Angels Burning Questions Pt 3 – Catching Situation



***Photo courtesy of the LA Times Blog

As reported in the last article, the Los Angeles Angels Official Website posted a great article on the burning questions for the remainder of the off-season. I loved the article so much that I decided to break it down a little bit.

If you missed the last two parts, click below!
Part I – Johnny Damon/Scott Posednik
Part II – Manny Ramirez

Part III deals with the current catching situation:

What do you think will happen with the catching situation? Will someone get traded, and if so, who?
– Abel G., La Puente, Calif.

This will be one of the most intriguing storylines of the spring. The Angels have four qualified candidates for two, perhaps three, openings behind the plate. They probably can carry three catchers only if they decide Mike Napoli can be squeezed into the designated-hitter role on a fairly regular basis, but that appears doubtful at this point.

Manager Mike Scioscia will work diligently to bring Napoli and Jeff Mathis back to their former performance levels defensively. Napoli, moving between catcher and first base last year after Morales’ injury, was inconsistent defensively. Mathis — ranked the best defensive catcher in the Majors by stat guru Bill James after the 2009 season — developed some bad habits as he tried to come back from a fractured right wrist suffered two weeks into the season.

Bobby Wilson is a solid backup in every respect, and he could be more than that given the opportunity. With his solid defensive skills and underrated bat, he’d be an upgrade on some clubs. But his difficulty in breaking in with the more established Napoli and Mathis in front of him remains a source of frustration.

Hank Conger, with his offensive potential a major plus, has given every indication that he is moving toward becoming a quality everyday receiver, having improved measurably the past two seasons. His work in September was an eye-opener. The one possible roadblock is how few games he has caught in the Minor Leagues. Scioscia is a big believer that this is one position where a player needs to be fully prepared before taking on its multiple responsibilities.

As for the most likely to be dealt, it remains Napoli. He is due a sizable raise as an arbitration-eligible player, and if he doesn’t nail down the regular job with a solid spring defensively, he could be a candidate to be moved. He’ll be making too much money to play a couple of times a week. A deal involving fourth outfielder Juan Rivera could open up the DH role for Napoli, however, and keep him in Anaheim if he doesn’t emerge as the clear No. 1 receiver.

HALO HANGOUT TAKE: This is a really tough one. Even though Mike Napoli is only hitting a .251 overall average as an Angel, we all know that he does have some pop in his bat. He’s perennially a 20hr 50RBI guy (though he set career highs in homeruns (26) and RBI (68) last season) who obviously has the potential to improve on those numbers as he settles into the prime years of his career. It’s obvious that his defense suffered as the article talked about, but it sometimes does take players a bit of time to get over the mental aspects of an injury.

Then you also have to ask… is keeping Napoli hurting the progress of Wilson? The answer? Yes. Who will turn out to be the better catcher in the long run? That remains to be seen…

But you can’t forget about promising catching prospect Hank Conger. The 2006 first round draft pick out of Huntington Beach, California is still waiting in the wings and very well could spend some time in the big leagues this year. He had a cup of coffee last season but didn’t fare very well, batting .172 in 29 plate appearances. All that takes is experience… Conger will most likely spend the majority of his time in the PCL this season, but don’t be surprised to see his face a bit in the majors.

It’s nice to have options as the Angels do, and all it takes is an up season for Napoli to quash all of this talk.

It’s like we’ve been saying all season… we won’t know anything until the season starts!

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Tags: Angels Off Season Bobby Wilson Hank Conger Jeff Mathis Mike Napoli