Top pick ecstatic to be with home team
Huntington Beach High catcher Conger grew up an Angels fan
The Angels are eager to see if their first choice Tuesday lives up to his nickname.
They tabbed catcher Hyun Choi "Hank" Conger out of nearby Huntington Beach High School with their top pick of the 2006 First-Year Player Draft to add another piece to an organization that is already deep at the position.
Conger was given the tag Hank by his grandfather, a Georgia native who couldn't pronounce his given first name. He figured there wasn't a better role model for the sturdy youngster and baseball hopeful than Hank Aaron, baseball's home run king.
It was a providential move.
"This is a dream come true. I knew ahead of time that it was a possibility that I might get picked by the Angels and now that it's happened, it is a dream come true," said Conger, who was the 2006 Gatorade California Player of the Year. "I've grown up with [the Angels]. I watched them every day as a kid."
Conger described the experience as "nerve-racking" but just before the Angels were to pick in the 25th position, his family got the call from scout Bobby DeJardin and his dad Yun began to smile.
"It was pretty neat to hear everyone in the house erupt with joy when they got the call and that is what makes this so special," director of scouting Eddie Bane said.
Conger is a switch-hitting backstop that starred for the Oilers this season. The 6-foot, 205-pounder was named MVP of the varsity squad and was a first-team, All-Sunset League selection. He also earned All-CIF honors and made All-Sunset League in his freshman and sophomore seasons.
He was also a member of the 2004 Team USA Youth National Team and batted .333 with 11 RBIs in the 2004 Pan-Am Championship qualifier. Other honors include being named to the 2006 Louisville Slugger preseason High School All-American first team as well as winning the 2006 and 2005 Cal Hi Player of the Year awards, and being a 2005 AFLAC All-American first-team honoree.
But he first made a name for himself six years ago by hitting 33 homers in 38 games for his Ocean View Little League team that fell one win shy of the Little League World Series. Two years earlier, Conger's Little League team was all-state and both squads were coached by his father.
He had been projected as the top catcher by some in this year's draft, but Maxwell Sapp out of Bishop Moore High School in Orlando, Fla., was taken two spots ahead of Conger by the Astros. Conger is valued for his power, though, and the fact he can switch-hit, a rarity for a catcher.
"He's got great tools. I'm always drawn to the catcher position because that is what I played. But he sounds like he has talent and that is good to see," manager Mike Scioscia said. "Switch-hitting depends on if you're proficient from both sides of the plate, but a switch-hitter can be an advantage."
Huntington Beach High finished 4-11 in league play this season and 9-16-1 overall, but Conger put up strong numbers. He hit .449 with 11 homers and 27 RBIs to lead the team. He also led the Oilers with 25 runs scored and seven doubles in 78 at-bats.
Conger struck out 14 times and showed his patience by walking 13 to post an on-base percentage of .527 with a .987 slugging percentage. He also stole one base and committed one error.
"He has plus-power and a plus-arm. It's his power that made him attractive to us," Bane said. "He has gotten bigger in a good way. He is growing into a man. His work ethic was outstanding."
Conger pitched in youth ball and has also played third base and the outfield but he hopes to remain at catcher and Bane said the organization will keep him where he is.
"I will be catching, but wherever they need me I'm willing to play," Conger said. "As a catcher I feel that I've made strides with my defense. But it will be up to them."
Conger now faces a decision as he has verbally committed to play baseball at USC. The Angels cannot actually sign him until he finishes high school next week, but they can agree to terms. More schooling does not appear to be in Conger's future, though.
"Most likely I will be signing. I knew that signing a contract was a win-win situation," said Conger, who added that no framework for a deal was yet in place. "This is what I want to do with my life. This is my goal. My dream was to become a professional baseball player and I want to start my career right away."
Mike Scarr is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.