Underrated Angels Will Compete

As the 2016 season gets underway this weekend, the Los Angeles Angels are under the radar of most “experts” and despite a couple of question marks, they will complete in the talented American League West and I see a return to the post season, due primarily to what is now a talent-laden starting rotation depending not on aging, oft-injured veterans,

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but rather on dynamic young arms on the verge of dominance.

The trio of Garrett Richards, Andrew Heaney and Hector Santiago lead the staff into the new season, and coming off three dominant games agains the Dodgers in the “freeway” series, their confidence has to be sky high. Richards, now a year and a half removed from his horrible patellar tendon injury of August, 2014, begins the season as the staff’s unquestioned ace, and the biggest question mark
on him holding on to that distinction is the rate of the continued development of Heaney, who will be challenging him for that role before too long. Santiago at times last season was equally dominant, and as the oldest and most experienced of the trio, he needs only a bit more consistency to be one of the league’s top number three starters.

Starting the season, Jered Weaver finds himself in a unique position for him. Long the star of Angels’ pitching and one of the best in the game, age and wear and tear have taken their toll, and the need for reworking his mechanics due to cervical disc deterioration following the worst season of his otherwise stellar career has pushed him to the back of the rotation. Closing out the starting staff as the season begins is Matt Shoemaker, coming off an awful 2015 following his brilliant 16-4 rookie 2014 season. Which Shoemaker will we see in 2016? That is one of the team’s biggest question marks.

But, the question of depth beyond these five remains a concern, as C.J. Wilson and his $18 Million contract rehab his sore shoulder without yet even a timetable for him to resume

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throwing. However, on the VERY bright side is the progress of Tyler Skaggs, who was absolutely dominant in his two appearances of the very late spring, his first action since Tommy John surgery in late 2014. Skaggs has the talent to make that threesome at the top of a rotation a solid foursome, and I fully expect to see him in the rotation by mid-summer, and maybe earlier if Weaver has health issues or if Shoemaker stumbles.

Too bad the Angels’ bullpen is not as solid looking
as the starting staff. Sure, they’ve got a great closer in Huston Street and a “name” set-up” 8th inning guy in Joe Smith, despite his late season troubles last season, but the middle-inning names include the likes of Cory Rasmus and Cam Bedrosian, and that is a very big worry. Gone from last season’s pen are young righty Trevor Gott, traded to Washington in the Yunel Escobar deal and who was great over the last couple of months of 2015, and veteran lefty Cesar Ramos, who had a terrific season as, along with Jose Alvarez, one of the Angels’ two fine lefties out of the bullpen. Interestingly enough, neither Ramos in Texas nor Gott with the Nationals made their new teams’ opening day rosters and both will be starting 2016 in Triple-A.

Newcomers Escobar at third and shortstop Andrelton Simmons should be fixtures during the new season, with perhaps more consistent play at third than the oft-injured David Freese, who always was a great gamer and solid clutch hitter, provided over his two seasons in Anaheim, and even better and more spectacular defense than the solid Erick Aybar provided at short.

I’ve written a lot about the problems in left field, and newcomer veterans Daniel Nava and Craig Gentry each had solid springs and they begin the season in a platoon at the position.

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But, you cannot deny their track records, and I expect to seen Rule 5 player Ji-Man Choi play himself into the position in the not too distant future.

The acquisition of Geovany Soto to platoon behind the plate with Carlos Perez was a great move and gives the Angels the most solid combination of offense and defense they’ve had at the position in years. C.J. Cron had a fine second half last year and figures to get the playing time at first,
spelled occasionally by Choi, as Albert Pujols moves to the full-time DH. Kole Calhoun is solid in right field, and nothing need be said about Mike Trout in center.

However, depth both in the infield and outfield is a question, with only Cliff Pennington available to backup a second, third and short, and only four experienced outfielders plus Choi, primarily a first baseman who is learning to play left.

I see a three-way battle all season in the AL West, with the Angels competing with the more respected Houston Astros and Texas Rangers for the division tile and for a possible wild card spot, or two.

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