02/17/2013 2:29 PM ET
Conger aims to secure role as backup catcher
By Alden Gonzalez / MLB.com
TEMPE, Ariz. -- Hank Conger probably thought it would happen sooner.
But now, as he enters yet another Spring Training, he's suddenly 25, heading into his last option year, coming off three straight seasons of being deemed primarily a Triple-A catcher and hoping to finally stick full-time in the Majors as a backup to Chris Iannetta.
"Everyone I've talked to, the biggest hurdle is Triple-A to the big leagues," Conger said. "That's definitely one thing I always remember. For me, [the last three years were] a big learning curve. But right now, I feel like I'm ready to try to overcome that next step."
That next step would be to finally show manager Mike Scioscia and the Angels' coaching staff that he's Major League-ready defensively, regarding his throwing, his blocking and, perhaps most important around here, his rapport with the pitching staff.
Conger rose through the system fairly quickly, given how difficult it normally is for catchers to develop. By 2009, at 21 and just three years removed from being the No. 25 overall pick in the First-Year Player Draft out of Huntington Beach High School, he was thriving in Double-A. And the following year, he made yet another jump to Triple-A Salt Lake.
It's that last hurdle that continues to elude Conger, though. In 2011, with Mike Napoli gone and the Angels looking for more pop behind the plate, Conger made the team out of Spring Training but was sent down in mid-July after hitting just .214 in 50 games. Last year, he began the season in the Minors, injured his right elbow in April and wound up playing in only seven Major League games.
Now, he's competing with the likes of John Hester and Luke Carlin for the backup spot.
"I feel like I've done a pretty good job of trying to get on the same page with our pitchers and I feel like my throwing has gotten better," said Conger, who stayed away from playing offseason baseball for the first time in a while. "Really, now it's about going out there and proving it. I mean, I can say all I want. I can say, 'It's getting better, it's getting better.' But now it's time to go show it on the field."
But Conger, a switch-hitter who has posted a .297/.359/.467 slash line in his Minor League career, won't be a big league starter any time soon.
That much was assured on Oct. 5, when Iannetta signed a three-year, $15.55 million extension.
"He earned it," Conger said. "For me, whether they sign him or anybody else or they didn't, I still have to go in trying to get better and try to prove better, because in this game, nothing's handed to you."
Weaver on track for another Opening Day start
TEMPE, Ariz. -- If healthy, Jered Weaver will be the Angels' Opening Day starter. That's obvious. He's been the Opening Day starter the last three years, and it was perhaps even more obvious than ever going into this season that he'd get the nod again.
But Angels manager Mike Scioscia is cautious of saying anything with certainty, so he won't officially name Weaver his Opening Day starter for 2013, a la Don Mattingly naming Clayton Kershaw as the Dodgers' starter for their opener.
Well, sort of.
"Obviously you're going to make a target with Weave" for Opening Day, Scioscia said Sunday. "But you have to have some flexibility. You don't know where these six weeks take you. [Pitching coach Mike Butcher] has it mapped out very nicely to give us some flexibility and some options if guys need an extra day, so you don't have to maybe cram it to get it lined up the way you want."
Weaver, if healthy, will be making his fourth straight Opening Day start on April 1 in Cincinnati, an honor he's earned by finishing in the top five in American League Cy Young Award voting each of the last three years. C.J. Wilson will follow as the No. 2 starter, but the order behind him -- with Tommy Hanson, Jason Vargas and Joe Blanton the other three arms -- is still unclear.
Cousins hopes to stick after wild offseason
TEMPE, Ariz. -- In a six-week stretch from Oct. 17 to Nov. 30, outfielder Scott Cousins went from the Marlins to Blue Jays to Mariners to Angels, navigating through the waiver wire like few ever do and putting his shoe company -- "3N2" -- in a mad scramble.
"Every time I got claimed, it was exciting because it meant people out there liked me," Cousins said with a wry smile. "I was too busy getting married and on my honeymoon to concern myself with it. I knew I was going to play baseball this year, and that's all I cared about."
On Nov. 17, Cousins married his girlfriend of seven years. And two weeks later, when the Angels claimed him from the Mariners, who designated Cousins alongside former Angels leadoff hitter Chone Figgins, the 28-year-old was in the middle of a three-week getaway in Thailand.
It was 2 a.m. in Bankok when he got the call from his agent.
"So I just happened to be in the city of angels when it happened," Cousins said. "That's pretty cool."
Cousins is known primarily for putting Giants catcher Buster Posey out for the season in an ugly home-plate collision in 2011, but he could be valuable off the bench for the Angels this year. Cousins bats left-handed, plays good defense at all three outfield spots, runs well, has 128 games of Major League experience and posted a .279/.341/.451 career slash line in the Minors.
This spring, he's competing for one of the final bench spots, with a handful of guys of similar ilk -- Kole Calhoun, Trent Oeltjen, J.B. Shuck and Matt Young -- also in the mix.
"Yeah, that's what I was told," said Cousins, who has gone 32-for-175 (.183) in his brief Major League career. "Everybody was very forthright and upfront with their expectations of me and what I should expect from them. That's more than I can ask for. I'm excited to be on this club; I think it's incredible. So, any way I can help out, I'm for that, absolutely. I just like associating myself with these guys."
• Infielder Luis Rodriguez, a native of Venezuela, and third baseman Luis Jimenez, a native of the Dominican Republic, got their visa issues settled and arrived at Tempe Diablo Stadium on Sunday, a couple days after the first full-squad workout. The Angels' Spring Training roster is now full at 64.
• Angels manager Mike Scioscia said the team won't play in any intrasquad workouts before the Cactus League schedule begins with a split-squad game on Saturday. Spring Training started earlier this year because of the World Baseball Classic, and Scioscia believes there will be plenty of time for all his players to get game action.
Alden Gonzalez is a reporter for MLB.com. Read 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.