Four Big Spring Training Question Marks For the Angels

As the off-season sprints to a close, spring training will begin next week. The Angels first arrivals will be in camp by Feb. 20, but Josh Hamilton, who planned to join pitchers and catchers for the early date, will be recovering from last week’s shoulder surgery. The surgery, apparently never considered in October, November, December, or January, promises to put a dent into his early 2015 season, just as a calf injury kept him from much of 2014′s spring training and as did an April thumb injury knock him out of seven weeks of regular season games.

The winter acquisition of Matt Joyce gives the team a competent veteran replacement for Hamilton, and along with Collin Cowgill and another new guy, Daniel Robertson, left field will be in better hands than it was last year when Hamilton produced a depressing 10 home runs, 44 RBI and a .263 average over the 89 games he managed to play in exchange for $17 million. Take your time recovering, Josh, no reason to hurry back!

Mike Scioscia and the Angels, who compiled baseball's best regular season won-lost record of 2014 but then crashed and burned in the post season, have at least three bigger question marks than left field, as 2015 approaches.

The Angels' vastly improved 2014 was due primarily to better pitching, and over much of the season, the number one guy on the staff was Garrett Richards. His season-ending knee
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injury suffered on August 20 was a devastating blow to the team, and if the Angels are to contend again and have any chance of a decent showing in the post season, they need him back healthy. Reports are that he is “ahead of schedule”. whatever that means. He has been tossing the ball around and is supposed to begin throwing off a mound in mid-February. But, it still remains unlikely that he will be seen on a major league mound before June.

With Tyler Skaggs also post-surgery, but from Tommy John surgery which normally means a full year off and little chance of returning to action before July or more likely August, the Angels’ rotation will begin the season paper-thin. Likely to join Jered Weaver, last season’s rookie sensation Matt Shoemaker, and the returning and consistently disappointing C.J. Wilson in the rotation will be inconsistent lefty Hector Santiago and yet another rookie sensation, lefty Andrew Heaney, acquired from the Dodgers in the Howie Kendrick deal.

Heaney, the ninth overall pick of the 2012 draft, had just been acquired by the Dodgers from Tampa Bay in the Dee Gordon trade when he was sent packing again, to Anaheim. Heaney usually throws in the mid-90s, but has gotten up to 97, and is said to have an excellent slider and a dependable change-up, and is projected to become a solid number

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two quality starter. But can he be ready to assume that kind of a roll with 29 innings of major league experience, all garnered last season with Miami, behind him? He got four mid-season starts, and compiled a 6.53 ERA over 20.2 innings, but was recalled in September, and did better, allowing four runs over eight-and-two-thirds innings over three appearances. The rest of the season in AA and AAA he went 9-6 with a 3.28 ERA while striking out 143 in 137.1 innings.

Should any of these guys pitch themselves out of the rotation or get injured, the Angels have another touted young guy in Nick Tropeano, but not much more. I discussed Tropeano last November when he was acquired from the Astros for Hank Conger, and while he is talented an could have a solid future, he has the same limited experience level as Heaney.

Catching, a plus for the Angles last season, has become a question mark with the trade of Conger, who was a solid backup to Chris Iannetta. Iannetta never gets through a full season without missing time due to an injury or two, and has never gotten close to 400 at bats in any of his nine major league seasons. His backup for 2015 figures to be either Drew Butera, picked up as a free agent after his release by the Dodgers and a career .183 hitter over five seasons, and Carlos Perez, who also came to the Angels in the Conger-Tropeano deal but who is yet to appear in a major league game.

But the team’s biggest question mark that needs a solid answer during the spring is who will replace Howie Kendrick at second base? There appear to be three candidates, at least going into camp: Josh Rutledge, Grant Green, and Roberto Baldoquin. Rutledge is the only one with any semblance of major league experience at second base, having played there in 82 of his 266 games with the Rockies over the last three seasons. He’s hit pretty well, but

that was playing in Coors Field in Colorado. Green has shown good potential with the bat since being acquired from Oakland for Alberto Callaspo in 2013, but he has primarily played in the outfield for the Angels, with only 54 appearances at second, 50 with the Angels. As I've written in the past, Green has always impressed me has having much more potential for third base than second. He's hit .277 as an Angel, and looks like he will be a pretty good major league hitter.
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Then, there is Baldoquin, a 21-year-old Cuban signee, who has yet to play in the US. Chances are that he would begin his career in Double-A, but he is highly touted, and team reps have been quoted as saying they expect him to advance quickly through the organization. His $8 million signing bonus could be an incentive, or it could have the opposite effect. That other local team has had bad, bad results with two highly touted and EXPENSIVE Cuban infield signees, Alexander Guerrero and Erisbel Arruebarrena, and there is no guarantee that Baldoquin will fare any better.

For a team coming off 98 wins and a 10-game advantage over their top division competitor, the Angels have a lot to sort out before the 2015 season begins.

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