A week after the Vernon Wells deal went down, I decided that I am really happy that I didn’t write this post a week ago and instead focused my attention on the talents of Mike Trout, because the deal would have made me have to retract everything I’m about to say. The Angels have a few too many catchers to say the least. Mike Napoli being traded got rid of one of the possible four starting catchers the Angels had unfortunately he was also the favorite among fans to man the backstop. Now the Angels' leading competitors for the job remain to be Jeff Mathis, Bobby Wilson, and the young and extremely talented Hank Conger. So here’s a closer look at the three and I think I’ll let you decide who should be the starting catcher next year.
Since his fellow draft mate Joe Mauer is currently unavailable, although that would be nice in an ultimate fantasy, Jeff Mathis appears to have the starting job next year. Fans have seen him time and time again for years now, with not much of a change at all in his production except maybe for the worse. In 205 at bats last year, Mathis held a .195/.219/.278 slash line. Now yes he was injured for part of the year, but Scioscia really seems to have a thing for Mathis being behind the plate. In recent seasons he has split time with Napoli almost equally because he was the “defensively superior” player. In 2010, Mathis only threw out 11 runners in 67 games played as opposed to 20 a few years ago. Whether it is because of the wrist injury he suffered early in the season or if his defense is actually declining, it is difficult to tell. But if his defensive numbers start to take a hit, along with the terrible production at the plate, Mathis needs to go. At some points in the season it felt like watching Brandon Wood and Jeff Mathis hit back to back was the equivalent of watching two pitchers go back to back. I’m sorry to Mathis, but I don’t feel comfortable with him behind the plate or in the batter’s box, but he remains a probable option for catching our fantastic pitching staff next year.
Wilson started last season as the third catcher on the roster and looked to get some occasional playing time behind the plate in case of injury. Unfortunately he had a run in with ex-Angel Mark Teixeira, resulting in a concussion and a severely injured ankle after the dust settled. Then the Angels lost Morales, Napoli moved over to first for the majority of games, and the Angels had Jeff Mathis. Wilson started 40 games behind the plate last year, and posted a .229/.288/417 slash line with 15 RBI. Now that’s not that great either, but I think he just needs a little more exposure in the Bigs to start being a consistently productive hitter. I don’t see that happening though. The more likely scenario would be him becoming trade bait. Tony Reagins seems to be able to swing any trade, and he might be able to get a decent starter or reliever for him at the right time. I see him being traded because of the potential of the third option at the position.
The talented young catcher made a nice name for himself. And as HaloHunter pointed out in his top five series, the question is less of whether or not he is ready for the Bigs, but more of a question of whether or not there is room. Conger should be getting his chance this year, at least in my opinion. He didn’t make a huge impact when he got called up in September, but he has the potential to impact the club now as his .300/.385/.463 line at AAA Salt Lake clearly shows. There is not much more the kid can get out of the minors. My biggest fear is the Angels missing out on a prime opportunity for a kid to develop in the majors and learn as he goes, which would be the Brandon Wood Saga all over again.
Now I know that Conger cannot be the opening day catcher, but I think he should get a better look than what he is probably going to get in the spring. The more likely scenario would be Mathis, then Wilson, and finally Conger stepping in for the absence of either of the two leading guys. But who knows, as we saw last year anything can happen. But the only certainty is that there are plenty of backstops on the Angels’ hands.