Earlier this week four former Angels were told that their services were no longer needed in Los Angeles of Anaheim, but good luck to you and maybe we’ll see you again someday. Those four would be pitchers Juan “JC” Gutierrez, Tommy Hanson, Jerome Williams, and third baseman Chris Nelson.
What is intriguing to me about these non-tenders is what the absence of Chris Nelson does to the Angels’ bench in 2014. If manager Mike Scioscia (thank you Roger Lodge for always making his name easy to spell!) goes with a six man bullpen, he will then have to select five bench players to fill out his 25-man roster.
If the position players the Angels have under control as of right now are who you can choose from, who are your five substitute players who make the opening day roster?
First off, you need a catcher because Iannetta isn’t catching all 162, so Hank Conger fills the first seat. You also need an outfielder, so superstar-junior JB Shuck gets the seat next to Hank.
Those two were easy, but what about the last three spots? The Angels don’t need a substitute first baseman on the bench because that duty would fall to Mark Trumbo or Kole Calhoun, and in that case Shuck would slot over to the DH spot or the outfield, so the Angels would need to have another outfielder ready on the pine.
That second outfielder on the bench is either going to be Collin Cowgill or someone from the farm. You want someone who is at least an average defender, who can pinch run and steal a base, and who can pinch hit to either (a) get on base to keep the inning alive, or (b) drive a runner in by getting an extra base hit or a sacrifice fly. Here are the 2013 stats for the three contenders for this spot on the bench:
- Collin Cowgill: 26 years old / .271 OBP / .374 SLG / 1 SB
- Matt Long: 26 years old / .371 OBP / .466 SLG / 20 SB
- Drew Heid: 25 years old / .393 OBP / .452 SLG / 7 SB
I would make a case for Long. I know that Long last year faced minor league pitching while Cowgill faced major league pitching, but it seems likely that he could replicate, if not better, Cowgill’s OBP and SLG. What makes me side with Long, though, is the fact that the Angels need to get back to stealing bases, and Long is the best weapon in that regard. In addition to the 20 bags he stole last season, he had 23 steals in 2012 and 34 in 2011. So besides the stolen base factor, why choose Long over Heid? I think that, in most cases, when deciding between comparable players, it is wise to put the older player on your major league bench so the younger talent can have more game time in the minors to develop his skills.
The last two spots on the Angels’ bench need to go to infielders who can play second base, shortstop, and/or third base. And again, this player ideally would be someone who can play decent defense, get on base, drive runners in, and/or swipe a bag. Here are the 2013 totals (minor league + major league stats) for the four leading contenders:
- Luis Jimenez: 25 YO / .320 OBP / .392 SLG / 11 SB
- Grant Green: 25 YO / .359 OBP /.454 SLG / 4 SB
- Thomas Field: 26 YO / .377 OBP / .459 SLG / 6 SB
- Andrew Romine: 27 YO / .353 OBP / .367 SLG / 16 SB
The first of the last two bench spots I would give to Romine. He’s the oldest. He’s the best base stealing threat. Sixteen stolen bases in a year isn’t that much, but he did average 23 stolen bases from 2009 to 2012. None of the other choices over that time span are even close to Romine’s stolen base production. His versatility is a plus. He looked completely comfortable playing second, short, or third. Defensively, he did miss some easy plays last season, but he made a lot of difficult ones. He played the bunt at third base exceptionally well, and there’s that spectacular diving catch he made after running into left field with his back to home plate.
Chris Nelson would’ve been a good choice for the final spot on the bench, due to his defense and the power in his bat, but he is no longer a choice.
None of the three remaining options is a threat to steal, but they all have a little bit of pop in their bats. Over the last four seasons, Jimenez averaged 13 home runs, Green averaged 14 home runs, and Field averaged 13 home runs. Field is one year older than the other two, so he has that going for him, but my choice would be Luis “Lucho” Jimenez. I give him the edge not only because he was solid defensively, especially at third base, but because he brought an energy to the Angels’ dugout last season that the team needed. He seemed to bring out a little fire in the team that has adopted a little too much of manager Mike Scioscia’s stoicism. Jimenez seemed to bring out more of the little general in Erick Aybar and more of the youthful joy in Mike Trout. So for that reason, he makes my 2014 Angels’ opening day roster.
A good bench that can be trusted to fill in for an injured player, steal a base while pinch running, or keep a rally going or drive in a run while pinch hitting can be the difference between winning or losing several games a season, which, in turn, could be the difference between making the playoffs or not. With a bench of Conger, Shuck, Long, Romine, and Jimenez, I’d say the Angels have more of a chance of winning those key games than not.