Angels Playing Time Battles: Hitters

We’ve started our annual Depth Chart Discussions, re-branded as Playing Time Battles for 2016. You can catch up on every team we’ve covered in the Playing Time Battles Summary post or following along using the Depth Chart Discussions tag.

Imagine having Mike Trout on your team. Seriously, just think about it for a second. An easy 30 home runs. Roughly a .300/.400/.600 triple-slash line, the baseball equivalent of basketball’s 50-40-90 club. Some stolen bases. Solid defense from a premium position. Kisses babies, shakes hands, frolics with puppies. All that good stuff.

Now imagine surrounding him – he of the four consecutive top-two finishes in American League MVP voting – with a supporting cast that still grades you as below-average on offense, with a 96 weighted runs created-plus and a pedestrian .307 OBP, after including Trout to bring the numbers up. Splitting his time between second and third in the order, Trout managed “just” 90 RBI, in part because the team’s lead-off hitters OBPd .280 (!!) and the team’s other regular No. 2 hitter, Kole Calhoun, struggled to get on base in that spot, too.

It has to be frustrating, having the best player in baseball and missing the playoffs because of the team around him. Not that the Angels were bad – they won 85 games despite getting outscored – and the nice thing about employing Trout is that you’re always going to project as “pretty decent” at worst. Still, it’s not exactly the most exciting lineup around him again in 2016.

The regulars

Trout will be preceded by Calhoun and Yunel Escobar and followed by Albert Pujols in most cases. Scoff at Escobar hitting high, but this team is light on options who can take a walk, and Escobar projects to OBP around .330. He’s not going to do nearly enough to be ownable as a third baseman, but he should help the RBI opportunities of those around him.

The 28-year-old Calhoun is a really solid piece, too, even if it would be nice to see his plate discipline profile reverse course. He’s a great source of runs with some power kicked in, and he’s somewhere in the 30-40 range in the outfield. At 35, Pujols had an enormous power surge, hitting 40 bombs even though his overall offensive line wasn’t up to even his 2014 standard. Nobody seems to be buying a repeat, but even a slide to 30 homers would have him on the fringes of startability at first in 12-team formats.

Pujols could miss the start of the season as he recovers from a foot injury, and he’ll spend about half his time at DH, anyway. The first baseman the rest of the time will be C.J. Cron, who can provide some power without hurting your average but won’t provide OBP for those in formats that use it. A 26-year-old 1B/DH who isn’t even in the top 30 at his position is hardly exciting, yet here we are. Rule 5 pick Ji-Man Choi could make the team as a bench bat to spot in at 1B/DH/OF but is well off the fantasy radar. The more noteworthy potential fill-in is Jefry Marte, a 24-year-old with moderate power who could also see time at third or in the outfield to get him reps.

Andrelton Simmons was one of the Angels’ big additions, and while he’s a phenomenal defensive shortstop, the power he flashed in 2013 has dissipated remarkably. Maybe it was never there? Maybe, but you own a skill once you show it, and there’s good reason to hope for something close to double-digit home runs. Unfortunately, he doesn’t steal much for a middle infielder and doesn’t possess a great contact profile, so even with a few homers, he only rounds out the top 25 at the position.

Trout, by the way, is the No. 1 outfielder on the board unless you really like Bryce Harper.

Left-field platoon

It looks as if the Angels could play things pretty straight in left field, with Daniel Nava perhaps moving around on occasion to open up a bit of extra playing time for himself and platoon-mate Craig Gentry. Nava has the good side of the platoon as a switch-hitter, and while he’s coming off of a down 2015 from either side, he’s shown he can hit righties in the past. Unfortunately, Nava doesn’t offer a great deal of power, and while there’s some potential utility there given his strong on-base profile and the occasional home run, it would be tough for a fantasy owner to leverage it in most formats.

If the league were overtaken by lefties, Gentry would become moderately of note, with a career wRC+ of 100 against lefties. Being just average on your side of the platoon is a good way to lose playing time, as he did last year, leading to a mediocre Triple-A season. He can get on base and then steal another, but there’s little from the last two seasons – in the majors or minors – to suggest anyone should expect anything from him in 2016.

That could create additional opportunity for Choi, but the more intriguing situation would involve a call-up for one of the team’s third-base prospects who can also play left. Kaleb Coward could bounce around between second, third, and the outfield if needed, and while his minor-league track record has always been pretty mediocre, he remains a 23-year-old former first-round pick. Kyle Kubitza is now 25 and was unimpressive in a brief stint last year, but he’s shown an intriguing power-speed combo in the minors and also boasts some positional versatility. Either name could see time at third or second, too.

Todd Cunningham and Quintin Berry could fight for a fifth outfielder spot or the right to be first man up if needed, adding a bit of speed and little else. Rafael Ortega can’t move around the diamond and has never been better than an average bat in the minors. He’s probably the next outfielder on the list, though, and can also steal a base.

Catcher time-share

Carlos Perez figures to take on the bulk of the playing time behind the plate. That always matters for fantasy in some formats, and with a little bit of power and a feint hope he won’t hurt the average too badly, Perez is probably relevant in two-catcher AL-only leagues.

Geovany Soto backs him up and could eat into his playing time if Perez struggles or Soto surges. There’s nothing new to tell with Soto, who’s always had good power for the position but hasn’t done enough other things to keep a full-time job since 2011. Jett Bandy is the most interesting catcher bat who could see time this year, as he’s hit 24 home runs in 707 plate appearances with a .271 average over the last two minor-league seasons.

A boring mess at second

The most interesting thing about potential Angels second basemen is the potential for Cliff Pennington to pitch again. Pennington is likely to back up Johnny Giavotella at the keystone, with neither holding much fantasy relevance. Giavotella has at least flashed some power and speed in the minors, but nearly 1,000 plate appearances into his major-league career, nobody should be buying anymore. Even if he moves the needle for your super-deep format, there are always Giavotellas on the waiver wire. Heck, I’m probably available in your league, and I could OBP under .300 and ISO under .100.

There’s not much in the way of coming intrigue, either. Alex Yarbrough hasn’t hit particularly well as he’s risen through the minors and somehow managed just three home runs, one stolen base, and a wRC+ of 56 in Tripe-A last year. Reynaldo Navarro got to the majors with Baltimore last season and had a nice 10-game stretch, and while technically he’s in the running for the starting gig at second base and has had some solid high-minors season, he’s nothing special. Then again, nothing special might be the best in this bunch, and if Cowart or Kubitza can’t work their way into time, Navarro’s the preference, because maybe the little bit of value he’s shown carries over – we already know it hasn’t for Giavotella and Pennington.

So, hope for Trout’s sake that Escobar, Calhoun, and Pujols all have solid seasons, because there’s not a great deal of upside elsewhere on the depth chart.

Blake Murphy is a freelance sportswriter based out of Toronto. Formerly of the Score, he's the managing editor at Raptors Republic and frequently pops up at Sportsnet, Vice, and around here. Follow him on Twitter @BlakeMurphyODC.

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