If you had to choose one word to define the Angels infield, I would choose “transitioning.”
The Angels infield is a combination of veterans in Albert Pujols, Andrelton Simmons, Zack Cozart, and Tommy La Stella and young risers like David Fletcher, Jared Walsh, Matt Thaiss, and Luis Rengifo. Despite this depth, the Angels do have additional depth coming up and could look to add some new versatility to the mix.
The 40-year-old Pujols is entering the ninth year of his $240 million contract. The Angels’ first baseman is coming off a productive 2019 season in which he hit 23 home runs and drove in 93 runs. With Shohei Ohtani expected to return to the starting rotation once a week, Ohtani’s designated hitter days will be limited as rest days around his starts increase. This will provide Pujols more time as a designated hitter and open up opportunities for youngsters like Matt Thaiss and Jared Walsh at first base.
Thaiss became a more versatile option for the Angels last year as he successfully converted to a third baseman in addition to his native first base position. Thaiss showed increased power at the big-league level after his early July call-up and will work to make more consistent contact in 2020. Thaiss will be working on refining his hitting and fielding in the Dominican Winter League for Licey Tigers in the coming weeks.
Jared Walsh led the Angels farm system with 36 home runs for AAA Salt Lake this past season. The two-way player also pitched 13 games out of the Salt Lake bullpen before his promotion to the Angels where he pitched an additional five innings with a 1.80 earned run average. Walsh also plays the corner outfield positions in addition to first base and pitcher. He could give the Angels a pair of two-way players on their Opening Day roster along with Ohtani.
Second baseman Tommy La Stella earned his first All-Star appearance last season with his outstanding first half. The journeyman utility infielder found his way into the line-up every day before his season was ended with a broken leg in Texas the first week of July. Without any infield additions to the Angels, La Stella will go into camp with the second base job to lose.
Luis Rengifo was acquired from Tampa Bay for C.J. Cron prior to the 2018 season and reminded many Angels fans of Erick Aybar while filling in for the injured La Stella last season. He will have an opportunity to mature as a major league player as a versatile utility infielder for the Angels. His ability to play third base, second base, and shortstop give him a good chance to play in Anaheim again next season.
David Fletcher was arguably the second-most valuable Angel last season behind the American League MVP. While Fletcher can play shortstop and second base, he found himself at home at third base in 2019, earning himself a spot as a finalist for AL Gold Glove at that position. Assuming another third baseman isn’t added to the roster and La Stella is starting at second base, Fletcher will be penciled in as the starting third baseman next year.
Andrelton Simmons was the winner of the Wilson Defensive Shortstop of the Year last season despite an injury-hampered 2019 season. The 30-year-old shortstop has Hall of Fame defensive ability and will be heading into the final year of his contract. It will be interesting to see if the Angels offer him an extension this offseason and keep him beyond this coming season. Simmons will be poised to have an outstanding 2020 season that could lead to him being one of the more attractive free-agent hitters next winter.
David Fletcher and Luis Rengifo are both capable of playing shortstop if needed next year or beyond. The Angels have two of their top prospects, Jeremiah Jackson and Will Wilson, playing shortstop but neither has played beyond rookie league level. Wilson was drafted last year out of NC State and would seem to have the best chance to move up to higher levels over the next two seasons.
Although most Angels fans have written off the injury-prone Zack Cozart, he’s under contract with the Angels through this coming season. The Angels owe him $12 million this year and they will likely see if he’s able to rebound and offer the club additional depth in their infield next season as well.
If he’s able to recover and come anywhere close to his 2017 career year, he will be a valuable asset to the Angels next season. If healthy, Cozart is capable of playing third base and the middle-infield positions.
Taylor Ward debuted at third base for the Angels in late 2018 and converted to an outfielder last season at Triple-A Salt Lake. The one-time top Angels catching prospect could also factor into a spot as the Angels’ third baseman and outfielder on their roster with a strong spring. He will also be continuing to develop his skills in the Dominican Winter League beginning Nov. 30.
The Angels farm system has some talent that could factor into things in Tempe in February. Second-base prospect Jahmai Jones finished strong last season at Double-A Mobile and impressed many as a second-team All-AFL league at that position. Jones is most likely going to begin next season at Triple-A Salt Lake. Jose Rojas had an incredible offensive season at Salt Lake last year and if he slips through the Rule Five draft unclaimed, he could make an argument for a spot on the Angels opening day roster as well.
Former Maddon favorite in Tampa Bay and Chicago, Ben Zobrist, is a free agent this off-season and would seem to provide a versatile option at second base, first, and the corner outfield positions. Free-agent Nick Castellanos played third base early in his career and could potentially be viewed as an eventual replacement for Pujols at first base if they decide to pursue him this off-season. Castellanos could also provide a stop-gap in right field until Jo Adell is called up in mid-May but the Angels’ focus is free agency is clearly starting pitching.
Angels This Week
Mike Trout was named American League Most Valuable Player for the third time in his career. Just as remarkable as the 28-year-old Trout winning his third MVP award is the fact he was runner-up for the award in four other years. Trout also stated during his interviews Thursday night that his foot is fully healed from the surgery that ended his season three weeks early.
The Angels and the city of Anaheim also seem to be making progress in extending their lease with the city through the end of the coming decade. It remains to be seen if this agreement will include any plans for new stadium or enhancements to the area surrounding Angel Stadium. Angel Stadium of Anaheim is the fourth-oldest active ballpark in Major League Baseball.
Angels Down on the Farm Report
Jo Adell’s Team USA fell short of qualifying for the 2020 Olympic games with Mexico’s walk-off win courtesy of former Angel Efren Navarro’s 10th inning single. Adell himself stood out with an outstanding performance. Adell completed his Premier 12 tournament with a .394 average, three home runs, and two stolen bases as well as more than a few highlights in the outfield.
Jose Rojas is still not on the Angels 40-man roster but was added to the Obregon roster in the Mexican Winter League last week. Rojas has been in the Obregon roster daily and is off to a slow start hitting .200 in his first few games. He’s been playing first base for the Obregon club and his daily performance can be followed through @_HaloLife on Twitter.