Who backs up Angels in the outfield?
Handful of Halos candidates aim to earn two reserve spots
TUCSON, Ariz. -- When they took the field on Thursday against the Diamondbacks at Tucson Electric Park, the Angels had Nick Gorneault, Reggie Willits and Tommy Murphy in the outfield, left to right -- three amigos in search of two jobs, it appears.The club's bench composition is a fluid matter at the moment, with three weeks left to determine who makes it to Anaheim for Opening Day and who starts the season at Triple-A Salt Lake. General manager Bill Stoneman, manager Mike Scioscia and others with input will be using these Cactus League games to assess who best fills the club's needs in support of Garret Anderson, Gary Matthews Jr. and Vladimir Guerrero in the outfield. If the club carries 11 pitchers, as expected, that will leave six bench spots available. It seems likely two of those jobs will be in the outfield, creating opportunity for a handful of candidates. "We have a lot of options," Scioscia said. "Is it speed off the bench? A defensive replacement in the late innings? A bat? There are different things you look for, and we've got some talented guys to consider as we fill those roles." In addition to Gorneault, Willits and Murphy, veteran Curtis Pride and young Terry Evans also are in the mix, hoping to impress the Angels' brass. A look at the candidates and how they stack up:
Willits: With a compact body and swing to match from both sides of the plate, Willits looks like a young Lenny Dykstra. His case is advanced by his .397 career on-base percentage in 414 Minor League games.Taken out of Oklahoma in the seventh round of the 2003 First-Year Player Draft, Willits hit .267 with a .411 on-base percentage in 28 games with the Angels last year. At Salt Lake, he batted .327 with a .448 on-base percentage, stealing 31 bases in 97 games. "Reggie's an on-base guy, a situational hitter," Scioscia said. "In center field, he has terrific range, like Murph. Reggie runs a little cleaner routes, but doesn't throw as well as Tommy. "Both are talented and on the depth chart. We'll see where they are next month." Murphy: Once a switch-hitting shortstop struggling to connect from the left side, he has become a quality center fielder with power from both sides of the plate. "He's got an explosive bat," Scioscia said. "Terrific power from both sides. We've seen him go from a shortstop with good upside to being a premium center fielder. Tommy's grown up on the experience end. He's become a baseball player."
A third-round pick in 2000 out of Florida Atlantic, Murphy, 27, hit .229 in 70 at-bats for the Angels last year, playing 48 games. He batted .302 at Salt Lake.A superb athlete with a powerful arm and good speed, Murphy's challenge is to improve his plate discipline in order to get in more hitters' counts. Gorneault: Rangy and powerful at 6-foot-3 and 220 pounds, Gorneault came to camp banging and hasn't stopped after a winter spent in the Dominican Republic honing his skills. A 19th-round pick in the 2001 First-Year Player Draft out of the University of Massachusetts, Gorneault has put together back-to-back productive seasons at Salt Lake. The Pacific Coast League RBI leader in 2005 with 108, along with 26 homers and a .293 average, Gorneault missed close to a month last year with an injured kneecap, finishing with a .283 average, 15 homers and 78 RBIs. "Nick can hit," Scioscia said. "He can drive the ball from the right side. We like his bat and his attitude." Gorneault is a corner outfielder, a terrific athlete who excelled in basketball in high school. Evans: Acquired last July from St. Louis in exchange for Jeff Weaver, Evans, 25, assembled some remarkable numbers last year with three clubs at two levels -- Palm Beach (Class A) and Double-A Springfield and Arkansas. He hit .309 combined at the three stops, with 33 homers, 87 RBIs and 37 steals. Taken by the Cardinals as a draft-and-follow in 2001 out of Middle Georgia Junior College, Evans has size (6-foot-4, 211 pounds) and can play all three positions with above-average skills. But it's his bat that lifts his profile. "He can hit," Scioscia said. "We really like his approach up there. He's a guy to keep an eye on."
A long shot in this group, Evans' future probably isn't now.Pride: A popular veteran who hit .222 in 22 games with the Angels last year, Pride keeps on ticking and ripping at age 38. "If we decide we need a left-handed bat," Scioscia said, "Curtis is available. We know what he can do." In a professional career that began in 1988, Pride has played for six Major League clubs, debuting in 1993 with Montreal. He's a .250 career hitter with 20 homers and 82 RBIs in 796 at-bats.
Lyle Spencer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.