Potential lead off candidate?
The Angels have had an uninspiring offseason so far, making fans like myself feel less and less confident about the team's prospects once the 2011 season gets underway. The team made strides in repairing a dysfunctional bullpen, which was once considered one of the best in baseball, by adding southpaws Hisanori Takahashi and Scott Downs. Those are the only new additions to the roster, additions which don't really build up any confidence. With the Halos striking out on Carl Crawford and Adrian Beltre, the Angels have yet to address the many holes that need to be filled in order for the club to compete for the division crown next season.
Or have they addressed them? Many scouting websites cite the Angel farm system as one of the weakest out of the 30 clubs. However, that doesn't mean that holes can't be filled by promoting from within. The team does have options in that respect, and in this article, I will look at various positions and see how the Angels can attempt to address these problem areas by giving minor leaguers a good look, or using players already on the 25-man roster. This is just speculation on my part, Spring Training will tell us more about where all these players are talent-wise, and the offseason isn't over just yet, so the team can still sign some more bodies to help out. Without further ado, here are some of the Angels' most pressing needs as of this writing, and the in-house candidates that could potentially plug those needs up.
The Halos have had a relative black hole at the hot corner ever since Troy Glaus left, and it was never more evident than last season, where Brandon Wood, Kevin Frandsen and Alberto Callaspo spent time providing mediocre play or worse (historically worse in Brandon's case) all season. Third base is the biggest problem for the Angels because, frankly, the cupboard is bare for this position at all levels. The team's player-of-the-future at the position, Kaleb Cowart, only had 28 plate appearances all season, and many believe he is better suited as a pitcher, not to mention that he's at least three years away, if not longer.
So what can the Angels do? For now, Callaspo looks to be the best choice. He showed some pop early on last season with Kansas City, belting eight home runs through mid-May, until he suffered a wrist injury that sapped his extra base power. Once with the Angels, Callaspo became mostly a singles hitter, posting a poor .248/.291/.315 slash line and 10 extra base hits. The thought is that with offseason rehab, he'll regain the stroke that he showed in 2009. He's a decent enough defender as well, and if he is able to match or improve on his 2009 production, he can serve as a decent stopgap solution. Maicer Izturis has excelled in a utility role which includes playing third, but his inability to stay healthy really hurts him. And unless Brandon Wood makes the necessary improvements at the plate, he can't be considered a strong candidate. One last option, and I admit it's a long shot, is moving Mike Napoli to third. He held up decently, posting a 1.8 UZR, which isn't mind blowing, but at least he showed some ability to make plays. Playing third is different than playing at first, and with Mike Scioscia's well-known dislike for Naps' defense at catcher, who knows if he'll be given that opportunity. A mistake, I think, he provides some much needed pop in the lineup.
Up until Peter "Gorgeous" Bourjos' promotion from Triple-A Salt Lake, the Angels trotted out one of the oldest and worst outfields in the majors. With Bobby Abreu in right and Juan Rivera at left, the Halos' defense was porous, to put it lightly, and forced Torii Hunter to cover more ground than he should have. Now with the Bourjos/Hunter combo manning center and right, the Angels must settle on a left fielder to round out the equation.
Surprisingly, the Halos have some options here. Playing left field can help Reggie Willits cover for his less than stellar arm, and giving him a shot to play regularly could potentially help the Angels kill two birds with one stone (more on that later). Juan Rivera remains an option, although I as well as other fans would prefer he stays as far away from left as possible. Putting Bobby Abreu in left, like they did late last season, is also an option, but ideally Abreu will serve as the team's full-time DH since we know his defense isn't very good.
The team also has a few options in the minors in the form of Terry Evans and Chris Pettit. Pettit missed the whole year due to injury, but flashed some ability with both bat and glove in '09 playing for the Bees and during Spring Training. Evans hasn't been able to stick with the major league team just yet, and with four Triple-A seasons under his belt, his time is running out. He has shown hints of power at Salt Lake, but his poor walk/K ratio could hurt his chances.
Other options include Jeremy Moore and Tyson Auer, two young guys who look destined to begin the season at Salt Lake, but with good performances could force themselves into the LF mix. Auer in particular is an interesting candidate, with a defensive range similar to Bourjos, and the ability to steal bases (he had 54 last season over three minor league levels).
One last possibility is Mark Trumbo, who had a huge season in Salt Lake last season, setting a record for home runs in a season (36). He's a 1B by trade, however the Angels have asked him to learn the corner outfield spots in order to get his bat in the lineup. He's not viewed as a particularly good defender, however, and the worry is that his range would be similar to Juan Rivera's...scary to think what could happen. He's much younger than Rivera, so it's not like he doesn't have the ability to improve.
Last year's primary closer, Brian Fuentes, was traded to Minnesota in late August, and Fernando Rodney did nothing to lock up the job for the future. So for now, the Angels have no closer, but have a nice mix of young guys and veterans that could serve in that role. Rodney brings the most experience in that role, having saved 37 games for the Tigers in '09, along with 14 last season. His control issues and high ERA marks are big strikes against him though, so the thought is that he'll serve as a set-up or seventh-inning man. Downs and Takahashi have had limited opportunities to close out games, and it seems the Angels have other plans for them, particularly Takahashi, who was signed to act as the bullpen's jack-of-all-trades and possible insurance against another Scott Kazmir nuclear meltdown.
The club could also explore the route the Rangers took with their closing situation by plugging in one of their flame-throwing youngsters like Jordan Walden, Rich Thompson or Michael Kohn. Walden has been touted as a future closer for some time, which could signal an opportunity there in the future. With a fastball that can reach 100 mph, it wouldn't be a bad idea to give him a look. Out of all of the need positions, the closer's role looks to be the one with the best in-house candidates, so don't expect the Angels to make a serious run at Rafael Soriano, Kevin Gregg or another team's closer.
Will Scott Kazmir regain his two-time All-Star form?
As I alluded to before, Scott Kazmir was radioactive last season. He routinely failed to make it past five innings, was tentative and nibbled at the plate corners, and could not figure out how to correct the mechanical issues that sapped the life out of his once-devastating slider. That's not even touching the 9 ER game or The Debacle in the Bay. While reports out of the Angels camp are optimistic about Kazmir's offseason regimen, they can't feel too sure about him just yet.
In case Scott implodes once again, the Halos have a few options available to them. Matt Palmer had that fluky 11-2 record two years ago, and can still be a serviceable No. 5 guy even though he doesn't have the greatest arsenal of pitches. Trevor Bell had seven starts and was very up-and-down throughout the year, though his final three starts were impressive. He's young and has a lot to learn, but he's got the ability to develop into a good starter. Same with up-and-comer Tyler Chatwood, who posted good numbers across two levels, though his only Triple-A start was very rocky. It isn't all that out of the norm for a pitcher to make the jump from Double-A to the majors though, so he can be a possibility as well.
Finally, the Hisanori Takahashi signing gives the Angels more flexibility, as he has the ability to start (12 starts last season) or come in as a long reliever. With plenty of options available, the No. 5 slot should be improved compared to last season. By all accounts, though, a return to form by Kazmir would be the best possible scenario, as that would give the Angels a potent rotation that stacks up against the best in the game.
In part due to the loss of Chone Figgins to the M's last offseason, the Angels struggled to manufacture runs and create havoc on the base paths. The lack of speed on the bases was evident all season, and the guys used in the leadoff role were uninspiring at best. Erick Aybar had a poor season as a leadoff guy, but it was his first year there, so it is very possible that he can improve upon his mediocre (.336) on base percentage. Reggie Willits fared better as the leadoff, but a small sample size (40 AB leading off a game/inning) and propensity for hitting into groundouts may hurt his chances. Other potential candidates include Peter Bourjos, Maicer Izturis, and possibly Triple-A guys like Chris Pettit and Tyson Auer, but they need to show consistency and patience at the plate, as well as the ability to stay healthy (Pettit and Izturis).
One final candidate, and possibly the best candidate the team has in-house, is veteran Bobby Abreu. His plate discipline is fantastic, a master at drawing walks and hitting with two strikes, and still possesses the ability to swipe some bases. The problem with using Abreu as the leadoff man is that it takes him out of the two-hole, where he has been at his best ever since joining the team. He would only be a stop-gap solution as well, as he is getting up there in age and has lost the speed that made him a bigger threat in prior seasons. This is a major need for the Halos due to Sosh's first-to-third, National League style of play. As we saw last season, the team is ill-equipped to play in any other manner.
Please feel free to comment and post your own suggestions for these openings. Bring on Spring Training already!