Sorting out a crowded left field for Los Angeles Angels in 2016.
By David Rice
Most people who follow the Los Angeles Angels know that left field has been a issue for the team for a few years now as Josh Hamilton who was signed in 2013 never quite worked out and last year’s off season acquisition Matt Joyce did not help the situation either. Before that there was the Vernon Wells experiment which also didn’t go very well. Before that Juan Rivera was at least serviceable in left, but it is safe to say the last time the Angels had true stability in left was when Garrett Anderson patrolled the turf in left from 1995-2007.
So flash forward to 2016 what does the left field picture look like for this year’s team. Nothing personal to Daniel Nava, Craig Gentry, Rafael Ortega, Quinton Berry, Todd Cunningham and anyone else the Angels may trot out there, but left field makes me and most Angels fans very nervous this season.
So the plan we have been told is a platoon between Daniel Nava who is a left-handed and hits righties very well during his career (.289 career average) and Craig Gentry a right-handed batter who has done well against lefties in his career (.281 career average). However the two combined to hit under .200 last season and neither have much home run power. Still they are said to be the front-runner in the battle for left field playing time.
Who else could potentially break-up this platoon is anyone’s guess. Barring a last-minute trade (which almost happened last week) the best bets for playing time in left field besides Nava and Gentry are Rafael Ortega and Todd Cunningham and possibly Quintin Berry (non-roster invitee).
Ortega and Cunningham are listed as centerfielders on the official Los Angeles Angels web site. However, there won’t be much playing time available there with Michael Nelson Trout anchoring the spot almost exclusively in the past four seasons. So they both are more than likely part of the left field mix.
Ortega has a career .288 average in seven minor league seasons averaging five HR’s and 45 RBI’s per season. What is Ortega’s best attributes? He has speed and lots of it.
He has 192 minor league stolen bases being caught 81 times. Ortega’s speed also helps him be a strong defensive outfielder. Ortega has a good shot to make the roster as a late-inning substitution either for base running or defensive purposes. Ortega also has an impressive .355 OBP and if he can show patience at the plate in the majors he could get more time than what most experts expect.
Ortega is definitely a player to watch this spring as he could work his way into the left field mix on a more regular basis if he put all of these things together this Spring Training. If Gentry or especially Nava (Ortega is left-handed) falters you could see Ortega in the lineup on a more regular basis in 2016.
Todd Cunningham is another player the Los Angeles Angels acquired in the off-season to potentially fill the left field spot in 2016. Cunningham is similar to Ortega with the exception of being right-handed. He possesses good speed averaging 18 stolen bases in five minor league seasons. Cunningham batted .276 in five minor league seasons and Cunningham would probably fill the same role as Ortega if he shows enough this Spring to make the opening day roster. His fate may also depend on how the other players in this left field mix perform in the Spring.
The final possible candidate for time in left field is Quintin Berry who was acquired in the off-season as well. Berry is a non-roster invitee to Spring Training making it less likely that he would start the season in Anaheim. However, Berry actually has the most major league experience of any the potential left fielders that are not part of the platoon.
Berry played in 94 games for the Detroit Tigers in Spring Training will go a long way with determining the best fit in left field for the Los Angeles Angels in 2016. Stay tuned to Halo Hangout for this and other position battles throughout Spring Training.