How many teams could absorb losing two pitchers the caliber of John Lackey and Kelvim Escobar, and lose a future batting champion in Howie Kendrick, yet end the month with the best winning percentage in the American League?
That’s what the Angels accomplished in April.
Once again the Angels showed the wisdom of keeping their prospect depth instead of flushing the farm for some “name” veteran. The Angels survived injuries quite nicely, thank you very much, because they didn’t dump their future for the “big bat” quick-fix demanded by certain fans and sportswriters last winter.
Joe Saunders and Ervin Santana, two young arms certain fan forum posters wanted shown the door, finished April 5-0. Saunders had a 2.08 ERA in 43.1 IP, while Santana had a 2.48 ERA in 40.0 IP.
Casey Kotchman, the “injury-prone singles hitter” some people wanted gone and the sooner the better, finished the month among the league leaders in home runs with six. Casey’s AVG/OBP/SLG were .344/.406/.594. He found himself batting cleanup for a couple games at month’s end.
Jeff Mathis, another target of fan tirades, showed outstanding defense and his bat finally came around enough to bat .298/.320/.553 in April. Jeff split time behind the plate with Mike Napoli, who was never projected as a top prospect but worked hard to make himself a big-league starting catcher.
Erick Aybar asserted himself to take the full-time starting shortstop job. Erick finished April at .318/.330/.375 and, as I’m writing this, just hit his first homer of the year.
Lackey finished April simulating spring training in a series of minor league rehab starts. He was lights out — literally — for Rancho Cucamonga at Lancaster Tuesday night, as the right-field light standards failed after his third inning of work. Lackey went to the bullpen and threw another 20 pitches to get up to his desired pitch count for the night. His next start is Sunday afternoon at Rancho Cucamonga; if circumstances permit, I’ll be there to film video for the FutureAngels.com web site.
Howie Kendrick suffered a hamstring pull early in the month, but the Angels survived with both Aybar and Maicer Izturis for infield depth. When Izturis was hurt with a lower back strain, they called up Sean Rodriguez for his major league debut, then brought up Brandon Wood and Matt Brown to give them some exposure at 3B with Chone Figgins moving over to 2B. Kendrick was scheduled to make a minor league rehab appearance tonight with Rancho Cucamonga and may be activated Friday.
And when first Jeff Mathis and then Mike Napoli were felled by the flu, up came Bobby Wilson as a backup catcher. Bobby got one at-bat and singled for his first major league hit.
All that promoted talent came from Salt Lake. What happened to them? Funny you should ask …
The Triple-A Salt Lake Bees finished April at 23-2, believed to be a minor league baseball record for best start ever. Salt Lake won their first eight on the road, lost their home opener, then won another thirteen in a row before losing on the road at Memphis.
I wrote about the Bees on Sunday, so I won’t repeat that column other than to note that starters Shane Loux and Giancarlo Alvarado, two pitchers whose careers were rescued from the scrap pile, finished April with respective ERAs of 2.05 and 2.60.
At the other end of the spectrum, the Double-A Arkansas Travelers got off to a miserable start at 9-17. The Travs lost their first seven in a row, then went 8-3, then went on a new skid losing six in a row. Arkansas finished April with a .230 team batting average (7th in the Texas League) and 15 HR (8th in the Texas League). The pitching was a bit better; their 4.18 team ERA was fourth in the eight-team league. The Angels shook up the roster early in the month, releasing outfielder Jordan Renz and pitcher Von Stertzbach, while signing former Travs infielder Adam Morrissey from independent ball, and minor league free agents Dan Denham and Jordan Czarniecki.
Quakes fans rightfully expected a post-season contender with all the prospects headed for Rancho Cucamonga, but injuries derailed that train. Catcher Hank Conger suffered a slight labrum tear in his right shoulder and remained in spring training, along with second baseman Ryan Mount and third baseman Matt Sweeney who were also injured. That sapped much of the offense, but there’s no explaining what happened to what I expected would be the league’s top starting rotation.
2007 Angels Minor League Pitcher of the Year Sean O’Sullivan finished April with a 5.60 ERA, Trevor Bell was at 6.14, David Herndon at 7.29, and Amalio Diaz at 5.79. Only Tommy Mendoza had a respectable ERA at 2.89. Overall, the Quakes finished April at 8-18, losing 13 of their last 15.
The Quakes did have a few bright spots. Peter Bourjos stole 17 bases in 18 attempts; if he stays healthy and spends the entire season at Rancho, he could reach 75 SBs at that pace. Anthony Norman was promoted to Rancho after one game at Cedar Rapids, and finished the month at .294/.429/.500 with 7 SBs.
The Kernels finished April at a respectable 14-11. Their .232 team AVG was 11th in the 14-team Midwest League, but their 3.41 team ERA was sixth in the league. 1B Efren Navarro had the best offensive numbers at .320/.416/.453. Top pitching prospect Jordan Walden had a 2.83 ERA in five starts with a 25:9 SO:BB ratio in 28.2 IP. Mike Anton’s ERA was 2.84, Mason Tobin was 1.23, Robert Fish was 3.47, and Trevor Reckling was 4.01. Closer Ryan Brasier had a 1.20 ERA with a 13:7 SO:BB ratio in 15.0 IP.
May began with Nick Adenhart getting an unexpected callup to fill an Angels’ rotation slot until John Lackey returns mid-month. Nick didn’t look like his usual confident self, and left in the top of the 3rd after he was roughed up for five runs. It may have been a bit early to call up the talented 21-year old, who according to the Angels broadcasters is now the youngest starting pitcher currently in the majors.