There was a time when it appeared that young Hank Conger was going to soon become the everyday catcher for the Los Angeles Angels. Granted, this was during a dark time where Jeff Mathis was getting an awfully high number of at bats for a strikeout machine; since then, Conger has been relegated to a mostly minor league role with the signing of the solid Chris Ianetta. What is the next step for the Angels and their youthful catcher?
Mike Scioscia, as a former catcher has long been known to appreciate having multiple competent catchers to be able to keep them all fresh throughout the rigors of a full season. The time for Conger to break into this catching rotation is now or never, with Ianetta re-signing and John Hester also proving himself capable behind the plate in limited work last year.
For years, Angel fans have become accustomed to the catchers spot in the lineup being comparable to an automatic out, where Scioscia chose the strong defensive skills of Jeff Mathis over the ridiculous power of Mike Napoli on a regular basis.
The nightmares continued last season where an injury to Ianetta forced the equally offensively abysmal Bobby Wilson and Hester into the limelight, where they continued the strong Los Angeles catching tradition of struggling to retain a .200 average. Angel fans finally got a taste of what a quality at bat for a catcher was upon the return of Ianetta in the second half of the season, where he showed a strong skill of working deep into counts and getting on base at a solid clip.
With Ianetta firmly entrenched as the starting catcher, it will be between Conger and Hester to battle it out for the backup spot. For Conger, it’s going to completely rely on his ability to show that the power he has flashed in the minors and small occasions with the Angels was no fluke, and that he can be a consistent force in the back end of the lineup. If Conger struggles to hit for any kind of average in his first small sample size, the job will most likely go to Hester and his slightly more proven mistake-free approach.
It will be an interesting subplot to watch develop as pitchers and catchers prepare to report for the first time this year.