Let's face it - when it comes to First and Third base, the Angels have some of the worst defense in the league. Albert Pujols and his constant foot problems have pretty much relegated him to the DH role for the remainder of his career (5 more years) and Cron has to grow some more in his fielding.
Let's start with Third Base. The Angels have Yunel Escobar there for another year, and despite suggestions by many at HH to move him to second base, I'm not sure that will happen. Escobar is a great hitter but horrible defender. Plus, what do we do at the hot corner in 2018 and beyond?
3B: The ready/near-ready players:
- Yunel Escobar. The starting job for 2017 is pretty much his. The question really is will the Angels re-sign him past this next year? I think that's unlikely so he only provides us some help at third in the next year.
- Jefry Marte. Marte played first, third, and left field for the Angels in 2016 and he had a great year at the plate. There is some question as to how he'd perform in a full season and he's only signed through 2016. The Angels will probably offer him some more money in 2017 to keep him around (he made league minimum in 2016). The biggest question is where Marte lands in the field. Marte at least, provided positive defensive value in 2016 and he's under team control through 2021 should the Angels decide to keep him around. 2017 will us how much of a steal he was to snag from the Tigers and it's quite possible that our best shot at a future for third base will come not from our own farm system (for at least the next few years).
- Kaleb Cowart. This poor kid has had several shots now to impress at the big league level and he's fallen short with his bat every time. He's showed up some great defense but the last thing you want at third base is a defensive specialist who can't hit. If he doesn't prove he can hit big league pitching in 2017, he's going to be another Angels third base prospect who will likely have his book closed.
- Andrew Daniel. Daniel is just 23 years old and spent 2016 playing in AA. He had a decent arm and pretty good defense in general but lacks a lot of power a the plate. In the past, the Angels had been really good at drafting athletic dudes without a ton of power and Daniel fits this bill. He's not going to arrive until maybe 2019 and unless he shows off in 2017 and at the AAA level, he might end up as a utility player.
- Zach Houchins. Spent 2016 playing for the 66ers and hit 18 home runs in 134 games with a .262 AVG. He's got talent in the field and at the plate and could be MLB ready around 2019 (late 2018 maybe). He's got future starter potential if he keeps up his current career trajectory.
- Cliff Pennington. He's only around one more year if the Angels even hand on to him. It's unlikely he'd see a regular role at third since he's more of a utility player. I don't see him staying past 2017, if he even makes it to spring training.
- Gregorio Petit. Hard to a call a guy who's been in and out of the majors since 2008 a prospect. He's more of a middle infielder anyway and only played 4 games at third in 2016. He may be around again in 2017 as more of a utility player, but beyond that his future is doubtful.
- C.J. Cron. He's not going anywhere anytime soon so could likely be the man at first for the next 3-5 years. Cron is a negative defender, but he did show some improvement in 2016. He ranked 21st in defensive value among AL First basemen with 100+ innings, but ranked 6th in UZR near a near "above average" rating. He's no gold Glove caliber fielder and makes his share of mistakes, but he has room to improve. Cron is only under team control for 1 more year before he's arbitration eligible but I see the Angels keeping him a bit unless he blows up in 2017 which seems unlikely.
- Eric Aguilera. 26-year-old Aguilera is getting old to be playing in AA so we'll see if he gets a call up to Salt Lake for 2017. He made the All Star team this year and hit 14 homeruns with a .270 AVG before being shut down at the end of the season due to "attitude problems". This left hander is the nearest we have to a Cron replacement. He had future starter potential with an arrival of late 2017 or more likely 2018, but his future is uncertain with Cron on the roster.
- Matt Thaiss. Thaiss seems to be the heir-apparent for an eventual Cron replacement. He has a great bat and better fielding potential that Cron. He played rookie and A ball in 2016, but a High A call up for 2017 is likely given his skills and that he's bee 22 early in the season. Unless he skips a level, his ETA would put him around 2020 which could around the time Pujols is gone (if he retires a year early).
- Jefry Marte. He'll probably end up as backup there to Cron in 2017 but doesn't have a long term potential there.
- Jeff Boehm. Boehm has a pretty unlikely future at first base that got even more unlikely with the drafting of Matt Thaiss. He played 2016 in High A ball where he hit just .238. Unless he converts to a new position or Thaiss blows out, he doesn't have a great future in this organization at first base.
Like third base, there are few prospects at first base for the Angels but Thaiss was a big get in the 2016 draft and could replace Cron there especially if Cron moves to DH when Pujols retires (or moves on to another team by then).
Like Second Base and Left Field, Third base could become a glaring hole in 2018 depending on how Eppler fills the spot or depending on who steps up (or doesn't) to take on a full time role there. First base looks to be okay for now but if Cron or Pujols regress dramatically in the next few years, it becomes another problem spot without much help on the horizon.