Ranking the Los Angeles Angels' Most Important Players Heading into 2014

James Lumalu@jameslumaluContributor IIIFebruary 6, 2014

Ranking the Los Angeles Angels' Most Important Players Heading into 2014

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    Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

    The Los Angeles Angels have not made the postseason since 2009. Since then, the front office has developed a bad habit of signing aging players (Albert Pujols, Josh Hamilton) to long-term deals in a desperate attempt to win a title.

    Those moves have largely backfired on the Angels, with a deadly combination of poor on-field performance and financial inflexibility.

    This does not necessarily mean the Angels have no hope, as the roster is still filled with talented players, and the best player in baseball in Mike Trout.

    Ranking Criteria:

    • Consistent producers for the team may be ranked lower just because the performance is expected, and the elevated play of another player could be far more important to the team’s success.
    • Starting pitchers were weighed more heavily for this list since the Angels ranked 22nd in team ERA (4.30) last season.

    All statistics courtesy of FanGraphs.com

Honorable Mentions

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    Dane De La Rosa

    De La Rosa came out of nowhere to become a fixture at the back end of the Angels bullpen.

    The 31-year-old logged a surprising 2.86 ERA and two saves over 72.1 innings pitched. He induced ground balls at a 51.3 percent clip, which was good for seventh out of all American League relievers.

    He was the Angels' most valuable reliever in 2013 (1.1 WAR), and he may see more save opportunities if Ernesto Frieri falters.

    The video above features De La Rosa’s mid-90s fastball as he records his first-ever save.

    Kole Calhoun

    Calhoun was the beneficiary of unexpected playing time in 2013 due to injuries to Peter Bourjos.

    He made the most of the opportunity, hitting .282/.347/.462 with eight home runs and 22 RBI. He showed a great eye at the plate with a walk percentage of 9.5.

    The front office was so impressed with him that they dealt Bourjos to the St. Louis Cardinals, making Calhoun the starting right fielder for the Angels in 2014.

    If he maintains his 2013 form and Josh Hamilton rebounds, the Angels have the potential to boast one of the top offensive outfields in the league.

    Howie Kendrick

    Last season, Kendrick slashed .295/.335/.439 with 13 home runs and 55 RBI. Defensively, he was solid as usual with a plus-3.4 UZR/150 at second base.

    Kendrick is a consistently solid performer for the Angels, but anyone hoping for more will be disappointed. 

    Putting aside his 2011 season where he put up a WAR of 5.7, Kendrick averages about 2.1 wins per season. Would more be nice? Of course, but there is nothing wrong with the value he is expected to provide to the club. 

10. Mark Mulder

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    The Angels signed Mulder to a minor league deal in January, and at the time it seemed like a nice move from a pitching depth standpoint.

    Fast forward a month later, and the Angels have missed out on Masahiro Tanaka, Matt Garza and even Jason Hammel.

    Only Jered Weaver and C.J. Wilson are locks in the starting rotation, leaving three slots that will be fought for by Garrett Richards, Tyler Skaggs, Hector Santiago and Mulder.

    There is no doubt that this is an aggressive ranking for a pitcher that has not pitched in five years and possibly might not make the 25-man roster, but starting pitching isn’t exactly a strong suit for the Angels.

    He has found success after imitating reliever Paco Rodriguez, and even hit 90 mph in an audition for major league scouts according to ESPN's Jerry Crasnick.

    It is a long shot, but if he makes the team, Mulder could be an important piece for the Angels rotation.

    In the video, Pete McCarthy and Jim Duquette of MLB.com discuss Mulder’s attempted comeback.

9. Hector Santiago

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    Santiago was acquired from the Chicago White Sox in a three-team deal that sent Mark Trumbo to the Arizona Diamondbacks.

    He pitched very well for the White Sox in 2013, to the tune of a 3.56 ERA in 149 innings. His ground-ball percentage was just 36.4, but moving to spacious Angels Stadium (0.839 home runs per at bat per RotoGrinders) should benefit the fly-ball-happy pitcher.

    The value with Santiago is that he is a swingman type that can pitch in the rotation or out of the bullpen.

    With Jerome Williams leaving for the Houston Astros (according to MLB Daily Dish's Chris Cotillo) and Joe Blanton a threat to be released any day now (per MLB.com's Alden Gonzalez), Santiago will be an invaluable piece wherever he pitches.

    In the video above, Santiago strikes out six in a strong performance against the Texas Rangers. His fastball sits in the low-mid 90s, and on this particular night, he was able to throw it effectively inside against a potent lineup.

8. Jered Weaver

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    Weaver is the perceived staff ace of the Angels and could have been ranked lower on this list based on his track record. However, 2013 revealed some red flags for the right-hander.

    He logged just 154.1 innings due to a broken left elbow, which was his lowest inning count since his arrival in 2006. And while he relies more on location and changing speeds, Weaver’s velocity dipped even lower to around 86.5 mph on his fastball.

    Weaver still finished the season with a fine 3.27 ERA, but if his velocity continues to diminish, so will his margin for error on the mound.

    What you’ll notice in the video is that Weaver is just grooving mid-80s fastballs down the plate to Alfonso Soriano. Weaver will have to be pinpoint with his location in 2014 if his velocity stays where it was a season ago.

7. David Freese

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    Freese was acquired from the St. Louis Cardinals in exchange for outfielder Peter Bourjos, and many will argue that the Angels paid a premium for the third baseman after a down season.

    Freese slashed .262/.340/.381 with nine home runs and 60 RBI in 2013. He also turned in his worst performance on the field, with a minus-22.7 UZR/150 and minus-14 defensive runs saved. 

    The Angels have had a revolving door at third base since the departure of Chone Figgins in 2009. They are hoping last season was just a down year for Freese, and that he plays more like his 2012 self when he was worth four wins.

    Power has been missing from the hot corner for the Angels since the days of Troy Glaus, and they are hoping Freese is able to provide that this season (as shown in the video).

6. C.J. Wilson

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    Wilson enjoyed his finest season as an Angel in 2014, going 17-7 with a 3.39 ERA in 212.1 innings pitched. He tallied 3.3 wins above replacement, easily the highest among all Angel pitchers. 

    The lefty averaged 7.97 strikeouts, 3.60 walks and .64 home runs per nine innings on the season. Limiting walks was the key for Wilson in 2013, as he improved from his 4.05 BB/9 mark in 2012.

    Many see Jered Weaver as the staff ace of the Angels, but Wilson may be the better pitcher in the present.

5. Mike Trout

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    Sophomore slump? Not for Mike Trout.

    He picked up where he left off from his rookie of the year season to turn in another stellar campaign.

    Trout hit .323/.432/.557 with 27 home runs, 97 RBI and 33 stolen bases. His 10.4 WAR was the highest among all MLB players, with Andrew McCutchen a distant second at 8.2 wins.

    Trout is the best player on the Angels, and by now, you expect him to put up amazing numbers. But for the Angels to challenge in the AL West, there has to be some semblance of pitching beyond Weaver and Wilson.

    Maybe he can pitch too?

4. Garrett Richards

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    The Angels rotation badly needs someone to step up, and Richards is one of the prime candidates to do so.

    Richards went 7-8 last season with a 4.15 ERA. His advanced peripherals suggest he was better than his ERA, with his xFIP coming in more than a half run lower at 3.58.

    He also induced ground balls at a 57.9 percent clip, which was second in the majors behind only Justin Masterson (58 percent).

    The video above features Richards’ above average slider that kept Toronto Blue Jays hitters off balance. You also see his mid-90s fastball that he spots well to generate ground balls.

3. Tyler Skaggs

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    Of all the young Angel arms, Skaggs has the highest ceiling of them all. He was ranked as the 12th-best prospect by Baseball America in 2013.

    The Angels re-acquired (they drafted him in 2009) Skaggs this offseason in the three-team deal with the Arizona Diamondbacks and Chicago White Sox that also netted them Hector Santiago.

    Despite reports of diminished velocity, ESPN’s Keith Law remains optimistic (subscription required) of Skaggs’ future:

    Still just 22 years old, Skaggs took a step back in 2013 as the Diamondbacks shortened his stride, resulting in a higher release point that cost him several miles per hour on his fastball and depth on his breaking ball. Lengthen him out so he finishes out over his front side again and he should be back to 90-94 mph again with the hammer he had as recently as 2012, when he projected as a potential No. 2 starter and was the best left-handed starter prospect in the game.

    As you can see in the video, Skaggs' fastball is hovering around the 89-90 mph range but is still having success on this given night.

    Regaining that extra zip on his fastball may be the difference between a back-end starter and a front-of-the-rotation arm. 

2. Albert Pujols

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    The Angels ranked seventh in runs scored in 2013 despite missing Albert Pujols for the second half of the season and Josh Hamilton performing well below expectations.

    Pujols declared his left foot 99.9 percent healthy in an interview with ESPN Deportes Radio back in November. His return to form will be crucial for the Angels lineup with Mark Trumbo’s right-handed power now in Arizona.

    In Pujols’ last full season in 2012, he provided a potent bat despite diminishing power and various ailments. He slashed .285/.343/.516 with 30 home runs and a wRC+ of 132.

    MLB.com’s Alden Gonzalez discusses Pujols’ injury in the video above, and whether or not he believes Pujols can put it behind him.

    Starting pitching is usually the number one question mark when it comes to the Angels, but a healthy Pujols is also one of the major keys to a successful 2014.

1. Josh Hamilton

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    Like Albert Pujols, Hamilton did not fare so well after signing a lucrative five-year deal with the Angels.

    The major concern with Hamilton was the severe lack of power—his ISO dropped over 100 points from .292 in 2012 to .182 in 2013. In an attempt to regain that power, Hamilton gained 20 pounds this offseason to return to his playing weight back when he was with the Texas Rangers (per Jeff Fletcher of the Orange County Register.

    Outside of Hamilton, the only left-handed hitters on the Angels with power are Kole Calhoun and Raul Ibanez. While Calhoun has shown promise, he has yet to play an entire season, while Ibanez is entering his age-41 season.

    A healthy Hamilton and Pujols can make all the difference for the Angels and would give their starting pitching some margin for error to work with.