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Top prospect Adenhart could have people talking for years

Times Staff Writer

Barely two years into his professional career, Nick Adenhart’s name began popping up in trade rumors last July -- not necessarily a bad thing, the Angels’ top pitching prospect said.

“It means other teams are recognizing what you’re doing,” Adenhart said, “and that you’re doing something right.”

As much as the 20-year-old right-hander tries to ignore such speculation, his first taste of it hit close to home, when he was mentioned in talks with Baltimore for Miguel Tejada last summer. Adenhart grew up an Orioles fan in Hagerstown, Md.

“It was in the papers there, and I got a lot of calls from home,” Adenhart said. “I started thinking, if it did happen, how would it affect me? How would it go down?”

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Adenhart better get used to it. With his potential -- his fastball hit 97 mph last season, and he has an excellent curve -- and the value teams place on premium young pitching, Adenhart will come up often in trade talk over the next few years.

“It’s part of baseball,” Manager Mike Scioscia said. “Ninety-nine percent of it goes away in a puff of smoke. But the reality is, the only thing a player can control is his performance; that’s where his focus has to be.”

Adenhart went 10-2 with a 1.95 earned-run average in 16 starts for Class-A Cedar Rapids last season and 5-2 with a 3.78 ERA in nine starts at Class-A Rancho Cucamonga.

After undergoing reconstructive elbow surgery as a high school senior in 2004 and pitching in 14 games in 2005, Adenhart achieved his 2006 goal of not missing a start because of medical reasons.

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There is a good chance Adenhart, who is focusing this spring on throwing his curve for strikes earlier in the count, will open 2006 at double-A Arkansas. With a dearth of high-end pitching prospects at triple A, Adenhart could rise quickly through the system, possibly reaching the big leagues by the end of the season.

“You always hear when you make the jump to double-A, that’s where the funnel starts to narrow,” Adenhart said. “I’m excited that I’m getting closer to the major leagues. This is when you start to understand where you’re at and what you need to work on.”

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In an effort to improve his versatility and his chances of making the team as a utility player, triple-A shortstop Erick Aybar is working out at second base and center field. Aybar played some outfield in the Dominican Republic this winter. ... Converted shortstop Brandon Wood got an extensive workout at third base Friday, learning bunt defenses and turning double plays. “It highlighted some things that need to be addressed,” Scioscia said, “but it also gave us the confidence that he can play the position.”

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mike.digiovanna@latimes.com


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