Reading Some Folks on the Internet

Troy Glaus reached the majors at the end of 1998 after 109 games in the minors. He was 22 years old. In 48 games, his AVG/OBP/SLG were .218/.280/.291. The next year, he spent all of 1999 with Anaheim, but continued to struggle and finished the season at .240/.331/.450. With about 200 major-league games under his belt, Glaus blossomed in 2000, posting an AVG/OBP/SLG of .284/.404/.604.

Jim Edmonds got a cup of coffee with the Angels in 1993 at age 23, after playing 432 games in the minors. In 18 games (61 AB), he posted an AVG/OBP/SLG of .246/.270/.344. In 1994, he played 94 games for the Angels, finishing with a line of .273/.343/.377. It wasn’t until 1995, when he was 25 years old, that the power showed up; he hit 33 HR after hitting no more than 14 in a minor-league season. Edmonds’ line in 1995 was .290/.352/.536.

Tim Salmon played 367 games in the minors before reaching the big leagues at the tail end of 1992, when he was 24. Salmon had just finished a stellar year at Triple-A Edmonton, winning the Minor League Player of the Year award from both Baseball America and The Sporting News with a .347/.469/.672 performance. But in that first September trial, Salmon in 79 AB was a miserable .177/.283/.266. The next year, in 1993, he went on to win the A.L. Rookie of the Year award with a .283/.382/.536 line.

Garret Anderson signed in 1990 at age 18 out of high school. More than four years later, at age 22, he appeared in five games for the Angels, going 5 for 13. Garret returned to Triple-A for 1995 and played in a total of 543 minor league games before returning to Anaheim for good; that first significant season, his line was .321/.352/.505. He was 23.

Now let’s look at some young players with the Angels this year.

Casey Kotchman got his first callup at age 21. It was an emergency; Darin Erstad was injured, so Casey was promoted from Double-A Arkansas. He’d played only 184 games in the minors to that point. Casey was eventually assigned to Triple-A Salt Lake, but returned at season’s end and finished 2004 with a big-league AVG/OBP/SLG of .224/.289/.276 in 116 AB. Kotchman began 2005 in Salt Lake, started slow, but picked it up by the end of May and eventually returned to Anaheim, finishing at .278/.352/.484 in 126 AB. Casey had 327 minor league games and 85 major league games on his resumé when he began 2006 at age 23; but as we now know, he’s been ailing from the effects of mononucleosis.

Dallas McPherson had appeared in 403 minor league games when he came up to Anaheim briefly in 2004 at age 24; in 40 AB he posted a line of .225/.279/.475. The third base job was his to lose in 2005, but as we now know he’d been suffering from a bone spur on his hip that eventually required surgery, causing him to miss much of 2005 and the early part of 2006. Dallas has gone back on the DL with another lower back strain, although from media reports it doesn’t seem too serious. McPherson turns 26 on July 23, but in his case there are mitigating circumstances. He entered 2006 with a total experience of 425 games in the minors and 77 games in the majors.

Jeff Mathis had 507 games of minor league experience when he was called up at the end of 2005, going 1 for 3 in a token appearance. Handed the starting catcher job when Bengie Molina left for free agency, Jeff was only 4 for 39 at the plate and lacked confidence calling games, so he was returned to Triple-A. That opened the door for Mike Napoli, who hit two more homers yesterday to improve his line to .310/.444/.629 in 116 AB. But let’s keep in mind that Napoli is 1 1/2 years older than the 23-year old Mathis, and both have very small statistical samples in the big leagues to draw any long-range conclusions.

Kendry Morales, who some claimed was “major-league ready” when he signed in April 2005, wasn’t ready for prime time. He had only 137 games’ experience in the minors when he was called up after Kotchman fell ill. Morales, who just turned 23, has a .233/.293/.327 line in 129 AB.

Most star ballplayers don’t start producing power at the plate until their mid-20s, and usually after at least about 500 games’ experience between the majors and minors. Obviously, big-league experience is preferable as the batter sees major league pitching; anyone who knows pro baseball will tell you that the most difficult leap is to the majors. For all the whining by some people on the Internet claiming that Morales is a “savior” or that Brandon Wood should be immediately promoted from Double-A (last year they wanted him called up from Rancho Cucamonga!), the fact of the matter is that rash promotions are a recipe for trouble. Even Howie Kendrick, with a line of .386/.426/.668 at Triple-A this year, was only 3 for 26 when he was called up earlier this year.

The petulant have developed this knee-jerk reaction blaming Mickey Hatcher for everything. If a rookie doesn’t immediately hit .400, it’s Hatcher’s fault. (Yet somehow they fail to credit him for Napoli’s start, or Orlando Cabrera’s resurgence.) But Hatcher was nowhere around when Troy Glaus faltered early in his career; back then, the petulants were calling for Rod Carew’s head, making ridiculous claims that Carew was trying to turn Glaus into a slap-hitting bunter like Rodney was in his career. Now they claim Hatcher wants to make every hitter like he was. That, quite frankly, is ignorant.

Temper tantrums thrown on the Internet are no substitute for experience, and patience. A good dose of health goes a long way too, something neither Kotchman or McPherson have enjoyed. It’s way too soon to give up on the Angels’ young talent, and it’s also beyond rationality to label players as “saviors” when they’re only human.

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