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Trumbo, Conger define homegrown talent

Angels' Trumbo, Conger define homegrown talent

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ANAHEIM -- When the Angels talk about their homegrown products, they can't get much closer to home than fully grown Mark Trumbo and Hank Conger.

"I'm 10 minutes away, right down Katella [Avenue]," said Trumbo, the slugging first baseman whose future most likely is in the outfield.

Trumbo grew up, to 6-foot-4 and 220 pounds, literally right down the road from Angel Stadium. He went to Villa Park High School and was taken in the 18th round of the 2004 First-Year Player Draft, turning down a University of Southern California scholarship offer to chase his dream.

Conger, the Angels' first-round choice in 2006, signed out of Huntington Beach High School. Of Korean descent, he has made an immediate impact this month behind the plate, winning his first four starts calling and handling the pitches for the Angels.

"It's about a 20-minute drive for me to the stadium," Conger said. "The hardest part for me is getting to the freeway. Mark has smooth sailing, right down Katella."

In the Angels' master plan, Trumbo and Conger provide muscle in the heart of the order for years to come. The only question is when the future arrives. It can't happen soon enough for the two athletes, both of whom will play winter ball in an effort to hasten the process.

Conger, a switch-hitter, was named after Hank Aaron. The birth certificate identifies him as Hyun Choi Conger, but he's always been "Hank" thanks to his father -- a fan of Aaron's cool grace and power.

"It's a nickname that stuck," Conger said.

In a very short time, he has grown on the Angels and their pitchers. The club has a 1.50 ERA in Conger's four starts, beginning with Jered Weaver's combined shutout with Matt Palmer in Cleveland. Conger also managed Ervin Santana's five-hit blanking of the Rangers on Tuesday night.

"It's what you dream about as a kid," Conger said. "I'm just trying to soak up everything I can."

In his first Major League start, having struck out as a pinch-hitter in his first at-bat, Conger singled and drove in two runs, helping hand Weaver a 4-0 lead before he threw his first pitch to the Indians.

"He really knows how to make a good impression," Weaver said, grinning. "Seriously, Hank's a good guy to throw to, very comfortable back there. We have a lot of good catchers, and he's one of them."

Jeff Mathis, Mike Napoli and Bobby Wilson are ahead of Conger on the depth chart. The Angels are loaded at the position their manager, Mike Scioscia, considers the most important on the field.

Conger showed that he likes the bright lights during the All-Star Futures Game at Angel Stadium preceding Major League Baseball's showcase event.

His three-run homer and five innings behind the plate led to his selection as the MVP of the event. Conger handed the award to his parents, headed back to Salt Lake, and continued to scald the ball for the Bees.

One of his teammates there was Trumbo, who enjoyed a major breakout season. His 36 homers for Salt Lake led not only the Pacific Coast League but all of Minor League Baseball. He also led the PCL in RBIs with 122 and runs scored with 103.

Trumbo is a "student of the game," according to general manager Tony Reagins, "a guy who really wants to get better."

His understanding of the big picture led Trumbo to a suggestion that could play a significant role in carving out a roster spot in the outfield alongside good buddy Peter Bourjos.

Trumbo, with Mark Teixeira at first base and Kendry Morales waiting in the wings, went to management in 2008 with the idea of learning how to play the outfield.

It has been a gradual process -- 10 games in 2009, 20 games this season -- but Trumbo is beginning to feel more like an outfielder, as he studies and goes through drills with Scioscia's bench coach, Ron Roenicke -- the man in charge of Angels outfielders.

"I'm feeling real good out there, working with Rags," said Trumbo, who will continue the education in winter ball in Venezuela, with the notion of thrusting himself into the roster picture next spring.

It is Trumbo's extraordinary power that captivated Palmer, the Angels' right-hander, when they were teammates at Salt Lake.

"This guy hit some of the hardest-hit balls I've ever seen," Palmer said. "A lot of guys in the PCL, they hit these high fly balls that get up in the altitude and carry. They get here in the big leagues and those are outs, but in the PCL, they go out of the park.

"Mark hits with a lot of backspin. He hits line drives that just keep going. He has stupid power. I've seen him hit balls so hard and so far, you really can't believe it.

"I played with Ryan Howard [at Missouri State University], and Trumbo has that kind of power. It's different from Howard's, but it's serious power any way you look at it. I can't even explain how hard he hits the ball. I think Mark has a big-time future."

In his youth, Trumbo thought of himself as a power pitcher. A pitcher who hit for fun, he threw comfortably in the mid-90s and envisioned a career on the mound.

That changed after the Angels drafted him and sent him to Dr. Lewis Yocum for a physical exam.

"Dr. Yocum said there were some durability issues," Trumbo said. "He was a little cautious about giving me the go-ahead to pitch.

"I had a couple of workouts where I hit. Eddie Bane [the Angels' scouting director] came to the first one. The next one was at Angel Stadium, before a Tigers game. Mike Scioscia was there with [then general manager] Bill Stoneman and [hitting coach] Mickey Hatcher."

They clearly liked what they saw in Trumbo's bat, and he embarked on his professional career at short-season Orem in 2005.

One of the Angels' pitchers, Trevor Bell, could have offered a scouting report on Trumbo. Bell, pitching as a junior for Crescenta Valley High School, faced Trumbo, then a sophomore, at Villa Park High.

"I went deep, first-pitch curveball," Trumbo said. "I hit it pretty good. We won, 6-2. Trevor and I have talked a little about that. We were roommates in '07 [at Cedar Rapids] and played together at [high Class A] Rancho [Cucamonga] in '08."

For Trumbo, it started to come together that '08 season when he hit 32 home runs combined at Rancho Cucamonga and Double-A Arkansas. He focused on contact in '09, batting .291 at Arkansas with 15 homers and 88 RBIs. The power numbers exploded this season.

Trumbo, 24, is on the threshold. Conger, two years younger, is right there with him. Homegrown talent doesn't come much better -- or closer to the source of all the action.

Lyle Spencer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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