MESA, Ariz. — It's one thing for the Angels to voice enthusiasm over the suddenly impressive harvest of a long-dormant farm system.
It's quite another to hear it from the Dodgers. That's like Macy's applauding Gimbels.
Mel Didier, the Dodgers' special assignment scout who has been watching the Angels with intriguing persistence this spring, said the other day, "This is the best crop of young players I've ever seen in an Angels' camp. Five or six of them have a real chance."
The ones Didier mentioned are third baseman Jack Howell, center fielder Devon White and second baseman Mark McLemore, who at 20 batted .295 for Class A Redwood last year, stealing 59 bases and winning his teammates' vote as Most Valuable Player.
With the decisions still far off and the exhibition schedule to be played, a morning-line handicap of the farm products most likely to make the club might look like this:
1--Craig Gerber, 26, who played at Cajon High in San Bernardino and Cal Poly SLO. Gerber hit only .230 at Edmonton but won a Silver Glove as the best fielding shortstop in triple-A baseball last year. It's unlikely that the Angels will open the season without a reserve shortstop and Gerber is the only apparent candidate. Gerber also plays second base and center field.
2--Pat Clements, 23, a left-handed pitcher who attended UCLA and was 4-2 with nine saves in his first year of relief pitching at double-A Waterbury last year. Manager Gene Mauch wants a left-hander in the bullpen, and Clements will be given a long look before the club considers a trade.
3--A tie among right-handers Kirk McCaskill, 23, who was 7-11 at triple-A Edmonton, and Rafael Lugo, 22, who was 13-8 at double-A Waterbury, and left-hander Bob Kipper, 20, who was 18-8 at Class A Redwood. This threesome is vying with veteran Tommy John for the fifth spot in the starting rotation. Each has the advantage of earning a light salary at a time when the club seems intent on dumping high-salaried veterans whose continued worth is suspect.
The hit parade stopped last year for the team once known as Bambi's Bombers and Harvey's Wallbangers.
The Milwaukee Brewers' sudden anemia stemmed, to a great extent, from the loss of third baseman and leadoff man Paul Molitor, who had 365 hits in 1982 and '83.
Molitor injured his right elbow late last March, appeared in 13 regular-season games, and had surgery May 21. A tendon was taken from his left forearm and transplanted to replace a damaged ligament in the elbow.
The surgery was pioneered by Tommy John, whose rehabilitation required 16 months. Don Aase had the same operation and needed 15 months. Molitor is now confident he can do it in nine. He hopes to play opening day, pointing out that he doesn't put the same stress on the elbow that a pitcher does.
"I can play now," Molitor told a reporter for the Arizona Republic the other day. "The question is how it's going to be on a day-to-day basis. Will I be able to play five days in a row? Is cold weather going to be a problem? Some of the questions are still unanswered and I have to accept that it's going to be like that for a while."
Former Angel Jerry Remy, the Boston second baseman who has two years left on his contract, at $460,000 per, is apparently through at 34. Five operations have left his left knee an empty shell.
The sad irony is that the career of Remy's buddy and former teammate, Angel Rick Burleson, is also in jeopardy. Burleson's long struggle to return from a pair of rotator cuff tears was compounded on New Year's Eve when he dislocated a shoulder lifting weights.
Remy said the other day, "Maybe Rooster and I can manage against each other some day."