2008 MLB Preview: Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim

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2008 MLB Preview: Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim

Manager: Mike Scoscia
Arrivals: SP Jon Garland, OF Torii Hunter
Departures: SP Bartolo Colon, SS Orlando Cabrera

Offseason grade: A

Starting rotation

With John Lackey out until at least May and Kelvim Escobar's career in jeopardy, this Angels rotation that looked so strong after picking up Jon Garland in the offseason now has some holes.

Until Lackey comes back, the Angels will go with a rotation of Jered Weaver, Jon Garland, Joe Saunders, Ervin Santana, and Dustin Moseley.

The pressure will be on Weaver to perform as the ace of this staff for the first month or two of the season. He certainly has the stuff to be an ace, but he's just 25 and hasn't started 30 games in a season yet.

Still, Weaver is an excellent option to have as the ace of this staff. Look for him to settle into that role nicely and maybe even hold it once Lackey comes back.

Weaver was slated to be the No. 3 starter on this staff before the injuries to Escobar and Lackey, while Garland was going to be the No. 4.

Garland is a perfect middle-of-the-rotation pitcher. His ERA may not be stellar, but he eats innings and knows how to pitch. With a good offense behind him, Garland could return to win 18 games like he did with the White Sox in 2005 and 2006. 

However, Garland never was higher than a No. 3 starter in his eight-year career with the White Sox. I don't view him as an ideal No. 2, but he should hold his own there until Lackey gets back in the mix.

Saunders looked like he was going to be the No. 5 starter for the Angels this year, a spot that he would have fit into nicely. An excellent ground ball pitcher, Saunders looked to slot in as one of the better No. 5 starters in the league without a whole lot of pressure on him. However, as the Angels' No. 3 starter, it'll be interesting to see how he handles being counted on more than expected.

Ervin Santana wasn't even supposed to be in the Angels rotation this year, but he'll fill in as the No. 4 starter. Santana greatly struggled last year, going from 16-8 with a 4.26 ERA in 2006 to 7-14 with a 5.76 ERA in 2007.

The 2006 version of Santana will have to show up now that the Angels are stretched for depth in their rotation. If he can win 13-15 games and keep his ERA around 4.50, the Angels should be in decent shape at the back of their rotation.

Moseley beat out top prospect Nick Adenhart for the final spot in the Angels rotation with Lackey out. Moseley has started just eight games in his career with a 5.44 ERA, pitching primarily out of the bullpen in his major-league career.

His 3.00 Spring ERA in Arizona is encouraging, but the Angels will have to hope that his ERA doesn't rise too much in his time as the fifth starter.

Keep an eye on Adenhart, a 21-year-old righty who lost out on the final rotation spot in the spring. If he pitches well in AAA and another Angels starter goes down or seriously struggles, expect Adenhart to be called up.

The success of the 2008 Angels may be determined on how well they pitch until Lackey comes back. If Lackey comes back healthy, he'll return as one of the American League's best pitchers and would give a massive boost to this rotation. 

Even if the Angels do struggle before Lackey comes back, his return could easily trigger a run back to the top of the division. They just have to be careful not to fall too far behind the Mariners early, which, if you ask me, they won't. This staff will do a good job treading water and staying within striking distance of Seattle until their ace returns in May.

Starting rotation grade: B- (B+ or A- when Lackey returns)

 

Bullpen

The Angels' injury problems weren't limited to their starting rotation.

Scot Shields, one of baseball's best setup men over the last five years, will begin the season on the disabled list with an inflamed elbow. While his DL stint will be retroactive to an earlier date, he'll still miss the first week or two of the season.

Chris Bootcheck also will miss the start of the year with an oblique injury suffered early in spring training. He's progressing faster than expected, but still isn't expected to be back until mid-April. Bootcheck was mediocre last year, throwing 77.1 innings with a 4.77 ERA. 

The Angels will need both these pitchers healthy, though,  

Of course, Francisco Rodriguez is one of the best closers in the game. Rodriguez, 26, has saved 40 or more games in his three seasons as Angels' closer, thanks to an electric fastball and excellent curveball.

Justin Speier pitched very well after signing a bloated contract in the offseason, appearing in 51 games with a 2.88 ERA. He's a very good late-inning option to spell Shields or set him up in the seventh.

Darren Oliver has resurrected his career as reliever, throwing 64.1 innings with a 3.78 ERA as the Angels' primary left-hander out of the bullpen. He'll be 38 in October and will need to stay healthy as the only left-handed reliever readily available to pitch in the Angel bullpen.

Once Lackey returns, Moseley should return to the bullpen to be the long man, where he's had some success over his career.

While Moseley is in the rotation and Bootcheck/Shields are out, Jason Bulger and Rich Thompson will fill in at the back of the bullpen.

Bulger has seen limited time in the majors, throwing ten innings with Arizona in 2005 and eight with the Angels between stints in 2006 and 2007. He has a 5.50 ERA over those innings, which seems to be somewhat consistent with the jump a reliever with a career 4.25 minor-league ERA would see.

Thompson is just 23 and has a better track record in the minors with a 3.92 ERA over six seasons, including a 2.01 ERA and 0.95 WHIP between A+ Rancho Cucomonga, AA Arkansas, and AAA Salt Lake City last year. 

There's a chance that this bullpen will get overworked early in the year if the back of the starting rotation falters. If that does happen, guys like Oliver and Bootcheck will have to eat up a lot of earlier innings, weakening the middle relief of this bullpen. 

This isn't a bad bullpen, but they don't strike me as being very strong. That's to say, if they suffer a significant injury or two, they really could be in trouble.

Bullpen grade: B-

 

Lineup

When looking at the offensive depth of the 30 MLB teams, there's absolutely no question that the Angels lead the pack in terms of having a wealth of offensive talent. 

Between Vladimir Guerrero, Torii Hunter, Garret Anderson, Gary Matthews, Juan Rivera, and Reggie Willits, the Angels have six outfielders who are all capable of starting. 

Guerrero is an RBI machine, driving in at least 108 runs in all four of his years with the Angels. With Hunter now in the lineup to provide extra protection, Guerrero should drive in another 120+ runs while hitting well over .300 with another 30 or so home runs.

Hunter should come over and pick up right where he left off in Minnesota and hit 25-30 home runs, drive in 100 runs, and bat around .280 while playing gold-glove defense in center. 

At age 35, Anderson is still an excellent hitter. He may not have the power stroke he had earlier in the decade, but he'll still hit around .300 with 15-20 home runs and 100 RBI. 

Matthews likely won't hit anywhere near the .313 he did with Texas in 2006 ever again, but I expect him to hit a little better than the .252 he did last year.

Rivera seems like an afterthought after only playing in 14 games last year due to a broken leg, even being mentioned in trade rumors.

The Angels must have quickly forgotten how well Rivera played in 2006, when he hit .313 with 23 home runs and 85 RBI in 448 at-bats with the team. He's likely a better offensive option than Matthews, but the Angels wouldn't be losing a whole lot if they did trade him to gain a little more pitching depth. 

Willits got 490 at-bats last year for the Angels and had an OBP of .391, hit .293, and stole 27 bases. He'll be relegated to backup outfield duty for the most part of this year, getting in late for speed and picking up a few at-bats. There's no question, though, that he would make an excellent leadoff hitter for some team–the Angels just don't need him.

Why not? Because the Angels have a premier leadoff hitter in Chone Figgins. Figgins had an OBP of .393 last year and stole 41 bases in 115 games for the Angels last year. Look for a healthy Figgins to steal 50-60 bases while getting on base at a very high clip again.

A couple of broken fingers cost Howie Kendrick about half of the 2007 season, but in the half he played, he looked like the top offensive second baseman that he's been billed as.  Kendrick, 24, hit .322 in just 338 at-bats last year.

A healthy Kendrick could mean another member of this Angels lineup hitting well over .300 to go along with decent stolen base numbers.

Casey Kotchman finally started to come into his own last year, hitting .296 with a .372 OBP and 11 home runs. He's just 25 but has already played in parts of four major league seasons and could be yet another .300 hitter in this lineup by the end of the season.

Robb Quinlan mashes lefties and will do an excellent job when filling in for Kotchman against southpaws. He's a career .309 hitter against lefties with 16 home runs in 434 at-bats. 

The 24-year-old Kendry Morales should also fight for at-bats against lefties this year. He's a career .324 hitter in three minor league seasons after defecting from Cuba and could be a very nice addition to this lineup if he sees significant playing time. 

Erick Aybar, who had been blocked by Orlando Cabrera and Kendrick, will get a chance to start at short this year. The dynamic Aybar has a career .311 batting average in the minors with 184 stolen bases but has struggled in the majors, hitting .274 but with an OBP of just .295 over parts of two seasons.

If he can settle in as the starter, he could hit around .280 with a good number of stolen bases.

If he can't settle in or the Angels suffer an injury at second, third, or short, either Maicer Izturis or Brandon Wood are more than capable of filling in.

Over nearly 700 at-bats with the Angels the last two years, Izturis has hit above .290 while playing slick defense across the infield. 

Wood is going to find his way into the Angels lineup sometime soon. He's a major power threat, hitting 43 home runs in 2005 before settling down to 25 and 23 in 2006 and 2007 in stops with AA Arkansas and AAA Salt Lake, respectively. He's only 23 and is regarded as having the potential to his 35-40 home runs once he gets settled in in the majors. While that likely won't be this year, it could be in 2009.  

Mike Napoli should get most of the at-bats as catcher this year. In 487 career at-bats, Napoli has an on-base of .356 and has 26 career home runs. If Napoli can get around 450 at-bats this year, expect him to post a very good on-base with around 20 home runs–nothing to sneeze at for a back-of-the-order hitter.

Jeff Mathis has had a big offensive spring and should challenge Napoli for at-bats throughout 2008, though. Either way, it looks like the Angels can't go wrong.

The addition of Hunter to the middle of this lineup could do wonders. He'll take the pressure off the hitters around him to be that big-time run producer behind Guerrero that the Angels have lacked since Guerrero arrived in 2004. A more comfortable lineup could mean to more production from guys like Anderson, Kotchman, and Matthews/Rivera.

Lineup grade: A

Bench

As I stated earlier, the Angels have tremendous depth between Quinlan, Morales, Izturis, Wood (if needed from AAA), Rivera, Willits and Mathis.

I already explained these players and, well, the kansas/Villanova game is about to start. Let's go 'Nova!

Bench grade: A+

It's really a shame that Escobar may never pitch again in the majors, not just because it really hurts the Angels, but because he was really starting to come around as a dominant pitcher.

With Lackey out, too, the offense will have to carry the road as the starting rotation treads water until their ace comes back.

In the end, I think the Angels will be fine and will definitely compete with Seattle throughout September. 

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