TEMPE, Ariz. — Brandon Drury admits his love for the Angels of the early 2000s was so rich he pretended he was the players on his favorite team.
Darin Erstad, Tim Salmon, Troy Glaus, Adam Kennedy, Scott Spiezio, David Eckstein. At 11 years old, Drury imagined he was them, playing in the 2002 World Series.
“I would just kind of mess around with some of them and do stuff at the house with my family, doing (batting) stances or whatever,” said Drury, who wears No. 23 and appeared to do his best Spiezio impression with an RBI double in the first inning against the Milwaukee Brewers on Wednesday.
Drury grew up in Oregon, but yearly family vacations to Southern California sealed his affinity for the Angels.
So putting on the team’s jersey this spring, after signing a two-year, $17 million deal, has something of a familiar feel. But it’s really his familiarity with Manager Phil Nevin that has him comfortable in a clubhouse full of players he is getting to know for the first time.
Once a prospect in the Atlanta Braves organization after he was drafted in the 13th round in 2010, Drury was sent in a package deal to the Arizona Diamondbacks in exchange for Justin Upton in 2013.
That move eventually brought Drury and Nevin together. For 63 games in 2015, the partnership was pure gold. Drury batted .331 in a Reno Aces uniform with Nevin as his manager and made his major-league debut with the Diamondbacks later that year.
Nevin made a strong impression on Drury.
“It’s really good to have somebody like that,” Drury said of the reunion. “He keeps us in check and it’s something I respect about him. He keeps things simple, he wants you go out about your business and play hard to win and it’s not much more than that.”
More of a line-drive hitter as a younger player, Drury has tapped into his power potential in recent seasons. In parts of eight major-league seasons, Drury has 79 home runs, but 28 came last season in stints with the Cincinnati Reds and San Diego Padres.
“I tried to hit the ball hard last year, to be honest with you,” Drury said. “I was trying to pull it a little more than in the past and I was just trying to be aggressive, be a dangerous hitter. It worked out.”
He added a home run for the Padres in Game 2 of the National League Championship Series last season against the Philadelphia Phillies before he delivered a go-ahead two-run single in the fifth inning of an eventual 8-5 victory. It was the Padres’ only victory in the series.
After the season, Drury was awarded his first Silver Slugger Award as a utility player, with 67 games at third base, 30 at first base, 28 at second base and 26 at designated hitter for his two teams. His best career season came as he turned 30.
“I think he’s finally understood the process of being able to do it every day and being consistent with it,” Nevin said. “And there’s been a lot of improvement, for one, but the year he had last year, to me, it was kind of like a breakout (season). He’s understanding what it takes to do that and I’m excited about what he’s going to bring to us.”
Nevin figures to have plenty of playing time for his new asset, although Drury will have to check the lineup card on a daily basis to find out his position. He could even see some time at shortstop, where he has played just 11 games in his major-league career.
At this point in his career, Drury is fine with the position scramble. He just wants to play and display the skills that have started to flourish.
“Sometimes it does take time to come into your own and to learn who you really are,” Drury said. “Sometimes guys come in and take the league by storm in their first year. You hear about the other players who take a little longer. Those are the Jose Bautistas out there. I think, for me, it was just learning who I am and I’m still trying to learn too to be even better.”
Right-hander Griffin Canning came out of a simulated game this week in good health and remains on track in his delayed progression this spring. Canning had back issues that cost him the entire 2022 season.
Jose Suarez also pitched in a simulated game and could make his Cactus League debut soon. With a notoriously slow delivery, Suarez has been working on his tempo in the era of the pitch clock.
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After pitching in his first spring game on Tuesday, Shohei Ohtani flew to Japan overnight via private jet in order to play for his home country in the upcoming World Baseball Classic.
Ohtani said he still is uncertain in which WBC game he will pitch, with the Angels’ front office working with the Team Japan coaching staff to monitor his pitching workload.
“I am excited,” Ohtani said through an interpreter about playing in the WBC. “I’ll find out how excited I really am once I get there, especially because I wasn’t able to play in the last one due to injuries.”