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.
- Projected Duo: Jason Castro and Max Stassi
- Other options: Anthony Bemboom, Josè Briceño, Jack Kruger
- Projected fWAR: 3.0 (ninth)
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.
- Projected starter: Albert Pujols
- Other options: Tommy La Stella, Matt Thaiss, Jared Walsh
- Projected fWAR: negative 0.1 (dead last)
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.
- Projected starter: David Fletcher
- Other options: Tommy La Stella, Luis Rengifo, Jose Rojas, Jahmai Jones
- Projected fWAR: 2.2 (t-11th)
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.
- Projected starter: Anthony Rendon
- Other options: David Fletcher, Tommy La Stella, Luis Rengifo
- Projected fWAR: 5.6 (third)
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.
- Projected starter: Andrelton Simmons
- Other options: David Fletcher, Luis Rengifo, Elliot Soto
- Projected fWAR: 3.6 (t-12th)
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.
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