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Billy Eppler wants fresh juice to fuel the Angels’ offense

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It was feast or mostly famine for his hitters. The GM hints that will change with a fresh harvest of ... um, tomatoes?

Texas Rangers v Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim
This little Fletcher guy don’t back down
Photo by Jayne Kamin-Oncea/Getty Images

Somehow, Billy Eppler got to talking about

Naturally, the media were curious, so Billy Eppler was asked why the Angels’ formidable offense seemed to run too short on runs far too often in a doomed 2018.

A pensive Eppler leaned on one of his “go-to” analytics — On-base percentage. Just getting to first base would help. The Angels ranked 20th in OBP across the majors, and that’s not bottom-third.

“We fell well short of organization’s goal in that particular metric,” Eppler admitted in Modern General Manager jargon.

Whoa, hold on a minute there, Billy! — Here’s this different stat — these OBP failures, these guys who can’t even make it 90 feet to first base ... aren’t these the same guys in the Angels uniforms who mashed 214 home runs out of ballparks all across this great land? That’s a lot of bombs!

Mike Trout & His Homer-Happy Halos out-dingered every single team in the whole major leagues except for just six teams! And they probably cheated like the Yankees.

OBP — that’s for the birds! Chicks dig the long ball, and every time you go yard you get to touch every base for your

!>

That’s right ... Tomatoes.

“A tomato from your own garden tastes better than any old tomato you can buy at any store.” — Billy Eppler, October 2018.

No. Eppler was just stating in metaphor that the Angels needed more juice on the bases — and that it will be on the way.

Eppler has an uncanny knack ability to transition from corporate baseball executive-s— “XXX” — Into folksy, or poetic

No, the joke’s on us. There are lots of reasons — an injury toll . Every baseball team gets them but most don’t fly apart like the Angels did.

Eppler won’t lean on that handy excuse to wipe away how his Angels’ real playoff hopes burst because they didn’t perform well enough.

Eppler wants his offense to flourish, not founder — hence the tomato metaphor.

Vague? Nope.

What else were the Angels lacking in approach?

It’s clear that Eppler will try to upgrade an offense that was exasperating — and rained rotten tomatoes at the end of Mike Scioscia’s storied tenure as Angels' manager. He tearfully “stepped down” last Sunday after 19 years.

XXX

The big question is how Eppler can prevent it happening again. So back to the garden shed to ponder OBP.

That’s not a sure solution but it’s as good as any.

The GM said he'd look to players he’d seen sprout from the roots since 2015 — from the Big A right down through AAA Salt Lake City and the AA Mobile (Alabama) BayBears.

A Scioscia hallmark since 2000 was raising hell on the bases — the problem was he didn’t have many runners on base for two many losing seasons.

Eppler sees a path even with the youngest of his prospects, who can only relate to Eppler’s philosophy of generating mass traffic on the basepaths: “That’s already here ... The players know it."

On Gene Autry Way, Eppler is all-in. If he fails to deliver then it’s on him.

The veterans

There’s only a glimmer of hope OBP revolution of Eppler’s design — he’s saddled with contracts to limited players.

Kaleb Cowart, utility: A big, likeable guy with a rocket arm and tons of unfulfilled potential.

There’s a reason Cowart was drafted 18th by the Angels in the 2010 amateur draft. He was awesome at every level until he reached the Big A. *(See sad note below).

Cowart’s future is murky. He's under club control but no one will be shocked if he goes —

Zack Cozart, INF: Eppler swept back from the 2017 Winter Meetings with Cincinnati Reds steady-as-you-go shortstop tucked away as an early Christmas present for Angel fans declared his holiday shopping over.

Cozart had spent his six-year career manning shortstop for the Reds the old-fashioned way — a slick gloveman who hit just enough.

But in 2017, Cozart exploded with stats that looked too good to be true — a .385 OBP.

Injuries forced Cozart to shuffle around the diamond when first Ian Kinsler went down, then shortstop Andrelton Simmons hit the DL. Naturally Cozart moved back to his natural shortstop then he got hurt too, for the duration.

Sing it with me!: “You say Cowart, I say Cozart. Cozart/Cowart ... let’s call the whole thing off!” Tomato, tomato. Cozart may stick.

Let’s see what else Eppler has in store:

Albert Pujols, 1B/DH: The stalemate between the Angels and The Machine warrants an awkward article of 3,082 words or more — I’ll get right on it.

Pujols today thwarts any OBP-based attack. The best outcome is a Pujols HR, or better yet when No. 5 can still delight and defy time with a rare three-run laser shot.

Eppler knows this, but he’s not saying what he’ll do about it. Like Albert, time will tell.

The 2018 debutantes

Blah.

2018 debutantes

Francisco Arcia, C: After 12 minor-league seasons, Arcia had two great debuts in the bigs, first as a catcher in July when he became the first player in MLB history to notch 10 RBI in his first two MLB games.

Then on September 20, in a 21-3 loss to the Oakland Athletics, Arcia became the only player ever in history to 1) start a game at catcher, 2) hit a homer and 3) pitch all in the same MLB game. Fun and flukish.

Jose Briceno, C: He had a memorable start too, arriving in May as understudy to Martin Maldonado but the Angels soon had an all-Venezuela catching crew. Briceno homered in his first game against the New York Yankees in the Bronx, and posted 0.5 WAR in only 18 games. He’s 25, compared to Arcia’s now 30.

Oakland Athletics v Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim
Taylor Ward walk off
Photo by Victor Decolongon/Getty Images

David Fletcher, INF: All scrap and leather ... and charm — undersized odds-beater and new folk hero around these parts. A regular since June 13, in just 80 games Fletch produced 2.0 WAR.

Called up to replace injured Jefry Marte, Fletcher wasn’t going anywhere until he himself went down himself iwith a season-ending hamstring strain September 16.

Like a younger Cozart, he played every infield position but first and was an defensive highlight reel. Most important, Fletcher is an In-N-Out burger guy from the Pride of the Great City of Orange, CA.

Angels fans may have seen a second coming of David Eckstein, pint-sized 2002 World Series champ but Eppler will have seen a guy who didn’t reach base quite enough with very little pop.

Jose Fernandez, UTIL: The Cuban finally reached the majors after a grueling ordeal.The former Cuban national team star was signed as a minor league free agent in January and landed in Anaheim for 36 games with a slash .260/.309/.388. He too doesn’t like walks.

Michael Hermosillo, OF: A fine fourth-outfielder type who little impact in his rookie season — except for filling in off days for Mike Trout in center field. Hermosillo has a good glove and a decent arm. He’s a former who was on nen route to the University of Illinois to play football before the Angels drafted him in 2013. He has the athleticism ... but.

Shohei Ohtani: Technically he belongs on this list as a 2018 rookie. He`s good at baseballing, so enjoy all the 2019 bombs..

Taylor Ward, 3B: He didnt’t impress in his late-season — as raw as expected for a converted catcher. The alarm was that Ward looked way over his head at the plate. That is until the last pitch of the 20Angel to swing a bat in 2018 and dropped the final curtain on Scioscia’s last day as Angel manager with a dramatic walk-off homer.

Scioscia had the final win.

Guys who haven’t arrived yet — but will soon

Patience has been preached and practiced system-wide since Eppler became GM. Eppler’s Salt Lake City Bees were second in OBP in the Pacific Coast League and the AA Mobile were tops in OBP in the Southern League.

The runners are coming.

Here are future Angels from Eppler’s tomato XXX

SiriusXM All-Star Futures Game
Jo Adell — the future
Photo by Patrick McDermott/Getty Images

Jo Adell, OF: The Angels’ #1 prospect, and one of the Top 50 in baseball, Adell is on his way into the Angel outfield to join Trout ASAP, but 2019 is probably too soon or a five-tool who was only drafted in June 2017. He hasn’t stopped looking like a future star.

Luis Rengifo, SS: The Angels’ reward from the preseason trade of C.J. Cron to the Tampa Bay Rays was Rengifo, who racked up a .399 OBP while rising from Inland Empire this summer, all the way to Salt Lake. In the tradition of great Venezuelan shortstops from Aparicio to Vizquel he’s as good with the glove — Eppler’s model player.

Matt Thaiss: 1B: Another converted catcher, Thaiss is rated 5th among Angel prospects by MLB Pipeline. Thaiss’ lefty power swing fits well at first base. He won’t hit like fellow New Jersey product Trout (who does), but Eppler could start his service clock if he can show he warrants a platoon with Pujols.

Jared Walsh, 1B/OF/P: Walsh was a two-way star at the Univerity of Georgia, but Tommy John surgery stopped him pitching for a while. The 2015 draftee pick just pounded baseballs with smooth gap-to-gap power that carries easily. He puts the team first,and shifted to the outfield in Salt Lake to not block the more anticipated Thaiss.


So who’s up first? Pipe up below in the comments!

Fletcher is the likely backup to Cozart — but Rengifo’s overall skill set could be tough to restrain. Either could be start at second base in 2020. Thaiss will likely get his crack at first base, but Walsh seems ready too pounce. Ward will get another chance at third.

Cowart is probably done. Briceno should looks the better of the two backup catchers and Thaiss probably gets in the door first before Walsh.

Of course any of these are potential trade chips for Eppler if he sees a win-now major leaguer. After a barren three years there is change.

Oh yes, and Shohei Ohtani — Eppler’s No. 1 coup, should make the team Things are looking riper in Eppler’s tomato patch.


*(Sad note): Switch-hitting “Can’t-miss” Cowart tore up all levels of baseball until AAA but hasn’t hit much but air since arriving in Anaheim. He’s only 26, has slashed just .134/.210/.251 — in his career.

The Angels had five of the first 40 picks in the fateful 2010 First-Year Player Draft, Bryce Harper was selected first; Manny Machado, Drew Pomeranz, Matt Harvey, Yasmani Grandal and Chris Sale were picked before Cowart — but Christian Yelich, Mike Foltynewicz, and Aaron Sanchez followed. Ugh.

Andrelton Simmons went in the second round (to the Braves), Kole Calhoun in the 8th. Ace starter Jacob deGrom — a dreamy trade target for Angel fantasists went in the ninth round.

Noah Syndergaard and Nicholas Castellanos also were supplemental first-round picks — they made it. Not so for Cam Bedrosian and Deck McGuire.

-Cozart can play second or third base, allowing others to slide around postions. Cozart’s done it before and if there’s a baseball philosophy Eppler values nealy as much as OBP it would be defense, at least Cozart brings the latter.