Who Will Win the Angels’ Second Base Job?

Sep 29, 2015; Anaheim, CA, USA; Los Angeles Angels second baseman Johnny Giavotella (12) fields a ball hit by Oakland Athletics center fielder Billy Burns (1, not pictured) to throw to first for the out during the first inning at Angel Stadium of Anaheim. Mandatory Credit: Richard Mackson-USA TODAY Sports
Sep 29, 2015; Anaheim, CA, USA; Los Angeles Angels second baseman Johnny Giavotella (12) fields a ball hit by Oakland Athletics center fielder Billy Burns (1, not pictured) to throw to first for the out during the first inning at Angel Stadium of Anaheim. Mandatory Credit: Richard Mackson-USA TODAY Sports /
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As we get set for the upcoming spring training games, we look at the battle for second base. There are plenty of options for the Halos this season, but who is the best candidate?

The battle for the Angels’ second base job will be an interesting one this spring training. Incumbent Johnny Giavotella will face strong challenges from veteran Cliff Pennington, signed to a two-year deal in the offseason, and waiver claim Rey Navarro. Let’s take a closer look at these three players.

Navarro was claimed on December 23rd after the Orioles designated him for assignment. The Puerto Rico native was drafted in the third round in 2007 by the Diamondbacks and also played in the Royals and Reds organizations before making his major league debut last year in Baltimore.

Navarro has never hit much, his best slash line coming in 2011 with Class A Advanced Wilmington, when he hit .285/.337/.484 with nine home runs. Last year in his debut season, he hit .276/.276/.448 in 30 plate appearances at the big league level.

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His calling card has always been his glove, which is highly regarded. His defensive numbers last season suggested that his glove isn’t as good as people think, as his fielding percentage was just .972, with -2 DRS (0 is average), although to be fair the sample size is incredibly small at just 68 innings and 36 chances. Expect Navarro to start the season with Triple-A Salt Lake.

Pennington was signed in the offseason with the expectation that he will be a utility infielder for the Halos, although manager Mike Scioscia has said that he’s in the running for the second base job. He was drafted in the first round by the A’s in 2005 and made his major league debut in 2008. He took over the A’s shortstop position full-time in 2010, signed with the Diamondbacks in 2013, and last season was traded to the Blue Jays.

Pennington, like Navarro, doesn’t hit well, his best slash line coming with the A’s in 2011 when he hit .264/.319/.369. Last season, with the Diamondbacks and Blue Jays, he combined to hit just .210/.298/.281.

Pennington’s value is in his defensive versatility and prowess. He’s consistently posted above average defensive numbers at shortstop, second base, third base, and leftfield. Expect Pennington to start the season as the backup.

Giavotella is the favorite to win the job, as he has the most offensive upside out of any of the contenders. He was drafted in the second round by the Royals in 2008, and he’s hit well at every minor league level; his minor league totals add up to an impressive .305/.378/.438. He’s run into a wall at the major league level, however, with his numbers in parts of 5 seasons slumping to .255/.299/.355. Last season with the Angels he hit just .272/.318/.375.

Also problematic is Giavotella’s defense. He was simply awful in the field last season: he had a .976 fielding percentage, -18 DRS, and -7.2 UZR (0 is also average). Last season he didn’t hit nearly enough to overcome his horrendous defense. He was worth just 1 WAR on the season.

There is some hope, however, as last season was his first full season in the majors. Perhaps he now knows what it takes to be successful at the highest level and he’s made the necessary adjustments. Baseball Reference projects him to hit .264/.318/389, which is about the same as last season. Giavotella seems to be the favorite only because there isn’t anyone better.

Scioscia could throw everyone a curveball, and start Kyle Kubitza or Kaleb Cowart at third base and push Yunel Escobar to second, where he’s played in 21 games in his career, but it seems likely that Giavotella will be the Angels’ second baseman, with Pennington as his backup.

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