MLB team report: Offseason upgrades enough for Angels?

MLB team report: Offseason upgrades enough for Angels?

Angels

MLB team report: Offseason upgrades enough for Angels?

MLB team report: Los Angeles Angels

After losing 88 games — their worst season since 1999 — with an injury-ravaged rotation and almost zero production from left field and second base, the Angels hope improved health and moderate upgrades make for a big improvement. With one more year before Josh Hamilton’s onerous contract expires, the Angels made ripples, not splashes — trading for Cameron Maybin and Danny Espinosa to shore up problem spots and signing pitcher Jesse Chavez. Is that enough to contend? Well, it also doesn’t hurt to retain the best player in the game. USA TODAY Sports’ Gabe Lacques takes an inside look at the team. (*Denotes prospect)

COMPLETE CACTUS LEAGUE COVERAGE

Catcher

The Angels forfeited four years of tread and three years of service time in swapping Jett Bandy for former Milwaukee Brewers catcher Martin Maldonado. Bandy and Maldonado each hit eight home runs in an almost identical number of plate appearances, though Maldonado, 30, got on base at a .332 clip compared with Bandy’s .281. Tony Sanchez, the fourth pick in the 2009 draft by the Pittsburgh Pirates, was signed to a minor league deal, though it’s unlikely the Angels would have room to carry three catchers, given their need to limit innings of some of their starting pitchers. Depth chart: Bandy, Carlos Perez, Sanchez, *Taylor Ward

First base

For the second time in his five years in Anaheim, Albert Pujols played more games at designated hitter — 123 — than he did at first base (28). That trend figures to continue after Pujols had surgery to repair his right plantar fascia Dec. 2. If his rehab proceeds optimally, Pujols will be ready for opening day. But he’ll be 37, and after a second such surgery in two years, the Angels figure to keep him off his feet often. Fortunately for them, C.J. Cron put forth a serviceable season, hitting 16 home runs with a .325 on-base percentage. Matt Thaiss, the 16th overall pick in June’s draft, produced a .361 OBP in a 67-game pro debut, but it’s unlikely the 21-year-old will move beyond Class AA this season. Depth chart: Cron, Jefry Marte, Pujols, Ji-Man Choi, *Thaiss

Second base

This group, topped by Johnny Giavotella, combined for an AL-worst .275 on-base percentage and 10 home runs. Enter Espinosa, 29, who cost the Angels two low-tier prospects and his arbitration salary of about $5.5 million. He hit 24 home runs for the Washington Nationals last season, and although his lifetime .226 average and .302 on-base percentage leave much to be desired, he’ll represent a significant offensive upgrade. And he’s shifting to a less demanding defensive position after spending all of last season at shortstop. Depth chart: Espinosa, Cliff Pennington, Kaleb Cowart, *David Fletcher

Third base

Whether Yunel Escobar is on the roster in August should be a good indication of how his season — and the Angels’ — has gone. He was a strong contributor in 132 games, trailing only Mike Trout in batting average (.304) and on-base percentage (.355). At $7 million, he is a relative bargain and could represent a decent trade chip at the July deadline. Naturally, the Angels would prefer he and they excel. Marte is a capable if unspectacular reserve. Depth chart: Escobar, Marte, Pennington, Cowart

Shortstop

Andrelton Simmons did not win his third Gold Glove in his first year in Anaheim, but he did produce career bests in batting average (.281) and on-base percentage (.324). Still, he is here for his elite glove and is the centerpiece of what could be a dynamic defensive infield, given that former shortstops will man second (Espinosa) and third base (Escobar). Simmons is signed through 2020. The Angels invested $14 million in Cuban defector Roberto Baldoquin, but the 22-year-old was plagued by injuries again and regressed in a second year at high Class A, batting .198 with no home runs in 64 games. Depth chart: Simmons, Pennington, Espinosa, *Fletcher, *Nolan Fontana

Left field

It has been a long climb for Maybin, who turns 30 on April 4, from fading top prospect to serviceable everyday player. This season might be his best chance to shine. Maybin posted career bests in average (.315) and OBP (.383) for the Detroit Tigers, who wanted to shed costs and dealt his $9 million salary to Anaheim. He brings center-field skills to left and decent, if not optimal, basestealing ability. In a perfect world, he maintains his excellent on-base clip, pairs with Escobar at the top of the lineup and leaves the table well-set for Trout. Depth chart: Maybin, Ryan LaMarre, Marte

Center field

Trout is the best player in the game. He has finished no worse than second in AL MVPvoting in his five full major league seasons. He’s 25. If there’s anything this franchise does not worry about, it is Trout. Depth chart: Trout, Maybin, LaMarre

Right field

Kole Calhoun might have found a comfort zone in 2016 — trading a bit of power for contact and batting average. The result: His home runs dipped from a career-best 26 in 2015 to 18 — but so, too, did his strikeouts, which fell from 164 to 118. He also batted .271 with a career-best .348 on-base percentage. Finally arbitration-eligible, Calhoun, 29, will get his first, well-deserved big payday, with an award as high as $7 million in the offing. Depth chart: Calhoun, LaMarre, Marte, Shane Robinson

Designated hitter

With the retirement of David Ortiz, Pujols might more closely resemble a full-time DH than anyone else in the AL. While that’s in part because of his health status, it also speaks to the Angels’ lack of offensive depth. In essence, giving other everyday players a day at DH would cede at-bats to a light-hitting bench player, so the Angels are probably best served keeping Pujols there most of the time. While his 10-year, $240 million deal signed before 2012 was widely panned, Pujols has fought through injuries to remain a viable player in Anaheim. He hit 31 home runs and drove in 119 runs last season despite the pain caused by his plantar fascia. Now, on to the second half of that deal — and the remaining $140 million the Angels owe him. Depth chart: Pujols, Cron

Starting pitchers

While it’s unlikely the staff will be so injury-ravaged again, much of 2017’s hopes ride on pitchers who broke down in 2016. Ace Garrett Richards made six starts before a damaged ulnar collateral ligament in his elbow ended his season. He opted for stem cell therapy and platelet rich plasma treatments to avoid Tommy John surgery. So far, he’s on track to do so, but he represents a significant unknown. “We are going to be very, very careful with where Garrett is and make sure that he rebounds and maintains his stuff,” manager Mike Scioscia said at the winter meetings. Andrew Heaney and Nick Tropeano will miss 2017 (or most of it) after Tommy John surgeries. Lefty Tyler Skaggs made 10 starts in his first year back from Tommy John but was sidelined by an elbow strain. He should have few restrictions, save for a possible innings ceiling, and his performance could swing the fortunes of this group. Veterans Ricky Nolasco, Matt Shoemaker and Jesse Chavez should provide innings. Depth chart: RHP Richards, RHP Nolasco, RHP Shoemaker, LHP Skaggs, RHP Chavez, *RHP Alex Meyer, RHP Daniel Wright, *LHP Nate Smith, LHP Manny Banuelos, LHP John Lamb

Bullpen

Huston Street produced a career-worst 6.45 ERA in 26 games and had season-ending knee surgery in August, prompting the club to open up the closer role. And it seems they’d prefer that Cam Bedrosian seize it come spring. He struck out 51 in 401/3 innings in 2016, posting a 1.12 ERA and 1.09 WHIP (walks plus hits allowed per inning pitched). Bedrosian’s repertoire fits Scioscia’s vision of a ninth-inning guy; we might learn quickly if he has the aptitude to match. Andrew Bailey pitched what amounted to his first full season since 2013 and shined in 12 appearances after the Angels signed him in August after the Philadelphia Phillies released him. JC Ramirez was another sound midseason reclamation project, with a 2.91 ERA in 43 games; the club will aim to stretch him out as a starter in the spring, but he might end up back in the bullpen. Depth chart: RHP Bedrosian, RHP Bailey, RHP Street, RHP Ramirez, RHP Deolis Guerra, LHP Jose Alvarez, RHP Kirby Yates, RHP Mike Morin, RHP Brooks Pounders

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Offseason outlook

Another outfielder and perhaps relief depth could be in the offing, but the biggest moves have likely been made already as the club awaits the expiration of another bad contract.

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Top five prospects

Excerpted from BaseballHQ.com’s 2017 Minor League Baseball Analyst. To order: Baseballhq.com/mlba2017:

1. Matt Thaiss, 1B: Thaiss is a natural hitter who moved from catcher to first base upon signing. He brings a mature approach to the plate (.351 on-base percentage in low-A ball), as he works counts to find pitches to drive. The 21-year-old has raw power but not much speed and is learning the nuances of first base.

2. Jahmai Jones, OF: Jones is a toolsy, improving outfielder with an impressive and emerging arsenal. He swings a fast bat and owns natural strength to hit for average and power (.302 batting average, .422 slugging percentage). A plus runner, Jones, 19, has true center-field range and will get his first shot at Class A.

3. Taylor Ward, C:  Ward, 23, is a strong defender who employs a simple swing and keen eye to make contact and get on base consistently. He did hit 10 home runs, though. He has agility behind the plate and will move to Class AA in 2017.

4. Nate Smith, LHP: A durable pitcher, Smith, 25, possesses a deep arsenal of average offerings. His strikeout totals are likely to remain low (7.3 per nine innings in 2016), but he throws all of his pitches for strikes. Smith delivers his from a high, deceptive arm slot. He will return to Class AAA.

5. Nonie Williams, SS: The 18-year-old is a big, athletic infielder with immense upside. He has explosive bat speed that could evolve into considerable home run power at peak, though he struggles to read spin. On defense, he is raw and might outgrow shortstop. Williams likely will head to short-season ball.

By Jeremy Deloney

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