Angels' outfield could be the best

Angels' outfield trio could be game's best

TEMPE, Ariz. -- Aligning Garret Anderson, Gary Matthews Jr. and Vladimir Guerrero, left to right, the Angels could feature the most dangerous and complete outfield in the business.

"Gary's going to make a difference in center as far as our consistency is concerned," manager Mike Scioscia said. "The key in the corners with Garret and Vlad is health. When Vlad's knees feel good, he covers ground. When Garret is healthy, this guy can be the best left fielder in the league. He's going to control the running game from the corner.

"The range is there. The guys at the corners, to keep them healthy, they might need more days off. But that can be a tremendous outfield."

If they match their offensive numbers from 2006, Anderson, Matthews and Guerrero would combine to hit .308 with 69 homers and 280 RBIs. That's not out of the question, either. Anderson had a somewhat substandard season by his standards in 2006 and Guerrero was banging his way through knee pain as Matthews was having his career year in Texas.

The Angels' outfield last year, with Chone Figgins getting most of the time in center, was second in runs created behind the Padres' unit of Dave Roberts, Mike Cameron and Brian Giles. Roberts departed San Diego for San Francisco in the offseason, replaced by Terrmel Sledge.

Matthews gives the Angels an array of dimensions in center that few clubs can match. His defensive gems have become commonplace -- and required highlight-show viewing -- and his offense caught up with his glove work last year.

Establishing career highs in runs scored (102), hits (194), doubles (44), triples (6), homers (19), RBIs (79), batting (.313), slugging (.495) and on-base percentage (.371), Matthews played in the All-Star Game for the first time -- and marked the occasion with a single in his only at-bat.

The son of former Major League star Gary Matthews, Matthews Jr. attended Granada Hills High School in the San Fernando Valley and was eager to come home to Southern California as a free agent, accepting a five-year, $50 million deal to grace the Angels.

Expected to lead off, Matthews will help set the table for the big guys coming up behind him -- and few are as big as Guerrero.

It was another banner 2006 season by the seven-time All-Star right fielder. He produced a .329 average, 33 homers, 116 RBIs and a .552 slugging average.

Scioscia said he'd like to have Guerrero -- hindered by knee issues last year -- in the heart of the lineup for at least 150 games and feels he can average about an RBI a game if the table is set properly in front of him.

Having spent seven seasons on Montreal's artificial turf, his knees have absorbed a fierce pounding, Guerrero savors playing on Anaheim's natural surface and said he would not come "knocking on [the manager's] door to DH."

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He also refused to second-guess management over not acquiring a big name to hit behind him, maintaining that "we have big bats. We have Garret. Juan [Rivera] is going to come back. Shea Hillenbrand.

"The main thing is that all around the style that Mike talks about is not depending on one bat, and I feel very good about the guys that I see here. Gary Matthews Jr. is going to be a very helpful ballplayer."

Among all Major League hitters, Guerrero has the fourth most hits over the past 10 seasons -- 1,781. Two hits ahead of him in third on the list is his teammate, Anderson.

At 34, Anderson is coming off a solid season. He hit .280 last year with 17 homers and 85 RBIs in 141 games.

"This looks like a solid outfield," said Anderson, who has been part of some memorable units in Anaheim. "Check with me later, and I'll have a better idea."

Scioscia suggested he's leaning toward flip-flopping Anderson and Hillenbrand in the Nos. 4 and 5 slots, Anderson dropping to fifth against lefties.

"When Garret's healthy, he can hit against anybody, and that's what we're anticipating," Scioscia said. "It's really a function of seeing how important it is to have a right-handed bat behind Vlad against left-handed pitching, and we'll adjust from there."

In characertistic manner, Anderson took it in stride.

"He is not one to keep a lineup the same," he said. "He likes to mix and match, go with matchups. He's not one to Xerox the lineup and put it out there every day. It's been his M.O. since he's been here.

"Over the course of the last five or six years, you get comfortable batting in one spot [cleanup]. You become a creature of habit; you're comfortable with it. But it's not going to affect me where I bat."

Scioscia has a handful of athletes to draw on for backup roles in the outfield, led by Reggie Willits, Tommy Murphy and Nick Gorneault.

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