Spring Training is here, which means the march to Opening Day has begun.
To prepare for the upcoming 2021 season, we’re going to begin a position preview at Crashing the Pearly Gates. We’ll break this series down into four segments: infield, outfield, rotation, and bullpen. At each position, we’ll rank the players from the best to worst, as projected by the Fangraphs depth charts WAR (Wins Above Replacement) projections, and include the possible options on the bench. Things could change in the coming weeks, whether it be player acquisitions or injuries, but a lot of the roster is likely set in stone already.
We started with the infield, which you can find here. Now, we’ll move to the outfield, which is one of the best units in the league solely due to the man patrolling center field.
Mike Trout, Center Field (7.4 WAR)
Trout is the best player of his generation, a perennial superstar who has already stamped his card in Cooperstown if he were to retire today. Trout’s 2020 season brought out his “worst” performance as a full-time big leaguer, as he posted career-low marks (outside of 2011) in Weighted Runs Created Plus (162 wRC+), batting average (.281), and on-base percentage (.390). While there are legitimate worries about his defense in center field (36th percentile in Outs Above Average in 2020), there’s no reason to think he won’t be baseball’s best hitter (or second-best, thanks to Juan Soto) again in 2021. With elite power and plate discipline, along with the longest track record of stardom in baseball, there’s no better bet to win MVP in 2021 than Trout.
Justin Upton, Left Field (0.8 WAR)
Upton’s past two years have been an absolute rollercoaster. He was injured and bad in 2019. He was bad for the first half of 2020 before turning it up the final month. Cumulatively, he’s been a replacement-level player (negative 0.3 WAR) over 105 games the past two seasons. I’m fairly skeptical of any meaningful bounceback for Upton, despite the exit velocity bouncing back last year (87th percentile). Upton’s barrel rate dipped below 10 percent for the first time and his speed/defense have completely cratered. Even as a league-average bat, Upton’s likely moving towards a bench role in the next few years, possibly as soon as this year. With reinforcements on the way (more on them later), there could be a drastically different outfield at the end of the year.
Dexter Fowler, Right Field (-0.1 WAR)
The trade for Fowler was perhaps the most perplexing move during the offseason. The staff here at CtPG basically agreed, voting the trade as the worst move along with the trade for Alex Cobb. Fowler has declined across the board, posting below-average offensive numbers and poor defensive numbers since 2018. Set to be 35 next month, there’s likely little left in the tank for Fowler at this point. The Angels are likely trying to squeeze a few months of decent, cheap production out of Fowler before handing the full-time role over to Jo Adell or Brandon Marsh. In the best of both worlds, Fowler will produce and the top prospects will crush Triple-A pitching, forcing a promotion(s) to the MLB level where Fowler can transition to a bench role.
- Taylor Ward
- Juan Lagares
- Jon Jay
- Scott Schebler
- Jo Adell
- Brandon Marsh
While Upton and Fowler are penciled in as the starters in the corners, the club will also need a fourth outfielder on Opening Day, one that can also play center field (Fowler shouldn’t at this point). At this juncture, there are a wide range of candidates to fill that role. As discussed in the infield preview, Ward can handle multiple positions but he can’t play center field. That means Lagares, who was signed to a minor-league deal, is the obvious frontrunner for the position with a history of premier defense in center field. Jay and Schebler, meanwhile, can’t play center and seem like likely Triple-A depth guys.
The final two options, Adell and Marsh, will play integral parts in where the Angels organization goes in the next half-decade. If the two of them produce right away in Triple-A, they may force their way onto the roster and swipe jobs away from Upton and Fowler. If that occurs and the two youngsters produce, the Angels will have their outfield set for years to come. Obviously, there’s a lot of ifs and risks in that scenario but the Angels (and their fans) can dream, right?
Unlike the infield, which has depth at each of the positions, the outfield is awfully thin beyond Trout at the MLB level. The declines from both Upton and Fowler puts a fair amount of risk in two full-time positions on the roster. As mentioned above, the Angels’ plan probably revolves around Adell and Marsh forcing their way onto the roster around midseason and permanently taking starting jobs. However, there is plenty of risk in this scenario, which could become disastrous if A) Upton/Fowler produce poorly and B) Adell/Marsh need more Triple-A time. Trout’s continued dominance in center field is a given and boosts the outfield unit a ton but the corner outfield positions could be problematic in 2021.
*All GIFS courtesy of Major League Baseball*
Amazing to me how we can’t seem to find good decent serviceable players who can do the job where we don’t have a superstar like Mike Trout or Anthony Rendon ( like the 2018 Oakland A’s before Ramon Laureano in CF showed up ). Stephen Piscotty and Mark Canha aren’t superstars. It’s called Resource Allocation.
ding, ding, ding.
Seriously, there is a depth problem on the roster that’s being underrated as well. The club is one major pitching injury (Bundy) or position-player injury (Rendon) away from being in a really ugly spot.
I think Upton will be adequate from an offesnive standpoint over a full season. Fowler, Legares, and Ward are fine for the RF/depth rotation.
This team’s strengths are Trout plus a stellar infield and hopefully an above average bullpen. Rasiel Iglesias is really that big of an improvement and I think taking some pressure off others will improve their performance too.
We really just need average production from the OF corners and rotation to contend for the first half, then hopefully midseason call-ups or trades put us over the top.
Upton is so hard to read, but there is definitely room for optimism. In 2018 his overall numbers were good, but he was absolute trash against LHP and with runners in scoring position. In 2019 his overall numbers dropped dramatically, but he was good (wRC+ 120) when runners were in scoring position. In 2020 he was actually better against LHP and continued to hit well with RISP, but his overall numbers remained below average.
There’s small sample size everywhere, but somewhere in Upton remains a solid hitter. Whether that hitter appears will depend on whether Upton can stay healthy and works hard, or whether he just plans on riding out his contract and retiring after 2022.
2019 he was still recovering from injury too. Tough getting your legs under you with the lingering turf toe (and his defense suffered from that too).
The exit velocity bounce-back is semi-encouraging. I’m concerned about the steady decline in sprint speed and defensive numbers. He should probably be a DH-only guy here soon but there’s not exactly room for him.
Maybe he can learn some 1B and take over the Pujols role in ’22?
Without many changes, he can get half the DH reps in 2022 (splitting time there with Ohtani), which limits the exposure, and we can shuffle (hopefully) Adell and Marsh through RF and Center some too (spelling Trout on a rare occasion).
I am hoping Walsh is the full-time 1B by then, in any case.
“We really just need average production from the OF corners and rotation to contend for the first half.”
I think the team is just trying to milk one last production season(s) out of Upton/Fowler. I’m more optimistic about Upton doing so but I’m worried about the injuries and declining sprint speed, which is a pretty obvious sign of his aging process. But he’s also not that far removed from a very good and healthy 2018 season.
I’ll have more on the rotation in tomorrow’s segment but it’s a gigantic question mark, to say the least. With the enhanced injury risk for pitchers in 2021, the Angels will likely have to dip well beyond their current top-6. Even the last two guys, Cobb and Ohtani, have quite a bit of risk in terms of injury/performance.
We do have Barria, Sandoval, and Pena who have had some success at the MLB level, should things go south.
I think the plan is exactly like you mentioned: pray Adell and Marsh can both contribute this season. It’s possible, but it’s also not a great feeling to be dependent on both producing out of the gate. The future’s almost here.
Jesus, Upton is still here?
Two more years!
he will be a wonderful king this year
Any season now Trouty will patrol 1B if both Marsh and Adell come through. Most teams thought that when the Cards picked up Fowler a few years ago that they were making a bad move, but now that stolen bases are out of vogue and that Fowler is 35 yrs old even financially it makes no sense no how. But add in long shots Lagares, Schebler , and Jon Jay in the Mix we really need for Marsh and Adell to come thru for sure. Upton just maybe the big surprise though but unsure if he will be worth 2 more years. I can’t complain about JUp being as I thought that Eppler made the right move will him at the time.
Did Jon Jay even play last season? And didn’t Jay and Fowler play in the same OF for the Cards a few years back?
Yeah Trouty ain’t patrolling no first base. The GOAT plays where the GOAT wants to play regardless of Adell’s & Marsh’s development.
For the better of the team, Trout will probably move to LF/RF in the next few years. Marsh is a better defender in CF at this point in their respective careers and Adams is as well (although he’s still a few years away).
The chances of all three working out well are slim, but good gah can you imagine how skinny the gaps would get with a Marsh/Knowles or Adams/Adell outfield? Trout may have to learn 1B for that.
and Kevin Maitan?
Thought I forgot about him?
He is slotted to replace Rendon when his contract expires. Should just about be ready then.
Kevin Maitan? Billy InEppler’s version of Roberto Baldoquin? Seriously?
Sure, why not? Maitan will be 27 in 2027, and will just be figuring it out. Wouldn’t you pencil him in there?
(Rendon hadn’t played a single minor league game at Maitan’s age)
What College baseball program did Maitan play in? Remind me again.
I’m down on Adell but if Ineppler didn’t bring up in an effort to save his job for a false playoff push, Adell would be a top 4-5 prospect. Fangraphs has him a FV65, right there with Ruschtman and Gore. Marsh is in the top 20. Even if just 1 of them is a 4-5 WAR player that becomes huge. If both of them are good, then it means there’s really no excuse not to buy pitching. I forget that Adell will be 22 and Marsh is 23.
Yep. Both Adell/Marsh producing is great on numerous fronts, mainly from the sheer production side but also on the financial side. Getting those two to produce allows resources to be spent on the pitching staff and an insanely deep SS market next winter.
What is up with the Fangraph projections? In the IF, the ‘excuse’ on Fletcher was the lack of pop (but I think he is a 3 WAR player at least) but Trout at ‘only’ 7.4 is weird. He hasn’t had that little WAR except in the 114 game 2017. Are they projecting him to miss 40 games? Because barring that I just don’t see that projecting making any sense.
I don’t think anything is up with the projections. That’s just the nature of projection systems, which run conservatively.
In regards to Trout, he missed close to 100 games due to injury from ’17-’19, played below his normal level in 2020, and will be 30 in August. A 7.4-win projection is still far-and-away the best projection for any MLBer this year and it wouldn’t shock anybody to see him clear that.
Trout must be in Decline.
A decline is certainly going to come at some point in the next few years. Luckily, a decline from Trout’s current levels still makes him one of the best players in baseball. He’s amazing!
That extra baby fat is starting to drag him down
The outfield defense is a big concern. I know Perry has prioritized ground ball pitchers but fly balls will happen.
Hopefully the alignment on opening day is not the one playing from June 1 onward
I would suspect at least one of the Bees is on the field in Anaheim for good from the All Star Break, with the other lurking (if not pushing for playing time with Upton).
I can’t argue with defense. Upton may be back from injury and regained his bat at the end of 2020, but there is no bounce back for his glove. We take a hit there, especially as I don’t see Iglesias filling Simba’s role of half of LF on most plays 🙂
That Bee could be John Jay. I don’t see Marsh or Adell full time in the lineup this year, no way. First, I think the Halos mucked it up keeping Adell out there as long as they did, making a fool out of himself. The next time, Halos will be more quick to yank someone who is struggling. Second, this is a throw-away year, built to get to the playoffs but not win.
For the record, I’m still bullish on Adell, I was a little rough but just an overreaction to watching him struggle so bad and so long. Let’s give him a full year, let him smell the grass a bit. We cannot sell low and If he turns out to be a Brandon Wood, so be it.
Well, so far ,Adell’s well on his way on the same Brandon Wood Trajectory. But, I think at this rate, he’ll actually have to improve his second year performance to keep up with Wood’s.
The club really needs Adell/Marsh to be ready ASAP. Getting those two legitimate everyday ABs by the end of the year would bode well for the future of the org.
Reading that Dexter Fowler is penciled in as the starting right fielder in 2021 is a reality I just am not prepared for. We have gone from Kole and his defense to Dexter Fowler Nava Gentry? Haven’t we all suffered enough during the last year with the pandemic?
Yeah. The Fowler move is just so perplexing (still). I’m not sure he’s going to provide anything useful to the club other than being a veteran leader.
Agreed. The Fowler acquisition creates a bit of a roster crunch, too. For apparently little to no value. He’s a below average corner outfielder
Taylor Ward had a wRC+ of 98 last year and FG projects him for about a 95 this year. And he’s capable of moving around the diamond, with a quality throwing arm, for minimum wage. Might as well given him RF and saved the money.
As far as money, Mark Melancon would’ve been a great addition to the bullpen and he signed for $1.25 million more than we’ll pay Fowler.
It’s just wild that they deemed him a better fit than someone like Pederson, Rosario, or Schwarber, who all have defensive issues of their own but are drastically better hitters.
He is about 6-8M cheaper. I suggest that was a big factor in what they likely see as a part of the year player. I agree that we could have gone with Ward though. Perhaps Ward will do well with the competition, and fight for that starting gig, and Fowler will have value as a vet presence in the clubhouse (and in Spring Training). (Positive thinking ..)
Totally get the price tag aspect but it felt like a weird move to not invest elsewhere. Fowler barely moves the needle IMO. I have found nothing in the profile that has encouraged me to think he’ll be a capable starter at this point.
So, you would have preferred to spend the less than 2M on someone else (as a starting OF)? I guess we can quibble on which player in the price range – but I don’t see spending 6-8M more on a first half OF (I am assuming one of Marsh/Adell is up by the All Star break).
Fowler’s value is he reminds Joe Maddon of the good ol days.
Rosario, Pederson or Schwarber on a 1-year bridge contract provides upside and maintains financial flexibility. Jeezus, how hard is it to see this Perry. Seeing that Schwarber played under Joe, why is it that we could not have signed him vs Dexter.
I’m not the biggest Ward fan out there but I’m buying what your selling; give Ward 450+ABs and sign Melancon.
I think I’d rather have Burt Ward running around the outfield in a cape right now than Taylor Ward
Yes I know it’s already been said around here.
PTP sure looks like a TV series villain ( The Soprano’s, Sons Of Anarchy, Billions, The Blacklist, Ray Donovan )……so I might as well say it too! LOL!! 😄 Probably because he looks like he’s related to Ray Liotta.