Spring baseball is underway and the Los Angeles Angels are entering one of the most anticipated seasons in recent memory. The franchise that dominated the American League West for nearly a decade witnessed the division-foe Texas Rangers capture back to back American League pennants, and Angels owner Arte Moreno had seen enough.
As most fans sat back in anticipation of another quiet, fruitless winter, Arte opened up his wallet and freshly-appointed General Manager Jerry DiPoto wasted no time putting that money to work. From Albert Pujols to LaTroy Hawkins, DiPoto addressed numerous off-season concerns and has the Halos set up to contend for the AL West crown once again.
Let’s go around the horn on a series of posts as we inch towards the season, and check out the 2012 Angels and determine what we can expect out of them this season. We start with the catchers:
One of DiPoto’s first moves sent 21-year old right-hander Tyler Chatwood to the Colorado Rockies in exchange for backstop Chris Iannetta. I loved this move. Chatwood supporters identified his age and inexperience as the reason he struggled in 2011. While there is some validity to that, I see a pitcher that never showed the ability to strike batters out beyond A-ball and struggled with his command every at stop on his way to the show. DiPoto is a firm believer in “if you control the count, you control the game” and he backed that up when he traded Chatwood for Iannetta whose 14% walk rate is second to only Carlos Santana among full-time major league catchers the past three years.
Make no mistake, Iannetta’s offensive profile isn’t sexy. He strikes out over 21% of the time and will struggle to raise his batting average out of the .235 range. Don’t be discouraged. Iannetta’s ability to draw the walk allows him to reach base around 35% of the time – top 10 among major league catchers. Inevitably, during one of your trips to the Big A this year, a stranger will nudge you with his elbow and mutter “Jeff Mathis coulda done that” in reference to Iannetta’s poor batting average. Ignore that guy, he doesn’t know what he’s talking about.
Hank Conger/Bobby Wilson
The back-up catcher’s role appears to be up in the air. Hank Conger is the better player, but there is a chance Conger starts the year in AAA so he can catch every day. It might be good for his development behind the plate, but his bat would be missed as the weaker-hitting Bobby Wilson would dig in for Conger’s share of plate appearances. Wilson is out of minor league options so this could be the scenario come opening day, but that remains to be seen.
Conger has been hosed by the BABIP (Batting Average on Balls In Play) gods early in his career but his profile suggests he could be an above average hitting catcher. If Mike Scioscia pairs Conger with Iannetta, the Angels will see an unprecedented leap in production at the catcher position. The Halos sported the worst hitting catchers in baseball last year. The duo of Iannetta and Conger would destroy the abysmal .189-37-10-49-1-.547 (AVG.-R-HR-RBI-SB-OPS) line left behind by Jeff Mathis’ bunch.
Here is what we can expect from Halo’s catchers in 2012…
Up next, we’ll take a look at the corner infielders.