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OC Register: The 2023 Angels, position by position

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The Angels’ starters were a pleasant surprise last season, with right-hander Shohei Ohtani and left-handers Patrick Sandoval and José Suarez all repeating strong performances from 2021. Left-hander Reid Detmers also had a breakout rookie season, including a no-hitter. It added up to a 3.67 ERA, which ranked sixth in the majors among starting pitchers. The Angels bring back those four, and now they’ve also added left-hander Tyler Anderson, who was an All-Star last season with the Dodgers. The Angels plan to use those five starters as much as possible, with a sixth starter inserted whenever they don’t have an off day. Their options for the No. 6 starter and rotation depth are better than they have been in recent years, with left-hander Tucker Davidson and right-hander Griffin Canning. Canning was one of the Angels’ top starters at times before missing a season and a half with back trouble.


Bullpens are always unpredictable, and this year’s bullpen could definitely have a wide range of outcomes. Newcomer Carlos Estévez is in line to be the closer, with righties Ryan Tepera and Jimmy Herget and lefties Aaron Loup, Matt Moore and José Quijada working as the bridges between the starters and the closer. Everyone in that group has been an above-average major league reliever at some point in the past few years, so there is a best-case scenario out there in which the Angels actually have a good bullpen. Like most relievers, though, there are also questions about all of them. Estévez will be getting his first extended opportunity at closing. He had a 3.47 ERA last season and the Angels are banking that he’ll be even better out of the hitter-friendly environment of Colorado’s Coors Field. The wild card of the group is Ben Joyce, a 22-year-old who routinely hits 100 mph. He was just drafted last year, so he likely needs some more seasoning in the minors, but he could be an impact reliever by the end of the season.


The Angels built their infield to be full of players who could play different positions, so they can have a competent group on the field even if one or two are injured. They ended up with six players they view as everyday infielders. The only fixture is third baseman Anthony Rendon. Rendon has been hurt for most of the past two seasons, though, so the Angels now believe they’re covered if they need to replace him, with newcomers Gio Urshela and Brandon Drury. Both can play all four infield positions. Urshela is the first option to replace Rendon at third, and he also might see some time at shortstop. Drury figures to get most of his action at second base. Either of those players might also play first against left-handers if the Angels want to platoon Jared Walsh, who has been much better against righties. That leaves David Fletcher and Luis Rengifo, who can both play both middle infield spots. Rengifo is a switch-hitter who has been better against lefties, so he is expected to start whenever the Angels face a lefty. The biggest issue is that none of those players is a true shortstop defensively, although Fletcher is the best of the group. The best defensive shortstop with major league experience is Andrew Velazquez, who might not be in the majors.


The Angels are the only MLB team that has a single player essentially locked into the DH spot. Although Ohtani is one of the best designated hitters in the majors, the fact that the Angels don’t use him at all on defense sometimes complicates their lineup choices. They don’t have the option of giving one of their other regular players a half-day off at the DH spot. However, the Angels have a deeper lineup this season, so perhaps they’d be willing to give Ohtani more days off, allowing other players to DH.


Mike Trout, Hunter Renfroe and Taylor Ward form one of the best outfield trios in the majors. Trout obviously is one of the best players in the majors, a three-time American League MVP and a lock for the Hall of Fame as soon as he’s eligible. Even though he missed more than a month with a back injury last season, he still hit 40 home runs and produced a .999 OPS. Ward enjoyed a breakout season last year, posting an .833 OPS with 23 homers. The Angels traded for Renfroe, who has hit at least 25 homers in each of his five full seasons in the majors, with a career .790 OPS.


Max Stassi was above average behind the plate and at the plate in 2020 and 2021, but he regressed in both areas last season. He reworked his catching style, going to a one-knee setup, in hopes of improving his defense. The Angels still love the way he handles the pitchers, though, so he will get some leeway if he struggles in other areas. Logan O’Hoppe, the organization’s top prospect, is waiting in wings to take over as soon as his performance or Stassi’s indicate it’s time for a move.


The point of the Angels building such a deep roster was so they wouldn’t even have a real “bench.” Each day they will have a few players on the bench who also start regularly, like Urshela, Drury, Walsh, Fletcher or O’Hoppe. Not only does this make for a quality roster, but it also means that the player coming up to pinch-hit late in a game won’t be someone who hasn’t seen a pitch in four days. Perhaps the only true bench player will be outfielder Brett Phillips, who will get most of his action as a defensive replacement and pinch-runner.


Phil Nevin took over in June last year, so this is his first opportunity to manage a major league team from the start of the season. One of the challenges he might face is keeping players happy when many of them will be bouncing around different positions and sitting the bench more than usual. Of course, if they all stay healthy enough for that to be a problem, it will be a good problem.

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