Angels are developing plenty of depth
Six players on DL have opened fresh opportunities
ARLINGTON -- When a wave of injuries hits, some clubs might either do a quick crumble or a slow fade. The 2007 Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim simply develop depth and move forward.
The Angels currently have six players on the disabled list and already have had to utilize the DL 10 times this year. This situation could be a cause for gnashing of teeth and a festival of self-pity. With these Angels, though, it has led to the discovery of outfield depth, infield depth, rotation depth.
Instead of having a catastrophe, the Angels have first place in the American League West. With their 7-2 victory over the Texas Rangers on Monday they have won five of their last six. Their 22-17 record would not normally be considered overwhelming, but given the circumstances it is better than good. Then there is the promise that, when the Angels do regain something resembling full health, they're going to be even better, not to mention deeper. For instance, the loss of left fielder Garret Anderson to a hip injury would normally be a major problem. In this case, it has led to the emergence of rookie Reggie Willits. Not only is Willits hitting .358 in 28 games, he has an on-base percentage of .441 and has given the Angels a valuable leadoff presence.
"We're establishing some depth, that's for sure," manager Mike Scioscia said. "We've talked about it all year, about having to have depth and what we need. And when Garret's back and he gets back into the lineup there is going to be depth that's going to start to emerge and that's important to us -- not only game depth as far as how your lineup is, but day-to-day depth, being able to keep guys fresh. We've been searching for that and hopefully that's on the horizon.
"There's a lot of options we're going to have where we establish depth. I think there's some options we're going to have to look at. Reggie has shown that he can provide a spark in the leadoff position. The more bats that we can get that are healthy and productive, that makes us a deeper club. That's what we need."
At second base, where the incumbent, Howie Kendrick, is out with a fractured finger, Erick Aybar, a shortstop by trade, has filled in with exceptional defensive play. Here's another promise of increased depth.
"The model of the way this club was built hasn't been together yet," Scioscia says. "Within a couple of weeks, hopefully, we're going to see that and we're excited for that, because we felt like we did have depth, we did have versatility. It was quickly absorbed, it was quickly used up early on when you have a number of guys that are out of the lineup, and some guys that aren't swinging the way we can. We've had to mix and match and search."
When the regulars return, there might seem to be a potential issue with finding playing time, particularly in the case of Willits. He demonstrated his leadoff ability to work counts again in Monday's victory. Willits reached base three times, seeing 28 pitches in five plate appearances, drawing eight-pitch and seven-pitch walks. But for Scioscia, Willits' emergence looks like more of a pleasant surplus situation than a potential problem.
"Reggie's been a great contributor to our offense and certainly he's made a case for himself to earn at-bats, to earn playing time," the manager says. "When we get Garret back we'll look at where we are, what our needs are, and we'll move forward with what we feel is the best group of guys and the best lineup. That doesn't necessarily mean that anybody is going to be frozen out or isn't going to play. We're going to need everybody. Reggie is adding depth to our club with his production.
"When these guys come back, it's not a dilemma, it's depth."
That's the whole idea here, depth over dilemma. It has also occurred in the starting rotation. When Bartolo Colon and Jered Weaver opened the season on the disabled list, both Dustin Moseley and Joe Saunders performed exceptionally as their replacements. With the return of Colon and Weaver, Moseley is working out of the Angels' bullpen and Saunders is back in Triple-A.
So while some teams in Major League Baseball struggle to find a fifth starter or in some cases even a fourth starter, the Angels appear to have seven capable starters.
Baseball congratulations are always premature in mid-May but what the Angels are doing is what winning clubs must find a way to do -- coping successfully with injuries.
"You have to play well when you're banged up," Scioscia says. "If you're going to win in this league, you have to be able to absorb injuries, absorb some non-performance. I think it's happened every year, even years that we won. If you look at any good team, that depth is vital. Very rarely are you going to have your perfect model team that you tried to put together.
"We're going to be excited when we can see it, but in the meantime, you've got to play baseball. We talked about it coming out of Spring Training, I felt our team was a lot deeper than it was the last couple of years. And, you know, we're seeing it."
They are seeing it on a daily basis. For the Angels, what could have been a dilemma turns out to be depth.
Mike Bauman is a national columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.