Who Will be the Angels Opening Day Catcher?
Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports
As Opening Day nears, Halo Hangout will evaluate the key players, position battles, and offseason moves that will make or break the 2014 Los Angeles Angels. Today, catchers Chris Iannetta and Hank Conger are analyzed.
The terms “catcher” and “iron man” will never go hand-in-hand. With the exception of a handful of players, starting catchers today increasingly take time off to nurse wounds and dabble at other positions (i.e. Joe Mauer and Buster Posey) while reserves get playing time.
It’s not surprising given their heavy workload. Major League Baseball took notice and implemented a controversial new rule limiting collisions at home plate, hoping players spend more time on the field than the disable list.
Injuries weren’t a problem for Los Angeles Angels backstops in 2013 as Chris Iannetta and Hank Conger combined to call every game. It may not be the ideal situation for two men looking for a full-time job, but their durability was vital to an injury-plagued team that only won 78 games.
In all likelihood, the duo will platoon again this season if only for the reason that their skills complement each other. Iannetta is the defensive-minded type of catcher manager Mike Scioscia loves, and Conger is a young switch-hitting power threat who hit league averages behind the plate.
Without any other legitimate candidates on the 40-man roster, we can expect more of the same in 2014. Let’s take a closer look at Iannetta and Conger’s battle.
Hank Conger – Catcher
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com
It wasn’t long ago that Conger was picking off runner a la Jake Taylor at the beginning of Major League. The former first round pick spent the majority of the 2012 season at Triple-A Salt Lake where he worked on his footwork and delivery techniques.
The time off did wonders for Conger as he threw out about 25 percent of would-be base stealers, according to Baseball Reference. Additionally, his WAR (Wins Above Replacement) flipped from -.01 two years ago to 1.1 last season. It’s a modest change, but one that shows he is closer to becoming a starter.
Spring training is vital to Conger’s bid and, so far, it hasn’t gone well. Eight games and 21 at-bats have garnered a .143 batting average, three RBIs, and zero extra-base hits. Conger’s only chance at beating out Iannetta is with a stellar next couple of weeks.
Chris Iannetta – Catcher
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com
Iannetta’s slash line last year was on par with career numbers; Angels fans shouldn’t expect much more. While his batting average rose over last two month from .205 to .264, a jump Iannetta contributes to his use of contact lenses, his underwhelming defense hovered near the cellar for AL catchers.
As David Hill pointed out, Iannetta shouldn’t get the nod over Conger. Unfortunately, Scioscia has a soft spot for playing the lesser of two catchers. He did so in picking Jeff Mathis over Mike Napoli and he’s doing it now.
Following a loss to the Texas Rangers last summer, Scioscia uncharacteristically blew a fuse when speaking about Iannetta’s bad night. The manager defended Iannetta allowing six stolen bases by placing the blame on his pitchers. That isn’t to say Angels pitching wasn’t at fault, but it goes to show where Scioscia’s favoritism lies.
With Conger’s emergence, the 8-year MLB veteran may see his innings drop. Iannetta is having a solid spring, batting .333 with seven runs and four RBIs through eight games. Yes it’s only spring training, but given Conger’s underwhelming month these stats solidify Iannetta’s case to be the Opening Day catcher, whether it’s the right choice or not.