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OC Register: Michael Stefanic hopes improved defense will win him a spot with Angels

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SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — Michael Stefanic has proudly taken over the role once held by Jose Rojas.

Both are Southern California kids who played at NAIA colleges and then received little or no attention as Angels prospects, despite putting up good enough numbers to make them fan favorites.

A year ago, Rojas finally got to live out his dream by making the big leagues, and now Stefanic is hoping to do the same.

“He’s been a huge inspiration for me,” Stefanic said from the Angels’ minor league camp on Monday. “Seeing him play in the big leagues gave me motivation to get there too.”

Like Rojas, the knock on Stefanic is defense. The Angels shifted Rojas around several positions in the minors before finally he was able to reach the big leagues when he proved he was able to capably handle himself at second base.

Stefanic, who lives in Arizona, said he’s spent the entire winter working out at the Angels’ complex trying to plug his defensive holes. He said he’s worked mostly at shortstop, but he views second as his best position. He’s also played first and third and a little in the corner outfield spots.

“Everything they’ve told me is my defense wasn’t there yet,” Stefanic said. “And so I have to live with that. It’s something that really motivated me to get better at it this year. It’s something that I’ve really improved on and worked hard on. The bat’s always gonna be there. So it’s now a matter of fine-tuning that defense to help us win games.”

Stefanic (pronounced Stef-AH-nic) showed his ability with the bat clearly in 2021.

A 5-foot-10, 180-pound right-handed hitter, Stefanic hit .345 in 21 games at Double-A Rocket City, then hit .334 in 104 games at Triple-A Salt Lake. Overall, he hit .336 with a .901 OPS.

“Offensively, I thought I had a great year,” Stefanic said. “The goal was to be an All-Star in Double-A and I ended up being an All-Star in Triple-A, so I kind of overachieved in that sense.”

Despite those numbers, Stefanic did not get called up to the Angels. Partly he was a victim of the rules, with rosters expanding to just 28 instead of 40 in September. Also, Stefanic said he played much of last season with an Achilles injury that nagged him, preventing him from being as mobile as he’d like on the bases or in the field.

That certainly didn’t help him among the prospect evaluators either.

MLB Pipeline did not include him at all in the organization’s top 30 prospects. Baseball America did not include him in the top 10, although they did identify him as the organization’s “best hitter for average.”

The Angels also did not add him to the 40-man roster this winter, which means he could be eligible to be picked by another organization in the Rule 5 draft, if it happens after the lockout is resolved. If a team selected him, it would need to keep him in the majors all season or offer him back to the Angels. It could be an opportunity for Stefanic, but he’s not looking at it that way.

“I’ve already got my hopes up pretty high for two drafts when I was in college,” said Stefanic, who received no signing bonus when the Angels signed him as a non-drafted free agent out of Westmont College in Santa Barbara. “So my hopes are low here. This is where I want to be, first and foremost. The Angels gave me that opportunity when no one other team did. So ultimately, I would like to debut with Angels. But, if the Rule 5 draft even happens, and if they take a shot on me, they’re not going to be disappointed.”

That attitude has made Stefanic, like Rojas, a favorite of those around the organization.

“He’s a tremendous makeup character,” Angels farm director Joey Prebysnki said. “He makes a big impact on the people around him. He obviously has tremendous feel for the barrel and contact ability at the plate. We’re encouraged by where he’s at and some of the stuff he’s worked on over the winter.”

Stefanic, 26, said he’s also aware of the cult following he’s developed among Angels fans.

“I read a lot on Twitter, for sure,” he said.

He is hoping that soon his fans will get to see him in the big leagues, which would be a victory against the prospect lists.

“I’ve never been really concerned with prospect lists,” he said. “At the end of the day, the (Angels) don’t have any money invested in me. I signed for $0 and a bus ticket to Arizona. So I’m happy to be here obviously. My ultimate goal is not to be on prospect lists. It’s to help the Angels win baseball games in the major leagues.”


The Angels are still having William Holmes attempt to be a two-way player, even though he struggled at both since the Angels picked him in the fifth round in the 2018 draft. Holmes, 21, has a career .645 OPS and a 5.55 ERA. He has never even played in a full-season league. Prebysnki said “the bullpens have been really encouraging, and he’s a tremendous athlete.” …

Infielder Kevin Maitan was once a top prospect, before the Atlanta Braves lost him as part of their penalty for international signing violations. The Angels then signed him, and his stock has plummeted since. One of the issues has been his weight. Maitan, 22, is still in camp with the Angels, and Prebynski is hopeful about his future. “His body’s in good shape,” Prebysnki said. “He’s done a ton of work in batting practice and being able to develop a more consistent approach.” Maitan had a .518 OPS last season at Class-A.

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