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Inside Baseball | Ross Newhan / ON BASEBALL

Jack of All Trades, Faster Than Everyone

May 09, 2004|Ross Newhan

Amid the big money and big names on the Angel roster, Chone Figgins has emerged as something of a stealth weapon -- although there isn't much stealth about him anymore.

The secret is out. The guy has game -- no matter which position he is playing, where he bats in the lineup or how people mangle his name, which is pronounced Shawn and actually is short for Desmond DeChone.

Call him what you will -- and the Angels refer to him as a full-time player in a part-time role -- but there is definitely more to his game than just team-best speed.

Of course, the impact of his speed shouldn't be minimized.

A couple of years ago, Figgins won $200 by defeating every minor leaguer in the Colorado Rockies' spring camp during that club's annual Dash for Cash (he was timed in 6.29 seconds for 60 yards), and as Figgins noted, "a large part of my game is creating havoc and excitement."

By any measure, he is doing a good job of it.

With Garret Anderson and Tim Salmon on the disabled list and Figgins playing more regularly, the Angels were 12-3 in his starts through Thursday, and Manager Mike Scioscia said: "Chone has been as much a part of our early offensive success as anybody in the lineup. We preach aggressiveness, and he's been the leader of the pack."

Scioscia has even been filling the void by employing Figgins in the vaunted No. 3 position in the batting order.

There is no comparing his size or power -- he is short of both -- to that of the No. 4 hitter, Vladimir Guerrero, but as Scioscia puts it, Figgins is something of a "wild card" and creates "a lot of different dynamics" batting in that spot.

No team survives 162 games without a strong bench, and Figgins has come off it to start games at five positions and play six. He has not appeared as a pitcher, catcher or first baseman, but who knows?

"If he could pitch, catch and play first," Scioscia said, "we could go with a 22-man roster."

As it is, as one of 25, Figgins went into the weekend batting .333 and ranking among American League leaders with four triples and eight stolen bases in eight attempts.

Moreover, since batting coach Mickey Hatcher began changing Figgins' approach from a hitter whom the Rockies wanted to chop down on the ball to take advantage of his speed to that of a line-drive hitter who turns singles into doubles and doubles into triples, he has become a reliable force with runners in scoring position. He batted .412 in those situations during three call-ups last year, and went into the weekend at .384.

The litany of Figgins' recent contributions to Angel victories -- be it by hit, stolen base or pivotal defensive play -- is too extensive to include here, but his importance has gone far beyond what at the time was an under-the-radar trade that sent outfielder Kimera Bartee to the Rockies on July 13, 2001.

Figgins had not played above double A in the Colorado system after being drafted as a shortstop out of Boynton High near Tampa, Fla., in the fourth round of the 1997 June selections.

The Angels, General Manager Bill Stoneman said, knew only of his speed and work ethic, and basically agreed to take Figgins in trade for Bartee -- who had only a brief stint with the Rockies -- on the opinion of scout Dale Sutherland that he could develop into a good offensive player.

Sometimes it takes more than a computer.

Figgins has turned Sutherland into a prophet, as shortstop David Eckstein did after Sutherland and his brother, Gary, the Angels' assistant GM, recommended that he be claimed off waivers.

Now 26, with a kid's countenance and size (5 feet 8, 155 pounds) that could be mistaken for that of a Pony Leaguer, Figgins firmly believes that he could play regularly at any of three positions -- shortstop, second base or center field -- but he accepts his role.

"I can't make out the lineup," he said, "but I can try to make it tough on the person who does. I certainly think I can play every day, but I have to try and take advantage of the situation until that opportunity develops. I recognize that my versatility works for me in that it helps to keep me in the lineup. It's difficult switching positions as much as I have, but it keeps me focused.

"I also think it's earned me the respect of teammates and peers, and that's helped build my confidence. I try to remember what [instructors] Mike Gallego and Bob McClure told me when I was in the Colorado system, which was that you can't get three hits every game but you can try to do one thing every game that will help your team win."

Figgins has a passion and ethic that was honed early. Two of his uncles and his older brother, Demetrius, coach baseball at Blake High in the Tampa area. His mother, Eva, and his father, Charles, often played on coed softball teams comprising all the Figginses and their relatives, and which participated in weekend and other tournaments. What kid wouldn't have fun running around on the sidelines, watching his kin play?

"It seemed like we were always at the park," Figgins said. "I had no choice but to fall in love with the game. If my dad wasn't talking about respect for the game, one of my other relatives was.

"I feel fortunate to have always had family around me. I still do."

Respect, of course, comes in several forms -- none better than when the Angel manager says Chone Figgins "is the type kid you would want as your son."

Even when the son is creating havoc in his job.

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