Thursday, March 10, 2005

UPDATE: D-Mac Out, Mighty Quin In

Dallas McPherson, super-prospect and presumed starting third baseman for the Halos in '05, has had a further setback with regard to his "protruding" disc back injury. According to the LA times, the injury is now being called a "herniated" disc and the Angels expect him to miss 2 - 4 weeks at least. Emphasis on the "at least" part.

Manager Mike Scioscia was quoted in the Times story thusly:
"His symptoms regressed…He thought he was better, then he did some light rotational stretching [Tuesday] and got stiff and sore. We're going to shut him down until he's pain-free. Hopefully, that won't be too long."

Wise Angel fans should probably not count on seeing McPherson in Anaheim for awhile. If he has some sort of remarkable rebound in health, great, but generally back injuries do not just go away and can usually be counted on to take significant time to recover from. There are always exceptions but given this is McPherson's second significant back injury in two years, look for the Angels to do just what Scioscia said, shut him down until he is pain free (or at least until he can convince the Halos he is pain free).

Domino Effect

With McPherson's injury shelving him in the short-term, an immediate opportunity opens-up for 28-year-old Robb Quinlan. The University of Minnesota alum converted from first base to third base last season because of the perceived log-jam behind Darin Erstad and Casey Kotchman. Why Quinlan did not perceive a similar log-jam behind Troy Glaus and Dallas McPherson is anyone's guess (perhaps Glaus’ imminent departure was general knowledge among the players) but the move certainly paid off. Quinlan was very impressive last season when initially called-up to replace the injured Glaus hitting .344 with 5 HR and 23 RBI in 56 games before suffering a season-ending rib cage injury. All of this makes one wonder what the Angels are doing to their third baseman that three have suffered moderate to severe injuries in less than a year. Yesterday Quin had a triple and two singles in a split-squad game against the Padres but he also lost a ball in the sun which underscores the biggest concern critics have with him: defense. To be fair, McPherson was not going to make anyone forget Scott Rolen either so it should not be a massive defensive downgrade switching to Quinlan whose range has been unfavorably compared to that of a Daisy Air Rifle. Of Quinlan's defensive abilities, Scioscia was quoted as to saying "What he lacks in range and arm strength, he makes up for with guts and glory." Come again Mike? When your manager comes out and admits there is something lacking in little things like "range" and "arm strength" it does not instill a lot of confidence in either the player or the fan-base. Especially when we have to trade off these critical skills for "guts and glory". Huh? How exactly do "guts and glory" manifest themselves in a baseball game? Still, in 56 games last season (32 at third), Q had just one error. Just when I rationalize that Quinlan will be fine to start the year at the hot-corner, Scioscia goes and pops my bubble by saying that Chone Figgins will play "at third a few times [this spring] just to get him reacquainted with the position". Wait a minute, is this the same Chone Figgins that played 96 games at third last season and had eleven errors? ELEVEN! The same Figgins that turned Darin Erstad into a human highlight real on virtually every throw to first (and by extension helping him win a Gold Glove)? Every right-handed pull hitter in the AL will be circling the Angels on their collective schedules. How about we DON'T reaquaint Figgy with third and say we did.

What the Angels will really miss is McPherson's power. The slugger belted 40 HR's in the minors last season and was expected to give the Halos some extra punch in the bottom third of their batting order. Quinlan has some power but nothing like the potential that McPherson brings to the table. The fact that McPherson returned from his first back injury in 2003 and still put up strong power numbers in '04 bodes well for his eventual return to the Halos this season. The only question is, when?

Should Scioscia play Figgins at third then the door cracks open for Maicer Izturis to make the club, primarily for his defensive skills. Izturis could help fill the void at second until the injured Adam Kennedy returns, presumably in May or June. Utility fielder Lou “Ben Affleck Sucks” Merloni can also play some third should Scioscia need him to. Izturis has hit well so far in Spring Training games (7 for 16 with a double and 5 RBI) but that is due in large part to opposing pitchers going after him with fastballs and very little respect. Once the season starts, Izturis will likely not see nearly as many hittable balls and he will revert to the low-average slap hitter that he is.

The Angels depth is being tested early but as it stands, the Halos are one significant injury from having to play either Lou Merloni or Maicer Izturis on an everyday basis. A scary thought for the Halo faithful who must now hope that this patchwork defense gels and is able to hold it together until McPherson and Kennedy return.

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