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Angels emphasizing versatility this spring

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MLB: Texas Rangers at Los Angeles Angels Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports

Luis Rengifo started in left field on Wednesday, adding to a growing number of Angels with increasing versatility.

It’s a position Rengifo has never played in the majors, though he has played there 22 times in the minors (only three games in the last three seasons). Though he’s played mostly middle infield in the majors and minors, Rengifo has also played third, and this spring has all started all three of those infield positions.

Rengifo has also been hitting in the early going, 3-for-9 with a home run, a double, and four walks in Cactus League play.

“When you’re a switch-hitter, you can play shortstop, and do all these other things, that’s a pretty valuable player in today’s game,” manager Joe Maddon said on Wednesday.

Rengifo is not alone in moving around the diamond. Franklin Barreto after getting acquired by the A’s last season started four different positions — left field, third base, shortstop, and second base — in four consecutive games before getting hurt, wiping out his season in early September. He started at second base on Wednesday and has played both middle infield positions this spring.

Taylor Ward has added catching to his mix of positions this spring, and even caught in two games earlier this week.

The Angels used Matt Thaiss at second base and in left field last season, and though he’s been limited to third base and first base in game action this spring, he’s worked at all four positions during workouts. The team has encouraged players to take it upon themselves to work at whatever positions they feel they need work at during spring training, in an effort to increase versatility.

Multi-position Angels 2021 projections

Player ZiPS projection PECOTA projection
Player ZiPS projection PECOTA projection
Franklin Barreto .222/.280/.425, 89 wRC+ ,221/.286/.391, 83 DRC+
Luis Rengifo .229/.312/.351, 81 wRC+ .221/.305/.346, 82 DRC+
Matt Thaiss .226/.302/.380, 85 wRC+ .235/.320/.407, 98 DRC+
Taylor Ward .237/.316/.397, 93 wRC+ .246/.337/.407, 105 DRC+

For Thaiss, who caught and played first base at Virginia, played first base exclusively in his first three minor league seasons after getting drafted in the first round in 2016. He added third base to the mix in 2019 and made the majors that season. Last year, Thaiss only played eight games in the majors, spending the bulk of his season at Long Beach State, the team’s alternate training site.

“I think it’s safe to say nobody wants to be at the alt site, but if you go in with that attitude you’re not going to get a whole lot out of it. For me, it was time to really hone down my swing,” Thaiss explained on Wednesday. “But more importantly, I haven’t been playing third base a long time. Obviously I haven’t been playing second and the outfield long, so for me it was really using that downtime to get better at those positions.”

No matter where he plays, Thaiss will need to hit to make an impact in the majors.

“The most important position he plays is in the left-handed batters box,” Maddon said. “Then after that, it’s just trying to get him on the field. I think the larger résumé he creates, the longer he’s going to be in the major leagues.”

Barreto is out of options, but the other three in this quartet of Angels expanding their positional horizons can be sent to the minors, giving the team some flexibility to fit their roster as they see fit.

Notes

  • Max Stassi started at designated hitter on Wednesday. He’s been catching bullpen sessions in camp, but has yet to catch in a game after offseason hip surgery. Maddon said Stassi will likely catch in a game later this week.
  • Shohei Ohtani’s next start will be Saturday against the White Sox at Camelback Ranch.