Who knows when Opening Day will be at this point, but as we wait, let’s take a look over the Los Angeles Angels 40-man roster and decide who should be hearing their name called at Angel Stadium.
This time of year, everyone likes predictions. Who is a breakout candidate? Who will have a bounce-back season? How should manager Joe Maddon order his lineup? Who should fill out the team’s bench?
Over a two-part series, I will walk through the process of identifying who should be included on the Angels Opening Day active roster. I will make my selections from the Angels current 40-man roster. In Part 1, I focus on positional players. Check back tomorrow for Part II on the pitching staff.
A new MLB rule allows teams to carry an extra player on their active roster this season, up to 26 from the traditional 25-player limit. Most teams will choose to include the maximum number of pitchers, thirteen. Since the Angels are a unique case, with two-way star Shohei Ohtani, they can essentially carry up to 14 pitchers.
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Let’s start by breaking the roster into two broad categories: we will call the players who play everyday, roster locks; and we will call everyone else, roster depth.
The roster locks include the likely everyday players of Mike Trout, Shohei Ohtani, Anthony Rendon, Tommy La Stella, Albert Pujols, Justin Upton, Andrelton Simmons, Jason Castro, and I will also include Brian Goodwin, but more on him in a bit. These players account for nine of the 13 roster spots reserved for positional players, leaving four open slots, the players who will make up Joe Maddon‘s bench.
How does a manager go about deciding which players should be included on the bench? He/She has to consider a variety of factors:
- Do I have a back-up catcher?
- Are all of my other positional needs covered?
- Do I have adequate balance among lefties and righties?
- Do I have speed if I need it?
- Do I have power if I need it?
In projecting the Angels bench to start the 2020 season, let’s approach it by trying to answer the questions from above. Again, we need to find four bench players from this exercise.
Do I have a back-up catcher?
Answer: Max Stassi
With Jason Castro set to man the starting duties, Max Stassi will most certainly play the back-up role. Stassi struggled after being acquired last July from Houston. His season was ultimately cut a bit short due to hip surgery. Having spent the offseason recovering, the 28-year-old provides a right-handed bat to complement Castro’s left-handed swing. Most notably, he is an excellent pitch framer, which could be an area of strength for the Halos.
Anthony Bemboom would be the other catcher to consider. However, he just isn’t as good as Stassi, especially defensively, and he hasn’t done anything to separate himself in the spring. Bemboom also has two minor league options remaining, whereas Stassi is out of options, so even if Bemboom somehow made the case for the back-up role, it makes more sense to keep Stassi than exposing him to waivers.
Are all of my positional needs covered?
This is one of the most important questions in deciding between similar players to place on the roster. Versatility is essential. A player who can play multiple positions carries an advantage over someone who can only play one position, unless that particular player is able to provide superlative value in another key area of need.
Enter David Fletcher. The memeable utility man seems to be an early Joe Maddon favorite. He can play second base, shortstop, third base, left field, and even manned center field this spring. The 5’10” Loyola Marymount product could also see time in right field, according to Joe Maddon, perhaps picking up platoon at-bats for Brian Goodwin. With Anthony Rendon locked in at third base, where Fletcher played the majority of his innings last year, look for him to spell Tommy La Stella against left-handed pitchers as well.
The only other player on the 40-man roster who makes sense in a versatile bench role would be Taylor Ward. But Ward is really only suited for the corner infield and outfield positions, and in his limited time in the majors over the past two seasons, he has yet to crack the Mendoza line. Jared Walsh and Matt Thaiss are two other options, but as left-handed bats, they don’t offer the balance of other candidates.
While Fletcher solves a lot of positional needs, the more he plays all over the diamond, the more another utility infielder is needed. Having survived the Joc Peterson trade that wasn’t and recovered from a broken hand, Luis Rengifo is probably the best answer. In his rookie season last year, he played 108 games and batted .238/.321/..364. The 23-year-old was ranked the 7th best prospect in the system before last season by FanGraphs. He is a switch-hitter and can field his position.
Do I have speed if I need it?
Answer: Michael Hermosillo (+ Luis Rengifo)
Michael Hermosillo gives Joe Maddon the speed he needs off the bench. His sprint speed ranked in the top 5% of baseball in 2018. Hermosillo has had three forgettable stints in the majors over the past two seasons. His time on the active roster is likely a placeholder until super prospect Jo Adell is ready to be called up. The Angels need another player who can play in the outfield when Fletcher is deployed to the infield. Hermosillo provides a right-handed bat to spell Brian Goodwin.
Do I have power if I need it?
Answer: eventually Jo Adell
The Angels are projected to have one of the best lineups in franchise history. They have pop up and down the lineup card. If there is one area on the bench where they can sacrifice something it is in the power category. While I wouldn’t expect huge numbers this season, Jo Adell will eventually provide some power to the lineup when he is promoted.
Do I have adequate balance among lefties and righties?
Answer: (Michael Hermosillo + David Fletcher + Max Stassi)
MLB’s new rule that requires pitchers to face at least three batters or pitch until the end of an inning could give an edge to teams with deep benches. Opposing managers can no longer match lefty for lefty or righty for righty with the same frequency as they used to.
For the Halos, platoon roles play a factor into roster decisions. Both Brian Goodwin and Tommy La Stella could sit against lefties. As mentioned earlier, David Fletcher provides right-handed support at both positions, as does Hermosillo and eventually Jo Adell in the outfield. Max Stassi is another right-handed bat who will spell lefty Jason Castro.
A lot could change over the next few weeks, or not, depending on what happens to the schedule amid coronavirus concerns. What we’ve seen this spring will be what we get to evaluate these players.
At this time, my prediction is for the bench to consist of David Fletcher, Max Stassi, Michael Hermosillo, and Luis Rengifo. Check back tomorrow for my prediction on the pitching staff.