After a dismal 2011 season, the Los Angeles Angels have refueled, retooled and look to make a serious playoff run in 2012. The likes of Albert Pujols, C.J. Wilson, LaTroy Hawkins and Chris Iannetta will join current players like Torii Hunter, Peter Bourjos and Jered Weaver in an attempt to bring another World Series Championship to Southern California.
Along the way, the team is likely to go through its ups and downs. How they respond to those bumps in the road will determine just how great of a team they truly are.
Now that the 2012 season is nearing, some Angels players will look to leave bad 2011 statistics behind them while others attempt to live up to the hype of a new lucrative deal. These pressures that come with being a baseball player can cause some players to struggle but can also allow some players to thrive.
The 2012 season will certainly put some Angels players under a bit of pressure.
For Torii Hunter, 2012 will be a very interesting year. When he enters the season, Hunter will be 36 and will be coming off of one of his worst seasons in recent memory. After an awful first half in which he batted only .250, Hunter was able to salvage his season a bit and ended the season with a .262 batting average.
There is reason to believe that Hunter can turn it around in 2012. He will no longer have the pressures of being the big bat in the middle of the lineup. Instead, Hunter will likely be delegated to batting in the fourth or fifth spot in the lineup.
Just because he does not have to be the RBI guy batting third does not mean that Hunter has no pressure at all in 2012. He is entering the final year of his contract and will have to impress in order to remain with the Angels in 2013. With Peter Bourjos, Mike Trout, Vernon Wells, Kendrys Morales and Mark Trumbo all under contract past 2012, it appears that Hunter is the odd man out.
Hunter loves playing for the Angels but will have to truly impress the Angels front office in order to stay with the team.
The 2011 season was supposed to be the season in which Hank Conger made an impact with the big league club. Instead, he struggled mightily at the plate. The Angels' young catcher managed to bat only .209 with a .282 on-base percentage. To top that off, Conger also managed to only drive in 19 RBI in 197 plate appearances.
Entering 2012, the Angels' starting catcher is likely to be the newly acquired Chris Iannetta. In order to win the starting job, Conger is going to need to become a significantly better hitter at the major league level. As we saw in 2011, the Angels will not hesitate to send Conger back to the Triple-A level in 2012, if they feel that Conger is struggling. Until Conger hits at a respectable level, he will be under a bit of pressure to produce.
After the offensive woes that the Angels had in 2011, I do not suspect that the Angels will settle for below-average offense from the catching position. If Conger continues to struggle with the Angels, his name could come up during trade talks in July.
Despite a ton of speculation, Bobby Abreu is still on the Angels roster. Even if Abreu were to be traded before the beginning of the season, he is still likely to have a huge amount of pressure in 2012. Like Hunter, Abreu will also be entering the final season of his contract. For Abreu, however, things may not look so bright after the conclusion of the season.
If Abreu fails to return to form in 2012, this may very well be the final season of his illustrious career. For Abreu, 2012 will bring a whole different type of pressure as past offseasons have not been friendly to declining veterans.
Whether it's with the Angels or with a different ballclub, Abreu is going to have to produce at all costs. The survival of his career could depend on it.
Entering 2012, young phenom Mike Trout is expected to begin with the Triple-A Salt Lake Bees. As we saw in 2011, however, Trout will likely force his way onto the big league club again at some point during the 2012 season. When he does eventually get called up to the majors, Trout will be faced with the pressures of playing every day and with the pressures that come with being one of the game's top prospects.
During his time with the big league club in 2011, Trout showed that he was perhaps not yet ready to face major league pitching. In 135 plate appearances, Trout hit .220/.281/.390 while also hitting five home runs and driving in 16 RBI.
With a crowded outfield and a goal to win it all in 2012, the Angels are not likely to just hand Trout and outfield position. Instead, Trout is going to have to force his way onto the big league club.
If one player was responsible for keeping the Angels in contention in 2011, it may have been Mark Trumbo. After the Angels learned of Kendrys Morales' inability to return for the season, Trumbo was thrown into the spotlight of the big leagues and thrived.
In his first full season, Trumbo slugged 29 home runs and drove in 87 RBI. His achievements would also allow him to finish second in the Rookie of the Year balloting.
Despite his great rookie campaign, Trumbo has been forced off of the first base position by the acquisition of All-Star Albert Pujols. Heading into 2012, Trumbo has been asked to learn to play the third base position. This added pressure to learn a new position could hurt Trumbo's offensive and defensive numbers but could also greatly benefit the Angels should he successfully learn to play the position.
For Trumbo, his future with the Angels could depend on his ability to play third base. Should he learn to play third, he will most likely become the full-time starter at that position. If not, he could very well get traded.
With Albert Pujols joining the Angels lineup, the Angels have become a very good hitting team. If Kendrys Morales returned to form and joined the ranks, his presence would make the Angels lineup lethal.
If Morales were to rejoin the Angels, he would have the pressures that come with batting behind Pujols. Many would expect Morales to be the same Morales that he was in 2009, which would be very hard for him to do coming off of his extended absence. That season, Morales hit 34 home runs while also driving in 109 RBI and batting .290.
The Angels could really use a left-handed bat in the lineup and Morales' switch-hitting ability could provide just that.
Morales' position with the team going forward is uncertain. In 2012 it appears that he will spend most of his time at DH but it is uncertain if that is where he will be in the long run. In 2012, Morales will need to perform in order to solidify his place with the Angels in the future.
In 2011, Jordan Walden emerged as the Angels closer and held on to the position nearly all season. Throughout the year, he would have his ups and downs and would ultimately finish the season with a 2.98 ERA and 32 saves. Walden's 10 blown saves would also tie for the most in that category in the major leagues.
During this offseason, there was much speculation as to who would be the Angels closer in 2012. Now that all the dust is nearly settled, it appears as if the Angels will again put their faith in Walden's ability to close out games.
Heading into 2012, Walden will again be faced with the pressures of being a closer. Should he stumble a bit while again closing, he could very well lose his job as closer. This has become even more likely now that the Angels are fitted to make a legitimate World Series run.
The addition of C.J. Wilson has made the Angels rotation one of the strongest in the big leagues. The only concern surrounding the rotation is the amount of depth the Angels have beyond their top four starters. This means the Angels will be relying on Jerome Williams to be a respectable No. 5 starter.
In 2011, Williams emerged as a solid starter, going 4-0 with a 2.31 ERA when starting games. Williams will look to carry that success over into the 2012 season. If he fails to maintain respectable numbers, the Angels will be forced to look at minor league prospect Garrett Richards as well as newly acquired Brad Mills to fill his rotation spot.
Without a reliable No. 5 starter, the impact of the first four rotation spots could be lessened. While it is unlikely that Williams can be as good as Jered Weaver, Dan Haren, Ervin Santana and Wilson, he can learn a lot and could develop into a very solid pitcher.
One of the Angels' biggest disappointments in 2011 was Vernon Wells. He failed to get comfortable at the plate all season and his year-end numbers suffered greatly as a result. At season's end Wells ended up with a line of .218/.248/.412 with batting average and on-base percentage being career lows.
At the age of 33, it is hard to believe that Wells would be on the decline just yet. During this offseason, he has worked hard in order to regain form and become lethal once again in 2012.
It is likely that the Angels front office will not allow Wells to struggle like he did in 2011. Continued struggles could lead to a trade or even to Wells being released by the ballclub. For Wells, the pressures will be those of redemption. Many people have written Wells off and his goal in 2012 will be to prove that he is still a very talented ballplayer.
Albert Pujols may be the Angels player with the most pressure on him in the 2012 season. He will enter the year with a new 10-year $240 million contract and will be expected to perform like the Albert Pujols of the past.
As it stands, Pujols has 445 career home runs with a .328/.420/.617 line. Pujols will look to continue this sort of production and the money the Angels are paying him warrants that sort of production. As we know, money can also hurt a player who attempts to live up to the contract as opposed to simply playing as they normally do. The Boston Red Sox's Carl Crawford may be a good example of this.
In addition to the pressures that come with a big contract, Pujols will also have to face the pressures of being the Angels' big run-producer. While the ideal situation is that Kendrys Morales and Vernon Wells make full comebacks, it is impossible to say that they both will. Either way, Pujols will be expected to hit home runs and drive in runs in the heart of the Angels lineup.