Injuries shake up Angels' final roster battles

March 23rd, 2021

SURPRISE, Ariz. -- The Angels’ Opening Day roster was starting to take shape, but a slew of recent injuries have now clouded a few position battles this spring.

Right-handed relievers Félix Peña (right hamstring strain) and Aaron Slegers (back spasms) are both currently out and not expected to be ready for the start of the regular season. And utilityman Franklin Barreto was diagnosed with right elbow inflammation on Monday that is expected to keep him out of action for four to six weeks.

The Angels still have open competitions for their utility role, their extra outfielder role and in their bullpen. Here’s a look at how those races are stacking up:

Utility role candidates: , José Rojas, ,
Barreto was likely to claim the utility job because he’s fared well this spring and is out of Minor League options, which means he would’ve had to have been placed on waivers if he didn’t make the club out of Spring Training. And as a former top prospect with the A’s acquired in a trade for Tommy La Stella last year, the Angels aren’t quite ready to give up on Barreto.

But with Barreto out, it opens the door for Rengifo to be the club’s utilityman. Rengifo debuted a new batting stance this spring and has seen good results at the plate. He’s also been improving his versatility, as he’s been working at second base, shortstop, third base and both corner outfield spots.

Angels manager Joe Maddon, however, wasn’t ready to say that Rengifo has earned that spot just yet. Rojas is having another big spring and is in the mix despite not being on the 40-man roster. He can’t play shortstop, which hurts his chances, but it helps that second baseman David Fletcher is more than capable of playing short on days when José Iglesias is out of the lineup.

Mayfield is on the 40-man roster but hasn’t hit much in 10 games, while Gosselin is a non-roster invitee who has also struggled at the plate. Mayfield has options, so he can be sent freely to and from the Minors. But there’s a chance he could be taken off the 40-man roster if the Angels need a spot. He was acquired in a trade with the Braves for cash on Feb. 25.

Fourth outfielder candidates: , , ,
Lagares has appeared to be the favorite with his strong spring and defensive reputation -- he won a Gold Glove with the Mets in 2014 -- but Schebler has made things interesting with his impressive power totals this spring. Jay had a solid chance to make the roster coming into spring, given his ties to Maddon, but has essentially fallen out of the race with a rough spring offensively.

All three players are non-roster invitees but Lagares is still the most likely to make the club. Schebler has proved he’s healthy after undergoing right shoulder surgery in '19, but is more likely to open the year at the club’s alternate training site. Lagares is coming off a solid showing in the Dominican Winter League and has picked up right where he left off, which gives him the edge. He’s also a better defender than Schebler, although Maddon says he believes Schebler can handle all three outfield spots.

Bullpen candidates: , , , , ,
With the injuries to Peña and Slegers, the Angels have three openings in their bullpen to join Raisel Iglesias, Mike Mayers, Ty Buttrey, Alex Claudio and Junior Guerra. Barria is the wild card, as he’s still waiting on an arbiter to determine whether he’ll be granted a fourth year of options. If he’s not, he’ll open the year in the bullpen, but if he’s granted an extra year, he’ll likely open in the Minors. Nationals right-hander Erick Fedde was not granted an extra year of options on Tuesday, which could mean a similar fate for Barria, who would make the club in that case.

If Barria makes it, there would be two spots open. Sandoval has also pitched well and could be used in long relief, while Rodriguez is the most intriguing option. Rodriguez is the club’s No. 4 overall prospect, per MLB Pipeline, but hasn’t pitched above Class A Advanced and has thrown just 9 1/3 professional innings since '19. Rodriguez, though, has electric stuff and could start his career in the bullpen.

Faria is a non-roster invitee with ties to Maddon, as he formerly pitched in the Rays organization, and has a decent shot of making the team as a long reliever. The Angels could carry both Sandoval and Faria to give them length if Rodriguez doesn’t make the club. Chavez is also in that mix but has struggled this spring. Rivera was a Rule 5 Draft pick from the Astros, but has made just one appearance this spring and is likely to be placed on waivers at the end of camp. Even if he clears, he must be offered back to Houston for $50,000.