Results tagged ‘ C.J. Cron ’

Morin nearing return, Weaver throws off mound, etc. …

Angels reliever Mike Morin returned to the team on Monday, one month and five days after going on the disabled list with a strained left oblique. The 24-year-old right-hander is done with his rehab assignment and is expected to be activated by Tuesday or Wednesday.

Morin made one appearance in Arizona, then three for Triple-A Salt Lake, notching two scoreless outings before giving up four runs on six hits in two-thirds of an inning on Sunday – Morin’s first time pitching in back-to-back days and his final test before rejoining the Major League club.

Recent results aside, he feels good.

“I don’t think about it at all,” Morin said of his oblique, which he tweaked while pitching in Fenway Park on May 23. “It has not crossed my mind one bit. That is nice to know that it’s healed up. Now it’s about getting people out.”

Morin did a lot of that during his rookie season last year, while posting a 2.90 ERA and a 1.19 WHIP in 60 appearances. With Kevin Jepsen gone, Morin entered the 2015 season eyeing an opportunity to be the Angels’ seventh-inning reliever, but he’s been charged with 11 runs (10 earned) on 13 hits and five walks in 15 innings thus far.

Morin’s walk rate is about the same – 2.9 walks per nine innings last year, 3.0 walks per nine innings this year – but he believes he’s been focusing too much on his mechanics instead of just going right after hitters.

“That’s why I was successful last year – because I was aggressive,” Morin said. “I think that’s really the main thing – attacking the strike zone and not worrying about results. Just committing to a pitch and just throwing it. It’s a small sample size, but my first three [rehab] outings, very minimal pitches, plenty of strikes. It’s been good.”

  • The Angels called up right-handed-hitting slugger C.J. Cron from Triple-A Salt Lake on Monday, after optioning left-handed-hitting third baseman Kyle Kubitza on Sunday. Cron started against lefty CC Sabathia, but the Angels aren’t expected to see another lefty until Saturday (Wandy Rodriguez of the Rangers).
  • Collin Cowgill (sprained right wrist) took batting practice on the field before Monday’s game and Angels manager Mike Scioscia said he’s “getting close” to going on a rehab assignment. The Angels could face a tough roster decision between Cowgill and Daniel Robertson, another right-handed-hitting outfielder with similar skillsets.
  • Lefty reliever Edgar Ibarra was outrighted Sunday, putting the Angels’ 40-man roster at 39. That potentially creates a spot for Cory Rasmus, who has pitched in six innings in four rehab appearances in Triple-A. The Angels want Rasmus – on the 60-day DL after undergoing surgery for a core injury – to get more stretched out before getting activated.
  • Angels starter Jered Weaver (inflammation in his left hip) got off the mound for the first time on Monday, throwing a 20-pitch, all-fastball bullpen session. Weaver said he felt good and will throw a more extended bullpen session Wednesday, incorporating all his pitches. The 32-year-old right-hander probably won’t need to go on a rehab assignment before coming back. … Asked if Weaver could return before the All-Star break, Scioscia said: “It’s tough to handicap it right now, but there’s anything from making sure he physically feels good to getting back into his delivery and finding it, and getting some stamina in there in terms of up-down bullpens. So there’s a little bit of work to go.”


The Angels’ uncertain, costly future …

dipotoThe Draft starts today, and after going heavy-handed on pitching the last two years, the Angels are expected to target position players this time around. They — like any other team — want to set themselves up so that every time there’s a need on the Major League club, there’s a player in their farm system ready to take over. It’s too risky, not to mention expensive, to rely on the free-agent market to fill holes. Look no further than that brutal offseason heading into 2013, which saw the Angels sign Josh Hamilton, Joe Blanton, Tommy Hanson, Ryan Madson and Sean Burnett. Ouch.

The Cardinals are the gold standard when it comes to organizational depth, as evidenced by a Major League-leading plus-70 run-differential without Adam Wanwright or Matt Adams.

The Angels? Well, they’re working on it.

Their farm system was in need of a major replenishment right around the time Jerry Dipoto took over as general manager after the 2011 season, but major free-agent signings stripped the Angels of early-round picks and new CBA regulations limited how much teams can spend on amateur talent. It’s been a slow process. But over time, the Angels have at least done a good job of building some respectable starting-pitching depth. Some notables …

Triple-A: Andrew Heaney, Nick Tropeano
Double-A: Nate Smith, Kyle McGowin
Class A Advanced: Sean Newcomb, Chris Ellis, Victor Alcantara
Class A: Jeremy Rhoades, Jake Jewell
Lower levels: Joe Gatto, Hunter Green

That brings us to the upcoming offseason, and why that starting-pitching depth could be so important. The Angels — losers of five straight games — could have up to five holes in their lineup once this season ends: catcher, second base, third base, left field, designated hitter. In the majority of those spots — perhaps all of them, if you’re being really cynical — the Angels don’t have players in their organization ready to come up and take over. And their big financial flexibility won’t come after the 2016 season, when C.J. Wilson, Jered Weaver and Erick Aybar, among others, come off the books.

Dipoto, with a contract that carries a lingering club option for 2016, knows he’ll eventually have to part ways with some of the precious starting-pitching depth he’s worked so hard to compile. He may have to trade some of it within these next two months, with his club in desperate need of some offense. And he’s almost certain to do so over the winter, given all their upcoming needs.

Here’s a snapshot …


Current option: Chris Iannetta, in the final season of a three-year, $15.55 million extension
In-house replacement(s): Carlos Perez, Jett Bandy
Free-agent options: Iannetta, Alex Avila, John Jaso, Dioner Navarro, Jeff Mathis (!), Matt Wieters
Probable outcome: The rest of this season could play a big part in deciding how the Angels handle this position. They need to find out if Perez, basically a throw-in in the deal that sent Hank Conger to the Astros for Tropeano, is capable of being a semi-regular. Bandy has made some pretty big strides in the last year and is solid defensively, and that free-agent list is pretty compelling. But I’d guess that if the Angels splurge on a free agent, it’s an outfielder, not a catcher.


Current option: David Freese, making $6.425 million in his final arbitration year
In-house replacement(s): Kyle Kubitza
Free-agent options: Freese, Aramis Ramirez, Juan Uribe, Casey McGehee, Alberto Callaspo (!)
Probable outcome: The hope – the initial plan – is that Kubitza is ready to be the everyday third baseman in 2016. The likely scenario is that Kubitza is paired with a right-handed-hitting veteran who doesn’t mind sharing the job and can help Kubitza make the transition to the big leagues. I think it’s unlikely that they make a run at resigning Freese, especially since he’ll probably make good money given the lack of talent in the free-agent pool at third base.


Current option: Johnny Giavotella, controllable through 2019
In-house replacement(s): Giavotella, Josh Rutledge, Grant Green, Taylor Featherston, Alex Yarbrough
Free-agent options: Howie Kendrick (!), Ben Zobrist, Daniel Murphy
Probable outcome: Giavotella has been a revelation of sorts and is out of options. None of the other in-house options are all that appealing, as Spring Training might have shown, but the free-agent market isn’t deep here, either. The Angels don’t really do reunions, but Kendrick was huge for their lineup these last few years and he loves playing in Southern California. This is a position where they may ultimately have to get creative again.


Current option: Matt Joyce, making $4.75 million in his final arbitration year
In-house replacement(s): Kirk Nieuwenhuis, Collin Cowgill, Efren Navarro, Alfredo Marte
Free-agent options: Joyce, Yoenis Cespedes, Jason Heyward, Torii Hunter (!), David Murphy, Justin Upton, Chris Young, Shane Victorino
Probable outcome: As you can see, this is a major, major problem. Outfield is by far the Angels’ biggest organizationally need and they’ll most certainly have to get somebody from the outside. That may happen before the July 31 non-waiver Trade Deadline, though. Dipoto has been looking for a left-handed-hitting left fielder for quite a while, and for obvious reasons, he’d like to get someone who’s controllable beyond this season. Upton would be a very appealing option, though.


Current option: C.J. Cron, controllable through 2020
In-house replacement(s): Cron, Marc Krauss
Free-agent options: Chris Davis, Mike Napoli (!), Delmon Young
Probable outcome: This situation is strikingly similar to left field. For the last two years, Angels manager Mike Scioscia has been scrounging for that ninth bat, going from Raul Ibanez to Cron to Navarro to Krauss to Green to Cron again. Most teams have this problem, though. Perhaps the Angels remain patient with Cron, but I see them getting two bats before August.


Cron optioned, Green coming up …

The Angels optioned struggling, seldom-playing young power hitter C.J. Cron to Triple-A Salt Lake after Friday’s 4-3 walk-off win, and a source said utility man Grant Green will be taking his place on the active roster.

Cron scorched through Spring Training, batting .413 with a 1.165 OPS. But the 25-year-old first baseman carried a .204/.225/.276 slash line through his first 102 plate appearances and had started only three of the Angels’ last 13 games, essentially only playing against left-handed starters.

“I wasn’t playing much,” Cron said. “Obviously when you’re not playing, you’re doing something wrong, and the opportunity is not there for you to just prove you belong. I knew in the recent stretch there was a chance [of getting optioned].”

The Angels begin this week facing at least four consecutive right-handed starters, which means Matt Joyce and Marc Krauss will probably get most of the starts. Green is a right-handed hitter, but can play up to four positions – second base, third base, shortstop, left field – and was batting .329/.351/.457 in Triple-A.

Heading into the year, the Angels planned to have the right-handed-hitting Cron and the left-handed-hitting Joyce platoon at designated hitter. And when Josh Hamilton’s departure became a foregone conclusion, Cron looked like a legitimate candidate to get everyday at-bats.

But he never quite found his stroke.

“When you’re getting at-bats every once in a while, it’s hard to get your timing right,” Cron said. “That’s what I’m going down for, to get better timing and to start swinging like I know I can.”


Pujols’ wrist, Richards’ return, Cron’s future, garden gnomes …

Albert Pujols returned to the Angels’ lineup for Friday’s series opener against the Red Sox from Fenway Park, two days after a fastball caught him on the left hand/wrist.

Pujols initially thought for sure that he was headed for the disabled list, but a CT scan revealed only a bruise and the swelling on the bottom of his left hand went down significantly. The Angels’ 35-year-old first baseman is going to have to hit through a little bit of pain, but believes it’s manageable.

“Albert is as tough as they come,” Angels manager Mike Scioscia said. “He wants to play. He’ll go out there when he’s at 60 percent. He’ll go out there and compete and usually get it done. He just wants to play.”

Here’s the Angels’ lineup …

Erick Aybar, SS
Mike Trout, CF
Pujols, 1B
Kole Calhoun, RF
David Freese, 3B
Matt Joyce, LF
Chris Iannetta, C
Marc Krauss, DH
Johnny Giavotella, 2B

SP: RH Garrett Richards (3-2, 2.29 ERA)

Richards dismissed the thought of there being any added emotion upon returning to Fenway, the place where he suffered the gruesome knee injury that ended his season and sent him on a long rehab on Aug. 20. Scisocia place much significance on it, either.

“It wasn’t Fenway Park that hurt his leg,” Scioscia said. “It was just a baseball field. I think he’ll be fine.”

Some additional notes …

  • C.J. Cron scorched through Spring Training, but he has a .200/.222/.274 slash line and isn’t starting against right-handers. He’s still 25 and developing as a hitter. Is it best for him to go to the Minor Leagues to work some things out at the plate and get some regular playing time? “You don’t have to get [at-bats] seven days [a week], but if you are getting them one day a week, then there’s a discussion of what’s best for the team and what’s best for the player. C.J. has gotten enough at-bats where if he’s swinging like he can, he’d be contributing. But he hasn’t found that swing yet.”
  • A more positive memory from Fenway Park was Calhoun’s brilliant catch over the right-field fence. “That was incredible. You know, most guys would’ve probably caught that neck-high,” Scioscia quipped. Calhoun is listed at 5-foot-10 and Collin Cowgill, who typically comes in as a defensive replacement in left field, is listed at 5-foot-9. “When him and Cowgill are out there, they’re two LA Angels garden gnomes. That’s what I tell Trout — make sure you don’t step on them.”
  • The Red Sox called up Rusney Castillo and optioned Jackie Bradley Jr.


Shoemaker on bereavement list, Tropeano up

Nick Tropeano was called up from Triple-A Salt Lake and will start Thursday’s series finale against the A’s, with C.J. Wilson getting pushed back to Saturday’s start against the Rangers. Wilson came out of his last start with stiffness in his left (pitching) elbow, but Angels manager Mike Scioscia said it’s nothing serious and he could’ve taken his normal turn on Thursday if needed.

Pushing Wilson back also buys extra time for Matt Shoemaker, who was placed on the bereavement list to deal with the death of his grandfather. Shoemaker was originally slated to make that Saturday start, but is now tentatively slated for next Wednesday’s game in Oakland, putting him on extended rest a second straight time. Shoemaker pitched on six days’ rest Monday, giving up five runs in three innings, and would be on eight days’ rest Wednesday.

Garrett Richards, Hector Santiago and Jered Weaver will keep their normal turns. So, here’s the order …

Thursday: Tropeano
Friday: Richards
Saturday: Wilson
Sunday: Santiago
Monday: OFF
Tuesday: Weaver (starting tonight)
Wednesday: Shoemaker

Tropeano has given up five runs on 10 hits and two walks in 11 innings during his first two starts for Triple-A Salt Lake, striking out 12.

“I think I just need to keep working hard and showing consistency,” Tropeano said. “Going down to Triple-A, getting those innings in and getting that work in kind of matured me and sent me into this spot now.”

Some additional notes …

  • Scioscia said the date of Josh Hamilton‘s arrival in Arizona for extended spring is “really fluid.” “It could happen this weekend, it could happen next week. But the process is there. He’s going to be evaluated. The process is starting.”
  • Cam Bedrosian pitched two scoreless innings of mop-up duty on Tuesday and has been used as a multi-inning reliever since going down to Minor League camp midway through Spring Training, compiling eight innings in four appearances. Scioscia said Bedrosian has “the potential to be in the back end of the bullpen, but right now he needs a little bit of length to do the kind of things he did last night.”
  • C.J. Cron had only his second multi-hit game of the season on Tuesday, then found himself out of the lineup on Wednesday. Scioscia opted to go with Collin Cowgill as his right-handed hitter against Sonny Gray — with the left-handed-hitting Matt Joyce at DH, but dropped from fourth to sixth against a right-hander — to get better defense in left field for Weaver, a fly-ball pitcher.


Angels takeaways, Week 1 …

joshThe Angels just got swept! At home! To the team that swept them last October! And now they’re under .500! Another slow start! Why, God, why!?

Perspective is an invaluable trait this time of year. Six games have been played, which accounts for 3.09 percent of the regular season. Teams will get hot, then cold, then hot, then cold again. The season is that long. And the hope of every club, as Angels catcher Chris Iannetta likes to frequently point out, is to stay within reach for most of the year and get hot late. That’s what the 2014 Angels did, on their way to a Major League-best 98 wins. That’s what the 2015 Angels hope to do, at 2-4 entering a six-game road trip through Arlington and Houston.

Here are some takeaways from the first full week of real games …

Hamilton situation is getting ugly: For a while now, people around the team had been getting the impression that there was a strong chance Josh Hamilton would never play a game for the Angels again. Those sentiments were essentially confirmed on Friday, when owner Arte Moreno couldn’t guarantee that Hamilton would rejoin the team and talked about pursuing action against the high-priced outfielder for his drug-related relapse. Nobody from Hamilton’s camp — himself or his agent — has spoken up. But on Saturday, Angels starter C.J. Wilson expressed displeasure in the Angels’ comments, telling the LA Times, “It doesn’t seem like any bridges are being built,” and telling the OC Register, “If Josh was hitting .300 with 35 home runs a year, what’s the situation?”

From the outside, it seems as if this whole Hamilton saga — however it ends — is a huge distraction for the team, one that has divided the players from ownership. Personally, I don’t think so. I don’t think Wilson’s anger is necessarily felt by the rest of his teammates. They all love Hamilton as a person — how can you not? — but it’s not as if they’re clamoring to get him back, or are upset he isn’t being given a second chance. Sad as this may sound, it all comes back to production, and Hamilton hasn’t produced for them the last two years. Wilson is closer to Hamilton than anybody on the Angels, dating back to their days with the Rangers. He looks at it a little bit more personally. The rest of the team pretty much looks at it like this: We hope the best for Hamilton and his family off the field, but on the field, we’re fine without him.

That doesn’t mean this isn’t a contentious situation, however. Moreno clearly wants to negotiate some sort of buyout or trade here, but this could be a long, drawn-out battle. Hamilton is owed — no, guaranteed — $83 million through the 2017 season. So why would he take a penny less? Perhaps so he could join another team to continue his career, since Moreno has pretty much made it clear it won’t happen with the Angels. But how much is that worth, in terms of a discount for the Angels? Over the weekend, the Angels are in Houston, the city where Hamilton has been rehabbing from shoulder surgery since early February. The team doesn’t expect to see him. It’s awkward.

Weaver shaky: In his first two starts of the season, Jered Weaver has given up 10 runs on 15 hits (three of them homers) in 10 1/3 innings, prompting the national freakout that has pretty much become an April tradition. His velocity is down again, which is perhaps of most relevance. It’s 84.01 mph on his fastball, after being 87.5 mph in 2014, 87.3 mph in 2013, 88.7 mph in 2012 and 90.1 mph in 2011. Weaver has proven time and time again that he doesn’t need an overpowering fastball to be a reliable, top-of-the-rotation starter. And as Eric Hosmer pointed out to Lyle Spencer after Weaver’s rough start on Saturday, Weaver’s fastball plays up because of his length and delivery (even to a left-handed hitter, apparently).

The only thing you typically care about with Weaver — and the reason being three ticks down is a red flag — is that his right arm is healthy. He started slow last year, too, with a 5.79 ERA after three starts. And eventually he figured it out and turned in a very solid year. His velocity may not be debilitating, but it makes him have to be almost precise with his location and command. And because his delivery has so many moving parts, sometimes it takes him a while to get everything in sync with his release point and his landing leg. Eventually, though, he gets it. And when he does, his fastball velocity picks up a tick or two, like it did down the stretch last season. But the velo has never been as low as it has these last two starts. It’s worth monitoring.

Punchless out of the gate: So far, the same Angels offense that led the Majors in runs last season is 25th in the Majors in OPS (.577), tied for 25th in runs (16) and tied for 28th in batting average (.195). They have four hits in 23 at-bats with runners in scoring position and they haven’t stolen a single base. C.J. Cron is 0-for-13 after a hot spring, while Iannetta is 1-for-18 with 10 — yes, 10 — strikeouts. But hey, it’s really, really early. The Nationals have scored only 13 runs all year, and they’re going to be a juggernaut. The Angels’ offense should eventually be pretty darn good, too. A little slump coming out of spring is nothing six games in Texas can’t fix.

Reinforcements on the way: One aspect that was continually touted about the Angels heading in was their improved starting-pitching depth, and how they were no longer in deep trouble if one of their original five — or in this case, four — struggled. We may see that materialize pretty soon. Garrett Richards is slated for what very well could be his final step on Tuesday, a rehab start for Triple-A Salt Lake, and could return to the rotation by early next week. And the two rotation candidates of Spring Training, Andrew Heaney and Nick Tropeano, have thrown well in Triple-A. Heaney pitched seven shutout innings, giving up two hits, walking none and striking out eight. Tropeano pitched six innings of three-run ball, giving up two hits, walking none and striking out seven.

On the Major League side, Wilson was great on Tuesday (eight shutout innings with less than 100 pitches), but really bad on Sunday (seven runs on nine hits in 5 2/3 innings). Hector Santiago pitched well in Friday’s home opener, but he needed 100 pitches to record 16 outs. The Angels’ ideal pitching staff has Santiago in the bullpen as a dynamic lefty weapon, but that will only be the case if Heaney or Tropeano force their way into the big leagues. They need to prove that with more than one start.

Matchup bullpen taking shape: So far, though, their two current lefty relievers, Cesar Ramos and Jose Alvarez, are getting the job done. A real difference maker for the Angels this season is having Joe Smith and Huston Street entrenched as the eighth- and ninth-inning relievers. It not only solidifies the last six outs of a lead; it gives Mike Scioscia the freedom to match up in the seventh or earlier. That’s when Ramos and Alvarez can come into play against lefties, with Mike Morin being the go-to guy against righties. The two have combined to hold lefties to two hits and no walks in nine at-bats, striking out three. Neither are traditional lefty specialists. Alvarez is a last-minute converted starter; Ramos has been used mainly in multi-inning roles throughout his career. But it’d be big for the Angels if they can be effective against lefties. There are a lot of dangerous left-handed hitters in the American League West.


And so it begins …

safeco-fieldOpening Day is finally here, and Safeco Field seems like a fitting place to start. It’s home to the team many have picked to win the American League West. And it kicks off with a matchup between Felix Hernandez and Jered Weaver, the two guys who have made the most consecutive Opening Day starts in the Majors (Hernandez at seven, Weaver at six).

But Opening Day is only a ceremonial thing. “One of 162,” as many say. The season is long and arduous. And by the end of it, what happens on Opening Day or even in the first series will be nothing but a distant memory (like last year, when the Mariners embarrassed the Angels with a lopsided sweep in Southern California at the start of April).

If the Angels want to win another division title, they’ll have to answer several questions over the course of these next six months. And below are the seven most prominent …

1. What becomes of Josh Hamilton?

It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to realize the Angels aren’t necessarily in a welcoming mood with Hamilton, who’s still recovering from shoulder surgery and won’t be suspended for a self-reported drug relapse. The tone of their statements after news broke — and what they’ve said privately leading up to it — made you wonder if they even want him around. He’s a very likable guy, but he hasn’t lived up to his massive contract and his latest relapse struck a nerve with the Angels’ brass (make of that what you will). He won’t be going away, though. He’s owed $83 million over the next three years, so the Angels have to see what they get out of him. How does he fit into the roster? What type of production does he provide in his age-34 season? And how does he mesh with a team that may be better off without him? It’ll be the most fascinating storyline this season.

2. How good is Garrett Richards?

Richards has yet to allow a run in three Minor League outings and could return to the rotation by April 19 if all goes well, which means he basically misses only two starts. How good will he be upon returning, though? As good as he was leading up to the season-ending left knee injury he suffered Aug. 20? If so, this Angels rotation — with Jered Weaver, C.J. Wilson, Matt Shoemaker and Hector Santiago set to open the season — is more dangerous than people think. If not, they’re very vulnerable. A lot rides on Richards’ 26-year-old right arm (not to mention that left knee).

3. What will the Angels get out of second base?

They aren’t fooling themselves into thinking they’ll replicate the production of Howie Kendrick. If C.J. Cron takes the next step in his maturation process (see: patience), David Freese stretches his last four months into a full season and Albert Pujols continues to look as good as he did this spring, they won’t need it. But replacement level production would be nice. Johnny Giavotella will get the first crack, but we may see many guys play second base this year.

4. Who gets the lefties out?

The Angels haven’t had a true lefty specialist since the 2012 version of Scott Downs, and Downs wasn’t really used as a lefty specialist. Last year, the Angels’ go-to reliever to get lefty hitters out was the right-handed Fernando Salas, who has a nice changeup that darts away from left-handed hitters. Ideally, they’d have that traditional left-on-lefty guy. Mike Scioscia has mentioned Cesar Ramos and Jose Alvarez as possibilities, but they’re multi-inning relievers who don’t have the big stuff that plays in that role. The next hope would be Santiago, but that would hinge on Andrew Heaney or Nick Tropeano developing well enough to warrant Santiago’s current rotation spot.

5. How do they upgrade the roster?

Even without saving any money on Hamilton’s contract, the Angels enter the season with $10 to $15 million of wiggle room. That’s what Arte Moreno said early in camp. It’s more payroll flexibility than they’ve had in a while, and they plan to use it. Question is, how? Do they get a second baseman, even though there aren’t many of them out there? (Chase Utley looks like a long shot, because of how intimidating his contract is and because of his no-trade clause). Do they get an outfield/DH bat? Do they get a starting pitcher (a lot of big names are entering their walk years)? Or do they add more bullpen pieces, like they did last year? June/July should be very eventful.

6. What kind of year does Mike Trout have?

You could reasonably expect a great one, considering he stays healthy. But how does he follow up a season that saw him win the AL MVP unanimously? We saw Trout transition into more of a power game last year, hitting more home runs and stealing fewer bases. But he’s only 23 years old, scary as that seems, and he’s still figuring out who he’s going to be in this game. My guess is he cuts down those strikeouts — I don’t know anyone who truly believes Trout is a 180-strikeout-a-year player — but doesn’t increase his stolen-base total by much. The Angels seem content with how often they sent Trout last year. Teams watch him closely and, far more relevant in this matter, steals cause a lot of wear and tear on the body.

7. Are the Angels better than the Mariners?

That’s probably what it’s going to come down to. The Mariners are a popular pick to win the division, because their rotation could be something fierce, their bullpen was one of the best in the game last season and their lineup got a big missing piece they needed in power hitter Nelson Cruz. But the Angels return the core group of a team that led the Majors in wins and finished second in run-differential last year. They’re starting a season with what should be a reliable bullpen for the first time since Jerry Dipoto came on board in October 2011 and they carry the confidence of succeeding with this group.

It should be interesting.

And to get you ready, here’s a look at our Opening Day content, in case you missed anything …

MORE LINKS! An updated depth chart is here, injury updates are here, pitching probables are here and a look at the top 30 prospects is here. You can follow me on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook. And you can subscribe to my weekly Angels podcast with Richard Justice here. compiled dozens of predictions on who will win each division, how the postseason will play out and where all the major individual awards will go. Below were my picks, if you’re interested …

NL East: Nationals
NL Central: Cardinals
NL West: Dodgers
AL East: Red Sox
AL Central: White Sox
AL West: Angels
NL Wild Cards: Marlins, Pirates
AL Wild Cards: Mariners, Indians
NL champion: Nationals
AL champion: Angels
World Series champion: Nationals
NL MVP: Giancarlo Stanton
NL Cy Young: Max Scherzer
NL Rookie of the Year: Kris Bryant
AL MVP: Josh Donaldson
AL Cy Young: Chris Sale
AL Rookie of the Year: Steven Souza

Feliz Opening Day!


Josh Hamilton will not be suspended …

Josh Hamilton will not be suspended or otherwise disciplined after an arbitrator ruled that the Angels outfielder did not violate the terms of his drug treatment program, Major League Baseball said Friday.

Hamilton self-reported a drug-related relapse that occurred late in the offseason, then met with MLB officials in New York on Feb. 25 and remained in Houston thereafter, rehabbing from surgery on his right shoulder and awaiting what was considered a likely suspension.

The decision not to levy any punishment – a product of Hamilton admitting to the relapse before a failed drug test – came as a surprise the Angels noticeably disagreed with.

In a statement issued by the club, general manager Jerry Dipoto said the Angels “have serious concerns about Josh’s conduct, health and behavior, and we are disappointed that he has broken an important commitment which he made to himself, his family, his teammates and our fans. We are going to do everything possible to assure he receives proper help for himself and for the well-being of his family.”

In a separate statement, Angels president John Carpino said: “It defies logic that Josh’s reported behavior is not a violation of his current program.”

In a phone conversation a couple hours after the statement, Carpino said: “Our focus now, based on the arbitrator’s ruling, is to get Josh the help he needs, for himself and for his family.”

A four-panel treatment board – consisting of two representatives each from MLB and the MLB Players Association – deadlocked on whether Hamilton violated the terms of his treatment program, requiring the need for an outside arbitrator that ultimately ruled in Hamilton’s favor.

MLB took the position that Hamilton violated his treatment program and would be subject to discipline by Commissioner Rob Manfred, but the arbitrator ruled that “Hamilton’s conduct did not violate his treatment program,” according to MLB, leaving Manfred without the right to impose any penalties.

“The Office of the Commissioner disagrees with the decision,” MLB said in its statement, “and will seek to address deficiencies in the manner in which drugs of abuse are addressed under the program in the collective bargaining process.”

The arbitrator considered Hamilton’s latest transgression a “slip” and not a violation, according to the Los Angeles Times, leaving the Angels without any additional salary relief in 2015. Hamilton’s agent, Michael Moye, could not be reached for comment and the MLBPA has no plans to issue a statement.

Asked for an update on Hamilton’s injury rehab, Dipoto said in a text message that there is “nothing new to add.”

Hamilton had alcohol-related relapses leading up to the 2009 and ’12 seasons, but those weren’t punishable by MLB. His most recent relapse, reportedly involving cocaine and alcohol, was his first known drug use since October 2005.

Hamilton went from a can’t-miss, blue-chip prospect to a drug addict who was out of baseball for four years to a perennial All-Star, an inspiring story that captivated the nation and brought hope to addicts everywhere. But the demons of addiction remained a daily struggle for Hamilton, who had an accountability partner with him at all times during the season until he downsized the role in 2014.

“I’m a drug addict,” Hamilton told USA Today in an interview shortly after being reinstated in June 2006. “It’s not terminal, but there is no cure. It’s hell on earth. It’s a constant struggle. And it’s going to be like that for the rest of my life.”

Two years after being drafted first overall by the Rays out of a Raleigh, N.C., high school in 1999, Hamilton began to experiment with drugs and alcohol while rehabbing injuries from a traffic accident. That led to taking the 2003 season off, then being suspended from 2004-06 for multiple failed drug tests.

Eight months sober, Hamilton was reinstated in June 2006, then went unprotected in the Rule 5 Draft and ended up with the Reds, with whom he played his rookie season in 2007. He was dealt to the Rangers the following December, kicking off a five-year run during which he started in five straight All-Star Games, played in back-to-back World Series, hit a record 28 homers in the opening round of the 2008 Home Run Derby at Yankee Stadium and won the 2010 American League Most Valuable Player Award.

The Angels signed Hamilton to a five-year, $125 million contract in December 2011, but didn’t get much in the first two years.

Hamilton batted .250 with 21 homers and 79 RBIs in 2013 and finished an injury-plagued 2014 season with a .263 batting average and 10 home runs in 89 games. Hamilton missed 10 weeks recovering from thumb surgery early in 2014, then spent almost all of September rehabbing injuries along his right side — shoulder, traps, chest, ribcage — and went 0-for-13 in an AL Division Series sweep to the Royals.

Doctors were hopeful that extra offseason rest would counteract the need for invasive procedures, but Hamilton’s arthritic right shoulder bothered him again once he started swinging full force, prompting surgery to repair his right AC joint on Feb. 4.

The recovery timeline was initially six to eight weeks, with Hamilton not expected back until May. Anticipating a likely suspension, the Angels didn’t issue Hamilton a locker at their Spring Training complex and didn’t have one designated for him at Angel Stadium on Thursday night, either.

Longtime teammate C.J. Wilson has been in touch with Hamilton and said, “I feel like he’s doing everything he can to get ready to play baseball again.”

The left-handed-hitting Matt Joyce is now slated to be the everyday left fielder and the right-handed-hitting C.J. Cron will get the majority of at-bats at designated hitter, with right-handed-hitting outfielder Collin Cowgill occasionally spelling Joyce against tough lefties.

“I think we’re deep enough on the offensive side that we should be OK,” Angels manager Mike Scioscia said Thursday. “But you can’t plan on using what you don’t have. We’re going to take this one step at a time with Josh.”

The next step will be the toughest – the Angels must figure out how to fold Hamilton back in.


The midway point …

Rangers Angels Spring BaseballWe’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.


Smith returning from lower leg stiffness …

Rob Manfred couldn’t comment on Josh Hamilton‘s situation when asked about it from reporters at Dodgers camp on Monday morning. But Major League Baseball’s new Commissioner did state that he will be the one deciding on the length of a potential suspension from what sources say was a drug of abuse.

“I’m the decision maker on this one,” Manfred said.

The fact Hamilton is rehabbing from surgery on his right AC joint, and is in Houston rehabbing instead of being in Spring Training with the Angels, makes the timing of an eventual decision “a little more relaxed,” Manfred added.

Here’s the lineup against Hamilton’s former team, the Rangers …

Collin Cowgill, RF
Josh Rutledge, 3B
Matt Joyce, LF
C.J. Cron, DH
Chris Iannetta, C
Efren Navarro, 1B
Taylor Featherston, SS
Johnny Giavotella, 2B
Daniel Robertson, CF

SP: RH Jered Weaver

Angels setup man Joe Smith will make his Cactus League debut on Monday, after taking his time to make sure he was fully recovered from lower leg stiffness. If he takes just one day off in between the rest of the spring, Smith would make 10 appearances (including Wednesday’s off day, which he’s slated to pitch in). Typically, Smith likes to make eight appearances to feel ready.

“My arm’s still in shape,” Smith said. “I’ve still obviously been doing stuff. It just hasn’t been on the mound or game related. I’m not worried about the time. I know my body’s ready. My leg’s feeling just like normal. It was just trying to get that tightness out.”

Some additional notes …

  • The Angels made three more Spring Training cuts on Monday morning, with right-handed relievers Danny Reynolds, Jeremy McBryde and Frank Herrmann heading to Minor League camp.
  • The Angels’ annual Prospect Game – which is, of course, an intrasquad game with all their prospects – will take place Wednesday, March 25, at Tempe Diablo Stadium at 6 p.m. MT. It’s open to the public.
  • Fernando Salas and Cory Rasmus are also slated to pitch today. Mike Scioscia said Rasmus won’t be stretched out to the 100-pitch range this spring, so he won’t be treated as a traditional starter, but they’re making sure he has his length in case they need him for the rotation. I expect him to be in the bullpen as a long reliever to start the season.
  • Hector Santiago felt good a day after getting hit by a comebacker on the inside of his left forearm on Sunday, and Scioscia said he’ll throw his normal between-starts bullpen in anticipation of starting again on Friday.



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