2014 MLB PREVIEW: LOS ANGELES ANGELS
February 18, 2014INDIANA SPORTS PAGE
The one thing the Angels are good at is spending money. In two seasons, they have spent a whopping $442 million on 1B Albert Pujols, P C.J. Wilson and OF Josh Hamilton. What is the return on their investment? 89 wins in 2012 and 78 in 2013. And guess what? They will have to spend more to keep Mike Trout who will be eligible for arbitration after the 2014 season. The New York Yankees of the West struggled to the most losses since 2003 and it doesn’t appear things will be better in 2014 unless Pujols and Josh Hamilton gets their careers turned around and quickly.
Pitching in Los Angeles will be a little salty in 2014. The ace of the staff Jered Weaver missed seven weeks last year because of a broken left elbow. The concern for the Angels will be Weaver’s velocity, which was declining before his injury. Weaver still managed to win 11 games in 2013. C.J. Wilson won 17 games in his second season with the Angels and was perhaps the best pitcher in baseball from June through September (13-1 2.91 ERA).
After Weaver and Wilson, things get interesting. Right hander Garrett Richards went 6-6 with an ERA of 4.18 in 17 starts but is too inconsistent. Hector Santiago is a strong left hander who can throw in the 90’s and showed signs with the White Sox in 2013 with 122 K’s in 130 innings, but also walked 62. The Angels are hoping 2009 first round draft pick Tyler Skaggs will pan out after spending time with the Diamondbacks. Skaggs has three pitches to work with but has struggled with his command. Joe Blanton struggled in 2013 after going 2-14 with an ERA of 6.04. Blanton will get a chance only if the Angels can’t settle on a fourth and fifth starter.
The bullpen will count on Ernesto Frieri who had 37 saves in 2013. Freieri struck out 98 in only 68.2 innings with his sinker and a hard slider. Before you think Frieri is the answer to all of their problems, remember this…he walked 30 and gave up 11 homeruns. Former Cleveland right hander Joe Smith comes to Southern California after 213 games and 197 innings with the Indians. His ERA over the last three seasons was 2.42. Los Angeles will also look to Ryan Madsen who was signed last season but didn’t pitch after coming off Tommy John surgery. Lefthander Sean Burnett saw his season end prematurely because of an elbow injury and Fernando Salas will get his chance out of the bullpen after saving 24 games for the Cardinals in 2011.
Catcher Chris Iannetta was signed in 2012 and has become very reliable behind the plate. He has a strong and accurate arm but isn’t a great hitter. Despite his hitting woes, Iannetta did manage 68 walks and a .358 on base percentage. Hank Conger will be Iannetta’s back-up after hitting .249 with 7 HR’s in 2013. Conger does a nice job with the pitching staff and had only one passed ball in the 71 games he caught.
There was a time 1B Albert Pujols was baseball’s best hitter. Those days are long gone and the Angels know it. Pujols hit only .258 with a .330 on base percentage and a slugging percentage of only .437. He played in only 99 games because of severe plantar fasciitis but the Angels are expecting him to be healthy for 2014.
Los Angeles is counting on 3B David Freese to come back from a back injury that cut into his numbers in 2013. The former Cardinal managed only 9 HR’s and 60 RBI in 121 games with St. Louis. If Freese returns to his pre-2013 condition, he will be an upgrade over the Angels production at 3B last season.
The Angels will be strong up the middle with 2B Howie Kendrick and SS Erick Aybar. Aybar is one of the best defensive shortstops in baseball and Kendrick is one of the most underrated in the game. Kendrick is also a very good hitter (.297 13 HR 54 RBI) who can hit the ball the other way. The DH will be Raul Ibanez who hit 29 HR’s in Seattle last season. The concern with Ibanez is his age (42) and his second half production last season (only five HR’s).
There is no doubt Mike Trout is one of the best players in baseball today and the Angels will have to pay for his services if they plan on keeping him in Los Angeles. Trout was the first player in AL history with 100 walks, 70 extra-base hits and 30 stolen bases in a single season. He was also the first to hit 25 HR’s, steal 30 bases and have 100 walks in a single season. Trout also improved his walk rate by 50% over his first season. His line-drive rate is an incredible 22.6%. Some believe Trout is better than Detroit’s Miguel Cabrera as an all-around player.
Joining Trout will be leftfielder Josh Hamilton, who struggled until the final 45 games of the season (.329 .392 OBP .518 SLG%). Hamilton finished with 21 HR’s and 79 RBI. Hamilton hit only .210 against lefthanded pitching and it is becoming hard to trust him. Kole Calhoun is expected to be the rightfielder. He batted .282 with eight HR’s and 32 RBI in 58 games. Calhoun has a quick bat and can hit the long ball. J.B Shuck will also get some playing time after hitting .293 with 20 doubles in his rookie season.
If the Angels don’t make great improvement in 2014, Manager Mike Scioscia and GM Jerry Dipoto may be looking for work elsewhere. Scioscia revamped his coaching staff as an effort to revive the careers of Pujols and Hamilton. There’s too much money wrapped up in this overpaid roster for heads not to roll if they don’t win.