Young Angels turning heads in camp
Spring record is reflection of deep, talented group of prospects
TEMPE, Ariz. -- Over the course of a remarkably successful and productive spring -- 18 Cactus League wins against four losses heading into Tuesday's date with the Padres -- the Angels have been fortified by a collection of gifted young athletes.
"We've had a number of guys who have jumped up on the depth chart," manager Mike Scioscia said. "These kids have taken advantage of an opportunity to show us what they can do. They've contributed in a lot of ways, and we've been very impressed."
The club's top-tier prospects -- Brandon Wood, Sean Rodriguez, Matt Brown, Nick Adenhart, Kevin Jepsen, Bobby Wilson and Ryan Budde -- will remain with the team through the balance of Spring Training.
A few could make the 25-man Opening Day roster, but most will be returned to Triple-A Salt Lake, which should field another powerhouse like the one that began 2008 with a 22-1 record.
Beneath them are a group of young players who have shown the skill sets and attitudes to not only make it to the big time, but stay there.
They're housed in the Minor League camp for now, but there's nothing minor about the talents of pitchers Jordan Walden, Anthony Ortega, Rich Thompson and Sean O'Sullivan; catchers Hank Conger, Ben Johnson and Anel de los Santos; infielders Freddy Sandoval, Mark Trumbo, Andrew Romine, Hainley Statia and Ryan Mount, and outfielders Chris Pettit, Brad Coon, Terry Evans, Peter Bourjos and Adam Pavkovich.
"Man, it's unbelievable the amount of talent we have in this organization," said Torii Hunter, embarking on his second season as the Angels' center fielder after spending a decade in Minnesota anchoring the Twins' outfield. "Power arms and athletes, guys who play the game the right way. That's what the Angels believe in -- and that's what they have."
Brown, whose torrid spring (.514, team-high 16 RBIs) hasn't elevated him any higher than third on the depth chart at third and first base, looks around and shakes his head.
"It's almost like we have two Major League teams here," he said.
Nowhere is the Angels' pool of talent deeper than on the mound.
While Walden, a 6-foot-5, 220-pound Texan with the build and stuff of a young John Lackey, has emerged with Adenhart as the twin gems, Ortega, a 23-year-old right-hander from Venezuela, has muscled his way into the picture as well.
"These guys have stuff that will play in the big leagues," Scioscia said. "It's just a matter of maturing and putting it all together."
Trevor Reckling, a 19-year-old southpaw from Livingston, N.J., worked two scoreless innings on Monday against the Dodgers. Reckling demonstrated the form and stuff of a great name from the Dodgers' past -- Al Downing.
Reckling, like Downing, a fellow New Jerseyan, has a superb changeup to go with a fastball that gets into the 90s and a big, overhand curveball.
"He looks like an outstanding prospect," Scioscia said of Reckling, taken in the eighth round of the 2007 First-Year Player Draft out of high school in Newark.
Reckling, 13-8 with a 3.25 ERA in 35 Minor League games, is expected to open the season at high Class A Rancho Cucamonga, but could move swiftly through the system.
Another young power pitcher who opened eyes is right-hander Mason Tobin, 21, signed as a 16th-round pick in 2007 out of Everett (Wash.) Community College. Tobin has retired all six hitters he has faced in Cactus League play, striking out three of them.
Tobin, at 6-foot-4 and 220 pounds, gets into the mid-90s with his heater. He is back in form after a shoulder strain forced him to miss about four months of the 2008 season, and he could join Reckling in an imposing rotation at Rancho Cucamonga.
The Angels have forged the best spring record in the Majors in part with their ability to come back late in games with reserves who are superior to those of other clubs.
Pettit and Coon, all-around talents, have been especially productive in late-game situations, along with Brown, Wood and Rodriguez.
Pettit, 24, missed about two-thirds of the 2008 season after breaking his right foot chasing a fly ball on Opening Day for Double-A Arkansas. A 19th-round pick in 2006 out of Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles, Pettit is making up for lost time.
He's batting .348 in 46 Cactus League at-bats with 10 runs scored -- tied for second on the club, Wood leading with 12 -- and seven RBIs. Pettit has driven the ball hard to all fields and run down balls in gaps.
That same description applies to Coon, a .333 hitter in 15 Cactus League at-bats. After batting .306 for Salt Lake in 2008, the left-handed Coon figures to be back with the Bees along with Pettit and a pair of right-handed bashers -- Evans and Pavkovich -- in a potentially superior outfield.
Wilson and Budde also figure to return to the Bees, giving them a high-caliber catching tandem. And the infield -- if it includes Wood, Brown, Rodriguez, Sandoval and veteran Luis Figueroa -- is one that more than a few Major League organizations would love to put on the field on Opening Day.
What the Angels have is a stockpile of riches. It's highly doubtful there is a franchise in the sport any deeper in quality talent than the reigning American League West champions.
"We do have great depth," Sciosica said. "It's something we take pride in. Our scouts and development people have done a great job."
Lyle Spencer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.