One of the storylines this spring for the Angels centered around their third base situation. Alberto Callaspo helmed the position very well last season, leading the team in on-base percentage and providing solid defense for the hot corner. However, Mark Trumbo enjoyed a breakout rookie season, leading the Angels, and all rookies, with 29 home runs while filling in at first base for the injured Kendrys Morales. So, when Los Angeles signed Albert Pujols this offseason to play first, and brought back a recovered Morales to DH, it left Trumbo displaced, and started the grand experiment to see if he could become a passable third baseman.
This opened up quite a debate. The Angels tried (and failed) once before to turn Trumbo into a third baseman when he was drafted, so what would make this time different? The Angels insisted Trumbo had improved his agility and would be able to learn the hot corner this time around. While he’s shown the desire to learn and has made great strides, he’s still a young guy who hasn’t made a single start at third base since he was drafted. That’s a lot of learning to make up in just a couple of weeks of spring training, especially when the team has a player that is pretty dang good at the position already.
Sure, Callaspo isn’t going to win any Gold Gloves or Silver Sluggers, but he isn’t going to give up extra outs in the field and he does the little things at the plate (like get on base) which help win games. The offensive upside is clearly higher with Trumbo with his ability to hit for power and drive in runs, but his on-base percentage was horrendous last year, and by the end of the season he was swinging at anything, no matter where it was thrown. So was the switch from Callaspo’s consistency to Trumbo’s power really worth it? Well, it’s been three complete series so far and 10 games, so let’s see who’s winning the race for everyday third base.
So far, Callaspo has played more games at the hot corner, starting five games so far while Trumbo has started three (Maicer Izturis started the other gamse Sunday in New York and Monday against Oakland). From a defensive standpoint, Callaspo has been superior hands down. In nine total chances this season, Callaspo has three putouts, six assists, a 1.84 range factor and a 13.889 zone rating. More importantly, he still has a perfect 1.000 fielding percentage with zero errors. Trumbo on the other hand, has struggled in his few starts. In eight total chances, the big righty has eight total chances, two putouts, three assists, a 1.80 range factor and a 9.1225 zone rating. Most damaging to his case, though, are the three errors, including two on Opening Day, for a fielding percentage of just .625. Averaging an error a start wasn’t the solid beginnings Trumbo needed to make a case for more playing time at third. While it was expected that Callaspo would post better defensive numbers, the high rate of errors from Trumbo greatly diminishes his viability as a long-term third baseman.
Where Trumbo makes up ground, though, is at the plate. Callaspo led the Angels in batting average (.288) and on-base percentage (.366) in 2011, which made him an integral part of the offense last season. This year, however, he has struggled out of the game, hitting just .105/.150/.105, scoring just two runs, with 1 RBI, and no home runs. He’s also walked just one time while striking out three times. Trumbo, meanwhile, has been red-hot out of the gate, hitting .375/.474/.750 in five games (three at 3B, two at DH). He’s scored five runs, hit two home runs (tied for most on the team), knocked in three runs and leads the team in OPS at 1.224 for hitters with at least 15 at-bats. Most impressively, Trumbo is walking more than he’s whiffing, with three walks to just two strike outs. It’s a small sample size, but it’s a trend in the right direction.
So, who’s the front runner? Is Callaspo’s defense more valuable than Trumbo’s offense? Well, the starting pitching and bullpen has struggled, so any help defensively would be a plus. But, the Angels have also struggled to really find their groove offensively, so Trumbo’s bat is a valuable asset for this lineup. So to answer who is winning is really to answer what you find more important to winning baseball, offense or defense. Do you want a sure-handed defensive presence at the hot corner who is struggling swinging the bat or do you want a big swinging power hitter, showing good patience at the plate, who may be a defensive liability in the field? For the Angels and Mike Scioscia, the answer for now is a continuous rotation of both with a smattering of Maicer Izturis from time to time to keep things interesting.
Who do you think should be the Angels long-term everyday third baseman? Let us know in the comments!