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Hank Conger: Angels Top Prospect #2

2) Hank Conger, 1/29/88 - C, AA

.295/.369/.424 with 11 HR's and 4 SB's. + 9 bat, -1 glove

Ranking in a Nutshell: Conger's list of 2009 accomplishments effectively answered questions about his all-around game: he stayed healthy, catching 86 games for the Travs and DH'ing another 36.  He made tremendous strides with his defense, erasing an almost average 30% of base stealers and allowing only 3 passed balls. He affirmed that he's a true switch-hitter, terrorizing left-handed pitching to the tune of an .875 OPS. And the patience!  He walked 59 times against 64 strikeouts, controlling the strike zone well against advanced pitching. Best of all, he was only 21 in AA, which is extremely rare for a catcher. To put that into context, more highly touted Indians catching prospect Carlos Santana was 23 in AA. Buster Posey began the year in High A as a 22-year-old.  He's entering 2010 regarded as a much better all-around prospect than he was a year ago, and is a good bet to break out completely upon hitting the Pacific Coast League.

Track Record: Until last year, injuries had cut short each of Conger's seasons going back to 2006. None of those injuries lingered into 2009, so at this point we can call it a string of bad luck rather than a defining characteristic of Conger's game (knock on wood). The good health allowed him to catch almost as many games in 2009 as he had in his entire career previously, so he still has "a lot of catching development time to make-up." While his 14 errors last season mark him as still raw behind the plate, he showed the mobility and arm strength to limit the passed balls and stolen bases to reasonable totals.  He's raked whenever he's been on the field, putting up a 148 OPS+ in 2006, a 131 OPS+ in '07, and a 123 OPS+ in both ‘08 and ‘09. He showed a real nose for the RBI in 2008, when he hit .415/.430/.660 with runners in scoring position, and ended the season knocking in runs against young Rangers' fireballers Neftali Feliz and Derek Holland in the Texas League finals. Those RISP numbers fell in 2009, but he still shows the makings of a middle-of-the-order force.

Win-the-Lottery-Ceiling: With his improved patience and dipping strikeout totals, Hank Conger has a chance to be a Victor Martinez type hitter, and could be slightly better behind the plate. 

Scouting Report: (beneath the jump)

You can watch Conger go yard with the Quakes here, at Future He has a beautiful stroke, short to the ball and long on extension and follow-through. He uses an aggressive stride that keeps his center of gravity low, and he incorporates his lower half well with a strong, balanced pivot. You can also watch Conger take batting practice from the right side here. He shows less stride in the second video, which indicates either that his mechanics are slightly different from that side or that he had adjusted his approach before the 2009 season. A more current scouting report from anyone visiting spring training this year would be more than welcome.

Conger was primarily a pull hitter in 2009 - 41% of his hits went to his pull side when batting lefty, and 37% when batting righty. Every homerun he hit all year went to his pull side.  Most telling of all was that only 20% of his hits were to the opposite field.  He also hit groundballs more often in '09 than he had at any other point in his career, which could indicate that he was rolling over too often. Hank was much better about using the whole field in 2008, knocking almost half of his homeruns to dead center and nearly as many to the opposite field as he did to the pull side. I don't know what caused the change in Conger's distribution of balls in play, but over the long run he would serve himself well by using the whole field, so it's something to look out for in 2010

Most of the debate about Conger's future revolves around his defense and his ability to stick behind home plate.  He did commit 11 throwing errors (hat tip, Stephen Smith), which points to two things: (1) he still has a lot of work to do in his catch-and-throw footwork; and (2) the errors depressed his caught stealing totals, so his 30% '09 caught stealing rate could jump as he learns to throw more accurately. He still has a chance to be an average to slightly above average defensive catcher, and his plus make-up and work ethic could help him to get there.