The Angels preseason press is unequivocal. Mike Trout is the new Mickey Mantle. Pujols, Hamilton and Trumbo are the new Murderer’s Row. Weaver could be the new Verlander, if it wasn’t for the fact that, annoyingly, every year some guy called “Verlander” keeps being that.
Spring training is winding up, and the Angels are a team of new promise. But one question remains.
Who will be the new number 2?
Personally, I was more surprised last winter by the Torii Hunter loss than the Josh Hamilton addition. Signing the biggest name on the market, despite most people not knowing he was on the market? Been there, done that, sold the number “5” T-Shirt. But dumping, arguably, the most consistent member of an evolving team? The steady hand who could simultaneously mentor a once-in-a-generation talent like Trout and punk a future Hall of Famer like Pujols (remember the clear dugout when he finally cleared the fences in 2012?) And letting him go to the Tigers, a league rival who seem to have everything in their arsenal except a sense of humor?
Well, it happened. And it left two glaring holes in the Angels’ lineup for 2013: a clubhouse leader, and a two-spot. The former should resolve itself – there’s no lack of experience in there.
As for the latter, the smart money is on Erick Aybar. He just looks like a number 2, right? Switch hitting bunter with speed and range? Sold. Kendrick is currently batting like a man possessed, but the Angels tried him at 2 in ’12, and it didn’t sit right. Alberto Callaspo looks good on paper, but often not so much at the plate. So Aybar it is.
Unless, of course, a team with a penchant for doing the unexpected, coached by an ex-catcher, maybe threw a dart at the map and tried something different. Like Chris Iannetta.
Think about it. Aybar is quick, versatile, and knows how to bunt; but he lacks patience. Hit or miss, you don’t go get a beer when he’s up. Iannetta has a career OBP of .354 and an average, over the last 5 years, of more than 4 pitches per at bat - towards the end of 2012, it felt like he was aiming at more like 10. He may not be the quickest or most powerful, but the guy is value for money at the plate.
Now, put yourself in a pitchers mind. Let’s call him “Justin”.
You’ve got Trout on first base. It’s a fair assumption; he’ll get there, a lot. And he’s not likely to just stay there, right? So - one on, none out.
Here comes Iannetta. If you put it outside the zone, he’s likely to leave it the hell alone. If you throw inside, he’s likely to foul it off.
Either way, he’s settling in.
So, you’re looking at throwing a whole bunch of pitches, plus however many pickoff attempts you think it’ll take to keep the boy wonder on his toes.
Oh, did you see who was on deck? And the guy after him? You may know their work.
All this, in just the first inning. Even if you get out of this mess, you have to hope Mark Trumbo hasn’t remembered how the All Star Break felt before it all starts again with Bourjos, Aybar and Kendrick, who could be comfortable 1-2-3 hitters on a lesser team.
Psychologically, it’s an intimidating prospect for any pitcher. Let the mind games begin.