But will that suffice in this
Ah, why not have one more preview saturated with senryus, those wacky haiku-style reflections that avoid the "haiku" label when they do not specifically pay homage to nature. Reader submissions, as always, are encouraged.
The Angels, in one sense, are an organization firing on all cylinders. They play winning baseball in a fan-friendly park for a supportive owner in front of teeming crowds, and their stellar minor league system keeps cranking out power arms and promising bats alike. That said, the nature of season previews is such that "big picture" hopes and fears are cast aside momentarily in order to tightly focus on the task at hand, which is to win the 2006 World Series. Do the LAA o'A have the chops to get it done?
On to the preview!
2005: Closer, But Still No Cigar
It's odd -- the 2005 edition of the Los Angeles/California/Anaheim/Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim became just the second Angels club to win a playoff series, yet they didn't seem to inspire that joyful spirit of '02. In part, this was because of how the West was won; to wit, the Angels endured what seemed like a summer-long funk in which the A's, who struggled mightily when their starting pitching was in transition early in the season, fought all the way back. The Angels shook off the shock of their collapse, though, and finished the season on a 22-9 run while winning five of their last six from Oakland to polish off the Athletics. When the dust had settled, L.A. had added three wins to their previous season's total, finishing with 95.
In the post-season, the Halos took a rousing Game 5 from the Yankees to advance to the ALCS, where they ran into the White Sox Buzzsaw of Destiny. Sure, the Angels got (Pale) hosed on some key calls, but then again, they dropped all three home games in fairly uncompetitive fashion.
The Angels of '05 were similar to the '02 and '04 contenders, except with superior starting pitching to the earlier models. Offensively, the team was so-so in most categories other than steals; Vladimir Guerrero was excellent, Bengie Molina was surprisingly good, Chone Figgins did more than anybody had any right to expect and the rest of the team was a cavalcade of "meh." The pitching staff, on the other hand, was a real strength as they trailed only Cleveland and Chicago in run-preventing acumen and led the league in strikeouts (in no small part due to their whiff-inducing bullpen). By the second half, when Ervin Santana started to pitch well, the Angels were trotting a quality starter to the mound night after night. Defensively, Orlando Cabrera offered the grateful Angels pitching staff a huge upgrade at shortstop over the departed David Eckstein, while Steve Finley's aging legs proved to be more liability than asset in the spacious gaps of Angels Stadium.
The Offseason: Relatively Quiet
After a couple of offseasons of both on-field and off-field upheaval, this has been a fairly quiet offseason for the Angels. Casey Kotchman and Jeff Mathis are both ready to stick at the major league level, so Bengie Molina and Jeff DaVanon became expendable (with Erstad moving back to the outfield, where he'll offer more defensive value). Finley was traded to the Giants for Edgardo Alfonzo, in a trade that would have been huge in 2000. As it is now, both veterans will try to wring one or two more seasons out in organizations where their presence is slightly less superfluous.
As for pitching, Paul Byrd and Jarrod Washburn were both bid adieu, as Ervin Santana's emergence, Kelvim Escobar's return from injury and the signing of Hector Carrasco made their presence no longer necessary. Then Carrasco himself was booted to the bullpen, as the Angels snagged Jeff Weaver late in the winter to round out their rotation. The Angels also acquired longtime Twin J.C. Romero to offer a lefthanded look in relief.
Let's see how the club looks for the upcoming season.
Sure, scoring was down league-wide, but the uncomfortable fact remains that the 2004 Angels lost 75 runs of offence from their 2004 squad. Have they done enough to reverse that offensive slide?
Alas, there will be only one Molina! for the Angels this season. Jose has the complete confidence of the pitching staff and is probably superior to Bengie defensively, but will never be the hitter his brother is (and will hopefully continue to be). The current plan is to have him split the time 50-50 with Jeff Mathis, who oozes potential at age 22. And I do mean "oozes," because the formerly gushing flow of potential seems to have slowed as his minor league stats increasingly project out as good, but not spectacular. Mike Scioscia, who ought to know, still believes Mathis can be a "special player," and has been impressed with his makeup.
Orlando Cabrera is a special defender, especially when going to his right. He's surehanded and makes strong, accurate throws. What's his hitting like, you ask? Erm...did I mention his fielding? He was little more than a slap hitter last season, as his 17-HR 2003 season looks more and more like a mirage. His value will continue to be primarily defensive, and he'll hit toward the bottom of the order.
Adam Kennedy, on the other hand, adds some legitimately pesky hitting to his solid defensive contributions. His on-base percentage should continue to hover around the estimable .350 mark, and he's a crafty and opportunistic baserunner. He's a threat to win the Gold Glove at second now that the O-Dog has switched leagues, as he turns a solid double play and has very good range.
Maicer Izturis backs up second and short for the big club, and he's little more than another glove man. With the smaller (i.e., minor league) clubs, though, the Angels have an absolutely enviable stable of young middle infielders. Props to John Sickels for forecasting big things for Howie Kendrick, who absolutely raked in A and AA last year; he projects to be a kind of guy who can compete for the batting title, hit for power, and flash a great glove at second. So why, you may ask, do some observers think that shortstop prospect Brandon Wood is even more of a surefire star? It's funny what 43 homers and 51 doubles in High-A can do for a prospect's stock...at age 20. Meanwhile, Erick Aybar might be relegated to trade bait status, and the analytical community is reasonably down on this free-swinging toolsy shortstop. But hey, .303/.350/.445 with 49 steals in Class AA is pretty damned difficult to dismiss out of hand. Of the three, Kendrick is the closest to being called up, and he likely will see at least a taste of major league action this season.
The job is finally Casey Kotchman's at first, and considering he's only 23, it seems like he's been the heir apparent for some time. He projects to be a doubles hitter who uses the whole field, and if he can get on base at a solid rate over the course of an entire season, the Angels will really benefit; there are a few spots in this lineup out of which L.A. won't necessarily get a whole lot of OBP. And although he's never topped 10 home runs in a season at any level, he's been showing some impressive results this spring with a new swing designed at getting more loft on the ball.
Chone Figgins can play just about anywhere on the roster, but he'll lead off and man third base to start the season. His OBP (.352, and improving) and blazing speed make him valuable at the top of the order, and his proficiency in skills as discrete as charging balls at third and throwing from the outfield is truly impressive. He's not superior at any one position, but as John Dewan notes in The Fielding Bible, he would surely win a Gold Glove for utility players if such an award existed.
Meanwhile, Dallas McPherson has gone from one of the can't-missiest of all baseball's can't-miss prospects (40 minor-league bombs in 2004) to a question mark to even make the Opening Day roster. His undisciplined and streaky hitting has not endeared himself to the Halos' coaching staff, and the front office isn't so hot about his inability to stay away from innumerable nagging injuries. McPherson is not happy with the possibility of his being sent down to work on his game -- "I don't have anything else to prove at Triple-A" -- but the Angels would rather see him playing everyday than sitting on the big-league bench. And don't, Gentle Reader, assume that McPherson's current residence in the casa de perro is simply misguided policy owing to a distaste for batter's strikeouts (though his K rate is rather ghastly): Recall that the Angels liked Troy Glaus's offensive profile just fine. Edgardo Alfonzo will also come off the bench, but he's gotten little press this offseason. Any contribution he makes will be a bonus.
Kendry Morales will offer more pop at the corners (either infield or outfield) someday soon, but the Angels are being patient. As well they should be, since he slugged .530 in AA despite struggling to acclimate to the American game and despite subpar plate discipline. Morales watched, with no small amount of emotion, the exploits of some awfully close friends on Team Cuba as they made their run to the WBC silver medal.
It's worrisome that Darin Erstad is already battling aches and pains after only a light spring workload of outfield play. In addition to his wonky ankle, Erstad has been suffering from a sore arm as he makes the rather substantial adjustment, throwing-wise, from first to centre. Offensively, Erstad even recognizes that he's not the player he once was; he's offered to sit against lefthanded pitching if his struggles continue.
Garret Anderson will once again man left field -- or so the Angels hope. He's battling a painful case of plantar fasciitis, although he recently proclaimed himself to be well enough to patrol the outfield. He's still a very smart player, but some of the more athletic facets to his game, such as bat speed and defensive range, are not what they once were for Anderson. He's been a very good player for a very long time.
Vladimir Guerrero turned in another superstar performance last season in right, despite battling some nagging ailments. He can hit prodigious bombs and ferocious line drives on virtually every pitch. I use the term "virtually" advisedly, since Guerrero was pitched around increasingly over the second half of the season, as clubs figured out that nobody else on this roster could reliably make them pay for it. Intentional walks may not be en vogue in the American League, but Vladdy drew a league-high 26 of them last season. More than anybody except probably Barry Bonds, Vlad would benefit from another masher in his lineup. You want proof? Vladdy's AL OPS peers like Papi (9), Manny (9), A-Rod (8), Teixeira (5) and Giambi (5) didn't draw nearly as many IBB's with sluggers hitting behind them. Heck, Bengie Molina provided Guerrero's protection against lefties last year.
Juan Rivera returns as the everyday DH. Surprisingly, Rivera's been seeing some time in center this spring, where he's been...not terrible! It might be quite the asset for Los Angeles if Rivera can pick up a glove every once in a while, since both Anderson and Erstad struggle against lefthanded pitching and Rivera might enable the Halos to get more sock against southpaws. That plan will only work, however, if Rivera hits lefties better than he did last year. L.A. is confident that was only a blip.
And yes, folks, that is a Tim Salmon sighting in the Cactus League! After sitting out 2005 with major shoulder and knee surgeries, the highly respected "Fish" is serious about making a comeback. His painful knee will likely keep him from the field, but his upper body is back in shape and he's apparently swinging pain-free. Equally, if differently, inspirational is Curtis Pride, who's also jockeying for the last open roster spot.
Bottom line: It's hard to say. It doesn't look considerably improved, unless Kotchman steps up and provides middle-of-the-order production. Some members of the analytical community, according to Peter Gammons, peg the Angels as the AL's worst offence. I don't think that'll be the case, primarily because of the richness of the minor league system. Bill Stoneman has proven himself to be more than willing to both call up and send down hotshot youngsters, and the plethora of said youngsters will always make a midseason trade for a bopper possible for the Angels. Put me down for ninth in the AL.
Meet the Angels offence:C: #28 Jose Molina
.228/.286/.348, 14 R, 6 HR, 25 RBI, 13 BB, 41 K, 2-for-2 SB, 75 G
Best season in last five ("BSLF"): 2004 -- .261/.296/.374, 73 G
Age: 31 in June
Replacing Bengie Molina (.295/.336/.446, 45 R, 15 HR, 69 RBI, 27 BB, 41 K, 0-for-2 SB in 119 G)
Halos no longer
Have Too Many Molinas!
Mathis: "Or do they?"
1B: #35 Casey Kotchman
.278/.352/.484, 16 R, 7 HR, 22 RBI, 15 BB, 18 K, 1-for-2 SB, 47 G
Age: 23 as of February
Full-time job for this
Tall, intelligent lefty.
Will he now produce?
2B: #2 Adam Kennedy
.300/.354/.370, 49 R, 2 HR, 37 RBI, 29 BB, 64 K, 19-for-23 SB, 129 G
BSLF: 2002 -- .312/.345/.449 in 144 G
Age: 30 as of January
Very steady glove man can
Also get on base
SS: #18 Orlando Cabrera
.257/.309/.365, 70 R, 8 HR, 57 RBI, 38 BB, 50 K, 21-for-23 SB, 141 G
BSLF: 2003 with Expos -- .297/.347/.460, 95 R, 17 HR, 52 BB in 162 G
Age: 30 as of January
Where'd his power go?
Basically a slap hitter.
Still provides defence.
3B: #9 Chone Figgins
.290/.352/.397, 113 R, 8 HR, 57 RBI, 64 BB, 101 K, 62-for-79 SB, 158 G
Age: 28 as of January
Tell him where to play
And he'll give you solid "D."
Blazing speed, to boot
LF: #16 Garret Anderson
.283/.308/.435, 68 R, 17 HR, 96 RBI, 23 BB, 84 K, 1-for-2 SB, 142 G
BSLF: 2003 -- .315/.345/.541, 80 R, 29 HR, 116 RBI, 31 BB, 83 K, 6-for-9 SB, 159 G
Age: 34 in June
But not the same ligaments
May be in decline.
CF: #17 Darin Erstad
.273/.325/.371, 86 R, 7 HR, 66 RBI, 47 BB, 109 K, 10-for-13 SB, 153 G
BSLF: 2004 -- .295/.346/.400 in 125 G
Age: 32 in June
Replacing Steve Finley(.222/.271/.374, 41 R, 12 HR, 54 RBI, 26 BB, 71 K, 8-for-12 SB, 112 G
His defensive calling card.
So-so hitter, though.
RF: #27 Vladimir Guerrero
.317/.394/.565, 95 R, 32 HR, 108 RBI, 61 BB, 48 K, 13-for-14 SB, 141 G
BSLF: 2002 with Expos -- .336/.417/.593, 39 HR, 40 SB in 161 G
Age: 30 as of February
Still has fun playing
Still fun as ever to watch.
Yo -- pitch around him!
DH: #20 Juan Rivera
.271/.316/.454, 46 R, 15 HR, 59 RBI, 23 BB, 44 K, 1-for-10 SB, 106 G
BSLF: 2004 with Expos -- .307/.364/.465, 48 R in 134 G
Age: 28 in July
A free-swinging type
Who oddly can't hit lefties
And should never steal.
2B/3B #13 Edgardo Alfonzo
.277/.327/.345, 36 R, 2 HR, 43 RBI, 27 BB, 34 K, 2-for-2 SB, 109 G with Giants
BSLF: 2002 with Mets -- .308/.391/.459 in 135 G
Age: 33 in November
Gotta love "The Fonz."
Gotta also recognize
He's darn near washed up.
3B # 8 Dallas McPherson
.244/.295/.449, 29 R, 8 HR, 26 RBI, 14 BB, 64 K, 3-for-6 SB, 61 G
Age: 26 in July
That breeze in the stands?
It was caused by Dallas's
Mighty but wild swing.
UT #39 Robb Quinlan
.231/.273/.403, 17 R, 5 HR, 14 RBI, 7 BB, 26 K, 0-for-1 SB, 54 G
BSLF: 2004 -- .344/.401/.525, 23 R, 23 RBI, 14 BB in 56 G
Age: 29 as of March
C #5 Jeff Mathis
.333/.333/.333, 1 R, 0 HR, 0 RBI, 0 BB, 1 K, 0 SB attempts, 5 G
Age: 22 as of March
UT #6 Maicer Izturis
.246/.306/.346, 18 R, 1 HR, 15 RBI, 17 BB, 21 K, 9-for-12 SB, 77 G
Age: 26 in September
Also In The Mix: DH Tim Salmon, OF Curtis Pride
The Pitching Staff
I don't think even Bill Stoneman thought the starting rotation would be as much of a great strength as it proved to be in 2005. Improved starting pitching was the key to lopping 91(!) runs off their 2004 team total. In 2006, it could be even better.
Was Bartolo Colon the best pitcher in the American League in 2005? Probably not. Does it matter that he may not have deserved the Cy Young? Not to the Angels. He showed excellent durability and control, cut down his home runs allowed to a far more manageable number, and was the best pitcher on a very good team. His less-than-statuesque (or is it more-than-statuesque?) physique raises all kinds of injury fears in casual observers. That's belied, however, by his sensational durability record of eight straight years of 30+ starts. Looks can, after all, be deceiving; Colon is surprisingly spry and is probably the best fielding pitcher on the club.
The Angels couldn't be any happier with John Lackey's 2005 season. A man somewhat on the bubble of the Angels rotation coming out of spring training last season, Lackey vastly improved his within-the-strike-zone control, and consequently amped up his K rate to nearly one an inning. If he can post another 200 innings of that quality in 2006, his job will be more than secure heading into next spring.
Ervin Santana has tremendous strikeout potential, and his early-season baptism by fire -- necessitated by injuries -- make his overall numbers look less impressive. Still a mere pup at 22, John Sickels has compared him to the likes of Brad Penny and Ben Sheets. His walk rate is acceptable for a pitcher as young as he is, and with as lively a fastball as he has.
Old friend Kelvim Escobar will once again throw five pitches for strikes...as a starter. Escobar endeared himself to his mates after coming off a three-month injury layoff last season when he cheerfully reported for duty in the bullpen for the stretch drive. Said Scot Shields: "That tells you what kind of guy he is, that he'll do whatever it takes to win." He had a blast pitching for Team Venezuela this year, and he pitched well for his country.
Good ol' Jeff Weaver left Chavez Ravine, hopped on the freeway and landed a late free agent deal with the Angels. It's a move that has sharply divided baseball observers, with some hailing him as the steal of free agency with others, such as this humble scribe, wondering whether he has the gumption to thrive against American League hitting. The Angels see it somewhere in between, as they've anointed him their #3 starter. Weaver raised the spectre of his horrible Yankee days by getting lit up in each of his first three spring outings, but he pitched well in his fourth and has spent the spring basically just ironing out his mechanics. His flamethrowing brother Jered, meanwhile, finally did get around to signing with the Angels after another Boras morass. Friend of Batter's Box John Sickels rates him as a solid B+ prospect at this time.
The Angels bullpen has been a great strength of the club for years, and 2006 will certainly be no different.
Francisco "K-Rod" Rodriguez wasn't quite as freakishly dominant last year as he was in 2004 (or during the 2002 postseason), but he was still an elite reliever with a blow-away fastball and a slider with insane lateral movement. If this weren't bad enough, he's developed a changeup this offseason that he plans to throw regularly to prevent hitters from sitting on one of his two dominant pitches. Interesting factoid: Not to jinx things, but K-Rod has never successfully converted a save opportunity against a certain Canadian-based club. (He went 0-for-2 last year.)
Scot Shields is one of the most valuable relievers in all of baseball, as the rubber-armed righty throws a hard, heavy fastball as often as you need him to. Meanwhile, Brendan Donnelly is trying to reverse his recent modest decline by adding a third pitch to his hard-fastball, hard-slider repertoire: a splitter, which will serve as a de facto changeup at 82 mph.
Hector Carrasco was lured away from Washington, where he was excellent last year, by a two-year free agent deal. The plan originally was to make him the fifth starter, but when Weaver The Elder fell into Bill Stoneman's lap, Carrasco was bumped back to the bullpen. He'll be yet another tough righty in the 'pen, provided he can harness his fastball; this spring his control has been terrible and he's been getting tattooed by Cactus League hitters. Esteban Yan, on the other hand, has looked very sharp and he'll once again offer a decent contribution to the corps. Kevin Gregg has a good fastball but didn't locate it well last season.
And finally, the Angels have decided to add a LOOGY to the mix. Since the mid-season 2003 trade of a certain Mr. Schoeneweis, the Angels have cheerfully declined to include a lefthanded pitcher among their relief staff. Certainly, with as many hard-throwing righties as the Angels have boasted, they've been plenty tough enough on lefties. But sometimes, I have got to believe that Mike Scioscia must have been jonesing for that lefty for lefties who can't hit lefties. Well, jones no more, Mikey, because J.C. Romero is here, courtesy of an offseason trade that saw the Angels move Alexi Casilla from their glut of young middle infielders to the Twin Cities. Romero held lefties to a .198 average last season, and lefties hit just .233 off J.C. over his career.
Overall, I like this Angels staff a lot. Two of the A's, White Sox and Tribe will probably do a better job of preventing runs, so I'll call L.A. for a strong third on the defensive side of the A.L. ledger for 2006.
Without further ado, the pitchers:
SP #21 Bartolo Colon
21-8, 3.48, 222.2 IP, 215 H, 26 HR, 43 BB, 157 K, LH .250, RH .258, 33 GS
BSLF: 2002 with Tribe and Expos -- 20-8, 2.93
Age: 33 in May
Not a "real" Cy Young?
Perhaps, but he eats innings
As well as dessert.
SP #41 John Lackey
14-5, 3.44, 209 IP, 208 H, 13 HR, 71 BB, 199 K, LH .274, RH .241, 33 GS
Age: 28 in October
His (lowered) expectations.
SP #47 Kelvim Escobar
3-2, 3.02, 59.2 IP, 45 H, 4 HR, 21 BB, 63 K, LH .278, RH .138, 7 GS
BSLF: 2004 (11-12, 3.93, 191 K in 33 GS)
Age: 30 in April
Got hurt but came back
As a fine short reliever
Old friend starts again.
SP #54 Ervin Santana
12-8, 4.65, 133.2 IP, 139 H, 17 HR, 47 BB, 99 K, LH .261, RH .271, 23 GS
Age: 23 in December
Righty to trot to the mound.
Second half? Improved.
SP #36 Jeff Weaver
14-11, 4.22, 224 IP, 220 H, 35 HR, 43 BB, 157 K, LH .297, RH .208, 34 GS with Dodgers
BSLF: Basically any year but 2003 with Yankees
Age: 30 in August
Back in the AL?
Sure, he's in a pitcher's park...
I'm still skeptical.
CL #57 Francisco Rodriguez
2-5, 45-for-50 Sv, 2.67, 67.1 IP, 45 H, 7 HR, 32 BB, 91 K, LH .213, RH .153, 66 G
BSLF: 2004 -- 1.82 ERA, 84 IP, 123 K in 69 G
Age: 24 as of January
On throws back from the catcher...
...not so amazing.
SU #62 Scot Shields
10-11, 7-for-13 Sv, 2.75, 91.2 IP, 66 H, 5 HR, 37 BB, 98 K, LH .199, RH .203, 78 G
Age: 31 in July
Scioscia loves this guy's
Very resilient arm.
Nice asset to have.
RP #53 Brendan Donnelly
9-3, 3.72, 65.1 IP, 60 H, 9 HR, 19 BB, 53 K, LH .213, RH .274, 65 G
BSLF: 2003 -- 1.58, 74 IP, 79 K
Age: 35 in July
Not the shut-down guy
He was in his breakout year.
But he can still pitch.
RP #33 J.C. Romero
4-3, 3.47, 57 IP, 50 H, 6 HR, 39 BB, 48 K, LH .198, RH .268, 68 G with Twins
BSLF: 2002 with Twins -- 9-2, 1.89, 81 IP, 76 K in 81 G
Age: 30 in June
Angels have never
Given Scioscia a LOOGY.
Until now, that is.
RP #48 Hector Carrasco
5-4, 2.04, 88.1 IP, 59 H, 6 H, 38 BB, 75 K, LH .208, RH .178, 64 G with Nationals
Age: 37 in October
RP #63 Kevin Gregg
1-2, 5.04, 64.1 IP, 70 H, 8 HR, 29 BB, 52 K, LH .267, RH .279, 33 G
BSLF: 2004 -- 5-2, 4.21, 87.2 IP, 84 K, 55 G
Age: 28 in June
RP #59 Esteban Yan
1-1, 4.59, 66.2 IP, 66 H, 8 HR, 30 BB, 45 K, LH .252, RH .264, 49 G
BSLF: 2004 with Tigers -- 3.83, 87 IP, 69 K, 69 G
Age: 31 in June
Also In The Mix: RP Greg Jones, SP/RP Joe Saunders
Outlook: Western Dynasty, or an Interregnum?
Three playoff berths in the last four years is nothing to sneeze at for an organization long best known for its nondescriptness. Can they go 4-for-5?
The competition in the West will likely be steep. Are the A's a perfect-in-every-respect-just-like-their-GM club?Um, no, but Oakland is very, very good this year, and they have depth at the big-league level that appears to be superior to that of their SoCal rivals. And as for the Angels' great strengths -- steady rotation, tough bullpen, solid defence -- the A's appear, on paper, to be able to meet or beat them in those very categories.
The Angels will, however, definitely be in the mix of contenders in the stacked American League. Their pitching is such that they can't conceivably be anything other than very good at preventing runs. The great X-factor here is the ability and willingness of the Angels to make a midseason trade. A rental hitter for the stretch drive will be a particularly good fit for this team, as its offensive prospects continue to percolate through the system and could become impact players as early as next year. Assuming Vlad gets some help, will that be enough?
I'm going to call a 91-71 season, which will not be good enough to beat Oakland but could be good enough to beat some steep competition for the Wild Card.
It'll be interesting.