Waiting for an opportunity are players such as former first-round Draft selection Randal Grichuk, who is 21. Scott Cousins, Kole Calhoun and Travis Witherspoon round out a crop of promising athletes hoping for a chance to someday play an outfield position in Anaheim.
I was able to see both Grichuk and Witherspoon play this past season in the Arizona Fall League. The 6-foot-2, 190-pound Witherspoon is an exciting prospect with an abundance of projectable tools. MLB.com ranks Witherspoon as the eighth-best Angels prospect.
The right-handed-hitting and righty-throwing Witherspoon reminds me of a cross between Mike Cameron and Lorenzo Cain. Both of those players are the same height as Witherspoon. Both are a bit heavier. However, Witherspoon could gain muscle strength and weight, placing him even closer to their profiles.
The similarities between the three players begin with dynamic speed. They are all extremely athletic. Cameron and Cain added power as they developed. All three are outstanding defensive center fielders.
Witherspoon graduated from Sumter High School in Sumter, S.C. He went to Spartanburg Methodist College, a junior college that has produced baseball players such as Orlando Hudson, Mookie Wilson and Reggie Sanders, among others. The Angels selected Witherspoon in the 12th round of the 2009 First-Year Player Draft.
It is difficult enough for prospects selected in the beginning rounds of the Draft to make a Major League team. In fact, generally only 10 percent of all Minor League players make the Major Leagues. Witherspoon has a daunting task ahead. However, at age 23, Witherspoon has already been added to the team's 40-man roster. That's a tremendous accomplishment at this early stage of his career.
Witherspoon began last season, his fourth, at Class A Advanced Inland Empire in the California League. He hit a robust .319 and stole 25 bases, and was only caught seven times. Those numbers earned him the promotion to Double-A Arkansas.
When I saw Witherspoon in Arizona, I was impressed with several facets of his game. Playing for the Scottsdale Scorpions, Witherspoon hit a rather uninspiring .219 in 73 at-bats. His batting average may not have been great, but other tools were on display.
At first blush, a .219 batting average isn't encouraging. Especially since Witherspoon hit only .202 in 208 at-bats to finish his season for Arkansas. I looked past his Arizona batting average. While his hitting wasn't what might have been expected, his defense, running ability and overall athletic skills were in full view.
Witherspoon played in 21 games for Scottsdale, 19 of those in center field. He served one game as a designated hitter and entered one game as a pinch-runner.
Witherspoon's defense was extremely solid. He used his speed and agility to patrol center field in the very difficult environment of Arizona's high and sunny skies. He made only one error in 57 chances. Witherspoon has a strong and solid arm, with excellent carry and good accuracy on his throws. He is able to get to a ball, transfer it from his glove to his hand, and release it quickly without hesitating or fumbling.
I don't think runners will be taking too many extra bases with Witherspoon in the field. In time, he has the ability to be a top-of-the-scouting-chart outfielder.
Offensively, Witherspoon will have to get on base consistently to use his speed and quickness. In four seasons of professional baseball, Witherspoon has already stolen 110 bases. He's only been caught stealing 23 times. That's impressive. And exciting. And a reason for optimism.
To date, Witherspoon has had some difficulty making consistent contact. In the Fall League, for example, he struck out 28 times. Not great. Witherspoon did draw four walks. Not bad.
Last season, over two classifications covering a total of 541 plate appearances, Witherspoon struck out 106 times. His on-base percentage was .350. It will be good for Witherspoon to make more contact, especially hitting the ball on the ground or bunting to use his speed. An increase in his walk rate would also be beneficial. Witherspoon's current walk rate isn't troubling, but more walks could lead to more stolen bases.
The most compelling reason for my positive evaluation of Witherspoon's future is his power potential. He has a strong and well-defined physique. Witherspoon has already shown the ability to hit the ball out of the park, having hit 42 home runs in his Minor League career. More power is on the way.
Witherspoon could one day provide the type of highly-valued top-of-the-order power/speed combination that would propel him to the Major League roster and ultimately to an everyday role. Projecting Witherspoon's future, I see him as a player that will "make things happen."
Having played at Double-A at the age of 23, Witherspoon has the luxury of more development time in the immediate future. He has to continue to use his natural ability and take advantage of very quick hands, good bat speed and a strong body, to generate the type of swing that consistently takes pitches to all parts of the field. Patience at the plate and pitch recognition will be the foundation of Witherspoon's improvement.
Even with their electrifying outfield, the Angels will be happy to have Witherspoon gaining experience until his time arrives.