Chris Nelson didn’t see it coming.
For almost nine years the Colorado Rockies were the only organization Nelson knew, beginning the day he was drafted ninth overall in 2004 and ending when he was traded to the New York Yankees on May 1. After playing 10 games for the Yankees, Nelson was designated for assignment on May 15. On Saturday he joined the Angels, his third organization in three weeks.
“We’ve been living out of a suitcase for too long now,” Nelson said.
At least something familiar awaited Nelson when he got a locker and a number 8 Angels jersey on Sunday. Chris Iannetta, the Angels’ catcher who was part of the Rockies’ 2004 draft class along with Nelson, had a locker across the room.
One other player had to re-introduce himself Sunday: Pitcher Michael Kohn.
Kohn, who is from South Carolina, played in travel-ball competitions against Nelson when the two were in high school. Nelson attended high school in Stone Mountain, Georgia, a suburb 20 miles east of Atlanta. A decade ago, Kohn was almost as impressed by Nelson’s hitting as his triple-digit fastballs.
“I was like, ‘is this the best player ever?’,” Kohn said.
It was a legitimate question at the time. Nelson’s fastball was reportedly clocked at 101 mph before he blew out his right elbow, an injury that required Tommy John surgery less than a month after his 18th birthday.
That was a long time ago. In the last 10 years Nelson went from a legitimate pitching prospect, to an infield prospect, to a major-league .300 hitter, to a backup when the Rockies made a starter of 22-year-old Orange County native Nolan Arenado.
In 21 games with the Rockies this season, Nelson batted .242 (16 for 66) with no home runs and four RBIs. With the Yankees, he went 8 for 36 (.222).
The end of Nelson’s time in Denver was dignified — manager Walt Weiss and four other coaches or executives broke the news in person that he’d been traded — but unexpected.
“I was with the Rockies nine years … all through the farm system. It was definitely a surprise,” Nelson said.
He figured his time in the Bronx would be short with left fielder Curtis Granderson being activated from the disabled list, and others expected to return to health in the near future.
With the Angels, Nelson becomes a backup at three or more positions.
“Erick (Aybar) and Alberto Callaspo on the left side are going to play there almost every day and Howie (Kendrick) at second,” manager Mike Scioscia said. “As needed we’ll mix him in and try to match him up, and try to get him a rest here and there. He can play a little outfield too.”
There’s only one problem.
His car is still en route from Denver to New York, where it’s scheduled to be delivered on May 30. Nelson estimates that it might take another week after that to get the car to Anaheim. Nelson’s fiancee and Yorkshire Terrier are at a nearby hotel, but most of his possessions are not.
Playing for three teams in three weeks will do that to a man.
“It’s been crazy,” Nelson said. “It’s just been a whirlwind for me. Hopefully I can be here for a while.”
To make room for Nelson on the Angels’ roster, Luis Jimenez was optioned to Triple-A Salt Lake.