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.

Sports Filled Thursday

Lots to take in last night, so I'll briefly touch on the four sporting events that kept me from watching the new episode of Lost.

Kings 5; Red Wings 3

Absolutely amazing third period for the Kings, as they potted four goals to turn a 3-1 deficit into a 5-3 victory. Alexander Frolov has been terrific since returning to full health, and the Detroit broadcasting crew named him their player of the game last night. I thought Brad Stuart was awful over the first two months of the season, but he's been terrific over the last month or so, and the Kings really need to think about extending his deal.

I understand the sentiment of those who don't necessarily want to see the Kings win at this point of the season. Barring a miracle, they won't be playing in the post-season, and every point threatens their chances at acquiring the top pick. But this is a team that needs to learn how to win, and they've been doing that over the last month. That experience may prove invaluable heading into next season. Confidence is a curious thing, and when a team has it, it can be very powerful. If they can go into next season not believing that they can be good, but knowing that they have been good, that will be more valuable than the difference between the first pick and the fourth or fifth pick. I hope they keep winning.

Florida Panthers 4; Ottawa Senators 5

I know, this seems out of place, but a fiend of mine is a gambler, and he suddenly decided that he wants me to start picking hockey games for him. I don't gamble, but I've been "owning" the picks I make, so I was very interested in this game, and it actually caused me to miss the beginning of the Kings comeback. After blowing a 3-1 lead, and a 4-3 lead, Ottawa was the first team to five, and only a couple of great saves by Ray Emery preserved the victory.

Indiana 83; Illinois 79 (2OT)

From a purely objective standpoint, this was an excellent game. Fairly well played by both teams. Back and forth most of the night, with Illinois performing their trademark late collapse, losing a double digit lead yet again. Free throw woes continue to plague the Illini. Sean Pruitt missed two free throws at the end of regulation that would have sealed the victory, then did so again in the first overtime. Six of Illinois' losses this year have come by a combined 23 points. That includes three overtime games (one double overtime game). In those six games, they've made 67-122 free throws. That's fifty five points they've left on the court. They're not a bad team when the clock is running, but they've killed themselves at the line all year.

From a purely subjective standpoint, I hate Indiana with the white hot intensity of a thousand suns. This one hurt, and it was really a game that Illinois should have won. I've lost what little shred of respect I had for ESPN, as they continue to lie about what happened in the recruitment of Eric Gordon. He did not re-open his recruitment, no matter how much Pat Forde, Fran Frischilla, and Jay Bilas want to believe otherwise. Decommitting or re-opening a recruitment entails a conversation with the committed coach wherein the kid explains his intentions. If Gordon had gone to Bruce Weber and said "The situation has changed, and while I'm still interested in Illinois, I'd like to explore other options." Doing so would have allowed Bruce Weber to do likewise. But Gordon didn't do that. His family assured Weber that his commitment to Illinois was solid virtually all the way up to signing day. Quite simply, they lied. Whether they were simply malicious, or too pathetic to look coach Weber straight in the eye and tell him the truth makes no difference. They lied, and liars like the Gordons deserve to play for cheating scumbags like Kelvin Sampson.

Lost in all the hoopla, and the loss, was a transcendent performance by freshman point guard Demetri McCamey. He went for 31 points, 7-13 from beyond the arc, and kept the Illinois in the game all night. He definitely outplayed Gordon. It hurts this year, but in the long run, Illinois is probably better off with McCamey for three or four years than Gordon for one.

UCLA 63; Wazzu 59

Great battle in Pullman last night as these teams traded the top spot on the scoreboard all night. But in classic UCLA style, they wore down the Cougars in the second half, created some separation, eventually pushing the lead to 10 points. With LRMAM, perhaps their best defensive player, home with a sprained ankle, the Bruins allowed the Cougars to shoot over 50%, but dominated the glass, outrebounding Wazzu 29-20. Ten of those were on the offensive glass, and it was second chance points that eventually did in the Cougars.

Darren Collison followed a scoreless first half with an 18 point second half, while Kevin Love netted 16, and Russell Westbrook added 14. Josh Shipp continues to struggle on the offensive end, making only three out of eight shots for six points.

UCLA will face Washington on Sunday, and following that game they'll have only three road games remaining. If they can defend their home court against the Bay Area schools, they'll have the inside track on a third consecutive conference championship.

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

More Coming Attractions

The Whigs, Saturday, February 9th at Schuba's.

Super Furry Animals, Saturday, February 16th at the Metro. Behold the greatest concert ending song you may ever be privileged to witness, and a little bit of a Juxtaposed With You remix at the end, for hell of it.

Sunday, February 03, 2008


That, folks, was a slaughter. UCLA simply stepped on the gas from the very beginning, and never let up. It's the type of performance that makes an impression on a national audience. Kevin Love was exceptional, and Arizona simply doesn't have anyone who can guard Russell Westbrook. He made Chase Buddinger look like a chump tonight.

Hopefully LRMAM will be OK. Kind of a nasty turn of the ankle there near the end.

This was simply a great team playing at their best against a good team playing considerably less than their best. But make no mistake, UCLA is better right now at virtually every position, and they have a much better coach. McKale will be a tough place to play in a few weeks, but for now, there's not much question who the class of the Pac 10 is.

And if you're looking for the Wildcats, you might want to check somewhere out behind this: