Purgatory Online

Tuesday, January 20, 2004

Now, as promised, we'll start looking at some of the non-roster invitees to Angels' spring training. Since pitchers and catchers report before anyone else, it's only fair to start with them.

And where better to start than with Ervin Santana? Santana was named the California League's 2003 Pitcher of the Year, despite the fact that he left Rancho Cucamonga for Double-A Arkansas mid-year, and didn't play in the California League after July 15. Widely considered the Angels' best pitching prospect (a distinction for which he actually has some competition), Santana features a fastball in the 96 mph range, complimented by a plus slider and a competent changeup. He's extraordinarily lanky, coming in at about 6'3", 160 lbs. Santana just turned 20 in November, and, considering the current logjam in the Angels' rotation and the presence of a couple more developed prospects at starter, the organization is in no rush to move Santana up the ladder unnecessarily. His 2003 numbers looked like this:

A Rancho Cucamonga (4/3 - 7/15)
10-2, 2.53 ERA, 124.2 IP, 98 H, 36 BB, 130 K, 9 HR

AA Arkansas (7/21 - 8/29)
1-1, 3.94 ERA, 29.2 IP, 23 H, 12 BB, 23 K, 4 HR

Santana will be in Tempe to get a look at some real major league hitters, some of whom will probably light him up like a pinwheel. At 20, he still relies primarily on overwhelming talent to get past hitters, but his relatively high (for a minor-leaguer) home run numbers indicate that he's putting some cheese over the plate a little too often. Still, look for Santana to have a few shining moments in camp, and then get sent back to Little Rock.

Joining Santana will be batterymate Jeff Mathis, who also split time between Rancho Cucamonga and Arkansas last year. Mathis is often described as one of two catchers in the minors right now destined for stardom, the other being the Twins' Joe Mauer. While Mauer has gotten more press, Mathis performed extremely well in 2003:

A Rancho Cucamonga (4/3 - 7/31)
.323 AVG, .384 OBP, .500 SLG, 378 AB, 122 H, 28 2B, 11 HR, 35 BB, 74 K

AA Arkansas (8/1 - 8/31)
.284 AVG, .364 OBP, .463 SLG, 95 AB, 27 H, 11 2B, 2 HR, 12 BB, 16 K

What stands out most are Mathis's doubles; 28 in 378 AB and 11 in 95 AB is impressive, and usually indicates good power to the gaps or down the line (particularly for a catcher, who probably isn't legging out any extra bases on balls that drop in front of the right fielder). Mathis will be 21 on opening day, but the Angels will likely try to put him on something of a fast track to the majors. Bengie Molina is signed through the 2004 season, with a team option for 2005; assuming Molina has a typical season in 2004, the Angels should be looking to exercise that option and bring Mathis aboard to serve something of an apprenticeship. He'll probably go back to Arkansas to start the season, but move to Salt Lake fairly quickly unless he regresses.

Tomorrow, we'll continue our look at the Angel's non-roster invitees.