Los Angeles Angels preview: Bats will guide Halos to playoffs
There was no team more disappointing last season than the Los Angeles Angels. After acquiring a perennial MVP candidate in Albert Pujols and a 16-game winner in lefty C.J. Wilson, the Angels got off to a slow start. Enter Mike Trout one month later and Zack Greinke at the trade deadline, and this group still managed to fall short of the playoffs for the third straight year.
With that in mind, the Los Angeles Angels went to work in the offseason. They allowed their top free agents in Greinke, Dan Haren and Torii Hunter to sign elsewhere and made an unsuspected splash similar to the previous year by adding Josh Hamilton to a lineup that already contains Pujols and Trout. In addition, they bolstered the rotation by signing Joe Blanton and moving Kendrys Morales and Jordan Walden in separate trades for 14-game winner Jason Vargas and once-promising starter Tommy Hanson. The bullpen was also upgraded with the signings of Ryan Madson and Sean Burnett.
Los Angeles Angels position players
Is there anything in baseball that scares a pitcher more than having to deal with three MVP candidates in one lineup? That’s what the Angels will boast in 2013 with Trout, Pujols and Hamilton. The question is will there be any reliable offense aside from those three? Mark Trumbo posted career highs in both homers (32) and RBIs (95) last season, but after August 1, his average dropped 33 points and he hit just five home runs the rest of the way. Howie Kendrick and Erick Aybar won’t hurt you at the plate, but they’ve been inconsistent over their careers thus far.
One guy to keep an eye on is Vernon Wells. His career has taken a huge dive since his All-Star days in Toronto. Because of his untradeable contract, he currently sits as the fourth outfielder behind Trout, Hamilton and Peter Bourjos. Bourjos however, is strictly a defensive player and has never shown much at the plate. If there becomes a need for more offense, Wells is sure to get the opportunity to revive his career and give this lineup a power boost.
Los Angeles Angels pitching
The Los Angeles Angels pitching staff starts with Jered Weaver. He is coming off a 20-win season and has finished in the top five in Cy Young voting three years in a row. But after that, questions arise. Wilson won 13 games a year ago but struggled with control issues (91 walks ranked third in the AL). Hanson looked like a future ace as a rookie in 2009 going 11-4 in just 21 starts. Since then, his ERA has climbed, and his velocity has dropped, which was reason enough for the Braves to ship him off. Over the last four seasons, opponents have hit .292 against Blanton, and he has averaged just 102 innings in that span. Vargas could be a pleasant surprise. He managed to win 14 games for the worst offense in all of baseball in Seattle. He also has pitched over 200 innings the last three seasons.
The bullpen should be much better in 2013. Ernesto Frieri emerged a viable closer last season en route to 23 saves in 26 chances and an impressive 98 strikeouts in 66 innings. Madson is expected to close once he’s deemed healthy enough after missing all of 2012 because of Tommy John surgery. Burnett and Scott Downs are two of the better lefty bullpen arms in baseball and Kevin Jepsen had a strong season as a setup man. Garrett Richards, Jerome Williams and Nick Maronde are competing this spring for the last spots in the pen.
Los Angeles Angels projected lineup
- Mike Trout LF
- Erick Aybar SS
- Albert Pujols 1B
- Josh Hamilton RF
- Mark Trumbo DH
- Howie Kendrick 2B
- Albert Callaspo 3B
- Chris Iannetta C
- Peter Bourjos CF
Los Angeles Angels prospects to watch
The Los Angeles Angels are considered by many to have the league’s worst farm system. The trades to acquire Haren and Greinke drained their young talent, and the loss of draft picks from signing the likes of Pujols, Hamilton and other notable free agents have kept them from replenishing it. Third baseman Kaleb Cowart, 20, is the Angels top prospect. He is a switch-hitter with power from both sides of plate and possesses a rifle at the hot corner. Though he is still at least a year or two away, he should be able to solidify himself as an everyday player at the major-league level.
Nick Maronde, C.J. Cron and Taylor Lindsey are three guys who could also ascend to the majors. Maronde, 23, projects as a left-handed reliever with a fastball/slider combination. However, the Angels believe he can start at some point. Cron, 23, is a power-hitting first baseman who has so far dominated single-A ball. His development is worth keeping an eye on. Lindsey, 21, is a solid-hitting second baseman but needs to work a bit more in the field.
It’s hard to imagine Mike Scioscia’s ballclub missing the playoffs for a fourth consecutive season. The Texas Rangers have taken a step back. The Oakland A’s need to prove themselves again. The Seattle Mariners and Houston Astros are not threats. This, and the fact the Los Angeles Angels have four of the best players in all of baseball in the same dugout, is reason enough to expect this team to be a title contender. Even if the rotation struggles a bit, expect general manager Jerry Dipito to do whatever it takes in the trade/waiver market to improve the team. Around 95 wins and a division title are reasonable expectations for the year.