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OC Register: Angels add Justin Bour to the Albert Pujols-Shohei Ohtani lineup conversation


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LAS VEGAS — With Albert Pujols and Shohei Ohtani both coming off surgery, the Angels added a player to their depth chart to help fill in the gaps at first base and designated hitter.

The Angels on Wednesday agreed to terms with Justin Bour, pending a physical. The move gives them some coverage around the limitations of Pujols and Ohtani, who will be the main players in what will be a closely scrutinized issue for new Manager Brad Ausmus.

The Angels would like for Pujols to play first as much as possible, but he’s coming off knee surgery and will need time at DH to keep his legs fresh. Ohtani doesn’t play a position, so he’s going to be unable to get into the lineup at any spot other than DH.

Although Ohtani, who had Tommy John surgery, is not expected to be ready to hit when the season begins, he is likely to be available for the vast majority of the season.

In his press conference at the Winter Meetings on Wednesday, Ausmus began to give hints at what will happen when both Pujols and Ohtani are available.

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“There’s going to be a balance,” Ausmus said. “We don’t expect Ohtani to be ready (on Opening Day). There will be DH at-bats earlier in the season more available to (Pujols). And hopefully, he gets off to a hot start.

“But for me, the more delicate balance is how often can he go to first. That’s really the most important thing, based on the health of his knees.”

Pujols had a cleanup surgery on his left knee in August. He is currently cleared for light lower body workouts, and will be brought along slowly in spring training, Ausmus said.

Ausmus said he still holds Pujols in high regard as “one of the top five hitters ever in the game of baseball,” but indicated that history won’t play a role in determining playing time.

“This guy is a phenomenal talent,” Ausmus said. “But going forward, it’s just going to be his health and performance. It’s a performance-based game.”

Pujols, who will be 39 in January, played 70 games at first base in 2018, making room for Ohtani to DH. That was more than twice as many games as he’d played in the previous two seasons combined. The extra work at first might have contributed to Pujols’ knee problems. He went on the DL in July, before having surgery in August.

Around those injuries, Pujols hit .245 with 19 homers and a .700 OPS, in 498 plate appearances. Ohtani hit .285 with 21 homers and a .925 OPS, in 367 plate appearances.

Now, if the Angels want Ohtani to start at DH and Pujols is not healthy enough or not performing well enough to play first, they have an alternative in Bour.

Bour, 30, hit .227 with 20 homers and a .341 on-base percentage last season, split between the Miami Marlins and Philadelphia Phillies. He was non-tendered two weeks ago by the Phillies.

Bour has hit 20 homers in three of his four seasons in the majors. In 2017, he hit 25 homers with a .902 OPS.

While Bour provides a safety net when Pujols or Ohtani are unavailable, the Angels will have limited flexibility when all three are on the roster. Ohtani doesn’t play a position, and Pujols and Bour can only play first.

“It puts pressure on some of the other bench players to make sure they can really cover multiple spots,” said General Manager Billy Eppler, who would not address the Bour signing specifically because it’s not official.

As of now, the Angels figure to have four outfielders, two catchers and Ohtani, which leaves, at most, six other infielders. Andrelton Simmons is the shortstop. Zack Cozart, David Fletcher and Luis Rengifo can all play second, third and shortstop. Tommy La Stella can play second and third, and he is expected to work out at first. Taylor Ward is a third baseman.

Matt Thaiss and Jared Walsh are both first basemen, seemingly pushed down the depth chart by the addition of Bour.


Ausmus said he is currently leaning toward having Mike Trout bat second, although it’s obviously subject to change when the entire lineup is assembled. Trout has alternated between second and third for most of his career, depending mostly on the performance of the players around him. …

Ausmus has high hopes for Tyler Skaggs, who was off to the best start of his career before a groin injury spoiled his second half. “I talked to Skaggsy about it. I told him I’m going to put a little heat on it. I think he should be one of the best lefties in the league. His stuff is there. If he can stay healthy, he should be one of the best lefties in the league.” …

Finding a catcher remains one of the Angels’ top priorities, as Ausmus views the situation. Currently, the Angels have just José Briceño and Kevan Smith on the 40-man roster. “Billy’s looking into the catching very strongly. So hopefully something works out well where we have a guy that can do a little of everything but, yes, make our pitching staff better. That should be their priority because that’s where the impact is.” …

In his role as a special assistant to Eppler last year, Ausmus got several looks at players throughout the Angels farm system. He was particularly impressed with Rengifo, who he said is “very close” to being ready to be an everyday major-league infielder. Ausmus also had high praise for top prospect Jo Adell. “I’m not going to say he has power like Ohtani or (Miguel) Cabrera. He’s not far off. Different sound when the ball comes off the bat.”

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