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Wilson's departure could open door for Conger

Wilson's departure could open door for Conger

Wilson's departure could open door for Conger
ANAHEIM -- The Angels exposed backup catcher Bobby Wilson to waivers and watched him get claimed by the Blue Jays on Monday, leaving a hole behind starter Chris Iannetta and seemingly carving a path for prospect Hank Conger to finally capture a solidified role in the Majors.

He'll have to earn it first, though.

"I'll never really commit to anything, other than Iannetta is on our club, and if he's healthy, he's going to get the primary playing time," Angels general manager Jerry Dipoto said. "Everything else, guys are going to have to go out and compete and win jobs. I think competition is good."

Wilson, a 48th round Draft pick by the Angels in 2002, appeared in 191 big league games over the past five years -- including a career-high 75 this season -- and provided solid defense on a part-time basis.

But given his .272 career on-base percentage, and the fact he'll be arbitration-eligible for the first time this offseason, the Angels weren't expected to tender him a contract for next season. Still, Wilson was rather surprised to get a Monday morning call from assistant GM Matt Klentak.

"They just said they wanted to move on, and ultimately that's their decision," said Wilson, who joins a Blue Jays organization that already has starter J.P. Arencibia, former Angel Jeff Mathis and top prospect Travis d'Arnaud. "I'm obviously very grateful for the opportunity they've given me since 2003, but I guess they just didn't need me, or whatever the case was. I'll get an opportunity to go play somewhere else, will have to prove myself all over again, and I'm fine with that."

The Angels currently have Iannetta, who signed a three-year, $15.55 million extension shortly after the regular season, with Conger, John Hester and Minor Leaguer Carlos Ramirez -- currently playing in the Arizona Fall League -- looking to compete for the backup spot in Spring Training. The opportunity to add Minor League free agents, perhaps even affordable Major League ones, also exists.

But Conger, who turns 25 in January and has been in Triple-A for a good portion of the last three years, by far has the most upside.

An industry source said several teams have shown significant interest in Conger, but none are willing to commit to him as an everyday catcher until he proves he can stay healthy and make the transition to the Majors, limiting the value the Angels would get in return.

Dipoto wouldn't go into specifics about the market for Conger, but pointed out that catchers develop slower than those at other positions, and Conger isn't too far off track. He believes Conger, who got 197 Major League plate appearances in 2011, could benefit from easing into the Majors as a backup for a while longer. Dipoto pointed to the D-backs' Miguel Montero, a similar offensive-minded catcher who backed up Chris Snyder until taking over full time in 2009, his age-26 season.

The jury's still out on Conger, but he's a switch-hitter with a presence in the batter's box, as shown by his .297/.359/.467 career slash line in the Minors, and he made defensive improvements in a 2012 season that limited him to 67 Minor League games due to an elbow injury.

It appears the Angels haven't given up on him.

"We didn't get to see a great deal of him [as a September call-up], but during the course of the season, Hank made terrific strides in regards to his footwork, his transfer to throw, consistency of his throws," Dipoto said. "I'd be lying to you if I told you that we have any reasonable understanding of how quickly he translates with the bat at the big league level -- that's always a work in progress. But we know Hank can hit. If what you have is a switch-hitting, offensive-minded catcher, who has made great strides on the defensive side, particularly with his throwing, then advantage Angels, and Hank."

Alden Gonzalez is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Gonzo and "The Show", and follow him on Twitter @Alden_Gonzalez. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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