Wednesday, March 16, 2011 at 3 p.m.
The Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim have plenty they'd like to forget about last season. With Opening Day coming up fast, the Halos are hoping to return to the have-a-great-regular-season-before-getting-spanked-by-the-stinkin'-Red Sox-in-the-playoffs-AGAIN form that fans have come to expect since the 2002 World Series win.
Unfortunately, owner Arte Moreno and GM Tony Reagins have put together an off-season so bad it could ruin even the most exuberant of walk-off home-run celebrations. Kendry--sorry, Kendrys Morales, take heed.
But having one of the worst off-seasons in recent memory doesn't mean the Angels don't have at least have some of the pieces to make a run at a playoff spot in October, Texas Rangers be damned.
One of those pieces will be the Halos' highly touted kids. The first, Peter Bourjos
, has already partially proven himself. Another could be Mike Trout
, who not only has C.C. Sabathia-sized expectations laid on his shoulders already (ah, those C.C. fat jokes--they never get old!), but he also has the added pressure of being next in line for that coveted superstar-with-a-fishy-last-name spot given up by none other than Angel great Tim Salmon back in 2006. King Fish, hallowed be thy name.
Bourjos was a definite bright spot in a season with few of them. It was impressive enough when he took over centerfield duties from veteran Torii Hunter.
Not to mention, he routinely does stuff like this
. And this
You'd have to be on a morphine drip or something to not be pumped about how good this kid is. They don't call him Gorgeous Bourjos for nothing. (How long have sports writers been waiting for a guy whose name rhymes with "gorgeous"?)
Bourjos' defensive Wins Above Replacement numbers show just how ridiculous his centerfield debut with the Angels truly was. His 1.7 WAR was third in the majors on defense last season over a mere 51 games--51 games. If Bourjos had played the entire season, he easily could have had the greatest single-season WAR performance by a centerfielder in MLB history with a 5.1 clip in that category. No wonder there was nary a peep from Hunter's corner when the new guy took over his longtime spot.
That said, Bourjos started off doing his best Brandon Wood impression at the plate for most of the season. Think that comparison is too cruel? It's not, really--in his first 12 games on a major-league roster, Bourjos hit .122 with just five hits and 10 strikeouts. That was the 23-year-old at this worst last season.
At his best, however, he was slugging at .444 and hit six homers over his last 37 games in 2010. Promising, yes, but still not enough to guarantee him a starting spot this season.
So far this spring, he has built on that late success. Through mid-March, Bourjos is hitting .333 with a .424 on-base percentage. He's also got five hits over his past 10 at bats. What's got Mike Scioscia happy, though, is that Bourjos is finally getting his bunting down pat and is running the bases well--he's 2-for-2 so far on stolen bases.
Trout, on the other hand, has done a whole lot of nothing so far this spring for the Angels, but that hasn't meant that fans, analysts and coaches haven't been drooling over the prospect nonstop since he put on a uniform.
Terms such as wunderkind and Mickey Mantle comparisons get thrown around a lot with this guy. The way he's been written about so far in his young career, most Halos fans probably think Trout will not only lead the Angels to six-straight world championships, but also saves buses full of schoolchildren in his spare time.
His minor-league stats are downright nasty. In two seasons, he has hit a .344 average and a .489 slugging percentage. He's got incredible speed, too --69 stolen bases in two years in the minors are a testament to that. And he's only 19 years old.
With the outfield positions set for this season, however, Trout will probably not be joining the big leagues any time soon. Nor should he. At Trout's age, most of his peers are still awkwardly groping one another at frat parties, not carrying the weight of an entire franchise's expectations around with them. Know how he's still too young for the majors? His teammates still subject him to some intense hazing.
The most recent example: During a team bonding exercise in which the club's younger prospects usually take one another out to eat fast food, Trout called out Jered Weaver instead. The vet's retribution was swift and terrible; in a fit of overkill that would have put Jason Statham to shame, Weaver responded to the insult by asking a stadium employee to post Trout's cell-phone number on the scoreboard during the game.
The flood of calls to Trout's cell phone that rendered it unusable had to have taught the rookie a stark lesson: This is the big leagues, newbie.