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Ruminations on the Middle Infield


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While it is probably the weakest element of the team--barring, perhaps, the lower half of the bullpen--the infield shuffle is one of the more interesting dangling question marks, as we go deeper into the season.

While we're only 12 games into the season, or 7.4%, some tentative observations are:

Velazquez is the best defensive shortstop on the team. And he's good - maybe very good. He plays with authority, fields cleanly, and just looks smooth. Evidently Joe Maddon agrees, because he's started him every night since he was called up. The big question is whether he'll be able to hit well enough to justify regular duties. So far he's been terrible (55 wRC+), but he has walked a few times and, well, it's early.

Maddon loves Wade. And it is hard to blame him; he's been rewarded with excellent performance (and a 145 wRC+) and a feeling of energy on the base-paths (despite some blunders). Wade is also one of only two Angels--along with Ohtani--to play in every game so far.

Maddon doesn't love Duffy. Or, at least, less than expected. It seems a bit strange that Duffy has fewer PA than Mayfield, Wade, and Velazquez - and presumably would have fewer than Fletcher if he hadn't gotten hurt. Duffy has the highest floor of the infielders, with a career .284 BA and .342 OBP, but he lacks power and speed, and is only adequate defensively. That said, all the middle infielders--aside from Wade--are playing a similar amount, but it does seem that Duffy is behind Wade and Velazquez on the depth chart, at least for now.

Further Considerations...

What about when Fletcher comes back? That remains to be seen. If Velazquez can get his BA up over the Mendoza line, it will be tempting to go with the defense-first combo of Velazquez and Fletcher, but they also might be the weakest hitters, unless we get the Fletch of Old. It might also be that Maddon continues a platoon, with five guys getting regular playing time - but who is the odd man out, when Fletch returns and the rosters reduce to 26?

Oh yeah, the guys in AAA. Luis Rengifo, Michael Stefanic, and Brendon Davis have all gotten off to strong starts in Salt Lake, so there's some depth to draw from. On the other hand, it is hard imagining how any of these guys work their way onto the big league club, and one or two of them might end up as trade fodder come July. Meanwhile, despite being the (or a) darling of Spring Training, Jose Rojas now seems at the bottom of the depth chart.

Summary

The strength of the middle infield seems to be quantity of mediocre to solid players, while the weakness is that there is no standout player. At least unless Wade proves he's established a higher level of play, Velazquez starts hitting, Fletcher returns as his 2018-20 self, or one of the guys in the minors is called up and plays well. Perhaps the reason Maddon seems to be leaning towards Wade and Velazquez is that he wants to see what they can do - Mayfield and Duffy are more known quantities.

Anyhow, the bottom line is that the Angels have a lot of middle infield options, none obviously good or ahead of the pack, but all with at least some value. What makes it interesting is that it is really hard to say how it will turn out - what formula Maddon settles on, and what the configuration of the middle infield will look like come the stretch run. This is very different than, say, the outfield - where the only real question marks are whether or not Trout is made of glass, and who will earn the largest share of starts among Ward, Adell, and Marsh. So many possibilities.

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On 4/20/2022 at 3:59 PM, Stradling said:

When Fletcher comes back put him at 2nd, Velazquez at SS, use Wade and Duffy in their current utility roles and dump Mayfield. 

I actually like Mayfield.

Unpopular opinion but how about we trade Fletcher? I'm sorry but after watching Wade and Velasquez play I've become less impressed with David Fletcher. 

Watching Velazquez on defense has been an absolute pleasure and what Wade's speed can do on the bases, and the fact he can drive the ball to the gaps, it has changed my mind on what little value that Fletcher brings to the team in a starting capacity.

I think Fletcher is a solid utility guy that every team should have. But is he an every day starter? His pop ups to shallow RF and frustrating. The fact that he can't seem to split the gaps due to weak exit velos & barrels, or even worse, take a walk.... He just screams backup middle infielder to me that can play around the diamond and make solid contact off the bench. 

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4 minutes ago, Chuckster70 said:

I actually like Mayfield.

Unpopular opinion but how about we trade Fletcher? I'm sorry but after watching Wade and Velasquez play I've become less impressed with David Fletcher. 

After watching Fletcher play I've become less impressed with David Fletcher.

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Once the 26-man roster is implemented, they'll still probably go with 5 middle infielders. With 13 pitchers max, which they'll presumably use, that leaves 13 position players: 2 catchers, 4 outfielders, 2 CI, and 5 MI.

Meaning, they can still carry all of Duffy, Wade, Velazquez, Mayfield and Fletcher. 

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If any of them get traded, my bet would be on Duffy or Mayfield. Someone needing infield depth might offer up a fringe prospect. If Velazquez can hit .200+, Fletcher even just splits the difference between his two versions, and Wade remains useful, they can flesh out the middle infield with Rengifo, Stefanic, and Davis.

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46 minutes ago, Chuckster70 said:

I actually like Mayfield.

Unpopular opinion but how about we trade Fletcher? I'm sorry but after watching Wade and Velasquez play I've become less impressed with David Fletcher. 

It's funny... whenever a player sucks, AW says "let's trade them" - as if players who suck are appealing to other teams.  We don't want them, but surely another team will...

20 minutes ago, Angelsjunky said:

If any of them get traded, my bet would be on Duffy or Mayfield. Someone needing infield depth might offer up a fringe prospect. If Velazquez can hit .200+, Fletcher even just splits the difference between his two versions, and Wade remains useful, they can flesh out the middle infield with Rengifo, Stefanic, and Davis.

Duffy and Mayfield types are a dime a dozen... teams can pick up guys like this without trading anyone.

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33 minutes ago, True Grich said:

It's funny... whenever a player sucks, AW says "let's trade them" - as if players who suck are appealing to other teams.  We don't want them, but surely another team will...

Duffy and Mayfield types are a dime a dozen... teams can pick up guys like this without trading anyone.

Not so much Duffy. Lifetime BA of .284, OBP of .342. He's a solid bench guy, and teams like proven track records. Mayfield, maybe. But if you squint just right, you see a guy who isn't the worst player to have as a fill-in third baseman if your primary guy gets hurt.

Meaning, Duffy in particular is exactly the type of player you can trade at the deadline for a fringe prospect (emphasis on fringe) to a team wanting to deepen their bench or who has an injured regular.

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The Trade Simulator gives Duffy a value of 0.7, and Mayfield 0.2.  To compare to Angels prospects, that's Alejandro Hidalgo and Adam Seminaris for Duffy, and Adam Whitefield and Kenny Rosenberg for Mayfield. Fringy guys - but Hidalgo has some upside, and Seminaris has a decent floor. Whitefield and Rosenberg are potential clean peanuts/minor league depth players.

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We have a nice collection of partial major leaguers. Each one of these guys does something well while also being quite deficient in another area. Typically these are utility players or backups. I think the key is going to be finding the right platoon combinations depending on the opponent and our starting pitcher. For example you might pair Velazquez with the most offensively minded second basemen. With Ohtani on the mound we can probably opt for a more offensive minded middle infield. Etc.

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