For nearly a week earlier this month, Angels infielder Luis Rengifo did not know where he was going to spend spring training. His name had been bandied about in a trade that would have sent him to the Dodgers. There was a chance he would end up at their Camelback Ranch facility. There was a chance he could be spun into another trade package.
And there was also a chance he would stay with the Angels.
Ultimately, the latter occurred, leaving Rengifo to resume preparations for the season with a team that has a surplus of infielders. There is no certain place for him on the opening day roster.
Yet the switch-hitting Rengifo remains an intriguing asset. He is a solid defender at second base and shortstop. He can also be a legitimate power threat from both sides of the plate.
Rengifo, 22, hit .238 and struck out 93 times in 108 games as a rookie last season, but he demonstrated a knack for driving the baseball. In a late August game in Houston, he lofted a 425-foot home run nearly onto the left-center field train tracks at Minute Maid Park as a right-handed hitter. Two weeks later, he lined a homer to left-center field at the stadium of the Chicago White Sox. That time, it was an opposite-field rocket from Rengifo’s left side.
The display of power can shock. Rengifo has a compact build. He is generously listed at 5 feet 10. But the definition in his upper body gives him an edge.
“When you look at him in stature, he doesn’t look big,” Angels hitting coach Jeremy Reed said. “But if you see him up close, he’s very strong and very electric. His ability to use the whole field is really important.”
Rengifo utilized the offseason to nurture that skill. He didn’t drastically change his workout routine, but a part-time relocation to Orlando, where MVP Sports Group operates a training facility, enabled him to work with other major leaguers. Training alongside fellow Venezuelan Luis Arráez of the Minnesota Twins was particularly helpful.
Rengifo has known Arráez, who batted .334 with 20 doubles and four homers in 92 games as a rookie last season, for nearly a decade. They played against each other growing up. Arráez’s hitting ability stood out at a young age. His advice stuck with Rengifo.
“He said, ‘You can’t make it difficult for yourself because the game is already hard. So you’re going to put pressure on yourself? That will make things harder,’” Rengifo said. “He told me to take it easy, concentrate and have fun.”
Reed has already noticed a difference in Rengifo. The youngster arrived in camp this week jubilant as ever, but brimming with more confidence. It spilled over in batting practice. Rengifo swung his bat with a more direct path to the ball and improved barrel control.
Rengifo’s high strikeout rate last season stemmed mostly from exuberance. His cuts were often too big and loose to generate productive contact.
He began to address the holes in his swing in earnest in November, about two months after undergoing surgery for a hamate fracture in his left wrist.
The early returns are encouraging.
“He’s engaged and he’s ready to go out there and show what he’s got,” Reed said. “He’s always been a pleasure to be around, but it’s nice to see a guy come in [having done] the work in the offseason to be ready to go.”
Rengifo’s tinkering has continued in camp. Manager Joe Maddon was impressed by an adjustment Rengifo made in a hitting drill, one suggested to Rengifo by veteran Albert Pujols.
“All of a sudden the ball found the barrel,” Maddon said. “So I found that there is aptitude. I saw the pop. Ball comes off hot. He immediately indicated that to me hitting primarily from the left side.”
Third baseman Anthony Rendon took a leave of absence Thursday to return home to Houston, where his wife was expected to give birth to the couple’s second child. He should be back in camp Saturday. … Maddon does not plan to play any major league starters in either of the Angels’ Cactus League-opening split squad games Saturday. That means Rendon, Mike Trout, Justin Upton, Shohei Ohtani, David Fletcher and other top position players are not expected to make their spring debuts until Sunday at the earliest. … Reliever Ty Buttrey, who was diagnosed with a minor oblique injury in his left side last Friday, participated in Thursday’s field workouts. He was expected to miss only one to two weeks of baseball activities. He should catch up in time to join the Angels bullpen on opening day. … Pujols, 40, arrived at spring training healthy after a rehab-free offseason. healthy. He said he is prepared to play first base as often as possible. He played 98 games in the field Maddon probably will not play him more than three days in a row, a formula that helped Pujols avoid the injured list last season. Pujols hit 23 homers with 93 RBIs and a passable .734 on-base-plus-slugging percentage in 131 games.