Angels set themselves up for Series
The Angels scratched and clawed last season on offense, finishing 10th in runs scored, 11th in on-base percentage and eighth in OPS in the AL. However, with perennial MVP candidate Pujols, a possible return from the disabled list by Kendrys Morales, improved on-base percentage at catcher with newly acquired Chris Iannetta, a possible comeback year for Vernon Wells and the anticipation of rookie Mike Trout making an impact before season's end, the Angels might have the most improved offense in the league.
Wilson gives the Angels arguably the best four-man rotation in baseball, and LaTroy Hawkins gives them another setup reliever who can provide additional leadership for some of their young, developing arms.
It's clear the Angels won the offseason, framing themselves as World Series contenders. As spring training approaches, here's how they look, position by position.
Jered Weaver, 29, has developed into a true ace, having finished second in the Cy Young Award voting this past season after going 18-8 with a 2.41 ERA. The two-time All-Star pitched more than 200 innings for the third straight year while punching out 198 hitters to go along with an impressive 1.01 WHIP.
Dan Haren, 30, led the league in games started with 34, going 16-10 with a 3.17 ERA and a 1.02 WHIP. It was the seventh time he pitched more than 200 innings, and the three-time All-Star finished seventh in the Cy Young voting.
Wilson, 31, was signed away from the archrival Texas Rangers, whom he had led to two consecutive World Series appearances. Wilson was 16-7 last season with 206 strikeouts in 223.1 innings pitched, finishing ahead of Haren for fifth place in the Cy Young voting.
Ervin Santana, 29, is the most underrated pitcher in the Angels' rotation. He has pitched more than 200 innings four times in his career, including each of the past two seasons. He was 11-12 in 2011, with an impressive 3.38 ERA and 1.22 WHIP.
The fifth spot is up for grabs but it appears Jerome Williams will get first crack at it. Williams, 30, was 4-0 last year for the Angels with a 3.68 ERA after being signed from the independent Lancaster Barnstormers last June.
Garrett Richards, 23, the Angels' first-round selection from the 2009 free-agent draft, will have the opportunity to compete for the spot as well. He has a power arm and had his best success last year at Double-A Arkansas, where he went 12-2 with a 3.15 ERA with a WHIP of 1.14. He didn't pitch well in his cup of coffee with the Angels last season but certainly showed potential. If Richards' command and control in the strike zone develop, he eventually could be a 10- to 13-game winner.
The Angels' bullpen was inconsistent last season but still finished with the second-lowest ERA in the AL at 3.52. Rookie closer Jordan Walden, 24, made the All-Star team and finished with 32 saves, striking out an impressive 67 batters in just 60.1 innings pitched. But Walden also had 10 blown saves, something he'll have to improve on in 2012.
Hawkins had a 2.42 ERA last year in 52 appearances for the National League Central-winning Brewers. His leadership definitely should benefit Walden. Scott Downs was one of the most dominant left-handed relievers in the game last year. His ERA was the second-lowest among relievers in the AL with 60 or more appearances.
Hisanori Takahashi pitched in 61 games for the Halos last year, with an ERA of 3.44. The final two or three spots in bullpen will be decided by some fierce competition in spring training. Newly acquired left-handed reliever Brad Mills, whom they received in the Jeff Mathis deal, will get every opportunity to win a long relief role, while Bobby Cassevah, Rich Thompson, Trevor Bell, Kevin Jepsen, Francisco Rodriguez and Michael Kohn will battle for the final available positions in their 'pen.
As much as Mike Scioscia appreciated the catch-and-throw abilities of Jeff Mathis, he finally realized after two consecutive seasons of Mathis' hitting worse than .200 that a change had to be made, and the Angels shipped Mathis to the Blue Jays for Mills. Of course, that happened just three days after new GM Jerry Dipoto made his first Angels trade, which netted catcher Iannetta from the Rockies for pitching prospect Tyler Chatwood.
Iannetta, 28, hit .238/.370/.414 (BA/OBP/SLG) for the Rockies last year with 17 doubles, 14 home runs and 55 RBIs. He benefited from Coors Field, where he hit .301/.419/.557 with 10 home runs and 39 RBIs, but on the road, he hit .172/.321/.587 with four home runs and 16 RBIs in the same number of at-bats. But no matter how you view his statistics, the move improves the Angels' on-base percentage and offensive production at catcher over Mathis. Hank Conger and Bobby Wilson will compete for the backup role unless the Angels decide to go with three catchers. But don't be surprised if Conger eventually hits his way into a platoon with Iannetta if given a chance.
The Angels now have the best player in baseball playing first in Pujols. This generation's Babe Ruth already has two world championship rings, nine All-Star appearances, six Silver Slugger Awards, two Gold Glove Awards and three MVP awards. He's hit at least 40 home runs in six seasons, and provided at least 100 runs and 100 RBIs in 10 of his 11 seasons at the major league level. He will completely change the Angels' lineup and offensive attack while protecting everyone else in the lineup.
Howie Kendrick, 28, signed a four-year, $33.5 million contract with the Angels after hitting .285/.338/.464 with 30 doubles, 18 home runs and 63 RBIs while making his first All-Star appearance. Erick Aybar continues to develop at shortstop as the club works hard to sign him to a long-term contract as well. Aybar, 28, hit .279/.322/.421 last year with 33 doubles, eight triples, 10 home runs, 71 runs scored and 30 stolen bases while winning his first Gold Glove.
Alberto Callaspo enters camp as the team's primary third baseman. Callasapo, 28, hit .288/.366/.375 last year with just six home runs, 54 runs scored and 46 RBIs. As in the past, Maicer Izturis will contribute at second, shortstop and third.
Mark Trumbo, 26, hit .254/.291/.477 last year with 31 doubles, 29 home runs and 87 RBIs while finishing second in the rookie of the year voting. The Angels will try to find playing time for him at first, DH, third and even in the corner outfield positions. Remember, Scioscia has been terrific about keeping players fresh and putting them in positions to succeed. The Angels continue to have a long-term need at third base, and they will continue to monitor the trade market and draft board with plenty of trade chips to make a deal work if one becomes available.
The Angels' blueprint heading into spring training has Torii Hunter at right field, Peter Bourjos at center field and Vernon Wells in left. Hunter, 36, had another solid season last year, hitting .262/.336/.429 with 24 doubles, 23 home runs and 82 RBIs. He also played Gold Glove-caliber right field, even though he didn't win the award.
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Bourjos, 24, solidified his spot in center by hitting .271/.323/.438 with a league-leading 11 triples to go with 26 doubles, 12 home runs and 22 stolen bases. Wells, 33, was inconsistent at the plate, struggling to find his line-drive stroke up the middle and trying to pull the ball instead of using the whole field. He finished last season with 25 home runs despite hitting .218/.248/.412. He worked hard this offseason to regain his stroke, and the good news is that for most of his career, he's rebounded well after down years. Although Wells enters camp as the Angels' primary left fielder, rookie sensation Trout, 20, will be given the chance to compete for an everyday position.
Competition is good, but Trout will play an everyday role for the Angels, whether that's in the majors or Triple-A. But there is no question that at some point this season, whether in April, June or August, Trout will have an impact for the Angels at the top of their lineup. He is certainly one of the top three prospects, along with the Washington Nationals' Bryce Harper and the Tampa Bay Rays' Matt Moore.
Kendrys Morales, 28, is three years removed from batting .306/.355/.569 with 43 doubles, 34 home runs and 108 RBIs. But on May 29, 2010, he hit a walk-off grand slam against the Seattle Mariners, then fractured his left leg while celebrating at the plate. He missed the rest of the season. The news got worse in 2011, when rehabilitation forced him to miss that season as well. The Angels think the chances are good that he can return, so much so they agreed to offer him salary arbitration.
Morales' health is the Angels' biggest question mark heading into spring training, but the team's success no longer hangs in the balance because of it, thanks to the presence of Trumbo and veteran Bobby Abreu. If Morales becomes a comeback player of the year candidate, the middle of the Angels' lineup will become even more potent.
The Angels don't have a deep farm system but they do have some significant everyday prospects. Of course, Trout is their best, followed by C.J. Cron.
Cron, 22, was the Angels' first-round pick last June out of Utah and is one of the top power-hitting first-base prospects in baseball. He made his professional debut last summer at Orem of the Pioneer League, where he batted.308/.371/629 with 13 home runs and 41 RBIs in just 159 plate appearances. At Utah, Cron led the nation in OPS at 1.320 and was named a Baseball America All-American. Cron had knee surgery over the offseason to correct a dislocated knee cap but should be 100 percent by Opening Day. At some point, Cron could become an important trade chip for either a long-term solution at third or more pitching.
Infielders Jean Segura, Kaleb Cowart and Ted Lindsey are all worth following, as are pitchers Johnny Hellweg and Daniel Tillman. The rest of the system will need help from this year's draft and international signings.
The Angels will be in a two-team race with the Texas Rangers in the AL West, with the possibility both teams could win 95 games this year. The Rangers deserve to be the favorites to win the division after two consecutive World Series appearances. I'll predict the Angels to finish in second place but, unlike last year, to win the wild card and make the playoffs with a legitimate chance of getting to the World Series.Read more from Bowden at The GM's Office blog on ESPN.com.