The LA Angels haven’t been the most stable team at with their leadoff spot in the lineup over the last few years. 2018 was especially bad with the middling Ian Kinsler and struggling Kole Calhoun manning the majority of games at leadoff.
For the LA Angels, there hasn’t been much of an expansion regarding leadoff options via free agency or other means of acquisition this offseason, but is it possible that’s because the Angels already have the man for the job waiting in the wings?
In 2018 the Angels saw Kole Calhoun hit leadoff for 64 games while Ian Kinsler manned the position 53 times. Kinsler held down the spot with a poor .301 OBP until he was shipped off to Boston. Calhoun didn’t begin hitting leadoff somewhat regularly until June and took over the spot full time in August.
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Even with Kole Calhoun lighting up pitchers in July (.322/.378/.759) and coming a bit down to earth in August (.274/.345/.453) he still didn’t rate as a prototypical leadoff man during his time. His high K rate (133 K’s/53 BBs) keeps him from being a true table setter and his lack of action on the base paths limits his run scoring potential.
Kole Calhoun is more suited for a bottom of the order hitter, 6th or 7th, where he can utilize relatively low pressure at-bats while still being in a position to knock in runs. 2018 rookie infielder David Fletcher had some really good looks during his time with the ballclub, but again his skillset doesn’t scream leadoff hitter. He’s not a big walker and given that he has to limit his strike-outs heavily to counteract his limited walks. On that same note, David Fletcher isn’t the type of hitter to whiff a ton and he has great speed out of the box. He has the potential to be good as a leadoff man but his ability to put killer pressure on pitchers and opposing defenses is yet to be seen.
The real magic lies with Angels top prospect Luis Rengifo, a quick-footed shortstop/infielder whom they acquired via trade prior to the 2018 season. Rengifo absolutely blew up the Angels MiLB ladder by dominating all of A ball through Triple A immediately after coming into the system.
What exactly is in his skillset that screams killer leadoff man? For instance, that whole concept of putting killer pressure on pitchers and opposing defense is something Luis Rengifo excels at. Across 2018 Rengifo nabbed 41 total bases, all at the age of 21. It isn’t hard to believe that Rengifo will mature into an even more refined base-stealer given the pace of his development and current ability.
On top of that Rengifo is going to blaze through the basepaths if (or when) he gets on. That’s the perfect style of leadoff hitting, work the pitcher for the very first out of the game and next thing you know you have an athlete who can take 41 bases on you standing at first. All of a sudden you can’t pitch to the 2nd hitter properly because you’re being tag-teamed by soul-crushing pressure, especially when you consider the 2nd hitter being Mike Trout.
What’s great about Rengifo is his surprisingly strong bat, especially for a leadoff hitter. In 2018 Rengifo roped 30 doubles and 13 triples. His speed is a huge help to those power numbers sure, but at the end of the day Rengifo is able to square up and drive pitches consistently. Again, this is thanks to his killer strike-zone control which allows him to zone in on the pitch he can do the most damage with and attack it. His ability to avoid pitchers pitches and attack the pitches he needs cannot be understated, across 2018 his slash line sat at .299/.399/.452 in 2018.
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If it wasn’t obvious by now there is huge run scoring ability from Rengifo. 2018 saw him come around for 109 runs scored; now imagine this application of talent with Mike Trout hitting behind him. Rengifo can easily translate if not better his numbers with Trout giving him the opportunity to score seemingly endless runs. It doesn’t take much to get Rengifo in scoring position, it can be argued he’s already in scoring position from 1st given his speed and ability to steal second on a whim. It also doesn’t take much to get Trout bringing runs in, this combination of Rengifo/Trout is something that will open up more opportunities than usual for both players to produce.
There hasn’t been strong leadoff man in Anaheim in a little bit, but the combo of Rengifo/Trout may very well be the greatest 1-2 punch Anaheim will ever see. It doesn’t even end there, if you give Rengifo a quasi-leadoff man in the 9th hole you’ll have even more potential for run scoring given Rengifo’s ability to not just set the table, but stress pitchers out until he’s served up his perfect pitch and knock in an RBI-XBH himself.
It’s not likely that we’ll see Rengifo impact regularly across 2019, especially with David Fletcher/Andrelton Simmons/Zack Cozart manning the infield. Rengifo is still in the developmental stages so there’s no real rush to get him to the bigs, but if he continues his torrid pace he could be in line to see some big league time in 2019. All in all I wouldn’t expect to see Luis Rengifo dominate the Angels leadoff spot until 2020; to see him arrive in 2019 and see enough time to make impact would likely be in the case of injury to one of Cozart/Fletcher/Simmons.
In a best case scenario we would see Cozart have a bounceback year and settle in at leadoff in 2019, but if that doesn’t come to fruition there is always the burgeoning Luis Rengifo ready to swoop In and steal not just the job, and not just our hearts, but the attention of the MLB in whole.