Results tagged ‘ Justin Upton ’

The Angels’ uncertain, costly future …

dipotoThe Draft starts today, and after going heavy-handed on pitching the last two years, the Angels are expected to target position players this time around. They — like any other team — want to set themselves up so that every time there’s a need on the Major League club, there’s a player in their farm system ready to take over. It’s too risky, not to mention expensive, to rely on the free-agent market to fill holes. Look no further than that brutal offseason heading into 2013, which saw the Angels sign Josh Hamilton, Joe Blanton, Tommy Hanson, Ryan Madson and Sean Burnett. Ouch.

The Cardinals are the gold standard when it comes to organizational depth, as evidenced by a Major League-leading plus-70 run-differential without Adam Wanwright or Matt Adams.

The Angels? Well, they’re working on it.

Their farm system was in need of a major replenishment right around the time Jerry Dipoto took over as general manager after the 2011 season, but major free-agent signings stripped the Angels of early-round picks and new CBA regulations limited how much teams can spend on amateur talent. It’s been a slow process. But over time, the Angels have at least done a good job of building some respectable starting-pitching depth. Some notables …

Triple-A: Andrew Heaney, Nick Tropeano
Double-A: Nate Smith, Kyle McGowin
Class A Advanced: Sean Newcomb, Chris Ellis, Victor Alcantara
Class A: Jeremy Rhoades, Jake Jewell
Lower levels: Joe Gatto, Hunter Green

That brings us to the upcoming offseason, and why that starting-pitching depth could be so important. The Angels — losers of five straight games — could have up to five holes in their lineup once this season ends: catcher, second base, third base, left field, designated hitter. In the majority of those spots — perhaps all of them, if you’re being really cynical — the Angels don’t have players in their organization ready to come up and take over. And their big financial flexibility won’t come after the 2016 season, when C.J. Wilson, Jered Weaver and Erick Aybar, among others, come off the books.

Dipoto, with a contract that carries a lingering club option for 2016, knows he’ll eventually have to part ways with some of the precious starting-pitching depth he’s worked so hard to compile. He may have to trade some of it within these next two months, with his club in desperate need of some offense. And he’s almost certain to do so over the winter, given all their upcoming needs.

Here’s a snapshot …

CATCHER

Current option: Chris Iannetta, in the final season of a three-year, $15.55 million extension
In-house replacement(s): Carlos Perez, Jett Bandy
Free-agent options: Iannetta, Alex Avila, John Jaso, Dioner Navarro, Jeff Mathis (!), Matt Wieters
Probable outcome: The rest of this season could play a big part in deciding how the Angels handle this position. They need to find out if Perez, basically a throw-in in the deal that sent Hank Conger to the Astros for Tropeano, is capable of being a semi-regular. Bandy has made some pretty big strides in the last year and is solid defensively, and that free-agent list is pretty compelling. But I’d guess that if the Angels splurge on a free agent, it’s an outfielder, not a catcher.

THIRD BASE

Current option: David Freese, making $6.425 million in his final arbitration year
In-house replacement(s): Kyle Kubitza
Free-agent options: Freese, Aramis Ramirez, Juan Uribe, Casey McGehee, Alberto Callaspo (!)
Probable outcome: The hope – the initial plan – is that Kubitza is ready to be the everyday third baseman in 2016. The likely scenario is that Kubitza is paired with a right-handed-hitting veteran who doesn’t mind sharing the job and can help Kubitza make the transition to the big leagues. I think it’s unlikely that they make a run at resigning Freese, especially since he’ll probably make good money given the lack of talent in the free-agent pool at third base.

SECOND BASE

Current option: Johnny Giavotella, controllable through 2019
In-house replacement(s): Giavotella, Josh Rutledge, Grant Green, Taylor Featherston, Alex Yarbrough
Free-agent options: Howie Kendrick (!), Ben Zobrist, Daniel Murphy
Probable outcome: Giavotella has been a revelation of sorts and is out of options. None of the other in-house options are all that appealing, as Spring Training might have shown, but the free-agent market isn’t deep here, either. The Angels don’t really do reunions, but Kendrick was huge for their lineup these last few years and he loves playing in Southern California. This is a position where they may ultimately have to get creative again.

LEFT FIELD

Current option: Matt Joyce, making $4.75 million in his final arbitration year
In-house replacement(s): Kirk Nieuwenhuis, Collin Cowgill, Efren Navarro, Alfredo Marte
Free-agent options: Joyce, Yoenis Cespedes, Jason Heyward, Torii Hunter (!), David Murphy, Justin Upton, Chris Young, Shane Victorino
Probable outcome: As you can see, this is a major, major problem. Outfield is by far the Angels’ biggest organizationally need and they’ll most certainly have to get somebody from the outside. That may happen before the July 31 non-waiver Trade Deadline, though. Dipoto has been looking for a left-handed-hitting left fielder for quite a while, and for obvious reasons, he’d like to get someone who’s controllable beyond this season. Upton would be a very appealing option, though.

DESIGNATED HITTER

Current option: C.J. Cron, controllable through 2020
In-house replacement(s): Cron, Marc Krauss
Free-agent options: Chris Davis, Mike Napoli (!), Delmon Young
Probable outcome: This situation is strikingly similar to left field. For the last two years, Angels manager Mike Scioscia has been scrounging for that ninth bat, going from Raul Ibanez to Cron to Navarro to Krauss to Green to Cron again. Most teams have this problem, though. Perhaps the Angels remain patient with Cron, but I see them getting two bats before August.

Alden

Trout’s mom: ‘I’m really going to miss Torii’ …

TROUT-TORIIThere are a lot of pictures at Mike Trout‘s parents’ house in Millville, N.J.

To his mom, Debbie, this is the favorite.

It’s hanging in a frame downstairs, in the basement Mike has turned into his own personal “man cave,” and autographed with silver Sharpie by the two of them.

This is a snapshot of Mike’s first Major League game on July 8, 2011, taken just after Mike raced to the wall to make this running catch.

But the significance of this photo lies in the man standing to Mike’s right, Torii Hunter, who took Mike under his wing basically since the moment he was drafted and is now gone, signing with the Tigers to a two-year, $26 million contract over the offseason.

“I’m going to miss Torii,” Debbie said. “I really am going to miss Torii. He was just absolutely wonderful to Mike.”

“Not only did he help him with his approach to the game, but all the little things that people don’t realize when you get up there as a 20-year-old kid — how to behave in the clubhouse, what time to get there,” Mike’s father, Jeff, said. “He’s counseled Mike on nutrition, how to take care of his legs, how to take care of your body, how to handle fans, how to handle the autograph thing. He really has been a really, really positive influence on Mike.”

Hunter was one of the first players Mike met after being the Angels’ 25th overall pick in 2009. The Angels invited him to take batting practice at Angel Stadium, Hunter introduced himself and the veteran outfielder stayed in touch with Mike as he was coming up through the system. Hunter bought Mike a suit shortly after he came up to the big leagues, tipped clubbies for him and even paid for his parents’ dinner when he spotted them at a restaurant one night. The two still stay in touch.

Shortly after Hunter signed with the Tigers, Mike’s mom sent him a tweet (her handle: @DebbieTrout27) …

Thank you from the bottom of my heart!!! Mike has learned from the Best!!!We will miss you but see you in Detroit!!!

Hunter’s response (via @toriihunter48) …

no mama! Thanks to u for raising such a great kid. He was easy to work with and talk to. @Trouty20 is a special kid

“He was a great mentor, and we appreciate everything he did,” Jeff said. “Hopefully some day Mike can do the same for a young player coming up.”

“That’s right,” Debbie added, “because that’s what it’s all about. But I’m really going to miss Torii.”

We ran a story today on Mike’s hometown of Millville — the impact it’s had on his life, the way it has rallied around him these last nine months and how, in some ways, things can never be the same again there. Here are some additional notes …

* The Angels have not begun talks with Mike and his representatives with regards to a long-term extension, sources have said. The club is past the point where it can get him to agree on an Evan Longoria-type deal — six years, $17.5 million, agreed on when he first arrived in the big leagues.

Big-market clubs, as a general rule, can opt to wait a little longer to sign controlled players to a long extension because they aren’t scared by looming arbitration. And by waiting, they minimize the risk for nine figures at such a young age. Normally it’s the small- to mid-market teams that do it in the pre-arbitration years (think Troy Tulowitzki, Carlos Gonzalez, Jay Bruce, Justin Upton and Hanley Ramirez) because it’s one of few ways to assure a star player doesn’t leave via fre agency.

Also, the competitive balance tax accounts for the average annual value of a contract, not the year-to-year price point. So, for example, if Mike signs a 10-year, $200 million contract that’s typically backloaded into his free-agent years, the $25M AAV is factored into the “now payroll” for the CBT. So, even if that contracts pays him only $1M in 2013, the Angels are paying taxes as if that were a $25M deal. That gets to be very pricey when you have other massive deals (Albert Pujols, Josh Hamilton, etc.).

In short, the Angels’ thinking is: What’s the rush? They’ll get there at some point. They’d sure like to.

* Mike isn’t too thrilled about being relegated to left field next season, several people close to him say. No surprise. (How would you feel if you were told to switch positions after being the MVP runner-up?) But Mike has made no mention of his displeasure to Angels management, simply telling them he believes he’s a center fielder but will do what it takes to help the team win.

The Angels remain committed to putting Peter Bourjos in center and Trout in left for a vast majority of the 2013 season – unless Bourjos struggles offensively again. They like the alignment because Bourjos is also an elite-level defensive center fielder – some would say he covers more ground than Mike – and Mike has more experience in left field. Also, staying away from center will only limit the wear and tear on Mike’s legs long-term. Being a left fielder, however, could cost Mike some money, especially in arbitration. It’s highly unlikely that Mike attains Super Two status, so he probably won’t reach arbitration until after the 2014 season.

* Here’s a running joke around Millville: The city doesn’t have any maternity hospitals, so every woman in this city gives birth in Vineland, which just so happens to be their heated, neighboring rival. That was no different for Debbie Trout on Aug. 7, 1991, when Mike was born. And because of that technicality, every Mike Trout baseball card and bio page lists his birthplace as Vineland, N.J. (The grainy picture below is from his freshman year of high school.)

IMG_1753Millville folks don’t generally find that very funny, as you might imagine.

“Yeah, but he never spent no time there,” Millville Mayor Tim Shannon bellowed. “Soon as he was born, we brought him back!”

* Jeff and Debbie point to the July 10 All-Star Game in Kansas City as the moment they realized their lives, and especially Mike’s, would never be the same again.

At about 2 a.m., while the Trouts were celebrating Debbie’s 50th birthday at one of The Capital Grille’s private rooms, fans were still parked outside waiting to hound Mike for autographs as soon as he stepped out. At that point, he and his family were led out the back – where Charlie Sheen was coming in, and sparked a short conversation with Mike.

“That’s when we realized things had changed forever, for us and for Michael,” Jeff said.

Added Debbie: “We no longer were coming in through the front door.”

Alden 

6 Divisions in 6 Days, Day 5 …

Leading up to Opening Day, I’ll roll out an All-Star team for each of the six divisions in baseball — that includes a manager, a starting nine (with a DH also for the National League), three starters and two relievers. One catch: Each team must have at least one representative, and the skipper doesn’t count. Feel free to submit your own lineups below. I’d love to see how yours differ.

Day 5: NL West
Either of the five teams in this division could win it, and I would not be surprised.
Manager: Bruce Bochy, SFG
Lineup
Dee Gordon, 2B (LAD)
Carlos Gonzalez, LF (COL)
Matt Kemp, CF (LAD)
Troy Tulowitzki, SS (COL)
Justin Upton, RF (ARI)
Andre Ethier, DH (LAD)
Pablo Sandoval, 3B (SFG)
Yonder Alonso, 1B (SDP)
Buster Posey, C (SFG)
Rotation
Clayton Kershaw, LAD
Tim Lincecum, SFG
Matt Cain, SFG
Bullpen
Brian Wilson, SFG
J.J. Putz, ARI
Alden  

D-backs struggling, but two key guys thriving

MIAMI — Yes, the Diamondbacks — a team I thought would compete in what I felt was a wide-open National League West — are in last place. And, sure, that bullpen — with a 7.70 ERA that easily ranks last in the Majors going into Friday — has been dreadful. 

But there are some positive signs on this team, and two of them come from a couple of the guys fans were most worried about last season: shortstop Stephen Drew and center fielder Chris Young
stephen-drew.jpg
Last year, Drew (pictured left) plummeted after a nice 2008 season by hitting just .261 in 135 games. Young, meanwhile, had never been able to follow up on a promising rookie season in 2007, as he sports a .235 batting average his previous three seasons. 
But both have turned it around so far.
Drew hit .365 in Cactus League play this spring and has carried that into the regular season, as he sports a solid .304 batting average with 19 RBIs in his first 39 games. Young tore it up last September — batting .278 with eight homers in his last 28 games of the season — and is hitting .282 with five homers and 29 RBIs in 41 games while playing outstanding defense in the outfield. 
I covered the D-backs when they played the Marlins at Sun Life Stadium earlier this week, and I got a chance to ask around about what has led to the early season turnarounds of these two.
In Drew’s case, hitting coach Jack Howell credits a simplified approach. 
“Last year, he spent a lot of time kind of going in and out of his swing,” Howell told me. “Because he gets a little lazy and the bat head drops, and he was getting more fly balls then balls that were backspun. So we spent a lot of time working on that, and then I think the thing that really helped him is that he’s getting better pitches to hit, and I think that’s a lot because he simplified his approach. And what I mean by that is we really talk more, but we don’t go into great-detail kind of stuff on how guys are trying to pitch him and go into all the percentages and stuff. He kind of just wants to know more velocity and the pitches the guy has and to think more see it and hit it.”
“We started that in spring, where he’s kind of focused on seeing it and hitting it hard,” Howell added. “And then any time, if the bat gets a little loopy or whatever, then we have a couple of drills that we work on to kind of get it in a better direction, which helps him stay in the zone longer.”
Thumbnail image for Colorado+Rockies+v+Arizona+Diamondbacks+65Hhyr_GFfil.jpg
As for Young (pictured right), manager A.J. Hinch credits his balance.
“He’s maintained really good balance at the plate,” Hinch told me. “And balance, you can say it’s physical balance. He’s not skating as much in the batter’s box and not getting out of position very often. But it’s almost a mental balance for him of taking every at-bat as a once-at-bat challenge and not dwelling on the mistakes that he makes or the misses that he has.”
The D-backs (18-24) are six games below .500 and 6 1/2 games back while in the basement of the NL West. But don’t blame the offense. They lead the league in runs and homers, while Drew and Young have been solid, new addition Kelly Johnson has been great, franchise player Justin Upton is starting to hit again, and Mark Reynolds is still doing his thing. 

Alden Gonzalez
Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 174 other followers

%d bloggers like this: