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MIKE PENNER

Angels Wishing There Was No Comparison

April 04, 1993|MIKE PENNER

From the hometown perspective, interleague play in baseball would be a godsend, greatly helping level the local playing field.

The Angels could play the Padres, a.k.a. The Swap Meet, the only team in baseball that has out-contract-dumped Jackie Autry, Rich Brown, Whitey Herzog and Dan O'Brien, a.k.a. The Gang of Four.

The Angels could play the Cubs, whose pennantless streak goes back not only to 1961 but well beyond, all the way to the end of World World II.

Best of all, the Angels could play the Colorado Rockies and the Florida Marlins, baseball's other two expansion teams.

There is little sense in trying to dissect the 1993 Angels and their chances of competing in the American League West. They are as doomed as the frog in your high school biology lab. In the clubhouse and on the diamond this spring, they have resembled nothing so much as a college team with a couple of aging redshirts--young, enthusiastic, eager to please, and hopelessly in over their heads.

They are suffering now so they might blossom together down the road, you say.

This emphasis on home-grown youth is a concept the Angels should have embraced years ago, you say.

I will say you are half-right and challenge your definition of a "youth movement." "Economy movement" is the more accurate description, since any proper youth movement--i.e., one that values winning baseball games over saving money--builds around 25-year-old star left-handed pitchers instead of throwing them in the dumpster. A real youth movement may not hold onto a 29-year-old relief ace coming off elbow surgery, but it will, as the Marlins are doing now, see if he can pry loose a couple of prospects from Atlanta's mother lode of minor-league talent.

So don't be fooled by the labeling. The Angels are going with youth not because it is the smartest way, but because it is the cheapest way. That isn't the players' fault. And in this context, it is hardly fair to run them through painful comparisons with the Twins and the White Sox, because the Angels' destination this season is all-too-clearly known--seventh place, 90 to 100 losses.

Seeking more suitable comparisons, we seek out the Marlins and the Rockies, who are also beginning from square one. Training wheels on, the three youngest teams in baseball shape up thusly for 1993:

FIRST BASE

1. Rockies: Andres Galarraga has done everything the Angels hope J.T. Snow someday will--win a Gold Glove, bat .300, drive in 90 runs. At 31, in Denver's thin air, Galarraga could hit 30 homers.

2. Marlins: Needing a first baseman, Florida went to Japan and brought back Orestes Destrade, who hit 154 home runs in 3 1/2 seasons. The Angels went to Japan and brought back Ty Van Burkleo.

3. Angels: Snow melted under the Arizona sun. In Anaheim, he needs to relax and get the words "Lee Stevens" out of his head.

SECOND BASE

1. Rockies: Eric Young stole 216 bases in three-plus minor-league seasons and batted .337 last year for Albuquerque.

2. Angels: The rawest prospect on the 25-man roster, Damion Easley is playing his third position in two years and has never batted above .289 in a full minor-league season.

3. Marlins: Before last year's disastrous experiment at third base, Bret Barberie was Montreal's version of Easley, and then some, coming off a 1991 season in which he hit .353 in 57 games. Then he hit .232 in 111 games, which is what landed him here.

THIRD BASE

1. Rockies: Charlie Hayes, good for 18 to 20 homers and 60 to 70 RBIs.

2. Marlins: Dave Magadan, good for a .280 to .300 batting average.

3. Angels: Rene Gonzales, good in the clubhouse.

SHORTSTOP

1. Marlins: When healthy, Walt Weiss is basically a more seasoned Gary DiSarcina with a 1988 AL Rookie of the Year trophy.

2. Angels: Last season, DiSarcina batted .247, committed 25 errors and was considered an Angel bright spot.

3. Rockies: Freddie Benavides, the right journeyman at the right time.

LEFT FIELD

1. Angels: Luis Polonia, the Angels' best everyday player, left unprotected in the expansion draft.

2. Marlins: A converted first baseman, Jeff Conine hit .302 with 20 home runs in triple A last season but wasn't going anywhere in an organization with Wally Joyner.

3. Rockies: A "washout" in San Diego, Jerald Clark would have led the Angels in home runs (12) and placed second in RBIs (58) last year.

CENTER FIELD

1. Angels: As a rookie, Chad Curtis stole 43 bases and had 16 assists--and scouts say the jury is still out.

2. Rockies: Alex Cole stole 40 bases in 1990 and batted .295 in 1991, so why is this his fifth organization in four years?

3. Marlins: Chuck Carr, south Florida's answer to Gary Pettis.

RIGHT FIELD

1. Angels: If only because Tim Salmon is an unknown quantity and what the Angels don't know hasn't yet hurt them. Unlike . . .

2. Rockies: Dante Bichette, the next great Angel outfield prospect, once upon a time. And . . .

3. Marlins: Junior Felix, the next great Angel outfield prospect, once upon a time.

CATCHER

1. Marlins: Benito Santiago, San Diego's contribution to the Save The Marlins fund.

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