Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports
As Opening Day nears, Halo Hangout will evaluate the key players, position battles, and offseason moves that will make or break the 2014 Los Angeles Angels. Today we look at the players vying for four bench spots.
If Albert Pujols’s season-ending injury taught the Los Angeles Angels anything it’s that having a plan B is just as important as investing $254 million into plan A.
Bench roles haven’t been a priority in Anaheim since Jerry DiPoto arrived, focusing instead on big splash signing meant to catapult the team into playoff contention. Last year Grant Green, Hank Conger, Andrew Romine, Brendan Harris and Kole Calhoun rounded out the Angels’ 25-man roster; aside from Conger, none had spent more than a September with the major league club. Conger’s reserve role was also in question as he spent half of the 2012 season with Triple-A Salt Lake.
Luckily for the Angels, the bench problem this spring is that they have too much of a good thing. DiPoto signed a plethora of journeymen to minor-league deals during the offseason, including catcher Yovit Torrealba, infielders John McDonald, Ian Stewart, and Chad Tracy, outfielder Brennan Boesch, and former all-star first baseman Carlos Pena.
Pitchers and starting position players are pretty much set meaning that roughly four sports are up for grabs. The only certainty here is that Conger will platoon at catcher with Chris Iannetta.
The duo caught every Angels game last season, with Conger playing a career high 92 games. The setup isn’t new in Anaheim as manager Mike Scioscia has used a catcher-by-committee approach since the Molina brothers manned home plate.
Pena is also a safe bet because he is the relatively cheap insurance policy that supplants Pujols or projected designated hitter Raul Ibanez, were either to get injured. One can’t expect Pena to put up MVP-caliber number he posted with the Tampa Bay Rays, but the Angels don’t need him to be anything more than a decent bat with a proven track record.
Before the Angels and St. Louis Cardinals decided on a trade that transplanted Peter Bourjos and David Freese, Erick Aybar was considered. Given year-round rumors that Howie Kendrick is being shipped off, the Angels need to be precise in who backs up the middle infielders.
Romine’s defense is the reason he’s been a Halo for so long, splitting time between shortstop and third base. The problem is that Romine is out of options and, unless he makes the Opening Day roster, the Angels will lose a solid defender. Romine’s glove is reason enough to maintain his rights.
Last year’s pleasant surprise, aside from J.B. Shuck, was Green and his .280 batting average. Green is a second baseman who is dabbling at shortstop this spring. He’s a longshot, but one worth giving another look.
Boesch has four years of MLB service under his belt, Matt Long has a slash line of .542/.560/.792 this spring training, and Shuck is coming off a season where he placed fifth in the AL Rookie of the Year voting. Needless to say, selecting a fourth outfielder won’t be easy.
The obvious choice would be Shuck. His unanticipated success in Bourjos’s and Josh Hamilton’s absence all-but guarantees him the final spot, but that doesn’t mean it’s the right choice.
Shuck’s defense leave a lot to be desire and his one-dimensional offense won’t fly with Long and Collin Cowgill waiting in the wings. While Long may be a season or two away, Cowgill is ready to be a reserve.
He’s spent the last five years toiling away with four different Triple-A affiliates, batting .304 in the Pacific Coast League in 2013. He won’t not be Scioscia’s immediate choice, but it may be the right one.