Friday, February 08, 2008

Angels Spring Training Preview

Brian Ward asked me to put something together about the Angels for his Spring Training blog. They're getting this together for every team. My contribution is below. Feel free to tell me why I'm an idiot. FWIW, I was just on a conference call today where we made plans to go to a client location in Phoenix the first week of March. Spring Training was the first thing that popped into my head.

Location: Tempe Diablo Stadium
Pitchers and Catcher Report: February 14th
First game: February 28th

Projected Opening Day Lineup
  1. Chone Figgins (3B)
  2. Howie Kendrick (2B)
  3. Vladimir Guerrero (RF)
  4. Torii Hunter (CF)
  5. Garret Anderson (DH)
  6. Casey Kotchman (1B)
  7. Gary Matthews Jr. (LF)
  8. Mike Napoli (C)
  9. Erick Aybar/Maicer Izturis (SS)

Projected Rotation
  1. John Lackey
  2. Kelvim Escobar*
  3. Jered Weaver
  4. Jon Garland
  5. Joe Saunders
*Expected to open the season on the DL.


Long – Ervin Santana
Situational – Darren Oliver, Dustin Moseley, Jason Bulger, Chris Bootcheck
7th Inning – Justin Speier
8th Inning – Scot Shields
Closer – Francisco Rodriguez

Key Battles: The biggest question mark going into Spring Training is clearly at shortstop. The off-season trade of Orlando Cabrera, which brought pitcher John Garland in return, opened up the shortstop spot for a battle between Maicer Izturis and prospects Erick Aybar and Brandon Wood. Aybar appears to be the early favorite based on public comments by Mike Scioscia, who favors the young Dominican for his defense and ability to make contact. Izturis is more of a proven performer at the plate, and is solid defensively, but has never put everything together for a whole season. He also provides the versatility to sub at third base and second base if needed. Wood is a long shot, but if he explodes this Spring, he could force some difficult decisions for the Angels brain trust.

The Cabrera/Garland trade has also created somewhat of a logjam in the starting rotation where, upon the return of Kelvim Escobar, the Angels will have six starters for only five starting spots. Ervin Santana will more than likely start the season in the rotation and remain there as long as Escobar is out. When Escobar gets healthy, Santana figures to be the odd man out, but he could beat out lefty Joe Saunders for the fifth spot. He remains the number one option to make spot starts, or to fill rotation holes should anyone else get injured. Either way, Garland’s addition added depth to an already excellent starting staff.

The acquisition of Torii Hunter created the proverbial good problem to have, as the Angels head into the Spring with five outfielders who could start for at least two thirds of the league, and a sixth who could probably start for 6-8 more. Hunter as the every day center fielder seems to be the only lock at this point. Vladimir Guerrero figures to split time between right field and DH, while Garret Anderson will do the same at the left field/DH spot. There are questions about how much Anderson has left in the tank, but after returning to full health he exploded over the last two and a half months of the season, when he put up a line of .350/.409/.650. It remains to be seen whether that was a fluke, or whether he can carry that forward to 2008. Gary Matthews Jr. will play everywhere, depending on who needs a day off, and who is DHing. For the moment, this leaves both Juan Rivera, one season removed from bad broken leg, and Reggie Willits, who exploded at the start of the season before wearing down in the last few months, on the outside looking in. Both figure to be tradable commodities prior to opening day, and a good spring could lead to a deal, perhaps packaged with an arm in return for a big bat. The Angels probably wouldn’t mind moving Matthews as well, but a no trade clause stands in the way.

Waiting in the wings is Kendry Morales, who started to show what he could do at the plate, hitting .323/.343/.462 over the last month of the season. He could see time at first base if the Angels decide to sit Casey Kotchman against tough lefties, but to this point, Morales has been a better hitter from the left side of the plate, so there may not be much platoon advantage there, and the Angels could decide to stick with Robb Quinlan in that role. Both have seen limited time in the outfield, giving the Angels a seventh option should the need arise, though that seems unlikely.

A smaller skirmish will take place behind the plate, where Mike Napoli and Jeff Mathis will split time. The only question is which one will take over the primary duties. Napoli has the superior stick, with a 109 OPS+ over his first 174 games, while Mathis provides better defense. Napoli struggled a bit at the plate after returning from injury over the last month of the season, but even his .707 OPS over that period was far superior to anything Mathis has been able to put up over any month in his career.

What To Expect: Aybar will be given every opportunity to succeed at shortstop, but if he can’t cut it, the Angels may back into a better option with Izturis. Expect Wood to start the season in Salt Lake with a mandate to improve his ability to make contact. I’d be a bit surprised if they broke camp with both Willits and Rivera, as neither figures to be in their top four outfielders unless they can find someone to take Matthews and his big contract off their hands. It’s doubtful that all six starting pitchers will be ready to go in the first week, so I wouldn’t expect the fifth spot in the rotation to be decided until a week or two into April.


Anonymous said...

I can't believe there aren't any comments telling you why you are an idiot. The blogosphere disappoints once again.

Anonymous said...

You're an idiot

Henry Holland said...

You're an idiot in one respect: it's Jon Garland, no H, like the British spelling. :-)

Speaking of Garland, dig the geek glasses on his rookie card.

I'm still not convinced that trading Cabrera was the right thing, but I love Kendrick batting second. The less GA is in the field, the better.

I think the Angels can win the division without all that much sweat, they just have to avoid the Red Sux in the playoffs....

It's nice to have baseball back.

Seitz said...

Goddammit, I know that and I still screwed it up. Thanks for the tip. I'll clarify. I actually even proofread this on, unlike every other post on this site.

I think the Cabrera deal was good in that they traded him at the peak of his value. I don't see him hitting like again, at least not consistently.