It's taken Hank Conger a little bit longer than he hoped to get back home.
Taken by the Angels in the first round of the 2006 Draft, Conger was thought to be one of the better high school bats that year. The Huntington Beach (Calif.) High School product has always been able to hit -- from both sides of the plate. Much to his frustration, he couldn't stay on the field long enough to show just how well he could handle pitching, both offensively and defensively.
He played just 160 games combined in his first two full seasons, due to a laundry list of injuries. Things started to come together in 2009, and he's managed to stay largely healthy for the past two years.
That led to his fairy-tale moments in 2010. He not only played in the 2010 Futures Game in his Major League team's ballpark, he was the MVP. He made his big league debut later in the season, all with family and friends able to see him play.
"It was definitely one of my better years I've had," said Conger, the No. 7 prospect on the Angels' top 10 prospects list below. "I know I won't forget it. I know my family won't ever forget it. It was an unbelievable experience, the Futures Game and especially getting called up in my hometown. I couldn't write it any better.
"It's been pretty rough the last couple of years with all the injuries, so for me to have a good 2010 and look back on everything, to get a call up and have a great year, it made everything that much better."
The Angels dealt Mike Napoli this offseason, opening the door somewhat for Conger to step through. Jeff Mathis and Bobby Wilson are both there, and with most feeling Conger is still behind those two defensively, he could start the year back in Triple-A and waiting for a return back home.
"I'll go out there and have the mindset I did last year," Conger said. "Go in there and worry about improving each and every day. Our organization, we have a lot of good catchers at the big league level. So I'm just going to worry about getting better, and go from there."
Having Mike Scioscia as the manager can be seen as a blessing and a curse. On the one hand, Scioscia likes defense, and thus might be partial to the veterans. On the other, his insights have helped Conger become a better all-around backstop than, perhaps, even he imagined. The end result, Conger thinks, is a positive.
"It's huge," Conger said. "You hear from everybody else, the focus and all the hard work we put into it. It's true. We work our butts off. Just to try and soak up everything, and take that into the regular season, is important. Even during the season, we're always focusing on handling our pitching staff and trying to get better."
Angels' Top 10
1. Mike Trout, OF: The No. 1 prospect in baseball according to MLB.com's Top 50, Trout far surpassed expectations -- even as a first-round pick. He hit for average at two levels, showed an approach at the plate far beyond his years, stole 56 bases, showed glimpses of power and played outstanding defense in center field. He's going to Double-A to start 2011, and it's looking like 2012 is when MLB fans could expect him to arrive.
2. Kaleb Cowart, 3B: Heading into the 2010 Draft, Cowart had more teams interested in his pitching than his hitting. But he wanted to hit, and the Angels agreed and took him No. 18 overall. A switch-hitter, he's got plenty of raw power to tap into. As a top pitcher, he's got plenty of arm strength at third -- and while he may not win any Gold Gloves over there, he should be fine. He should get a full-season assignment to Class A Cedar Rapids.
3. Jean Segura, 2B: Segura can do just about everything on the baseball field. In his first full season, Segura was a Class A Midwest League All-Star, hitting for average, showing some extra-base pop, and stealing 50 bases. He's got enough arm for short, and the Angels may try him over there as he moves up to the Advanced Class A California League this season.
4. Mark Trumbo, 1B: There is no question about Trumbo's power: He tied for the Minor League lead with 36 homers a year ago, the second time in his pro career he's topped the 30-homer plateau. He's become a better hitter overall, but may not be the type to hit for average in the big leagues. He's insurance at first if Kendry Morales isn't ready to go on Opening Day -- and could be a solid power bat off the bench at first, a corner-outfield spot and DH.
WHEN WILL THEY ARRIVE?
5. Tyler Chatwood, RHP: The 2008 second-rounder has been proving that undersized right-handers can succeed. He dominated in the typically hitting-friendly California League, and got bumped up to Double-A for 12 starts. His fastball and slider are outstanding, though he needs to work on his command, and his changeup has improved markedly. He'll need to show more consistency at the upper levels this year.
6. Garrett Richards, RHP: The big, strong right-hander has terrific pure stuff, and so far has had better results as a pro than he did at Oklahoma. He throws hard and down in the zone, as evidenced by his 2.42 groundout-to-airout ratio. His changeup isn't quite as good as his fastball-curve combination, and if that starts to come, he could start moving up the Angels' ladder faster.
7. Hank Conger, C: Mike Napoli is gone, but Jeff Mathis and Bobby Wilson are still in the way. Conger's bat is just about ready for the big leagues, and he's come a long way with his defense, so few doubt he'll one day be the every-day guy for the Angels. Even if he starts the year in Triple-A, he could come up for good at some point during the season.
8. Jordan Walden, RHP: A move to the bullpen clearly worked for Walden -- who threw well at two levels of the Minors in 2010, then even better in the big leagues, to establish himself as a setup man. He's hit triple digits with his fastball in the shorter stints to go along with an OK slider. He gets swings and misses along with plenty of ground balls. It wouldn't shock many if he closed games for the Angels at some point in the future.
9. Cam Bedrosian, RHP: The son of former Cy Young Award winner Steve, this Bedrosian was taken with the No. 29 overall pick in last June's Draft. He's an undersized right-hander with a very good fastball and slider. He's shown the ability to throw a changeup and a curve, but they are way behind the heater. He barely got his feet wet last summer because of some elbow soreness, so he'll truly get his career going this year, perhaps in Cedar Rapids.
10. Fabio Martinez, RHP: Any pitcher with a career 12.1 K/9 ratio is worth knowing about, and Martinez was at 12.3 for his full-season debut in 2010. Unfortunately, he also walked 6.6 per nine, showing just how far he has to come from being a thrower to a complete pitcher. At worst, his plus fastball and slider would work well in the back end of a bullpen. But it will be interesting to see if he can develop as a starter, as he moves up to the California League this season.
Under the Radar
Tyson Auer, OF: Auer hit just .273 in his senior season at Central Florida, and ended up signing as a non-drafted free agent with the Angels that summer. After a solid, but unspectacular full season in 2009, he ended up playing at three levels in 2010, finishing in Triple-A. He hit .316, and used his plus speed to swipe 54 bases. He's a solid center fielder and knows how to do the little things, like bunting, that a leadoff hitter needs to succeed at the highest level.
Andrew Heid, OF: A ninth-round pick from last year's Draft as a senior from Gonzaga, Heid made a very strong first impression -- albeit with Orem in the rookie-level Pioneer League. He's a good runner who can hit with a very good approach at the plate. He also can play all three outfield spots, but at 23 will have to hop on a faster track now.
Hitter of the Year -- Trout
You were expecting someone else? He'll take the Texas League by storm at age 19 and be right on pace to be a big leaguer in 2012, all while leading the organization in average and steals (and showing more power than last year).
Pitcher of the Year -- Chatwood
Unless something happens and he's needed in the bigs sooner than most expect, Chatwood will make it two years in a row for this honor, once again topping the system in ERA.
Jonathan Mayo is a reporter for MLB.com and writes a blog, B3. Follow @JonathanMayoB3 on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.Less