March 2011

Splitting the Spring


Mark Trumbo led the Angels with six homers in spring training.

 

Hope springs eternal, so in the spring hope is eternal for the fans of thirty major league baseball clubs.

Some tend to take spring training stats as an accurate barometer of what will happen during the regular season. There’s no relationship, of course, between the spring and the subsequent 162-game schedule. In the early weeks, veterans play only a couple innings and focus on shaking out the rust. The late innings of spring games are filled with minor leaguers, and the lineups in some road games feature mostly names that only a Baseball America reader might recognize. And the thin dry Arizona air causes fly balls to carry further.

If anything can be gleaned from spring training stats, it might be in the last two weeks, when veterans play more and major league pitchers throw the bulk of innings.

With that thought in mind, here’s a look at what certain Angels players and prospects did in spring training overall, and within the last two weeks.

Mark Trumbo — Mark was the camp sensation, leading the Angels with six homers. A groin pull on March 16 cost him a couple games, but he was back in the lineup on March 22. Mark’s AVG/OBP/SLG overall were .297/.316/.662. But if you look at his numbers starting with his March 15 game, he hit .226/.250/.548 in 31 at-bats. He had ten strikeouts and walked once. Kendrys Morales will open the season on the disabled list, so Mark will play first base most nights.

Brandon Wood — A one-time top prospect who, if he were a cat, would be on his ninth life, Brandon came into spring with little expectation that he’d be on the Angels’ roster come Opening Day. His overall spring numbers were .242/.286/.530. But March 15 and later, Woody was .333/.412/.800 in 30 at-bats. He had seven strikeouts and three walks. Brandon made the Opening Day roster.

Jeff Mathis — Jeff is another Angel whose career so far has failed to live up to expectations. As an example of how meaningless are spring stats, in 2009 he had a spring line of .340/.429/.717 (53 AB), but in the regular season hit .211/.288/.308. This spring, Matty hit .391/.429/.522 (46 AB); since March 15, it was .440/.481/.600 (25 AB).

Howie Kendrick — In his minor league days, some suggested that Howie might win a batting title some day. By that measure, his career so far has been a disappointment, with a line of .295/.327/.425. In spring 2011, his overall numbers were .364/.413/.439 (66 AB). On/after March 15, his numbers were .361/.390/.472 (36 AB).

Erick Aybar — Nagging injuries and a bad plate approach plummeted Aybar’s 2010 numbers to .253/.306/.330. This spring, overall he’s .317/.359/.417 (60 AB). On/after March 15, he was .333/.394/.467 (30 AB).

Peter Bourjos — The words “Gold Glove” seem to have attached themselves to Pete’s outfield defense, but the question is will he hit enough to justify an every-day spot in the linup? In 2010, he hit .204/.237/.381 (181 AB) in his rookie season. This spring, he hit .364/.471/.564 (55 AB). On/after March 15, Pete hit .400/.514/.700 (30 AB). The Angels will gladly take a high OBP out of Bourjos and put him in the leadoff spot.

Scot Shields Memories


Scot Shields with his mother Ida in the cornfield at the Field of Dreams in July 1998.

 

According to the movie Field of Dreams, the only ballplayers in its cornfield are ghosts, but I met a real live one there.

In July 1998, shortly after I started the FutureAngels.com web site, I made my first road trip to an Angels affiliate — the Cedar Rapids Kernels in Iowa.

While in Cedar Rapids, I planned to make the pilgrimage to Dyersville, where Field of Dreams was filmed on a farm just outside the town. The site welcomes visitors, honoring the adage, “If you build it, they will come.”

I issued an open invitation to the Kernels players to go with me, to bring their jerseys so I could take a photo of them in the cornfield. Reliever Jaymie Bane, the son of future Angels scouting director Eddie Bane, accepted so in the early morning we picked up his jersey and cap at the old Veterans Memorial Stadium and headed off for Dyersville, about a 90-minute drive.

When we arrived, we found Scot Shields and his mother Ida were already there. As a group, we headed out to the cornfield. I took photos of Jaymie in his uniform, then Scot borrowed Jaymie’s jersey and cap to pose as well.

At the time, Scot was considered a non-prospect. He was a rubber-armed reliever scout Tom Kotchman (Casey’s father) spotted pitching for tiny Lincoln Memorial University. The Angels selected him in the 38th round of the June 1997 draft, another in a long line of college seniors Kotch has drafted over the years to bolster the bullpen of his short-season teams. He appeared in 30 of the 76 games the Boise Hawks played that year, finishing with a 2.94 ERA in 52 innings, all in relief.

With the Kernels in 1998, Scot remained in that role, appearing in 58 of their 140 games, posting a 3.65 ERA in 74 innings.

Scot was promoted to Lake Elsinore in the High-A California League to begin the 1999 season, and there was every reason to think he’d remain in the bullpen perfecting his setup reliever specialty. But a rash of injuries to the Storm starting rotation during April forced Scot into the starting rotation by May.

And sent him on a fast track to the big leagues.


Scot Shields (left) being introduced at the 1999 California League – Carolina League All-Star game held in Lake Elsinore.

 

Scot pitched so well that he was named to the California League All-Star team. In nine starts, he had two complete games, including a shutout on July 7 at Stockton. His ERA in those nine starts was 2.08.

I’d just bought a camcorder, primitive by today’s standards, and decided to try it out filming Scot’s July 12 start against Rancho Cucamonga. Click here to watch. (Windows Media Player and a broadband Internet connection required). After that game, Scot was promoted to the Angels’ Double-A affiliate in Erie, Pennsylvania. In ten starts for the SeaWolves, he had a 2.89 ERA with 81 strikeouts in 74 2/3 innings. At season’s end, he was named the Angels’ minor league pitcher of the year.

So confident were the Angels in Scot’s abilities that they moved him up to Triple-A Edmonton for 2000. He finished the year with a 5.41 ERA in 27 starts, but this was the Pacific Coast League where high-octane ERAs are the norm. In 163 innings, Scot struck out 156, which led the PCL and set an Edmonton franchise single-season record.

A trip to Edmonton was beyond my pocketbook, but my wife and I planned a drive up north to intercept the Trappers on a road trip to central California. We saw Scot pitch at Fresno on June 8, then followed the team north to Sacramento.


Scot Shields pitches for Edmonton at Fresno on June 8, 2000.

 

The Angels’ Triple-A affiliation changed to Salt Lake for 2001, so Scot opened the season with the Stingers. He had 24 starts, but got his first major league promotion on May 25 and made his major league debut the next day in his home state at Tampa Bay, with his family in attendance.

In 2002, he returned to Salt Lake and also to the bullpen, as the Angels groomed him for the role he would have during most of his major league career — a rubber-armed reliever who could also spot start. He returned to Anaheim on June 14 and never looked back, playing an important role in the Angels’ world championship season. Scot in 2002 had a 2.20 ERA in 49 innings.

In those early years, there was still some sentiment that the Angels were better off with Scot in the starting rotation, and in 2003 he started 13 games, although after that the Angels kept him exclusively in the bullpen.

Scot announced his retirement on March 18 at age 35. He was only the third Angel with more than ten years of major league service to spend his entire big-league career with the Angels; the other two were Tim Salmon and Gary DiSarcina (the latter appeared briefly in the Red Sox’ minor league system before he retired). Sports Illustrated named Scot the “setup man of the decade” for 2000-2009.

I’ll always remember Scot as an easy-going fan-friendly young man who was a bundle of superstitions and rituals. He had a thing for McDonald’s hamburgers, never with any lettuce or pickles or any other condiments. When Star Wars: The Phantom Menace was released in May 1999, I remember sitting with him on the Lake Elsinore bench talking about the movie. Scot was excited because, “I’ve never seen Star Wars in the theatre before,” only on VHS, and I felt very old because I was part of a generation that never saw the films in first-run other than in a movie theatre. He swore he’d never give an interview until he reached the big leagues; but once he did, Scot was a regular chatterbox on Angels pre-game and post-game interviews.

Hopefully the Angels can find a place for Scot in the organization. He was a major part of Angels history in the 2000s and I can’t imagine him anywhere else other than with a halo on his cap.


Scot Shields pitching in Anaheim on March 30, 2002, the end of spring training.

Mark Trumbo Steps Up to the Plate


Mark Trumbo at fall instructional league in September 2008.

 

Mark Trumbo may be the Rodney Dangerfield of Angels prospects.

Mark has always been on the fringe of Baseball America‘s Top 10 Angels prospects. This year, he ranked #9. In the three years before, he ranked #29, #8 and #11.

In their 2011 review, BA analyst Matt Eddy wrote:

He doesn’t chase offspeed stuff away like he once did, but he swings and misses too much to hit for a high average. Detractors question whether he has the bat speed to hit the very best fastballs.

The more statistically inclined John Sickels of MinorLeagueBall.com wrote in 2010, “Trumbo looks like a guy who will get buried as a minor league slugger,” but this year says, “I still see him as a ‘surprise season’ candidate in the next couple of years, but keep in mind that it is easy to put up gaudy numbers in Salt Lake.”

Having been an occasional observer of Mark’s career since it began in Orem in 2005, I’ve been more enthusiastic about his potential than other analysts. On the FutureAngels.com Top 10 Prospects lists, Mark was #3 in 2008, #7 in 2009 and #6 in 2010.

Everyone learns at a different rate, in baseball as well as everywhere else in life, so many on fan boards over the years have dismissed him as a prospect because he didn’t instantly arrive in the major leagues and hit 40 homers. I think people tend to forget he was profiled more as a pitcher prospect out of high school than a hitter, although his high school hitting numbers were impressive. It was an audition by scouting director Eddie Bane in the spring of 2004 at Angel Stadium that convinced him to draft Trumbo as a hitter, after watching Mark hit some balls into the left-center field fountains. Mark was drafted in the 18th round of the June 2004 draft yet received a $1.425 million bonus, because he was already ticketed for a college education at USC.

Mark is 25 now, a bit old for a top prospect to emerge from the minors, but my observation has been that it’s taken him longer because he tends to want to test and experiment and think things through. In this March 8 MLB.com profile, reporter Lyle Spencer describes Mark as “soft-spoken and analytical,” and writes that Mark is “more focused on fundamental elements — pitch recognition, controlling his aggression, improving his glove and foot work at first base — to dwell on how far balls travel off his bat or how much fear his line drives create for pitchers.”

When I read that passage, I thought, “Yep, that’s Mark.”

I’ve flashed my own cautionary lights about Salt Lake numbers. In the FutureAngels.com Top 10 reports, when I analyze Salt Lake hitters I break out not just their home/away numbers but their numbers in the five Pacific Coast League super-hitter friendly parks (Salt Lake, Albuquerque, Colorado Springs, Las Vegas, Reno) versus the rest of the league, which shows a more accurate picture of the hitter’s performance.

Trumbo’s 2010 numbers:

OVERALL AVG/OBP/SLG: .301/.368/.577 (595 TPA)
HITTER-FRIENDLY AVG/OBP/SLG: .334/.403/.614 (395 TPA)
NEUTRAL/PITCHER-FRIENDLY AVG/OBP/SLG: .236/.300/.505 (200 TPA)

The batting average number dropped significantly in the neutral/pitcher-friendly parks, but the slugging percentage was still more than respectable.

Mark is the “hit,” so to speak, of spring training. His AVG/OBP/SLG in 27 at-bats are .370/.393/.815 with three homers and three doubles. Spring training numbers are meaningless, especially early in the month when pitchers have yet to round into shape, and many of the pitchers are actually minor leaguers filling the back-end of a nine-inning game.

Yet he’s in the spotlight now because it appears that Kendry Morales probably won’t be fit enough to open the season at first base from the Angels. Kendry is still recovering from his broken leg and has yet to run on the field. A March 5 Orange County Register article quoted manager Mike Scioscia as saying it’s possible for Morales to open with the Angels, but the article notes that Kendry still runs in harness on a treadmill to carry some of his weight while running. That’s not a good sign less than a month before Opening Day on March 31.

So the door appears wide open for Trumbo to fulfill a lifelong dream and play first base for the Angels to start 2011. If and when Morales is ready, Mark probably returns to Salt Lake. The Angels have exposed him to right field the last two seasons, and it seems logical to play him in the corner outfield positions as much as possible to groom him as a backup for Vernon Wells and Torii Hunter. Along with Morales, those are three very large road blocks for Mark’s career, but one never knows when an opportunity will present itself — such as Kendry breaking his leg celebrating on home plate after a grand-slam.

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