Runs have come at a premium for the Angels in the young season, to the surprise of few. Trout and Calhoun have expectedly led the charge, while Yunel Escobar has been up to the task as a table setter. Albert Pujols continues to be a feast-or-famine shell of his former self and will be cemented into the clean-up spot for the duration of the season, for better or worse.
The presence of Trout alone makes our front five among the best in the game. The team's biggest opportunity for improvement comes in the bottom half of the order, where virtually every batter is under the Mendoza line, with seemingly no hope in sight. With the team in a "nothing-to-lose" scenario, there are a few things that would at least warrant a try to make some incremental gains in the run column.
Add some Jett fuel to the catching corps
Carlos Perez instantly endeared himself to Angel fans with a walk-off home run in his debut game. He cemented his place in our hearts last season with some timely hitting, including a huge clutch hit during the remarkable come-from-behind win in Texas in game 161 last season. These feats might obscure our expectations for Perez, as Carlos has come back to earth a bit this year, batting a paltry .159/.229/.182 in 49 PA. While those numbers should pick up a bit as the season wears on, we would be foolish to think his upside is even the .275/.336/.388 he posted over three AAA seasons. Perez is best utilized as a back-up and should not play more than half the time.
Enter Jett Bandy. A year older than Perez, Bandy has hit at every level of the minors and looked very comfortable during this year's Spring Training. While off to a slow start in the early going at Salt Lake, he is still batting a useful .256/.320/.349 in his first 50 PA. All indications are that his glove is ready for the majors, while he has out-produced Perez at every rung of the minor league ladder. At age 26, he is ripe for the challenge of big league pitching. At the very least, he gives the team a shot at not being an automatic out in the lower-half of the order, which at this point would provide the offense some healthy gains.
Give the Ji-Spot a shot
C.J. Cron, pegged to be the other half of the Albert Pujols 1B/DH platoon and the answer to our middle-of-the-order prayers, has been one of the very worst hitters in the majors this season. While of course too early to draw any real conclusions, Cron has also never produced at a level that should allow him much rope to get things going. Batting .153/.242/.220 with only 1 home run, Cron has played a huge role in the Angels' struggles to generate offense this year. If we can extract any silver lining from his struggles, C.J. has appeared to put some work into his plate discipline, with a very good 9.1% walk rate, while reducing his K's to 15.2%. As we saw a few years back with Mark Trumbo, it is not easy for a hacktastic slugger to change their approach at this point in his career. While I applaud Cron's effort to be more patient, perhaps AAA is the place for him to re-invent himself.
Ji-Man Choi has only 1 hit in 14 plate appearances thus far, but has shown signs of where his true value lies, already drawing 5 free passes. His production has been similar to Cron's throughout their respective minor league careers, they just happen to get there by completely different means. Choi seems poised to get an opportunity this week to show what he can do, as the Angels will face several right-handed starters, prompting Mike Scioscia to get him some at bats. It will take more than just a handful of days to see if Choi can be a productive major leaguer, so Mike might as well give him every opportunity to see what he can do before the team decides whether or not to drop him from the roster. Getting Cron out of his way will go a long ways towards helping that cause.
Sending Cron down for Bandy would allow the team to use veteran backstop Geovany Soto as the right-handed side of a DH platoon with Choi. Before you laugh, keep in mind Soto has a 102 OPS+ in his career, an excellent number for a catcher. He has been very good in limited at bats this year, batting .304/.360/.478. Obviously he won't keep up that pace in regular duty, but if he maintains something close to the .246/.332/.434 he has posted through his career, it would be a definite upgrade over the rest of our putrid bottom half of the order. Mike Scioscia had Soto batting sixth yesterday, so the club certainly appears confident in his bat. A Choi/Soto DH platoon might be crazy enough to work.
The clock strikes midnight on the legend of Johnny G.
C.J. Cron has friendly company at the bottom of the offensive leader boards, in the presence of teammate Johnny Giavotella. Like Carlos Perez, Giavotella became a fan favorite last season with a series of clutch hits down the stretch. Of course, clutch is not a repeatable skill and with Johnny being just a hair below league average offensively overall last season, his margin for error would always be razor thin thanks to his spotty glove work. While he worked hard this offseason to rectify those defensive shortcomings, those marginal gains are nowhere near enough to keep him in the line-up when his batting line is below replacement level.
Veteran glove-man Cliff Pennington was brought in to be the club's steady-Eddie utility infielder, but has shown some signs of usefulness when allowed to take some AB's. While batting only .182 in 27 PA, he has played to his strengths by drawing walks in nearly 15% of those plate appearances. Pennington has not been a full-time player since 2011, when he batted a Giavotella-esque .264/.319/.369 with Oakland. While it would be unwise to expect even that modest level of production at this point in his career, we can at least bank on Pennington providing a slick glove at second to pair with our wunderkind at short. After all, if we have no choice but to settle on sub-average offense at second, we might as well be sure not to leak any extra runs in the process. If Pennington is truly awful at the plate, then we still have Johnny G. around to reclaim his spot. At this point, what do we have to lose?
While none of the aforementioned ideas are likely to turn this squad into an offensive juggernaut, they do at least hold the possibility of upgrading the lower half of the line-up from awful to just below average. With the top of the order doing their job and Pujols still capable of the occasional hot streak, that just might be good enough to leverage the team into contention.