August 2008

Big Bats


Brandon Wood’s batting stance in April 2007. Angels coaches have lowered the position of his hands to improve his plate coverage.

Several “big bats” are enjoying notable seasons in the Angels farm system. At one time or another, they’ve all been dismissed by those who think a line of stats is all you need to know about a player’s potential.

Brandon Wood, who was the #1 prospect on last November’s FutureAngels.com Top 10 Prospects report, has labored all year to change his mechanics. The Angels coaches have lowered his hands in his batting stance to help his bat cover more of the plate. Brandon has also worked on his pitch selection, and not trying to hit home runs.

Wood started showing results in July. For the month, his AVG/OBP/SLG were .355/.439/.738. He hit 11 homers, six doubles and a triple in 29 games. His SO:AB ratio is still somewhat horrific — in July, he struck out once every 4.3 at-bats in July — but he took 16 walks, compared to 12 in the first three months.

I’ve preached many times that PCL numbers need to be evaluated in context. Salt Lake, Las Vegas, Tucson, Albuquerque and Colorado Springs are all super-hitter friendly. In that context, three of Wood’s July homers were in Las Vegas, the rest were at home in Salt Lake.

Maicer Izturis may go on the disabled list, so if he does then either Brandon or Sean Rodriguez are the likely candidates for a callup to replace him.

Speaking of which … Sean hit his 20th homer last night. His overall AVG/OBP/SLG are .307/.402/.654, but away from hitter-friendly Franklin Covey Field his numbers are .250/.364/.516.

Mark Trumbo has been in Double-A for a week and has shown no signs so far of struggling. He’s 11 for 25 with three homers and two doubles. Only seven of his ABs were strikeouts, but he’s yet to walk.

Trumbo is another hitter who’s tinkering with his mechanics. I interviewed Mark on July 13, and we talked about how he’d adjusted his mechanics to improve his swing. Click Here to lisen to the interview. (Windows Media Player required.) One overlooked positive is that several homers have been to the opposite field. Once the season is over and I write the next Top 10 list, I’ll go through the game logs to figure out his homer spray chart, but anecdotally it’s a positive I’ve noticed and so has Mark.

For the season, Trumbo has 29 homers — 26 with Rancho Cucamonga, and three in the last week for the Travelers. He projects to finish with about 35 dingers for the year, which I believe would be the most for an Angels minor leaguer since Wood hit 43 for the Quakes in 2005.

Dallas McPherson hit 40 in 2003 between Rancho Cucamonga and Arkansas, but his back injuries derailed his career. Dallas took his free agency last winter and signed with the Florida Marlins, who assigned him to Triple-A Albuquerque. McPherson has 39 homers for the Isotopes, but as warned above you need to consider the context of playing in a ballpark at an altitude of about 5,300 feet. At home, his AVG/OBP/SLG are .332/.421/.804, while on the road they’re .256/.395/.538. Two-thirds of his homers have been at home. Overall, he strikes out once every 2.75 ABs. I wish Dallas all the good luck in the world after what he’s suffered, but his road numbers and his strikeout rate are a bit sobering.

Hank Conger is back behind the plate after missing two months due to a slight labrum tear in his throwing shoulder. Some predicted on fan boards that Conger would never catch again, but that turned out to be wrong. He caught on June 13 but bruised a thumb warming up a pitcher in the bullpen so he was unable to catch until about a week ago. In the last week, Hank has caught three games, none consecutive, DH’ing the rest of the time.

Hank’s AVG/OBP/SLG are .294/.325/.506. In 180 AB, he’s hit 8 HR. Five came in a two-game spurt July 16-17 at home against High Desert. Rancho used to be considered one of the more neutral parks in the league, but now the sentiment seems to be that for whatever reason it’s a bit more hitter-friendly. His home numbers are .355/.393/.697, on the road they’re .250/.273/.365.

This is the time of year to start thinking about Arizona Fall League, the MLB-operated six-week circuit in Phoenix originally intended to give top prospects a bit more seasoning before attempting to make a big-league roster next spring. It doesn’t quite work that way any more. Some teams will send players who missed a good part of the year with an injury, a good utility player, or a catcher who can handle a pitching staff although he can’t hit very well.

AFL rules state the players must be on Triple-A or Double-A rosters, although organizations may send one Advanced-A player. If a parent club asks a player to go, they can refuse, although it’s certainly a showcase and can get a player some endorsement contracts as well as a higher profile within the industry.

Just my guessing, but I suspect Mark Trumbo will be asked to go. Chris Pettit would be another likely candidate; 2007’s organization player of the year missed the first half with a broken foot and needs ABs. Hank Conger could be the Advanced-A player to go, although he could protect his shoulder by playing in the fall instructional league at Tempe Diablo, a more controlled environment where games are played to teach and not necessarily to win.

Brad Coon, out since June 8 with a broken hand, is currently playing in rehab games with Tempe and could be another AFL candidate. Coon fits into the Angels’ “Contactball” style of play — low strikeout rate, speed, an emphasis on putting the ball in play rather than taking walks. His AVG/OBP/SLG with Salt Lake were .306/.403/.370.

Which pitchers to send is always a delicate matter, since it’s risky to send very young arms that have already racked up a lot of innings. I’d like to see Bees right-hander Giancarlo Alvarado get to go. The Angels signed him last spring after a recommendation by former first baseman Eduardo Perez. Alvarado is 30 years old but he’s averaging a strikeout an inning with the Bees, mostly as a starter. Away from hitter-friendly Salt Lake, his ERA is 3.17 with an average against of .216. He could be a sleeper candidate for the Angels’ 2009 bullpen.

Anyway, off to do other things …

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