02/16/11 3:55 PM EST
Men behind the mask to be revealed this spring
Mathis, Wilson and Conger in mix to be Angels' catching tandem
By Lyle Spencer / MLB.com
It will be Jeff Mathis and Bobby Wilson. Or Hank Conger and Mathis. Or Conger and Wilson.
That's about all we know three days into Spring Training.
As with third base, the bullpen and the leadoff role, the catching rotation will sort itself out over time. Manager Mike Scioscia, one of the acknowledged masters of the position, will observe and evaluate and eventually come to a conclusion.
In the meantime, Mathis, Wilson and Conger will do everything they can to try to convince Scioscia he can't live without them.
For Mathis, who shared the job with best buddy Napoli for four seasons, the mission is obvious to one and all. He needs to show he can hit. His defense is tested and proven. Pitchers love him. But he has to raise his career batting average of .199 to something more respectable to hold down the regular job.
"Jeff played because at times he was absolutely the clear-cut choice on the defensive end or the only option," Scioscia said on Wednesday at Tempe Diablo Stadium. "It was obvious he's gotten playing time because of his defensive efficiency.
"We saw him make some adjustments last year at the beginning of the year. We saw him more comfortable on the offensive side than we've seen. Jeff doesn't have his head buried in the sand. He knows there are some guys who are going to bring offense, too. He needs to let his potential develop on the offensive side."
When he's quick and compact with his stroke, Mathis can drive balls to gaps. He showed that with his 2009 postseason eruption and at the outset of 2010, before a fractured right wrist put him on the shelf two weeks into the season.
When he returned, his swing got longer, he buried himself in counts too often, and his numbers plunged.
Wilson, who hit .229 with four homers in 96 at-bats last year, is a contact hitter with occasional pop. He rarely strikes out and has hit in the .270 to .300 range throughout the Minor Leagues. Shedding 33 pounds over the winter has him quicker and more athletic than ever before.
"Defensively, Bobby is showing that he's a terrific receiver who really is taking charge of calling a game," Scioscia said. "We're as confident with Bobby as we are with Jeff in doing what we need back there.
"The catching position is going to be competitive -- not only for roster spots but for playing time."
Conger, at 23, has youth, power and potential working for him. He can drive the ball from both sides of the plate and is disciplined. In 80 innings with the Angels after a solid season at Triple-A Salt Lake, he made a strong impression with his defense.
"For a guy with not much playing experience -- he was banged up a lot early on -- he is really advanced in calling a game and running a game," Scioscia said. "We have confidence he's very close."
For Conger to stick with the big club, he'll likely have to seize the No. 1 job this spring. Scioscia would not want him catching once or twice a week in support of Mathis or Wilson.
The most likely scenario? Wilson backs up Mathis, while Conger returns to Salt Lake, gains more experience and waits for the call. When it comes, the kid from nearby Huntington Beach clearly intends to make himself at home in Anaheim for a long time.
Lyle Spencer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.