Saturday, March 12, 2005

Player Updates

In anticipation of attending tomorrow's Angels/Cubs game at Tempe Diablo I thought I would give a quick update on a couple of players today (and more to follow) who are either new to the team or fighting for a roster spot--or both.

P Paul Byrd - When signed this offseason, Byrd was essentially handed the 5th starter's spot that was filled by committee in '04 (usually quite ineffectively by Ramon Ortiz or Aaron Sele). Last year with Atlanta Byrd went 8-7 with a 3.94 ERA in 16 games.

But the real story with Byrd is the fact that he had "Tommy John" surgery in 2003 which sidelined him the entire season and prevented him from making his debut with Atlanta until June 19th. Byrd's best year was 2002 with KC when he went 17-11 with a 3.90 ERA. The following spring training Byrd pitched one inning before being put on the DL with elbow tendonitis which led to the eventual TJ surgery.

As often happens with Tommy John surgery, Byrd has experienced renewed strength in his pitching arm. Last season Byrd's fastball averaged 85 mph but he now believes it will be more in the 90 mph range for the Halos. Over his past five innings this spring Byrd has given up zero runs and mixed in a sinker pitch that has given the former "fly ball pitcher" the ability to induce a grounder when he needs it. In a start this past week against San Diego, Byrd coaxed two double-play balls using the sinker and now has a repertoire that, in addition to the fastball and sinker also includes a sharp slider and an excellent change-up. For added effectiveness he can change speeds and throw from a variety of arm angles to keep batters on their heels.
"His stuff keeps picking up with every outing," Manager Mike Scioscia said of Byrd. "He mixes deception with command, and that adds some life to his fastball.

2005 Outlook: Byrd could easily be the #3 pitcher on this team if he can continue to utilize deception and hit his spots. In that regard he could look a lot like another former Atlanta pitcher, Greg Maddux.

What you may not know: Byrd is a pretty solid hitter who makes consistent contact and had a .200 average last season. Look for him to get plenty of starts during interleague play.

IF Maicer Izturis Izturis could get some early season action in Anaheim due to the injury to third baseman Dallas McPherson. With Izturis on the roster it gives Scioscia the flexibility to start Izturis at second or shortstop to spell starters Chone Figgins and Orlando Cabrera respectively. In addition, Figgins has the ability (somewhat) to play third allowing more mix-and-match opportunities for the ever-tinkering Scioscia.

Izturis came to the Angels as part of the Jose Guillen trade and was thought of by many as an afterthought. But Izturis has long been thought of as a slick-fielding infielder albeit, a light hitting one. This spring the slight Izturis has been impressive at the plate hitting .400 in 20 spring AB's. The only player with more at-bats than Izturis is Casey Kotchman (23) which shows the Angels are taking a good hard look at the infielder and seriously considering him for one of the final roster spots. Most important to the Angels, Izturis has 7 runs scored to lead the team. His offensive role on the club would be similar to Chone Figgins and former shortstop David Eckstein: get on base and find a way to score. If Izturis can manage to coax a walk or slap a single he has the ability to steal a base or take an extra base.

2005 Outlook It is looking more and more likely that Izturis is gaining traction to make the big club, at least for the first few weeks of the season. Scioscia's ability to go to the bench and put speedy Chone Figgins into a game late was a huge weapon that helped the Angels on their way to their only World Championship in 2002 and that weapon was sorely missed last season when Figgins was pressed into starting duties at third. There is no doubt that Scioscia would love to have the option to instantly insert speed into a game again this year with Izturis early in the season. Once second baseman Adam Kennedy returns from his knee injury (probably in May or June), Figgins could resume that role. Look for Maicer to be in AAA by June unless he proves too valuable in an early season audition in Anaheim.

What you may not know: Izturis hit .338/.428/.423 in Triple-A last season. Though he lacks power, Izturis has proven he has the ability to find his way to first.


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