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L.A. Angels: Predicting Their Opening Day Bullpen

Anthony EmmerlingContributor IIFebruary 16, 2012

L.A. Angels: Predicting Their Opening Day Bullpen

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    With spring training nearly here, baseball fans worldwide have grown restless in anticipation. This past winter provided baseball with some of the most exciting player movement in recent memory.  

    Jose Reyes, Heath Bell and Mark Buehrle joined the Miami Marlins, while Prince Fielder left Milwaukee and signed a nine-year, $214 million contract with the Detroit Tigers.

    For Los Angeles Angels fans, however, much of the excitement from this offseason was provided by the signings of the legendary Albert Pujols as well as C.J. Wilson and LaTroy Hawkins.

    Earlier in the offseason, general manager Jerry Dipoto also managed to bring in catcher Chris Iannetta in a trade that also sent young Tyler Chatwood to Colorado.

    Despite much speculation, the Angels did not manage to make a bullpen acquisition, however.

    Many rumors swirled that the Angels had interest in the likes of Ryan Madson and Francisco Cordero, but nothing came of those rumors. Instead, the Angels will head into spring training with a bullpen similar to the one they had in 2011.

    Spring training is a time for the veteran relievers to prove they still have “it” and a time for the young guys to fight for any spots that may be available.

    By Opening Day, only the top relievers who have proven themselves worthy, will earn a spot with the big league roster. Here is what the Angels bullpen could look like at the conclusion of spring training:

Bobby Cassevah

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    At the start of the 2011 season, Bobby Cassevah found himself playing for the Angels' Triple-A affiliate. While with the Salt Lake Bees, Cassevah's numbers did not seem too impressive.

    In 21.1 innings of relief for Salt Lake, Cassevah had three losses and a 4.64 ERA. This did not stop him from making a major league appearance in 2011, however.

    On June 14, the Angels would call him up to replace injured Fernando Rodney. Once in the big leagues, Cassevah would pitch very well and eventually earned a job in the bullpen for the remainder of the 2011 season.

    In 39.2 innings of relief, Cassevah posted a solid 2.72 earned run average with one win, one loss and batters hitting .207 against him. 

    Heading into spring training and the 2012 season, one can suspect that Cassevah has likely earned himself a spot with the Angels in 2012 barring consistent struggles during spring training. 

Rich Thompson

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    After a strong spring training in 2011, right-handed reliever Rich Thompson earned himself a spot on the Angels Opening Day roster.

    Thompson would use his successful spring training appearances to propel him into an even more successful 2011 season.

    The 27-year-old Thomson would remain with the big league club all season, and for good reason.

    In 54 innings pitched, Thomson posted a 3.00 ERA with opposing hitting batting .244. In 2011, Thompson also proved that he can remain healthy through a rigorous season.

    While a reliever's performance can vary from year to year, Thompson has shown that he has what it takes to be a solid major league reliever.  After being one of the Angels' most reliable relievers in 2011, look for Mike Scioscia to give Thompson a bullpen spot once again in 2012. 

Hisanori Takahashi

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    Prior to the 2011 season, the Angels signed lefty Hisanori Takahashi to a two-year, $8 million contract.

    At the beginning of the season, many speculated as to whether or not Takahashi could be a solid reliever for the Angels.

    He proved many of his critics right during the first half of the season in which he seemed to struggle despite showing moments of brilliance. In the first half of the season, Takahashi would post a 3.62 ERA in 37.1 innings pitched.

    The second half of the season proved a bit more successful for Takahashi. In the 30.2 innings he would pitch in the second half, Takahashi managed to post a 3.23 ERA, lowering his season ERA to a decent 3.44. 

    It seems inevitable that Takahashi will be in the Angels bullpen on Opening Day of the 2012 season.

    The fact that he is one of only two experienced left-handed pitchers that the Angels have should solidify this point. Without Takahashi, the Angels would seemingly have no lefty in the middle of the bullpen.

LaTroy Hawkins

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    The newcomer to the Angels bullpen in 2012 will be veteran reliever LaTroy Hawkins.

    After 17 seasons in the big leagues, Hawkins inked a one-year, $3 million deal with the Angels on December 7.

    Throughout his career, Hawkins has had his fair share of ups and downs but has seemingly gotten better with age. 

    In 2011, Hawkins pitched 48.1 innings for the Milwaukee Brewers at the age of 38. His age did not stop him from putting together a solid season. Hawkins would finish the season with a low 2.42 earned run average. 

    Heading into 2012, Hawkins will no doubt have a spot in the Angels bullpen.

    His ability to be a solid reliever is not the only thing he brings to the table. Hawkins will be able to mentor young pitchers such as Jordan Walden and could potentially fill the closer role should Walden struggle or get injured. 

Scott Downs

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    At the age of 35, lefty Scott Downs put together the best season of his 10-year career.

    In addition to that he was the most reliable reliever the Angels had during the 2011 season. His success during the 2011 season will clearly earn him a spot in the Angels bullpen heading into 2012. 

    In 52.3 innings pitched, Downs posted a stellar 1.34 ERA with a 1.01 WHIP. Opposing batters also only managed to bat .199 against him. 

    Downs will turn 36 during the 2012 season. Look for him to continue to keep putting up great numbers as the Angels primary set up man.

    It will be difficult for him to put up numbers similar to the ones he put up in 2011 but the Angels' good defense and neutral ballpark should help Downs maintain a great earned run average. 

Jordan Walden

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    One of the largest question marks surrounding the Angels in 2012 is how well Jordan Walden will be able to pitch.

    After an offseason in which the Angels were linked to multiple closing pitchers, it appears that Jordan Walden will maintain his role as closer heading into the 2012 season. 

    In 2011, Walden saw his fair share of highs as well as his fair share of lows.

    When looking at his 2.98 ERA in 60.1 innings pitched, it would appear that Walden was a solid closer. During the majority of his opportunities to close, Walden was just that. At season's end he would have 32 saves. 

    Much of the focus, however, was on Walden's struggles at closer. In addition to his 32 saves, Walden had 10 blown saves which tied him for the most in the majors with the Chicago Cubs' Carlos Marmol. 

    With a full year of experience under his belt and plenty of veteran support in the bullpen, it seems logical to suggest that Walden could become a much better closer than he was in 2011. If he does become better, Walden could potentially become one of the better closers in the game.

    Barring injury, expect to see Walden as the Angels closer at the start of the 2012 season.

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