Pie in the sky, or so it seems to some. At least, that's how some have viewed my projections thus far.
So I want to take a little bit of time to address that and clarify something I failed to at the start of all of this: The numbers you're all viewing right now, for all players, are my raw projected numbers. These are not my FINAL numbers; those will come in the composite projection article I'll be posting once all parts have been posted (there will be two more parts following this one, and then the composite). In the composite article will be my finalized projections (which take into account several other factors, including deeper analysis of particular patterns unique to each individual player). In other words, these are the first draft before the final copy.
Now that that's over and done with, let's move on to the bench!
The bench appears very interesting because of something a bit unusual that we haven't been to used to: a wider scope of competition. The past couple of seasons have been pretty set as far as the bench is concerned. 2014 appears different in that there is only one spot that is locked down, and that belongs to Hank Conger. The three other spots could go to a variety of guys; J.B. Shuck, Collin Cowgill, Brennan Boesch, Matt Long, Kyle Hudson, Shawn O'Malley, Andrew Romine, John McDonald, Tommy Field, Jimmy Swift, Grant Green, Luis Jimenez, John Hester, Luis Martinez, Yorvit Torrealba, Ian Stewart, Chad Tracy and Carlos Pena are all in competition for three roles. So you can sense the slight difficulty in really predicting who of the bunch will occupy the final three spots.
So I took my shot at it. We'll start, however, with the one certainty on this year's bench.
HANK CONGER, CATCHER
2013: .249/.310/.403, 7 HR, 21 RBI, 101 OPS+, 1.1 WAR, career-high 92 games played
What became very clear last season was that we have a catching platoon on the very near horizon. Chris Iannetta and Hank Conger will almost certainly be continuing that platoon this season; last season the duo caught every inning of Angels baseball, a sign both of durability and of confidence in the two. This will mean almost certainly that we will lose John Hester from our farm system (he is out of options and, barring an amazing spring, will not likely make the team), leaving a twosome of Luis Martinez and Yorvit Torrealba in AAA Salt Lake. Aside from the other guys, however, does 2014 see continued growth for young Hyun Choi from Federal Way?
Realistically speaking, we could've inserted Conger as our full-time DH with occasional catching duties, and gotten similar results to what Raul Ibanez could give us, for a few million dollars less, which would've allowed us to keep Hester on the roster. However, this should work just fine, as DHing Conger would waste the defensive value he wound up providing last season. A slightly improved slash line makes for confirmation in the team's trust in the catching platoon they have in place. Conger could even wind up starting at catcher in 2015 (or sometime during this coming season if Iannetta slumps). This season will be the harbinger of Conger's future with the team, and if it goes anything like the above, the future looks alright.
CARLOS PENA, FIRST BASE/DESIGNATED HITTER
2013: .207/.321/.346, 8 HR, 25 RBI, 86 OPS+, 89 games with HOU/KC
He hasn't quite been able to recapture his glory years with Tampa Bay from 2007-09, when he hit 116 home runs, 323 RBI, and posted a slash of .252/.377/.553. He has, however, consistently played out as a "three true outcomes" player, which wouldn't be a bad thing to have on the bench (as the team did with Russell Branyan in 2011). He'll be had relatively on the cheap, costing the team $1 million if he makes the major league roster. Can he bring his 3TO magic to the Angels and find himself as a reliable option to rest Albert Pujols and Raul Ibanez every now and again?
Maybe he just would've been a better option than Ibanez altogether. This is pretty reliable coming off of the bench, though a bit questionable. He hasn't posted a batting average above .247, in any capacity, since 2008, so this is expecting a lot. Although many of my projections serve as a middle ground, this one could be more of a ceiling just from the looks of it. As I said, I'll be reevaluating my math and my methods before I post the composite projection. If we COULD get this out of Pena, though...talk about re-establishing your market value. He could net himself a starting job elsewhere after this season for pretty good money. Again, as a bench bat, this is amazing, even if unlikely.
ANDREW ROMINE, INFIELDER
2013: .259/.308/.287, 71 OPS+, 0.3 dWAR, career-high 47 games
With a comedy of injuries at the hot corner last season, Romine got his first extended look as an Angel last season. After the trade of Alberto Callaspo and injuries to Luis Jimenez and Chris Nelson, Romine got his chance as a starter towards the end of August last season, and though his bat still has plenty more to develop (i.e. hitting something other than singles and the occasional double), his glove did not disappoint. He didn't JUST play third base last season, seeing occasional time at shortstop with some second base sprinkled in, and even turning in a Jim Edmonds-style play at shortstop last season. Romine is out of options, and figures to have the inside track to the reserve infield spot on the bench. And although I wouldn't count out the likes of John McDonald, Grant Green, Luis Jimenez or even career-minor league speedster Shawn O'Malley, in the end Romine appears the likeliest of the bunch.
He actually has a substantial total of extra base-hits! Yes! This is awesome! He was never really much of an XBH guy in the minors (his triples totals were nice, but doubles and home runs weren't exactly his norm), but the fact that one of each kind will finally translate to the big leagues? Sweet. I think his defense is what will win him the spot out of spring, and I think he finally becomes a bench mainstay and primary injury sub. If he can brush up on his pinch-hitting and raise his slash a little bit, he can be the new Maicer Izturis.
J.B. SHUCK, OUTFIELDER
2013: .293/.331/.366, 98 OPS+, 129 games, 5th in AL ROY voting
Love him or hate him, let's face it. He pretty much earned his spot on the roster, and the outfield bench spot is basically his to lose. He was indeed 3rd on the team in batting average last season...and that's about where his value ends. He's one of those intangible grit guys that Mike Scioscia just loves. He squeaked onto last year's roster by coupling his impressive spring with Kole Calhoun's horrible spring, and initially appeared as the fourth outfielder for the year, likely to fade away from the team after the season ended. Instead, Peter Bourjos suffered an unlikely string of injuries and Shuck became the team's starting left fielder. However, because his value is in his batting average, he's got a thin line to walk with guys like Collin Cowgill, Matt Long and Brennan Boesch chomping at the bit. If his defense doesn't improve or his average dips down to mediocre levels, he could be shipped back to AAA never to be seen again.
In the end, I think he starts the season as the team's fourth outfielder, but doesn't last. And it may not even be of his own doing. With guys like Cowgill and Boesch in Salt Lake, likely mashing away, one of them, or even a dark horse like Matt Long or Kyle Hudson, could unseat Shuck and his just-good-enough play. Cowgill's defensive value could be a preferred option. However, you can't exactly scoff at a .286 batting average coming off of the bench. If Shuck wasn't a one-trick pony, this call would be easier to make. And if he STAYS a one-trick pony, it could be trouble.