MLB reports: What a difference 48 hours make. At this time Wednesday night, I was plotting to prepare my blog on Mike Napoli. The theme was going to be the unappreciated and neglected catcher of the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim and what he needed to finally break through. This blog was born by way of my promise on twitter to write a blog of choice for my 500th follower. Little did I know that one of my tweeps who is a devoted Angels fan would un-follow and follow me on twitter purposely to rig becoming #500. As a compromise, this tweep allowed me to blog on one of my favorite players who also was playing on his team, the said Mike Napoli.
We discussed the reasons why Napoli was often riding the Angels’ bench and seemed to be disliked by manager Mike Scoscia. My theory was that 2nd catcher Jeff Mathis was built more in the Scoscia mode from his player, strong defensively with a weak bat. Napoli on the other hand, with Adam Dunn type power in his bat, was the anti-Scoscia. With bat envy in mind, Scoscia continued to let Napoli rot on the bench essentially for 4 years while rotating the catchers. This blog was meant to discuss what additional playing time and confidence would do for Napoli in allowing his talent to blossom. At approximately 6:30p.m. on Friday January 21, 2011, everything changed when my sports radio station announced in my car while I was driving “…Ken Rosenthal reports that the Toronto Blue Jays have acquired Mike Napoli from the Angels, details to follow.”
Now please realize that I was born in Toronto and have lived in this city my whole life. I am a life-long baseball fan, but never considered myself a Jays fan. I admired many players throughout the years, regardless of which team they played for. I became a fan of the Detroit Tigers based on location, which grew over time and as the team developed. But I would never consider myself a Jays fan, not until this offseason. First came the signings of the pitchers, Dotel, Cordero and Rauch. The trade for Brett Lawrie. The previous trades for Drabek, D’arnaud, Wallace and later Gose. I started to see the vision of Alex Anthopoulos and what he was building in Toronto. But never imagined that he would bring Napoli to my hometown team. So what started off as a “play Napoli” piece became a “Napoli will play” blog.
To everyone who has been reading my tweets tonight, there is no need to further voice my opinions on this blog about the trade itself. The fact that the Jays were able to unload the Wells contract in full without adding in money was a miracle in itself. The Vernon contract was labelled by many as the most un-tradeable contract in baseball. If AA was able to unload this albatross in itself, he would have been heralded a genius. The fact that Vernon was traded and the Jays were able to acquire Mike Napoli was truly the icing on the cake. Juan Rivera, in the last year of his contract at $5.25 million becomes a spare part 4th outfielder for the Jays, who may be moved before the year is out or may perform well and earn the Jays a supplemental pick in the 2011 draft. Either way, the Rivera addition/cost is negligible in the equation. The trade boiled down essentially to the deletion of Wells and the success of the Jays in this regard. What I believe will be forgotten in the equation is the addition of Mike Napoli to the lineup. By the end of the season, this will no longer be the case.
Mike Napoli (Napp-uh-lee) was born on Halloween, October 31, 1981, stands an even 6’0″ tall and weighs a sturdy 215 pounds. I remember watching Napoli for the first time on television in 2006. The things that stood out to me were the open buttons on his jersey and that the bat in his hand looked like a toothpick. Very Adam Dunn like. Napoli proceeded to crank one of the longest home runs I had ever seen in his first at-bat that I ever saw. I was in awe. That year Nap0li in 99 games and 268 abs hit 16 home runs, hit .228 but had a .360 obp and .455 slg. Napoli is part of the new wave of Nick Swisher, Adam Dunn type money ball players, where batting average becomes less relevant and obp/slg/ops become more key. Looking at the numbers, Mike Napoli has had 3 straight 20+ home runs years, last year cranking out 26 home runs playing in a career high 140 games. For his career to-date, Napoli has a .251 avg with a .346 obp and .485 slg. Very lofty numbers, particularly for a catcher. Playing in an Angels lineup without many mashers, I always wondered why he never had a chance to play every day and prove what he can do. In 2011, that chance will now come in Toronto.
Between catcher, 1B and DH, Mike Napoli should finally have a chance to truly play every day with the Toronto Blue Jays. On a young developing team playing in a home fun friendly park, the sky will be the limit for Napoli. Looking at Jose Bautista and what playing in Toronto has done for his career, I see very good things happening in Napoli’s career. Dwayne Murphy and the Toronto coaching staff did some great work with many of the Toronto hitters in 2010, particularly Vernon Wells and Jose Bautista. Bautista in particular was always seen with power potential in his bat when coming up, but was never given the opportunity to thrive. Working with Napoli and allowing him to grow and play every day, he will not have to press to produce each game in the fear that one false move will result in a banishment to the bench. With new-found confidence instilled, Napoli can relax and develop into the power hitter that he was meant to be.
For all the talk of Vernon Wells leaving town, what the Jays have also done is acquired themselves their potential future cleanup hitter for the next 3+ years conceivably. Playing at the Rogers Centre, Napoli has the potential to hit 40+ home runs, make the all-star team and win silver slugger awards. Sound familiar? If all goes according to my visions, the trade consummated on January 21, 2011 will one day centre on the fact that the Toronto Blue Jays acquired Mike Napoli rather than the focus on Vernon Wells being dumped on the Angels. Welcome to Toronto Mike Napoli. You are finally home.
Please e-mail us at: MLBreports@gmail.com with any questions and feedback. You can follow us on Twitter and become a fan on Facebook . To subscribe to our website and have the daily Reports sent directly to your inbox , click here and follow the link at the top of our homepage.