The year is 1991. The Angels still have not won a pennant. The city of Anaheim and the Angels are still suing each other. The music between innings still is lousy.
But some things do change. Yes, even in Orange County.
This year, the Angels will make history when Manager Gene Mauch pencils in this lineup on opening day:
It’s a landmark achievement: An alignment completely free of free agents, the product of home-grown breeding, brought to you by the same farm system that spent most of the 1970s and early 1980s churning out trade bait and existing for no apparent reason other than tradition.
It is the ultimate fruition of the plans first laid by Mike Port in 1985, way back when he was a rookie general manager.
As Port puts it: “At that point in time when I accepted my given assignment, which, as I saw it, was to put together the best baseball club possible while at the same time retaining some element of solvency, I determined the most prudent and cost-efficient path to be through the parameters of the minor league system. We had been heavy participants in the re-entry draft, and yet I had to ask myself the question: Has it resulted in a world’s championship for the California Angels? My answer, in all honesty, had to be no.”
It was back to the farm for the Angels. The transformation was slow but sure.
After the 1985 season, Port severed ties with veteran .300 hitters Rod Carew, who made the Hall of Fame on the first ballot this year, and Juan Beniquez, currently continuing his bid with the Baltimore Orioles to break Manny Mota’s pinch-hit record.
In 1987, Reggie Jackson bought the Oakland A’s and made himself right fielder.
In 1988, the Angels paid off the final year of George Hendrick’s contract.
And this winter, Bob Boone retired. In 1990, he caught 160 games and led the league in sacrifice bunts. He will be missed.
Now, Port’s master plan will at last be put to the test. Can a lineup completely bred and fed by the Angels’ minor league organization succeed where past teams, gorged with re-entry signings and deferred contracts, failed so many times?
Mauch thinks so.
“The Royals won as many games as they possibly could last year,” he says. “You have to keep in mind that they won only one more game than we did. That’s not a lot of ground to make up, especially when you consider our youngsters are all a year older now.”
The 1991 baseball season is five years down the road. A lot can happen in five years, particularly to a franchise with as changeable a history as the Angels.
Consider how the Angels looked in 1981.
Butch Hobson was the third baseman. Ed Ott was the catcher. Rick Burleson played his last full season at shortstop.
The outfield consisted of Dan Ford, Fred Lynn and Brian Downing. Don Baylor was the designated hitter.
In the starting pitching rotation were Steve Renko, Dave Frost, Ken Forsch and Geoff Zahn. Mike Witt was a rookie. Don Aase and Andy Hassler manned the bullpen.
Five years later, only Burleson, Downing, Forsch, Witt and Bobby Grich remain of the 37 players who wore Angel uniforms in 1981.
And that’s assuming the comebacks of Burleson and Forsch aren’t sidetracked into the orthopedic ward this summer.
With this in mind, we plunge ahead, speculating on how the Angels will line up in the first year of the franchise’s fourth decade. Aiding us in this assignment is our panel of experts: Bill Bavasi, director of minor league operations; Joe Coleman, minor league pitching instructor; Winston Llenas, manager of the Edmonton Trappers; Preston Gomez, assistant to the general manager, and Mauch.
Let us begin. The Angels of 1991:
First Base--Wally Joyner seems entrenched for at least the next decade. By 1991, the Angels have Joyner jotted down for a couple of Gold Gloves and maybe a league batting title as well.
The Joyner-for-first campaign started building a head of steam in 1984, when Joyner was named the organization’s minor league player of the year with a .317 batting average, 12 home runs and 72 runs batted in. But the convincing was done last winter, when Joyner bulked up and displayed previously unseen power, becoming only the third player to win the triple crown in Puerto Rico with a .356 average, 14 home runs and 48 RBIs.
“The question with Wally was always his power,” Bavasi said. “The guy is gonna hit home runs. Not in the 40s, but look at him. He’s no pencil-neck. He’s a big boy (6-2, 185), with room to grow.”
Second Base--Call Mark McLemore a poor man’s Joe Morgan. “He’s an aggressive, exciting type of player who’s going to steal a lot of bases,” Llenas said. “Right now, he just needs polishing defensively.”
A 21-year-old switch-hitter, McLemore batted .271 at Midland last season, stealing 31 bases in 117 games. With Redwood in 1984, he stole 59.
With second base in Anaheim presently backed up three-deep--Grich, Burleson and Rob Wilfong--McLemore figures to spend 1986 in Edmonton. But he should be back before his 23rd birthday.
Third Base--When Doug DeCinces’ back went out last year, the Angels tried to force-feed Jack Howell into the lineup. Major league pitchers spit him back out as Howell struggled at the plate with a .197 average.
It shouldn’t happen again. Mauch is so sold on Howell’s skills that he is considering moving DeCinces, one of the league’s best-fielding third basemen, to first or designated hitter to make room for Howell.
Howell, 24, batted .373 at Edmonton last year when he wasn’t with the Angels. “Once he gets established, a typical year for him will be .280, 15 to 20 homers and 75 RBIs,” Llenas said.
Shortstop--Assuming that Dick Schofield never will hit major league pitching, which is not an altogether outrageous assumption, the Angels will eventually look for more offensive production from the shortstop position. They hope to find it in Venezuelan Gustavo (Gus) Polidor.
Polidor, 24, is regarded as probably the most improved player in the organization. At Nashua in 1983, he batted .210. At Waterbury in 1984, he batted .223. In between, he spent eight weeks in a body cast to correct a congenital back problem.
“What you’ve seen since is a healthy guy,” Bavasi said. “He’s basically just started to show what he’s capable of.”
Last year, Polidor hit .285 with 51 RBIs at Edmonton and has looked comfortable against major league pitching this spring.
“That man thinks he can play,” Mauch said. Some think he can beat out Schofield--perhaps as early as this season.
Llenas said: “Gus has a much better arm and makes more contact with the bat. Can he be the shortstop for this team? Of course. Maybe this year.”
Catcher--Boone may demand a second opinion on this, but he can’t catch forever. The Angels’ only request is for Boone’s knees to cooperate for another year or two while Darrell Miller serves his apprenticeship.
Miller, of the Cheryl-Reggie Miller clan, is the best athlete in the organization--capable of playing first base as well as any outfield position.
“He originally was a catcher, but we moved him to the outfield because he runs so well,” Bavasi said.
This year, the Angels moved him back behind the plate because of the dearth of catching prospects in the farm system. The best potential can be found on the Class-A level in 19-year-old Erik Pappas and 21-year-old Edwin Marquez. Both are capable receivers, but neither has shown much with the bat.
Miller will be 32 in 1991. “Age will not affect him,” Bavasi said. “He’s strong and lean and takes care of himself. Hell, look at Bob Boone.”
That’s precisely what Miller has been doing. If nothing else, he has the proper mentor.
Left Field--The Angels’ diamond in the rough is 23-year-old Mark Doran. His numbers aren’t staggering--.279, 7 home runs, 41 RBIs last year at Redwood--but Bavasi says simple math doesn’t tell the whole story here.
“He played college ball at Wisconsin, which means he received minimal competition,” Bavasi said. “He’s really just starting now. He’s not the type of kid you can rush.
“Tools-wise, you can compare him to Kirk Gibson, maybe a notch below. He’s a speed-strength guy--he’s very strong, he’s got the arm and he can run. With him, he’s either going to blast off or it won’t happen at all.
“We’re going to take as much time with him as it takes.”
Center Field--Gary Pettis is a known quantity. At 27, after two full big-league seasons, he already has a Gold Glove and has stolen 112 bases.
“Pettis has proven what he can do,” Gomez said. “You can see all his catches every week on the Game of the Week highlights.”
Right Field--Defensively, 23-year-old Devon White gives scouts the Willies. Comparisons rate him right alongside Mays, Wilson and Davis.
“The Angels are the only team in the league White couldn’t play center field for right now,” Bavasi said. “He’s probably the No. 2 center fielder in the American League. Gary Pettis is No. 1.”
White can also give Pettis a run on the basepaths, where he stole a total of 61 bases for Midland, Edmonton and California in 1985. The Angels are eagerly awaiting the day Pettis and White run to the outfield side by side.
Or, a better idea, according to Reggie Montgomery: “The ideal situation would be to put one in left, one in right and put me in the middle. I’d only have to cover this much ground,” Montgomery said, holding his hands about 18 inches apart.
Designated Hitter--Another DH named Reggie. This one goes by the surname Montgomery, however, and, at 23, is regarded as the top power-hitting prospect in the organization.
Last year at Midland, Montgomery hit 22 home runs and drove in 101 runs despite missing a month because of a foot injury.
“He’s got the kind of swing to be a consistent 25-30 home run guy,” Bavasi said.
He might also stand a chance to play regularly in the outfield if he can lose what Gomez calls “his baby fat.” Montgomery began spring training at 235 pounds--about 25 above his best playing weight.
“He has to watch his weight,” Bavasi said. “Last year at Midland, he was too big. He lumbered around and showed no footwork at all in the outfield.
“But you don’t want him to lose too much. He’s the type of player you want to keep strong.”
Starting Pitching--Sixty percent of the Angels’ rotation looks set through the end of the decade. By 1991, Mike Witt, Ron Romanick and Kirk McCaskill will all be 30. They should continue to be good for a combined 50 victories a year.
The two other berths could be filled by players receiving sneak previews this spring. Of 23-year-old Ray Chadwick, Mauch said: “Remember that name.” And of 19-year-old Todd Eggertsen: “He will pitch in the big leagues.”
Scouts take it one step further with Eggertsen. A 1984 graduate of Brea-Olinda High School, Eggertsen is said to possess the mental makeup and repertory of pitches necessary to become the ace of a major league staff.
“We feel he can be a No. 1 starter,” Coleman said. “He’s very young, but he was very competitive in A ball (6-12, but a 3.62 ERA) last year. He has a good fastball plus an outstanding curve and forkball.”
This spring, Chadwick has been the Angels’ designated heater. Of the youngsters in camp, his fastball has been the most explosive, registering in the 92- to 94-m.p.h. range. “It’s no fun trying to hit stuff like that,” Mauch said.
Chadwick can also throw the curveball and the slider for strikes and fields his position well. “You’d have to rate him above any of our (pitching) prospects right now,” Bavasi said.
Relief Pitching--Perhaps the rawest, and most intriguing, prospect is a 22-year-old right-hander named Brian Harvey. The Angels found him last year in a slow-pitch softball league, which seemed an extravagant waste. Harvey has been clocked throwing a baseball at 96 m.p.h.
Making his debut at Quad City last season, Harvey compiled some Ryanesque numbers: 111 strikeouts in 82 innings. Nearly as impressive was his walk total, just 37.
“I saw him a couple of times last year where he looked like he could’ve pitched in the big leagues,” Coleman said. “If he stays healthy, he has a chance to be a world beater.”
Left-handed relief pitching being as scarce as it is, the Angels are predictably enthusiastic over the potential of 19-year-old Miguel Garcia and 23-year-old Chuck Finley.
“Garcia is a great athlete who can throw strikes,” Coleman said. “Finley has a chance to be a good one. He has a good fastball with a lot of movement and he’s developing a split-fingered fastball.”
Other names high on the Angels’ futures list are Mike Cook, T.R. Bryden, Vinicio Cedeno and Bill Fraser, the club’s No. 1 draft choice in 1985.
Pitching runs deep in the organization, as has become the intent of late. Last year, 9 of the Angels’ first 11 draft selections were pitchers.
So, how do the Angels figure to stack up in 1991?
Well, power may be in short supply, with Montgomery the only prospect with proven home run credentials. But Joyner and Howell probably will hit for average, and Pettis, White and McLemore could drive catchers nuts on the bases.
Defense and pitching will be the foundation for this team. All eight regulars know that a glove is more than just a fashion accessory and a rotation of Witt, Romanick, McCaskill, Chadwick and Eggertsen could some day rival Kansas City’s.
“The farm system has come a pretty long ways,” Llenas said. “We’re developing a lot of good people, especially pitchers. And these are guys who really want to make it. Joyner, Howell, McLemore . . . they’ll do anything to stay in the big leagues.”
Now, if they can just learn to hit Bret Saberhagen.