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Angels camp report: Trumbo's switch to third key this season

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If Mark Trumbo works out at the hot corner, then the Angels' lineup will be strong. (AP)  
If Mark Trumbo works out at the hot corner, then the Angels' lineup will be strong. (AP)  

TEMPE, Ariz. -- On the Angels teams of Mark Trumbo's youth, Troy Glaus was the third baseman.

The 6-foot-5, 220-pound third baseman.

"He's bigger than I am," Trumbo said, the point being that Trumbo shouldn't necessarily look out of place at the position he'll spend this spring trying to make his own.

"I'd love for that to be my natural position," Trumbo said.

It's not natural yet. It can't be, not when Trumbo has played so little third base in his life that he estimates his prior experience amounts to "one month in 26 years."

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Danny Knobler
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But just as the Tigers will be a better team if Miguel Cabrera can handle third base, and just as the Marlins will be much better if Hanley Ramirez accepts third base, the Angels realize that the moving pieces in their lineup fit best if the 6-4, 220-pound Trumbo can find a new home at third.

Just as with the Tigers and Marlins, it's a simple equation. Albert Pujols is the Angels first baseman and Kendrys Morales (if healthy) will be the designated hitter, so if Trumbo can handle third base, they can get all three bats into the same lineup.

There are those who are skeptical he can do it, even within the Angels organization. There are those who are very optimistic (and you can count Trumbo in that group).

And there are those who will reserve judgment until they at least see Trumbo play there a few times.

"We're not convinced," manager Mike Scioscia said. "But we're more comfortable with him there every day. We're going to have to get him out there to evaluate it."

The evaluations reached another step Wednesday, when Trumbo played three innings at third base in an exhibition game against the Mariners. It would have been more, but Trumbo is still recovering from a stress fracture in his foot and the Angels didn't want him to come to the plate just yet.

In some ways, this is the most interesting and most challenging of the three big third-base conversions this spring.

Cabrera was a third baseman earlier in his career. Ramirez is making the simpler transition from shortstop (just as Glaus did after playing short in college at UCLA).

Trumbo is doing something that's more or less totally new to him. He said he played a little bit of third base in high school, and a little bit in instructional league, but yeah, it adds up to just about a month of time in his 26 years.

He's not as established a player as Cabrera or Ramirez, but Trumbo did hit 29 home runs and drive in 87 runs as a rookie last year.

Fantasy Writer
Sleeper ... Kendrys Morales, 1B: As if Kendrys Morales' season-ending ankle fracture early in 2010 wasn't bad enough, the 28-year-old slugger then kept Fantasy owners on the hook right up until the end of spring training last year, burning some of the early drafting types for a second straight season. Needless to say, nobody is counting on Morales for much now, which means he's likely to go for next to nothing on Draft Day. So far, his work in batting practice has the Angels cautiously optimistic that he'll be ready for the start of the season. Of course, we were hearing reports just as favorable this time last year only to find out he needed a second surgery, but what are the chances of that happening again? A second surgery was surprising enough. A third would be grounds for a lawsuit. Granted, a healthy Morales would face the same playing time obstacles as Mark Trumbo, but considering Morales is the better all-around hitter, he's a better gamble in the late rounds than Trumbo is in the middle rounds.
Bust ... Mark Trumbo, 1B: It's not that Trumbo can't repeat last year's 29 homers. It's just that, given his lack of plate discipline, everything has to go just right for it to happen. And already things are going wrong. The biggest blow came when the Angels signed Albert Pujols, leaving Trumbo without a position. He was supposed to learn third base this offseason as a creative way to keep his bat in the lineup, but a stress fracture in his foot kept him off the practice field. The Angels still might try to rotate him between DH, third base and possibly left field, but such instability often has an adverse effect on a player's batting average, which in Trumbo's case, could lead to an on-base percentage lower than any number of homers could justify. Besides, if Kendrys Morales is healthy, it's all moot anyway. Trumbo will get drafted in mixed leagues given his potential for 30-plus homers, but consdiering all the variables at work here, he could easily be a waste of a pick. -- Scott White
Depth Chart | Angels outlook | 2012 Draft Prep

There was no reason to think he wouldn't be the Angels first baseman for quite a while. .. at least not until that morning when the Angels shocked the baseball world by signing Pujols.

That morning, Trumbo awoke in California to find his phone flooded with text messages. At first, he wondered if he had been traded, and just hadn't been told about it yet.

Then he realized that Pujols had signed.

"As a lifelong Angels fan, I was as happy as anyone," he said. "I also knew he plays the same position as I do -- or as I did."

In baseball, the initial thought was that the Angels would look to trade Trumbo, but they quickly said they had no plans to do so. Scioscia called Trumbo later that day to tell him the same thing.

It was what Trumbo wanted to hear.

"I grew up 10 minutes away [from Angel Stadium]," he said. "This is the place I want to be."

Thus, he became a third baseman.

The Angels point out that it doesn't need to be his full-time spot. They suggest that he could see some games at first base when Pujols gets a day off, that he could see times at corner outfield spots or that he could DH at times, especially if Morales' lengthy recovery from a severe ankle injury becomes even more lengthy.

"He's going to get his at-bats," general manager Jerry Dipoto said.

It all works so much better if Trumbo can handle third, and an Angels lineup that struggled at times to score runs can then be totally transformed by keeping Trumbo in with Pujols and Morales.

But it only works that way if Trumbo is good enough, if he can make all the routine plays.

Just as with Cabrera in Detroit, the Angels say that Trumbo has the arm to play third.

"One of the better arms we have," Dipoto said.

They say he's athletic enough to handle it, and when you watch him take ground balls, that does seem to be the case.

Bench coach Rob Picciolo said that Trumbo asks the right questions, and that he'll learn even more by playing in spring training games and reacting to situations as they come up.

Count Picciolo among those who believe this can work.

And count Trumbo among those who badly want it to work. There's no doubt that he wants to be an everyday third baseman.

"I'd really love for that to happen," he said.

The Angels would love it, too.

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