Witherspoon Gains Steam With Angels

LOS ANGELES—Travis Witherspoon fits one baseball archetype pretty well: the gifted athlete whose baseball skills have lagged behind his athleticism.

"Absolutely," assistant general manager Scott Servais said. "The player comp is a Mike Cameron type. At least, that's the body comp. Spoon is an exciting player."

For the first three years of his professional career, that excitement was largely based on the potential people saw in Witherspoon's speed and athletic ability. A 12th-round pick out of Spartanburg Methodist (S.C) JC in 2009, Witherspoon hit .263 in his first three seasons, piling up strikeouts at the rate of one every 3.8 at-bats.

Yet the 6-foot-4, 195 pound center fielder continued to tantalize with speed and defense that had Angels manager Mike Scioscia calling him a "Gary Maddox type" after seeing him in 2011 spring training.

The 23-year-old Witherspoon might be blossoming this season. He spent the first half with high Class A Inland Empire and made the Cal League all-star team, popping up on the league's leaderboard for average (.319), on-base percentage (.399) and stolen bases (25). That earned him a midseason promotion to Double-A Arkansas.

"Seeing Spoon in spring training, I think everybody got very excited because you could see it coming," Servais said. "It was just a matter of when the bat was going to come, and he's made tremendous strides in commanding the strike zone this season.

"Look at what Mike Trout is doing with the big league club. That's what he's doing: He's swinging at strikes. That's what Spoon is learning to do. He's cut down his swing a little bit and he's commanding the strike zone."

Witherspoon got off to a quick start in Double-A with nine hits and 10 runs scored in his first eight games. A minor quad strain sidelined him briefly in early July.

Angel Food

• The Angels' first pick in this year's draft, third-rounder righthander R.J. Alvarez, had a nice start to his pro career. He struck out the side in his first appearance for low Class A Cedar Rapids and pitched seven scoreless innings in his first six appearances.

• Righthander Eric Hurley made it back to big leagues for the first time since 2008, though he didn't appear in a game prior to being optioned back to Triple-A Salt Lake. A Rangers first-round pick in 2004, Hurley missed all of 2009-10 with a torn rotator cuff and wrist injury. He spent 2011 with the Rangers' Triple-A team, then signed with the Angels as a minor league free agent and went 7-7, 5.38 for Salt Lake.