In light of reports that former Trav Alberto Callaspo ('04-'05) was spotted taking ground balls at third base in spring camp yesterday in preparation for a position switch because of the incredible talent in the Angels farm system, this report today from Baseball America seems particularly timely.
In an article on competition among prospects around the Major League, the Angels, of course, get the bulk of the attention with Callaspo, Erick Aybar ('05), Brandon Wood ('06), and Howie Kendrick ('05) battling for spots as some of the top players in all of the Minor Leagues. In the recent Top 100 prospect rankings issued by Baseball America, Wood comes in at #3 among all Minor Leaguers, and he is followed by Kendrick at #12, and Aybar at #46. Former Travs Jered Weaver ('05), a pitcher, is #57; Jeff Mathis ('03-'04), a catcher fighting for a starting position with the Angels, is #60; and first-baseman Kendry Morales ('05) is #78.
So here's how Baseball America lays it out today:
The interesting scenarios will unfold on the back fields in Tempe as Erick Aybar, Alberto Callaspo, Brandon Wood and Howie Kendrick will battle it out for Triple-A roster spots--and all four are frontline middle-of-the-diamond talents.
Aybar is coming off a solid winter season with Licey in the Dominican League, hitting .325 in 166 at-bats and playing a key role in the Caribbean Series for the Tigers. He likely will break camp as the starting shortstop at Triple-A Salt Lake, but both his bat and prowess with the glove will be difficult to keep on the farm.
It's much the same story with Callaspo, who spent the winter in his native Venezuela, hitting .304-3-24 in 121 at-bats for Oriente. The only difference between the two is Callaspo has shown more versatility in the last two years, moving from shortstop to second base, and played some third this past winter.
"Nothing can take away from what they've done or what they've been through the past few winters," Angels director of minor league operations Abe Flores said. "They've built their credentials to a high standard against a higher level of competition than Brandon or Howard."
And until last season, when someone mentioned Angels middle infielders of the future, Wood and Kendrick were at the back of the discussion. It was Aybar and Callaspo, earning the nickname, "Hoover and Oreck" for their brilliant defensive abilities.
"Those guys are in a bubble when they're together," Flores said. "They feed off each other so well and turn plays like no one has ever seen. They're fearless, and they completely wow you the way they play defense."
But a second tandem emerged beneath them as Wood put on a power display at every stop in 2006 and Kendrick, who owns a career .359 average in four minor league seasons, worked hard for his glove to catch up to his bat.
The only thing separating the two tandems at this point--other than the superior defense of Aybar and Callaspo--are Wood and Kendrick's power upside. That's not to say the Aybar/Callaspo combo doesn’t contribute offensively, but certainly one or more of them could be looking at a position change sooner than later.
"They all hit and they're all good enough athletes to play other positions," Flores said. "The unique thing is each one of their bats lends into their versatility. These are great problems to have. I hope we can continue to pump in players and keep up this elite level of competition."
On another note, today is Mardi Gras. Put on your beads and celebrate. If you need help getting in the mood, try the NOLA web cams or the live feed from CNN, which has done great work with live footage in the mornings.