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2017 Angels season preview: A real, major league bench!

The Angels are primed to weather any potential injury storm after Billy Eppler invested in some much needed depth.

Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim v Los Angeles Dodgers Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

Drew Butera. Kyle Kubitza. Taylor Featherston. Dan Robertson. Todd Cunningham. No, these are not random guys from accounting. These are real baseball players and the Angels gave them actual major league at bats the last two seasons. While no one should hold these otherwise fine gentlemen accountable for the Angels’ lack of success over that time (please see left field, second base and a wave of injuries to the pitching staff), there is no doubt they left some wins on the field by giving too much playing time to guys who should be Indy League All-Stars.

Perhaps the most notable addition to the bench, Ben Revere is a name the Angels have long been connected to as they looked to fill their void in left field. A trade could never be consummated and he was finally dealt instead to the Toronto Blue Jays for their stretch run in 2015, then flipped again to the Washington Nationals last offseason.

Slated to be their lead-off man and starting center fielder, Revere suffered an oblique injury in his very first plate appearance as a National, missing more than a month. He never did find his stroke after returning and was effectively replaced in the line-up by rookie sensation Trea Turner.

When he is right, Revere is an absolute burner on the base paths, topping 30 stolen bases four times in his career, with a career-best 49 with the Phillies in 2014. He also paced the league in hits that year with 184. In fact, he hit over .300 every year from 2013-2015. He has zero power — no home runs in his first four seasons, with only six total in his career — so all his value comes via his ability to slap the ball around and use his legs.

Pitchers will challenge Revere and he is happy to take advantage, connecting on balls in the zone at a 96.6% clip in his career. For comparison, Yunel Escobar made contact with pitches in the zone 94% of the time last season, good enough for 8th in all of baseball. This all adds up to consistently high BAbip’s for Revere, giving him a league average OBP despite a lack of walks. He will be a useful weapon off the bench as a pinch-hitter/runner, while also fully capable of stepping into a starting role should one of the starting outfielders go down.

Revere is not the only bench piece capable of starting. While he will begin the season on the disabled list with a hamstring strain, Luis Valbuena was brought in to provide power and patience from the left side, with the ability to play both infield corners as well as a little second base in a pinch. Like Revere, Valbuena lost a good chunk of last season to an injury (the same hamstring that is sidelining him now).

Unlike Revere, he was on his way to a career season, batting .260/.357/.459 through 90 games. His 123 wRC+ would have put him second on the Angels last year, behind you-know-who. When he returns, Valbuena will compete with C.J. Cron, Yunel Escobar and Jefry Marte for at bats. Batting from the left side is certain to give him a leg up on his competition.

Speaking of Marte, he is likely the biggest beneficiary of Valbuena’s injury. After a fine rookie year that saw him bat .252/.310/.481 with 15 HR in 284 plate appearances, the 25 year-old Marte is champing at the bit to prove he deserves a full time job with the Halos. Splitting time evenly between left field and third base, Marte provided valuable depth at the bottom half of the Angels’ batting order. He is arguably a better choice to start at third base over the incumbent Yunel Escobar, both offensively and defensively. Escobar currently has a stranglehold on the lead-off spot, keeping Marte at bay.

Batting .311 this spring with 3 HR, Marte looks to be a powerful option on the bench to start the year, balancing lefties Revere and Valbuena from the right side. If he continues to show growth with the bat, it would not be a surprise to see him earn a full time spot by the All Star break.

Eppler surprised us all when he dealt promising catching prospect Jett Bandy for veteran backstop Martin Maldonado. With heavy input from his former manager Ron Roenicke, the Angels brought in Maldonado for his pitch-framing acumen and ability to handle a pitching staff. He also does well in the more traditional catching metrics, throwing out 35% of would-be base stealers in his career. While his bat is likely to remind Angel fans of Mike Scioscia’s favorite, Jeff Mathis, Maldonado at the very least has posted above-average walk rates the last three seasons.

While many will point to the fact that he batted eighth most of the year, ahead of the pitcher, the same could be said about Mathis with the Marlins, where he has only 7 walks the last two seasons combined while batting eighth. Maldonado offers at pitches outside the strike zone roughly 25% of the time, a rate that would put him in the top 20% of all qualified batters. That is an impressive rate regardless of the hitter behind him.

Maldonado was not brought in exclusively to be a back-up, as Mike Scioscia has always had a penchant for splitting duties between his catchers. Returning for his third season in Anaheim, Carlos Perez is the other half of the Angels’ all-defense catching tandem. He took a step backwards in his sophomore season, batting only .209. Perez relies on making contact and has some occasional, sneaky pop.

He does not fare as well as his counterpart with the more sophisticated framing metrics, but he is will-regarded for his ability to handle the staff and shows off a strong arm, with a 38% caught-stealing rate in both his major league seasons. While the Angels have no pretenses that either of these gentlemen will contribute offensively, the three guys listed above provide them with credible pinch-hitting options should either’s spot come up in a crucial situation.

Rounding out the bench will be utility infielder Cliff Pennington. The opposite of exciting, the veteran’s lone role on the club will likely be that of backing up new second baseman Danny Espinosa. He may also see some time as a defensive replacement at third, though he played only a single inning at the position last season. Camp invitee Dustin Ackley is expected to accept his assignment to AAA, providing the Angels with a more dynamic option for their utility infielder role should he perform well in Salt Lake.

The former second-overall pick never lived up to expectations and saw his 2016 season wrecked by a torn labrum. He continues to recover from that injury, just recently getting into games this spring as a DH. If he shows he is healthy and can handle second base duties, he could provide a nice boost to the final bench spot in the second half of the season.