Wednesday, February 3, 2010

by Brent Hubbard - Angelswin Senior Columnist

Lately there have been a ton of bench threads on the message boards, so I think we should discuss it here. And lets be honest, if that's all we have to worry about, the Angels are in really good shape.

In my quick roster analysis, I believe there are 19 players who are guaranteed a spot if healthy. They are as follows: OF/DH Rivera, CF Hunter, OF/DH Abreu, OF/DH Matsui, INF Wood, INF Izturis, SS Aybar, 2B Kendrick, 1B Morales, C Napoli, C Mathis, SP Weaver, SP Pineiro, SP Saunders, SP Santana, SP Kazmir, RP Fuentes, RP Rodney, RP Shields. That's 11 hitters and 8 pitchers.

Also very likely to get a spot is OF Willits, as he was tendered a contract in November and agreed to a one-year deal recently. I think this virtually guarantees him a spot, especially after the departure of Gary Matthews Jr.

In the 'Pen, RP Jepsen and RP Bulger are very likely to have spots. Yet they are not set in stone, just extremely likely barring injury or trade. Or possibly a surprising performance by another young arm may force a trade or a demotion of these two despite their success in 2009. Jepsen does have at least one minor league option left, and if he doesn't perform in the Spring, he may not be in the Major League Mix. Same goes for Bulger, though I don't think he'll stay if he doesn't make the team.

By my count that's 22 spots taken, 3 left. 10 pitchers have spots and 12 hitters, and because I think they'll go 14 hitters and 11 pitchers that's two bench and one bullpen spot left.

Here are the favorites, in my opinion, to make up those last two bench spots:

C Bobby Wilson. Mike Scioscia likes his two catchers, but being a former catcher himself would love to carry three if given the chance. What helps Wilson is that he is out of options, not as old as the other two primary bench options. Plus he played 6 innings of 1B for the Angels last year. Who remembers that game? Three catchers also gives Napoli a chance at DH AB's, without sacrificing the spot should the need arise for a pinch hitter late in a game. Probability of starting the season on the Angels Bench = HIGH.

2B Freddy Sandoval. What hurts him is Izturis's versatility, and Wood being out of options. Plus Sandoval really doesn't back up 1st base often. He has a .980 fielding pct there in 45 games in his minor league career. Hopefully Morales will get the vast majority of time at 1st, with Rivera, Wood and even Matsui and Napoli all major league options who could back up 1st though their collective experience at the position is not very high. Wood should be the primary defensive backup at 1st base. Sandoval then really only plays 2B and 3B, which Macier also does quite well, and he's 28 years old in 2010. Probability = MEDIUM

OF Terry Evans is old for his league, but offers something Willits doesn't: Power. He slugged .520 in SLC, behind only Wood, Sean Rodriguez, and a short stint by 2B Jean Segura who will most likely be at Rancho/Arkansas to start the season. He doesn't cover CF as well as Willits, which is why I think they offered Willits a contract. Otherwise, I think Willits would've been non-tendered. Also had Sean Rodriguez not been traded, Willits would've been non-tendered, as Sean can play OF and all INF Positions. Yet as Willits is likely to start the season on the roster and with 5 OF on the roster, I don't know if Evans will stick. Even though he nearly led the Bees in HR and SB. Yet I do think he is a better bench option than Sandoval. Probability = MEDIUM

Other options include: Mark Trumbo. Power. Plays 1st and OF. Probably will see some time in Anaheim in 2010, but isn't likely to make the team out of spring training, barring an excellent ST showing and a trade. He is a Likely September Call Up. LOW Chance, but his power makes things interesting.

OF Chris Petit. A bit banged up, according to a few sources. Not likely to be ready to start the season in the Majors, but could replace Willits if he is let go. I'd say he has a MEDIUM to LOW Chance.

OF Bradley Coon. Needs more AAA Playing time. LOW Chance.

OF Peter Bourjos. Same as above. Likely September Call Up. LOW Chance.

C Ryan Budde. With Wilson out of options, I can't see any way that Budde gets a roster spot over Wilson. ZERO Chance.

Hank Conger. Not Ready yet. ZERO Chance.

Nick Gorneualt. Signed to a minor league contract, but is not a realistic shot to make the team, at least out of spring training. ZERO Chance.

A mystery FA who gets a minor league contract with an invitation to Spring Training. There are a great many veterans who offer as much or more than Willits and Evans but also have significant major league experience. Two familiar fan favorites top the list, both former All-Stars in Anaheim. MEDIUM Chance.

My thinking is that unless we get a veteran bat with power, which is a distinct possibility, the final spots are likely going to Bobby Wilson and Terry Evans.

And now to the pitchers: Again, let me reiterate that I don't believe Jepsen or Bulger are guaranteed a spot, and that I think the team will go with 14 hitters and 11 pitchers to start the season. That being said, there is really only one spot in the pen available for the following guys, unless they knock Bulger or Jepsen out of the mix.

Matt Palmer. Has to have the inside track for the last spot. Performed well in 2009. No options left. Can accept assignment to the minors, but may also be claimed if sent down. He did well out of the pen, better than as a starter, and is the likely 6th man in the rotation. HIGH CHANCE.

Brian Stokes. Obtained from the Mets in the GMJ trade. Is a legit option, but in a pen full of hard throwing right handers, may get lost in the shuffle. Is out of options, but not yet eligible for major league arbitration. MEDIUM CHANCE.

Sean O'Sullivan. Young. Very Young. Yet did well before not doing well in 2009. Still think he needs a full year at AAA, but he is a likely candidate in the event of an injury, after Palmer, to be in the rotation either for a spot start or for a longer term fill-in. Not really a Bull Pen Candidate. LOW CHANCE.

Trevor Bell. Likely at AAA, he did well out of the pen, and well in SLC starting and is still really young. If Palmer is not with the organization, I think Bell or SOS is the legit 6th man candidate despite their struggles last year as starters. He will likely be called up only if a starting pitcher is injured, rather than for a spot start. I think Palmer then SOS are probably ahead of him on the depth chart, yet I give Bell the highest chance of the above four to be on the staff in 2011, because he can start and can also pitch in relief. LOW CHANCE.

Ok so those are the names you have to figure are in the likely mix in the last spot in the pen, but here are some longshots who could displace Jepsen or Bulger or possibly grab that 6th BP spot.

Rich Thompson. Been seen in Anaheim a few times before he is the most likely of two candidates to displace Bulger or Jepsen in the pen. We know about him, but forget he is still just 24. MEDIUM Chance.

Rafael Rodriguez is the second of the two most likely candidates to displace Bulger or Jepsen. Pitched 30 innings for the Angels in 2009 with a 5.58 ERA. Yet dominated he AAA. So, if he does well in ST, watch out Jason Bulger. MEDIUM Chance.

Fernando Rodriguez. He dominated AA, yet at AAA and in a short stint in the majors he didn't do so well. Yet a solid ST performance, and he is a viable bullpen candidate. More than Likely he stays at AAA for 2010. LOW Chance.

Robert Mosebach. Didn't do so well in the majors but had a solid minor league season in 2009. LOW Chance.

Daniel Davidson. Primarily a starter, and one who didn't excel in the minors, he makes this list as an outside chance, as he is left handed. Likely only on the roster in case of injury. OUTSIDE Chance.

Tommy Mendoza. Outside chance looking at his numbers but a lot of names are ahead of him on the depth chart. ZERO Chance.

Brad Knox and Anthony Ortega also have a shot, but I see a lot of names ahead of them as I do with Mendoza. ZERO Chance.

Jorden Walden. Needs a healthy Minor League season, though he could be in the mix for a September Call-Up however. ZERO chance out of Spring Training however.

Finally we get to 20 year old Trevor Reckling. The Angels have no reason to rush him but he will be in major league camp and he could make an appearance in the majors and maybe force a trade if he does as well as Jered Weaver did when he debuted in 2006. He is really young, however and I doubt he makes it out of Spring Training unless he just flat out dominates. DOMINATES. Then we'd have a big problem, but a good one, as working out of the pen doesn't really suit Reckling. He could do it, I suppose, but more than likely sticks in the rotation meaning one of those five would be traded. And they already have two left-handed starters. We'll see him in AA/AAA this year, but will we see him in Anaheim before September? Maybe. LOW Chance out of ST.

This is by no means a comprehensive list of options, just an examination of a lot more than people seem to think are in the mix.

My prediction is that we see Bulger and Jepsen hang on to their spots in the pen, with the final spot going to Matt Palmer.

So your 2010 Angels look like (at least in April) this:

1B: Morales
2B: Kendrick, Izturis
SS: Aybar
3B: Wood
OF: Rivera, Abreu, Hunter, Willits, Evans
C: Napoli, Mathis, Wilson
DH: Matsui
SP: Weaver, Saunders, Pineiro, Santana, Kazmir
RP: Fuentes, Rodney, Shields, Jepsen, Bulger, Palmer.
Love to hear what you think!


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