Monday, March 31, 2008

Opening Damn Day!

How about I revisit the Spring Training Preview, with new comments in Halo Red:

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. (Please don't call me 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. (We didn't get to any games, but I drove past Diablo Stadium like three times a day).

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

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)
(We'll see about the batting order, but the rest looks spot on. Napoli and Izturis have won the opening day nods at their positions).

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.

Obviously Lackey and Escobar are on the DL, possibly for a long, long time in the case of Escobar. But the other four all had solid springs, and if they can weather the storm until Lackey comes back to full strength, they should be fine. I would not expect Escobar back this year.

Bullpen

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

Santana clearly moves out of this role and into the rotation for probably the entire season, or until he pitches himself out of it, whichever comes first. Moseley enters the rotation for the beginning of the year. Bootcheck and Shields are hurt. Looks like Rich Thompson and Darren O'Day will fill their slots for the first part of the year. The back end of the rotation stays intact.

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.

Wood didn't explode. Aybar looked surprisingly good, and I expect him to play a lot, even with Izturis getting the opening day start. Maicer hit .365/.431/.500 in 52 at bats, while Aybar showed good power, hitting .274/324/.532, including four homers. This was probably the best case for the Angels. Both players responded to the competition and they go into the season with both playing well. I didn't see many games, but reports on Aybar's defense were positive as well.

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.

Who knew they'd really need that depth this early. As it turns out, the deal was very prescient, both because of the need at starter and because of the developments at short. Moseley had a decent spring, giving up four runs in 12 innings, with a solid 1.25 WHIP, but only six strike outs. Still, they'll only ask for six innings and chance to win from their fifth starter until Lackey returns. And hopefully, with Santana still a question mark (4.26 spring ERA in 31.2 IP), maybe Moseley will use this as a chance to make his case for a starting job.

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.

Six outfielders on the opening day roster. Hunter had a tremendous spring (.345/.367/.707), as did Gary Matthews (.449/.472/.612). In fact, the six outfielders hit a combined .334/.372/.544 in roughly 300 total at bats. That's some pretty solid depth, and it will be interesting to see how Scioscia gets all these guys involved. And with the pitching issues, it wouldn't be a shock to see one of them gone before June.

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.

Morales (.385/.484/.558 - 52 at bats) had an excellent spring, as did Quinlan (.317/.333/.439 - 41 at bats). Kotchman was less than stellar, but wasn't really competing for a job. What really stands out are the seven walks drawn by Kendry in those 52 at bats. Pretty incredible for a guy with extremely questionable plate discipline.

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.

No surprise here. It was Napoli winning the job, although Mathis had a pretty decent spring. They're catchers, so there's going to be plenty of playing time for both anyway.

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.

They didn't back into a better option at short - Izturis won it outright. Wood will start the season in Salt Lake because he was not very good this spring, but he's still young, so I'm not particularly worried. I'm surprised they still have all six outfielders. I don't expect the rotation issues to be settled until mid to late May. But I do expect the Angels to win the division. Oakland second. Seattle third. Texas last. Let's play ball!

1 comment:

NFL Adam said...

Why is Howie batting seventh? I hate this.