It wasn't easy watching the catching tandem that helped bring the Angels a World Series title go elsewhere. Bengie and Jose Molina held down the position with class and professionalism together for five seasons, Bengie getting clutch hit after clutch hit and Jose throwing behind unsuspecting base runners who wandered a little too far from first base. Man, they were fun to watch and easy to root for. While Bob Boone is still the best catcher in the organization's history, in my opinion, the Molina's comprised the best catching duo the Angels ever had. And while the team may have let Bengie go a season or two too early, they knew they had some young guys in the organization who were ready for the challenge.
We're now in the early stages of the 2008 season, and the Halos young catchers are showing why they were willing to part with Bengie after the 2005 season and Jose toward the end of last season.
Jeff Mathis has been a name Angels fans have been aware of since he was picked in the first round of the 2001 draft. He steadily moved through the minor leagues, and was named the organization's Defensive Player of the Year in 2005, while also batting .276 with 21 HR. It appeared he was ready for the show. Mathis was named the team's starting catcher to start the 2006 season and he struggled...mostly with the bat, but he wasn't very good defensively either. He was soon sent back to the minors and another young prospect, Mike Napoli, was called up.
Napoli took advantage of the opportunity and solidified himself in the Angels lineup, hitting .228 with 16 HR and 42 RBI in just 268 at-bats. He was also more than respectable behind the plate, throwing out 31% of would-be base-stealers. It was a good enough rookie season to make me think, Mathis-who, we got Napoli.
Now the two Floridians comprise one of the best young catching tandems in the Major Leagues and both are off to a heck of start in 2008. Napoli has played in nine games and is batting .273 with 4 HR and 8 RBI, while Mathis has made the most of his five starts, hitting .353 with 2 HR and 3 RBI. It appears the catcher position for the Angels will be in good hands for the foreseeable future.