May 2007

What Mickey Hatcher Really Does

If your sole source of information was the uninformed posts on various fan boards, you’d think that all Angels hitting coach Mickey Hatcher does is tell his batters to swing — excuse me, “hack” — at every single pitch, no matter how bad it is.

Thank goodness for the Fourth Estate, which more often than not does its homework and tries to inform those who wish to learn.

Angels beat writer Matt Hurst of the Riverside Press-Enterprise published an article today about slumping Shea Hillenbrand. He wrote that Hatcher discovered a flaw in Shea’s mechanics:

Hatcher went through dozens of tapes, going as far back as 2001 when Hillenbrand was with Boston, to find the flaw in his stride that Hillenbrand described as "in my setup, I wasn’t balanced."

That has led to a situation where "at times he’s defensive and at times he’s swinging at pitchers’ pitches and getting himself out," Scioscia said.

That’s what a major league hitting coach does. He’s not the same as your Little League coach who put the ball on a tee and told you to swing at it. Minor league players are taught to be their own hitting coaches, to understand their mechanics and know how to correct them. That’s so when they get to the big leagues, they know what to look for when they hit a slump and can work with the hitting coach to detect the flaw and correct it.

Major league batters are not told what pitches to swing at (unless a play is on, e.g. a hit-and-run); instead, they go to the plate looking for a particular pitch they know they can drive. That’s why you’ll sometimes see a batter take a fastball down the middle for a called third strike, because he was looking for something else.

Yet no matter how often I say this, I read people calling for "Mickey Hacker" to be fired because they’ve convinced themselves he orders the batters to swing at bad pitches.

Thankfully, the Angels have people in charge who know better.

Triples Hitters

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It’s time for another poll.

Who will lead the Angels minor leagues in triples this year?

The options are to the right.

The results of the last poll … Who will lead the Angels minor leagues in home runs this year?

  • Jordan Renz 19%
  • Sean Rodriguez 18%
  • Brandon Wood 18%
  • Hank Conger 12%
  • Terry Evans 12%
  • Chris Pettit 11%
  • Nick Gorneault 5%
  • Kendry Morales 5%

There were 136 votes cast.

Atkins Mania

In Sunday’s Los Angeles Times, beat writer Mike DiGiovanna recycled his winter rumor that the Angels are trying to acquire third baseman Garrett Atkins from the Colorado Rockies.

Naturally, this has the fan boards in a tizzy, but I just thought I’d be the sober driver (as usual) and point out Atkins’ career home/away splits as evidence he’s a figment of Coors Field’s mile-high imagination:

HOME AVG/OBP/SLG: .326/.390/.519 (.909 OPS)
AWAY AVG/OBP/SLG: .274/.353/.428 (.781 OPS)

Hardly worth backing up a truckload of top prospects, now, is he?

Although in all fairness I’ll post his 2006 numbers which are much more balanced:

HOME AVG/OBP/SLG: .346/.416/.583 (.999 OPS)
AWAY AVG/OBP/SLG: .313/.402/.531 (.933 OPS)

Year-to-date in 2007, however, he’s been mediocre no matter where he’s playing:

HOME AVG/OBP/SLG: .291/.350/.418 (.768 OPS)
AWAY AVG/OBP/SLG: .250/.356/.383 (.739 OPS)

One month does not a season make, but the long-term career numbers suggest a bit more sobriety before assuming he’ll replicate Coors Field at Angels Stadium.

Trade Talk


Bartolo Colon just returned to the Angels after a rehab stint with the Quakes and Bees.

I’m not one to give much credence to trade rumors, because 99% of the time they’re wrong. Nor am I one who believes in making a trade just to make a trade — or, as the instant gratification crowd put it, "DO SOMETHING!!"

Nonetheless, with yet another injury decimating the Angels’ offense, we may be approaching the point where the Angels will need to explore a mid-season trade that will also help the team in the long run.

With Juan Rivera out until at least the second half due to a broken leg, Garret Anderson out four to six weeks, Howie Kendrick out due to a broken hand and DH Shea Hillenbrand ineffective (possibly due to a lingering groin injury), the Angels’ depth is starting to strain. Reggie Willits has a pea-shooter bat that mitigates his .463 OBP; Mike Scioscia moved him into the leadoff slot and dropped Gary Matthews into the #3 hole ahead of Vlad Guerrero, but the Angels need production behind Vladi. Casey Kotchman, who missed most of 2006 due to mononucleosis, is mired in a 6-for-39 slump over the last 12 games with only a single in his last five games.

If you’re looking for an internal solution from Triple-A, it might surprise you to find out that the guy with the top batting average (.378), on-base percentage (.485) and slugging percentage (.598) at Salt Lake is … CF Nathan Haynes. Nathan was a one-time prospect cut in the mold of Willits and Chone Figgins. Now at age 27 (he turns 28 in September), he’s trying to resurrect his career after a stint in independent ball. His career minor league SLG coming into 2007 was .378.

The Angels have plenty of pitching, which is the coin of the realm in the baseball kingdom. And one intriguing matchup is with the New York Yankees, who are suffering mightily right now from a general absence of quality starting pitching.

Top pitching prospect Phil Hughes was rushed to the majors, only to go on the disabled list with a strained left hamstring. Starter Carl Pavano seems likely to undergo season-ending "Tommy John" surgery. Mike Mussina and Kei Igawa have been ineffective.

The Yankees have the top OPS in the A.L. (.796) and the second-best slugging percentage (.436). But their team ERA (4.91) is 11th in the 14-team A.L..

So who could the Angels dangle to get a bat from the Yankees?

If I were the GM, I’d offer Bartolo Colon. The 2005 Cy Young Award winner is coming off the D.L. after recovering from a labrum tear last year, and appears to once again be effective. Although he’s a free agent at the end of 2007, he’s just the sort of "marquee" player that appeals to Yankees owner George Steinbrenner.

Who would I seek in return?

Of course, some people will instantly scream "A-ROD!!" just as they did all winter, ignoring the reality that Alex Rodriguez has a no-trade clause which he has repeatedly stated he won’t waive. Rodriguez has the option to walk from his contract at season’s end, so if A-Rod were off to a mediocre start then a Colon-for-Rodriguez swap might be the foundation of a trade if Alex were willing to waive his no-trade clause. But he’s off to a historic start at the plate, Yankees fans for the moment have embraced him, so Steinbrenner would skinny-dip in the Hudson River before he’d trade A-Rod.

The guy I’d look at is Bobby Abreu. He’s off to a mediocre start — an AVG/OBP/SLG of .252/.338/.304 — but in his 58 games for the Yankees after being acquired from the Phillies his numbers were .330/.419/.507. His 2007 salary is $15.6 million, which might appeal to Steinbrenner in exchange for taking on the risk of Colon’s shoulder and free agency.

According to ESPN.com, Abreu has a no-trade clause and an option to extend his contract through 2008 for $16 million. The July 30, 2006 article indicates that Abreu would have waived his no-trade clause for a deal with the Angels.

Abreu suffered a right oblique injury during spring training that might explain his slow start. A career right-fielder, he could relieve Vladi and the rest of the time play left field. When Anderson returns, Garret could ease into the DH role and Hillenbrand goes to the bench. (Keep in mind that Shea was signed only as an emergency after Rivera broke his leg.)

A left-handed hitter with decent power, speed and a career .411 OBP, he would seem to be the perfect bat to back-up Guerrero in the lineup.

Okay, now let’s think a little harder about this.

Who will play right field for the Yankees if Abreu departs? I don’t know the Yankees’ system, but taking a quick glance at the depth chart on the Yankees’ web site it looks like Hideki Matsui would play LF, Johnny Damon in CF and Miguel Cabrera could handle RF.

As for the Angels, replacing Bartolo Colon just means recalling Joe Saunders from Salt Lake.

It’s a trade idea with risk on both sides, but I just toss it out there as something to talk about.

UPDATE May 6, 2007 6:15 AM PDT — Mike DiGiovanna of the Los Angeles Times kicks in his own trade rumors.

Among the players the Angels are believed to be interested in are Colorado third baseman Garrett Atkins and outfielders Brad Hawpe and Jeff Baker, outfielders Kevin Mench (Milwaukee), Jacque Jones (Chicago Cubs), Pat Burrell (Philadelphia) and Emil Brown (Kansas City), and third basemen Morgan Ensberg (Houston) and Edwin Encarnacion (Cincinnati).

DiGiovanna suggests dangling Ervin Santana as a bargaining chip.

Angels’ Loss, Quakes’ Gain


Garret Anderson on a rehab assignment with Rancho Cucamonga in June 2004.

One nice thing about being 45 miles up the road from the parent club is that you get most of the rehab projects.

The Quakes already benefitted this year from two rehab starts apiece by Bartolo Colon and Jered Weaver. Rancho Cucamonga won all four games. The Quakes are currently 16-13, a half-game out of first place in the California League’s South Division. Without Colon and Weaver … who knows.

Rancho’s offense is the worst in the league, with a .227 batting average and only 104 runs scored in 29 games. That’s 3.6 runs a game. They’ve made up for it by running the bases, leading the league with 48 bags. Rancho has only 12 homers, which is 9th in the league. Who’s worse? San Jose, but don’t grieve — they’re 20-9, and in first place in the North Division.

As you might suspect, Rancho and San Jose are the league’s best pitching staffs. The Quakes’ team ERA is 3.13, and San Jose’s is 3.26. Factor out Colon and Weaver, and the Quakes team ERA is 3.28, which is still pretty good.

The Cal League plays a split-season schedule, two halves of 70 games each. The first half ends on June 16.

Just as the Quakes hit the home stretch for the first half, they should see some offensive help arrive — but it won’t be from Cedar Rapids.

The Angels’ Garret Anderson went on the disabled list yesterday with a torn right hip flexor tendon. According to various media reports, he’ll be out four to six weeks. Assuming he’ll need a few rehab swings, that should put him in Rancho in early June.

Howie Kendrick, suffering from a broken left hand, might be about ready for a rehab around the same time. And Juan Rivera, who suffered a broken leg playing winter ball in Venezuela, could be ready for rehab around that time too.

Angels broadcaster Rex Hudler likes to quote former teammate Chili Davis who is alleged to have said, "If you’re not cheatin’, you’re not tryin’." For the Quakes, winning a post-season slot using rehabbing major leaguers might not be fair, but I doubt anyone in Rancho will complain.

Reality Intrudes


Howie Kendrick, Jered Weaver and Anderson Rosario play "flip" before a 2005 Quakes game.

St. Louis Cardinals pitcher Josh Hancock was killed in a traffic accident early on April 29 when his SUV slammed into the back of a tow truck. A police official said Friday that Hancock was driving intoxicated, and marijuana was found within his vehicle.

It’s amazing this doesn’t happen more often.

Players are bred to compete. Life is a series of zero-sum contests, testing themselves against any challenge.

It may be as simple as playing cards in the clubhouse before the game. Or it might be a game of "flip" in which players gather in a circle and flip a baseball to each other without allowing it to fall to the ground. Drop it, and you’re out.

But sometimes the competitive streak turns ugly, as players compete against their own bodies.

An obvious example is when they try to play through pain. If they only concentrate hard enough, they can beat the pain and continue to perform. Could someone else do better? Maybe, but they don’t want to accept that, so they play through the pain.

But players often try to prove to themselves that they can defeat the effects of alcohol or other mind-altering substances.

Every organization has minor league players who get involved in drunk driving arrests or accidents, or other off-field incidents. Most of the time, fans never hear about it because it’s swept under the rug. If you’re just an organization player filling out a roster, you might get suspended or even released. If you’re a top prospect who got a huge signing bonus, a different standard will most likely apply as your employer isn’t likely to flush a multi-million dollar investment for the sake of principle — which, of course, the player realizes and therefore he thinks he can get away with it. Which he probably will.

Bobby Jenks is a prime example. Angels management dealt with one incident after another. Jenks himself chronicled his misdeeds for ESPN: The Magazine — drinking binges, brawls with teammates, suspensions. Nonetheless, the Angels kept him until they finally moved him off the 40-man roster in December 2004 to make room for free-agent signees. The White Sox claimed him on waivers, and ten months later he was on the mound when Chicago won the World Series. That moment of glory aside, his major league career has been sporadically brilliant but largely inconsistent.

Some fans gripe that the Angels didn’t hold onto Jenks forever hoping that one day he’d get his head together, but Jenks himself has told the press that being left unprotected by the Angels was a wakeup call. Whether that sticks, well, it’s the White Sox’ problem now. But he also has a wife and children who will suffer if he falls hard.

The Angels have been lucky. None of the minor leaguers involved in off-field incidents in recent years has lost his life. But it’s only a matter of time.

The best way to keep it from happening is for players to discipline themselves. And when that isn’t enough, those around them — coaches, host parents, loved ones — need to intervene.

UPDATE May 6, 2007 9:00 AM PDT — Columnist J.A. Adande of the Los Angeles Times observes that Cardinals Manager Tony LaRussa’s drunk driving arrest during spring training may have set a precedent that led to Josh Hancock’s death.

Deep Depth


Reggie Willits began his professional career in 2003 with the Provo Angels.

It’s a familiar refrain on Angels fan bulletin boards.

Depth is bad.

Why have more than one prospect at a position, goes the illogic. Trade everybody else for an aging "name" veteran whose future performance is "guaranteed."

The last time I checked, nothing on Planet Earth is guaranteed.

That fact of reality aside, proposed "fan" trades are usually a variation of something like this — Nick Adenhart, Brandon Wood, Casey Kotchman, Jeff Mathis and "whatever it takes" to get Manny Ramirez, Mike Sweeney or Randy Johnson.

Angels GM Bill Stoneman has managed so far to avoid this helpful advice — and it’s the reason the Angels have remained competitive in 2007.

Whether it’s the Angels Curse or just a streak of statistically improbable mishaps, it seems that every year the Angels have to survive a number of injuries that test their ability to stay afloat.

Coming out of spring training, the Angels were short two starting pitchers. Bartolo Colon was recovering from a labrum tear, and Jered Weaver was set back by tendonitis. For most teams, losing a Colon and a Weaver would be a devastating setback. But for the Angels, no problem, because Stoneman didn’t trade Joe Saunders a couple years ago when some claimed he was a "wasted" draft pick because he suffered a labrum injury early in his career. Stoneman also had Dustin Moseley, acquired in December 2004 in a trade for Ramon Ortiz. Moseley might have blossomed earlier if not for his own injuries the last couple years.

These few complaining fans claim that Stoneman never makes trades, yet Ortiz for Moseley is just one successful example that he does.

The fact of the matter is that he doesn’t make a trade just to get in the headlines. He makes trades when he thinks it will make the Angels better.

Among his other trades are:

  • Mo Vaughn for Kevin Appier
  • Brian Cooper for Brad Fullmer
  • Kimera Bartee for Chone Figgins
  • Jose Guillen for Juan Rivera and Maicer Izturis

Not every trade has turned out on balance in the Angels’ favor — I happen to be one of the few people who thinks Jim Edmonds for Adam Kennedy and Kent Bottenfield was okay because the Angels got the best defensive second baseman in the A.L. for seven years — but no GM can claim a 100% "guaranteed" track record.

True, Stoneman has never orchestrated one of those four-team trades involving seventeen players that Billy Beane makes, which make some fans swoon in ecstasy. But no one seems to ask whether those trades ever actually make a positive impact in the long run.

After his playing career and before he returned to baseball in the Montreal front office, Stoneman was a banking industry executive. If you look at how he runs the Angels from that perspective, you realize he understands the importance of saving your assets. You can save a little money each week in case of a future disaster, or you can blow it all on a drunken binge weekend in Las Vegas. I suspect his critics would choose the latter option, but Stoneman patiently chooses the former, and now it’s paying off.

So as Colon, Weaver, Figgins, Juan Rivera, Dallas McPherson, Howie Kendrick, Kelvim Escobar, Shea Hillenbrand, Maicer Izturis, Garret Anderson and Vlad Guerrero have either gone on the disabled list or at least sat out a few games due to injury, the Angels have gone to the well and are currently in first place in the A.L. West.

I think most rational people agree Brandon Wood should be in Triple-A, but he’s in Anaheim now only because first Izturis and now Erick Aybar are playing regularly. Robb Quinlan, another potential 3B, has been in left field due to Anderson’s hip injury.

Reggie Willits, who’s never had any power in the minors, has brought to the big leagues his high-OBP game of singles and walks. (Funny how those same critics claim the Angels disdain high OBP, yet there’s Willits.)

If Stoneman had pulled one of those "flush the farm" trades that show up on fan boards, the Angels would be in a world of hurt right now. Literally. And metaphorically.

FutureAngels.com Radio Podcast — Episode 8


Orem Owlz manager Tom Kotchman spends his springs scouting for the Angels in Florida.

A new episode of FutureAngels.com Radio is now on-line. You can get to the show through the FutureAngels.com home page at www.futureangels.com.

You don’t need an iPod to listen, although if you have one you can download the show, of course. All you really need is just a computer. When you get to the TPS Radio page, just click on the right-arrow next to the sound icon and it’ll start to stream to your computer. You can also transfer the show to your computer as an MP3 file.

Personally, I think this is the best show yet.

The first segment is an interview with Paul Mosley, an original "future Angel" who was signed by the Angels out of Saugus High School in June 1961 at age 17. He was sent straight to Statesville, North Carolina, to play for the Angels’ Class-D team, the Statesville Owls. Paul has some amazing stories to tell, including how the Statesville front office literally set fire to the infield to dry it out.

How I found Paul is a story in itself … If you’ve followed the podcasts and the web site, you know I’ve been doing research into the early days of Angels minor league baseball. A colleague of Paul’s stumbled across the site as he did research looking for Statesville Owls memorabilia. He wanted to know if I had any suggestions.

I pointed him in the direction of Bill Moose, the local historian and SABR member who’d been so gracious in researching the town paper last year. (It helps that he’s a columnist for the paper.) Bill knew someone in town who had kept Owls memorabilia.

Then I asked if he might arrange for me to interview Paul.

Quite honestly, Paul was absolutely stunned that anyone even remembered the Statesville Owls, much less cared to research them.

A flood of memories emerged from his past. Mind you, this was 46 years ago.

(I can’t even remember whether I brushed my teeth last night.)

Until Monday, my research into the Owls had yielded just stats on a page, and clippings from a town paper.

And now … here’s one of them.

Paul talks casually about his teammates, bringing them alive as real people. I knew the names from the clippings, but not their personalities, their life histories, and their experiences in Statesville.

The Statesville Owls live.

We’re going to try to track down more of them. Who knows, maybe a reunion is in the future.

The second segment in the show is an interview with Orem Owlz manager Tom Kotchman, who’s currently scouting Florida in preparation for the June draft. He was quite tired, as this time of year he logs hundreds of miles every day traversing the state. Kotch had a great story to tell about who he thinks is the best high school hitter in the state … and why that player won’t be drafted in June.

The third segment is an interview with Quakes manager Bobby Mitchell. Recently on the FutureAngels.com Bulletin Board, someone claimed the Angels teach their minor leaguers to "hack." So I put the question directly to Mitchell, who of course debunked it. It’s fascinating how some people on fan boards dream up these fantasies then latch onto them as if they’re real.

And the final segment is a review of the last month for the Quakes and the Cedar Rapids Kernels.

Anyway, go listen to Paul Mosley. What an incredible story.

Home Run Hitters

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It’s time for another poll.

Who will lead the Angels minor leagues in home runs this year?

The options are to the right.

The results of the last poll … Who is the top left-handed starting pitcher prospect in the Angels system?

  • Kelly Shearer 48%
  • Gustavo Espinoza 19%
  • Barret Browning 10%
  • Daniel Davidson 10%
  • Phil Seibel 8%
  • Alexander Torres 4%

There were 181 votes cast.

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