Saturday, March 22, 2014

Angels in the Outfield (and First Base)

I've been on a bit of a buying blitz lately.  I'm so close to completing my 1980-present Cubs collection and to 60% for my All-Time Roster Collection that I just can't help myself.  So, when I saw this card listed on eBay for 50 cents, it was pretty much inevitable that I'd pull the trigger; it satisfies both needs:

Angel Echevarria was only a Cub for a single season and boy was it a terrible season.  Not for him personally, but the 2002 Cubs were abysmal.

They went 67-95, second to last in the NL Central, cycled through 3 managers and were near the bottom of the league in every offensive category.  Sandwiched in between just missing the playoffs in 2001 and a division title in 2003, it looked even worse.

But, it offered Angel Echevarria a chance to prove that he still belonged in the majors.

Angel came up with the Rockies as a spray-hitting outfielder with a little pop (think Matt Murton) in 1996.  After three seasons of riding the shuttle from the majors to the minors, he got some regular playing time in 1999, where hit .293 with 11 homers in 102 games. 

But then 2000 happened.  A herniated disc kept him out of the lineup until June and he never seemed to recover even after he was activated from the DL.  He was placed on waivers, where he was claimed by Milwaukee, and demoted to the bench.  On the year, he batted .296 with 1 homer in 41 games.

He was kept on the bench by Milwaukee in 2001 and things got better.  His .256  avg seemed to indicate that he might find a home as a pinch hitter.  The Cubs thought so anyway, so they signed him going into the 2002 season.

 Angel drives in the winning run in a walk-off victory against Florida in the 16th inning

Although there were many, many weak spots on the Cubs in 2002, Angel was not one of them.  As a regular contributor off the bench, he batted .306 with 3 round trippers in 50 games pinch hitting and spelling Fred McGriff at first base and playing the corner outfield spots.  You'd take that coming off of your bench, right?

Well, the Cubs decided to go a different direction and let him walk.  Unfortunately, no other MLB teams took a flyer either and he ended up in Japan with the Nippon Ham Fighters.  As a regular, he ended 2003 with 31 home runs, 81 RBIs, with a .275 batting average.

Now the level of competition isn't exactly the same, but I think Angel sure would have looked better coming off the bench for the 2003 Cubs than Troy O'Leary... But, hindsight is 20/20, right?

Even after that solid season in Japan, he would never make it back to the big leagues.  Although, the Cubs did eventually offer another chance, signing him to a minor league deal with an invitation to spring training for 2005.

He fought valiantly, making it through to the very last round of cuts before getting sent to Iowa.  He stayed until May before being released, never again to play professional baseball.


Crossing Angel off of my list, I now need only the following players to complete my Cubs from 1980-Present side-quest; it's crunch time!:

Gene Krug - 1981
Bill Johnson  - 1983-1984
Johnny Abrego - 1985
Mike Maksudian  - 1994
Joe Kmak - 1995
Roberto Rivera - 1995
Ramon Morel - 1997
Ramon Tatis - 1997
Steve Gajkowski - 1998-1999
Derrick White - 1998
Richard Barker - 1999-2000
Doug Creek - 1999
Brad Woodall - 1999
Raul Gonzalez - 2000
Mike Mahoney - 2000, 2002
Mike Fyhrie - 2001
Ron Mahay - 2001-2002
John Gaub - 2011
Jeff Beliveau - 2012
Lendy Castillo - 2012
Chang Yong-Lim - 2013
Zac Rosscup - 2013

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