Finding a No. 2 Hitter Biggest Priority for Los Angeles Angels During Spring Training

Yahoo Contributor Network
Finding a No. 2 Hitter Biggest Priority for Los Angeles Angels During Spring Training
.

View photo

Is second baseman Erick Aybar the best fit in the No. 2 hole for the Los Angeles Angels?

COMMENTARY | When Torii Hunter signed a two-year contract with the Detroit Tigers this offseason, the Los Angeles Angels lost a player who excelled as their No. 2 hitter last year.

Hunter hit .343 with a .854 OPS in 85 games hitting in the second spot in the batting order. Much of that production came after April 28, the date that rookie center fielder Mike Trout was called up from Triple-A.

With Hunter gone, the Angels will spend much of spring training auditioning candidates for the No. 2 spot.

Three or four candidates will likely be considered: Erick Aybar, Alberto Callaspo, Howie Kendrick and possibly Peter Bourjos.

Ideally, Bourjos would be the more logical choice; his blazing speed is a natural fit along with Trout. However, Bourjos is coming off a season in which he hit just .220 with a .291 on-base percentage. He's more likely to start the season hitting ninth.

If Bourjos can revert to the form that saw him hit .271 with a .327 on-base percentage in 2011, his chances to hit second increase significantly. Bourjos will also need to develop better discipline as his career 3.92 K/BB rate is not ideal for a No. 2 hitter.

Aybar hit .432 while hitting second last year and carries a .285 average with a .330 on-base percentage lifetime from the No. 2 spot. Aybar, like Bourjos, offers the element of speed as well, with at least 20 stolen bases through each of the past three seasons.

Callaspo is viewed more as a dark-horse candidate; he carries a .247 average with a .303 on-base percentage in his career when hitting second.

Kendrick has had much more success when hitting sixth or seventh in the batting order. For his career, Kendrick hits just .257 from the No. 2 hole -- 35 points below his .292 career average.

For Angels manager Mike Scioscia, it's about creating a lineup that maximizes the skills of each player. Creating more table-setting opportunities for Albert Pujols, Josh Hamilton and Mark Trumbo is the overall goal.

With Trout leading off, opposing pitchers will be wary of the stolen base threat. The No. 2 hitter is likely to see more fastballs, giving the catcher the best shot possible at keeping Trout at bay on the basepaths.

Aybar would appear to be the best fit at this point. As a switch-hitter, Aybar will see plenty of at-bats from the left side of the plate. With opposing defenses working to hold Trout at first base, Aybar will also see more holes on the right side of the infield.

In addition, Aybar is an excellent bunter -- he dropped down 15 bunt hits last season, the best in baseball. Aybar would have a better-than-even chance of putting Trout in scoring position for the likes of Pujols, Hamilton and Trumbo.

The addition of Hamilton to the lineup certainly adds an element of explosiveness for the Angels' offense. However, anything that explodes needs the right spark to ignite the fireworks.

For now, Aybar is the best spark.

Doug Mead is a freelance sportswriter living in the Los Angeles area. His work has been featured in Bleacher Report, the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, SF Gate, CBS Sports, the Los Angeles Times and the Houston Chronicle.

Sign up for Yahoo Fantasy Baseball
View Comments