With Opening Day less than three weeks away, the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim are still trying to figure out what their regular lineup is going to look like, or if they’re even going to have a regular lineup.
I’m fairly certain they know who’s going to be at first base and decisions have been made at several other positions as well, leaving three up for grabs. Left field, third base and the last spot in the rotation have yet to be decided, and probably won’t be until they break camp at the earliest.
Here’s a look at how each position battle is shaping up:
Incumbent: Vernon Wells
Challenger: Mike Trout
Update: Wells has been getting the playing time as Trout has yet to take the field this spring. Instead, he’s been recovering from an undisclosed illness that caused him to lose 10 pounds. He was scheduled to play on Sunday, but rain forced the cancellation of that game and now MLB.com is reporting that Trout is experiencing some shoulder tendinitis that is preventing him from throwing.
For his part, Wells is hitting .269 this spring but those numbers don’t reflect how well he seems to be squaring up on the ball.
He’s hit several pitches hard that ended up being outs only because they were hit right at people. He seems more comfortable at the plate than at any point last season, which may or may not be because of Albert Pujols’ presence in the lineup.
In any case, I’m encouraged by what I’ve seen so far and I have to believe the Angels are too. Last year notwithstanding, Wells has proven in the past he can be a quality offensive force and with the Angels scheduled to pay him around $21 million this season, they are going to give him every opportunity to earn his money.
This had the potential to be a very intriguing position battle as Trout could’ve made it a really difficult decision had he taken the field and lit it up at the plate. I suppose there’s still time to do that, but with this latest setback it appears this battle was over before it really even began.
Prediction: Wells has the job on Opening Day and plays well enough during the season to hold on to it. Trout starts the season back in the minors and proceeds to destroy AAA pitching while he waits for his call-up.
No. 5 Starter
Incumbent: Jerome Williams
Challengers: Garrett Richards, Trevor Bell, Eric Hurley, Brad Mills
Update: This was originally supposed to be a two-person race between Williams and Richards but once again an injury, in this case Williams’ sore hamstring, has affected the contest.
Williams went 4-0 with a 3.68 ERA in 10 appearances last season, including six starts after being tapped as the No. 5 starter in late August. He has not pitched at all this spring, opening the door for Richards to state his case to be the No. 5 guy on what is expected to be one of the best rotations in all of baseball.
And he’s done well with that opportunity, going 3-0 with a 2.00 ERA in three spring starts, including a four-inning gem on Friday where he struck out six.
Meanwhile, Angels manager Mike Scioscia said on Friday the team would also be looking at Bell, Hurley and Mills to fill the 5th spot, which due to the team’s schedule won’t be needed until April 15th.
Mills has made three appearances this spring—including two starts—and hasn’t allowed a run in any of them. Opponents are batting a meager .107 against him. Bell and Hurley have each struggled so far this spring but will get more chances to show they can get the job done.
The wild card in all this is Williams, who seemingly came out of nowhere last summer and looked more like Dave Stewart circa 1988 than he did the guy who’d been out of the majors since 2007 when he went 0-5 for the then-dreadful Washington Nationals.
Who is the real Jerome Williams? We were supposed to find out this spring. The fact that we haven’t only brings more intrigue to the battle.
Prediction: Williams, if and when he does take the mound, struggles to regain the form he showed late last season. Mills continues to pitch well and becomes a valuable and much-needed member of the bullpen. Richards is named the team’s No. 5 starter and has a solid campaign in that role.
Incumbent: Alberto Callaspo
Challenger: Mark Trumbo
Update: Callaspo played in 141 games last season (129 at third base) and led the team in hitting with a .288 average while playing above-average defense. Ordinarily a person like that, if healthy, would be on solid ground entering camp, but this is shaping up to be anything but an ordinary year.
For starters, last year’s Rookie of the Year runner-up, Mark Trumbo, is a man without a home, thanks to Albert Pujols taking over first and the probable return of Kendrys Morales at DH.
The Angels desperately want Trumbo’s big bat in the lineup and since Callaspo only drove in 46 runs
last year, the team decided to have Trumbo audition at third. He’s doing his part at the plate, hitting .316 with two HRs and eight RBI, but he’s been alternating between first base and third base on defense.
Callaspo, meanwhile, has been his usual productive self so far this spring, hitting .444; however, he does not have an extra-base hit and has only driven in two. Morales is expected to begin playing in games this week in an attempt to shake the rust off by Opening Day.
Prediction: The Angels begin the season with a platoon situation where Trumbo is used to spell Callaspo at third and Morales at DH. By summer, with Morales back to his pre-injury form, Trumbo takes over at third base and Callaspo becomes a valuable utility player.
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