The underrated weakness on the Angels roster

Much of the attention on the Angels offseason has been on pitching and rightfully so.

The club has made that rather obvious with their acquisitions of José Quintana, Raisel Iglesias, and Alex Claudio. While the club absolutely needs to continue adding pitching, they’ve pretty clearly focused on beefing up a pitching staff that has been one of the worst in baseball over the past half-decade. There’s another weakness on the roster, however, that is garnering less attention this offseason.

In the condensed 60-game season in 2020, the Angels received exactly zero Wins Above Replacement (WAR) from their corner outfielders. That is, the combination of Justin Upton, Jo Adell, and others provided production that a replacement-level player could’ve provided from Triple-A. The Angels still need pitchers but they also need to fix up a pretty glaring need in the corner outfield. Let’s start by addressing the most obvious issue in right field.

Adell or….well?

Jo Adell, a consensus top-five prospect entering 2020, was an unmitigated disaster in his first taste of the majors last year. Among players with at least 100 plate appearances, Adell had the lowest WAR (negative 1.3) and wRC+ (29). Only Miguel Sano had a higher strikeout rate than Adell’s 41.7 percent clip. Add in some disastrous results in right field, a new position that Adell was learning, and you had an overall nightmare situation for both him and the Angels. The raw skills are still there— he had a 98th percentile sprint speed and only 14 players had a higher maximum exit velocity (115.5 mph)— but it’s clear that he needs more seasoning in Triple-A.

Adell’s Statcast profile via Baseball Savant

The Angels have already implied that Adell will start the 2021 season in the minors. With no obvious candidate to take those reps in right field, it’s fair to wonder what the plan is for the position. Jared Walsh, a potential option, will likely be the everyday first base option. Taylor Ward, someone I am sort of buying as a useful big leaguer, probably shouldn’t be penciled in as an everyday option. Brandon Marsh, the Angels best outfield prospect beyond Adell, will probably start the season in Triple-A. Scott Schebler, signed to a minor-league deal in November, hasn’t been a useful major leaguer since 2018.

The club is in a bit of a tough spot for the position in 2021. It’s completely possible that one of Adell or Marsh performs at a high level in the minors, prompting a quick promotion. You don’t necessarily want to block one of those two players but you also don’t want to bank on them being MLB producers in 2021. Unfortunately for the Angels, there aren’t a whole lot of outfield options left in free agency, which took a serious hit on Friday with the signings of Joc Pederson and Eddie Rosario.

The continued decline of Justin Upton

While the obvious option in right field is to give more MiLB time to Adell and find a competent replacement, it’s much more complicated in left field. There’s no denying the superb career that Justin Upton has had; among active players, only 14 players have a higher fWAR (36.5) and only three have more home runs (307). But the numbers are pretty clear: Upton is steadily declining in every imaginable way and is entering his age-33 season.

While Upton finished last season strong (155 wRC+ and 5 home runs in September/October), he’s been ineffective and often hurt for the past two seasons (negative 0.3 WAR in 105 games). He’s still hitting the ball hard but the consistent abilities to barrel baseballs and handle full-time duties in left field are dwindling. Add in Upton’s remaining $51 million over the next two years, along with a no-trade clause, and there’s no obvious decision to make with him. That leaves two positions that are in flux heading into 2021.

What to do about this?

Unfortunately, the free-agent market for outfielders has taken a serious hit. Even the useful short-term veteran options are rapidly declining; both Joc Pederson and Eddie Rosario signed cheap one-year deals on Friday. The remaining options in free agency beyond Marcell Ozuna are uhhh… not great! The top outfield options according to the Fangraphs ZIPS Projections

  • Marcell Ozuna (3.6 WAR)
  • Brett Gardner (1.8 WAR)
  • Yasiel Puig (1.7 WAR)
  • Jackie Bradley Jr. (1.5 WAR)
  • Adam Duvall (1.1 WAR)

You can probably rule out Ozuna (contract) and Bradley (center fielder). Puig is caught up in yet another sexual assault/abuse scandal. Gardner seems like an obvious bet to go back to the Yankees but if he doesn’t, he’d be a great addition on a short-term deal for the Angels. Duvall also makes plenty of sense after having a resurgence in Atlanta, smacking 16 home runs in the shortened 2020 season. If the free-agent market doesn’t work, perhaps the club can make a move for a lower profile outfielder via trade —David Peralta, Adam Frazier, Mike Tauchman, and Randal Grichuk come to mind.

The attention has, rightfully, been on fixing a broken pitching staff. But I think it’s a mistake to assume that things are fine in the outfield. Rolling into the season with the current group of outfielders represents another weakness for the Angels in 2021. In addition to finding more pitching, the club ought to find a competent option for outfield duties in the 2021 season.

30 Comments
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Cowboy26
Legend
3 years ago

Sign Adam Duvall to get the majority of Reps in Right Field. Schebler is a LHB that can play all three outfield positions effectively as our bench player . Ward still has 2 options left . This would be an effective outfield . The Kids can come back up when they are good and ready.

2002heaven
Super Member
3 years ago

Here we go again!
Jered Walsh played half a 60 game ( 32 games ) abbreviated season and already he’s the next Lou Gehrig around here….OMG!!! He’s a walk on who has to prove he belongs here, not Jo Adell who was a highly touted prospect and failed. Hansel Robles….Hansel Robles….Hansel Robles……Good Gawd.

Chase Kimura
Member
Member
3 years ago

Still think the future is Trout, Adams, and Marsh, but, man, a Joc/Ward platoon to start the year would’ve been nice. If Marsh or Adell were ready to get called up, Joc could’ve been some insurance/platoon option for Upton in left.

Robbinsca
Member
3 years ago

I actually add Fletcher to the outfield mix. If, and that is a big if, Rengifo or Barretto can handle 2b then our resident Swiss Army Knife can fill in playing RF.

I am not a Walsh believer yet, so I am also a bit concerned about 1b. I was hoping Thais could handle it, but he seems to be one of our typical AAAA players.

FungoAle
Legend
3 years ago
Reply to  Robbinsca

I’m with you on Walsh but it is either him or Albert. I’ll take my chances, 100-150 ABs to see how much the cowhide is flying off his bat, if not too well, make a trade. Our farm is very sparse with corner position players.

Last edited 3 years ago by FungoAle
2002heaven
Super Member
3 years ago
Reply to  FungoAle

Just corner position players? LOL!!
How about everybody actually, we aren’t the 25th rated MLB farm system for nothing. The Angels have MLB’s worse track record for player development in the 2010’s ( a fact if you go do your research ).

h27kim
Trusted Member
3 years ago

Add to this the fact that stats don’t love Trout’s defense in CF nowadays. I think Trout will belong in LF sooner or later, and this came up when there was speculation that Angels might pick up Snell and Kiermeier from Ray’s some months ago. Getting a good 4th OF/borderline starter who can start in corner and play CF (actually, someone like Gardner) is a clear immediate need.

MH252525
Trusted Member
3 years ago

Big stat backing this up. Despite having Mike Trout in CF, Angels had the 3rd worst OF in the AL last year.

2002heaven
Super Member
3 years ago
Reply to  MH252525

JA & Justin Upton I’m sure had something to do with that too.

steelgolf
Super Member
3 years ago

Excuse me if I am not excited or even that confident in the catcher playing right field. BRef projects a .231 BA for him this year and defensively? Ehhh, he can catch a ball but is not going to make any highlight plays.

Jeff Joiner
Editor
Legend
3 years ago
Reply to  steelgolf

That’s catcher turned third baseman turned outfielder.

Guest
3 years ago
Reply to  Jeff Joiner

Who says he feels the most comfortable playing in the outfield.

Guest
3 years ago

I am all-in on Taylor Ward. Let him be a regular for half of the season and see what he can do with regular reps. Also, Jose Rojas’ bat has nothing left to prove in AAA. He’s primarily an infielder, but he played 105 innings in LF in 2019.

Jeff Joiner
Editor
Legend
3 years ago
Reply to 

Nice call on Rojas. Didn’t realize he played any LF.

WallyChuckChili
Legend
3 years ago
Reply to 

Before Rendon, I thought Rojas was our future 3B

2002heaven
Super Member
3 years ago
Reply to 

Taylor Ward is a guy without a position
He can’t catch even though he was a catcher in college, and he’s too slow in the field to play elsewhere. Typical wasted utility role high draft pick player that this organization seems obsessed with, meanwhile the likes of Aaron Judge, Nolan Arenado, Paul DeJong, Marcus Semien, Cody Bellinger, and Mookie Betts we can’t spot.

GrandpaBaseball
Legend
3 years ago

So why was not trading for a proven OF’er or signing a FA OF’er important? Because we have Ward/Walsh/Thaiss/Albert. Days that Albert plays Welsh can play LF with Ward in right. Days that Ward plays RF are approaching fast. I think we will see Marsh brought up sooner than later just as Adell was held back a bit then brought up. Upton will play no matter what as he is making a lot of money.

Bariclaw
Newbie
3 years ago

There’s no way they look to replace Upton this year. Maybe they bring back Goodwin for a year. I think Ward will end up getting the bulk of playing time in RF for the first couple months. And then, depending on how Upton and the kids are doing, maybe we bring up one of the young guys in May and Ward/Upton/prospect split time the rest of the season. I think the best we can actually hope for is somebody like Goodwin on a 1 yr 2m deal.

matthiasstephan
Super Member
3 years ago
Reply to  Bariclaw

Someone like Goodwin, if not him, on a 1 year low relative pay deal seems like the right answer here.

You don’t want to spend money which could be seen as a block for Marsh/Adell if they blow up the minors, and you want to give Upton confidence that the latter half of 2020 reflects him back in shape and finally over the turf toe.

gitchogritchoffmypettis
Legend

Yeah, turf toe. I keep forgetting that. I tore out a toe nail and couldn’t hit for crap afterward in high school. Turf toe is worse. I’ve heard of it bugging guys for a year or more. If it did so with Upton, and then it screwed with his swing some, plus no ST in 2020…. Upton may still be in decline, but he may not be as screwed as we think if he’s had a long recovery, which is totally possible, and is getting back to normal. He is a beast of an athlete, we just haven’t seen him healthy much at all, and his decline may not be as steep as, say Pujols.

FungoAle
Legend
3 years ago

No question this is a roster concern, I’ve stated as much in some of my posts. Thank you for putting the facts behind it. We should not count on Adell or Marsh this year. If they start punishing the baseball and push their way into the starting lineup, then we have strength to which to deal from. If Upton rolls out of the gate in typical fashion…hole and not a run prevention OF. A lot of things need to go right for Ward/Schebler to payoff.

steelgolf
Super Member
3 years ago
Reply to  Brent Maguire

The new Navapile

matthiasstephan
Super Member
3 years ago
Reply to  steelgolf

Except this is with prospect in the wings. The worst part of the Navapile was that we were hoping for them to lock down LF.

gitchogritchoffmypettis
Legend
Reply to  Brent Maguire

I watched Schebler a lot on the Reds. If his shoulder is OK we will probably not hate having him, he can be a really good #6 hitter type..

DMAGZ13
Trusted Member
3 years ago

This is exactly why I said this team is worse going into the season than last. Now we now Adell sucks AND Upton is only going to decline more AND we’re hoping Iglesias can replace Simmons over 162 AND we have nothing sure from Ohtani.

These are all things we didn’t believe last year. Therefore we are worse going in.

Quick: bet some money on this team’s 4th best player.

Senator_John_Blutarsky
Legend

Since we like to dumpster dive, maybe HGH is available to platoon.

/s

Jeff Joiner
Editor
Legend
3 years ago

I wouldn’t be surprised if Marsh is up early in the year. Like first week they gain extra club control early.

Until then it will be a patchwork. Once he is up, Upton gets a few more days than usual off to “stay fresh” with Ward getting most of that time. Or maybe Walsh and Marsh flanking Trout

Jeff Joiner
Editor
Legend
3 years ago
Reply to  Brent Maguire

Why rely on one guy to have a normal year when you can hope several meet or exceed expectations?

Ward/Walsh/Schebler is not an inspiring combination. At all. But if they can hold down the fort until one of Marsh or Adell arrives, it might not be THAT bad.