Friday, February 05, 2010

SPORTS >> Angels, Travelers can boast continuity from top to bottom

Leader sports editor

Talk about continuity.

Not only are the Los Angeles Angels returning Bobby Magallanes to the Arkansas Travelers as manager for a fourth straight season, they have retained the field staffs of every team in their minor league system.

Call it happiness with the Angels’ performance last year — Los Angeles reached the American League Championship Series before losing to the New York Yankees — or call it part of a master plan, but the club sees such continuity as a plus.

“It basically gets back to what we believe in, our mantra, to develop contributors on a championship-caliber club,” said Angels player-development director Abe Flores, who was in town with Magallanes on Tuesday for the Travelers’ annual Hot Stove reception.

The Angels’ 40-man roster boasts 25 former Travelers, nine of them probable starters or front-line pitchers.

“We had the most home-grown guys of any team in the Major League playoffs, which tells us we’re continuing to do what we’re supposed to be doing around here,” Flores said.

Magallanes, whose first year was 2007 when Dickey-Stephens Park opened in North Little Rock, becomes only the fourth Travelers manager to serve four straight years. Jim Riggleman led Arkansas in 1985-88, Doc Prothro was manager from 1935-38, Kid Eberfeld managed from 1918-1924 and Mike Finn was manager from 1901-04.

Chris Maloney served four non-consecutive years, in 1994 and from 1998-2000, when Arkansas was affiliated with the St. Louis Cardinals.

“Every year you learn,” Magallanes said. “You’re getting better every year.”

Magallanes will also welcome back his pitching coach from last season, Ken Patterson, and last year’s hitting coach Francisco Matos. Patterson will also serve his fourth year with the Travs after coaching the pitchers at Ray Winder Field in 2006 and in2008-09 at Dickey-Stephens Park.

Patterson was not present Tuesday but his name came up when Travelers general manager Pete Laven announced a significant alteration to Dickey-Stephens Park. Long known as a haven for pitchers, the park should be a little more hitter-friendly with a new, 3 ½-foot basket atop the left-field wall similar to what Chicago Cubs have in Wrigley Field.

“It won’t hurt,” Laven said. “I think the only person who won’t like it will be Patterson.”

Magallanes, 167-231 with a 2008 Texas League championship at Arkansas, said he has never stopped learning in his career as a manager and added that one of the biggest adjustments is getting his teams to play to their home environment.

“This team here in this ballpark has got to be a special team,” Magallanes said.

He pointed out how recent sluggers like Mark Trumbo and Sean Rodriguez saw their home run numbers drop from 32 and 28, respectively, to 15 at Dickey-Stephens Park. Likewise, pitchers have seen their ERAs shrink at Dickey-Stephens only to expand after they are promoted to Class AAA Salt Lake.

In tailoring the team to the ballpark, Magallanes has tried to follow the Angels’ small-ball blueprint, using the hit and run, steals and sacrifices to manufacture runs.

“You’ve got to manage according to what kind of team you have but also according to the Angels’ philosophy,” Magallanes said.
The Travelers are entering their 10th season as the Angels’ Class AA Texas League affiliate. Los Angeles signed with Arkansas after the 2000 season to replace St. Louis, which had a 35-year relationship with Arkansas.

In the past nine seasons the Travelers have won two Texas League championships, in 2001 under Mike Brumley and under Magallanes in 2008, and played for a third under Tom Gamboa in 2005.

There were grumblings among fans and team insiders after last season, in which the Travelers finished 61-59 and last overall in the North Division, but the Angels expect a crop of prospects to make the jump to Arkansas from Class A Rancho Cucamonga, in the California League, and provide a little more excitement.

“We’re going to come here and we know we’re going to own this ballpark because we know how to play in this ballpark,” Magallanes said.

Arkansas opens the season at Midland, Texas, on April 8 and has its home opener with Midland on April 15. Pitchers and catchers begin reporting to spring training Feb. 18 and Major League opening day is April 4.