Camp is winding down, with great uncertainty
Catcher, third base and closer all up for grabs with Angels
PEORIA, Ariz. -- With two weeks left in Spring Training, it is no longer about getting in your work on the mound, getting a feel at the plate, getting the limbs loose defensively.
The games take on greater importance now for players on the bubble, trying to nail down roster spots and positions, looking to show the brass they have the right stuff to flourish at the highest level.
The Angels came to Tempe Diablo Stadium a month ago with an assortment of question marks, more than usual. A few solid answers appear to have formed, but for the most part, these next two weeks will determine who stays and who goes, who starts and who takes a seat on the bench.
2010 Spring Training - Los Angeles Angels
News & Features
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- Worth noting
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Sights & Sounds
Spring Training Info
A rundown of the primary position battles and where they stand heading down the stretch:
The most important non-pitching position on the field in manager Mike Scioscia's view appears to be firmly in the hands of Jeff Mathis and Bobby Wilson. Both veterans have performed with confidence and generated offense, while young Hank Conger appears ticketed for a return to Triple-A Salt Lake for more seasoning.
Mathis, widely criticized over the winter by media and fans for his offensive deficiencies, has responded nicely to the challenge. His fractured right wrist fully healed after causing his 2010 season to crash just as it was taking off, Mathis is showing a strong, accurate arm along with his familiar high-quality defensive skills.
Through nine Cactus League games, he's batting a solid .333 with .429 slugging and .364 on-base marks. He has struck out only three times in 21 at-bats, making consistent contact with a more compact swing with an emphasis on firing off his back side.
Wilson has been one of the stories of the spring, from the moment of his arrival when he turned heads with his impressive new physique. The 33 pounds he shed over the winter have taken him down to 210 and lifted his game immeasurably in every respect. He's quicker behind the plate, quicker with his stroke, quicker on the bases ... quicker everywhere but to the dining room.
After playing only 40 games last season as the third catcher, Wilson, with his .524 average heading into Tuesday's game against the Padres, looks like a guy who could handle whatever comes his way. His self-confidence is mirrored in the esteem Scioscia clearly holds for his across-the-board skills.
Conger has struggled to find his power stroke with only one of his four hits in 22 at-bats going for extra bases. The kid can hit -- nobody questions that. His defense this spring has been solid, but Scioscia likes his receivers to play more than Conger has in the Minor Leagues. A return to Salt Lake for everyday work would have him ready should the need arise in Anaheim.
The three-way competition among Maicer Izturis, Alberto Callaspo and Brandon Wood has not lifted their performance levels, making this the biggest concern on the club at this point.
Izturis' injury history -- nine trips to the disabled list in six seasons with the Angels -- makes it difficult to lean on him as a regular, even though he has the tools and attitude to be an efficient leadoff man and third baseman. He desperately wants to be an everyday player -- maybe too desperately. He's hitting .200 with a .286 OBP through nine spring games.
Callaspo has hit .310 with a .310 OBP and .310 slugging mark -- nine singles in 29 at-bats. He doesn't bring speed and is not quite as adept with the glove as Izturis and Wood.
Wood remains the mystery man. He came to camp with a confident demeanor, convinced he'd found his stroke over the winter with an emphasis on his lower half. But his struggles -- .167 batting average, .306 slugging percentage -- look like a continuation of last season, and that's troubling.
Wood has the ability to play three positions well -- third, shortstop and first. Clubs hate to part with young talents with huge upsides, knowing the light might go on elsewhere and everything falls in place. But the Angels might have no choice but to move or release him if they decide to carry 12 pitchers and need Mark Trumbo -- and his booming spring bat -- as support for first baseman Kendrys Morales.
All of a sudden, with Oakland's Andrew Bailey experiencing arm issues and Texas' Neftali Feliz looking like a potential lights-out starter, the Angels aren't the only American League West club with ninth-inning uncertainties.
Fernando Rodney's spring has been unfortunately similar to his September -- too many baserunners for comfort. While Rodney remains the favorite with his experience, the options are plentiful behind him.
Jordan Walden, Scott Downs, Hisanori Takahashi and Michael Kohn have had superb springs, and Kevin Jepsen remains squarely in the picture. Jason Bulger and Rich Thompson, both bidding to make the roster with no Minor League options left, also have done first-rate work.
There are lefties and righties, veterans and young guns forming a wide range of choices for Scioscia.
Overall, the bullpen looks deeper and more versatile than it has in several years. The next two weeks could serve to identify the ninth-inning man -- or they could go into the season with Rodney and see how he fares before going to Plan B.
Lyle Spencer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.