Angel Gets His Wings

Hot start places Chris Pettit in Angels' long-term plans




SALT LAKE CITY—Statistics don't always tell the entire story. But in this case, they go a long way.

Between April 22 and May 15, a string of 23 games, Salt Lake outfielder Chris Pettit banged out 44 hits in 94 at-bats for a batting line of .468/.500/.691.

Throw in 13 doubles, 21 RBIs and eight steals in nine attempts, and balance that with six walks and 11 strikeouts, and Pettit produced perhaps the best 102 plate appearances of any minor leaguer this season.

That sizzling streak for the 24-year-old righthanded batter saw his average climb as high as .466 on May 6 against Tacoma.

"What were they throwing him, beach balls?" asked Iowa righthander Jeff Stevens, Pettit's roommate at Loyola Marymount. "I'm happy for him."

For Pettit, a 19th-round pick in 2006 by the Angels, the start to 2009 only served to validate his talent, while proving the doubters, if there are any remaining, wrong.

After 40  games, Pettit was batting .369/.416/.529 with 17 doubles, two home runs and 27 RBIs. He also had gone 11-for-12 on the bases.

"I feel like I'm supposed to play in the big leagues," he said.

Scouting reports tagged the 6-foot, 195-pound Pettit, named the organization's minor league player of the year in 2007, as a player without a plus tool—except at the plate. He was a poor man's Jason Bay, a player without the power to play the corners, and not enough speed for center field.

"That's nothing new," Pettit said. "I was drafted in the 19th round, so a lot of people didn't think I merited any other sort of pick. So you have to go out and do what you can do. I feel like I have enough power and speed to play all three outfield positions."

Track Record Of Performance

Pettit had to overcome a broken foot that caused him to miss the first half of the 2008 season. Pettit managed to play 61 games at Double-A Arkansas, but he batted just .248/.320/.401, production well below his career minor league average.

"Rehab was terrible," he said. "You get to work super early, and then sit around watching baseball games. I got a good tan."

Following a less-than-stellar second half of 2008, Pettit got back on track by ripping up the Arizona Fall League with a .359/.417/.545 batting line to go along with 13 doubles and four home runs in 37 games.

"Looking back, (the 2008 season) didn't hurt me at all," he said.

Prior to the streak, which included 16 multi-hit games, Pettit had been batting just .265 through the season's first 10 games.

"He made some adjustments and took off," Angels farm director Abe Flores said. "I'm not surprised. He's always been able to hit. He's seized the opportunity and ran with it."

Pettit has proven himself to be a versatile player in manager Bobby Mitchell's lineup. He's hit in every lineup slot except ninth, and Mitchell has had enough confidence to hit-and-run with Pettit as well as bunt and steal.

"He does the little things to win ballgames," Mitchell said. "And he has good gap power."

Mitchell knew what he was getting, though, having managed Pettit at high Class A Rancho Cucamonga in 2007.

"He showed me something there," Mitchell said. "He's a smart hitter. Right now, when he gets his pitch, he's not missing them.

"We don't expect him to hit .400. Chris is a guy who can knock in runs. He puts the ball in play and has a good knowledge of the strike zone."

Hitting has never been a problem for Pettit, who attended San Dimas (Calif.) High, where he accumulated a 3.9 grade-point average. He was a two-time academic all-Valle Vista League selection and earned the 2002 male scholar-athlete of the year award.

At Loyola Marymount, Pettit was eventually named first team all-West Coast Conference as a junior, though his average dipped below .300 his senior year.

Stevens remembers Pettit as quiet, unassuming.

"I couldn't believe he didn't get drafted his junior year," Stevens said. "Even as a 19th-round draft choice, that was too low. The Angels got a steal."

Unconventional Approach

The former roommates faced each other this year in spring training. Pettit nearly came out of his shoes swinging at a Stevens' first-pitch fastball.

"I wanted to see if he could hit it," Stevens said.

Pettit missed that pitch, but he hit enough to warrant a spot with Salt Lake. Pettit had been projected to start at Arkansas going into the spring.

"He worked hard," Flores said. "He has enough intangibles. He's unselfish. When he was in the Arizona Fall League, he was sharing information with everybody."

A year after hitting .336/.445/.566 for Orem in the Rookie-level Pioneer League, Pettit enjoyed his best season in 2007, batting .327/.411/.538 with 18 homers and 95 RBIs in 133 combined games for low Class A Cedar Rapids and Rancho Cucamonga.

"Whenever someone says you can't do something, you always want to prove them wrong," Pettit said. "I'm not a guy to try and hit 45 home runs. I hit enough. Maybe I don't have plus tools, but if you do everything well enough you can help somebody out."

If there is potential for trouble, it comes from what Salt Lake hitting coach Jim Eppard calls a "funky set-up and approach." Pettit uses an open stance and rolls into his set up.

"I see guys in the big leagues do it," Eppard said. "It's a matter of having body control so they can do it. He and I have talked about it. It is an approach that can lead to problems, but he's controlling it."

In addition, Pettit understands that the game, the way it is being played, is coming back to him.

"The game is changing," Pettit said. "I'm not going to go out and hit 60 home runs, but no one else is hitting 60 home runs any more, either. That benefits me."

The Angels believe that Pettit can, one day, become part of their outfield.

"At the end of the day, Pettit is just a good baseball player," Flores said. "When he's white-hot at the plate, he can be unbelievable."

 

Martin Renzhofer covers the Bees for the 
Salt Lake Tribune