Mailbag: Vlady ready to have big year?

Mailbag: Vlady to have big year?

Do you see Vladimir Guerrero having a big year because he's in the final year of his contract?
-- Julio S., Santa Ana, Calif.

The Angels have an option to renew Vlad for 2009, so he's here for at least two more seasons. With some players, contractual incentives and issues certainly come into play. With Vlad, it's a different, wonderful ballgame. He plays from his heart, with passion, every day he puts on the uniform. He'd play the same way -- legging out triples, diving for balls and bases, reaching back to throw out runners -- in a summer beer league. That's what I love about the guy. And that is why he's as universally respected among peers as any player in the game.

Who is most likely to get the starting nod at catcher this season?
-- Neil U., Mission Viejo, Calif.

As with shortstop, this competition between best buddies Mike Napoli and Jeff Mathis is still too close to call. Napoli probably remains slightly ahead, given that he was the man when he was hurt twice last season, both times playing the game the right way: protecting the plate and going hard on the basepaths. He is more of an offensive threat than Mathis, even though Mathis looks more confident with the bat and will be a better hitter than he showed down the stretch in 2007, when he was physically fatigued. Mathis has a superior arm -- one of the best -- and probably has a slight edge defensively overall. My best guess is about 90 games for Napoli, 70 for Mathis.

Angels general manager Tony Reagins looks like a genius now for dealing for pitching depth, doesn't he? Who do you like starting on Opening Day -- Jered Weaver or Jon Garland? I know Garland is more experienced, but I like Weaver.
-- Tarry P., Barrie, Ontario, Canada

I have to agree with you. Weaver's superlative spring should put him in the driver's seat for the Opening Day start with John Lackey and Kelvim Escobar sidelined. Garland gets the No. 2 spot, followed by Joe Saunders and Ervin Santana. After that, it's probably between Dustin Moseley or Nick Adenhart for the fifth spot -- another tough call. My gut feeling is they'll see what Adenhart can do, knowing he's so tough mentally; a rough experience won't harm him. But I certainly could understand why they'd go with Moseley, who performed well in a spot-starter role last season.

Are you concerned at all about Santana? It's not like he's just had one bad spring outing with that 7.90 ERA. That worries me.
-- James D., Long Beach, Calif.

Manager Mike Scioscia has expressed no concern with Santana, and he knows as much about pitching as I know about Bruce Springsteen and Motown. So I'll defer to Scioscia on this one. He says Santana is right on schedule, his stuff and location are fine, that he's just missing on an occasional pitch that ends up hurting him. I remember some great pitchers -- Nolan Ryan for one -- who often had inflated spring ERAs, then came out smoking when it counted. Spring Training numbers can be deceiving.

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Will Brandon Wood ever be able to hit Major League pitching with consistency? It looks like he's destined to have a low batting average.
-- Christian H., San Dimas, Calif.

Wood is still finding his way and his comfort zone as a hitter. His power potential is unquestioned, and he's a solid defender at third base and shortstop. Batting average can be overrated. Mike Schmidt is widely considered the best ever to play the third-base position. At Wood's current age, 23, Schmidt played his first full season in the Majors and batted .196 in 132 games. Schmidt batted .249 in 1975, .251 in '78 and .253 in '79. Wood, like Schmidt, won't challenge for batting titles, but he could be a highly productive hitter for a long time.

Why is everyone saying Erick Aybar should get the starting job at shortstop when Maicer Izturis has more experience and more pop than Aybar? What does Aybar have that Izturis doesn't?
-- Miguel C., Orange, Calif.

Everyone who has seen Aybar play the position on a regular basis -- scouts, teammates, coaches -- raves about his range and arm. Some people, including Scioscia, think he's a potential Gold Glove shortstop. Izturis is a versatile, steady player and more dependable than Aybar right now. Overall, Izturis is probably a better player at the moment, but Aybar has that intriguing, star-quality upside. That's why it's such a tough call.

If Aybar beats out Izturis, who would then become a utility player, what happens with Wood? He's blocked by Chone Figgins, who couldn't be the utility player because that would be Izturis' new role. What would they do?
-- Jose C., Maracay, Venezuela

Wood would start the season at Triple-A Salt Lake and try to bang his way onto the roster around midseason. Wood, along with Matt Brown, is excellent insurance should anything happen to any of those three players, each of whom spent considerable time on the disabled list in 2007.

With regards to the question about Spring Training games being played during the day rather than at night, there is a great elderly population in Florida and Arizona. Granted, night games appealing to school-aged children would bring parents, too, but I have aunts and uncles who are die-hard Dodgers fans in March despite being White Sox fans the rest of the year.
-- Chris C., Frederick, Md.

Certainly there are reasons for playing most Spring Training games in daylight, when it's warmer and players are less apt to get muscle pulls, etc., and the game is well supported in its current Cactus and Grapefruit League form. I just think it would be smart to play more night games -- four or five per team, not one or two in most cases -- later in the spring when the weather starts to heat up. Bringing youth to the sport is a high priority for Major League Baseball.

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