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Maddon on Fletcher: 'Love at first double'

Halos skipper compares utility man to Cubs star Báez
@RhettBollinger
July 10, 2020

ANAHEIM -- Angels manager Joe Maddon will never forget the first time he saw David Fletcher play. Maddon didn’t know much about him at the time, but Fletcher turned heads when he ripped a double into left field off Cubs lefty Cole Hamels last season on April 12 in Chicago.

ANAHEIM -- Angels manager Joe Maddon will never forget the first time he saw David Fletcher play.

Maddon didn’t know much about him at the time, but Fletcher turned heads when he ripped a double into left field off Cubs lefty Cole Hamels last season on April 12 in Chicago. It was early in a breakout year for Fletcher, and now Maddon is excited about his chance to serve as his manager.

“Honestly, it was love at first double,” Maddon said. “At Wrigley Field, when he hit that high fastball down the left-field line, I didn’t know who he was. I don’t know if I said it to [then-Cubs bench coach] Mark Loretta or whomever. Who is that guy? And is he one of their guys, is he a big prospect? And then I started asking a couple more questions, and then [was] able to see him on TV a little bit. He just never lets up.”

It’s easy to discern why Fletcher is already a favorite of Maddon’s and has a cult following among Angels fans, as the 5-foot-9, 185-pounder has developed into one of the best contact hitters in the game and can play just about any position. Fletcher was second on the Angels to Mike Trout with 4.5 Wins Above Replacement (WAR) last season, and he hit .290/.350/.384 with six homers, 30 doubles, 40 RBIs, 10 stolen bases and 83 runs scored in 154 games.

Fletcher led the Majors by making contact on 91.1% of his swings and also had the second-lowest strikeout rate in the Majors behind Baltimore’s Hanser Alberto last year. He’s the perfect candidate to hit in front of Mike Trout, Anthony Rendon and Shohei Ohtani, but Maddon will have to be creative with where he plays Fletcher defensively.

“He’s the kind of guy that can get overlooked with today’s methods,” Maddon said. “I would take several more of those. We all would. He’s a baseball player. He just does things properly. He plays the game right. He’s got great skills. He sees things that other people don’t see in advance.”

Fletcher has already been the Angels' star early in Summer Camp, having combined for the cycle in his first two intrasquad games, hitting a single and a double on Tuesday before homering and smacking a triple on Wednesday.

Fletcher said that he tweaked a few things with his swing and his approach over the past few months and believes he’s ready to go. He was fortunate to be able to work out at Angel Stadium during the shutdown and also utilized several local fields to stay in shape.

“I got a lot of work in, luckily on some high school fields,” Fletcher said. “So basically I never stopped since Spring Training. It was lucky for me to stay in shape. I feel ready to go today. In the quarantine, I did some different things with my swing and kind of my approach. Nothing crazy, but I feel better than I did in Spring Training. I’m ready to go.”

Fletcher, a natural shortstop who saw most of his action at second base and third base last year, is also continuing to get more work in the outfield. With Tommy La Stella at second and Anthony Rendon at third, Fletcher will move around more this season and is expected to see time in the outfield. Fletcher started one game in Spring Training in center field and would’ve gotten more outfield reps in Cactus League play if it wasn’t for the shutdown.

“I’ve got a lot of BP shagging out in center during the quarantine,” Fletcher said. “So I feel pretty comfortable with all three [outfield positions].”

Maddon is also comfortable putting Fletcher in the outfield and said he’ll be flexible with his defensive lineups. But one thing is for certain: Fletcher will get his fair share of playing time in a 60-game season because Maddon believes that Fletcher is an invaluable part of the team. Maddon compared Fletcher to Cubs star Javier Báez for his intangibles and impact on the club.

“He's a guy that you've got to get out there,” Maddon said. “I mean, how do you not? You've just got to be creative. Fletch has got to be on the baseball field. Fletch has got to be a part of us somehow."

Rhett Bollinger covers the Angels for MLB.com. He previously covered the Twins from 2011-18. Follow him on Twitter @RhettBollinger and Facebook.