Angels in the outfield: Trio set for glove show
With lofty goals, Trout, Bourjos and Hamilton figure to be among best defensively
TEMPE, Ariz. -- Peter Bourjos has a goal -- an expectation, really -- when it comes to the outfield he figures to be a big part of this season.
"There aren't going to be triples."
It may not be realistic -- no team has given up fewer than 14 triples since 2000, and the fewest allowed since 1950 was nine, by the '94 Phillies -- but it's an indication of just how dynamic the Angels' outfield trio figures to be in 2013, with Bourjos flanked by Mike Trout in left and Josh Hamilton in right.
In other words, three center fielders -- on a team littered with flyball pitchers.
"Our goal," Trout said, "is to not let a ball drop."
"I don't think we want to give up any hits, really," Bourjos added. "That's the way we're going to look at it."
Trout robbed four home runs last season and could've easily won a Gold Glove Award. Bourjos, many believe, is even better defensively. And though the metrics weren't very favorable to Hamilton last year, he has a potent arm and can cover a lot of ground.
"I don't think a lot of people realize how good he can move out there in the outfield and catch balls in the gaps," Hamilton's former Rangers teammate C.J. Wilson said.
Asked if he's ever been a part of such a solid defensive group, Hamilton recalls the times he teamed up with Rocco Baldelli and Carl Crawford while coming up with the Rays, but that was really only a Spring Training thing.
Regardless of the current group's talents, though, Hamilton believes there's still a familiarity that needs to be fostered. Bourjos and Trout are still relatively new to the idea of sharing the same outfield, and Hamilton is new altogether.
"You have to have chemistry, even on the field, because you have to know your player, you have to know who's there beside you, know what they're going to do -- if they're aggressive, not aggressive," Hamilton said. "It's something that is going to be worked on in Spring Training, but we should be good to go."
They'll all make their share of highlight-reel catches, but their impact could be much greater than that.
Together -- along with reserve Vernon Wells, a former center fielder and three-time Gold Glover himself -- they hold the key to success for many of the Angels' pitchers.
Angels general manager Jerry Dipoto has built a pitching staff that tailors perfectly to the Angels' outfield. Starters Jered Weaver (0.58 groundball-to-flyball ratio in 2012, fourth-lowest in the American League), Joe Blanton (0.81), Jason Vargas (0.69) and Tommy Hanson (0.66) are all what you'd consider "flyball pitchers." So are two of their most critical relievers, Ernesto Frieri (0.36) and Ryan Madson (0.98 in 2011).
Trout, Bourjos and Hamilton will be busy.
"It's going to be a lot of fun," Bourjos said. "When you get a groundball pitcher, it's not as much fun playing defense. I guess it's less stressful, you can say, but it's not as fun. You want to go out there and make some plays, so it's going to be fun this year."
The Angels had an elite trio last year, on the days Torii Hunter played right, Bourjos was in center and Trout was in left. But Angels manager Mike Scioscia really only used that group to hold leads late in games. This year, with Mark Trumbo mostly confined to designated hitter and Bourjos slated to be the everyday center fielder, he figures to use this squad throughout the course of the season.
"When you combine the range they have, with their ability to charge the ball and their speed, and maybe contain first-to-thirds, there's no doubt it has the potential to be as good as any outfield defensively in baseball," Scioscia said.
"An outfield of their caliber really helps you do some special things, especially with the range the center fielder gives you. I think that's the key. It lets you shrink the field much more with your corner guys."
Bourjos ranked fifth among all center fielders in Ultimate Zone Rating in his only full season in 2011, at 7.5. Trout didn't qualify last year, but his UZR in the outfield was 11.4. Hamilton had a positive score every year from 2009-11 -- 6.0, 9.8 and 3.4, respectively -- but finished with a -12.6 in 2012, a year that was pretty much split between center and left field.
Giving him less responsibility in right field -- where he's only spent about 10 percent of his big league innings, but also where his strong arm plays -- should give the Angels one of the best defensive units in baseball.
"Absolutely," outfield coach Dino Ebel believes. "Without a doubt."
The Indians are really the only other team to boast three center fielders in one outfield (with Michael Brantley in left, Michael Bourn in center and Drew Stubbs in right). But the Royals (Alex Gordon, Lorenzo Cain and Jeff Francoeur), A's (Yoenis Cespedes, Coco Crisp and Josh Reddick, with Chris Young in reserve), Braves (Justin Upton, B.J. Upton and Jason Heyward), Nats (Bryce Harper, Denard Span and Jayson Werth) and Dodgers (Carl Crawford, Matt Kemp and Andre Ethier) also figure to be elite defensively.
"We have to go out and prove it," Bourjos said when asked if the Angels boast the best defensive outfield in baseball. "Maybe at the end of the year we can start talking about that, but I think we have a good chance of being up there with one of the best."
Alden Gonzalez is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Gonzo and "The Show", and follow him on Twitter @Alden_Gonzalez. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.