2011 Pre-Season Preview: AL West â€“ Los Angeles Angels
Los Angeles Angels (2010 record: 80-82)
The Angels had a rough off-season. It pales in comparison to the one suffered by the NY Mets (the Madoff effects, a lawsuit, a loan from MLB, cleaning house in the front office, etc), but it was bad nonetheless.
The team failed to win the AL West last season for the first time since â€˜06, missing the playoffs all together. At the end of the year, owner Arte Moreno declared the team would be major players in the free agent market over the winter â€“ determined to re-make his club into a contender â€“ yet when it came time to pull the trigger on a deal, Moreno and General Manager Tony Reagins blinked. The Halos determined they would not make the financial commitment required to sign targeted free agents Carl Crawford, Adrian Beltre, or Rafael Sorianoâ€¦ so they lost the free agents to the Red Sox, Rangers and Yankees, respectively.
In an act of desperation, the Angels responded by acquiring outfielder Vernon Wells from the Toronto Blue Jays in exchange for C Mike Napoli and LF Juan Rivera. In the process, the ballclub assumed the $86 million remaining on Wellsâ€™ contract, widely considered to be the worst contract in all of baseball. The trade made the Angels a better teamâ€¦ but the fact of the matter is the money would have been better spent signing Crawford (retaining Napoli and Rivera, or using them in separate deals to strengthen the club elsewhere).
Notable additions: LHP Scott Downs, LHP Hisanori Takahashi, Vernon Wells
Notable subtractions: DH Hideki Matsui, C Mike Napoli, LF Juan Rivera
Catcher: Jeff Mathis
Infield: Kendry Morales (1B), Howie Kendrick (2B), Erick Aybar (3B) and Alberto Callaspo (3B)
Outfield: LF Vernon Wells, CF Peter Bourjos and RF Torii Hunter
Designated Hitter: Bobby Abreu
The return of Kendry Morales will help, but his return is now being delayed indefinitely due to complications with rehabilitation from last yearâ€™s injury. Slugging first baseman Mark Trumbo will start the season in his place and, if spring training is any indication at all, he will minimize the impact of Moralesâ€™ loss.
While the organization has endured a lot of criticism for assuming Wellsâ€™ contract in the trade with Toronto, but you canâ€™t deny the guyâ€™s talent. He enjoyed a nice comeback last year, hitting .273, with 31 HR and 88 RBI.
Torii Hunter will play the other corner-outfield position after being moved to right field to make room for Peter Bourjos in center field. Hunter has averaged .275/25/95 over the last ten years and should provide similar production in 2011. He has been an outstanding defender in center field over the yearsâ€¦ there is no reason to believe he will be any less outstanding patrolling right field.
Bourjosâ€™ combination of speed and defense served as the catalyst for the shift of Hunter to right fieldâ€¦ he is a talent that has to be in the lineup every day (at least until prospect Mike Trout is ready for The Show).
OF/DH Bobby Abreu struggled last year and saw his average slide to .255, yet he still hit 20 HR and stole 24 bases, making him a solid, if unspectacular, contributor to the offense.
Kendrick posted a career-low batting average (.279) in 2010, continuing a four-year slide that would be disconcerting except for the fact he simultaneously established career highs in base hits, home runs, ribbies and stolen bases.
SS Erick Aybar had an unremarkable season. He struggled on offense, hitting .253, with 5 HR and 29 RBI in 534 AB (although he did steal a career-best 22 SB). He compounded his struggles with the bat by carrying them into the field â€“ committing a total of 21 errors on defense.
Callaspo will take over for Wood â€“ who has been a complete disappointment in his brief career â€“ at third base. He has hit .282, with 21 HR and 129 RBI combined over the last two years. Wood has far greater power potential than Callaspo and, for that reason, the expectations have been high and the sense of disappointment regarding his failure has been acute. He hit .146, with 5 HR, in 277 at-bats last year. So much for â€œpotentialâ€.
Mathis is a solid defensive catcher but a black hole on offense. At this point in his career, he is just a place-holder for rookie Hank Conger, who will likely start the year in Triple-A but finish the season as the Angels starting backstop.
The pitching staff
Closer: Fernando Rodney
The top four in the Angels rotation are as strong as almost any Top Four in the big leagues.
Weaver emerged as the staff ace in 2010. In spite of enjoying minimal offensive support, he compiled a 13â€“12 record, with a 3.01 ERA and a major league-leading 233 strikeouts. While he enjoyed some good luck in terms of his hit-rate and strand-rate, the peripherals were not so far from the mean that they skewed his numbers to any significant degree.
The Angels acquired Haren from Arizona at the trading deadline. While his numbers in the second half appeared a bit better than they were before the trade, he was somewhat less effective after arriving in Los Angeles. He finished the season by going 4â€“0, with a 1.70 ERA, over his final eight starts â€“ the Angels hope that was a harbinger of what is to come in 2011.
Santana is a pitcher I do not trust, alternating good and bad seasons throughout his still-young career. He had a nice season in 2010, suggesting heâ€™ll have a rough time in 2011. That said, his strikeout rate and strikeout-to-walk ratio are n a three-year dipâ€¦ any kind of regression in hit-rate or strand-rate will send his ERA soaring into the mid-4.00â€™s.
Pineiro was a surprise after coming over from St Louis via free agency, going 10â€“7 with a 3.84 ERA. He demonstrates good control of the strike zone (2 BB / 9 IP) and keeps the ball on the ground. His performance last season should be repeatable, as his peripherals indicate a solid foundation.
Kazmirâ€™s slide continues to baffle the pundits. At just 27 years of age, he is too young to have just lost his abilities, yet his performance argues that his days of being an effective major league starter are over. His ERA continued its five-year rise, and last season rose by more than a full run. His struggles have corresponded with a simultaneous drop in his strikeout-to-walk ratio. It looks like it is finally time to stick a fork in him.
In the bullpen, there is a strong corps of strong-armed relievers but no proven closer. It will be up to Scioscia to sort through Scott Downs, Kevin Jepsen, Fernando Rodney and Jordan Walden to discover his 9th-inning finisher. Rodney will start the year as the closer, but he will be on a short leashâ€¦ Walden will finish the year in that position.
Prediction for 2011: 3rd place (77-85)
The Angels backslide will continue in 2011. The offense will be slightly less efficient this year, but it will be a case of taking one step backward to take two steps forward. The club will incorporate Trumbo and Bourjos into the lineup early in the year, with Conger to be recalled by yearâ€™s end. On the mound, Weaver should enjoy increased good fortune, but Santana will regress in another of his odd-numbered-year disappearing acts. Kazmir has to be better than he was in 2010â€¦ doesnâ€™t he? (Maybe not)
Better days are ahead, but they will have to endure one more year of struggles before things turn around.
Top Five Prospects:
1. Mike Trout, OF
2. Jean Segura, 2B
3. Hank Conger, C
4. Kalen Cowart, 3B
5. Jordan Walden, RHP
Trout is widely considered to be the second-best prospect in the game, behind only Bryce Harper of the Washington Nationals â€“ last yearâ€™s No. 1 pick. He is one of only three prospects to rate an â€œ80â€ on Baseball Americaâ€™s 20-80 ranking scale (along with Harper and Reds fireballer Aroldis Chapman).
He was chosen with Los Angelesâ€™ first pick (25th overall) in the 2009 First Year Player Draft as a schoolboy star out of Millville, NJ. He was rated the top prospect in the rookie-level Arizona League in 2009, and earned a late-season promotion to Cedar Rapids of the Midwest League (Low-A ball). Last season, he bashed MWL pitching to the tune of .362, with 6 HR, 39 RBI and 45 SB â€“ earning recognition as the leagueâ€™s MVP despite being promoted in mid-July. After an appearance in the MLB Futures Game, he was promoted to Rancho Cucamonga (Hi-A Californoa League) where he hit .306, with 4 HR, 19 RBI and 11 more stolen bases in 50 games. At the end of the season, he was rated as the No. 1 prospect in both the Midwest and California leagues.
Trout is the quintessential five-tool player. He has a short, quick, strong swing that allows him to make consistent contact, use the entire field, and generate average power. He has a keen batting eye and outstanding pitch recognition. His speed grades an â€œ80â€ on the scoutâ€™s 20-80 scale. He has Gold Glove defensive skills, though his arm is just probably average. He would fit well in center field, though the presence of elite defender Peter Bourjos may mean Trout ultimately moves to left field. He should be in the major leagues sometime in 2012.