Amidst a disappointing 2018 campaign, the Los Angeles Angels have taken a step back to “let the kids play.” In this youth movement, it becomes necessary to pinpoint the major weaknesses, and who may be able to combat it next year.
Surprisingly the Angels have put out one of the youngest rosters in the MLB this season. Trades of Martin Maldonado and Ian Kinsler have opened space for more youth to take over. Here’s a one-by-one look at the performances of Angels rookies, besides Shohei Ohtani.
Despite a clear lack of pop, David Fletcher has made a name for himself. He’s been a blessing for the injury-ridden Angels, playing five different positions (3B, 2B, SS, LF, RF) and collecting 85 hits in 80 games. He only went deep once, but hit 18 doubles. His slap-hitting, high baseball IQ, and solid defense make him a leading candidate for starting second baseman next year, or at least a utility role.
The lone survivor of the Angels injury purge has been right-hander Jaime Barria. Despite a few blow-ups, he’s been a very solid piece for the Halos. With one start left, he’s posted a 10-9 record with a 3.54 ERA in 24 games. One thing of note is his 2.96 BB/9, which is a bit high. He’ll need to make adjustments to take the next step, thus lowering his WHIP. At only 22 years of age, there’s plenty of time for Barria to take his game to the next level.
In the bullpen, the Halos have found another unlikely success story. Justin Anderson, in 57 games, led the team with 22 holds. He also impressed with strikeout-stuff, as evidenced by his 10.9 K/9. The thing holding him back from being a closer is his lack of control. In the 55.1 innings he pitched, he walked a whopping 40 batters. Luckily, he’s escaped these tough innings with a 4.07 ERA. In order to keep his role on the team, he’ll need to prove himself in Spring Training.
In the Ian Kinsler trade, the Red Sox shipped off relievers Ty Buttrey and Williams Jerez. So far, there’s been some mixed results. Buttrey was spectacular in his 15 innings as an Angel, but got tossed around by the devastating Astros offense, coughing up four runs without recording an out. Even with that blow-up appearance, he’s been very effective in his stint overall. He leads the team with 11.15 K/9 and has put up a 2.93 ERA. Jerez, on the other hand, is looking like an early bust. He’s pitched 12.1 innings to the tune of an unholy 8.76 ERA. It’s a small sample size, but Buttrey clearly looks more effective.
With veterans Martin Maldonado and Rene Rivera shipped off to Houston and Atlanta, respectively, the Angels have gone with a rookie tandem behind the dish. First is Francisco Arcia, who has been mediocre between two historic performances. He set social media ablaze with 10 RBI in his first 2 games at the big leagues, and recently caught, hit a home run, and pitched in a 21-3 blowout against Oakland. On the year though, he’s hit a dismal .228 with 6 home runs. He wasn’t a highly coveted prospect before, so we may not see him again much next year. Jose Briceno has been the other part of the platoon, and has been more or less at the same level of production. He’s slashed .236/.286/.368, and is also a short term piece for now. It’s likely that the Angels will have to acquire two catchers this offseason to fill what has been a bit of a black-hole of production.
There isn’t much to say about Jose Miguel Fernandez thus far. At 30 years old, he’s much wiser than your average rookie. One thing of note is that Mike Scioscia has batted him second and fourth in the lineup recently, perhaps showing more trust in him. It’s not likely that he’ll contend for a starting gig next year but he could be a call up away from rejoining the big league team.
Now, onto the ugly performances. Third baseman Taylor Ward was called up to replace -0.9 WAR Luis Valbuena, but hasn’t been much of an upgrade. In 115 at bats, Ward has hit to an ugly .165/.232/.270 slash, only collecting 19 hits along the way. He’s been especially ineffective in the last seven days, only collecting one hit in 17 at bats. His strong 2018 at the minor league level likely gives him another shot, but it’s evident that he is not ready for big league pitching. As Justin Anderson (the SMR writer, not the pitcher) would say, “Ooof.” Outfielder Michael Hermosillo hasn’t been much better. In just over 50 at bats, he’s just collected 11 hits, one of them leaving the ballpark. After his prospect stock rose last year, it is a bit of a disappointment that he hasn’t produced much.
Despite the several players promoted to the big leagues, the Angels have some reinforcements who could compete for a roster spot next year.
Even though he is just 19 years old, Jo Adell has proved that he is the real deal. Speeding through three teams in 2018, the Center-fielder put up some gaudy numbers. With a slash-line of .290/.355/.583 and 20 home runs, he’s far exceeded expectations. His ETA is set at 2021, but with Mike Trout’s contract fading away and teenager Juan Soto’s astronomical success, anything could happen.
A more realistic 2018 big league breakout is starting pitcher Griffin Canning. At 22 years old, the righty impressed with a 3.65 ERA and 125 Ks in 113.1 IP. He began the year with the Inland Empire 66ers but has leapfrogged towards Salt Lake to wrap up the year. Durability was a huge issue for the Halos this year, so having Canning join the big league club at midseason is a real possibility.
First base left a lot to be desired this year, so Matt Thaiss may be able to fit the bill next year. The left handed slugger hit 16 bombs (career high) along with a respectable .280/.335/.465 slash. The only question here is how many opportunities he’d receive at the big league level. Albert Pujols isn’t exactly the most durable option at First Base, but Ohtani’s increased at bat total forces him to reside there. Thaiss will need a strong Spring Training to pry away at bats.
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