Good teams win lots of games and compete for playoff spots. Really good teams make the playoffs. Bad teams miss them and blame injuries.
Year after year the Angels have sold their fans that injuries have derailed the team. Sales pitches are better than the truth, which is that a complete lack of organizational depth has been the culprit.
Low on minor league depth but with high fan expectations, Angels GM Perry Minasian set out to increase the depth throughout the roster this off season.
He’s built what I’m terming the Swiss Army team. Six of the thirteen position players on this years team have played multiple positions at the MLB level and can be expected to play multiple positions this year.
So while Perry wasn’t able to magically build a AAA team and sign a backup for every position, he was able to sign a few versatile guys, add them to the versatile guys he already had, and give injury protection around the diamond. At least a little.
The difference in the depth chart compared to 2022 is quite notable, particularly when you look at the sheer number of players the Angels suited up (64) and how many of them were below par. A good percentage of the turnover was due to ineffective play, not injury.
With a roster full of multi position players, Perry Minasian hopes he’s built enough depth to survive the inevitable injuries and underperformance and still have a shot at postseason play. Has he done enough?
Let’s start on the grass. Last year the Angels used a full baker’s dozen players in left field. Jo Adell was the Opening Day left fielder but was replaced by journeyman Jose Rojas before the first series was over. It took two bad games for left field to become a black hole.
The black hole in left was offset to a degree by the outrageous start by Taylor Ward. Once he hit the IL, the Angels were sunk on the grass.
Insert Hunter Renfroe as the new right fielder, pushing Taylor Ward to left. This immediately gives the Angels three legit MLB caliber players on the grass. Brett Phillips is the speedy glove first/no bat fourth outfielder (although he is working with a swing guru).
The outfield depth likely begins with Brandon Drury. While not a glove you’d want out there every day, he has enough experience in the corners to cover the occasional day off for Ward or Renfroe and is coming off consecutive seasons of well above average offense. And with Phillips in tow, a better defensive alignment is always possible late in games.
Beyond Drury, both David Fletcher and Gio Urshela have a bit of experience in the outfield. Meanwhile Jo Adell and Mickey Moniak will be in Salt Lake preparing to cover for injury long enough to warrant an IL stint.
In short, last year’s starter in left is no better than third on the depth chart now. That’s a remarkable turnaround. A long absence from Trout would still be devastating, but there is coverage in the corners for one injury at a time. Possibly two depending on how Adell and Moniak perform.
Not only was the outfield a revolving door of underperformance, the infield was inept with the bat last year. What changes now?
Gio Urshela’s 3.1 WAR would’ve made him one of the better Angels regulars last year yet he doesn’t have a locked in position on the 2023 squad. Obviously he’s Anthony Rendon insurance, but we can also expect to see him at first base against lefties with shortstop and left field remote but not too remote possibilities.
Hopefully Anthony Rendon and Jared Walsh return to health and mashing the ball. But hope is not a plan, as the Angels recent losing seasons prove.
If everyone is healthy, Rendon anchors third, Walsh covers first, and manager Phil Nevin will mix and match David Fletcher, Luis Rengifo, Gio Urshela, and Brandon Drury. This will give guys routine rest and allow for Nevin to play favorable matchups.
But when the inevitable injury happens, Drury and Urshela combine to provide coverage everywhere on the infield. Urshela is not an ideal shortstop but could fill in for a few games. It would likely take injuries to both David Fletcher and Luis Rengifo for this to happen, but the production drop would not be severe.
That’s probably a nice way of saying the Angels don’t have a real shortstop so one injury won’t lead to a big drop off in production at that position. If the Opening Day shortstop gets hurt, Drury or Urshela covers second and the healthy one of Fletcher or Rengifo takes short.
If two infielders are out, then Drury and Urshela both assume starting roles. However, that leaves only Phillips and the AAA guys as depth on the grass.
Really, this is a long winded exercise to say the Angels appear to have enough depth to competently cover two infield injuries or one infield and one outfield injury simultaneously with MLB caliber talent. Which is not a ton of depth, but substantially more than we’ve seen in quite some time.
Obviously there isn’t enough depth to cover Trout and Ohtani being out at the same time or for any extended amounts of time. Really, I don’t think any club could thrive when down their two best players, but this one really can’t. And barring a resurgence from Adell or Moniak, center field is an area that is especially thin.
However, if we see an infield of Urshela, Fletcher, Rengifo, Walsh with Drury, Trout, Renfroe on the grass that’s still one that can win plenty of games.
The Angels can cover two more injuries this year than they could last year. We get any more injuries than two, however, and it gets pretty dicey pretty quickly.
Yes, we need to hope for good news on the health front. But unlike other years, hope is not the extent of our plan.