teixeira, it just all depends on Scioscia’s grand scheme of things when it comes to divvying up starts between Mathis and Napoli.
Gary Matthews Jr. – OF – Spring Stat Line: 41 ABs/.244 avg/2 HR/12 RBI/2 2B/8 R
Always has been lauded for his defense, but ever since his one all-star year in Texas (which inclined the Halos to offer him a 5-year, $50 million contract), he has not done so hot with the stick. This spring is no exception. Now in the third year of that ridiculously fat contract, and $33 million still to be paid to the order of Mr. Matthews, things looked bleak for the former Gold Glover as he was given permission to leave camp for a day. Matthews said he was not told he was being traded, but Mike Scioscia said of the whole situation, “Gary has made it clear to us that he wants to play every day, but right now, that’s not where we’re at.” If he’s in the Opening Day plans, God help us all.
It’s been a great Spring Training for the Halos, but now it’s time to move on to the season that counts.
The Halos open tomorrow against the division rival Oakland Athletics at 6:05 Pacific time at the Big A.
Tomorrow’s probables are:
A’s: Dallas Braden – last year’s record: 5-4/4.14 ERA/19 games, 10 starts
Angels: Joe Saunders – ’08 All-Star selection – last year’s record: 17-7/3.41 ERA/31 games, 31 starts/1 CG