Tagged: Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim

We Are The World

Juan Rivera
Los Angeles Times sports blogger Steve Bisheff wrote Monday that he underestimated Juan Rivera’s talents — in part because Rivera doesn’t speak English in interviews.

 

Los Angeles Times blogger and former Orange County Register sportswriter Steve Bisheff posted Monday night an admission that he had misjudged Juan Rivera’s talents. His justification:

I thought he was a decent enough player, who, in the best of circumstances, would hit maybe .280, finish with 22 or 23 home runs and perhaps 80 RBIs. Not bad, mind you.

Just nothing to get excited about. Kind of like Rivera’s demeanor. He is about as personable as a foul pole, a quiet, introverted type who rarely says anything in the clubhouse and claims not to speak English, though there are those who think that’s just a ploy to avoid reporters.

In other words, he is everything Torii Hunter is not.

Goodness.

By no means am I about to tar all sportswriters with this metaphorical brush, but Bisheff’s admission reveals something that’s troubled me about far too many scribes — the journalist’s reporting about a player is tainted by how big a quote machine he is.

This isn’t limited to sports journalism. I’ve mentioned before that I dabble in political consulting as a sideline. I learned a long time ago that reporters will be far more sympathetic to your cause if you regularly feed them information. It makes their job easier. I’ve seen many articles published over the years — some sympathetic to my causes, others critical — that were largely reprints of information handed to the reporter by a source, without adequate fact checking.

Bisheff’s bias is that Rivera doesn’t speak English and, in particular, the suspicion that Juan might know more English than he lets on.

Well, here’s a revelation for you — lots of Latin ballplayers know more English than they let on.

I remember during the 2002 playoffs that Francisco Rodriguez used an interpreter during post-game press conferences. I was laughing on the sofa because Frankie’s English was quite good. I’d known Frankie in the minors, spoken to him frequently, interviewed him at Salt Lake in July 2002, and happened to see him at Anaheim on September 15 when he was called up. We spoke in English — and his was quite good — about his overnight flight from Salt Lake City.

Most Latin players are anxious to practice their English — with people they trust.

Many of them come from countries where the media are controlled by the authoritarian government. Juan Rivera is from Venezuela, which is run by Hugo Chavez. The Dominican Republic isn’t exactly a bastion of free speech either. So these players are naturally distrustful of the media.

But it seems to me that Bisheff and his colleagues could achieve a lot more access if they simply learned some Spanish.

Bisheff’s comment reminded me of the May 21, 2005 press conference at Rancho Cucamonga where Kendry Morales was introduced to the baseball world. I was there to videotape it; no television media showed up, only newspaper reporters, so I have the only video of this historic event.

Click Here to watch the press conference. Windows Media Player and a broadband (cable modem, DSL) Internet connection are required.

A reporter from the Los Angeles Times monopolized the first fifteen minutes of questioning. (The Angels’ Media Relations should have cut him off, but that’s their problem.) Charlie Romero, the manager of the Angels’ Dominican academy, was there to translate for Kendry. When the Times reporter finally relented, a female reporter from the Inland Valley Daily Bulletin asked Kendry a question — in Spanish. The Times reporter meekly asked for a translation.

I was laughing to myself, thinking “Good for you!” that the Daily Bulletin reporter stuck it to the Times scribe.

But it was symptomatic of the same attitude Bisheff has — you owe it to us to speak our language, or else we might not write nicely about you.

I look forward to many more interviews with Rivera, Morales and other Latin players — in Spanish.

Saunders vs. Kazmir, Part II

On May 10, I wrote an entry revisiting an old argument on fan sites that the Angels supposedly erred by drafting Joe Saunders over Scott Kazmir.

I wrote:

In the long run, Saunders has proven to be the more durable pitcher. Kazmir has found himself on the disabled list from time to time with various injuries, although nothing so far that’s career-threatening. Saunders has yet to go on the D.L. in the big leagues.

The Rays announced today that Kazmir is once again on the disabled list:

Left-hander Scott Kazmir will be shut down for a bit because of a right quad strain he said was caused from bad mechanics in his delivery. Kazmir will continue to throw off flat ground and said it shouldn’t keep him out long.

Bad mechanics was reportedly the reason why the Mets, who originally drafted Kazmir, traded him to Tampa Bay. Looks like his habits are starting to catch up to him.

Saunders vs. Kazmir

Joe Saunders
Joe Saunders in fall instructional league, October 2003, recovering from a labrum injury.

 

“I still am stunned that we chose Joe Sauders (sic) over Scott Kazmir…unbelievable! This was bad judgment on Donny Rowlands (sic). Kazmir is tearing up the minors and Saunders may never take the mound for us because of a bad shoulder.”

Post on Angelsbaseball.com message board, January 9, 2004

“This whole Weaver/Drew situation reminds me of a couple of years ago when the Angels passed on Scott Kazmir because they were scared of his demands and took another lefty Saunders. Could you imagine what out farm system would look like if we had Kazmir instead of Saunders.

Post on Angelsbaseball.com message board, June 7, 2004

“lol, still protecting your arguments above anything else, aren’t you stephen? don’t you think it’s easier to just admit you were wrong about the angels drafting saunders instead kazmir?

Post on Angelsbaseball.com message board, November 19, 2006

Joe Saunders won a duel of aces last night, as the Angels beat Zack Greinke and the Royals, 1-0.

Watching Saunders pitch his complete game, I was reminded of the temper tantrums thrown on fan boards a few years ago by people who were outraged that the Angels chose Saunders in the June 2002 draft instead of Scott Kazmir.

The Angels had the twelfth pick in that draft. Eleven teams had already passed on Kazmir. After Anaheim, two more teams passed on him. The Mets finally selected him with the fifteenth pick.

Kazmir’s stuff was described as “electric.” He was a left-handed Texas high school superstar who’d been clocked in the mid-90s and had a plus slider.

Looking back through my Baseball America issues, it appears that Kazmir fell to #15 for two reasons. One was rumors that he was asking for a huge bonus. The other was concern with his mechanics. Despite the media hype, some teams’ scouts looked beyond the velocity and evaluated the total package.

Drafts are far more art than science. The Phillies, drafting #17, selected Cole Hamels, who broke the humerus bone in his pitching arm as a sophomore in high school. So if you want to play the 20/20 game, you can bash sixteen teams for not selecting Hamels.

The next spring, Saunders was scheduled to join a “dream team” roster at Rancho Cucamonga that would have had him in the rotation with Ervin Santana. But an exam showed a torn rotator cuff. Rather than undergo invasive surgery, the Angels and Saunders decided to undergo an aggressive rehabilitation process. Kazmir, meanwhile, was labelled one of the game’s top pitching prospects, although he had a tender elbow at the start of the 2003 season.

Saunders resumed his career in April 2004, opening the season with Rancho Cucamonga. The Mets shocked the baseball world in July, when they traded Kazmir to Tampa Bay for Victor Zambrano. Media reports suggested that the Mets were concerned about Kazmir’s long-term durability; ironically, Zambrano broke down after three starts and was done for the year.

Kazmir carried his “future superstar” label into the big leagues, appearing in eight games that year for the Devil Rays at age 20. Saunders, 2½ years older than Kazmir, quietly went about progressing his career in the Angels system.

Because the Rays rushed him to the majors, Kazmir’s career was in the limelight. Saunders, held back because the Angels had so much depth, found himself trapped in Triple-A as the “#6 pitcher” in a five-man major league starting rotation, pitching at Salt Lake while awaiting his opportunity.

In the long run, Saunders has proven to be the more durable pitcher. Kazmir has found himself on the disabled list from time to time with various injuries, although nothing so far that’s career-threatening. Saunders has yet to go on the D.L. in the big leagues.

Because Saunders is older than Kazmir, it’s not quite fair to compare their career stats through 2008, but if you do you find that Kazmir pitched 761 innings in the majors, had a 3.73 ERA, 1.38 WHIP, and averaged 9.6 strikeouts and 4.2 walks every nine innings. Saunders logged 433 innings, had a 3.89 ERA, 1.32 WHIP, and averaged 5.2 strikeouts and 2.7 walks every nine innings.

In 2009, Kazmir has a 5.92 ERA after seven starts, a 1.66 WHIP, with 7.1 strikeouts and 5.0 walks every nine innings. Saunders has a 2.66 ERA after seven starts, a 1.10 WHIP, with 4.2 strikeouts and 2.1 walks every nine innings.

I think it’s fair to say that Kazmir is still struggling to realize his potential. As we saw last night, Saunders has found his.

Notes from Tempe, Day 3

Roberto Lopez
Roberto Lopez homered off Ervin Santana during Wednesday’s intrasquad game.

 

This post about Wednesday at extended spring training is a couple days late. I came down with the flu as I was driving home from Arizona, and I’m still pretty wiped out. The flu bug was going through camp, so I guess they decided to make me part of the family.

Wednesday was the rehab start for Ervin Santana. It was originally scheduled to be a game at Fitch Park against the Cubs, but the Angels arranged to switch the schedule so they could control the environment with an intrasquad game at Tempe Diablo.

Those unique circumstances led to a memory Roberto Lopez will have for the rest of hls life.

Lopez batted third in the lineup. In the top of the 1st, he fouled off several pitches, but then the pitching coach called an end to the inning so Santana wouldn’t get too extended in his pitch count.

Click Here to see the video of Santana’s first inning. You need Windows Media Player and a broadband (cable modem, DSL) Internet connection to watch.

That gave Lopez an opportunity to see Santana’s stuff. At the top of the 2nd, Lopez asked manager Ty Boykin if he should bat again, or let the #4 hitter bat. “Bone” told Lopez to bat.

On the second pitch, Lopez drilled a homer to left field off Santana.

Click Here to see the video of Lopez’s homer.

That was the only run Santana gave up in his three innings of work.

This was also the first game Lopez has caught in a while, due to nagging injuries. The Angels began teaching Lopez how to catch in fall instructional league. It doesn’t appear this will be a full-time conversion, more like adding another skill to enhance his résumé.

I recorded a video interview with Lopez after the game. Click Here to watch the video interview.

I have lots more video to come, which will appear on the FutureAngels.com web site over the next few days.

One clip will be of Korean pitcher Pilljoon Jang, who opposed Santana in the intrasquad game. Just to show you how international the game has become, Dominican Santana was caught by Japanese Ikko Sumi. Korean Jang was caught by Lopez, a San Diego native and USC graduate who speaks both English and Spanish.

And with that, I’m going back to my sick bed … Achoo …

Notes from Tempe, Day 1

Jon Bachanov
2007 first round pick Jon Bachanov pitched a simulated game today.

 

I’m here in Tempe for three days of extended spring training.

For the uninitiated, extended spring training is pretty much what it sounds like. These are players who weren’t assigned to one of the four full-season minor league affiliates. Some of them are rehabilitating injuries. Others were working on a new skill. The rest are valuable enough to keep around until the short-season leagues begin in mid-June.

Two major leaguers, Ervin Santana and John Lackey, are here on rehab assignment. Santana threw a bullpen session today, 40 pitches, and is tentatively scheduled to throw in Wednesday’s game. That game was originally scheduled to be against the Cubs at Fitch Park in Mesa, but the Angels arranged with the Cubs to move that game to Thursday, which was originally supposed to be a “camp day” for intrasquad play. Ervin’s start will now be the intrasquad game, which means the Angels can fully control the environment in which he’s pitching.

I filmed Ervin’s bullpen session today. Click Here to watch. You need Windows Media Player and a broadband (cable modem, DSL) Internet connection to watch.

I didn’t see Lackey around today, but he did pay for the clubhouse meal after the game. Since he’s one day behind Santana in the rehab schedule, my guess is he’ll throw a bullpen session tomorrow, suggesting he’ll pitch at Fitch Park on Thursday. (I leave after Wednesday’s game.)

Other rehabbing pitchers performed today. Jon Bachanov, the Angels’ first-round draft pick in the 2007 draft, pitched a simulated game. His catcher was in a portable batting cage behind home plate, and various batters would stand into the batter’s box. Because he’s been out so long (after Tommy John surgery), the Angels are slowly working him back into a game environment.

David Austen and Tim Schoeninger, two Angels minor league veterans also on rehab assignment, pitched in today’s game against the Giants camp team. They were followed by John Hellweg and Abe Gonzalez. I filmed video of all four pitchers but probably won’t have time to edit the video until I return home.

The Angels lost 6-5, but as with minor league spring training and fall instructional league these games can’t be taken too seriously. In the first inning, both starting pitchers struggled, so their managers called “roll over,” meaning they called an end to the inning without recording three outs. That keeps the pitch count down, which is especially important for a rehabbing pitcher.

I was pleasantly surprised to find an old friend with the Giants. Brian Cooper, who pitched with the Angels in the late 1990s, is the pitching coach for the Giants’ camp team. Brian is now living in Phoenix, as is his longtime buddy Matt Wise, who also once pitched for the Angels. Matt recently retired too. You may remember tales about Matt having a major jones for In ‘N Out Burger. I told Brian there’s one being built about a block from my hotel, and asked him to pass it along to Matt.

I filmed during the game, but missed almost all the scoring as I was shooting still photography at the time. I may try to put together some video highlights when I return home.

Another video clip now up on FutureAngels.com is a phenomenon I hadn’t seen before. It’s called “Shogun Batting Practice.” Click Here to watch. The way it works is that two batting cages are placed side-by-side, facing two pitching machines side-by-side. One is right-handed, the other left-handed. It was explained to me that a batter must face one machine for four minutes, then go into the other cage for four minutes. The idea came from former Angels minor league hitting coordinator Ty Van Burkleo, who is now the hitting coach for the Seattle Mariners. Ty brought the idea back to the U.S. after playing in Japan, hence the name which apparently he gave it.

Does it serve any meaningful purpose? Your guess is as good as mine. If nothing else, it breaks up the monotony of the same batting practice routine every day.

I’ll post tomorrow night after Day 2. My current plan is to drive home to California immediately after Wednesday’s game, so the Day 3 entry may have to wait until Thursday. Video when time permits. And yes, parents, I’m shooting still photography — Exhibit A being the above photo of Mr. Bachanov.

Stress Test

These are the times that try men’s souls.

— Thomas Paine
December 23, 1776

The Angels won 100 games in 2008, a franchise record, yet lost to Boston in the first round of the playoffs. Pundits claimed it was because the Angels had too easy of a season, winning the division by 21 games. They hadn’t been challenged, the pundits declared, therefore they weren’t conditioned for the pressure of the post-season.

No one can make that claim in 2009.

The Angels look like George Washington’s rag-tag Revolutionary Army, huddled at Valley Forge in the darkest days of the rebellion.

John Lackey, Ervin Santana and Kelvim Escobar began this season on the disabled list. They were soon joined by Dustin Moseley, who earned a job in the starting rotation, and Darren Oliver, who was pushed into the rotation out of the bullpen.

That would be enough to test any team, but the horrific tragedy of Nick Adenhart’s death on April 9 put the business of baseball in perspective. Baseball is entertainment. This was life and death.

And for good measure, power bat Vlad Guerrero has gone on the disabled list with a torn pectoral muscle. It’ll take a month to determine if he’ll even be able to DH later this year.

The Angels’ pitching staff has become a sad parody. No knock on them, but there are four or five guys on the staff right now who really should be in Triple-A.

Most fans understand the circumstances, but as usual there’s always the instant gratification crowd who are currently trashing fan boards with demands that heads roll. They’re only into themselves, ’nuff said.

Let’s put all this into perspective.

The Seattle Mariners’ magic number is 140.

The Angels are currently 6-10. In 2002, when they won the World Series, they started the year 6-14. We saw the same rants online demanding heads roll.

The press has started to chime in with suggestions that the Angels make a quick-fix trade or sign an aging free agent such as Pedro Martinez or Paul Byrd.

Neither alternative really makes much sense, primarily because Lackey and Santana are about three weeks away from returning to the rotation. It would take Martinez, Byrd, or any of those other options at least that long to build up their pitch count to mid-season form. If one of those guys would take a minor league contract deal with a big-league option, I’m all for that, because they provide depth. But they won’t fix the immediate problem.

A trade to add a quality starting pitcher would help, but those kinda guys really aren’t on the market at this time unless you’re willing to overpay. The Angels don’t have that kind of depth right now. Adenhart was a big bargaining chip — according to media reports, many teams inquired about him during the winter — but his loss left a big hole in trade scenarios. Other teams would probably ask for Jordan Walden, but if he goes then the Angels have no real “top prospect” starters within range of the big leagues.

My opinion is that the Angels will emerge from all this tragedy, tested by fire, united by grief, a team not just in name but in spirit. Assuming no more injuries, Lackey and Santana return by mid-May, Escobar not far behind them, the bullpen calms down and pitches to its abilities, and Guerrero can at least DH. I suspect at some point they’ll find a way to get Brandon Wood’s power bat in the lineup.

All they need to do is stay within range, because once they re-arm they’re the best team in this division, hands down.

I’ll close with this passage from The Crisis by Thomas Paine written on December 23,1776.

THESE are the times that try men’s souls. The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of their country; but he that stands by it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman. Tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered; yet we have this consolation with us, that the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph. What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly: it is dearness only that gives every thing its value.