Everyone knows that pitching is far from set in stone and it may take all of spring training to figure out who will land on the opening day roster. However, there are other question marks, in particular, who ends up on the bench.
If you look at Roster Resource, the position player roster looks something like this, and it’s probably pretty accurate (barring injuries, etc.):
C Martin Maldanado
1B Luis Valbuena
2B Danny Espinosa
SS Andrelton Simmons
3B Yunel Escobar
RF Kole Calhoun
CF Mike Fricking Trout
LF Cameron Maybin
DH Albert Pujols
The only guys with options here are Calhoun, Trout, Simmons, Maldanado, Cron, and Perez. I can’t imagine any of these guys going down to Salt Lake.
This puts some pretty good players on the bubble, and some guys who are going to try to show their best MLB ready performance this spring.
Dustin Ackley - Ackley is suprirse - a former Yankee. Also surprise - another left handed bat (Eppler has been stocking up on those). It’s highly unlikely he makes the roster and will probably end up in AAA. Ackely is a good depth since he can play second base or corner outfield and he has plus defense. Ackley is out of options so once he comes up it’s do or die time.
Jefry Marte - Marte impressed in 2016 and he’s only 25 years old (26 in May). He could be the heir apparent to Escobar (if Cowart continues to struggle at the plate) at third in 2018 since Escobar’s contract will be up. Given that, the Angels may want to keep him in Salt Lake to give him lots of reps. It’s tough to see a guy with a 1.5 WAR last year (in less than 300 PA) get stashed in AAA but that will probably happen. Personally, I’d love to see Pennington sent packing to give Marte a shot, but Pennington earns 2.2 million and he can play all infield spots (unlike Marte). Pennington also plays into Eppler’s penchant for good defense.
Kaleb Cowart - Whenever I get frustrated with Cowart’s inability to hit big league pitching, I am reminded that he’s only 24 years old (25 in May). His defense is good, but he’ll have a tough job getting a roster spot unless he can start hitting. At some point in 2017 he’ll get called up again though.
Nolan Fontana - Fontana is another versatile guy that can pretty much play all the infield spots. Fontana has yet to crack a big league roster and hit only .195 in the PCL last year. Fontana is noted as a reliable defender but maybe not enough range for shortstop on a regular basis. He also draws a lot of walks and this former top prospect has a career .379 OBP in the minors.
Ryan LaMarre - LaMarre has options so is probably next in line for the 4th outfielder job if one of the current guys gets hurt (like Humpty Maybin). LaMarre has less than 30 big league at bats but had a good year in Pawtucket in 2016. He was signed to a major league deal so will be making 595k this year to probably start off in Salt Lake.
There are a few other guys like Eric Young Jr and Shane Robinson (both out of options), but they seem to be more destined to stay in Salt Lake for depth at the AAA level.
If Albert Pujols starts the season the DL, it leaves the door open for one of these guys - probably Marte to land on the opening day roster.