Sifting through where LAA stand with position players
Well, let’s start with something we definitely know: This isn’t the same Angels lineup that has ranked no better than 17th in the Majors in runs and OPS over the last two seasons. This won’t be a group made up of a bunch of slap-hitters who use things like “situational hitting” to scrape runs across the board. These dudes can mash, and if everything goes the way the Angels’ brass has mapped it out, they’ll bring a punch that has been missing from this organization the last couple of years.
“We have guys that can hit home runs,” hitting coach Mickey Hatcher said. “We have a power team. We have a power lineup.”
That aside, though, a lot of questions remain about this group with Opening Day now only 13 days away.
First, we’ll start with …
What we know
* Erick Aybar and Howie Kendrick will make up the middle infield, and considering where they’ve hit and the success they’ve had there this spring, they’ll make up the first two spots of the lineup, respectively. Aybar has batted .419 and Kendrick is at .486 so far. Peter Bourjos could see some time at the leadoff spot against lefties, but mostly, it should be Aybar-Kendrick at the top.
* Albert Pujols will, uh, bat third and will probably continue to improve Aybar’s and Kendrick’s numbers.
* Bourjos, Vernon Wells and Torii Hunter will make up the outfield and, if nothing else, will continue to provide standout defense. The Angels’ outfield ranked fifth in the Majors in collective UZR last year.
* Chris Iannetta will catch and will improve the offense. The only question: Will Jered Weaver and Dan Haren have the same success throwing to him instead of Jeff Mathis?
* When Mark Trumbo starts at third base, Alberto Callaspo — not Maicer Izturis, who brings better middle-infield defense — would be the late-game defensive replacement, if Mike Scioscia opts for one.
What we can assume
* Kendrys Morales will be the full-time designated hitter and will bat cleanup. That was the hope going in, and thought it has only been three Cactus League games, the switch-hitting Morales hasn’t provided any reason why that wouldn’t pan out. He’s 5-for-9 so far — yes, he has one more hit in nine at-bats than Bobby Abreu has in 33 of them — with a home run and seems to quickly be regaining whatever timing he has lost while missing the last 1 1/2 seasons.
But general manager Jerry Dipoto continues to stress cautious optimism.
“Obviously, we’re excited about where he is,” Dipoto said. “It’s grown increasingly more likely that he’s going to be ready [for Opening Day] with each day of the spring. But I think using the word ‘definite,’ really with any player at this stage in spring, is foolish. You never know what can happen.”
* Abreu — who had yet another face-to-face meeting with Scioscia and Dipoto on Saturday — will not get 400 plate appearances. With Trumbo looking good, Morales looking healthy and Abreu not looking great, his playing time seems even more minimal now than it did at the start of spring.
What’s left to decide
* How Trumbo’s playing time gets divided. The right-handed-hitting slugger has made some nice plays at third base — including a nice diving stab to his left on Friday that he admitted “pumped me up” — but has also committed three errors. On Saturday, he got his first start in right field. Heading into camp, the best-case scenario for the amount of games Trumbo spends at third base was perceived to be somewhere between 35 to 40, but Scioscia has said he will not put a cieling on how many games Trumbo can eventually show he’s capable of manning at the hot corner.
“The way I feel today, and I think this is something we share as a management team, is that we’re going to try this and we believe we can get him over there for a period of time, just not sure how much,” Dipoto said. “Every day he’s over there and shows more comfort is one more day of comfort you have in saying this works. And I know when he stands in that batter’s box, you want to have him out there, because he can really help the lineup in a lot of ways.”
* How Callaspo and Izturis both stay relevant. To the naked eye, both would seem very similar — switch-hitters, versatile infields, little power. If Trumbo spends more time at third base than originally anticipated, can one of them be made available?
* Whether Bobby Wilson (out of options) or the young Hank Conger is the backup catcher.
* Who gets the last bench spot, with Scioscia likely to start the season with 14 position players? Ruling out Mike Trout and the possibility of three catchers, that would come down to Alexi Amarista, Ryan Langerhans, Jorge Cantu and Andrew Romine. As I outlined here, each of them offers something different. Via Twitter, 50 percent of you voted for Cantu, 43 percent said Amarista and seven percent went with Langerhans.