Things don’t always work out the way they’re supposed to. Just ask Hank Conger. In 2010, Hank Conger, a switch-hitting catcher with some pop in his swing, was the number one prospect in the Angels organization. He was in position to take control of one of the Angels weak points in recent years, adding a little power to the catcher’s spot in the order. Fast forward just two years, and Hank Conger may not even make the team. Forgotten are the days when Conger would be the “next great Angel,” that title usurped the last two years by wonder-prospect Mike Trout. So what happened to the can’t-miss prospect that was Hank Conger and can he find enough of that lost potential to stay with the Angels in 2012?
The biggest struggle, and the main reason Conger couldn’t stay on the field in the big leagues, is that he has struggled defensively in the Show. Conger himself admits that the game was “speeding up” on him on the defensive side of the ball and it was leaving him “flustered.” It also kept him on the bench, where he was unable to string together any offensive rhythm. In just 197 plate appearances last year, Conger hit .209 with 6 home runs, and got just 29 plate appearances in the second half of 2011 before being demoted back down to AAA last July. Conger struggled with going backwards at first, but realized this would be the best thing for his game. He spend the end of 2011 in the Arizona Fall League in order to brush up on his catching, so that he might have a chance to catch up if he got another chance in the Majors. However, Conger realizes his window may have already closed.
“I knew after last season ended it was going to be an uphill battle just to make the team [this spring],” Conger said.
Uphill battle, indeed. After seeing their former top prospect flame out in the big leagues, and a committee of backstops flounder at the plate throughout 2011, the Angels organization went out this off season and found their “Plan B,” which could signal the end of their faith in Conger. Chris Ianetta was brought over via trade with the Colorado Rockies to be the mainstay behind the plate. As we discussed earlier this spring, he is a cerebral catcher that can handle a pitching staff and showed some excellent skill at the plate while with the Rockies. The question for Ianetta and the Angels will be how much of his offensive numbers were inflated by the hitter-friendly confines of Coors Field? If the answer is not that much, then Ianetta will fill in as the long term solution at catcher for the team (he has a mutual $5 million option for next season) and Conger officially becomes expendable. The role of backup catcher may even be closed to Conger as Bobby Wilson looks to be a better fit. So is that the end for Hank Conger as an Angel?
Not quite yet. There are still those who believe in the potential of the 24-year old backstop within the organization. Namely, manager and former catcher, Mike Scioscia.
“Hopefully he’s found some things that will push him closer to his defensive potential because he still has the potential to be a front-line major-league catcher.”
The skill set is all there for Conger, it now becomes a matter of putting it all together. Unfortunately for him, his big break with this team may have come last season, and he fell short. Now, the future of the catcher position for the Halos is in Chris Ianetta’s hands. If he pans out, then Conger doesn’t have much of a place in the organization anymore and he will hit the trading block. Fortunately for him (and more so for the Angels), the market for a catcher with left-handed power is very deep (as in: everybody) and he’ll find a new place to call games. Things don’t always work out the way you think they will, especially with “can’t-miss” prospects like Hank Conger, but there’s always a Plan B out there somewhere.