In late November the Halos flipped pitching prospect Tyler Chatwood to the Colorado Rockies for Chris Iannetta,
which seemed like a bad move with superstar Jeff Mathis already entrenched at catcher then promptly shipped Jeff Mathis out of town a few days later. This leaves us with a peculiar situation behind the plate. Hank Conger, one of the team’s top prospects entering 2011, appeared in 59 games last season and posted a disappointing .209/.282/.356 slash line. Conger is still lauded for his tools, but the team’s acquisition of Iannetta makes for an interesting competition going into Spring Training.
Manager Mike Scioscia clearly prefers catcher defense over catcher offense, which is the only justification for giving Mathis 1360 plate appearances over the years. Among the two candidates for the job, Iannetta is the clear favorite defensively. Conger is a major question mark defensively. Some people think seasoning can make him passable because he’s a smart player and has a good report with his pitchers. Iannetta, on the other hand, is around league average at catcher. 2011 was the best defensive season of his career, as he posted above average numbers in some of the best defensive categories.
Offensively, Iannetta figures to struggle greatly away from Coors Field. Over the course of his career, Iannetta has a .262/.377/.492 slash line at Coors, and a .208/.338/.369 line everywhere else. He might be able to post respectable numbers, but I wouldn’t expect him to be the type of player he was in Colorado.
Conger, on the other hand, only has upside offensively. He struggled in a small sample in 2011, but dominated in the minor leagues (as he always did) and still had the quick bat and the swing that made him one of the team’s top prospects entering the season. The 24-year-old should develop into one of the better hitting catchers in the game as he gets more seasoning.
How about the money? The Angels will pay Iannetta $3.6 million in 2012, before they decide whether or not to pick up $5 million option for 2013 (they can buy him out for $250,000). Conger will receive just a tick over the league minimum salary in 2012, as he gets one year closer to hitting arbitration.
The Angels could choose to leave Conger in the minor leagues and potentially have him for an extra year, but they’re probably best off making their decision based on who the best player is for 2012, rather than 2017. Regardless, Mike Scioscia will have a tough decision to make as Spring Training ends and Opening Day rolls around.
Hudson Belinsky can be followed on Twitter at @hudsonbelinsky.