2014 MLB Season Preview: Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim
Pure Man. Mandatory Credit: Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports
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Projected AL West Finish: 4th out of 5
Coming into this season, here at That Ball’s Outta Here we want to preview each team in the majors, with a different writer covering each division in the order of projected end of year standings.
The Los Angeles Angels are a perplexing team entering the 2014 season. They’ve spent big in the two prior off-seasons, attracting the marquee talent of each free agent class. In doing so, they have on paper one of the strongest line-ups in baseball, and while their rotation isn’t a strength, they do have two quality frontline starters in C.J. Wilson and Jered Weaver.
They should be competing, but new OF Josh Hamilton had a down year immediately after signing his contract, and their huge, 10-year commitment at first base spent half the season on the disabled list. Additionally, their lack of pitching has hurt them, and their huge spending has lost them multiple first round draft picks, draining the farm system of talent.
Oh yeah, and there’s Mike “On-Pace-With-Ted-Williams-Through-His-Age-22-Season” Trout. He’s a bit of a bright spot, I guess.
Major Additions: 3B David Freese, RHP Joe Smith, OF/DH Raul Ibanez, LHP Hector Santiago, RHP Tyler Skaggs
Probably understanding the dire straights of the farm system and saving pennies for a potential $1,000 Million extension for two-time AL MVP Mike Trout, the Angels didn’t make any big splash signings this off-season.
They did make some potentially smart moves, signing the quietly-good Joe Smith as set-up man, and Raul Ibanez on a cheap one-year deal after hitting 29 home runs for the Mariners last season.
They were more active on the trade market, questionably trading Peter Bourjos and top outfield prospect Randal Grichuk to St. Louis for 3B David Freese and a reliever.
I’m inclined to think that if John Mozeliak wants to trade with you, you’ve already been taken advantage of; however, Freese looks to be a change-of-scenery rebound candidate, and it does fill a hole for the Angels.
In taking Anaheim’s #2 ranked prospect and a stellar defensive CF, St. Louis definitely won the trade. The Angels did receive some value in return, though.
Anaheim’s biggest move of the off-season came in the form of a three-team deal involving the White Sox and Diamondbacks. The Angels traded the 30+ HR hitting (if a little one-dimensional) Mark Trumbo, but with a cornucopia of home run hitting options at 1B, DH, and in the OF, it’s a loss they can absorb.
In return, they received LHP Hector Santiago from the White Sox, and RHP Tyler Skaggs from the Diamondbacks – desperately needed starting pitching depth. Santiago is coming off of a decent first full year as a starter (his 3.56 ERA belies his 4.44 FIP, due to a high walk rate).
Skaggs is a former much-hyped pitching prospect (ranked as highly as #12 overall by Baseball America), but regressed significantly in 2013, even losing significant fastball velocity, which is scary given that’s he’s only 21-years old.
Both are risky acquisitions (particularly Skaggs), but both are still prospect-age young. If their bad habits can be fixed, the Angels have suddenly gone a long way towards fixing their rotation.
Projected at 70 WAR for this upcoming season. Mandatory Credit: Jim Cowsert-USA TODAY Sports
Impact Bats: 1B/DH Albert Pujols, OF Josh Hamilton, CF The Ghost of Bo Jackson, 2B Howie Kendrick, SS Erik Aybar
The Angels have the potential to be one of the most feared lineups in baseball. Albert Pujols is going to be a Hall of Famer, Josh Hamilton is only one season removed from hitting 43 HR, and there’s, you know, the best player in baseball roaming the outfield.
Even with Hamilton’s regression and Pujols’ injury-caused ineffectiveness, the Angels scored the 7th most runs in the majors in 2013. Other batters like Howie Kendrick, Chris Iannetta, and (the now-traded) Mark Trumbo each contributed double-digit home runs.
Rookie OF Cole Calhoun performed well in his 58 game stint, getting on-base and providing some power on his way to a .808 OPS. He provides an important left-handed bat, and looks to be a favorite to leave Spring Training with the third OF spot.
Even though Trumbo has been traded, they’ve exchanged his $4.8 million salary for Raul Ibanez as their DH for $2.5 million. Ibanez’s defensive deficiencies will be hidden from that spot, so his pure offensive value should come through (he was worth 2.3 oWAR last season, and -2.6 dWAR).
There’s also the elephant in the room. The young man who is undoubtedly the best overall player in baseball, the key to the Angels’ offense, the human highlight reel, and an unbelievable talent at such a young age.
You know who I mean: J.B. Shuck.
The lefty OF did an admirable job playing LF last season, and, in all seriousness, hit for high average (.293) and got on-base ( .331), despite without much in the way of power (2 HR, .366 SLG). He even ranked 5th in Rookie of the Year voting.
Finally, without any more bait-and-switch: Mike Trout.
I don’t have too much to say here, other than… yeah.
He’s all right.
Impact Arms: LHP C.J. Wilson, RHP Jered Weaver, LHP Hector Santiago, RHP Ernesto Frieri, RHP Joe Smith
I discussed the additions of Santiago and Skaggs in the above sections, so I’m going to focus on the incumbents here.
A mini-version of Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels, Jered Weaver and C.J. Wilson are head and shoulders above the rest of the rotation. Weaver is the veteran home-grown ace, who keeps walks and hits down while good for 180+ innings annually. He broke his non-throwing elbow in April last season, so he missed some time, but was still good for 150 IP, a 3.82 FIP and a 1.140 WHIP in 2013.
Wilson is the big name pitcher signed in the same 2012 off-season as Albert Pujols. To this point, his signing has brought greater results. In the two years since his signing, he’s had higher strikeout rates than Weaver, and in 2013 had a stronger 3.51 FIP.
His walk rate is a little more erratic, but these are champagne flaws – a rotation with five of these guys would be the best in the league. That’s the main problem with the Angels, though. This rotation is very much not five of these guys. At least, not yet.
Outside of the two aforementioned acquisitions, expect last year’s swingman, Garrett Richards, to fill out the rotation. These remaining starters are all under age-27, and don’t have enough of a track record to make a final determination on their “roles” yet. This season will go a long way to figuring that out.
In terms of the bullpen, it’s probably middling in terms of American League rankings. Incumbent closer Ernesto Frieri had a mind-blowing strikeout rate and a decent walk rate. However, he got hit for a fair number of home runs on his way to a higher than usual 3.72 FIP in 2013 – his progress next season will be interesting to watch.
New set-up man Joe Smith has been good in past years, but his 2011-2013 combined 2.42 ERA is deceptive. His peripherals tell a slightly less rosy story, with only 6.9 K/9 and 3.2 BB/9.
His combined 3.32 FIP, when compared to that ERA, shows a decent, but not spectacular performance. He could be a possible regression candidate this season.
Major Prospects: 2B Taylor Lindsey, 1B C.J. Cron, 3B Kaleb Cowart
Because, who needs a farm system? Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports
The farm system has been neglected over the last three seasons, with management sacrificing several draft picks to bring in the above-discussed free agents. Additionally, large numbers of prospects have been moved in recent years.
In exchange for Dan Haren, the Angels infamously traded Patrick Corbin (now a presumed opening day starter), Rafael Rodriguez, Joe Saunders, and Tyler Skaggs (yes, the same) to Arizona. They also traded SS prospect Jean Segura (he became a 2013 All-Star) to Milwaukee for half a season of Zack Greinke.
Already facing one of the weakest farm systems in the baseball, the Angels still traded Randal Grichuk, their second-ranked prospect as part of the Freese deal.
As a Phillies fan, it’s hard to criticize anyone for mortgaging the future for the present, with the state of our farm system. However, the Phillies stopped dealing prospects and sacrificing picks two seasons ago. For some perspective, the Angels currently are basically at the low-point the Phillies were a year ago.
They can recover, but they have to stop shooting themselves in the foot.
In terms of talent they currently have, there’s not a ton. Outside of RHP Mark Sappington and (2013 draft pick) LHP Hunter Green, basically every pitching prospect is a reliever profile long-term. RHP R.J. Alvarez is of special note with a mid-90’s fastball and an insane 14.6 K/9 out of the high-A bullpen last season.
In terms of position prospects, the three major ones had various success in 2013. Pre-season top prospect Kaleb Cowart has the potential to be an everyday regular third baseman, but only hit .221/.279/.301 (.580 OPS) in double-A last season.
First baseman/designated hitter CJ Cron demolished the Arizona Fall League this off-season, and has some of the best pure power in the minors. However, he has fringy defense, and doesn’t walk nearly enough.
The plate discipline issue was a non-factor in Arizona as he went .413/.467/.700 in 20 games, but whether that small sample size will translate to a full season is a question mark.
Finally, top overall prospect Taylor Lindsey completed double-A at age 21 in 2013. He hit 17 HR from second base, and got on-base at a fair clip (.339), earning a .780 OPS last season. He projects to be an average 2B, with an offensive-focus and slightly below average fielding abilities.
All three are former first round picks, and look to enter 2014 at the triple-A level (save for Cowart, who might repeat his level due to performance).