MLB spring training 2020: Angels infield position preview

The Angels project to have one of the most talented infields in all of baseball.

To get a better gauge at each position, here’s a preview of all five infield positions. At each position, I’ll list the likely starters, the potential depth options and provide the position’s projected WAR via Fangraphs’ Depth Charts. There are a variety of other statistics I utilized from multiple outlets, such as DRC+ from Baseball Prospectus and Outs Above Average from Statcast. In my opinion, these statistics have a stronger analytical use that correlates better than other readily-available stats.

With Anthony Rendon and Jason Castro now in the fold, the infield should be average or better at every position but first base. With star-level production at third base and potentially shortstop, there is a solid chance this is a top-five infield in all of baseball.

Catcher

  • Projected Duo: Jason Castro and Max Stassi
  • Other options: Anthony Bemboom, Josè Briceño, Jack Kruger
  • Projected fWAR: 3.0 (ninth)
Via Fangraphs

Signing Jason Castro to a one-year-deal gives the Angels a low-risk, high-reward option at the position. At a $6.85 million salary, Castro is a sure bet to provide surplus value and beef up the position. In six of the last seven seasons, Castro has been worth at least 1.6 fWAR. With roughly average production at the position (career 90 DRC+) and strong defensive skills (31.1 Career Fielding Runs Above Average), Castro seems like a fairly safe bet to produce.

Behind Castro is Max Stassi, a perfectly competent backup catcher who the Angels acquired from the Astros in the middle of last season. Set to be 29 next month, Stassi’s track record isn’t strong, with just one useful MLB season to date (2.7 fWAR in 2018). A myriad of issues have limited him to just 183 games across parts of seven MLB seasons but strong defense (career 23.4 FRAA) has made up for a subpar bat (76 DRC+). 2019 was especially an especially rough offensive season for Stassi, who hit just .136/.211/.167 in 51 games.

I’m sure it will surprise most folks to see that this group projects as a top-10 unit at the position. It’s important to note that the catcher’s position is extraordinarily poor across baseball right now and the Castro/Stassi tandem could play a huge role in the Angels’ success.

The depth behind those two is not great, with Anthony Bemboom and Josè Briceño being the only MiLB options with MLB experience. Jack Kruger, a semi-interesting prospect, could potentially be a useful backup catcher this season but a down year (79 wRC+) at Double-A makes limits his chances of reaching the majors.

First Base

  • Projected starter: Albert Pujols
  • Other options: Tommy La Stella, Matt Thaiss, Jared Walsh
  • Projected fWAR: negative 0.1 (dead last)
Via Fangraphs

Fear not, Angels fans. Albert Pujols has just two years remaining on a contract that has pretty much been a disaster from the start. Not that Angels fans need any reminder of this but the club has paid Pujols $184.05 million to receive 6.3 fWAR. Or in other words, the Angels have paid Pujols $29.2 million per win, which is roughly three times the going rate for free agents ($8-12 million per win). It’d be remiss to not mention Pujols’ mentorship for players such as Mike Trout and the milestone moments have been fun but the contract ending soon is much-needed for the Angels.

In a perfect world, the Angels would’ve moved on from Pujols and found a more competent option at the position. They likely have that in Tommy La Stella, who could fill in at first base in his utility role this season. La Stella’s All-Star campaign was sabotaged by a gruesome broken leg in July last year but he still churned in a 2-win season and 119 DRC+ in 80 games.

While the Angels dead-last projection at the position is worrisome, there is a path to a better season there. A straight platoon at the position between La Stella (134 wRC+ vs righties in 2019) and Pujols (115 wRC+ vs lefties) could give the position above-average production. Hopefully, Angels manager Joe Maddon is aware of these splits and makes the weakest infield position at least competent.

Second Base

  • Projected starter: David Fletcher
  • Other options: Tommy La Stella, Luis Rengifo, Jose Rojas, Jahmai Jones
  • Projected fWAR: 2.2 (t-11th)
Via Fangraphs

Projected starter David Fletcher is not only coming off a strong 2019 campaign but he’s also becoming the most meme-able player on Angels twitter. The Orange County native has quickly established himself as a quality MLB regular, posting 5.3 fWAR in his first 234 games. The 25-year-old pairs superb defense (14 Career Outs Above Average) with average offense (98 DRC+)

With Fletcher likely playing a good chunk of games away from second base (shortstop, third base, outfield), there should be plenty of opportunities for other players. La Stella will probably receive the bulk of his playing time at second base given that’s where the majority of his games have come at . Luis Rengifo, who was the apparent centerpiece in the Joc Pederson/Ross Stripling trade that fell through, gives the club another strong option in the event that injuries or underperformances occur.

As a whole, this group projects as a near-top 10 group and you could argue that a 2.2-win projection is light for this group (Fletcher will likely clear his 1.6-win projection). There’s a decent shot that this position accumulates 3+ wins and that potentially makes them a top 5/10 unit in baseball.

Third Base

  • Projected starter: Anthony Rendon
  • Other options: David Fletcher, Tommy La Stella, Luis Rengifo
  • Projected fWAR: 5.6 (third)
Via Fangraphs

While Angels fans wanted to sign a top-tier starting pitcher this past offseason, Anthony Rendon was arguably the best free agent available and will impact the club immensely. Rendon entered last season as one of baseball’s most underrated players, a title he can no longer hold after his career year in 2019, epic postseason run and his shiny new $245 million contract. Since his first full big-league season in 2014, Rendon is baseball’s sixth-most valuable position player by fWAR (31.6) and is truly one of the elite players in the game.

After an injury-riddled 2015 season, Rendon has played in at least 136 games each of the last four seasons and should comfortably be penciled in at the position. With the switch to the American League, Rendon will likely get some time at DH this season, which opens up roughly 20-30 games for other players. Some combination of Fletcher, La Stella and Rengifo will likely get those starts.

Unsurprisingly, the Angels have the third-best projection at the position. More noteworthy is the .360 projected wOBA, which is a drastic improvement from the .306 wOBA that Angels third basemen posted in 2019. Unless Rendon has a major injury, there’s no reason to believe the Angels won’t have elite production at the position.

Shortstop

  • Projected starter: Andrelton Simmons
  • Other options: David Fletcher, Luis Rengifo, Elliot Soto
  • Projected fWAR: 3.6 (t-12th)
Via Fangraphs

Andrelton Simmons’ injury-riddled and poor offensive season in 2019 played a major part in the Angels’ subpar season. Simmons had a grotesque ankle injury that led to two separate stints on the Injured List and just 103 games played as a result. Simmons maintained his typically elite defense (16 Outs Above Average) but posted a career-low 81 DRC+. After back-to-back 5-win seasons from 2017-2018, last season represented a significant decline but there’s a strong chance Simmons bounces back to a 3+ win player.

It’s mutually beneficial for both the Angels and Simmons to have a strong 2020 campaign. The Angels need more than the 1.7 fWAR he provided last year and Simmons enters his walk year as he’ll embark on free agency for the first time. A strong season boosts the Angels playoff odds while also giving Simmons a chance to get a stronger deal. Surprisingly, there has been no communication between the two sides on an extension despite a strong relationship.

Fletcher is solid insurance behind Simmons and Rengifo can fill in sparingly if needed. However, Simmons staying healthy would be ideal as it allows Fletcher to play around the diamond and keep Rengifo as a depth option.

Photo by KA Sports Photos

29 Comments
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Rahul Setty
Admin
Trusted Member
1 year ago

“This was a wonderful article that I enjoyed very much, except for the part where we didn’t trade Simmons last winter.” -, probably

I, for one, enjoyed it. 🙂

rspencer
Trusted Member
1 year ago
Reply to  Rahul Setty

Speaking of Rick, where’s he been?

Eric_in_Portland
Super Member
1 year ago

My two concerns are Stassi and La Stella.

Stassi’s only “good” season was trash can aided. Take that out and he’s a career .176 hitter.

And Tommy’s excellent first half of 2019 was partly because of the changes to the baseballs.

Of the two I feel more comfortable with Tommy because he showed he could hit for average in Chicago. But Stassi….honestly I don’t think he should play.

Jeff Joiner
Editor
Super Member
1 year ago

Maddon has already said he’s going to have a talk with Albert before the season starts. I’m confident Pujols rides more pine this year than he has in the past. It would be nice for somebody to break out and make the decision easier on Joe.

If we can mix and match and pull 1.5 WAR out of that spot (the equivalent of Mitch Moreland) instead of having negative value, that would be huge.

Mia
Super Member
Mia
1 year ago
Reply to  Jeff Joiner

I’m confident Pujols rides more pine this year than he has in the past.

I feel like we say this every year now.

Jeff Joiner
Editor
Super Member
1 year ago
Reply to  Mia

True and it is frustrating that nobody has developed to really make it an issue. Had Thaiss knocked the cover off the ball or any prospect before him and the team has a valid reason to sit Albert.

However it has been Albert or a pile of meh prospects.

JackFrost
Super Member
1 year ago
Reply to  Jeff Joiner

That’s the thing; nobody produced at a level that warranted making them the new 1B starter. Thaiss had a good two week stretch (not uncommon for players newly on the scene as opposing pitchers/teams don’t know them etc). Perhaps experimenting with Tommy at 1B could provide dividends, creating a potential platoon with Albert only facing lefties, thus giving him far fewer AB’s.

Jeff Joiner
Editor
Super Member
1 year ago
Reply to  JackFrost

I like the mix and match potential on this team, especially once Adell is up. Goodwin has a reverse split so he could take left, slide Upton to DH and have Pujols at first for lefties.

Tree
Member
1 year ago

Great piece on this incredible Infield. Eppler has truly assembled an incredible IF unit, We haven’t been to the playoffs since the days of Aybar and Kendrick, we haven’t had a complete IF for many years it feels like. Now suddenly the Angels have arguably one of their best infields of all time.

TrojanBoiler
Member
1 year ago

Brent,

How does the infield stack up as a whole compared to the rest of the league? You mentioned that there is potential that this is a top 5 infield, where does the 14.3 fWAR rank?

TrojanBoiler
Member
1 year ago
Reply to  TrojanBoiler

Actually I just threw it together myself in Excel because I was curious. FanGraphs has the Angels infield ranked 11th overall at 14.3. Behind the Cardinals at 14.5 and ahead of the Phillies at 13.9.

Astros and Dodgers are tops overall at 20.2 and 18.3 fWAR

Mas_Angeles
Member
1 year ago

Great writeup! Also, Pujols going backwards in WAR makes me sad. Hopefully they platoon him and give him lots of rest between plays. Don’t want him dropping down to 22 again.

steelgolf
Super Member
1 year ago

Good write up. I do quibble with the evaluation of Stassi as a good defender, even though the career stats say he is good, when he has played for The Angels he has been horrible, with passed balls galore.

steelgolf
Super Member
1 year ago
Reply to  Brent Maguire

Brent, I think the stats from the score keeper are misleading. In my view from watching a lot of the games last season, the score keeper marked a lot of “wild pitches” that I would have scored as “passed balls”. It is subjective, but I think at least half of last years “wild pitches” with Stassi behind the dish should have been marked as “passed balls”.

OMAHALOFAN
Trusted Member
1 year ago

Thanks for the analysis Brent but your projected starter at 2B is starting in RF today. I’m not sure if Joe sees him as a starter in the infield.

matthiasstephan
Trusted Member
1 year ago
Reply to  OMAHALOFAN

Having Fletcher as a competent backup in RF gives the team a lot of flexibility moving forward, especially if they end up starting Goodwin at the beginning of the season. I don’t think that means that Fletcher doesn’t get most of his reps at 2B or in the IF though. Who else do we carry that can play RF? Do we need to have a 4th OF if Fletcher can manage it?

h27kim
Trusted Member
1 year ago

I hope that Fletcher stays mostly in the IF. His appearances in RF just seems to be a questionable use of his talents. I’d count this as an unfortunate fallout from the trade for Pederson and Stripling falling through, but I suppose it does leave us a spare IF, though…

jco
Member
jco
1 year ago

My guess is that Hermosillo or Walsh make the roster. Walsh would also be 1B backup and emergency pitcher duties.

Mia
Super Member
Mia
1 year ago

Fun read. Nice write up, Brent!

I think it’s probably smart to let Simba play the year out. If he’s back to form then i’m sure Arte will pony up a competitive offer. If not, Fletch. Extending him now is a risk we don’t need to take.

Mia
Super Member
Mia
1 year ago
Reply to  Brent Maguire

Simba has stated that he’s ready to talk when the FO is, so i’m sure they are being cautious. But yeah, I doubt they’d be able to agree on a # at the moment.

matthiasstephan
Trusted Member
1 year ago
Reply to  Mia

Perhaps mid-season, if he is doing well. I would hate to wait until the offseason, if he plays well.

DowningDude
Super Member
1 year ago

This is optimism: “only 2 years left on Pujols’ contract” 😂