David Fletcher is the real deal, the hard contact that was his trademark in the minors has allowed him to blossom as a big leaguer. After a slow start, Luis Rengifo is hitting a macho .328/.408./.493. With the return of Andrelton Simmons from an ankle injury that caused him to miss nearly a quarter of the season, the Angels have some strong stability around the infield. And, hey, everyone, Justin Bour‘s back!… maybe?
Tommy La Stella‘s injury not only knocked him out of the All-Star Game, it robbed the Angels of much-needed depth and flexibility. While LaStella wasn’t likely going to be able to keep up the career-best pace he’d set for himself in April and May, it does mean the Angels are suddenly thin in the infield. Zack Cozart was first horrible, then went down with a horrible injury.
Speaking of horrible injuries, Jonathan Lucroy was just coming out of a deep June funk when Jake Marisnick blew him up, and now the Angels’ starting catcher will be gone for an indeterminate amount of time with a broken nose and a severe concussion. This means catching duties go to Dustin Garneau and Kevan Smith. There was no organizational depth at the catching position, and GM Billy Eppler put a lot of eggs in Lucroy’s basket. The Angels were thin at catcher before, and they’re even thinner now. They did trade for minor league catcher Josh Thole from the Dodgers (the Angels also got lefty reliever Adam McCreery from the Dodgers for cash considerations).
Where they didn’t expect to be so thin was at first base, where the decidedly unthin duo of Bour and Albert Pujols were supposed to give the Angels… something. It’s notfun making fun of the great and good Pujols, but it’s even less fun when Bour was supposed to alleviate some of that frustration. Bour has been inexplicably awful, both offensively and defensively, so awful that the Angels had to send him down to AAA Salt Lake to find his swing. .163/.268/.316 through May? Seriously?! Returning from the minors in June, he promptly popped four homers in eight games, but finished the first half on an 0-13 skid.
As with the rest of the roster, there’s little depth to be had. Rengifo’s continued development will be interesting to track. He discovered a batting stroke at AA Mobile last season, and after a slow start in Anaheim, he’s hitting a respectable .260/.333/.379. Fletcher’s development, however, is gold. He boasts the team’s highest line drive percentage (even higher than Mike Trout’s!), and Brad Ausmus needs to be leading him off every single game.
Without Lucroy, the Angels will likely lean on Kevan Smith. Smith can hit a little, but is weak defensively. Garneau is a solid backstop, but has zero offensive skills. In the short-term, that means the Angels are effectively punting the position unless Smith continues to hit better than he’s ever hit before — which is unlikely.
First base production should improve, if only because Bour can’t possibly be as bad as he’s been. If he returns to anything resembling his career norms, he’ll be effective against right-handed pitching, and that seems more likely than him just being the absolute friggin’ worst for the rest of the season. Pujols is Pujols. .234/.302/.425 is actually a slight improvement over previous seasons, but he’s as likely to hit into a double play as he is to hit a homer.
The injuries to La Stella and Cozart have forced the Angels to call up Matt Thaiss and play him at third base. A natural first baseman, Thaiss has struggled both offensively and defensively in Anaheim. It does seem to speak volumes that they called up Thaiss instead of Taylor Ward, who made the PCL All-Star Team, but has often looked overmatched in his cups of coffee with the Angels. If Rengifo, Simmons, and Fletcher stay healthy, the Angels will play them everyday. If Thaiss starts getting more time, it’ll likely be because the Angels are waving the white flag on the season.