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Angels keeping open mind on catching options

Briceno, Smith are lone backstops on club's 40-man roster
MLB.com @mi_guardado

CARLSBAD, Calif. -- Angels general manager Billy Eppler isn't classifying an upgrade at catcher as essential, but he is willing to explore external options to help recoup some of the depth that was lost this past season following the departures of Martin Maldonado and Rene Rivera.

"I'm open-minded to upgrading there," Eppler said on Wednesday at the General Managers Meetings. "We'll see where we can get better. It's a need. I think we can supplement it and be better there."

CARLSBAD, Calif. -- Angels general manager Billy Eppler isn't classifying an upgrade at catcher as essential, but he is willing to explore external options to help recoup some of the depth that was lost this past season following the departures of Martin Maldonado and Rene Rivera.

"I'm open-minded to upgrading there," Eppler said on Wednesday at the General Managers Meetings. "We'll see where we can get better. It's a need. I think we can supplement it and be better there."

With Francisco Arcia and Joe Hudson opting for Minor League free agency, the Angels currently have only two catchers on their 40-man roster: rookie Jose Briceno and Kevan Smith, who was claimed off waivers from the White Sox last month.

Briceno, 26, batted .239 with a .684 OPS, five home runs and 10 RBIs in 46 games for the Angels in 2018, though he impressed with his defense and his handling of the club's pitching staff. Smith, 30, hit .292 with a .728 OPS, three home runs and 21 RBIs in 52 games this past season, but he's had issues controlling the running game, posting a 14 percent caught-stealing percentage in his three seasons in the Majors.

Video: OAK@LAA: Briceno throws out Pinder at second base

"I thought Jose did a great job coming up, and Kevan now adds to that competition component for that role," Eppler said. "If we have to go with Jose, we go with Jose. I'm comfortable with it. I think he can do the job. We've seen him do the job. He's got the mind for it, he's got the glove for it, he's got the arm for it. Those things are there."

Eppler said he's had conversations with agents of free-agent catchers and with teams about possible trades.

Several experienced catchers will be available on the free-agent market this offseason, including Yasmani Grandal, Wilson Ramos, Kurt Suzuki, Jonathan Lucroy and Maldonado. The trade market will be headlined by the Marlins' J.T. Realmuto , though he will have plenty of suitors and will demand a steep return that could be cost-prohibitive from the Angels' standpoint.

"We'll be opportunistic," Eppler said. "If something presents itself, great. It's not, 'Need a catcher at all costs.' But if we can do it, I'd be open to it. ... I'm very open-minded to bringing in a catcher if the acquisition costs finances and/or a prospect deal that comes with the trade market. But I'm not going to jeopardize the health of the organization to make sure I check a box."

Jones impressing
Eppler said he's been pleased with the development of Jahmai Jones, ranked as the club's No. 4 prospect by MLB Pipeline, who transitioned from the outfield to second base this past season. He is currently getting more reps with the Mesa Solar Sox of the Arizona Fall League. Jones, 21, is batting .313 with an .853 OPS in 16 AFL games and he was selected to represent the Angels in the Fall Stars Game earlier this month.

Video: Jones on his 3-for-4 performance vs. Peoria

"He's doing really well at second base," Eppler said. "He caught on quicker than I think people were anticipating. I think [director of player development] Mike Gallego did a tremendous job with his whole reorientation at that position and establishing a good base for Jam. Offensively, he does everything that we value. He makes good decisions in the batter's box. He swings at the right pitches, he swings at the pitches he can impact. Very contact-oriented approach, with impact ability. Huge athleticism. He's a nice-looking player. We're clearly excited to have him. I'm glad he's doing well in the Fall League."

Maria Guardado covers the Angels for MLB.com. Follow her on Twitter.

Los Angeles Angels