Angels to take time on naming first baseman

Angels to take time on naming first baseman

PHOENIX -- General manager Billy Eppler knows there will be tough roster decisions to make before Opening Day, particularly when it comes to first base.

After signing Luis Valbuena to a two-year, $15 million deal over the winter, the Angels have a surplus of corner infielders at their disposal. The resulting logjam means that there will be competition this spring between Valbuena and incumbent first baseman C.J. Cron for at-bats and playing time.

Eppler said Tuesday that it's hard to say how the first-base situation will shake out. He expects to spend the next six weeks of Spring Training contemplating the decision, and said he is in no rush to commit to a resolution.

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"It's not something that we have to decide until the very end," Eppler said Tuesday at Cactus League Media Day at the Arizona Biltmore. "I'm very pragmatic with decisions. I like to wait until the 11th hour all the time, so we'll just see how it goes. You'll see plenty of Luis Valbuena, C.J. Cron and Jefry Marte, and a little sprinkle of Matt Thaiss early on. You'll see all those guys, but ultimately we'll save that decision for the last possible minute."

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The Angels' logjam could be alleviated if Albert Pujols, who is coming off foot surgery, is unavailable to start the year. That would allow Valbuena to play first, with Cron serving as the designated hitter. If Pujols is healthy, however, he will assume most of the DH duties, and the Angels will have to decide whether to deploy Valbuena or Cron at first.

Valbuena, 31, posted a career-high .816 OPS with the Astros in 2016 and gives the Angels a left-handed bat to balance their predominantly right-handed lineup. He has hit right-handed pitchers consistently well over his career, recording a .817 OPS against them over the last three years. Cron, a right-handed bat, hit a career-best .278 with a 16 home runs over 116 games for the Angels last season.

The Angels could platoon Valbuena and Cron, but the effectiveness of such a move would be hindered by Cron's reverse splits. Over his first three Major League seasons, Cron, 27, has hit righties (.273) better than lefties (.252).

"I think a lot of what C.J. has done is not quite a finished product," manager Mike Scioscia said. "He's been more productive against right-handed pitching. That's just where it is right now. But he'll adjust."

Cron and Marte also have Minor League options remaining, which gives the Angels additional flexibility down the road.

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Ricky Nolasco, Tyler Skaggs, Bud Norris, J.C. Ramirez, Yusmeiro Petit and Jose Alvarez were among the Angels pitchers to throw live batting practice on Tuesday. Matt Shoemaker is slated to throw live BP on Wednesday, which will be his first time facing live hitters since being struck on the head by a line drive in September.

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Eppler said he expects Shoemaker to clear the mental hurdle without a problem.

"We don't expect anything other than the normal Shoe," Eppler said.

Shoemaker said he's still in the process of deciding whether to use protective headgear this season, and Eppler said the Angels will respect whatever decision he makes.

"I think it's a player choice," Eppler said. "It's clearly whatever the player is comfortable with. If he chooses to do it, we support it. If he chooses to not do it, we know he's thought it through. It has been a conversation that's gone on."

Maria Guardado covers the Angels for This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.