Commentary

Angels' bench has a lot to prove

Updated: February 5, 2010, 12:08 AM ET
By Mark Saxon | ESPNLosAngeles.com

There's got to be a joke about the Angels bench in here somewhere. Bench, you say. What bench?

Spring training in Tempe, Ariz., could turn into a six-week audition for understudy roles. If you've got a glove and a pulse, come on down! Aside from veteran Maicer Izturis, who plays three infield spots (and might have to one day), the Angels don't have any proven backups.

It tells you how desperate the Angels were to get rid of Gary Matthews Jr.'s bad vibes (he asked to be traded last October) that they dealt him at a time when they're as thin as ever.

Keep in mind that the Angels have plenty of time to sign a veteran before opening day. The way the free-agent market has gone this winter, plenty of viable options figure to be around in the next month.

Infield

The Angels gave Izturis $10 million for three years last month, a pretty healthy contract for a guy without an everyday position. Still, it might prove to be a bargain as Izturis has made huge strides offensively in recent years and is one of the best fielders on the team. He might not have a position, but he got nearly 400 at-bats last year.

Izturis fits the super utility title that manager Mike Scioscia once slapped on Chone Figgins. If either Brandon Wood or Howie Kendrick struggles, look for Izturis to take over either third or second base.

Beyond Izturis, it's slim pickings. Freddy Sandoval, a 27-year old from Mexico who has taken all of 18 major-league at-bats, might be given a chance to earn a bench job. Scioscia might choose to carry three catchers. Bobby Wilson is out of options, which might force the issue.

Outfield

The Matthews trade was one of the best things that ever happened in Reggie Willits' professional life, provided the Angels don't trade for a veteran fourth outfielder. Willits had a breakout 2007 season after being forced into action by an injury to Garret Anderson. But he spent most of the past two seasons at Triple A. He, too, is out of options and looks like a pretty good bet to hold onto a roster spot.

Chris Pettit, 26, is another smallish guy with good speed who will be in the mix for a reserve outfield role. Terry Evans, 28, is the only youngster in the mix with a modicum of power, so he'll merit a long look this spring.

Hideki Matsui is going to try to play in the outfield occasionally, which would make the Angels a better team. It would allow Scioscia to rest Juan Rivera or Torii Hunter on a given night without giving four at-bats to a light hitter like Willits or Pettit. It also gives him the option of using power threat Mike Napoli at designated hitter without taking Jeff Mathis' deft catcher's mitt off the field.

Mark Saxon covers the Angels for ESPNLosAngeles.com.

Mark Saxon

ESPNLosAngeles.com
Mark Saxon is a staff writer for ESPNLosAngeles.com. He spent six years at the Orange County Register, and began his career at the Oakland Tribune, where he started an 11-year journey covering Major League Baseball. He has also covered colleges, including USC football and UCLA basketball.