Spring Training Checkpoint — Part 1

We’re about one-third of the way through major league spring training camp, so let’s review where things stand with decisions affecting prospects.

Casey Kotchman will be at the bat many times this year if his health holds up.

FIRST BASE — Casey Kotchman hit a monster homer today to right field, and it’s starting to look like he’ll have a lock on the job come Opening Night. Kendry Morales hasn’t embarrassed himself either, but he still has work to do in the minors. Let’s not forget that Kendry has been playing pro ball for only a year and a half. If Casey nails the first base position, I wouldn’t be surprised if Kendry is moved at Triple-A Salt Lake to a corner outfield position this year to give him more versatility with the parent club when he finally arrives.

SECOND BASE — Howie Kendrick today muffed a grounder up the middle in the top of the 1st but otherwise has shown he’s capable of playing a major league second base. Offensively, he ended the day with a .500 average.

SHORTSTOP — Orlando Cabrera isn’t going anywhere. Maicer Izturis will be the utility infielder, with Erick Aybar being given every opportunity to make the club as well as a second utility player. It’s more likely that Erick will return to Salt Lake and play shortstop, with the center field idea shelved unless Arte Moreno somehow succeeds in banishing Gary Matthews Jr.

THIRD BASE — It’ll be Chone Figgins unless something goes bad. Brandon Wood twisted an ankle last week when he stepped on a bat in foul territory, but he returned to action today in the split-squad game at Surprise against the Rangers. Matt Brown has impressed in limited opportunities, but it looks like he’ll return to Double-A Arkansas with Wood playing 3B in Salt Lake.

LEFT FIELD — Garret Anderson looks healthy. He stole a base today in his first at-bat, showing last year’s foot injury is long gone.

Once a shortstop, Tommy Murphy could make the parent club roster as a spare outfielder.

CENTER FIELD — Gary Matthews Jr. hasn’t posted impressive numbers, but it’s foolish to judge veterans players by the first ten days of spring training. As we all know, he’s being pressured by his employer to give public testimony about his alleged ordering of human growth hormone in August 2004, testimony that could be used against him in court. Moreno brought in Commissioner Bud Selig yesterday as backup, and at the top of today’s telecast the Angels broadcasters (no doubt under orders) urged Matthews to tell all. Although his lawyers have told him he can’t force Matthews to compromise his rights, Moreno seems to be looking for a way to do so. One option not mentioned in print is to banish Matthews to the minors, which is unlikely but it shouldn’t be dismissed. If something happens to Matthews, then Tommy Murphy or Reggie Willitts would be the leading candidates. One of them will probably make the parent club as a reserve outfielder.

RIGHT FIELD — Vlad Guerrero looks fully recovered from last year’s nagging injuries. Of course, if anything catastrophic happened to Vladi then the Angels would be seriously hosed. With no ETA for Juan Rivera’s recovery, the Angels might want to think about giving Kendry Morales playing time at RF in Salt Lake, but there’s no sign that move is imminent. Veteran outfielder Curtis Pride saw some RF time in today’s game and would be the likely callup, although Murphy and Willitts have also seen RF time in the minors.

CATCHER — The three-way duel for two jobs continues between Jose Molina, Mike Napoli and Jeff Mathis. Molina is a lock unless he gets hurt. Mathis has been the better defender so far, but Napoli has been the better hitter. My guess is Napoli gets the edge unless Mathis comes on strong this month and Napoli tanks.

STARTING ROTATION — John Lackey, Kelvim Escobar, and Ervin Santana are all progressing as expected, although Lackey missed a start due to strep throat and Santana pitched with a neck strain in his last night. Bartolo Colon is rehabbing faster than anticipated, although he’s still only throwing fastballs in bullpen sessions. Jered Weaver is doing the same, although he’s expected to be ready sooner. Joe Saunders will be in the rotation until both of those guys are ready and then return to Triple-A, with Hector Carrasco the probable spot starter. Looking ahead at potential rehab starts in April, Salt Lake is at home April 5-12, then in Las Vegas April 13-16 and Tucson April 17-20, so it’s entirely plausible that Colon and/or Weaver could rehab with the Triple-A team instead of Rancho Cucamonga.

BULLPEN — Not many job opportunities here. Francisco Rodriguez, Scot Shields, Justin Speier are all locks, and probably Hector Carrasco and Darren Oliver too. That leaves one opening with many candidates. Chris Resop and Phil Seibel pitched today in the split-squad game against Oakland, but neither particularly took charge. Chris Bootcheck pitched two scoreless innings in the split-squad game against the Rangers. Also in the mix are Matt Hensley, Greg Jones, Marcus Gwyn and Dustin Moseley. Right now, Bootcheck is the only one who’s been effective, although Moseley pitched five scoreless innings yesterday in a split-squad start against the Rangers … The Triple-A bullpen will be well-stocked. Along with whomever doesn’t make the parent club, Jason Bulger returns along with Matt Wilhite and Alex Serrano.

I’ll be at minor league camp March 18-20, so look for another update after I return. For those unfamiliar with FutureAngels.com, I run it alone without any financial support from the Angels or their minor league affiliates. I’ll be returning with plenty photos, audio and video of the minor leaguers, some of which I might be able to post same-day from the hotel in Tempe. As with everything else on the web site, I can only do as much as the site financially sustains.

If you enjoy the site’s contents, please consider a donation or voluntary subscription. So far I’ve received $150 in donations for 2007, which is exceptionally generous. The donations not only help with the travel costs but also the addition of new features such as this blog, the bulletin board and the polls. Sales of the photos help a little but it’s never enough. So if you want to see more, please consider helping out.

This article is copyright © 2007 Wordsmith Resources and FutureAngels.com. It may not be used elsewhere without the prior expressed written permission of the author.

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