By Robert Cunningham, AngelsWin.com Staff Reporter -
Third base is another area of concern for the Angels.
Freese is hitting free agency leaving the Halos with two primary internal candidates in Kyle Kubitza and Kaleb Cowart who certainly have the potential to win the spot out of Spring Training. Taylor Featherston is also capable of playing at the hot corner.
Kubitza has a solid hit tool, a line drive, gap to gap, approach, good on-base skills, has average defensive ability and tends to strike out a lot.
Cowart plays good defense and, during his hitting resurrection in 2015, has shown an ability to hit RHP well, although improvements against LHP are needed for him to be a complete player.
The danger here for the Angels is whether any of these players are ready for the role?
To develop an answer to that question and better understand their performance let’s apply the standard offensive benchmarks starting with ISO:
As was discussed in the earlier sections Featherston has a history of good power for an infielder.
Cowart has bounced back to his earlier power levels after his two years in the Purgatory known as Dickey-Stephens Park (I jest it’s a beautiful park with nice people!) and the trouble he had with his swing mechanics.
Kubitza has a nice, consistent, steady line on the graph which is comforting to see. Consistency of play in baseball is important to team front offices.
Taking a deeper look let’s examine BB/K ratios:
Again you see a pretty consistent line out of Kubitza who clearly leads the group.
Kaleb’s a bit all over the place but you can see, over the last two years, a steady increase in walks. The author personally watched a few of Cowart’s at-bats in 2014 and noticed the patient approach (he had two walks during that particular visit) so this improved aspect of his game seems real.
Featherston is a little tough to read here but he’s not quite as patient at the plate as the other two.
Finally let’s look at wRC+:
This is an interesting graph because, if you disregard Cowart’s abysmal 2013 and 2014 seasons and Taylor’s 2011 and 2015 seasons, all three of them would likely have similar wRC+ performances, albeit with different skill sets.
The only discriminating factor from this graph is Kubitza’s decent consistency on offense.
So where does this leave the Angels?
Cowart and Featherston bring the better defensive talent. Kubitza is most assuredly working on that aspect of his game but at this moment he’s a tick or two behind the other two.
However, offensively, Kyle has really shown a nice smooth stroke at the plate along with superior on-base skills compared to Kaleb and Taylor.
If the team focuses on an internal competition for 3B during Spring Training it will be a battle to see who comes out on top which is a positive. The only negative that could result is what happens if all three of these young players fail to impress?
That potential and very real scenario might push the Angels to consider an insurance policy in the form of a free agent signing or trade for a versatile infielder who can play 3B and 2B since these two positions are areas of concern for the 2016 squad.
As mentioned previously in the Second Base section, signing someone like Ben Zobrist or even Chase Utley would provide that insurance and allow the Angels the luxury of having prospects battle it out for a starting job and using the leftovers as positional depth.
To be clear it doesn’t even have to be a free agent signing. Players like Brock Holt, Derek Dietrich, and even Neil Walker (as suggested by Angelswin.com member ‘Inside Pitch’) might be available in the trade market and could possibly provide the same type of insurance the Angels might want and need.
Of course the Angels could simply go out and trade for another 3B such as Jake Lamb, Adrian Beltre, Manny Machado, or Nolan Arenado for instance.
However, after the Simmons trade, the latter two in particular are almost assuredly out of reach if they were even available in the first place.
Free agency is really thin with the only two potential considerations being David Freese and Chase Utley now that his team option has been declined by the Dodgers.
For comparison purposes let’s use our standard offensive benchmarks to highlight the differences across a sample of the players mentioned:
Clearly Arenado, Lamb, and Dietrich lead the graph although you do have to take Coors Field into account when looking at Nolan the last two years.
Beyond that the rest are clustered together except for Brock Holt who is in a different class, all by himself, at the bottom.
To differentiate further here is their BB/K ratios:
Just as we saw in the Second Base section, Zobrist towers above the rest of the field with his on-base skills.
Utley and Holt are next but they have slid, over the last couple of years, with Chase aging and hurt while Holt has hit the Majors for the first time.
The rest are clustered on the lower part of the graph and not unsurprisingly they are the power hitters.
Now on to wRC+:
Unsurprisingly to the author, Jake Lamb tops the graph. He has a great history of Minor League success and it may be difficult to pry him away from the rebuilding Diamondbacks.
Beyond Lamb we have, of course, Zobrist, Dietrich, Freese, Arenado, and Walker in the next tier with Utley riding underneath them by a hair.
Brock is all over the place but his on-base skills should hopefully mature making him a secondary or tertiary option out of this particular group, i.e. a utility player.
So what seems to be the likely outcome this offseason?
Promoting Cowart over Kubitza in the 2nd half seems to point to the Front Office having more faith in Kaleb’s phoenix-like rise from the ashes than Kyle’s league leading doubles totals down in the Minors.
However Kaleb has only shown one good season in the last three years and there still appears to be this air of uncertainty surrounding Kubitza that he can’t fully shake. The inconsistency and uncertainty seem like high risk factors for Billy Eppler and the front office.
To cloud the issue further Alden Gonzalez has reported that the Angels may try to reacquire David Freese in the offseason which would be the ultimate referendum on Kubitza and Cowart for the 2016 season and possibly beyond.
Signing David may prove difficult as this will be his first and possibly only time experiencing free agency and he will most likely want to ink the most lucrative contract possible.
If Freese does agree to re-sign with the Angels it will likely be a 3-4 year contract for $30MM-$40MM. The Angels could potentially include one or two, cheaper, team options which would have the benefit of lowering the Average Annual Value of his contract.
David’s leadership qualities and coolness under pressure have been espoused continuously throughout his time in MLB so the Angels may see greater value in that component of his game, enough so that re-signing him makes sense.
This would then mean that Kyle Kubitza and Kaleb Cowart would either a) have to find new positional homes or b) become trade chips.
Back in the Second Base section there was a hyperlink to the story that Kubitza was asked to start taking fielding practice at the keystone so the Angels are definitely performing due diligence in evaluating player positional flexibility to help guide their offseason decisions.
Also, no matter how you feel about bringing Freese back, there is an inherent advantage in re-signing David because, by removing the only decent free agent 3B on the market, it makes the value of Kubitza and Cowart rise ever so slightly in trade talks.
Beyond Freese the free agent market is a veteran wasteland of Who’s Who. Names like Mike Aviles, Juan Uribe, Sean Rodriguez, and Casey McGehee dot the landscape.
As mentioned above there are trade candidates the Angels could pursue but, in addition to those, the following Major League names could also be available including Jose Bautista, Martin Prado, Justin Turner, Evan Longoria, and Luis Valbuena.
Minor League prospects that might be of interest include Deibinson Romero (Pirates AAA), Richie Shaffer (Rays AAA), Brandon Drury (Diamondbacks AAA), Matt Skole (Nationals AAA), Yandy Diaz (Indians AA), and Colin Moran (Astros AA) to name a few.
Educated Guess – This one is tough to call. If the Angels are serious about re-signing David Freese it feels like it will happen by the end of the Winter Meetings once the Angels have or have not signed the “right player”.
If we get to mid-December without any movement on the Freese front then the Angels will likely pass on him and have Kyle and Kaleb compete for the job or bring in a non-standard free agent signing such as Ben Zobrist or Chase Utley to play the hot corner.
Author’s Choice – The reality is that all three of our internal options have varying degrees of risk and uncertainty heading into 2016. Although, in a perfect world, I’d love to get Lamb the Angels will ultimately try to re-sign David Freese on a 3-year, $27MM contract with two team options for the 2019 and 2020 seasons for $8MM and $5MM, each, to align with Mike Trout’s remaining five years of control bringing the total to 5 years, $40MM ($8MM AAV).