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Los Angeles Angels Infield: Depth Chart Discussions

The Angels enter 2013 as at least a contender — if not the favorite — to win a suddenly-stacked AL West. The Astros are the only team that appear out of contention from the outset, and even there we see an organization that is improving by leaps and bounds every day. The Mariners have an impressive stable of pitching prospects, and the Rangers and A’s are no doubt fresh in our minds as the two clubs who battled it out down the stretch.

But you don’t necessarily care about division races. You want to know what the depth chart looks like for the Halos this year. Let’s do this.

Behind the dish, the Halos turn to Chris Iannetta for a second season. It’ll be the age-30 season for Iannetta, a former top prospect who has vacillated between good and just adequate in his entire seven-year career. He’s not regarded as an extraordinary receiver, throwing out runners at almost exactly league-average rates for his entire career, but he’s good enough. A .190 ISO portends good power, and he’s more than willing to take a walk (13.6% career rate), but contact has always been an issue. Not just in Iannetta’s career batting average of .236, but in his SwStr% marks. Last year, had Iannetta qualified, he’d have been among the top-30 in pitches offered at and missed. Add to this that he’s never played more than 112 games in a season — at times to ineffect, other times to health — and there’s a decent chance Hank Conger finally gets some good run behind the dish. Conger, a two-time top 100 prospect via Baseball America, has done nothing in three big league sips of coffee but has a pretty good minor league track record of extra-base pop. Entering his age-25 season, it’s sink-or-swim time.

At first is Albert Pujols, who is entering his age-33 season. On the whole Pujols slowed considerably last season as part of a four-year trend, from 9.0 WAR in 2009 to 3.9 in 2012. Pujols still poked 30 home runs and drove in 100 runs, so he’s still fantasy relevant. But just like in real-life, Pujols fantasy-value seems to be diminishing as well. The 30 home runs Pujols hit in 2012 is down from 47 in 2009 — another four-year slide — and the right-handed slugger is walking less and whiffing more than at any time in his career. Now it may be unfair to sound any alarms just yet, as his OPS splits by season half were .795/.935. But that’s also three straight seasons of increasing first half/second half margins, and the splits get bigger each year. I don’t know that this is predictive or anything, but at some point that first half slump may end up just sticking as a full season one. I’m not suggesting Pujols is hands-off or anything, but some of the luster is wearing off. Mark Trumbo is Pujols’ primary backup here, but we’ll get into him more later on. Pujols averages 155 games player per season, anyway.

Up the middle we find Howie Kendrick and Erick Aybar. I was down on Kendrick entering 2012, and I guess my suspicions were verified. I just didn’t think he had the power to replicate his 18 home run showing in 2011, and he didn’t even get halfway there. I don’t believe it was tied up in BABIP, as his .338 mark in 2011 wasn’t really far off what his career mark is anyway — and last year it was .347 to boot — but I think it was in his ground ball rate. Kendrick’s worm burner rate neared 2.0 prior to last season, and ratcheted up to a Reverian 2.81 last season. Grounders don’t go over the fence, and don’t frequently go for extra bases, and as a result, Kendrick’s doubles stagnated and homers and triples fell by the wayside. I still like Kendrick as a fantasy player due to stealing a few bases, generally good batting averages, and some extra-base pop, but he’s not a player I fall over myself to draft. The K/BB rate has always scared me, and when he was playing third I just didn’t like how much pop he provided. At second he’s a better asset.

Erick Aybar isn’t too terribly different. He puts it on the ground, hits a few doubles, pops a half dozen or so homers, but will steal more bases. Between the two, it comes down to if you like pop or steals to fill out your infield, I would say. Both have pretty good track records of staying healthy — Aybar four years and Kendrick three — so looking at their primary backup Andrew Romine isn’t of too much use. Romine comes from a baseball family, with brother Austin a one-time top catching prospect and father Kevin a big league vet of about a full season worth of plate appearances over seven years. Romine is a no-power middle infield type who’s never been much of a prospect, but the Halos won’t need a lot of help from backup infielders either.

In fact, the backup infield situation is a pretty weak one when considering the next option is what’s left of Bill Hall. Hall’s decent season with Boston in 2010 keeps getting him work, but prior to that 2007 was the last season he was really any good. He does offer some position flexibility, but isn’t particularly adept anywhere in long stretches of play. Again, none of this matters much because the Halos have such a durable infield.

At third, the Angels are disbanding Operation Trumbo drop, fully installing Alberto Callaspo at third while allowing the big righty to focus on mashing and solely mashing. Callaspo is no great shakes at the plate, but he can at times put together a pretty good triple-slash, and he walks as often as he whiffs. He’s come a great way in the fielding department from his Royals days, where I recall him being an unwilling defender — in terms of working to better himself, that is. He’s worlds better than Trumbo at the hot corner, and in fact, I’ve seen depth charts which actually list Pujols rather than Trumbo as any option in the event that Callaspo goes down. I’m not entirely sure how that would play out, in terms of protecting an investment (Pujols) versus having a poor defensive player get regular time (Trumbo).

At DH it looks as though Trumbo is the opening act, the headliner, and the after party. I honestly think — and I haven’t read this elsewhere so it’s just me spitballing — that Vernon Wells might be the backup there. I don’t know, maybe he succeeds in a few small spots and can rebuild a small semblance of value in a deal where the Angels pick up a hefty portion of his salary? I’m dreaming, I’m sure. So beneath, consider the following depth chart as how I see the Halos’ infield playing out (among MLB options). I don’t figure a ton of minor league help is on the way, with Jean Segura dealt to Milwaukee, Kaleb Cowart still about a year away, and C.J. Cron a ways out and maybe even trade bait.

Early Depth Chart:
C- Chris Iannetta/Hank Conger
1B- Albert Pujols/Mark Trumbo
2B- Howie Kendrick/Andrew Romine
3B- Alberto Callaspo/Bill Hall/Andrew Romine
SS- Erick Aybar/Andrew Romine
Designated Hitter- Mark Trumbo/Vernon Wells