Sunday, April 19, 2009

(OF Chris Pettit looks to put together a solid campaign in Triple-A this season)

By David Saltzer - Columnist

Over the past few days, we’ve taken a close look at each of our minor league affiliates to get to know the 5 big questions that each team needs to answer over the course of the season. Today we finish the series by focusing on our highest level minor league team, the Salt Lake Bees to see what key issues are affecting this team.

Question #1: What do Wood, S-Rod and Brown have to do to get back to the show?
If major league rosters were set solely by Spring Training performances, all three of these players would be on the major league roster. Essentially, all 3 are ready to play in the show but are unfortunately blocked by other players already in the majors. At the end of Spring Training, all three were sent back down to the minors to get regular ABs.

So, what do these guys need to do in order to make it back to the majors? Essentially, they need to do 4 things, and they need to do all 4 of those things well. First off, they need to accept the demotion as an unfortunate and necessary part of the game. They need to be good team players and professionals. While Sports Center may love the big player “meltdown”, most teams do not and most players who do have meltdowns upon a demotion often struggle worse at the lower level making it harder to justify re-promoting them.

The second thing they need to do is to continue to show why they belong in the majors. If Aybar continues to struggle and Wood continues to mash, Scioscia will be forced to make a change. If another team has an injury and needs a MIF, then Rodriguez could find himself playing for another team. We know that these guys have the talent. But, the more they demonstrate it, the more they will force their way up.

Third, they need to expand their resumes. Both Rodriguez and Brown need to work in some time in the OF to expand their versatility. These guys are coveted primarily for their bats. The more ways to get their bats in the lineup, the more likely it becomes that they will end up in the majors.

Finally, they need to bide their time. While no one likes it, injuries are a part of the game. We just lost Vlad for at least 6-8 weeks. A baseball team’s roster is always in a state of flux. Consequently, there is a great chance that some or all of these guys will end up back in the show before the year is over. Hopefully, when they get there, they will stick.

Question #2: Will Pettit Get a Solid Footing in AAA?
For Chris Pettit, last year never really got off on the right foot. Unfortunately, in the first game of the season, Pettit broke his ankle and didn’t get back until the end of the season.

When we interviewed Abe Flores, Director of Player Development, about Chris Pettit, he said “Pettit missed a large part of his season. He came back but was definitely rusty when he got back to the double-A club. But he had a tremendous Arizona Fall League—he really tore it up. Basically one of the top MVPs of that league. That being said, if we were breaking camp today, he would project out to Double-A to be patient with him a little bit more. We expect some big things out of him and he could potentially have a really quick promotion, but that remains to be seen.”

Well, apparently Chris Pettit did all of those things during Spring Training (where he hit 333 in 48 ABs with 2 doubles, 1 triple and 2 SBs) because he ended up on the Triple-A roster to start the season.

In the past, Eddie Bane has said that Pettit has the best plate discipline within the organization. Pettit’s stroke can generate some power, with 20 HRs within reach at the major league level. And, Pettit’s speed can lead to 20+ SBs a year in the majors.

Long term, Pettit profiles as an above average defensive LFer. He doesn’t have the arm or first-step quickness to be an ML CFer, but would be a good fit in LF. A lot of Pettit’s future depends on how the Angels choose to handle Vlad, GMJr and Rivera. But, if Vlad becomes the full-time DH, and Pettit continues to shine, a spot could open up in LF for him.

Question #3: What happened to Ortega?
When the Angels left the 5th starter’s spot open, a lot of us speculated that Anthony Ortega would be a dark-horse candidate to win the job. Going into Spring Training, that seemed like a safe bet.

Unfortunately, Ortega developed a “dead arm” condition that sidelined him from most of the games in Spring Training, and he never really competed for that 5th spot in the rotation. As a result, he’s still building up his strength at Salt Lake. So far he’s only started 2 games and pitched a total of 9.2 innings. So, it’s not too likely that we’ll see him in Anaheim in the near-term to offset all the losses to our rotation.

While Ortega doesn’t have a true out-pitch, last year he generated a large number of ground balls with his offspeed pitches. He pounded the lower half of the strike zone and as a result, excelled in a hitter-friendly league. When his arm strength recovers, he could be an innings eater pitcher which the Angels may need over the course of this season.

Question #4: What is Wood’s Future Position?
While earlier I said that Wood needs to increase his versatility to make it in the majors, the Angels will ultimately have to decide this year whether he is a future major league SS or 3B. The question on his future is still out, and so far, of the 5 games in which Wood has played, he has made 3 starts at SS and 2 at 3B.

The reality is that the Angels need to look at the bigger picture with Wood and have him settle down into the SS role. While Aybar may be slightly better defensively (although this point is debatable—Aybar makes more flashy plays but botches routine plays whereas Wood makes routine plays and some flashy plays) Wood’s offensive upside is dramatically better than Aybar’s (Wood has 4 HRs in his first 5 games). Keeping Aybar as the starting SS only makes sense if Aybar can be the leadoff hitter, and that does not seem likely. He lacks the plate discipline and speed to excel as a leadoff hitter. Furthermore, Peter Bourjos is at Double-A Arkansas and showing improved plate discipline. Bourjos has true plus-plus speed and should be the future leadoff hitter for the Angels. He would make a better leadoff hitter than Aybar.

Playing Wood at 3B makes sense only as a hedge against an injury to Figgins or the loss of him after the end of the year. However, the Angels have several talented and productive 3B in development such as Jimenez and Sweeney. Both have major upsides offensively and defensively. Putting Wood at 3B would block both of these players’ offensive upside at the expense at keeping Aybar’s defense on the field.

The Angels should look to extend Figgins for 2-3 years right to bridge the gap between him and Bourjos as the future leadoff man. They also should extend Figgins to bridge the gap until Sweeney or Jimenez can claim the job outright. If they do that, then Wood’s only position is his natural one—SS.

Wood has a special talent offensively that doesn’t come around too often in a SS. As such, the Angels should settle the question once and for all and keep him at his natural position.

Question #5: How Will Abe Keep Plugging the Holes in the Roster?
Yikes! This year has NOT started off the way anyone in the Angels would have hoped it would. While Abe Flores told us that injuries are a part of the game, no one could have imagined all the shuffling we’d have to do at the start of the season.

The one thing that the Angels do have is a lot of depth, especially at Double-A Arkansas. While there should be no reason to panic and destroy the development of a player as a result of all the injuries, there are some players who could be close to being promoted. Trumbo, for example, has already seen time at Double-A Arkansas and could move up to Salt Lake in the event that Wood or Brown is promoted to the majors for a prolonged period.

Most likely, though, Abe Flores and his staff have their hands full and are scouring the minors to keep a pulse on who is available and who would fit in with the Angels. As the Bees get shuffled around, expect the Angels to make some moves to keep their roster balanced. Don’t be surprised if you start seeing some names you haven’t seen before. This is part of what the minor leagues is all about and part of why minor league journeymen make a living.

Sleepers to Keep an Eye On

Freddy Sandoval (3B): Like Matt Brown, Sandoval profiles as a backup corner infield candidate. While he doesn’t hit for as much power as Brown, he does have a better eye at the plate and is a switch hitter. He will compete with Brown to see which one can dislodge Quinlan from the bench spot reserved for a CIF.

Bobby Wilson (C): If the Angels make Napoli a primary DH candidate, Bobby Wilson could slip into the backup catcher’s role. While he doesn’t hit for much power, Wilson does hit for average. He’s familiar with many of the players from the minors, and could do a good job stabilizing several of the pitchers as they make their entrance into the majors.
Love to hear what you think!


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