Advertisement
YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections

BILL SHAIKIN / ON BASEBALL

Angels in the outfield are imported

The team's projected starting trio does not include a homegrown player for the first time since 1992.

March 31, 2009|BILL SHAIKIN | ON BASEBALL

Quick (answer in next paragraph) quiz: Name the only American League team whose projected starting outfielders each hit at least 20 home runs last season.

Answer: The Angels, a team perennially in search of a big bat.

"I've looked at that," center fielder Torii Hunter said. "If we stay healthy, I definitely think it can be one of the best-hitting outfields in the game."

Yet, within the tight-knit Angels camp, the trio of Hunter, left fielder Bobby Abreu and right fielder Vladimir Guerrero might stand out more as imports than power hitters. The Angels develop pitchers, catchers and infielders in rapid and sometimes spectacular fashion, but they have not produced an impact outfielder since Darin Erstad in 1997.

And, now that Garret Anderson has followed fellow mainstays Erstad and Tim Salmon out of Anaheim, the Angels' projected opening-day outfield does not include a homegrown player for the first time since 1992.

"What we try to do is to acquire the right player at the right time," General Manager Tony Reagins said. "We've brought in Torii Hunter and Vladimir Guerrero and Gary Matthews Jr. Those were pieces we needed at the time."

Those pieces were costly. Angels owner Arte Moreno spent $225 million to sign those three players, more than the $183.5 million he spent to buy the club six years ago.

Matthews, signed for five years and $50 million, was benched in the second year of his contract. He left camp for one day Sunday after the Angels told him he would start the season behind Hunter, Guerrero, Abreu and Juan Rivera, the latter two signed this winter for a combined $17.75 million.

The necessity of those free-agent signings can be traced to the draft. Since 2000, the Angels have selected 45 players in the first five rounds -- 24 pitchers, three catchers, nine infielders and nine outfielders.

The Angels failed to sign four of the outfielders. The other five have combined for 4,120 minor league at-bats -- only 11 above the Class-A level.

"You don't draft for position," Manager Mike Scioscia said. "You don't say, 'We need an outfielder.' You draft the most talented kids you can find. If you have to make a trade or sign guys later [to fill a position], so be it.

"You're not going to slot a guy with less talent above a guy with more talent because of need."

The Angels have built their foundation with pitching since Scioscia arrived as manager -- and Bill Stoneman as general manager -- in 1999. That approach has extended beyond the major leagues and into the draft room, even after Stoneman retired two years ago.

"In recent years, we have focused on pitching," Reagins said.

That could change this year. The Angels have five draft picks within the top 50 -- fortified by compensation selections awarded for the free-agent losses of Mark Teixeira, Francisco Rodriguez and Jon Garland -- and scouting director Eddie Bane is keenly aware of the shortage of power within the organization.

"I would bet you'll see some guys taken with some power," said Bane, the Angels' scouting director since 2003. "We're looking hard for power. That's the one thing we haven't done a good job with yet."

No outfielder in the Angels' minor league system hit 20 home runs last season.

Scioscia and Reagins each said Peter Bourjos might be capable of hitting 20. Bourjos, a prospect as a center fielder and leadoff hitter, batted .295 with nine home runs and 50 stolen bases last season at Class-A Rancho Cucamonga.

Yet, Bane said the player most likely to develop into the Angels' next power-hitting outfielder might not be an outfielder right now. If Kendry Morales anchors himself at first base this season, Bane said the Angels could consider moving Mark Trumbo to left field.

In his four minor league seasons, Trumbo has played first base strictly. He led the organization with 32 home runs last season, split between Rancho Cucamonga and double-A Arkansas.

"Mark has as much power as anybody in the game," Bane said.

Trumbo is a year or two away, so Hunter and this year's Angels will try to hit 200 home runs for the second time in club history.

"Morales has the power to hit 30," Hunter said. "It's up to us to go out there and be that power threat."

The Angels set a franchise record with 236 home runs in 2000, the last year they had three outfielders hit at least 20 home runs.

They all grew up in the Angels' system: Anderson, Erstad and Salmon.

--

bill.shaikin@latimes.com

Advertisement
Los Angeles Times Articles
|
|
|