TEMPE — With the offseason additions of Justin Upton, Zack Cozart and Ian Kinsler, the Los Angeles Angels are expected to receive a substantial boost to their offense. While fans do dig the long ball, they also should look to the field, where the Angels are expected to shine in 2018.
The Angels had two Gold Glove winners in 2017. Shortstop Andrelton Simmons and catcher Martin Maldonado earned the honors for their stellar play in the infield and behind the plate, respectively. The Angels roster features five Gold Glove winners in Simmons, Maldonado, first baseman Albert Pujols, second baseman Ian Kinsler and right fielder Kole Calhoun. Although he hasn’t won a Gold Glove, center fielder Mike Trout has a penchant for robbing home runs and making diving catches.
Third baseman Zack Cozart will be playing a position other than shortstop for the first time in his seven-year career, and despite the difficulty in playing a new position at a major league level, his teammates think he’s well on his way to become an anchor at the hot corner.
“I think he’s going to take a little bit of time to get used to the position, but other than that it’s been going great,” Kinsler said.
Kinsler may not have to get used to a new position, but he does have to get used to three new teammates in the infield. Although the position remains the same, baseball players are creatures of habit, and Kinsler is using spring training as an opportunity to get used to the way his teammates play.
“There’s not much to work on, it’s just repetition and getting used to their release points,” Kinsler said. “You just kind of pick stuff up, and there’s not a ton of actual communicating.
“We can go out there and turn a double play without ever taking a ground ball next to each other, but getting used to the little things, the things that are going to make a difference in a game, are the (most) important things. That’s where repetition comes into play,” Kinsler added.
That repetition is pivotal if the Angels want to remain close to the top of the league in Defensive Runs Saved (DRS). The Angels were ranked sixth in baseball in DRS in 2017. Having a strong defense helps the pitching staff work with a bit more confidence.
“It’s awesome to have them behind you, because obviously it’s going to give you confidence,” relief pitcher Blake Parker said. “When you get into a bit of a pickle, it’s good to have those guys there that know what they’re doing and can make a play when you need one.”
Parker also said that the defensive ability of the infield makes it that much easier to walk out to the mound and pitch.
“Sometimes you get too carried away, and try to do too much by yourself,” Parker said. “It’s still a team game, and as much as it feels individual out there, there’s still seven guys behind you and one in front of you who are there to help, and bail you out of tough situations.”
Starting pitcher Parker Bridwell, who joined the Angels via trade early in the 2017 season, touched on many of the same points about the team’s stout defense.
“You can’t help but be pumped up to pitch,” Bridwell said. “Last year there was a good defense behind me, and I would just turn around to see if anyone made a crazy play, because that’s what usually happened. This year we added even better pieces, and I’m excited to see what we can do.”
One position that isn’t in need of better pieces is catcher, evidenced by Maldonado’s 2017 Gold Glove season, the first of his career. Manager Mike Scioscia has always placed a priority on ensuring that the Angels have a strong defensive presence behind the plate. He lauded Maldonado during a pre-practice media scrum.
“He’s 10 out of 10,” Scioscia said. “He reminds me of how Bengie Molina, Jeff Mathis and Jose Molina prepared. He reminds me of a lot of really tremendous catchers we’ve had over the years, and he takes it to another level.”
Scioscia added that baseball is a lot more data-driven now, and Maldonado puts that data to use.
“He and (catching and information coach) Steve Soliz will burn the midnight oil watching video,” Scioscia said. “Sometimes when we land at midnight, they get together and study video for an hour of the upcoming series, and start to put a game plan together so we can hit the ground running the next day.”
After a 2017 season that had the Angels better than league average in most defensive categories, there’s no doubt that they’ll look to build on that fielding mastery in 2018.