We continue our countdown of the Angels Top 20 Minor League Prospects as discussed live on the March 29, 2011 episode of our LunchTime HaloTalk internet radio show with minor league analyst Ryan Ghan.
Rev Halofan: We're getting into some rarefied territory here. We have Jordan Walden at four. Jean Segura, kind of like Jean-Luc Picard at number 3. Don't tell me William Shatner is number 2. Who is our number 2 prospect?
Ryan Ghan: I've got Hank Conger there. Hank "Money in the Bank" Conger. You know, catcher, we've seen him now at the Major League level. He has improved a lot, behind the plate over the last couple of years. He stayed healthy which is big deal for him, and for two years running now he's missed only a handful of games. Switch hitter. Interesting thing about him, he's really evolved as a hitter. He's been really, really interesting. I'm going to dork out a little bit here.
RevHF: Dork out, dork out away!
Rghan: Well, he came into professional baseball as this booming power hitter and no plate discipline. He hits the ball to all fields then, but has steadily become more specialized and you can see it in the data over the last two years. As a left-handed hitter, he's gone from fly balls everywhere, all across the field, from the spraying fly balls everywhere, to consistently shooting line drives to right field. So, he's just become very, very good at waiting for the pitch he can drive and then shooting the ball in line to right field. He's a very good pull hitter. He's one of the most pull-heavy hitters in the system -- and again I'm talking about only his swings from the right side -- and he's got the plate discipline to pull it off. He waits for his pitch and he fouls off anything he doesn't like. He hits fewer homeruns now than he used to which is a bit of a concern. It's not clear whether that's going to come back... oh jeez -- you still there?
RevHF: Yeah, we're here.
Jim Gardner: Yes, yup.
Rghan: Oh, I thought I lost you guys.
RevHF: No, no man. We're hanging on every word, imagining Hank Conger.
Rghan: Yeah and he also does really well on his grounders. He just has that gap between first base and second base, hitting the ball between those two guys, down to down to a science. So, he's going to hit for average, that guy knows how to hit. I'm probably more confident in him rediscovering how to hit from the right side then his homerun power returning. From the right side, he had a down year last year. Lots of ground ball outs, I mean a lot of weak contact, but that really only applies to 2010; it really wasn't the case the year before when he was able to spray line drives from line-to-line from the right side. I think that you're going to see his right-handed stroke come back this year. I think he's going to establish himself as a true switch hitter again. If he doesn't get hurt, he's going to be a major leaguer -- he's going to be a major leaguer soon.
RevHF: How is Hank behind the plate?
Rghan: You are going to hear different opinions. I think the fundamentals of being able to block pitches in the dirt and being able to keep his head into the game and not allow passed balls and to not make a whole lot of errors behind the dish, those are things he excels at. I hear he calls a good game, we don't have a whole lot of information from pitchers or coaches that say that's an area in which he excels, but it certainly looked pretty good last year. I mean he made, you can call it lucky, you can call it whatever you want, but he certainly didn't get in the pitcher's way last year. The problems are all about his footwork on his throws. That's the major issue he needs to clear up. He's got a great arm, he's got a gun for an arm, he's got more than enough arm for the position. It's just the question of cleaning up that footwork and not playing catch with the centerfielder. That's where almost all of his errors come from. To parrot Abe Flores a bit, I think he has got a shot at being average or maybe even making it above average.
Jim Gardner: If you were in-charge with the Angels, would you be starting him behind the plate this year, or would you give him more time at Triple A?
Rghan: Yeah, I think I'd let him stay in Salt Lake a little bit longer. Just to work on the catching. From the hitting standpoint, more time in Salt Lake is probably not productive, but I think more time in a low pressure environment to work on his catching would be a good thing for him.
Between AAA and the big league club, Hank Conger appeared in 82 of 140 possible games in 2011 as of September 4. He saw plenty of time in Anaheim, but a lot of it was on the bench and eventually he was sent to AAA Salt Lake to play every day. Back in Anaheim he has been solid in limited playing time. He batted .300 with an 865 OPS in 100 ABs in AAA over 27 games of consistent starts. In 189 Plate Appearances in the bigs (55 games) he batted .207 with 5 HR and 17 RBI. In contrast, Jeff Mathis has 245 Plate appearances, has batted .177 and has 20 RBI in basically the same position of the same lineup.