Going from top prospect to productive major-leaguer isn't as easy as it looks.
Hank Conger is desperately trying to make that transition, but after a season in which he batted .209 in 197 plate appearances and struggled with the defensive demands on a catcher, he doesn't know how much longer his window will stay open.
"I knew after last season ended it was going to be an uphill battle for me just to make the team [this spring]," Conger said.
The switch-hitting catcher was the Angels' No. 1 prospect entering the 2010 season, but he has yet to gain a foothold in the major leagues. The Angels traded for Rockies catcher Chris Iannetta, who figures to be the mainstay behind the plate and Bobby Wilson seems to fit the profile of a backup better than Conger, 24.
He told himself he would "never go back," but Conger now recognizes that his demotion to Triple-A last July was the best move for him. He said the game was "speeding up" on the defensive side, leaving him "flustered" at times. He scarcely played for the Angels in the second half, getting just 29 plate appearances, but he played in the Arizona Fall League to brush up on his catching.
"Hopefully, he’s found some things that will push him closer to his defensive potential because he still has the potential to be a front-line major-league catcher," manager Mike Scioscia said.
Maybe, but will he be that for the Angels? Iannetta has a mutual $5 million option for next year, which could make Conger expendable. Teams tend to covet catchers with left-handed power.
Conger added a new twist to his workout regimen this winter, taking up yoga at the urging of Angels bullpen coach Steve Soliz. He credits it with strengthening his surgically repaired right shoulder and giving him greater flexibility.