01/07/2004 6:12 PM ET
Nieves could challenge for a job
Backstop hitting well in Puerto Rico this winter
By Doug Miller / MLB.com
With a former All-Star catcher Mike Scioscia at the helm of the Angels, it's always safe to assume that the players behind the plate are being observed very carefully.
|Wil Nieves has followed a fine Triple-A season with good numbers in Puerto Rico. (Jeff Gross/Getty Images)
The Angels have a star at catcher in starter Bengie Molina, who has won two straight Gold Gloves. Bengie's brother, Jose, is a solid defensive backup.
One prospect the Angels continue to be excited about is Wil Nieves, who played at Triple-A Salt Lake last year and is tearing up the Puerto Rican Winter League for the Mayaguez Indians.
As of Dec. 30, Nieves was batting .311 with 14 runs and 17 RBIs in 103 at-bats.
Nieves, 26, was claimed off waivers from the San Diego Padres after the 2002 season, then pushed Jose Molina in Spring Training, showing acumen behind the plate and flashing some speed on the basepaths.
"Wil is showing some incredible agility back there," Scioscia said last March. "He's been blocking balls in the dirt, his arm strength is there, and he's starting to work well with the pitchers. I'm impressed with what he's done so far."
Nieves didn't make the Angels out of Spring Training, in part because Jose Molina is out of options and would be available to other clubs via the waiver wire if the Angels decided to take him off the 25-man roster.
Jose Molina went on to have a disappointing season with his bat, batting .184 in 118 at-bats, and Nieves batted .283 in Salt Lake with 48 runs scored and 38 RBIs in 102 games.
Toward the end of the season, when Bengie Molina suffered a season-ending wrist injury, the Angels opted to call up Tom Gregorio from Triple-A, leaving Nieves in the minors once again.
But Angels general manager Bill Stoneman said that doesn't mean Nieves won't have a chance to make the big club this spring, especially with the winter he's having in his homeland.
"He's playing well down there," Stoneman said. "He had a good winter last year, too, and he had a decent Spring Training. He was with us right up to the end. We had to make a call, and he didn't get the call, but that's not to say things won't be different.
"This is a performance-based business, so we'll see how he performs in Spring Training."
Doug Miller is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.