Rengifo 'trying to make a good impression'

Angels shortstop looking to earn Opening Day roster spot as utility player

March 19th, 2021

SURPRISE, Ariz. -- After a forgettable 2020 season that saw him bat .156 in 33 games, arrived to Angels camp with a renewed focus and determination to claim a roster spot.

Rengifo debuted a new batting stance that allows him to see the ball better, and so far this spring, the results have been encouraging. Rengifo has batted .350 with a homer, a double, four walks and seven RBIs in 13 games. It's put him in a close competition with Franklin Barreto for the club's utility role.

“I changed my batting stance and I feel great at home plate right now,” Rengifo said. “My approach is to see the ball the whole way. I’m trying to make a good impression.”

Rengifo has done just that, as manager Joe Maddon has been impressed by his play this camp. It’s not just his offense either, as the natural shortstop has worked hard to improve his versatility and has seen some time in the outfield in addition to his duties in the infield. Rengifo has also been a much more aggressive baserunner, which is something new outfield/first-base coach Bruce “Jeter” Hines is trying to instill with all the club’s players.

“He’s focused and came in on a mission,” Maddon said of Rengifo. “He’s made some really nice adjustments at the plate and on defense. Everywhere. Baserunning. He made a turn in [Thursday’s] game at first base that was just tremendous. Jeter has really done a great job with these guys.”

Rengifo, though, still could start the season at the Angels' training site, as Barreto is also having a solid spring and is out of Minor League options. If Barreto doesn’t make the Opening Day roster, he would have to be exposed to waivers, whereas Rengifo can be sent to and from the Minors freely this season.

But Rengifo’s impressive spring could carry over into the season, especially with his improved mechanics at the plate. He worked in the offseason with hitting coach Frank Valdez, who has helped stars such as Nelson Cruz and Manny Machado with their swing previously. Rengifo has tried to model his swing path after Mets star Francisco Lindor, and Maddon has noticed the difference in Rengifo's approach as well.

“His batting practice has been really centered,” Maddon said. “I like when he plays at the middle of the field first, when he doesn’t think power first. If he could stay there mentally, the sky’s the limit for his offense.”

Rengifo has also worked to improve the mental side of the game and relax a bit more, as he found himself getting too tense, especially at the plate. Maddon believes that if Rengifo continues to clean up those small mental mistakes and miscues, he could become a regular in the Majors. Rengifo is still just 24 years old and has plenty of potential.

“He’s going to play for a long time," Maddon said. "A lot of it just comes down to focus, paying attention, and cutting down on the mental mistakes and letting his natural physical ability take over."

For now, Rengifo said he’s simply trying to play his best baseball and let the management decide whether he makes the Opening Day roster. But even if Rengifo doesn’t, he’ll likely get his chances later in the season, especially if he continues to improve at the alternate site.

"I don't think about it,” Rengifo said of the competition for a utility role. “I just try to do my job every day and play hard. I can't control that. That's for the manager or the GM. So I'm just playing hard and we'll see what they do."