The midway point …
We’ve reached the midway point of the Angels’ Cactus League schedule. Whether that came fast or slow is merely a matter of your own perspective. But we’re here. 14 down, 14 to go, with an off day (sort of) conveniently placed in the middle and the three-game, exhibition Freeway Series following the Angels’ stint in Arizona.
Here’s what we’ve learned so far …
Second base really is wide open: And I’m not really sure if that’s good. Thing is, none of the three candidates for the everyday role have really stuck out. Grant Green (7-for-23) hasn’t looked comfortable defensively, Josh Rutledge (7-for-31, eight strikeouts) hasn’t hit and Johnny Giavotella (5-for-20) hasn’t done anything to wow you on either end. One guy who has looked good to me is Taylor Featherston, who’s being groomed for the utility-infield job. I like his defense, I like his speed, and his bat may be starting to come around. But I view second base the same way I did at the start of camp: We’ll either see a lot of different guys play the position this year, or we’ll see the Angels go after someone (Chase Utley?).
The rotation order is not: It’s pretty clear that, barring injury, the Angels’ rotation will line up in this order to start the season: Jered Weaver, C.J. Wilson, Matt Shoemaker, Hector Santiago, Andrew Heaney. Yes, the fifth spot was deemed an open competition between Santiago, Heaney and Nick Tropeano, but here’s the thing: (1) Garrett Richards is pretty much guaranteed to start the season on the disabled list, because the Angels are being extra, extra cautious with his rehab, as expected; (2) with Richards on the DL, it’s senseless to have both Tropeano and Heaney in your rotation and Santiago in the ‘pen, as opposed to having Heaney or Tropeano in Triple-A, because it messes with your starting-pitching depth; (3) Heaney and Tropeano have been pitching on the same day, but Heaney started the first one, pitched the home half of a split squad in the second and will start against the Dodgers on Thursday, with Tropeano relegated to pitching in a “B” game. It’s Heaney’s spot to lose, and he’s done nothing to lose it thus far.
A big decision with Santiago awaits: Richards will be ready some time around the middle of April, if his rehab continues to go well. At that point, the Angels will have a big decision to make with Santiago, who has posted a 3.58 ERA in 106 games (51 starts) in the Majors the last three years. Do they keep him in the rotation and send Heaney (or Tropeano) to Triple-A? Do they move him to the bullpen, even though he seems somewhat redundant with Cesar Ramos (another lefty who pitches multiple innings and doesn’t profile as a left-on-left specialist)? Do they use him as trade bait? I can see any of those three scenarios taking place, but I’d be somewhat shocked if they sent him to Triple-A, like they did in May of last season.
The Angels will have two lineups: Assuming Rutledge gets the first crack at the second-base job (that’s what it’s looked like all along), this looks like the lineup against righties: Calhoun/Trout/Pujols/Joyce/Freese/Aybar/Cron/Iannetta/Rutledge. This looks like the one against lefties, on most days: Calhoun/Trout/Pujols/Freese/Aybar/Cron/Joyce/Iannetta/Rutledge. Mike Scioscia still needs to figure out how often he’ll use the right-handed-hitting Collin Cowgill to sit Matt Joyce against lefties, and whether he’ll have a left-handed bat to sit C.J. Cron against tough righties. And that brings me to my next point …
Efren Navarro looks like a good fit: I didn’t have Navarro in my projected Opening Day roster at the start of Cactus League games, mainly because I felt they’d keep Giavotella (out of options) to maintain as many options as possible for the second-base job. But Navarro looks like an ideal fit for the last bench spot. He’s a patient left-handed hitter who can sit Cron against tough righties, he plays great defense at first base and he’s more than adequate in the corner-outfield spots. Getting 10 hits in his first 26 at-bats hasn’t hurt, either.
Cory Rasmus won’t be a starting pitcher: Well, he won’t be in the traditional sense. Scioscia said recently that Rasmus won’t be stretched out to the 100-, 110-pitch range, but will still be stretched out somewhat in case the Angels need some length. This only validates what I anticipated all along: Rasmus will crack the Opening Day bullpen as a long reliever, basically being used in the same role he pitched in down the stretch last year. It’s a nice role for him.
Mike Trout is really good: He has 12 hits in his first 22 at-bats, and three of them have gone over fences. He also has the same amount of strikeouts as he has stolen bases (3). What else do you want?
Albert Pujols looks good: Several members of the Angels feel Pujols is poised for an even better year now that he’s even healthier in his lower half, and he’s looked good so far, going 8-for-25 and hitting the ball hard to right-center field. The latter is key for him.
David Freese is going to be really important: I think he’s the Angels’ most important everyday player, because they’ll be counting on him to provide additional pop in the middle with Howie Kendrick and Josh Hamilton not there and because he’ll probably be playing all nine innings now that the Angels don’t have a natural defensive sub. Of the four second base/utility infield candidates, Featherston has looked the best at third, but he hasn’t played above Double-A, so I doubt the Angels will be putting him in games with a one-run lead in the ninth.
Richards still throws hard: Besides occasionally having a hard time burying the breaking ball, Richards’ stuff has looked about as explosive as it usually does this spring, which is a very good sign.
Cron looks good: Sometimes he’ll strikeout chasing the fastball up near his head. You’re going to get that with Cron, who chased the same percentage of pitches outside the strike zone as Hamilton last season. But Cron has also driven the ball well this spring, hitting long home runs to left and some well-struck doubles to right-center. If Freese is the No. 1 most important member of the lineup, Cron is 1B. He’s the wild card.
It’s Lindstrom’s job to lose: if Rasmus is in the Opening Day bullpen, then only one spot is open (the others go to Huston Street, Joe Smith, Mike Morin, Fernando Salas and Ramos). Matt Lindstrom looks like an ideal candidate for that final spot, because he still throws pretty hard (few others in the ‘pen do), has a good track record and is an XX(B) free agent, which means he has the right to opt out of his contract (or make an additional $100,000 as a retention bonus) if not on the Opening Day roster. But he has to earn it. And aside from giving up two runs on three hits on March 12 — while pitching in the inning when Will Ferrell played center field — Lindstrom has looked good. If Lindstrom doesn’t make it, I expect Vinnie Pestano to be in the ‘pen. Pestano has options, though.