As Cactus League play began this weekend, the Los Angeles Angels’ improved roster appears to have 18 players almost certain of places on the Opening Day roster, including 11 hitters (infielders Albert Pujols, Tommy La Stella, David Fletcher, Andrelton Simmons, Anthony Rendon, outfielders Mike Trout, Justin Upton, Brian Goodwin, designated hitter Shohei Ohtani, and catcher Jason Castro). Four starting pitchers seem all but guaranteed places in the top four spots in the rotation in Andrew Heaney, Dylan Bundy, Griffin Canning, and Julio Teheran. As for the bullpen, Hansel Robles, Ty Buttrey, and Cam Bedrosian would be the three closest pitchers to consider locks for a place on the 2020 roster.
The new, expanded 26-man roster will provide additional space for players but limits clubs from carrying more than 13 pitchers at any given time. Assuming the Angels maximize the 13-pitcher staff, that leaves only two spots on the roster for additional hitters. Here is a rundown of the position battles for the Angels going into Spring Training.
Max Stassi is still recovering from off-season surgery and is most likely going to be unavailable as the Angels’ back-up catcher when the season begins on March 26 in Houston. This leaves Jose Briceno and Anthony Bemboom as the only two catchers with MLB experience in camp. Briceno showed signs of being a fairly good defender at the position when he made his MLB debut for the Halos in 2018.
Briceno would catch 41 games for the Angels in his rookie season, hitting .239 with five home runs across 117 at-bats. Last season, Briceno was the odd man out with the Angels bringing in veterans Jonathan Lucroy and Kevan Smith, so he found himself relegated to shared catching duties at Triple-A Salt Lake last season.
Bemboom was acquired from Tampa Bay shortly after he made his MLB debut last season and factored as a back-up down the stretch for 2019 Angels. Unless one of these two really impresses during Cactus League, expect the Angels to find another catcher currently on another MLB roster before Opening Day. This could happen by trade, but more likely via the free agent market as teams thin out their rosters when spring training winds down.
Final Position Player
The Angels’ guaranteed line-up is blessed with the versatility of players like David Fletcher and Luis Rengifo, who can fill in or start at numerous positions on the diamond. This luxury could work in favor of the likes of veteran prospects Matt Thaiss, Taylor Ward, or Michael Hermosillo. Thaiss provides a left-handed bat with emerging power that can play both first and third in the infield. Ward can play third base or left field and Hermosillo can play all three outfield positions. If any of these three have a prolific offensive Spring Training at the plate, they could find themselves on the Opening Day roster. If the Angels would like even more versatile options, non-roster invites Arismendy Alcantara, Elliot Soto, and Jose Rojas are interesting players that can all play three or more positions. If neither crack the Opening Day roster, all three could be valuable resources just a phone call away at Triple-A this season.
Both Arte Moreno and Billy Eppler have alluded to the fact that the Angels are still looking at options outside the organization for an elite starting pitcher. Assuming nothing is imminent, the Angels’ first four spots are filled, leaving the final spot to six contenders.
2018 rookie sensation Jamie Barria, southpaw rookies Patrick Sandoval and Jose Suarez, veteran swingman Matt Andreise, 2019 starter Dillon Peters, and former Braves prospect Luiz Gohara could all win the spot with an impressive spring, but Barria and Andreise are favored due to their previous extensive MLB experience. Expect the Angels to give the younger Sandoval, Suarez, and Gohara starts at Triple-A but don’t rule them out as spring battles continue.
Last Five Bullpen Spots
Keynan Middleton is almost assured a spot if healthy but finds himself in this battle due to the injuries and available options. Assuming he earns fourth spot in the bullpen, returning Angels Noe Ramirez, Taylor Cole, Luke Bard, Jose Rodriguez, and Felix Pena will attempt to hold off newcomers Matt Andriese (assuming he doesn’t earn fifth starter role), Ryan Buchter, Jose Quijada, Kyle Keller, Jacob Barnes, Mike Mayers, Hoby Milner, Neil Ramirez, or Parker Markel from winning the final four spots in the Angels’ bullpen.
Veteran Ryan Buchter and Jacob Barnes lead the top non-roster threats of cracking rotation with strong camps. Justin Anderson is injured and expected to begin the season on the injured list but will provide additional depth when he begins to pitch again in April. This depth will benefit the Angels as they narrow down their selections in late March and lead to a nice crop of talent at Triple-A to call on when help is needed this season.
Angels This Week
Outfielder Brain Goodwin won his arbitration case against the Angels and will earn $2.2 million this season instead of the $1.85 million the Angels argued Goodwin should earn. Goodwin is expected to primarily be the Angels’ fourth outfielder in 2020 but he and David Fletcher could get starts in right field early in the season before Jo Adell’s impending mid-May MLB debut.
The Angels brought back a familiar face when they re-signed J.C. Ramirez to a minor-league contract with an invitation to spring training. The 31-year-old Ramirez was 13-13 with a 4.06 ERA across four seasons and 77 games (26 starts) with the Angels. After missing almost all of the 2018 season to injury, Ramirez struggled in his minor league and major league return last season in Anaheim before declaring free agency this off-season. Ramirez pitched well in seven starts in the Mexican Winter League this off-season, going 4-0 with 3.48 across 41.1 innings with 1.23 WHIP.
Angels Down on the Farm
Outfielder Brennon Lund is looking to make the most of his opportunity as a non-roster invite to Angels camp this spring. The 25-year-old Ute has slowly ascended the Angels ranks each year since being drafted in 2016 with consistent, steady play in the outfield. Last year marked Lund’s first season at Triple-A Salt Lake and he played to a very productive .284/.350/.455 slash line. He’s a .290 career minor league hitter and now finds himself an extreme long-shot at making the Angels 2020 Opening Day roster. While Lund has appeared in 33 Cactus League games with the Angels over the past three seasons, Lund cranked his first ever home run with the big club in his 2020 debut Sunday off Rockies pitcher Joe Harvey.