A Position-by-Position Breakdown of the Los Angeles Angels at Spring Training
By the time you finish reading this sentence the Los Angeles Angels will have started playing actual baseball in 2014. And, of course, Mike Trout will have hit a grand slam.
Here's the video, courtesy of MLB.com.
And with that excitement in mind, the Angels have 32 days (and counting) to get ready for the 2014 season—all while under the pressure to build a solid team that can compete in a tough AL West and make a playoff push.
So far, things looks pretty darn good.
But there is more to the Angels' spring than just phenoms patrolling the center field area. There are a few positions—mostly platoon roles—that should make for some interesting competition.
Based off MLB.com's current depth chart, I have whipped up the Angels' position-by-position breakdown, with my thoughts on which players will start, possibly start, or have a slim chance to start. And there won't be any wasted time predicting or tossing out crystal ball revelations for anything past Opening Day. Right now, that's the most important series and the one the Angels have to prepare for.
After that, well, you know how it goes.
RHP Jered Weaver
LHP C.J. Wilson
RHP Garrett Richards
LHP Hector Santiago
LHP Tyler Skaggs
The Long Shots
RHP Joe Blanton
RHP Matt Shoemaker
LHP Wade LeBlanc
Like every MLB team, how the starting pitching holds up is a major key to success. But the team doesn't exactly come into this spring with a top-tiered group; the club is relying on unproven arms to take on big roles.
Both Hector Santiago and Tyler Skaggs will need to acclimate quickly, using all of March to progress with the understanding they will be an important part of April (and beyond). That doesn't mean either will have to put the entire team's win-loss record on their shoulders, but they have to stay at least .500 or better.
There can't be any 2-14 seasons this year by an Angels starter.
As for the front three, Garrett Richards will have to continue to build on his solid ending to 2013, with the added pressure of being the team's No. 3 starter—for now anyway.
Jered Weaver will need to prove the critics wrong—something he is eager to do—by taking his drop in velocity and continuing to be an effective ace. C.J. Wilson has only to keep away from the live batting-practice sessions—or maybe wear a helmet—and continue to show his contract was a smart move.
As for the rest? It's difficult to believe the Angels won't explore more starting options as March rolls into April.
RHP Ernesto Frieri (Closer)
RHP Joe Smith (Setup/Closer)
RHP Dane De La Rosa (Setup)
LHP Sean Burnett (Middle Relief)
RHP Kevin Jepsen (Middle Relief)
RHP Michael Kohn (Middle Relief)
Potentially in the Mix
LHP Brian Moran
RHP Fernando Salas
LHP Buddy Boshers
RHP Clay Rapada
RHP Cory Rasmus
LHP Nick Maronde
RHP Ryan Brasier
LHP Michael Roth
RHP Josh Wall
LHP Robert Carson
The Angels bullpen—assuming its collective health holds up better than it did last season—looks solid. The addition of former Cleveland Indians side-armer Joe Smith helps the late-inning/closer area, which should complement the growth of Dane De La Rosa and Ernesto Frieri and cut down on the 27 games lost in relief last year.
Kevin Jepsen and Sean Burnett will have a lot to prove this spring, especially considering both have missed significant time due to injuries. Each should be on the Opening Day chart.
I like Michael Kohn as another power arm in the mid-relief area.
As for an interesting competition this spring, look to the left-handers. It's possible the Angels will want to fill the seventh spot in the bullpen with another lefty—for matchups and to cover that area if Burnett needs more time—and there isn't any one pitcher that is the easy choice.
The surprise of the bunch? Brian Moran. He can apparently handle the lefty-lefty situations quite well, according to MLB.com's Alden Gonzalez.
Starter: Chris Iannetta 65 percent
Possible Starter: Hank Conger 45 percent
Two heads are better than one—in this case.
Chris Iannetta holds the starting spot for the Angels, though Hank Conger can make a strong case to be the guy behind the plate.
Both progressed following the spring last season, especially from a defensive perspective. Conger, who was extremely shaky last March, ended 2013 throwing out 32 percent of baserunners attempting to swipe a bag. Iannetta was also impressive, gunning down 24 percent of would-be base stealers.
Much like last year, the catching position for the Angels will be critical. With inexperience shadowing three of the five starting pitchers, a good understanding of the game plan by the batterymate can mean the difference between a quality start or an early exit.
Starter: Albert Pujols
With all the millions and millions of dollars left on Albert Pujols' contract, there shouldn't be much of an argument for which player will take the first base duties for the Angels. If Pujols is healthy—and he says he is, per the Los Angeles Times' Mike DiGiovanna—then the expectation should be somewhere in the neighborhood of 130 to 140 games at first.
Of course, that does leave one question: What happens when Pujols needs a break and takes a turn at DH?
With Mark Trumbo gone, the only true first base type available to platoon for Pujols is Efren Navarro. And though he has the potential to be successful in that role, it seems unlikely the club will use that bench spot on a player who doesn't give the team more defensive flexibility.
That leaves Kole Calhoun, Raul Ibanez or possibly Carlos Pena.
Starter: Howie Kendrick
With all the trade rumors coming and going, it's now safe to say that Howie Kendrick is the Angels' second baseman. And that's a good scenario.
Kendrick is still that special breed of middle infielder—one who hits for power and average while providing solid defense. More importantly, he is a veteran voice in the clubhouse.
After Kendrick, though, there is an interesting competition to watch.
Grant Green did an excellent job filling in at second base last season when Kendrick went down with an injury. Brought over from the Oakland Athletics in the Alberto Callaspo deal, Green showed he could handle things defensively and offensively.
It was enough to make the possibility of trading Kendrick in the offseason seem...well, possible.
Now, it's an uncertainty.
Andrew Romine has entered spring in excellent condition, packing on some extra muscle in the offseason. The switch-hitter can play multiple positions—much like Green—and with a solid March could be the platoon option the Angels need.
It's worth noting that with the rate of progression prospect Taylor Lindsey is displaying, one can count on him being the option at second base in the near future. Period.
Likely Starter: David Freese, 95 percent
Long Shot: Luis Jimenez, 3 percent
Long Shot: Grant Green, 2 percent
Landing David Freese from the St. Louis Cardinals this past offseason was a solid move by the club. With Kaleb Cowart struggling in Double-A and needing more time to progress toward MLB-readiness, the Angels needed to get a solid player to man the hot corner.
Grant Green wasn't the right fit.
Freese is coming off a down year, so it's feasible for some to be concerned, but the potential and experience he brings with him is too great for a complete meltdown. If he can provide something close to his 2011 and 2012 seasons, then the Angels will have found their upgrade from Alberto Callaspo—even if it's a year later—for the next few seasons.
Most importantly, as I have said before, Freese will give Cowart and Jimenez time to mature. It's a win-win situation.
Remember when Albert Pujols was in the discussion for third base? Yep, that was last season.
Starter: Erick Aybar
Like Howie Kendrick at second base, Erick Aybar has survived the offseason trade rumors and can get back to being a staple of the middle of the Angels' infield. Aybar had a strong 2013, though his fielding percentage was right at the average mark for shortstops (.973). He should continue to give the Angels not only a versatile bat in various parts of the lineup but also an above-average defender in the field.
For Tommy Field and Andrew Romine, the chances of either getting the nod are so slim it's hardly worth mentioning. Their chances of making the 25-man roster rely solely on how well they can platoon all over the infield.
Because, without question, shortstop is covered.
Likely Starter: Josh Hamilton 85 percent
Potential Starter: J.B. Shuck 9 percent
Potential Starter: Raul Ibanez 6 percent
There may be some criticism for not making Josh Hamilton a 100 percent lock in left field, but there are just too many factors still at play to put all the faith in one player. And with Hamilton currently on crutches nursing an injured calf, plus the uncertainty of a still-maturing Kole Calhoun in right field, seeing more of Raul Ibanez and J.B. Shuck this spring is a safe expectation.
That doesn't mean a drastic takeover, though. A healthy Josh Hamilton is the clear winner of the race.
But the outfield is the one area the Angels should have complete confidence in because of the depth. So there is zero need to move quickly.
And, really, it's never smart to count out J.B. Shuck.
Starter: Mike Trout
There is a simple way to look at this: Unless the Angels really screw up negotiations with Mike Trout in the near future, the next option for the Angels' center field spot is currently in grade school.
Likely Starter: Kole Calhoun 85 percent
Potential Starter: Josh Hamilton 15 percent
Kole Calhoun's final months in 2013 were some of the more exciting moments to watch last season. If he continues on that path this spring then right field is all his. However, much like the left field scenario, there is always uncertainty.
Should Calhoun start slow and clearly need time to get things clicking, then expect Josh Hamilton to take over the duties in right—hence the 85 percent chance I give him in left.
Sure, it can be viewed as overkill—Calhoun is a solid player. But the Angels need to start quickly, sending the ole' proverbial message to the new-look Seattle Mariners.
That requires everything to click.
Likely Starter: Raul Ibanez 95 percent
Potential Starter: Josh Hamilton 5 percent
Yes, there will be times when Albert Pujols gets the nod as the team's DH. But if we are going by the first series—and we are—then it would be crazy to assume anyone other Raul Ibanez or Josh Hamilton would be the DH.
Either lefty will make a good matchup against the Mariners' right-handed heavy staff.
Unless otherwise noted, all stats were courtesy of Baseball-Reference.
Follow Rick Suter on Twitter@rick_suter