Who will claim the Angels' final bench spot?

March 18th, 2024

This story was excerpted from Rhett Bollinger’s Angels Beat newsletter. To read the full newsletter, click here. And subscribe to get it regularly in your inbox.

TEMPE, Ariz. -- With a little more than week until Opening Day on March 28 in Baltimore, the Angels still have a few decisions to make with their roster, including who will take the final bench spot.

It’s essentially down to three candidates with infielder Michael Stefanic -- who was the favorite for that spot -- not expected to be ready for Opening Day as he continues to deal with a left quad injury he sustained in the first game of Spring Training.

That leaves corner infielder Miguel Sanó and middle infielders Ehire Adrianza and Livan Soto as the top three candidates for that spot. Rising prospect Cole Fontenelle, who hit third in Saturday’s Spring Breakout game against the Dodgers, remains in camp, but manager Ron Washington said it’s just so he has a chance to work with the Major League coaches for a bit longer, particularly infield coach Ryan Goins.

Sanó, Adrianza and Soto each offer something different to the roster, so here’s a look at what each of them could bring.

Sanó is an interesting story, as he was an All-Star with the Twins in 2017 and hit more than 30 homers in both ‘19 and ‘21 before being limited to just 20 games because of left knee issues and a lack of production in ‘22. He spent ‘23 trying to get back into baseball shape and didn’t sign with any club, though he said he lost 58 pounds before getting to Spring Training this year.

The 30-year-old signed a Minor League deal with the Angels this offseason and brings eight years of Major League experience. He has a .234/.326/.482 career slash line with 162 homers and 418 RBIs in 694 games. He's shown off his power this spring with three homers, but he’s batting .176 (6-for-34) in 16 games. Strikeouts have always been an issue and he’s struck out 13 times.

Sanó is mostly a first baseman who can play some third base and occasionally serve as the designated hitter. Washington has liked Sanó’s work ethic, as he’s always out early on the practice field to get in defensive work. If Sanó makes the team, Luis Rengifo would serve as the club’s backup shortstop to starter Zach Neto.

Adrianza was signed to a Minor League deal shortly after pitchers and catchers reported to Spring Training and he has a history with Washington, having played with the Braves from 2021-23 when Washington was Atlanta’s third-base coach. But like Sanó, the 2023 season was a lost one for Adrianza, who was limited to just five games with Atlanta before undergoing right shoulder surgery.

Adrianza, though, has been healthy this spring and he has plenty of experience as a utility middle infielder. The 34-year-old has a .238/.308/.352 career slash line with 21 homers and 149 RBIs in 617 games over 11 seasons with the Giants, Twins, Nationals and Braves.

Adrianza is hitting .192 (5-for-26) with two homers and three RBIs in 14 games this spring, but he’s known for his glove more than his bat -- and he would serve a backup for Neto at shortstop. Adrianza can also play some corner outfield and all four infield positions.

The club’s middle-infield depth took a hit when it lost Soto on waivers to the Orioles on Feb. 8, but the Angels were able to reclaim him on Feb. 18 after Baltimore designated him for assignment. Soto, 23, is the youngest of the bunch. He has played in just 22 big league games over the past two seasons, hitting .375 with one homer, five doubles and nine RBIs.

Soto is coming off a bit of a down year offensively, however, as he slashed .237/.342/.358 with nine homers, 18 doubles and 47 RBIs in 110 games between Double-A Rocket City and Triple-A Salt Lake last season. He’s batting .259 (7-for-27) with one double and one RBI in 20 games this spring.

Soto can handle shortstop and would be Neto’s backup if he makes the club, but he appears more likely to open the year in the Minors to get more consistent playing time. Soto, though, is a key depth piece for the organization, as the Halos are light on Major League-ready middle infielders. Kyren Paris, the club’s No. 4 prospect, also adds Minor League depth, though he was optioned last week.