With pitchers and catchers scheduled to report to Tempe, Ariz., by Feb. 18, it's time to dissect the Angels' 2016 roster. This is the fifth of a six-part Around the Horn series taking a position-by-position look at projected starters and backup options heading into the season. (Previously: catcher, corner infield, middle infield, bullpen)
ANAHEIM -- The Angels received above-average production at only one of the nine positions last year, and still they weren't mathematically eliminated until the final day of the regular season.
It just goes to show how many deficiencies Mike Trout makes up for.
Trout's career-high .991 OPS last season was 252 points higher than what the average center fielder provided and accounted for the only spot on the field where the Angels held a true advantage over the rest of the league. Even first baseman Albert Pujols (.787 OPS) and right fielder Kole Calhoun (.731) produced slightly below the Major League average at their respective positions, though those numbers are more favorable when adjusted for park factors.
The real issue -- the ongoing issue -- remains in left field.
Angels left fielders combined to post a .592 OPS last season, the worst mark in the Majors and tied for the fourth-lowest mark in the position's history. With apprehensions of exceeding the $189 million luxury-tax threshold, the Angels bypassed a star-studded free-agent class that included Yoenis Cespedes, Justin Upton, Jason Heyward and Alex Gordon. And because of their depleted farm system, they couldn't -- as of yet, at least -- swing a deal for an everyday corner outfielder.
Now, with 15 days left until Spring Training, the Angels are primed for a left-field platoon of Craig Gentry and Daniel Nava, both of whom have solid track records but are coming off disappointing seasons.
Nava, a .289/.368/.408 hitter with the Red Sox from 2013-14, played in just 60 games and batted .194/.315/.245 last year. Gentry, a .288/.365/.380 hitter with the Rangers from 2011-13, struggled with the A's in 2014 and spent most of last year in Triple-A. Nava, a switch-hitter who fares better against righties, would see the vast majority of the playing time in a platoon. Gentry, a right-handed hitter, would start only against lefties.
FanGraphs recently compiled all of the anticipated platoons for 2016. Nava and Gentry ranked 32nd out of 39 based on Wins Above Replacement projections, made by Steamer.
The Angels are a little more optimistic. They believe Gentry's speed and defense translates well for a role that would only have him start about a third of the time, even though his production against lefties has steadily declined over the last four years. And they believe Nava's numbers last season were largely a product of the hand injury that plagued him through the first four months.
"There are some things to kind of give you some confidence that last year was not the new normal to Daniel Nava, but more of an outlier a season to him," Angels general manager Billy Eppler said. "Hopefully he'll be able to do the things that I think he expects out of himself, like he was able to do in '13 and '14."
Regardless, Calhoun and Trout will have to carry a lot of the load.
For Trout, it's nothing new.
Consider: Since his first full season in 2012, Trout has compiled a 37.8 WAR, highest in the Majors by a wide margin. In that four-year span, the Angels, as a team, have compiled a 156.6 WAR. So, Trout alone has made up more than 24 percent -- for a club that used an average of 50 players per season in that window.
Still only 24, Trout is the first player ever to finish within the top two in Most Valuable Player Award voting in each of his first four seasons. But his RBI total dipped from 111 in 2014 to 90 in 2015, merely because of diminished opportunities. Trout received only 126 plate appearances with runners in scoring position, a number topped by 129 other players.
The key to the Angels' offense -- and their playoff hopes, perhaps -- will be to maximize Trout's opportunities. And that's where Calhoun comes in.
Calhoun has quickly established himself as an essential piece of the Angels' foundation. Last year, he won his first Gold Glove Award and belted a career-best 26 home runs. But that also came at the expense of a strikeout total that jumped to 164, which caused his on-base percentage to drop -- meaning fewer RBI chances for Trout.
"I want to focus on getting on base and being able to score a lot of runs," Calhoun said earlier this offseason. "That's what I want to do; I want to score, however that may be. This past season, I think my plate discipline could've been better."
Beyond the active roster Todd Cunningham, a switch-hitter selected off waivers from the Braves in October, could also factor into the outfield mix. The 26-year-old has played in 47 Major League games and batted .261/.325/.337 in Triple-A last year. He is perceivably in competition with left-handed-hitting first baseman Ji-Man Choi for the final bench spot. Neither can be optioned to Triple-A.
Rafael Ortega, signed to a non-guaranteed contract Dec. 1, is an interesting guy to watch. The 24-year-old left-handed hitter was once one of the Rockies' top prospects until injuries got in the way. He holds a .288/.355/.399 slash line throughout his Minor League career, stealing 192 bases in 703 games, but was let go by the Cardinals in November. He has options remaining.
Jahmai Jones is the best outfield prospect in the Angels' system, ranked seventh overall by MLBPipeline.com. The Angels drafted Jones out of high school in the second round of last year's Draft, then watched him bat .244/.330/.344 as a 17-year-old in their rookie-level affiliate. Jones obviously still has a long way to go, but he has quick hands and great athleticism.
Nick Buss, Quintin Berry and Andrew Brown were all signed to Minor League contracts and will report with the Major League club in Spring Training, as will farmhand Chad Hinshaw. Buss and Berry -- owner of the AL record for most consecutive stolen bases without getting caught -- are both left-handed hitters with speed. Brown and Hinshaw are right-handed power hitters.