If you are an avid fan of high-spirited spring training competition, that can sometimes arise from a good position battle, save the sunscreen and perpetually frowned faces by skipping what's left of the Los Angeles Angels' camp in Arizona.
Unfortunately for the "Cinderella Stories" and the good ole' "Johnny Hustles," there is a simple message: a good chunk of the Angels' 25-man roster has been inked on the lineup card for some time now, practically before spring training even began.
Call it heavy spending, call it a dynasty, it is what it is—there isn't a ton of room for the feel-good story snagging an everyday spot.
However, with lagging injuries and the need for role players coming off of the bench or out of the pen, the last spots on the roster are still out there to be earned—maybe one, or two, here and there.
And the organization has less than 15 days to decide which players earn those coveted spots.
But, who will it be?
Who will be taking a trip to Cincinnati on April 1…and who will not? Albert Pujols we know, however, should his injury persist, his backup we do not. (Be careful if you are thinking Mark Trumbo right here.)
So let's take a look at several of the position battles, dust off the crystal ball and feather-tipped turban and toss out a few predictions.
The future says…
(Note: All stats were courtesy of baseball-reference.com unless otherwise noted.)
I had previously scribbled a few thoughts about the backup catcher situation for the Angels being more difficult and hindering as the season progressed, than some may believe.
Well, not much has changed since then; there is not a clear-cut contender to backup Chris Iannetta this year.
The hot pick was Hank Conger, who has shown the ability to swing a bat (.417 average this spring), but his throwing issues—a la Rube form Major League 2—has the team looking for other answers (h/t MLB.com's Alden Gonzalez).
And that answer looks like it will come from the waiver wire—which isn't a terrible dilemma.
Sure, there are two other options currently in camp—John Hester and Luke Carlin—but neither has impressed me enough to warrant any real chance of providing a solid substitute for Iannetta. And, again, Iannetta will need a substitute—besides the fact he has only caught over 100 games twice in his career, catchers just need a break.
However, his rest can't come at the expense of wins. Though Conger still has talent, especially with the bat, there is too much downside that can't be hidden over 162 games.
Prediction: The spoils of the waiver wire.
Had Bill Hall's calf issues not popped up, causing him to miss much-needed time this spring, the backup infield spot would have been a lock for the veteran.
However, the calf issues popped up...again and again.
And while Hall is left searching for answers—through an MRI—the Angles' roster spot for a utility/backup infielder is wide open. Luckily, it's not a real crucial area for manager Mike Scioscia; I doubt he is losing any sleep over it.
But, it still carries some importance.
The two surprises thus far have been Andrew Romine and Luis Rodriguez. Romine, much like Hall, has the ability to play multiple positions in the infield, making him the most intriguing and smart choice to come off the bench.
He handles the bat well, plays sound defense and, quite honestly, at times has made me forget who and where Erick Aybar is.
Rodriguez, although currently listed fifth on the depth chart for third base, has also shown promise. He has played decent defense, though nothing close to what would be considered above average, and is hitting .355. However, his ability to cover different positions is not as dynamic as Romine—or Brendan Harris, who is currently ahead of Rodriguez as a possible backup.
Prediction: Andrew Romine and Bill Hall (they need a veteran).
The outfield depth is one aspect for the Angels that looks really solid this spring—and healthy.
Peter Bourjos (.351 average) has erased some of the worry about his offensive ability, though he still strikes out way too much. And there have been interesting surprises like Matt Young, J.B. Shuck, plus...that one guy?
Oh, yeah, Vernon Wells.
With Josh Hamilton, Mike Trout and Mark Trumbo rounding out the obvious crop of players that will roam the outfield this season, that leaves one spot up for grabs.
I like what J.B Shuck has done the most (as I wrote a few weeks back), but that scenario looks doubtful, as the depth charts have ceased to include him.
Matt Young, 30, has been the biggest surprise—even more so than Wells—hitting .500 for the spring. However, like Shuck, I seriously doubt the non-roster invitee will have room cleared for his services at the expense of releasing another player. According to O.C. register's Jeff Fletcher, the club may use him if any of the other outfielders get injured, but that is the extent of it.
That leaves Kole Calhoun and Scott Cousins in a battle for the final spot. Unfortunately, both have not hit well this spring, making the prediction a little difficult. It really wouldn't surprise me if both of them were sent down to the minors.
However, there is always room for a speed threat on the bases and a left-handed bat coming off the bench. Plus, it's useless to weigh everything based on what happens during spring training.
Prediction: Scott Cousins.
The final spots for the bullpen carry the most "actual importance" of the position battles left to decide this spring.
With injury keeping Ryan Madson out for opening day, the Angels will have two spots to fill. Unfortunately, there has been an extensive list of random injuries besides Madson—the always-unknown battle when it comes to pitcher’s arms—and the crop of possible candidates has substantially shrunk (h/t MLB.com's Alden Gonzalez).
The hopefuls left in the tank—Garrett Richards, Nick Maronde, David Carpenter, Chad Cordero, Mitch Stetter and Kevin Johnson—all have qualities that would work.
Stetter would be the most experienced fit to cover while Madson is out, however, he is injured too.
Maronde and Cordero both could be a possibility, at least for now. However, Cordero seems to be more of a feel-good story, not an actual option, and Maronde makes more sense starting the season in the minors to work on his command.
That leaves only two pitchers who have the experience to help solidify the mid- to late-inning relief—and are healthy—currently, a key factor.
Prediction: David Carpenter (for now) and Garrett Richards.