February 2012

Day 3: Efren Navarro takes on the winter leagues

Efren Navarro, American-born but of Mexican descent, wanted to hone his craft in the winter leagues this offseason. But he couldn’t get into a Mexican team, so instead, he spent 1 1/2 months playing in the Dominican Republic.

“It was definitely a learning experience,” Navarro said. “The fans. They’re rowdy. The food out there, too, was a little different. It was different. It was good. I actually liked the food out there, the chicken and rice.

Navarro, 25, got his first taste of the big leagues last season via an eight-game stint with the Angels. He kind of had a breakout year in the Minors, batting .317 with 12 homers and 73 RBIs while winning a Gold Glove for Triple-A Salt Lake, but he’s got very little hope trying to crack a roster that has Albert Pujols, Kendrys Morales and Mark Trumbo as first basemen.

That aside, Navarro is just focusing on getting better and letting the chips fall where they may. That included a 27-game stint with the Aguilas, for whom he batted .227 with four homers and 13 RBIs. In the Dominican, Navarro got his first taste of Dominican food (“We ate that, like, every day,” he said), went to a local Chili’s and TGI Friday’s when he wanted American food (yep, they had those there) and was put up in a pretty nice hotel. All good.


“When I did a couple interviews out there, they were like, ‘We’re here with the Cuban Efren Navarro,’ and I’m like, ‘Oh, no, I’m Mexican,'” Navarro said. “I actually had a couple of interviews like that — ‘We’re here with the Puerto Rican Efren Navarro.’ ‘Panamanian.'”

Some notes from Wednesday …

  • Manager Mike Scioscia has quite the juggling act this spring, with the situations of Trumbo, Morales, Bobby Abreu, Alberto Callaspo and Maicer Izturis all uncertain. How does he plan to juggle it?
  • Trumbo was medically cleared for full-on baseball activities.
  • More good news: Morales’ progress has been good so far.
  • Being a No. 2 hitter should be a pretty sweet gig on the Angels this year. Could the beneficiary be Howie Kendrick?
  • Hank Conger quickly learned from Bengie Molina, the veteran catcher who was a guest instructor in Angels camp. Molina taught him Tuesday how to quietly shift his body for certain pitches so hitters don’t notice.
  • Jorge Cantu‘s Minor League contract includes a May 1 opt-out.
  • I’m doing a live Angels chat on MLB.com at noon MT tomorrow. Stop on by if you get a chance.
  • And the Heat open up the unofficial second half against the Trailblazers on TNT.


Trumbo cleared to take on full baseball activities

Mark Trumbo got the news he had been searching for all offseason on Wednesday morning, when a CT scan revealed his right foot had healed to the point where he can start running and get more aggressive with his work at third base.

Trumbo, who had been limited in his offseason and early spring work because of a stress fracture in that foot, will progress into full-on baseball activities, beginning with doing some agility drills and taking groundballs side-to-side on Wednesday, then probably fielding slow rollers by the end of the week.

The Angels start their Cactus League schedule next week, with a Monday split-squad game at the Athletics’ facility, but Trumbo isn’t sure when he’ll start playing in exhibition games just yet.

“It’s not smart just to get back into it and go full bore, maybe hurt something else,” said Trumbo, who was cleared after seeing Dr. Phil Kwong in Los Angeles on Tuesday. “But I am cleared to do anything I need to. That’s the news I was hoping for.”

Trumbo anticipated a mid-November return to baseball activities when he was originally diagnosed with the foot injury in late September, but was told at that point to stay off it for an extra month. Then, a CT scan he underwent just before the new year revealed that the crack in his foot was still large enough that he would need a few more weeks to heal.

Up until Tuesday’s visit, Trumbo had been taking batting practice but had been limited to just fielding groundballs hit directly at him.

“There’s still a progression,” Angels manager Mike Scioscia said. “I think the perfect-case scenario was that he would’ve already had two weeks of working at third base aggressively. It’s one thing taking ground balls at third base, but the aggressiveness that he’s going to need to get acclimated and to be able to be evaluated is a much higher level, and we can start working towards that.”


Day 2: Bourjos vs. Trout in a footrace — who wins?

We may never find out.

I asked Mike Trout that exact question on Tuesday morning. His response: “Oh I don’t know. We don’t race. You’ll never know. … No one will ever know.”

The reason?

“They won’t allow it,” center fielder Peter Bourjos said. “It was Tony [Reagins] last year. He wouldn’t let us race. I’m guessing Jerry [Dipoto] is not going to let us, either.”

Why aren’t you allowed to race, I asked.

“He probably doesn’t want anybody getting hurt,” Bourjos replied.

But you run every day.

“That’s what I’m saying.”

“I’ll do it,” Bourjos added. “Why not? But I’m guessing they’re not going to let us.”

Who would win?

“I don’t know. I’m guessing it’ll be a good race. I’m not getting into that.”

I then asked reliever Kevin Jepsen, who was sitting right next to Bourjos.

“Pete,” Jepsen said, with Bourjos responding: “That’s just because I’m sitting here.”

“I feel like it’s different speeds,” Jepsen elaborated. “Right off the bat, like initial [burst], it’s Trout. But when [Bourjos] gets going, it’s unbelievable.”

Bourjos seemed to agree with that assessment.

“He’d get me to first base,” Bourjos admitted. “I think I can get him first to third.”

The bigger question here is if it’ll ever actually happen. If it were up to Bourjos, it would.

“I won’t back down,” Bourjos said. “I’ll do it. Why not? … If [Mike Scioscia] sets it up, I’ll do it.”

Maybe now, with Dipoto at the helm and both of them together for another Spring Training camp, the Angels will soften their stance and let them settle this once and for all. I’ll do some hard-hitting investigating on this tomorrow. For now, here are some notes from today …

  • Trout spoke to reporters today about a far more important issue — his outlook going into 2012 and whether or not he can make the big league club. Here’s our story.
  • Don Mattingly said that despite the Angels’ offseason moves, and his club’s up-in-the-air ownership status, Southern California still belongs to the Dodgers. Here’s what some Angels had to say.
  • You know what Albert Pujols has never done? Play in all 162 regular-season games. Can the DH help him do that this year?
  • Speaking of Pujols, his presence has created a domino effect, with several players unsure of their roles. Here’s what Alberto Callaspo thinks about his.
  • The Angels played a little joke on Torii Hunter this afternoon. They got his really expensive Louis Vuitton shoes (Hunter wouldn’t tell me how much) and wrote his number on the back over a piece of athletic tape, making it appear as if the Sharpie actually marked the shoes. Hunter couldn’t believe it when he walked in and saw his shoes on his seat when he walked in off the field. “Not cool!” he said after everyone erupted in laughter.
  • The Angels will play in their first intrasquad game on Saturday. Their first Cactus League game is a split-squad against the Athletics on Monday.


Day 1: Aybar, Segura & irony …

One of Jean Segura‘s biggest mentors on the Angels’ big league club is actually the man some believe he can one day replace.

Shortstop Erick Aybar, a pending free agent who still hasn’t agreed to a contract extension, is actually pretty tight with Segura, a 21-year-old developing shortstop who has a lot of raw talent but still needs plenty of games under his belt before being big league ready. They both hail from the Dominican, and while Aybar lives a little too far (a two-hour drive) for them to regularly train together in the offseason, Segura counts on Aybar (seven years his senior) for advice throughout the year.

“I get along well with him,” Segura said in Spanish. “I have a lot of respect for him and we talk very often. He’s always giving me advice.”

Segura, the Angels’ No. 2 prospect, is in his second big league camp and will probably start the season in Double-A. He’s deceivingly fast, has really grown as a hitter, boasts a great arm and overall has a world of talent. But he still needs to grow as a shortstop and, most importantly, he has to stay healthy after missing big chunks of 2009 (broken ankle and finger) and 2011 (torn hamstring) due to injury.

As for what his conversations have been like with Aybar this year?

“We’ve just talked about the game, about our training, about how you need to have a positive mindset when you’re injured,” Segura said. “Thankfully he’s there for me, because he’s a guy who knows how to have success in this league.”

Some notes from Monday, the Angels’ first full-workout day …

  • Bobby Abreu addressed the media regarding his previous comments on preferring a trade if he isn’t an everyday player. Abreu didn’t really back off on his desire to continue to play every day, but he seemed content with the compromise of roughly 400 plate appearances this season. The prevailing question: Is that number realistic? More on Abreu here.
  • Albert Pujols is already turning some heads. Today, he hit some pretty hard line drives against lefty Brad Mills while hitting in the main field in his first live-BP session. It was a rather uneventful workout today, sure. But at this point in the spring, pitchers are usually ahead of the hitters because they’ve been throwing for about a week. I think Albert can start the regular season right now if he wanted to.
  • Peter Bourjos doesn’t feel like his right-hip injury will be a problem this season, but he plans on having surgery to get it cleaned up next offseason. He would’ve done it this past fall, but he didn’t realize it was an ongoing problem until around mid-November. At that point, surgery would’ve backed him up in Spring Training. Just not worth it, doctors felt.
  • Speaking of Segura’s injuries, the young shortstop feels he might’ve addressed the hamstring issues that bothered him in 2011 with the simplicity of an insole.
  • Owner Arte Moreno said on The Jim Rome Show that the “El Hombre” billboards probably won’t be part of the club’s marketing campaign any longer.
  • Kendrys Morales went from running in a straight line to making cuts on the outfield grass. Mesmerizing, I know. But any step is a big one for him at this point. Mike Scioscia said he’ll continue that for about two weeks, then start running the bases, then get in games (he hopes).
  • As for Scioscia, he was back after fighting what he believed was some food poisoning on Sunday. He was his normal self — as evidenced by his usual snark towards us media members.
  • An interesting site on the backfields today: Uber-prospect Mike Trout taking live batting practice off new starter C.J. Wilson. Sure, Trout was only tracking pitches and didn’t even swing the bat. But still.
  • Don’t go looking for Mark Trumbo tomorrow. He’ll be in Los Angeles, getting his right foot re-imaged in hopes of progressing towards full baseball activities. He told me he’s feeling really good going in.
  • And my Heat didn’t do so well in All-Star Game Weekend from Orlando. James Jones and Mario Chalmers didn’t win the 3-Point Shootout on Saturday, and while LeBron James (36 points) and Dwyane Wade (triple-double) put up numbers in Sunday’s main event, they didn’t come through in the end. (Hey, it’s just an All-Star Game, OK!) LeBron had a costly turnover when they were trailing by two and Wade missed the 3-pointer that would’ve won them the game at the buzzer. … Yes, I’m a Heat fan. Big Heat fan. Sorry.

With full workouts now underway, look for daily updates here. I plan on featuring a different prospect every weekday, providing some analysis on the weekends and constantly trying to summarize the day as efficiently as possible. Tell your friends. 


Abreu arrives — here’s what he said …

Below is a transcript of what Bobby Abreu told reporters at Tempe Diablo Stadium on Monday morning. A story, including thoughts from Mike Scioscia and others, will be posted on Angels.com shortly …

On whether he issued an ultimatum: I just said I wanted to play every day. I’ve been playing, pretty much all my career, 150 games plus, and I just love to play, I just love this game. It’s no ultimatum. I just said to them that I want to be on the field every day.

On his talks with Scioscia and Jerry Dipoto: We talked, and he said I can get 400 at-bats, maybe more. He was just going to find a way to get me at-bats, play as a DH, play a little right field. He said I’m not going to be on the bench for the whole week. He’s going to find a way to play me.

On whether that’s OK: That’s fine. I just want to be on the field. It doesn’t matter how it’s going to be – in left field, right field, as a DH. Just help the team win, and whatever way I can help, I’m going to do it.

On if 400 PA’s enough: It’s not enough. I’ve been getting 600, most of the time 700 at-bats every year, but like I said, that’s the situation right now. Let’s see how it’s going to be handled, what’s going to happen. Let’s see. It’s just a number. But I think it can be a little bit more.

On whether he’d prefer to play every day on a lesser team: It’s tough to answer that right now. We have a winning team right now, and I think we have a lot of opportunities to win a ring right here,and that’s one of the things you’re looking for. I’m looking for a ring in my hand, I never had the opportunity. I was in Philly before and they get it, I was in New York, too, I missed two rings over there. I want to be a part of it.

On the difficulties of playing time with Mark Trumbo and Kendrys Morales at DH: Those two guys, we want them to be healthy and help the team. So I think it’s Mike’s decision. I’m not going to make the lineup. He’s the one who’s going to make the decisions over there. He’s the one who’s going to say who’s going to play, who’s not going to play. On that, I’ll just leave that to him.

On the potential trade to the Yankees: Well, I guess the reaction, it was like well I’m going back to New York. It was something, I think that was happening in one week or whatever. It didn’t happen, I don’t know what was the reason. But it would’ve been an opportunity for me to just play every day over there as a DH. It would’ve been a nice opportunity. It would’ve been nice, too.

On whether his whole heart is still with this team: Well, I’m an Angel. I’m an Angel right now, I’ve been an Angel for the last three years, four years, and all the fans know the way that I feel, how I play the game. I throw everything on the field to try to just win the games, help the team, help the young guys to have any idea what’s the game. Well, I mean, sometimes, these games, it’s a business sometimes, and you don’t know where you’re going to be tomorrow. Right now, I’m an Angel, I wear the uniform Angel, and I’ll do anything I can do just to help them win.

On his mentality now: I’m fine. I’m OK. We had a nice conversation this morning, and it was very good. We talked about what we needed to talk about, how many at-bats. We’re talking about 400. Like I said, it can be more than that, you don’t know what’s going to happen. But right now, Spring Training, just getting ready to play, get myself ready for the season, play a lot of games in Spring Training and do my work.

On what happens if he doesn’t play regularly eventually: After that, we have to see ,but I don’t control that. If it happens, it happens. But like I say, I don’t control just to make the lineup. Let’s see. It’s something we talked before, we talked early in the morning, and we have to just weigh when the season starts, just to see if it’s going to happen.

On if he’s had a change of heart since talking about being traded: It’s not like I’m looking to be traded. I just come over to make things clear. I just want to play every day. All I want, right now, in spring training, I don’t want to create any distractions for my teammates. Just get them ready for the season, and that’s it, just play the game. That’s one thing that I really love to do, and I’m just going to do it.


Angels position players being, well, efficient

We all know there’s some clutter in the Angels’ lineup these days, but not like this!

After finishing up batting practice on Saturday, six position players squeezed into a golf cart to ride back into the clubhouse. Albert Pujols, Alberto Callaspo and Vernon Wells crammed into the back, with Kendrys Morales, Maicer Izturis and Erick Aybar all riding shotgun. If you’re scoring at home, that’s about 1,300 pounds and $318 million in one golf cart.

“I didn’t realize Aybar was driving until about halfway through it,” Wells said. “I thought it was a clubhouse guy.”

All six of them made it back to the clubhouse in tact. As for the golf cart? It was still in the trainers’ room by the time I came back up to the press box. (I’ll be here all spring, folks.)

“We bottomed out a couple of times,” Wells said. “… [Aybar] was riding on the curb a little while, it was a little scary, but we made it.”


No extension yet, but Aybar wants to remain an Angel

Erick Aybar arrived at the Angels’ Spring Training facility on Saturday — raring to get going, but still without a contract extension.

The Angels and Aybar’s representatives negotiated on a potential extension throughout the offseason, but weren’t able to agree to terms and instead avoided arbitration via a $5.075 million contract for 2012. The Angels were previously able to sign second baseman Howie Kendrick to a four-year, $33.5 million deal.

Aybar — who, like Kendrick previously, is heading into his final season before free agency — said his preference is to stay here, and is willing to negotiate a contract in-season if that’s what it takes.

“I think it would be important for me to be here my whole career, because I came here from the Dominican and they’ve always supported me,” Aybar said in Spanish. “But let’s see what happens. … If they give me the opportunity to stay here, I’ll accept that opportunity. I want to win. I want to win a ring, and this year we’re in position to do that.”

What it will take to lock up Aybar is a separate issue, though.

Aybar wouldn’t go into details about the kind of deal he’s looking for, but the Angels may be a little less willing to spend on the 28-year-old shortstop with prospect Jean Segura waiting in the wings. General manager Jerry Dipoto said a couple of weeks ago that while he’s still optimistic about an extension, he doesn’t foresee one taking place before the regular season.

“Very much a possibility,” Dipoto said then, “but there’s nothing imminent and not likely to be anything that occurs before the start of the season. … It’s possible something could occur [before then], but I wouldn’t say it’s likely.”

Aybar is coming off his best year, one that saw him set career-highs in homers (10), RBIs (59), stolen bases (30) and doubles (33) while posting a .322 on-base percentage and winning his first Gold Glove.

“My agents are still negotiating with them, and let’s see what happens in the next few days or during the season,” Aybar said of a possible extension. “… If we can’t agree on an extension, I’ll just play baseball. Maybe during the season we can talk, too. I just want to stay here. That’s it.”


3 Angels fans among 30 ‘Fan Cave’ finalists

The field of MLB Fan Cave hopefuls has been narrowed down to 30, and three of those vying to win the job are Angels fans residing in Anaheim.

Matthew James, Ricardo Marquez and Joseph Meehan are among the 30 finalists who will be making a trip to Arizona for Spring Training next week, “for a series of interactive challenges and interviews designed to determine the final group that will begin the 2012 season in the MLB Fan Cave in New York,” according to a release issued by Major League Baseball on Thursday.

In case you’re unfamiliar with how this whole thing works, the MLB Fan Cave started last year, with Mike O’Hara and Ryan Wagner (now the Orioles’ new PA announcer) living in a decked-out, 15,000-square-foot apartment on Broadway throughout the season, where they welcomed ballplayers and musical guests, took part in skits, chronicled their experience and, oh yeah, watched every single regular-season baseball game. During the All-Star break and postseason, they ventured out to the ballparks.

This year, it’ll have a new wrinkle. Here’s what the release stated …

The ultimate group of winners will begin the season in the MLB Fan Cave with the goal of watching all 2,430 MLB games on a large wall of big screen Sony televisions while chronicling their experiences online through videos, blogs, and social media.  Along the way, they will compete with one another over the course of the season in a series of challenges, with fans online helping decide who gets to stay in the MLB Fan Cave and who gets eliminated, with one eventual winner crowned before the end of the World Series.

For 2012, 22,000 hopefuls filled out applications, then 50 candidates were selected and, after more than a million votes on MLBFanCave.com, 30 were chosen.

You can see videos of the 30 finalists here. And here’s more info from the release.

And if you want to see a video of C.J. Wilson pretending to break dance, click here.

Here’s what we featured this week on Angels.com …

Monday: Pujols arrives, embraces new season and team
Tuesday: Spring offers Wilson relief from busy lifestyle
Wednesday: Injury strengthens Kendrys’ resolve for ’12 season
Thursday: Isringhausen set to prove himself
Friday: For starters, Angels are loaded in rotation


Week 1, in pictures …

Albert Pujols takes his first round of batting practice in an Angels uniform.

From left, C.J. Wilson, Jerome Williams, LaTroy Hawkins, Ervin Santana, Dan Haren, Jered Weaver and Scott Downs.

Pujols and owner Arte Moreno chat it up on Day 1.

Hisanori Takahashi gets his throwing in.

Mark Trumbo takes ground balls at third base. (That's him, I promise.)

From left, Mike Scioscia, Bobby Wilson, Chris Iannetta, Hank Conger.

Kevin Jepsen (front) and Garrett Richards throw bullpens side by side.

Scioscia hosting some PFPs.

Jordan Walden bringing the heater.

Iannetta (with the gear) waiting for next 'pen session.


Scioscia: Abreu situation can be worked out

Simply put, Bobby Abreu wants to continue to be an everyday player. He has expressed that to Mike Scioscia, in a couple of offseason conversations the Angels’ skipper has described as “very candid,” and he indicated it strongly to ESPNdeportes.com on Tuesday.

But in reacting to Abreu’s public comments on Wednesday morning, Scioscia expressed his belief in two things …

1. He can establish some sort of middle ground with Abreu, where maybe he isn’t playing every day but isn’t rotting on the bench, either.

2. Comments aside, Abreu won’t be any sort of a distraction when he arrives to the club’s Spring Training facility on Sunday.

“I don’t think Bobby is going to be anything but a player who wants to come out here and wants to help us win,” Scioscia said. “How much playing time he gets, we don’t have a crystal ball. We certainly have more depth now than we’ve had in a long time. But I don’t think Bobby would be valuable playing once or twice a week. He would have to play more than that. But there’s certainly ways to get a lot of guys in the lineup to where they’re contributing.”

The outfield was already set. Now, the Albert Pujols signing has left the designated-hitter spot cluttered, with Mark Trumbo (also learning third base) and Kendrys Morales (recovering from a broken left ankle) there to fill it.

Speaking in Spanish from Venezuela, Abreu told ESPNdeportes.com: “I’m an everyday player, and can be in the lineup for a big league team. I’m not going to be on the bench knowing I can play. If the Angels don’t have a set position for me, then the best thing they can do is trade me. It’d be the right thing to do. I’m not going to do anything sitting on the bench.”

Abreu’s $9 million contract, and his declining numbers last year – he continued to draw walks frequently, but batted just .253 with eight home runs – has made it very difficult for the Angels and general manager Jerry Dipoto to move him.

“Bobby is aware of the circumstances, he’s aware of the people on the roster,” Dipoto told MLB.com Tuesday. “We do see a fit for Bobby on this club, he’s aware of where that fit is. … Whether it’s an ultimatum that’s been issued, he has no right to do that.”

At worst, Scioscia still sees value in Abreu as an experienced, patient lefty bat off the bench who can get an occasional spot start.

Problem: Abreu believes he can contribute more.

“Bobby and I have always spoken very candidly,” Scioscia said. “I think Bobby, he’s a professional. He’s going to go out there and, you don’t get too many guys any more professional than Bobby, so I don’t anticipate that being an issue. I think if there are some issues, I’m sure that his agent [Peter Greenberg] will work through with Jerry. Bobby’s here, he’s going to help us win games, and that’s what we’re looking forward to.”

More on Angels.com later today.


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