The Los Angeles Angels’ 2016 Third Base Outlook

Sep 16, 2015; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Washington Nationals third baseman Yunel Escobar (5) hits an RBI double against the Philadelphia Phillies during the fifth inning at Citizens Bank Park. Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports
Sep 16, 2015; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Washington Nationals third baseman Yunel Escobar (5) hits an RBI double against the Philadelphia Phillies during the fifth inning at Citizens Bank Park. Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports /
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Assuming the Los Angeles Angels don’t re-sign David Freese, Opening Day 2016 will see the seventh different player to start for the Angels at third base in the last eight years. Barring injury (or Freese), Yunel Escobar will be that man.

For the second straight offseason, the Angels traded a hard-throwing reliever for a hitter who could fill a hole in their lineup. Prior to the 2015 season, Kevin Jepsen was dealt to the Rays for left-fielder Matt Joyce. The Angels are confident that this year’s version, Trevor Gott to the Nationals for Escobar, will have a more positive result.

Escobar is a Cuban 33-year-old veteran from is entering his tenth Major League season and his first away from an eastern division. His .314 batting average last season was good for eighth best in the Majors, and is a career .284 hitter but struggles to hit for power (nine HRs in 2015).

David Freese started opening day at the hot corner the previous two seasons for the Angels. During his two years in Southern California, Freese hit 24 home runs, 111 RBI, slashed .258/.322/.401, and contributed 3.8 WAR. The Angels did not offer Freese a qualifying offer after his contract expired after 2015, and is currently still an available free agent despite not being tied to draft pick compensation.

Yunel Escobar’s previous two seasons, split between the Rays and Nationals, saw him hit 16 home runs, 95 RBI, slash .286/.350/.378, and contribute 1.6 WAR. It should be noted that Escobar was much better in 2015 than 2014 – he contributed 1.9 WAR in ’15, and -0.3 in ’14.

The right-handed Escobar shouldn’t be expected to contribute much more offensively than Freese did during his Angels tenure. He’ll have a better OBP but won’t hit for as much power and he’ll likely hit towards the top of the order, while Freese batted in the middle.

Escobar doesn’t have much immediate competition for the third base job on the 2016 roster. Rookies Kaleb Cowart and Kyle Kubitza shared the starts while Freese dealt with injury in 2015 and will be in competition for playing time in 2016 as well.

The 25-year-old Cowart was the Angels first round draft pick (11th overall) in 2010. All 46 of his Major League at-bats came in 2015, in which he had eight hits including one homer and two doubles while striking out 19 times. The switch-hitter is a career .254/.325/.385 in six Minor League seasons. Cowart plays above-average defense and has plus speed, but won’t be a MLB mainstay until he improves his hitting.

Kubitza, 25, was the third round pick of the Braves in 2011 and was acquired via trade prior to the 2015 season. Kubitza had all 39 of his career at-bats in 2015 in which he had seven hits, three walks, and struck out 15 times. The left-handed hitter has been a .271/.376/.436 hitter in five seasons in the Minors. Kubitza has more hitting potential than Cowart, but doesn’t play as effective defensively and doesn’t run as very well.

The job is clearly Escobar’s to lose. He’ll likely bat either first or second in the order, with Kole Calhoun occupying the other spot. Escobar’s ability to reach base will play a critical role in 2016 with Trout and Pujols batting shortly behind him.

Escobar has one year remaining on his contract, in which he’ll make $7 million, and has a $7 million club option for 2017. After his tenure in Anaheim is over, the Angels hope that either Cowart or Kubitza will be able to step into his role and be an effective Major League starter.