1.03.2013

And Your Los Angeles Angels 2013 Back-Up Catcher is...

Can this former West Huntington Beach NJB star
make the Angels 25-man roster in 2013?
When the Toronto Blue Jays picked up Angels catcher Bobby Wilson from the waiver wire in late October, it was a a mere blip amid the Angels off-season moves. Wilson (who was later picked up by the Yankees) put up offensive numbers that closely resemble former Angels catcher (and fan punching bag) Jeff Mathis. Clearly, there was very little love loss between Angels fans and Wilson as well.

Wilson's departure does lead to the question of who will be backing up Chris Iannetta in 2013. Which may not seem like an interesting question until you take into consideration that Iannetta has played over 100 games only once in the last four years. He was also out for 69 games last year with a wrist fracture.

With a thin farm system, the Angels realistically only have two options in John Hester and Hank Conger. After being released by the Orioles, Hester signed as a free agent in April last year and ended up in 38 games for the Angels hitting a Mathis/Wilson-esque .212/.287/.329. While Hank Conger, a once-lauded prospect, saw only 7 games in 2012 after an extended, 59-game stint in 2011 where he hit .209/.282/.356 and felt the ire of Scioscia's high defensive expectations from the number 2 position.

The world of back-up catchers is not a pretty place.

So who wins the job? Amongst the two, Hank Conger is clearly the sexier of the two options, at least offensively. As Baseball Prospectus wrote in 2010:  "While few question this 2006 first-rounder's ability to hit from either side of the plate, the bigger issue is whether he can remain behind it."

 Despite struggling with the bat in his 2011 big league stint, there isn't much question about Conger's offensive upside. What is worrisome is his inability to stay healthy and less than stellar receiving skills. Couple that with a coach (and former catcher) who champions defense from the catching position and it's not out of the question Conger finds himself a resident of Salt Lake City for another year.

Which leaves us with John Hester who is, at first glance, another Bobby Wilson/Jeff Mathis. Good receiving skills (no errors and one pass ball in 253 innings), terrible arm (threw out base-stealers a dismal 14%) and not much with the bat. Hester is a replacement level backup catcher. Nothing more, nothing less.

That being said, there are good things about John Hester. We just have to look real close.

For one, Hester has stayed healthy throughout his career. His two injuries include a concussion in 2007 and food poisoning in 2009. That's it! He's also cheap, which on a team with an inflated payroll is rare and a good thing. He also went to Stanford. And when you hear that someone went to Stanford, you automatically think they are smart. So we'll assume that John Hester is a smart dude.

Going into spring training, the backup catcher spot is one of the few spots up for grabs on a 25-man roster that is mostly set. Fans will likely be pining to see what Hank Conger can do at the big league level a year removed from his 59 game stint but if history is any indicator, Scioscia will chose defense over Conger's offensive upside.

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