Angels' depth again a strength
With injuries already a factor, players' versatility will be key
Still waters run deep, but championship teams run deeper.
For the Angels to return to the top of the American League West, they will need contributions from each of their 25 players and will likely drill down into their system to mine some of the organization's depth.
This spring will not simply be a question of assembling the everyday talent. The Angels will also need to identify a strong contingent of role players that ultimately may prove to be the difference.
Working in their favor is a core philosophy that directs the Angels' scouting department toward players who can multitask. Versatility is not just a nice problem to have; it is central to the plan and reflects the style of manager Mike Scioscia.
"We've probably got more versatile-type guys than most clubs do," general manager Bill Stoneman said. "It is nice to have that flexibility, and if Mike is in the middle of a ballgame and needs to move a player without having to sacrifice another player off the bench, he can do that."
The Angels have already had their depth tested by injury this winter.
Bartolo Colon enters Spring Training behind the other starting pitchers, as he rehabs from a partially torn right rotator cuff. Juan Rivera broke his left leg while playing winter ball back home in Venezuela and will miss a significant chunk of the season.
Dallas McPherson, who was going to make another run at the third baseman's job, has put that quest on hold as he recovers from surgery on his lower back. The earliest he could be available is August.
Solutions are already in place, but no well is bottomless.
If Colon is unable to start the season, the Angels have a capable replacement for the rotation in Joe Saunders. The left-hander went 7-3 with the big club last season and won his first four decisions.
Losing Rivera is a blow, and his 23 home runs from last season won't easily be replaced. But the Angels quickly responded with the acquisition of Shea Hillenbrand, and, true to their philosophy, they didn't find a one-trick pony. Hillenbrand will likely fill Rivera's role as the primary designated hitter, but he can also play first and third base.
"The depth gets tested and that's fine, but we have some depth," Stoneman said. "Over the years, in the case of the Angels, our roster depth has been an area of strength. If you have 10 guys on the DL, you're not going to find 10 suitable replacements. But we have some guys knocking on the door.
"It will open the door for somebody. When you look at the outfield, Rivera's role, defensively, was to spell the two corner guys. There will be the opportunity there for somebody. We have some good young guys."
Much like Figgins, Robb Quinlan and Maicer Izturis are a pair of multitaskers who will be pressed into service around the diamond.
Quinlan will initially try to win the starting job at first base in a battle that will feature Casey Kotchman and Kendry Morales in addition to Hillenbrand. But as in years past, Quinlan will likely be needed at third base at some point in the season and will also play some outfield. Izturis was the team's primary third baseman in 2006 but will likely spend more time in a reserve role this season, backing up third in addition to the middle of the infield.
Erick Aybar, Reggie Willits and Tommy Murphy head a list of players looking to secure one of the last remaining spots on the roster. All three are strong candidates to make the team, with each offering something different but all providing versatility.
Aybar can play short as well as second, while Willits and Murphy can handle all three outfield positions. They all would add speed to the roster. Nick Gorneault, veteran Curtis Pride and Terry Evans offer three more possibilities in the outfield.
"It is interesting to see the guys that get the opportunity and they run with it," Stoneman said. "When a guy gets hurt, some good things come of it. You don't just have a good farm system to make trades. You have a good farm system because it makes you better."
Mike Scarr is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.