The Start Of Your Ending …

Mike Trout

No better hip-hop group than Mobb Deep to bring us into the 2016 season. It is here. Finally. And within this extensive blog post is (hopefully) everything you’ll need to get ready for this Angels season, including links to stories, a breakdown of projected roles, a list of the five biggest questions, a quick glance at the Triple-A roster, a look around the division and some predictions.

Here is a link to the active roster and the depth chart. The probables are here, the injury updates are here, the coaching staff is here, the front office is here, the Top 30 Prospects are here, and the schedule can be found right about here.

Below are some links to get you caught up on some reading …

OPENING DAY PREVIEW PACKAGE

Angels 2016 Baseball

Richards’ journey from nearly quitting baseball to starting on Opening Day
It was Garrett Richards’ sophomore year at the University of Oklahoma and he was pretty much over this whole baseball thing. His job as closer had been taken away, leaving Richards in collegiate-pitcher purgatory. He made one spot start, intermittently pitched out of the bullpen and was basically cast aside that spring. He was going to quit baseball. He was going to go to culinary school. “I was done, bro,” Richards said. “I’m going to sit out here and invest all this time and effort and just get forgotten about? It just didn’t seem worth it to me.”

The Angels believe they can return to the playoffs, despite the popular belief
One game. In spite of everything that went on last year — the Josh Hamilton drama, the Jerry Dipoto resignation and the dreadful month of August — that is all that separated the Angels from a spot in the postseason. One game. It prompted some lamenting. “There’s something in here that every single guy could’ve done to improve that one game,” Angels right fielder Kole Calhoun said.  “It comes down to every game means something,” center fielder Mike Trout added. 

A look at Skaggs’ recovery from Tommy John and his poise to make an impact
Recovery from Tommy John surgery can be every bit as lonely as it is lengthy. Sometimes, D-backs starter Patrick Corbin said, “It feels like the team forgets about you a little bit.” And Tyler Skaggs was certainly leery of that. So he showed up to every home game last year, even though it certainly wasn’t required, to be with his teammates, to speak with the coaches, to let the Angels know that he was still there, watching, waiting. Skaggs’ recovery lasted a full 19 months and carried with it an array of self-doubt. “It’s a mental grind,” he said. “I’m still doubting myself every now and then.”

One of Trout’s greatest strengths has nothing to do with baseball
A gray garbage can sits at the edge of the lawn and well beyond the Budweiser sign plastered on the left-center-field wall at Tempe Diablo Stadium. It has become a target for the Angels’ hitters during batting-practice sessions throughout Spring Training. And on Monday, the final day in Arizona for most of the regulars, Mike Trout finally hit a baseball inside of it, prompting a rambunctious celebration that momentarily halted the team’s entire workout. Garrett Richards, Trout’s roommate and good friend, bellowed in laughter when relayed the news.

Andrelton Simmons — a defensive genius many believe could improve on offense
Shortly after the Angels swung their big trade in the middle of November, their incumbent second baseman, Johnny Giavotella, went on YouTube and typed “Andrelton Simmons into the search bar. Robust highlight packages from each of Simmons’ three full seasons with the Braves instantly came up. So Giavotella clicked on a couple, to study the man he hoped to turn double plays with and, really, “to see what all the hype was about.” It didn’t take long. “Pretty amazing,” Giavotella recalled. “I was kind of just amazed at how easily he was able to make difficult plays.”

SPRING TRAINING STORIES

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Rosters are limited to 25 players until the start of September. But over the last four years, the Angels have used, on average, 48 players. Minor League depth isn’t sexy and doesn’t get talked about very often, but it is crucial. The Angels will rely on their Triple-A roster heavily this year, as they always do. And a lot of the players who were cut throughout Spring Training will make a sizable impact on this season. Below is a look at the Salt Lake Bees players who are next in line …

Catcher: Jett Bandy,  Juan Graterol
Corner infielders: Kaleb Cowart, Kyle Kubitza, Jefry Marte
Middle infielders: Rey Navarro, Gregorio Petit
Outfielders: Quintin Berry, Nick Buss, Todd Cunningham, Rafael Ortega, Shane Robinson
Starters: Chris Jones, Kyle Kendrick, Yunesky Maya, Nate Smith, Tyler Skaggs, Nick Tropeano
Relievers: A.J. Achter, Al Alburquerque, Neal Cotts, Deolis Guerra, Javy Guerra, Greg Mahle, Ramon Ramirez

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Arte Moreno, Mike Scioscia

The Angels had about as good a camp as they could’ve hoped for. They tied for the Major League lead in wins with 19. They ranked second in the Majors in OPS and sported the second-fewest strikeouts on offense. Pitching-wise, they sported the seventh-best ERA and the fifth-fewest walks.

The top two hitters in their lineup, Yunel Escobar and Daniel Nava, were on base in front of Mike Trout about half the time. Albert Pujols mashed six home runs and recovered faster than expected from offseason foot surgery. Their outfield depth, the biggest deficiency when the offseason began, proved encouraging, with Todd Cunningham, Rafael Ortega and Nick Buss all having solid springs before reporting to Triple-A.

Their young relievers seemingly took steps forward, specifically Mike Morin, Cam Bedrosian and Greg Mahle. Tyler Skaggs, meanwhile, pitched five solid innings in his return from Tommy John surgery. And when it came time to make the final cuts, Mike Scioscia agonized, estimating, in the end, that he had “probably six razor-thin decisions.”

“These are the hardest decisions in a long time, which I think speaks well to our depth,” Scioscia said. “Every one of these decisions was tough. It makes us a stronger team, a stronger organization.”

It’s no certainty that it will translate into the regular season, however. We shall see.

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Lineup vs RHSPs: Escobar 3B, Nava LF, Trout CF, Pujols DH/1B, Calhoun RF, Cron 1B/DH, Simmons SS, Perez/Soto C, Giavotella 2B

Lineup vs LHSPs (I can also see Calhoun batting second here): Escobar 3B, Gentry LF, Trout CF, Pujols DH/1B, Cron 1B/DH, Calhoun RF, Simmons SS, Perez/Soto C, Giavotella 2B

Projected rotation order (not necessarily what it is to start, but essentially the pecking order): Richards, Heaney, Weaver, Santiago, Shoemaker

Bench roles: Soto/Perez (backup catcher), Pennington (utility infielder, late-game defense at 2B), Gentry (backup outfielder, pinch-runner), Choi (lefty pinch-hitter, late-game defense at 1B)

Bullpen roles: Street (closer), Smith (setup man), Morin (seventh-inning reliever), Salas (middle relief), Alvarez (middle relief), Bedrosian (middle relief), Rasmus (long relief)

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Prince Fielder

The American League West is expected to be appreciable stronger this year. The Rangers are healthier and have a lot of really good players who are either on the DL or in Triple-A and should make big impacts this year. The Astros’ bullpen is scary and they have a nucleus of young players that should only get better. The Mariners look deeper, more athletic. The A’s … OK, maybe they don’t look so great. But we’ve said that before about the A’s, and then it’s September and they’re in the race and we’re like, “Really?”

“A  hundred percent,” Hector Santiago said when asked if he felt the AL West will be a more difficult division this season. “Last year, I would say we were the best division in the American League for sure. And I think it just got better. I think now a lot of guys are healthy, with guys coming back off the DL and stuff like that. Oakland is probably our weakest link, and those guys battle.”

Below is a look at projected lineups, rotations and bullpens for the other AL West teams, with plenty of help from the guys at Roster Resource

Astros

LINEUP: Altuve 2B, Springer RF, Correa SS, Rasmus LF, Gomez CF, Tucker DH, Valbuena/Duffy 3B, White 1B, Castro/Kratz C
ROTATION: Keuchel, McHugh, Fiers, Feldman, Fister
BULLPEN: Gregerson (CL), Giles (CL), Harris (SU)
DL: C Stassi, DH Gattis

Athletics

LINEUP: Burns CF, Lowrie 2B, Reddick RF, Valencia 3B, Vogt C, Davis LF, Butler DH, Alonso 1B, Semien SS
ROTATION: Gray, Hill, Bassitt, Graveman, Doubront
BULLPEN: Doolittle (CL), Madson (SU), Hendriks (SU)
DL: OF Fuld, INF Sogard

Mariners

LINEUP: Aoki RF, Seager 3B, Cano 2B, Cruz RF, Lind/Lee 1B, Smith/Gutierrez RF, Marte SS, Iannetta C, Martin CF
ROTATION: Hernandez, Iwakuma, Miley, Walker, Karns
BULLPEN: Cishek (CL), Benoit (SU), Nuno (SU)

Rangers

LINEUP: DeShields Jr. CF, Choo LF, Fielder DH, Beltre 3B, Moreland 1B, Desmond LF, Odor 2B, Andrus SS, Chirinos C
ROTATION: Hamels, Holland, Lewis, Perez
BULLPEN: Tolleson (CL), Kela (SU), Wilhelmson (SU)
DL: C Gimenez, OF Hamilton, SP Darvish

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A look at the five biggest questions facing the Angels in 2016 …

Will Mike Trout get enough RBI opportunities? 

Mike Scioscia identified this as possibly the most important element of this coming season on the very first day of Spring Training. Trout posted a Major League-best 1.201 OPS with runners in scoring position last year, but 129 players had more plate appearances in that situation. It’s what kept him from winning the MVP, and ultimately, what kept the Angels out of the playoffs. If leadoff man Yunel Escobar (.492 on-base percentage) and No. 2 hitter Daniel Nava (.545) can carry over what they did this spring, the Angels will be much better in this department.

What can the Angels get out of Jered Weaver and C.J. Wilson? 

Weaver and Wilson are both heading into their final seasons before free agency and will each make $20 million in 2016. But Weaver has been throwing his fastball mostly 80 mph this spring, about four ticks slower than his average from last season. And Wilson isn’t even playing catch because of lingering tendinitis in his left shoulder. With Tyler Skaggs possibly ready to join the rotation before the end of April, and Nick Tropeano seemingly ready to be a Major League starter in general, will there ultimately even be a place for them?

Can the Angels swing a major deal before the Trade Deadline? 

The American League seems wide open, and it could come down to the final few weeks in each of the three divisions. It could come down, again, to which teams can swing a major deal before the July 31 non-waiver Trade Deadline. The Angels didn’t do that last year. Sources said they were really close to acquiring Yoenis Cespedes but didn’t pull the trigger, largely because he would’ve been a free agent in two months. The Angels would love it if Wilson could eventually materialize as an intriguing trade candidate for them. He could be the key to a late-season boost for the offense.

What kind of season will Albert Pujols provide? 

The Angels will gladly take another 40-homer season. But they’d be even happier if he had a season more like 2014, when he batted .272/.324/.466 with 28 home runs and 105 RBIs. Pujols is crucial not just because he’s still owed $165 million over the next six years, but because he bats behind the Angels’ best on-base guy, by far, in Trout. Pujols posted career lows in batting average (.244) and on-base percentage (.307) last year. But he also had the Majors’ lowest batting average on balls in play. It’s reasonable to expect improvements there.

Will Johnny Giavotella and C.J. Cron be OK on defense?

With Pujols projected to spend a lot more time at designated hitter this season, the right side of the Angels’ infield will include Giavotella and Cron plenty of times in 2016. That is a little less than ideal. Giavotella was the second-worst defensive second baseman last year, according to FanGraphs metrics. Cron, meanwhile, cost the Angels five runs on defense. But Giavotella (with A’s third-base coach Ron Washington) and Cron (with former A’s third-base coach Mike Gallego) each worked with fielding gurus who believe they will be much better with the glove in 2016.

Gary Disarcina, Kole Calhoun

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My predictions for the 2016 season …

  • AL East: Red Sox
  • AL Central: Indians
  • AL West: Astros
  • AL Wild Card: Royals
  • AL Wild Card: Rangers
  • NL East: Mets
  • NL Central: Cubs
  • NL West: D-backs
  • NL Wild Card: Cardinals
  • NL Wild Card: Marlins
  • AL MVP: Trout
  • AL Cy Young: Gray
  • AL RoY: Buxton
  • AL MoY: Francona
  • NL MVP: Goldschmidt
  • NL Cy Young: Kershaw
  • NL RoY: Seager
  • NL MoY: Maddon

Here’s a link to a story on all of our predictions. I had the Angels third in the AL West. They are one of several good teams — along with the Yankees, Rays, Orioles, Blue Jays, Tigers, Twins, White Sox and Mariners — that I have out of the playoffs. The American League is super crowded. I was close to picking Garrett Richards for Cy Young but thought it would be too homer-ish. I think he’ll be really good this year. Once again, the only thing keeping Mike Trout from the MVP — besides a freak injury — is the Angels missing out on the playoffs.

Lastly, some additional links that prove I am over-exposed …

Salud.

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