The Los Angeles/California/Anaheim Angels have played almost 60 seasons of baseball. As the baseball world is suspended due to circumstances outside its control, it is time to look back at the history of this organization. There have been many talented players to put on the uniform, and we at Crashing the Pearly Gates wish to highlight the best who have ever represented the Angels. Without further ado, here we go!
#49 – Mike Napoli
Mike Napoli was drafted out of high school in the 17th round of the 2000 MLB draft by the Angels. The stocky kid, which some called Porthouse, was a catcher that had a hard time catching well. At least, well enough for former catcher and manager Mike Scioscia. He was young though so he kept at it, besides, the MLB team had two great catchers already, so he could spend time in the minors getting better at catching.
Instead, Mike Napoli was getting better at hitting. While his fellow minor league teammate Jeff Mathis was getting praise for being the next big thing, Napoli just focused on hitting home runs. His time to shine came in 2006, after Jeff Mathis made his debut the year prior and a tandem needed after Bengie Molina left. He did not disappoint.
His first AB was against a rookie and overall douchebag Justin Verlander and he hit it LONG gone. This was just a taste of what was to come for Mike Napoli. That 2006 season was an offensive breakout for Napoli. A catcher hitting 16 home runs in 99 games, with a 110 OPS+ and 13 doubles too. In 2007 he had less of a role thanks to Jeff Mathis, but when he did play he hit 10 home runs and 11 more doubles in the 75 games he played in for a 107 OPS+.
Even then, Mathis was seen as the better option because of his defense and in 2008 Mike Napoli played in only 78 games. Still, he made the most of it, with 20 home runs and 9 more doubles while slugging .586 or an OPS+ of 148. To get a perspective of how great that is, in Angels history, there have been 19 full seasons of an OPS+ of 148 or better. And his .586 slugging was better than MIKE TROUT’s 2012, 2013, 2014, AND 2016 seasons. Sure it wasn’t even half a season, only 274 PA but That is some serious power. Which showed up in the post season.
2009 was here. The Angels finally saw what kind of player Napoli was and with future superstar Jeff Mathis not performing well offensively, it was Mike Napoli’s turn to be the starting catcher. He took advantage of it. 20 home runs again, with 20 doubles and an OPS+ of 120. He was the first catcher in Angels history to have two 20 home run seasons and he had them back to back!. (Brian Downing didn’t hit 20 until he stopped playing catcher in 1982) It was an amazing season.
Sure, he wasn’t as good as Mathis behind the plate, but at the plate? Napoli was absolutely killing the ball. 2010 is when the Angels realized that he needed to be in the lineup as often as he could be, which was more vital than ever due to Kendrys Morales and his broken leg. He played more at 1B than catcher that year, but hey, 26 home runs with 24 doubles and a 115 OPS+? You take that. With 61 games caught, Mathis was the primary catcher, but the Angels website still gives Napoli the record for most home runs in a single season by a catcher.
But Napoli was unhappy. He wanted to be THE catcher. Sure his defensive WAR was negative and he didn’t pass the eye test at all, but Napoli was just thinking that his former catcher manager was not giving him the chance he needed to prove everyone wrong. His bat more than earned it, and if Kendrys was to come back for 2011 and maybe get some good FA signings, the lineup would be fierce!
The great catcher debate: what is more important? Being a really great defender or hit home runs? For the Angels, this resulted in the Napoli Mathis convergence. Both can’t play catcher a the same time and Napoli refused to play 1B. So, after much internal debate, and Arte Moreno really feeling sour about missing out on Adrian Beltre AND Kendrys Morales breaking his leg a few months prior, Mike Napoli was traded along with fellow top 100 Angel Juan Rivera for Vernon Wells. Angels fans have been complaining ever since.
Napoli was traded to Texas before playing in Canada and killed the Angels for years before going to Boston and winning a ring while still killing the Angels. Napoli had so much success after leaving Anaheim that it is hard to find Angels highlights for him.
2011 in particular stung as Napoli put up a Trout season with an OPS over 1 and an OPS+ of 173. Sure he was 70 PA from qualifying but still, an OPS+ of 173 has only been done by Mike Trout in Angels history. Be it by sheer anger or spite, or just peaking a age 29, that one stung and still stings to this day. However, for all his desire to catch, he didn’t catch much longer and realized that he just wasn’t that good at it compared to Jeff Mathis after all. What could have been…
Mike Napoli’s time with the Angels was productive and exciting. His 92 home runs is most by a catcher in Angels history and tied with Juan Rivera overall at 21st. By sheer offensive might, his Angels career 119 OPS+ is tied for 12 best in Angels history. Lastly, his 13.1 offensive BWAR is the 21st all time for the Angels, but his combined 11.1 BWAR really shows his defense was holding him down some.
Still, Mike Napoli was a joy to watch and the heartbreak losing him just to see him tear it up time and time again was hard to watch. He is one of the greats and made his mark on the team. Haven’t had a catcher you wanted up at the plate more in Angels history than Mike Napoli.