GOODYEAR, Ariz. - Throwing mechanics -- it may be the one thing separating Hank Conger from a Minor League prospect to a Major League catcher.
"I felt like if I could really clean up my throwing," Conger said, "then I'll be making some really good strides here in spring."
Conger, who many still believe could be the Angels' catcher of the future, has had a tendency to get long with his throwing motion and inconsistent with his release point. Like a pitcher, catchers strive to repeat their delivery when trying to gun down would-be basestealers -- except their task is harder since they have to adjust to where pitches are thrown.
"I think the biggest thing was just trying to stay short and not try to rush myself," Conger said. "I think that's the two biggest things. If I'm able to kind of control that, I think my throwing's going to be really good."
Conger has always been able to hit -- he has put up a .298/.361/.466 slash line in six Minor League seasons -- but there have always been questions surrounding his defense. The 24-year-old switch-hitter believes his tempo, receiving and blocking have greatly improved so far.
As for his throwing? Conger played in the Arizona Fall League last year to, as manager Mike Scioscia put it, "find a release point." He then spent the rest of the offseason in Huntington Beach, Calif., working some more on his throwing with bullpen coach Steve Soliz.
"Hank's working hard at that for sure," Scioscia said, "and I think like any catcher, any position -- an infielder, whatever it is -- you have to find that release point to control the baseball. And that's something that experience will help him with."
Conger is hoping improved throwing mechanics can eventually make him an everyday Major League catcher, but with Chris Iannetta acquired in the offseason, that won't happen in 2012. This spring, Conger is in competition with Bobby Wilson for the backup spot, bringing up a longstanding question: Is it best for a prospect to play sparingly in the big leagues, or hone is craft daily in the Minors?
Conger, of course, prefers to be in the Majors. But he has other things to focus on right now.
"I look at where I started, the first day of Spring Training, and now, and I've been getting better. It sounds corny, whatever, but that's how I try to look at it," said Conger, who played in 13 games for the Angels in 2010, then 59 in 2011. "And whatever happens, whether I stay here or go to Triple-A, I'll be able to go to sleep knowing that I tried my best; I gave it my best effort."
Near or far, Pujols wants to play
GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- Normally, veteran players -- not to mention superstar veteran players -- don't make many long trips in Spring Training. But there was Albert Pujols on Thursday, on the bus for the 45-minute drive from the Angels' facility in Tempe, Ariz., to Goodyear Ballpark, where the Indians and Reds play.
"This guy's all about baseball," Angels manager Mike Scioscia said. "He's incredibly focused, from the batting circle into the batter's box. It just doesn't seem like he's going to give away pitches all year that he's not going to be locked in or focused on. It sets the tone."
Pujols, who normally likes to play in as many Spring Training games as possible, has appeared in three of the Angels' first four Cactus League games, with his only day off being Wednesday's home game against the Mariners.
In Thursday's 6-5 win over the Indians, Pujols went 0-for-2 with a walk and two groundouts to shortstop while starting at first base and batting third. In his three Cactus League games, all of which have come in the No. 3 spot and one of which has come as the designated hitter, the Angels' new first baseman is 3-for-7 with two walks, two doubles and an RBI.
"He's a really tough challenge," Indians Thursday starter Ubaldo Jimenez said. "Ideally, you don't want to face him with the bases loaded or anything like that, but it's fun. It's fun to face a hitter like Pujols. He's one of the best. ... You don't want to look bad. So you probably put a little bit more on the fastball."
Young Lindsey catches Scioscia's eye
GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- Taylor Lindsey's first impressions when he walked into the Angels' clubhouse for the start of Spring Training?
"Overwhelmed," he admitted.
How could he not be? Lindsey is only 20 years old, hasn't played past Rookie ball yet and had watched so many of those guys on TV -- especially Torii Hunter -- while growing up in nearby Scottsdale.
But Lindsey can also play a little.
The developing second baseman was a sandwich pick out of high school in 2010, is the Angels' No. 6 prospect going into the season, has put up a slash line of .331/.366/.519 in 108 games through his first two pro years and was named Rookie-level Pioneer League MVP while suiting up for the Orem Owlz last year.
Angels manager Mike Scioscia, speaking after seeing the young lefty hitter go 2-for-2 with a triple and two RBIs against the Mariners on Wednesday, hasn't noticed an overwhelmed Lindsey. Quite the contrary.
"He carries himself beyond his 20 years," Scioscia said. "He's got a lot of confidence. He's a kid that's not going to be intimidated by any situation."
This spring, Lindsey is working on his flexibility -- "I'm stiff, not flexible at all," he said -- and his defense. Lindsey was exclusively a shortstop in high school, then the Angels moved him to second upon taking him with the No. 37 pick.
"I'm comfortable with it now," Lindsey said. "It's just reps, over and over, getting used to turning double plays, feeds and everything."
Kendrys Morales (broken left ankle) ran on a de-weighted treadmill early on Thursday morning and came out of it fine. The plan is for him to run around the basepaths -- with no bases in place -- on Friday and Saturday.
Jerome Williams (left hamstring strain) said once again on Thursday morning that he's "feeling good" and has been throwing off one knee.
Jered Weaver, Dan Haren and C.J. Wilson have all hurled two scoreless innings in Cactus League play so far, giving up a combined four hits and two walks to go along with five strikeouts.
Alden Gonzalez is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his columns and his blog, Gonzo and "The Show", and follow him on Twitter @Alden_Gonzalez. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.