At the beginning of last offseason, our own Jessica DeLine wrote a piece titled Second base is the new left field, detailing the struggles of finding a second baseman for 2017. And despite most being excited at the acquisition of Danny Espinosa on the cheap, Espinosa has not provided any of the elite defense, low .200s average, or 20 home run power that was projected of him. Saying that he’s having a rough year would be an understatement. Perhaps this is related to his swing change earlier in the year or not, but it’s clear that he isn’t part of the future of this middle infield.
I need not bore you with the gory details of the Angels’ 2017 second base production, but they are dead last in the hitting metric wRC+ with 55 (which means 45% worse than league average), second to last in Fangraphs’ WAR with -0.1, and last by Baseball-Reference WAR with -2.2. Needless to say, it’s been bad. Really bad.
So, how do they fix it for 2018 and beyond?
Prospects in the pipeline
Middle infielder David Fletcher is really the only second baseman in the system with a chance to play everyday; he’s doing quite well at AA-Mobile this season, slashing .291/.361/.352, increasing his walk rate to 8.4%, and lowering his strikeout rate to 11.4%. The knock on him is a lack of power, though he makes solid contact, has good range, and good speed. The arm is not a liability when he plays second base as opposed to shortstop. His role at the big league level will likely depend on how often he can get on-base, but we do know Eppler likes him a lot. At this rate, he’ll likely see some time in AAA and will make his MLB debut sometime next year.
In the first round of the 2015 draft, the Angels were most heavily linked to Scott Kingery, who is absolutely destroying double-A right now (OPS of .973). The Angels did not draft Kingery, however...
In triple-A, the Angels have Sherman Johnson, Nolan Fontana, and Matt Williams, but all three of those guys would be knocking on the door as utility options, even though they have shown a penchance to get on-base in Salt Lake.
Neil Walker is probably the best one there is, and with the Mets selling at the deadline, there’s a high likelihood Walker will be a free agent. He’s not a world-beater with the glove, but he brings a well-above average career 115 wRC+ to the table. Of course, he’ll be 32 years old and has had a back issue and now is on the DL with a hamstring problem. Still, his .270/.352/.468 is nothing to sneeze at and would make a tremendous addition for this Angels squad.
Brandon Phillips won’t get anyone excited, but he does exist. Jed Lowrie (.823 OPS) and Eric Sogard (166 wRC+) would be nice adds if there’s not anything better, but again likely wouldn’t get anyone excited. Longtime Angel Howie Kendrick knows how to hit and can play both second base and left field, which is an added bonus.
The trade market
This was heavily explored last offseason, with the Angels reportedly engaging in talks with the Padres and Cardinals, before ultimately trading with the Nationals. This could end up being the route the Angels go, but most aren’t proven commodities that would entice or excite.
It’s going to be a rough road for the Angels...the obvious decision would be Neil Walker, and even he has had his age and health issues. It’s going to be interesting to watch this development moving forward — let’s just hope that second base isn’t the new left field.