Halos enjoy rare catching depth
Wilson hopes to seize big league roster spot with Napoli ailing
SURPRISE, Ariz. -- Four doesn't go into one without fractions. Any grammar-school kid can tell you that.
Along those same mathematical lines, four athletes don't go into one position without factions. Any player can tell you that.
That's what makes the Angels' catching corps such an anomaly. Mike Napoli, Jeff Mathis, Bobby Wilson and Ryan Budde can tell you that.
"All four of us are together almost every night," said Wilson, in the midst of another spring competing with his best buddies for playing time and the approval of manager Mike Scioscia. "I don't think you'd see that anywhere else.
"Whatever any of us can do to help each other, we do it. If it's personal stuff, I turn to those guys first -- even before my own family at times. That's how close we are."
Scioscia, who knows catching the way Einstein knew relativity and Dylan knows lyrics, realizes he's blessed to have multiple performers this advanced at the most important non-pitching position on the field.
"I think we have four catchers -- we're four-deep -- ready to play here in the Major Leagues," Scioscia said before Sunday's game against the Royals.
"We've got a lot of confidence in Bobby Wilson and Ryan Budde. As a rule, teams don't have that kind of quality depth at the catching position."
Wilson, like Napoli and Mathis, is a native of Florida, while Budde hails from Oklahoma.
With Napoli and Mathis sharing catching duties for the Angels the past two seasons, Wilson and Budde have been taking care of the pitching staff at Triple-A Salt Lake.
Wilson was doing the majority of the catching for the Bees when Napoli was forced to the disabled list on July 6 with shoulder inflammation, an ailment that would require offseason surgery.
In a cruel twist of fate, Wilson fractured his right thumb on a foul tip the same night Napoli was headed to the DL. Budde, who had caught effectively for the Angels in the second half of 2007 with Napoli sidelined, got the call.
"I was devastated," Wilson said. "I shattered it right above the knuckle on that Saturday night."
Like Napoli with his shoulder, Wilson lost a month of playing time to the healing process. In a brief trip to Anaheim in late April, Wilson had singled in his first Major League at-bat, against the Athletics.
Wilson carried that 1.000 Major League batting average for almost five months. Rejoining the Angels as a September callup, he went hitless against the Rangers in three at-bats on Sept. 26, finishing the season 1-for-6 in seven games.
The only start not taken all season by Napoli or Mathis went to Budde.
The possibility exists that a spot for a third catcher will be available on the Opening Day 25-man roster if Napoli -- who is "close to getting behind the plate" in a Cactus League game, according to Scioscia -- isn't ready to throw full-tilt.
But Scioscia and his staff appear to be leaning toward carrying 12 pitchers, which would eliminate any possibility of a third receiver.
"A lot depends on the length of our starters, where they are coming out of camp," Scioscia said. "We might be at 11 [pitchers] if we have the length. But if it's 12, there's no chance of carrying a third catcher."
Wilson, taken in the 48th round of the 2002 First-Year Player Draft and signed by renowned scout Tom Kotchman, played at Seminole (Fla.) High School with Kotchman's son, Casey, who went to the Braves in July in the Mark Teixeira deal.
Wilson and the first baseman remain in phone contact, Kotchman telling his old friend he's happy in Atlanta, being closer to family in Florida -- and delighted to have old friend Garret Anderson gracing the Braves' clubhouse.
A .286 career hitter in 542 Minor League games, Wilson, who turns 26 on April 8, feels he is ready to play in the big time.
"I want to play in the big leagues," Wilson said. "That's the bottom line. But I don't want to see Napoli or Jeff get hurt. I don't want it that way. I'd rather flat-out win a job.
"With Jeff and Nap being such good catchers and game-callers, and with Budde, too, I understand the situation. But I feel like I'm ready now. I have a better understanding of what pitchers are trying to do, getting inside their heads. That's what Jeff and Napoli do so well."
Scioscia understands the physical demands and risks involved in the catching job better than just about anybody. That's why he values depth so highly at the position.
Wilson gets the stamp of approval from the man in charge.
"Bobby's a plus defender," Scioscia said. "He really has an idea about working with pitchers. He has terrific hands, receives very well, has a strong, accurate arm. He's really good defensively."
Budde is out-hitting Wilson .429 to .208 this spring, but Scioscia is all about defense with catchers and doesn't put a lot of stock in spring numbers.
If he opens the season in the Pacific Coast League, where he hit .312 last season and caught most of the games during the Bees' blazing 22-1 start, Wilson, naturally, will be disappointed.
"I'll do everything I can to show I'm a Major League player," Wilson said, fully aware of how frustrating Angels math can be with so many talented players trying to squeeze their way into 25 roster spots.
Lyle Spencer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.