The Angels infield in 2013 should look largely what it looks like right now, barring a major acquisition, which is unlikely. All five of the Angels infield positions appear set for 2013 as of today, and it will likely be the same cast of returning characters from last season. Here, I review each position and see what’s in store for the Halos in 2013.
Catcher: The Angels don’t have a particularly sexy option at catcher as they do with some other positions, but what they do have is depth. Chris Iannetta is the likely starter going into next season, seeing that the Angels extended him earlier this offseason. Despite missing a couple of months early in the 2012 season, Iannetta was very good when healthy, especially when you compare his production to that of his predecessor, Jeff Mathis. When Jerry Dipoto acquired him last Winter, the idea was to increase the offensive output out of the catcher spot, and Iannetta did just that. In 79 games last season, Iannetta hit .240/.332/.398 for an OPS+ of 107. Those are solid numbers out of the catcher spot, and it’s reasonable to expect him to produce more power (.426 career SLG%) next season.
Behind Iannetta, the Angels have two logical backups in John Hester and youngster Hank Conger. Hester had a .617 OPS last season, playing in 39 games during Iannetta’s absence. Conger, who has been a highly regarded prospect in the Angels system for some time, has played a total of 79 games for the Angels over the last 3 seasons. Entering his age-25 season, now may be the time that Conger finally plays a major role with the team.
First Base: As it is right now, and for the next 9 years, Albert Pujols will be manning first base for the Halos. Pujols had a disappointing 2012 season by his standards, but he is still among the best first basemen in baseball. Defensively, he remains a strong option, saving approximately 8 runs in 2012. His 5.9 UZR was third among all American League first basemen. Offensively, Pujols’ strikeout and walk rates were significantly down in 2012, leading him to a career low .859 OPS and 4.6 WAR. Most of his value last season was held up in his power, as he had 80 extra base hits, third most in baseball. Despite his “down” year last season, Bill James expects him to bounce back, projecting a .305/.394/.564 batting line next season. Even if Pujols doesn’t bounce back and post numbers similar to his days in St. Louis, he is still a very valuable player.
Mark Trumbo should also see some playing time at first, but will likely spend most of his time at DH after the signing of Josh Hamilton, and departure of Kendrys Morales.
Second Base: Right now, the Angels projected second base situation has Howie Kendrick starting at the keystone for the 7th consecutive season. According to Fangraphs, Kendrick has been worth just over 18 wins to the Angels over the past 7 seasons, including a 6 WAR season in 2011. Kendrick had a down year in 2012 compared to his outstanding 2011, but he still managed to put up numbers roughly equal to his career averages of .292/.328/.428.
Beyond Kendrick, there isn’t much up the middle depth for the Halos, as they traded away prospect Jean Segura in the Zack Greinke deal, shipped Alexi Amarista to San Diego in the Ernesto Frieri deal, and let Maicer Izturis sign with Toronto earlier this offseason. The current projected back-up to both Kendrick and Erick Aybar is prospect Andrew Romine, with the recently acquired Thomas Fields and Brendan Harris on the outside looking in. Romine, who has been on the radar for some time, has played in 27 games for the Angels over the past 3 seasons.
Shortstop: Over the past 4 seasons, Erick Aybar has quietly emerged as one of the better shortstops in baseball. In that time frame, Aybar has accumulated 13 wins above replacement, including 8 over the past 2 seasons alone. Unlike his Gold Glove award would suggest, Aybar’s defense is more on the average side than great. He doesn’t fare too well in UZR (1.5 since ’09) or defensive runs saved (7 total since ’09), but defensive WAR likes him quite a bit, as he has averaged slightly over one win per season defensively over his career.
Offensively, Aybar’s bat has the capability to hit .300 as he did in 2009, but he is much more likely to be a .280 hitter with a low walk total, resulting in a subpar on base percentage. And while he doesn’t walk much, he doesn’t strike out much either. His 11.0 K% last season ranked 7th in the American League. Aybar lacks power, but he still should be good for 45-50 extra base hits next season, coming mostly in the form of doubles and triples. His speed is quite an asset to him, and he led baseball in bunt hits last season and is a good bet to steal 20-30 bases at a high success rate. Overall, Aybar should be good for 3-4 wins for the Angels in 2013, and his presence will be warmly welcomed.
Third Base: When the Angels tried to experiment with Mark Trumbo at third base last season, I was quite surprised, as they already had a quality third baseman in Alberto Callaspo. According to Fangraphs’ version of wins above replacement, Callaspo has been the 5th best third baseman in the AL since becoming a full-time regular in 2009. He also has the second lowest strikeout rate of all third basemen in baseball over that span. Over the past two seasons, he has averaged a 3.2 WAR while adding plenty of walks and doubles. Callaspo had a unsually low BABIP (.268) in 2012, making his .252 batting average and .331 OBP somewhat misleading. While we shouldn’t expect him to hit like the 2011 version of himself (.288/.366/.375) due to his slightly high BABIP of .310, he should produce somewhere in the middle in 2013, likely along the lines of .270/.340/.380. Defensively, Callaspo is an above average third baseman. He has saved roughly 11 runs over his two full seasons as an Angel, while posting a UZR/150 of 8.8.
Andrew Romine will likely be Callaspo’s backup next season, with Thomas Field and Luis Jiminez lurking in the upper minors. Jiminez hit .309/.334/.495 last season in Triple-A and is probably ready for some playing time in the big leagues. If Callaspo falters significantly, Jiminez could replace him as the bridge leading to top prospect, Kaleb Cowart.
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