A half-decade into his incredible career, Mike Trout heads into another spring as the Los Angeles Angels’ shining centerpiece.
Although they haven’t built much of a team around the two-time AL MVP for the past couple of years, the Angels are optimistic for their fresh start this season.
The Angels have a slightly revamped lineup and renewed confidence in their injury-plagued starting rotation. While their 74-88 finish last season was their worst in Mike Scioscia’s entire 17-year tenure, the Angels believe they’re capable of a quick resurgence under the longest-tenured manager in baseball.
They’ll begin spring without Albert Pujols, however. The veteran slugger is recovering from foot surgery, but should be healthy early in his sixth season in Orange County to continue his chase for 600 homers.
The rest of the pieces could be there for a solid supporting cast around Trout, who shows no signs of slowing down.
Here are some more things to watch when the Angels report to Tempe:
General manager Billy Eppler capably addressed the two obvious problems in the Angels’ lineup with the additions of left fielders Cameron Maybin and Ben Revere and second baseman Danny Espinosa. Maybin is a longtime center fielder, and Espinosa spent last season as Washington’s shortstop, but both have the experience to handle their new assignments in the field. The Angels mostly hope the new guys will make them better at the plate. Maybin and Revere likely couldn’t do worse than the underachieving collection of Angels left fielders that posted the majors’ worst cumulative offensive performance at the position for the last two years since Josh Hamilton’s banishment. Espinosa is a free-swinging slugger, and Los Angeles is a poor power-hitting team — 25th in the majors in homers last season — that hasn’t had an elite contributor at second since Howie Kendrick left two years ago.
ROOKIES TO WATCH
One of the majors’ worst farm systems has produced almost nothing for the big-league club in a few years. That’s unlikely to change much this season, but starters Alex Meyer and Nate Smith have the chance to earn a spot in the back end of the rotation with a strong spring. Angels fans in Tempe also could get an early look at Matt Thaiss, Eppler’s first first-round pick last summer. The 21-year-old first baseman was impressive in his first few months in the minors, earning an invitation to spring training.
The Angels in the outfield could be one of the majors’ best groups. Trout is conceivably on pace to be nothing less than the best player of his generation, but he is flanked in left by Maybin and in right by Kole Calhoun, who has a new contract to go with his steady bat and spectacular glove. Eppler signed veterans Revere and Ryan LaMarre as the big-league backups, but he’ll be on the lookout for another bat.
Los Angeles’ rotation is in transition after the departures of former ace Jered Weaver and high-priced left-hander C.J. Wilson, along with the Tommy John surgery losses of Andrew Heaney and Nick Tropeano. Garrett Richards is hoping his own elbow ligament remains strong after a year of rest and medical rehabilitation to avoid Tommy John, but his every move in spring will be watched cautiously. Matt Shoemaker is returning from a line drive to the head. Tyler Skaggs, newish veteran Ricky Nolasco and new veteran Jesse Chavez are likely to round out the rotation, but everybody has to prove himself in March.
Along with the usual roster competition and the debuts of new first baseman Luis Valbuena and catcher Martin Maldonado, the spring is another chance to enjoy the brilliance of Trout, the third-youngest player to win two MVP awards in baseball history. The five-time All-Star is the Angels’ heart and soul, but he still hasn’t won a playoff game.