Tagged: Spring Training

Hank Conger: Extra for Experts

Following up on the overblown reports about Hank Conger’s injury … I remembered today another Angels minor league catcher who had similar experiences in his career a few years ago.

In 2000, his rookie season, he played only ten games in rookie ball due to a lower back strain. Conger had a similar injury last year.

In 2003, he missed most of the season after undergoing surgery on his throwing shoulder for a torn labrum, an injury apparently more severe than what’s reported for Conger.

That catcher was Mike Napoli.

For reasons unfathomable to me, some people out there want to spin a hysterical fantasy that Conger’s career is over as a catcher. All one has to do is look at Mike Napoli and see that the people peddling this tale have no idea what they’re talking about.

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Minor League Spring Training – March 18


Jordan Renz is congratulated by Travs manager Bobby Magallanes after homering in today’s spring training game against the Oakland A’s Double-A squad.

Beginning with the rumor du jour

I spoke with Hank Conger this morning about the rumors that appeared in yesterday’s Orange County Register and Rotoworld.com suggesting he faced surgery and a season lost if his labrum injury doesn’t improve in the next couple weeks.

Hank’s physical condition is his business — that’s not my opinion, it’s the law — so I won’t discuss in public what Hank said. But in summary, it boils down to Hank’s situation is not as dire as reported.

I’ll refer you to this article on MLB.com, which concludes:

"You have to be excited about his upside," Scioscia said. "His shoulder has him a little behind, but he should be fine. He’s very intelligent, and he’s come a long way behind the plate. He has terrific power from both sides."

That about sums it up. He’s a little behind, but he should be fine.

On to today’s exhibition games.

I wrote down the lineups for the Triple-A and Double-A games, but those turned out to be bupkis when Robb Quinlan walked up. The Angels sent over Robb and Reggie Willits to play in the Triple-A game, and Bobby Wilson to catch scheduled starting pitcher Joe Saunders.

Saunders was scheduled to pitch the first five innings, followed by Jason Bulger, but when Joe was done it was Rich Thompson who pitched the next two innings. We never saw Bulger.

So this was the starting lineup, I think:

SALT LAKE

1. Reggie Willits CF
2. Gary Patchett SS
3. Sean Rodriguez DH
4. Matt Brown 1B
5. Robb Quinlan 3B
6. Bobby Wilson C
7. Adam Pavkovich 2B
8. Raymi Dicent LF
9. Aaron Peel RF

The Double-A lineup was something like this:

ARKANSAS

1. Cody Fuller CF
2. Nate Sutton 2B
3. Pat Reilly DH
4. Jesse Hoorelbeke 1B
5. Jordan Renz RF
6. Cliff Remole 1B
7. Tim Duff C
8. Matt Pali RF
9. Larry Infante SS

Flint Wipke was listed as the starting catcher, but Duff took the field. Wipke played in the later innings.

Miguel Gonzalez was the starting pitcher, followed by Francisco M. Rodriguez (not the big-league Frankie, last year’s Rancho pitcher), David Austen, Baron Short, Von Stertzbach and Kevin Jepsen. Or at least that was the list before the game.

Click Here to watch video highlights of the day. You need Windows Media Player and a broadband Internet connection (cable modem, DSL) to watch.

Among the highlights, you’ll see Reggie Willits’ leadoff double, then he steals third, and later scores on a triple by Matt Brown. You’ll also see Joe Saunders strike out two batters.

I was shooting still photography when Jordan Renz homered for the Double-A lineup. It was an impressive shot to left-center field.

I head home in the morning with plenty of video and photography in storage. Eventually they’ll appear on-line at www.futureangels.com.

Minor League Spring Training – March 17


Mike Scioscia talks with pitcher Tommy Mendoza and catcher Hank Conger after their bullpen session.

Rumors of Hank Conger’s demise are premature.

Apparently it started with a blog entry by Orange County Register sportswriter Bill Plunkett. He wrote:

I noticed Hank Conger warming up pitchers in one of the bullpens. Conger was catching the pitches — and then flipping the ball under-handed to a coach standing nearby who would throw it back to the pitcher.

Not a good sign.

During a break, I went up to Conger and asked him why he wasn’t throwing. Turns out he has a slight tear of the labrum in his right shoulder.

The shoulder has been bothering him since early in spring training. Invited to the major-league camp to start the spring, his throwing was limited. When the discomfort continued after he was re-assigned to the minor-league camp, Conger underwent an MRI which revealed the tear.

He has begun a rehabilitation program that could last as long as four weeks, meaning he will most likely miss the start of the minor-league season and stay behind at the extended spring training camp in Tempe. Surgery remains a possibility at some point.

The Angels’ first-round pick in 2005, Conger has already had to deal with wrist and back issues in his first two professional seasons.

Citing the Register blog, the fantasy baseball site Rotoworld.com overreacted and posted:

Conger is expected to rehab for a month before attempting a return. Depending on how the strengthening program takes, he could undergo surgery that would likely cost him the rest of the season. The lost year would likely be very significant to his development, and it shows that the Angels might have guessed wrong when they opted to develop him as a catcher. There’s a good chance he’ll end up at first base or DH anyway, and that wear and tear associated with catching could prevent him from reaching his ceiling as a hitter.

To quote Drew Barrymore in E.T., "Give me a break."

An athlete who throws a lot suffers a slight labrum tear and that’s definitive proof the team "guessed wrong" developing him at that position?!

Joe Saunders had a much more severe labrum tear and missed the entire 2003 season. Did the Angels "guess wrong" developing him as a pitcher?!

What a stupid thing to say.

Nevertheless, I’m already seeing hysterical overreactions on Angels fan boards who think a roto web site knows more about developing ballplayers than the professionals with decades of experience in the game.

For the record, I watched Hank this morning engage in a full range of workouts. He took batting practice, he participated in catcher fielding drills, he caught Tommy Mendoza in the bullpen. Afterwards, Hank and Tommy met with Angels manager Mike Scioscia and minor league pitching instructor Kernan Ronan.

I didn’t see anyone giving Hank the Last Rites.

That said, a fan told me yesterday he’d heard that rumor, but it must not be that big a deal if Hank is participating full-time in drills. I will ask Hank myself tomorrow if I get the chance and if he’s willing to talk about it. But let’s not get all hysterical and declare his catching career over until all the facts are in.

Scioscia, pitching coach Mike Butcher, and much of the front office were in attendance because the parent club had the day off. Jon Garland started the Triple-A game and gave up three runs in five innings. Mike Napoli caught Garland and then exited.

The starting lineup for the Salt Lake game was:

SALT LAKE

1. Nathan Haynes CF
2. Hainley Statia SS
3. Mike Napoli C
4. Matt Brown DH
5. Terry Evans RF
6. Brandon Wood 3B
7. Chris Pettit LF
8. Freddy Sandoval 1B
9. Sean Rodriguez 2B

… with Garland as the starting pitcher. He was followed by Brok Butcher for three innings, then Rafael Rodriguez pitched a scoreless 9th.

The Arkansas starting lineup was:

ARKANSAS

1. Josh LeBlanc CF
2. Cliff Remole DH
3. Ben Johnson C
4. Corey Smith 3B
5. Michael Collins 1B
6. Drew Toussaint LF
7. Matt Pali RF
8. Ryan Leahy 2B
9. Kevin Ramos SS

… with Shane Loux the starting pitcher. He was followed by Fernando Rodriguez, Robert Mosebach, and Kevin Jepsen.

As I warned yesterday, don’t take these lineups too seriously. It’s way too early for assignments to the various affiliates, and as players are returned from big league camp you can expect a domino effect, with players at upper levels being pushed down a level or two.

Click Here to watch video highlights from today’s games. The pitcher/catcher battery is Garland and Napoli. You’ll also see Scioscia talking to Mendoza and the moribund Mr. Conger (if you believe the roto site).

Tomorrow is my last day at camp, then I return home on Wednesday.

Minor League Spring Training – March 16


The winds tore the batter’s eye on one of the minor league practice fields.

My first day in minor league camp is always the most memorable.

Or forgettable.

Forgettable in the sense that nearly 150 players are in camp, and many uniform numbers are worn by two or even three players, and I’m trying to put all those faces back together with their names. I know them, they know me, but neither of us is really sure who we really are, so we just kinda nod and try to remember who each other is.

But it’s always memorable because I get to see friends after six months, all those players and coaches gathered in one place, knowing that in a couple weeks they’ll scatter to all corners of the baseball globe.

Most of the upper-level players are over at major league camp, so minor league rosters right now have no meaningful resemblance to what their Opening Day lineups will look like. But for what it’s worth, here were the lineups for today’s Quakes and Kernels games.

RANCHO CUCAMONGA
1. Stantrel Smith LF
2. P.J. Phillips SS
3. Jeff LaRue 1B
4. Tadd Brewer 2B
5. Abel Nieves 3B
6. Rian Kiniry CF
7. Greg Dini C
8. Anderson Rosario RF
9. Tyler Mann DH

David Herndon started for Rancho Cucamonga.

CEDAR RAPIDS
1. Anthony Norman LF
2. Hector Estrella 3B
3. D’Andre Miller CF
4. Gordie Gronkowski 1B
5. Donato Giovanatto DH
6. Tyler Johnson RF
7. Jerry Gonzalez 2B
8. Chris Rosenbaum C
9. Carlos Colmenares SS

Trevor Reckling started for Cedar Rapids.

The predicted scattered thunderstorms gave us a pass for the most part, other than the occasional sprinkle. But it was quite cool and windy at times. I noticed a batter’s eye on one of the practice fields was torn so a City of Tempe service truck had to repair it in the afternoon while the games were played on two other fields.

Click Here to watch March 16 minor league spring training highlights. You need Windows Media Player and a broadband Internet connection (cable modem, DSL) to watch.

Quakes broadcaster Jeff Levering was in town and recorded an interview with Angels farm director Abe Flores that will air later in the year on a Quakes pre-game show. But both agreed to let me videotape the interview, so Click Here to watch the interview.

Jon Garland at Minor League Camp on Monday

Today’s Riverside Press-Enterprise reports:

Jon Garland, who allowed three runs on seven hits in four innings during Wednesday’s 6-3 loss to the Royals, will pitch in a Class AAA game Monday.

I’ll be at minor league camp Sunday-Tuesday to shoot the games, so if this happens look for video footage of Garland’s start Monday evening on FutureAngels.com.

Monday is an off-day for the parent club, so I suspect we’ll see more major leaguers over at the minor league camp. My guess is either Mike Napoli or Jeff Mathis will catch Garland.

It also happens to be St. Patrick’s Day. Some teams do a “green” theme on that day so I’m curious to see if the Angels do anything, but I doubt they’ll spend a dime for the minor league camp to don green caps or will deploy green bases. Ya never know.

Spring Training Checkpoint — Part 2

On March 11, I posted an article reviewing spring training and how it might affect the prospects.

Now that we’re further down the road, it’s time to take another look and see how things stand.

FIRST BASE — Casey Kotchman has locked down the first base job. He’s batting .341 with three homers and two doubles. More importantly, he’s healthy. Give him a full season of good health and all the naysayers will be proven wrong.


Howie Kendrick is lighting up the Cactus League.

SECOND BASE — Howie Kendrick is batting .400 with three doubles, two triples and two homers. Neither Kotchman or Kendrick are eligible for the Rookie of the Year award, but by September many Angels fans will wish they were.

SHORTSTOP — Orlando Cabrera will be the shortstop barring injury, with Maicer Izturis the backup. The Angels are giving Erick Aybar every opportunity to make the roster as a utility player, viewing him as the possible eventual successor to Cabrera.

THIRD BASE — Chone Figgins broke a finger and it’s estimated that he’ll be out five to six weeks. Maicer Izturis and Robb Quinlan will hold the fort, with an outside possibility you’ll see Shea Hillenbrand there once or twice. Brandon Wood and Matt Brown are not an option; they still have work to do in the minors.

LEFT FIELD — Garret Anderson is batting .458. Those who’ve been trashing him because his numbers dropped due to injury are going to look pretty foolish if he stays healthy all year. Erick Aybar played LF in a game earlier this week, giving him another opportunity to make the roster as a utility player.


The Angels are giving Erick Aybar every opportunity to make the Opening Night roster.

CENTER FIELD — Gary Matthews Jr. is 11 for 40 with three extra-base hits (all homers). Now that he’s issued the "statement" demanded by Arte Moreno regarding the report he once ordered human growth hormone, the media seems to have lost interest and Matthews is free to concentrate on baseball. Aybar, Reggie Willits and Tommy Murphy have been competing for what were thought to be only two available slots, but with Figgins’ injury all three might make the Opening Night roster.

RIGHT FIELD — Vlad Guerrero is only 9 for 36 with one homer but all he has to do is get ready for the season. Murphy and Willits have a little RF experience, with veteran Curtis Pride in the mix if he’s needed.

CATCHER — A news story surfaced suggesting the Angels might be shopping Jose Molina, but I doubt it. That would leave Mike Napoli and Jeff Mathis as the big-league catchers, and neither has proven he can handle the job over the long haul. I still think it’ll be Jose Molina and either Napoli or Mathis; at this point, it looks like Napoli’s bat will trump Mathis’ superior defense, so look for Jeff to return to Triple-A Salt Lake where he’ll play full-time. Mathis needs to step it up at the plate; with Molina slated for free agency after the season, the Angels will need him in 2008.

STARTING ROTATION — John Lackey, Kelvim Escobar, and Ervin Santana remain healthy. Jered Weaver has been building up his pitch count, but it looks like he’ll miss one or two starts before he’ll join the parent club in April. Bartolo Colon seems to be ahead of schedule, but Joe Saunders will be in the rotation until both Weaver and Colon return. News reports have either Dustin Moseley or Hector Carrasco the leading candidates to fill the fifth slot until Weaver and Colon are ready.

BULLPEN — Many candidates remain for the one available bullpen slot. Moseley and Chris Bootcheck would seem to be the leading candidates, although others such as Chris Resop and Marcus Gwyn remain in the mix. This one should go down to the wire.

Hopefully this weekend I’ll start posting photos from my minor league camp trip. When you include hotel, gas, and other expenses, it probably cost me somewhere around $700. If you enjoy all the content on FutureAngels.com, 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.

Minor League Spring Training, Day Three


Nick Green started for the Arkansas squad on March 20.

The final day of my photos from minor league camp are now on-line at:

www.futureangels.com/tempe/springphotos.aspx

With the parent club playing a night game tonight cross-town at Peoria against the Padres, the Angels assigned some of their major league camp players to the Salt Lake roster for today’s game against the Giants’ Triple-A squad.

Jose Molina caught the first half of the game. Kendry Morales played most of the game at first base. Also in the lineup were Nathan Haynes in center field, Terry Evans in right field, Nick Gorneault in left field, Sean Rodriguez at shortstop and Brandon Wood at third base.

Phil Seibel, acquired over the winter from the Red Sox for Brendan Donnelly, pitched the first two innings for Salt Lake. He was followed by Kevin Jepsen, Felipe Arredondo, Vladimir Veras and Matt Reilly. None of those guys will be with Salt Lake this year. They were just filling out the roster for the day.

On the Arkansas side, Nick Green got the start. He’s a real sleeper, starting with his "plus" changeup. He could see Triple-A Salt Lake by the end of the year.

In the lineup for the Arkansas roster were many 2006 Quakes — Freddy Sandoval, Michael Collins, Ben Johnson, Pat Reilly, Nate SUtton, and the Fuller brothers, Cody and Clay.

With the Angels playing tonight, several parent club coaches came by. Mike Scioscia (who’s lost weight, boys and girls), Mike Butcher, and Dino Ebel were there.

In the morning, I recorded an interview with farm director Tony Reagins. The interview should be on FutureAngels.com in the next couple days. I also collected materials for the next FutureAngels.com Radio podcast at the end of the month.

We drive home to Orange County in the morning, so I’ll be off-line most of the day.

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.