For catcher Mike Napoli, the glove may hold the answer

His lagging defense last season is driving the power-hitting backstop to try something new: a bigger mitt.

February 25, 2010|By Mike DiGiovanna

Reporting from Tempe, Ariz. — Big Glove. It's not a spinoff of a popular HBO series, it's the new mitt Angels catcher Mike Napoli will try this spring.

Napoli has better-than-average power for a catcher, but he went into a defensive slump last season, struggling so much with his throwing and receiving skills that Manager Mike Scioscia in August held a lengthy closed-door meeting with the catcher.

"He was trying to get me to step up my game," Napoli said. "He was trying to make me a better catcher."

Napoli came to camp this spring vowing to improve his defense, and one change he might incorporate is a bigger glove, which he began breaking in Wednesday.

"It's not so much that it will give him a bigger target, but it makes things a little easier when you get that late movement -- you're still able to put the glove on the ball and control it," said Scioscia, a former Dodgers catcher.

"If you're adding a half-inch to the glove, it doesn't sound like much, but that pocket is going to be really different. If there's an inch difference, the pocket might get too big and deep, and your transfer [from glove to throwing hand] becomes a challenge."

Napoli has hit 20 homers in each of the last two seasons, but he has shared the catching job with Jeff Mathis because Mathis is the superior defender.

In 657 innings with Mathis behind the plate in 2009, Angels pitchers had a 3.99 earned-run average; they had a 4.86 ERA in 758 innings with Napoli catching. Mathis caught almost 25% of attempted base-stealers; Napoli caught almost 15%.

"When I got called up [in 2006], I thought I was a good catcher, but last year I took a little step backward," Napoli said. "This spring, I'm concentrating on what I'm doing, not just doing things to get in shape. I'm working on fundamentals so I can get the job done."

Napoli had problems at times throwing, blocking balls in the dirt and setting targets properly.

"He gradually got away from the things that were important to a pitcher," Scioscia said. "Not that he wasn't in the game mentally; he was. He just started to fight himself a bit and lost some confidence."

Happy camper

Right fielder Bobby Abreu joined the Angels for workouts Wednesday with a new contract -- and a new attitude.

Abreu was frustrated last spring. After hitting .296 with 20 home runs and 100 runs batted in for the New York Yankees in 2008, Abreu, who turns 36 in March, went into free agency hoping for a four-year deal in the $50-million range.

The market, though, has not been kind to aging veterans. Abreu wound up signing a one-year, $5-million deal with the Angels a few days before the start of spring training.

But he used the snub as motivation, hitting .293 with a .390 on-base percentage, 15 homers, 103 runs batted in and 96 runs to help lead the Angels to the AL Championship Series.

His reward?

Abreu signed a two-year, $19-million deal with the Angels the day after the World Series last November. The contract includes a $9-million option for 2012 that vests with 550 plate appearances in 2011 or 1,100 plate appearances in 2010-11.

"Last year was a tough off-season, it was a long off-season," he said. "This spring is different. I have a two-year contract. I'm happy for the opportunity with a team that really appreciates what you do. This spring, I have a different mentality. I'm ready to play."

Short hops

Scot Shields, Kevin Jepsen and Fernando Rodney have all extended their long-toss programs to about 150 feet, and all three relievers are expected to begin throwing off a mound in seven to 10 days, Scioscia said. . . . The Angels have signed Luis Jolly, a speedy 6-foot-2, 16-year-old outfielder from the Dominican Republic, to a reported bonus of $150,000.


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