Thursday, December 25, 2014

By Robert Cunningham, - 

Best Guess 2015 Bench and 40-Man Roster Players

Positional versatility, effective platooning, efficient stealing and base running, solid defense, and productive at-bats are all ideal characteristics of a good bench player. However it is extremely rare to find a bench piece that can give you all of those things (and let’s be honest if they did they wouldn’t be on the bench!).

Josh Rutledge

Recently acquired from the Rockies for young fire baller Jairo Diaz, Rutledge becomes another potential piece of the puzzle at 2B now that Howie is gone.

In the Majors Josh has slashed .269/.323/.405/.711 across two and one-half seasons playing at mostly 2B and SS but also a bit at 3B.

This is a stark disparity from his Minor League slash line of .328/.386/.506/.892 across the same amount of time. However Rutledge is only 25 years old and perhaps part of his difficulty at the plate can be explained by his timing and leg kick when in the batter’s box.

One really interesting detail regarding Josh’s Minor League numbers was his unusually high BABIP (over .380). His Minor League line drive percentage (LD%) was pretty normal and his groundball percentage was high but not absurdly so.

The only two reasons I can think of that explain that high BABIP number are either a) he consistently faced really poor defensive teams (very doubtful) or b) Rutledge is very adept at bat control and finding a hole to hit the ball through.

Speaking of defense, Rutledge’s defense at SS was below average. He is not someone you want in the most critical defensive position on the field.

At 2B his defense should be a bit above average and considering his MLB experience he likely has the inside track out of the current group of candidates that Jerry Dipoto has assembled.

Unless Green, Stamets, Yarbrough, or Featherston blow him out of the water or we find another 2B candidate, Rutledge looks like our starting 2B in 2015.

Educated Guess: Barring another 2B acquisition, Rutledge will be our 2B to begin the season. If Featherston has a good Spring Training he’ll be our backup utility player, otherwise he will probably be offered back to the Rockies. Assuming the former, regarding Taylor, Green will start the season in the Minors along with Yarbrough and Stamets.

The good news about that situation is that we will have a LOT of depth at the position. If one goes down you just call up the hot hand at the moment and let them run with it.

Grant Green

As a 1st round draft pick (13th overall) in 2009, Grant Green profiled as a possible shortstop who could hit for average with a bit of pop in his bat from the right side. Since that time Grant has bounced from second base to third base to first base and recently even some left field.

Players and coaches always like to stress repetition at the plate and in the field and it really seems that Jerry Dipoto wants Green to play a super-utility role, especially when facing LHP, to get him those repetitions.

By having Grant consistently substitute in at 3B, 2B, 1B, and LF, he can get a consistent amount of plate appearances where his above average bat can spell the regular position players 3-5 times a week.

One quality aspect of Grant’s offensive profile, in the Minors from 2011-2014, is his ability to hit line drives (21%) and put balls on the ground (45.9%).

Batters with high line drive and groundball rates generally have higher BABIP’s because the former tend to rapidly fall in to the field of play more often and the latter tend to find holes in the infield defense.

Combine this with his 16.7% strikeout and 6.4% walk rates and you begin to get a feel and understanding of how versatile a hitter Green can really be.

Grant could, if he makes the team out of camp, be a possible extension candidate, too, with the Angels buying out his remaining arbitration years and, possibly, attaching an additional option year.

An extension contract of 5-years/$17MM-20MM plus an option year of $8MM-10MM might be viable due to Green’s projected utility playing time and his age.

The only roadblock to a possible extension would be Grant’s agent, Scott Boras, who generally advises his clients to advance to free agency. He would be 32 years old if he stayed the remaining five years and hit free agency.

It seems likely that if the Angels approached him with a guaranteed extension that he would jump at the opportunity to secure his first real payday.

Then after the contract expires (whether it is 5 years or more) he could find another shorter-term contract on the open market to supplement his career earnings.

No matter what, Grant is club-controlled for the next five years. He is at the league minimum in 2015 & 2016 and hits arbitration in the three remaining years.

The Angels could just simply avoid an extension and let him play for the next 3-4 years and then trade him. The arbitration process doesn’t particularly favor utility types getting big raises so the latter route might be best for team payroll and future trade value.

Educated Guess: Before the Featherston and Giavotella acquisitions, Grant looked very likely to fill a super-utility role in 2015, substituting mainly at 2B, 3B, and LF with an occasional start at SS and maybe 1B.

However, because of Featherston’s status as a Rule V pick requiring him to stay on the 25-man roster and Giavotella’s MLB experience, Grant, who still has options, might find himself starting the year in the Minors.

Collin Cowgill

When you can get 2.1 WAR out of your 4th outfielder you are living right and the Angels certainly enjoyed Cowgill’s production this season.

Splitting time between RF and LF with a touch of CF, Collin hit .288 vs. LHP and .215 vs. RHP across 293 plate appearances. On top of that he played above average defense and brought a great energy and attitude to the team.

One of Dipoto’s less heralded waiver claims, Cowgill is a great platoon partner for Calhoun and Hamilton and the Angels will likely do more of the same in 2015.

Oddly enough, during Collin’s Minor League appearances from 2011-2014, he hit RHP even better than LHP (.878 OPS vs. .842 OPS) indicating that perhaps Cowgill’s everyday playing ability isn’t being fully exploited.

Collin is entering arbitration for the first time this off-season and is likely to make somewhere in the neighborhood of $1MM which would certainly be justified. He is club-controlled for the next four years and is able to enter free agency after the 2018 season.

Educated Guess: Cowgill’s versatility is well appreciated by the Angels front office and coaching staff. It seems likely that Collin will be here at least the next two years.

If Cowgill decides that he wants a full time playing role, moving forward, then I don’t see an extension in his future as his arbitration price will likely escalate too high in his 3rd and 4th years of control, forcing the Angels to trade or non-tender him.

Collin should see most of his playing time in the corner outfield spots in 2015, mainly against LHP. He has certainly proven himself so far and his drive and energy will take him places even after his time with the Angels is complete.

There is a remote, outside chance that Cowgill could be traded. He certainly showed that he can provide value and teams take notice of those things, which could create a market for him.

Drew Butera

Defensive specialist Drew Butera was acquired from the Dodgers in early December for prospect OF Matt Long.

Based on Dipoto’s depth moves to acquire catching depth to date, it appears that the Angels preferred a short-term rental, in the form of Butera, to give catchers like Carlos Perez, Jett Bandy, Jackson Williams, and Charlie Cutler more time to develop in the Minors.

More importantly it creates a depth chart of six catchers all of whom are capable of playing at the Major League level.

To be clear Butera can’t hit. However he does control the running game well with a Major League career 32.7% caught stealing rate. As mentioned at the start he is also known for a good defensive game.

Educated Guess: Drew Butera will very likely be the backup catcher to start the season in 2015. There is also a strong possibility that if any of the Minor League catchers are doing well in-season that Butera will be traded, to a team in need, to accommodate a promotion.

Taylor Featherston

Taylor was recently selected by the Cubs during the Rule V Draft and was subsequently traded to the Angels for cash considerations.

Featherston profiles as an above average defender at 2B but is more likely slated for a utility role as he is able to play shortstop, although probably not on an everyday basis.

Because of Taylor’s Rule V status he likely has an advantage over Grant Green in snagging a utility role. Combine this with the fact that Green still has options means that Grant needs to have a truly outstanding Spring Training to beat out Rutledge or Featherston.

Taylor has some pop in his bat, is a reasonably good defensive player, and can steal a few bases as needed. 

Other Potential Bench Pieces

Recently the Angels acquired Alfredo Marte and Roger Kieschnick off of waivers from the Diamondback organization. Both can play the corner outfield positions but Marte seems more suited to LF than RF. Kieschnick was just designated for assignment and was sent to the Minors.

Alfredo, in his Minor League at-bats from 2011-2014, slashed .294/.360/.484, over 1,401 plate appearances, from the right side of the plate. Notably he had virtually no platoon split in that time (.846 OPS vs. .845 OPS, against LHP and RHP, respectively).

Additionally he maintained a 17.7% strikeout rate and 8.1% walk rate. He lacks any real speed to speak of but as a possible 4th outfielder he has a usable profile with some power (.190 ISO).

Kieschnick, in an era where power is declining, is quite appealing as well. Hitting from the left side he slashed .267/.327/.480, over 1,587 plate appearances, with a .213 ISO. Roger, however, has shown a more pronounced platoon split producing a .825 OPS vs. RHP and a .752 OPS vs. LHP. Like Marte he lacks any real speed but could easily be a backup outfielder, DH, or bench bat.

Kieschnick’s profile compares rather favorably to Mark Trumbo, too, as both are low OBP, high power guys, although Roger isn’t nearly as prolific a home run hitter as Trumbo was and is.

Beyond those two, Jackson Williams was also claimed off of waivers from the Rockies. Williams is a defensive minded catcher who hits from the right side. He will likely compete with Perez for the backup catcher role.

In the Minor Leagues, from 2011-2014, Williams slashed .235/.303/.365 from the right side. However against LHP he slashed .247/.330/.353. He won’t be mistaken for an offensive threat but his defense should make up for this deficiency.

Jackson has a career 37% caught stealing percentage so he can definitely help control the running game which the Angels badly need. Notably, as Mike DiGiovanna wrote here, Williams previously acted as Garrett Richards’ catcher for one season back in college.

Marc Krauss was claimed off of waivers from the Astros in early December. Krauss has certainly struggled in his limited Big League playing time but his Minor League slash line of .278/.375/.479/.854 certainly indicates that the potential is there for him to become an above average producer at the highest level of competition.

The Krauss acquisition certainly looks like an insurance type depth move in case Hamilton or Pujols goes down as he can play both LF and 1B. Marc’s Minor League ISO of .201 certainly points to some power potential for the left-handed hitter. Only more development time will tell the full tale on his career or lack thereof.

Daniel Roberston, acquired from the Rangers in late November, is a light-hitting speedy OF with above average on-base skills. Robertson hits from the right-side and is additional insurance depth as a backup fifth outfielder in case there are multiple injuries on the Major League roster.

Robertson can play all three outfield positions as well as 2B. His utility and low strikeout rate makes him an ideal backup player with the athleticism that the Angel’s front office and coaching staff like to see in their players.

Last and not least is Efren Navarro. Did you know that in 2014 amongst all AAA hitters with at least 100 plate appearances that Navarro ranked 23rd in BABIP at .381?

Normally you’d think that would be a cause of concern as high hitter BABIP’s indicate some luck was involved and that regression is coming.

However, out of those top 23, Navarro ranks 5th in line drive percentage at 24.2%. Additionally he ranks 3rd in ground ball percentage at 50.7%. Higher BABIP’s are sustainable when hitters have, in particular, high line drive rates as, stated above, more of those types of hits fall into play.

Efren, from 2011-2014 in the Minors, has a 23% line drive rate and a 44.5% ground ball rate with a .357 BABIP.

The bottom line is that he knows how to hit and his .313 batting average over that time frame is no fluke. His 14.5% strikeout rate and 9.3% walk rate resulted in a .377 OBP as well. Navarro does hit RHP better than LHP (.868 OPS vs. .715 OPS).

Combine these facts with his gold-glove caliber defensive play at 1B and you have yourself a very useful reserve 1B or even an everyday left fielder in a pinch.

Efren will never be a power guy but his ability to hit and get on base is worth taking a look at the Major League level. He will likely start the season at AAA but he will almost certainly be back up in the Majors during the 2015 season and deservedly so.

Best Guess 2015 Starting Bench

Taylor Featherston
Collin Cowgill
Drew Butera

The Angels will likely start the season with an 8-man bullpen to allow the starters to stretch out.

Featherston will be the utility option at 2B, 3B, SS, and possibly LF. He will likely get limited playing time at 2B, SS, and 3B and hit mainly against LHP.

Taylor is a Rule V pick so if he ends up having a poor Spring Training or the Angels don’t like what they see in camp he may go back to his original team. In that case Grant Green will take his place.

Cowgill will platoon against LHP in right and left field mainly. Butera will be the defensive specialist behind Iannetta.

Dipoto has designed the regular position players to get more quality at-bats against opposite side pitching. The bench is designed to substitute out, as needed, for the regulars when facing same side pitching to maximize platoon splits.

These substitutions help to rest regulars and provide semi-regular at-bats for the reserve players increasing the team’s ability to win games on a day by day basis.

In Part VII, the final section, we will discuss some observations, thoughts, and try to reach some conclusions about the Angels current state and what 2015 holds.
Love to hear what you think!

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