Happy New Year Angel fans. We have officially entered 2008 and there are now only 43 days left until pitchers and catchers report to Tempe for Spring Training !
Baring any surprise trades or free agent signings between now and opening day the roster new General Manager Tony Reagins has put together seems to be set.
1B. Casey Kotchman
2B. Howie Kendrick
SS. Erick Aybar/Macier Izturis
3B. Chone Figgins
OF/DH. Gary Matthews Jr.
LF/DH. Garret Anderson
RF/DH. Vladimir Guerrero
CF. Torii Hunter
C . Mike Napoli/Jeff Mathis
SP. John Lackey
SP. Kelvim Escobar
SP. Jon Garland
SP. Jered Weaver
SP. Joe Saunders/Ervin Santana
CL. Francisco Rodriguez
First things first. To make the MLB post-season the Angels will have to win the AL West or Wild Card. With the A’s in full rebuilding mode (having traded their two best players Dan Haren & Nick Swisher), the Mariners inactivity and Texas perpetual lack of pitching, it’s fairly safe to say that unless disaster strikes Mike Scioscia’s club should be able to win their fourth AL West title during his tenure.
Now onto the burning question. Are the Angels good enough to get past the World Champion Red Sox, the upgraded Detroit Tigers and other the contending teams NY Yankees and Cleveland Indians and back into the World Series. These are the teams the Angels are really competing with in the big picture.
While fans bemoaned the Angels lack of offense during the post-season, let’s not forget that starting pitching didn’t exactly dominate the Red Sox which combined for a recipe of disaster going three and out in the ALDS like it was 2004 all over again.
What do the Angels need to do to have a sucessfull post-season ? First and foremost, they need their best players to step up. This means Vladimir Guerrero and Chone Figgins cannot continue to fail with the bats. John Lackey needs to get over his issues pitching in Fenway Park and Kelvim Escobar (1-3 during his post-season career for LAA) has to show some mental toughness in October.
I understand that it sounds like a broken record, but I do believe that the Halos will improve offensively in 2008 despite the fact that Reagins was unable to land a “big bat” such as Miguel Cabrera. The addition of Torii Hunter will add some more pop to the lineup. Hunter actually out homered Guerrero by one in 2007 and his road splits show that he was not just a product of the Metrodome in Minnesota.
Having Gary Matthews Jr. spelling Guerrero and Garret Anderson in the outfield should allow both corner outfielders time to rest any nagging injuries by giving them time at designated hitter. Also in the mix is Juan Rivera who slugged 23 home runs in 2006 and is the perfect compliment to Matthews in a platoon situation. Matthews posted a .553 OPS as a right handed batter in 2007.
What has to happen for certain is it’s time for Casey Kotchman, Howie Kendrick and Mike Napoli to all take their game to the next level, especially in the power department. Mike Napoli in particular has shown the most power at the minor league level (29 Hr in 2004, 31 in 2005) and could surprise with quite a few long balls this summer.
The 24 year old Kendrick was nearly dealt to Florida and he must show the Angels that their faith in him wasn’t in vain. While he hit .322 last season it was an empty Rod Carew-ish .322 with Kendrick only hitting .247 with runners in scoring position, the stat Scioscia and his coaches consider most important.
Kotchman is the player with the most to lose since the organization believes Kendry Morales has huge power potential waiting in the wings. It’s not out of the realm of possibility that the Angels could get 15-20 home runs from both their first and second basemen.
Obviously their ability to stay healthy will be the key (137 games for Kotchman, only 88 from Kendrick and 77 from Napoli). If all three are able to get between 550-600 at bats the Angels should see a significant improvement as an offensive unit.
The area of greatest concern in my estimation is what the club will get out of the short-stop position. It appears that the trade of Orlando Cabrera for Jon Garland was supposed to be the first domino to fall in the acqusition of Miguel Cabrera that never materialized. Now the Angels are opening spring camp with six starting pitchers and only five rotation spots and a huge question mark at the arguably the most important position on the diamond.
Is Erick Aybar the .300 plus hitter that he showed in the minor leagues ? If Aybar isn’t the answer, can Macier Izturis handled the work load and stay healthy enough to get 500 at bats ? In this writers opinion Izturis has the greatest chance of being able to fill the offensive void left by Orlando Cabrera. Izturis showed an uncanny ability to get the big hit in 2007 hitting 6 homers and driving in 51 runs in only 336 at bats. While Izturis shouldn’t be expected to hit 20 home runs, it should be noted he did have a higher slugging percentage than “OC” (.405 to .397).
The wild card is top prospect Brandon Wood who the Angels believe is ready defensively for the major leagues. But is the team’s top brass willing to allow Wood to play everyday and most likely struggle ? It’s quite possible that Wood could give the Angels the same type of first full season that Troy Glaus did in 1999 (.240 29 HR 79 RBI .781 OPS)
Los Angeles undoubtedly has what it takes to get it done April – September. It will remain to be seen if they can translate regular season success into post-season glory.