Angels have a crowded field for infield spots

Los Angeles Times sportswriters Andy McCullough and Maria Torres talk offseason moves for the Dodgers and Angels.

Angels infielder Zack Cozart, who arrived at spring training injury-free after having season-ending shoulder surgery in June, is a lock for the 2019 opening-day roster.

But it will be weeks before the Angels determine which position Cozart will play come March 28. Cozart can play second or third base, which allows the Angels to consider multiple permutations for their lineup.

“I wouldn’t evaluate second base independently,” manager Brad Ausmus said Tuesday. “I think we’re going to be evaluating second and third together.”

The Angels have a glut of multiple-position infielders in camp. Six players, including Cozart, are competing for two starting roles. Versatility will likely factor prominently into which of the other five — Orange County native David Fletcher, converted third baseman Taylor Ward, prospect Luis Rengifo, newcomer Tommy La Stella, and nonroster invitee Wilfredo Tovar — gets one. One of those five is also eligible for the role of backup infielder.


All but Ward offer flexibility in terms of where they can play in the field.

“Maybe we can just get a few weeks into camp, see how guys are doing,” general manager Billy Eppler said. “Then maybe we start to specialize a little bit more.”

Cozart, a shortstop for the Cincinnati Reds for seven seasons before he signed with the Angels in December 2017, played most of his games with the Angels at third base. He spelled Gold Glove shortstop Andrelton Simmons on occasion, a role that was later picked up by Fletcher.

Fletcher played 80 games as a rookie for the Angels last year, so he might be favored to land a job out of spring training.


However, the Angels are open to the idea of switch-hitter Rengifo, who turns 22 next week and is not on the 40-man roster, earning a spot on the team out of spring training. The former shortstop is still acclimating to playing second base, but his bat is far enough along that he could make a case for himself during Cactus League play.

Rengifo’s approach at the plate did not waver as he advanced three levels from Class A to triple A last year. He drew 75 walks and struck out 75 times in 127 games.

“The ratio of strikeouts and walks was really good,” Ausmus said. “He doesn’t chase a ton. For a young player it’s kind of a more polished approach.”

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Short hops

On the Tempe Diablo backfields, top pitching prospect Griffin Canning threw live batting practice to a group of hitters including Rengifo. One of Canning’s first pitches of the session tailed up toward Rengifo’s head. Rengifo, batting left-handed, dived to the ground and stood up unscathed. … Outfielder Justin Upton, who reported to camp with patellar tendinitis of his right knee, spent the first two days of camp working indoors. He hit off a tee on Monday and began taking soft tosses Tuesday, Ausmus said. … Right-handed starting pitcher Matt Harvey is scheduled to throw off a mound Wednesday, a week after he strained his left gluteus muscle doing agility work. Ausmus said Harvey’s progress would not be rushed but Harvey has recuperated from the injury ahead of schedule.