Excitement and anticipation are in the air. Spring training is finally here. Pitchers and catchers have reported to their respective camps with position players to soon follow. In less than two weeks, baseball will officially begin.
One of the many teams looking to begin a long journey towards the World Series is the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. Their offseason trumped that of any other team in baseball with the signings of Albert Pujols, C.J. Wilson and LaTroy Hawkins and the acquisition of catcher Chris Iannetta. These moves should make the Angels one of the favorites in the American League and possibly even World Series contenders.
Heading into spring training, the Angels have a few question marks, much like any other team. These question marks are just some of the things to look forward to during this year's spring training in Arizona.
After a 2011 in which the Angels saw limited production from the catching position, new general manager Jerry Dipoto traded for Chris Iannetta and then promptly traded Jeff Mathis to the Toronto Blue Jays for pitcher Brad Mills.
In 2011, the Angels relied heavily on the trio of Jeff Mathis, Hank Conger and Bobby Wilson. None of these three managed to hit very well, and as a result, the Angels gave Mathis much of the catching duties because of his ability to play an above-average defense.
With the additions of Pujols, Wilson, Iannetta and Hawkins and the probable return of Kendrys Morales, one has to wonder if manager Mike Scioscia will be willing to carry three major league catchers again in 2012.
Both catchers will need to show their skills during spring training. If Scioscia decides to keep only two catchers on the major league roster, Conger or Wilson could very well end up back in Triple-A Salt Lake City or even with another team.
Look forward to a great position battle here. If Wilson does not manage to stick out, the Angels could very well choose Conger because of his youth and future potential.
In 2011, the Angels struggled to find a solid and reliable number five starter. That was until Jerome Williams made his presence felt. After joining the big league club on August 18, Williams showed that he can be a reliable starter in the big leagues. In 44 innings pitched, Williams managed to put up a 3.68 ERA and earned four wins. He managed to gain all his wins as a starter, and in that position his ERA was 2.31.
Williams will head into spring training as the Angels' number five starter, and his only competition for that position seems to be young Garrett Richards who struggled in the majors to end the 2011 season. Despite his struggles in 2011, Richards looks to be a solid major league pitcher at some point in his career and could potentially win a rotation spot heading into the season if Williams struggles or if the Angels suffer from injury elsewhere.
While this does not appear to be a major position battle yet, it has the potential to be just that. Keep an eye on this one, it could get interesting.
During the 2011 season, first baseman Mark Trumbo stormed into the majors and made his presence felt. He led the team with 29 home runs, 87 RBI and .477 slugging percentage. Despite Trumbo's ability to hit home runs and drive in runs, the Angels did not feel comfortable enough about his ability to carry the team for a second year and decided to sign Albert Pujols.
Although Pujols will slide in at first base, Trumbo is not out of a job just yet. Heading into spring training, the Angels have asked Trumbo to attempt to play third base for them.
While some are skeptical of Trumbo's ability to play third, it may be a risk worth taking. If Trumbo manages to learn the position, the Angels' lineup could become incredibly lethal with yet another power bat in the middle. It is unlikely that Trumbo will play gold glove quality defense at third, but the Angels may not be looking for that out of him. Instead, the Angels may be willing to settle with below-par defense at the hot corner as long as Trumbo continues to produce at the plate.
This may be one of the more exciting stories to watch in spring training. The Angels are going to be a great team in 2012, but they will be even better if Trumbo can successfully play third base.
After a very poor 2011 season, veteran slugger Vernon Wells will look to rebound in 2012. During the offseason, Wells has worked hard to adjust his swing and return to form. Wells may put the Angels in a very tricky situation going forward if he does not manage to produce. During the remaining three years of his contact, Wells is owed over $60 million, something that cannot be overlooked.
Heading into spring training, many will be looking at Wells to see how well he can rebound. If the past is any indication, Wells could be in for another big year. History has shown that Wells has been able to successfully rebound after down years.
If Wells return to form or even improves on his numbers from last year (25 HR, 66 RBI, .218/.248/.412 line), he could greatly improve the Angels' lineup. With uncertainty surrounding Kendrys Morales and Mark Trumbo, Wells is currently the likely candidate to bat behind Albert Pujols. If this is the case, the Angels will need Wells to perform in order to be the team they believe they can be.
As long as eyes are on Vernon Wells, they will also be on young phenom Mike Trout. The youngster still sits near the top of every major prospect list and is likely to earn a starting big league job at some point in the 2012 season.
During spring training, many will be comparing him to Vernon Wells, in a debate over which player should be L.A.'s starting left fielder heading into 2012. As it stands, however, Wells is likely to be given the job because of the money owed to him and because of his veteran presence. Unless Wells struggles mightily again, Trout may have to fight his way to the big leagues.
The Angels will be looking for a way to get Trout onto the big league roster if there is room available for him to play every day.
If Trout goes crazy during spring training, things could get interesting. An outstanding spring performance could very well force the Angels to make some sort of trade.
Where will Bobby Abreu play?
That seems to be the question most people are asking headed into spring training. As of now, it appears that Abreu is destined to become a left-handed bat of the bench. While he has not yet openly complained about such a role, he also has not yet actually been faced with the decline in playing time. Once the team gets on the field and begins playing games, Abreu's attitude towards being a bench player could change drastically.
No matter how well Abreu plays during spring training, it appears unlikely that he will be able to replace Torii Hunter, Peter Bourjos or Vernon Wells in a crowded outfield. Designated hitter is also likely out of the question if slugger Kendrys Morales returns to form. Even if Morales did not return, the position would likely be given to Trumbo with Alberto Callaspo returning to his role at third base.
Things have gotten a bit complicated for Abreu. Spring training will be the time for the Angels to test Abreu as a bench player. If it does not work out, Abreu will likely be traded elsewhere.
Not everything in spring training is about position battles and rebounding veterans. Spring training is also the time for players and fans alike to check out their team's new acquisitions.
For the Angels, there is no bigger acquisition than the legendary Albert Pujols. His presence in the middle of the Angels' lineup will completely alter the way the opposition views the team. Pujols' work ethic is also likely to rub off on many of the Angels' younger players. With a future hall of fame player on the team, there is no telling how much better the Angels could be in 2012.
Pujols is not the only player to join the Angels this offseason either. Before signing Pujols, the Angels also added Chris Iannetta and LaTroy Hawkins. Both of these players are likely to improve on some of the Angels' weaknesses from 2011.
As if they had not done enough to improve the team, the Angels also promptly inked the best starting pitcher on the free agent market, C.J.Wilson, only hours after signing Pujols. Wilson comes to the Angels' from their rival, the Texas Rangers. It was with the Rangers that he proved to be one of the American League's top pitchers over the past two years. He will join Jered Weaver, Dan Haren and Ervin Santana in what could be the best rotation in Major League Baseball.
As if all of the excitement of the offseason was not enough for Angels fans, spring training looks to provide even more movement for the Angels.
Currently, the Angels are carrying three catchers, five major league ready outfielders and three first basemen. What does this all add up to? The likelihood of a trade at some point before Opening Day.
While many praised Jerry Dipoto for the signings of Pujols and Wilson, this may be the most trying period for the Angels' new GM. He will need to find a way to either balance the pieces that he has or move them to other teams.
Candidates to be traded include Bobby Abreu, Mark Trumbo, Maicer Izturis, Alberto Callaspo, Bobby Wilson and potentially even Kendrys Morales should he prove healthy.
With the Angels in need of another solid reliever, do not expect them to hold on to all of the pieces that they have. During this year's spring training, many players will not only be fighting for an opportunity to play, but also for an opportunity to stay with the vastly improved Angels team.
If adding Albert Pujols was not enough to make the Angels a playoff favorite, than the return of Kendrys Morales will certainly add them to the list. While many speculate on his ability to make a full return, reports indicate that he is progressing well and could be ready for Opening Day.
With the left-handed bat of Bobby Abreu likely absent from the Angels' everyday lineup in 2012, Kendrys Morales' return could prove important for the Halos. In addition to being a switch-hitter in a very right-handed heavy lineup, Morales could add some protection for Albert Pujols.
Should Morales return to 2009 form, his presence in the Angels' lineup could be huge. In 2009, he hit 34 home runs, drove in 108 RBI and hit for a line of .306/.355/.569.
While many doubt that he can hit as well as he did in 2009, it is seeming more likely that he will at least make some sort of comeback in 2012, after missing nearly two full seasons with a broken ankle.
If Morales could join the likes of Pujols, Trumbo and a resurgent Wells in the middle of the Angels' lineup, the Halos' offense could become just as lethal as any team in baseball.
If you are one of the many people planning on attending spring training this year, then you are no doubt looking forward to all of the fun that comes along with it.
Spring training provides an atmosphere unlike any other. It's a time where you get a chance to be up close and personal with the players. Before each game, players typically sign autographs and converse with the fans. You also have the ability to watch minor league and major league players train and practice for the upcoming season.
With the electricity surrounding the Angels this year, look for spring training to be even more exciting than usual.
If you want the autograph of you favorite player, this is definitely the time to do it.
For those who do not get a chance to make it out to Arizona or Florida, being able to finally watch a game of baseball on television can be just as exciting.