Today is Valentine’s Day and while over the years I’ve been able to avoid buying into this contrived ‘holiday,’ the saving grace in our household is the fact it falls when pitchers and catchers report to spring training. Today, of all days, is the day the Angels (not cherubs) report to Tempe.
At Tempe Diablo Stadium, many new faces will be donning the ‘A’ for the first time in their careers. While we were hibernating for 5 plus months, Angels GM Billy Eppler has been beyond busy turning over a roster from a season ago that saw his team not reach the playoffs and finish with a 74-88 mark. While there wasn’t the headline-grabbing moves fans love to see during the off-season (“winning” the off-season is overrated, you don’t get any trophies for it), Eppler has meticulously shaped this roster to fit his & the organization’s philosophy going forward.
So as we get ready to hear the sounds and see the pictures of guys playing catch and throwing bullpens in Arizona, I wanted to give you my perspective of who’s in camp and attempt to answer some of the questions that I’m sure will be on the tip of your tongues as things get cranked up.
We all know how ‘tough’ it was last year for the Angels pitching staff. Truth be told, it was insane what unfolded in the early parts of 2016 and no depth chart could’ve withstood the losses of Garret Richards, Nick Tropeano & Andrew Heaney plus the setbacks of Tyler Skaggs and later in the season, the awful incident involving Matt Shoemaker in Seattle. You build depth as a cushion should things go awry but I can’t imagine there’s a General Manager alive that has a contingency plan in place just in case they lose three-fifths of their starting rotation within the first two months of a regular season. I call bullshit if they do.
Pitching will remain at the forefront for the Angels as camp kicks off. The most pressing question for the Halos will be regarding the health/rehab of Garrett Richards. After reports surfaced on the injury Richards had suffered on his UCL (ulnar collateral ligament), I think many were resigned to the fact he’d be getting cut on (Tommy John surgery) and that we probably wouldn’t be seeing him until some point during the 2018 season. Fortunately (fingers crossed), that’s not what happened. Richards opted for the non-surgical approach to his injury and instead had stem-cell therapy (stem cells are extracted from the individual’s bone marrow and injected into the injured ligament – Andrew Heaney had same procedure but it did not take, thus requiring surgery). Richards was able to begin the rehab process last summer with the hopes of things progressing to the point where he can lead the rotation in 2017.
There’s no doubt Richards will be treated with kid gloves and rightfully so. I think that’s the hardest part of any rehab process (I’ve had 3 knee surgeries and one on my wrist), getting the patient to be patient and not wanting to rush things. I imagine Richards is going through the same things now…chomping at the bit to get on the mound and go full throttle with no setbacks. For Angels fans, the hope of course is that’s he’s 100% healthy and can bounce back from his second in-season setback of his career and lead this rotation.
After Richards, you have three familiar names as part of the rotation. The aforementioned Tyler Skaggs & Matt Shoemaker along with Ricky Nolasco. Skaggs was coming off his own Tommy John surgery from 2014 and while he hit a couple of speed bumps on his way back to the big league mound last year, he eventually got to the Big A and made 10 starts in 2016. Doesn’t sound like much but it’s important to note he made great strides with each start and with the limited innings and barring any unforeseen circumstances, he should be very fresh for 2017.
Shoemaker was quietly having a solid season when everything came to a halt on a Sunday afternoon at Safeco Field. A line drive off the bat of Kyle Seager struck Shoemaker on the right temple causing a fracture in his skull. It would be the end of Shoe’s 2016 season. Pedro Moura of the LA Times had a really nice article a couple of days ago about Shoe and his road to recovery…it’s worth checking out. Shoemaker’s a tough dude with a great family and everyone in the Angels family is hopeful he’s capable of returning to form with no lingering effects from that September 4th incident.
With Ricky Nolasco, the Angels have a veteran Southern California product that will be entering his walk year. Nolasco was picked up from the Minnesota Twins last year as part of the Hector Santiago trade and while he struggled with the Twins, he put together a nice stretch of 11 starts with the Angels. Nolasco finished 4-6, 3.21 in those 11 starts with the Halos after having an ERA north of 5 in his previous 21 starts with the Twins. He’ll be counted on to provide veteran leadership on a pitching staff that’ll be without Jered Weaver for the first time since 2006.
As to who fills out the 5th spot in the rotation…well, that’ll come from a group that includes Jesse Chavez (veteran starter/reliever that’s been durable in his career), Alex Meyer (other piece in the Santiago trade), Brooks Pounders (acquired from the Royals, great name, reliever that’s being stretched out as starter), Daniel Wright (picked up from Reds last year and made 5 starts with Angels), Nate Smith (LH, Angels 8th round pick in 2013, 26 start at AAA Salt Lake in 2016 – 8-9, 4.61) & Vicente Campos (24 yr old Venezuelan, claimed off waivers from Diamondbacks, combined to go 10-5, 3.34 in 25 starts in minors in 2016 & apparently a cousin of former Angel, Kelvim Escobar), to name a few. Told you Billy Eppler was busy this off-season.
The Angels bullpen will have a few questions of its own going into 2017. As for the guys that will be considered to close things out: Huston Street will be back after being limited to just 26 games last year due to a knee injury that required surgery. Cam Bedrosian, who after struggling early last year with inherited runners, turned the corner and showed the promise everyone thought he had when he was a first round pick of the Angels in 2010 (45 games, 2-0, 1.12 ERA while averaging 11.4 strikeouts per 9 innings last season). Bedrosian’s season was also cut short because of a finger tendinitis injury (it was later discovered he had a blood clot in his right arm that needed to be surgically removed). Andrew Bailey re-signed with the Angels this off-season after finishing 2016 with the Club, posting 6 saves in 12 games and sporting a 2.38 ERA & 0.971 WHIP (not bad for a guy the Angels signed as a free agent during the season after being let go by the Phillies).
The rest of the bullpen could be made up of some familiar names such as JC Ramirez, Jose Alvarez & Mike Morin along with some of the names listed in the rotation battles plus Kirby Yates (waiver claim from Yankees), Austin Adams (trade with Indians for a player to be named later), Yusmeiro Petit (minor league free agent deal for a veteran) & Bud Norris (former big league starter who spit 2016 with Braves/Dodgers…signed minor league deal with Angels).
The list of new faces doesn’t end with the pitching staff. The Angels offense was tough to figure out last year. With the revolving door in left field and little production from 2B and at the catcher position, the Halos struggled to score runs, finishing 10th in the AL last year in runs scored with 717. While OBP (6th – .322) and Average (6th – .260) were respectable, the Halos struggled in the long ball category (14th – 156), Slugging (13th – .405) & OPS (12th – .726). One category that did stand out from previous years was the “K” category…Halos struck out the fewest amount of times in MLB last year (just 991, the only team in baseball under 1000 K’s).
The other issue the Angels had last year was with fielding percentage, finishing just ahead of the Minnesota Twins at .983 while committing 97 errors. This off-season, Eppler tried to address both the offensive and defensive side of things by addressing two primary needs. LF & 2B.
The Angels acquired Cameron Maybin from the Detroit Tigers in the off-season to fill the large void that’s been in LF for the last couple of years. Maybin, a CF by trade, will move to left to form what could be one of the better (if not best) defensive outfields in baseball (a couple of other guys already there by the names of Mike Trout and Kole Calhoun). Maybin will turn 30 in early April and is coming off a season in which he only played in 94 games (wrist/thumb) but did produce a .315/.383/.418 line while stealing 15 bases for the Tigers.
At 2B, Eppler decided to go after a former shortstop and Southern California product in Danny Espinosa. The pride of Mater Dei High School and Long Beach State, Espinosa became expendable by the Nationals during the off-season and the Angels pulled the trigger in acquiring him. Espinosa’s going into his walk-year in 2017 and looking to bounce back from his .206/.306/.378 line. While Espinosa did strikeout over 170 times last year, he did hit a career-high 24 home runs in 157 games as the primary shortstop for Washington.
With those two key positions addressed, Eppler went out and tried to shore up the bench. 1B/3B Luis Valbuena (2-year deal as free agent), OF Ben Revere (free agent) & C Martin Maldonado (trade with Milwaukee Brewers for Jett Bandy) were added. All three are veteran players with Maldonado having the opportunity to be the starting catcher going into the season (Carlos Perez is still here). They will go along Cliff Pennington, Jefry Marte & Kaleb Cowart as options for rounding out the roster.
Yep, that’s a lot of new personnel going into the 2017 season. Did you think I was joking? There’s plenty of reason to be cautiously optimistic as spring training kicks off. I, for one, am looking forward to the new mix of guys. I think they’ll all blend in very well as this team is full of really good personalities. I know you’d probably like for me to break down some sort of lineup but for the love of Pete Rose, it’s only February 14th and there’s no need to do it at this time (as if Scioscia’s going to listen to my suggestions). Just know that somewhere in that lineup, you’ll have Mike Trout, Yunel Escobar, Kole Calhoun, Albert Pujols (coming back from foot surgery), CJ Cron, Adrelton Simmons, Maybin, Espinosa & either Maldonado/Perez. It’ll be fun to watch it play out and hopefully, after all of the negative things that happened to this team last year, things turn for the better this season.
On a side note…
– I mentioned above this will be the first time since 2006 Jered Weaver won’t be a part of the Angels family. That’s crazy to think about! I’ve been fortunate enough to get to know Jered and his family over the last 7 seasons and he’s been nothing but phenomenal to be around. I’ve been around a lot of players in my time and I still have never seen a guy, especially a pitcher, that’s been as dedicated to winning and perfection as Jered. I’m not saying other guys don’t have that fight and drive, I’m talking about being demonstrative on the mound about wanting the damn ball regardless of the situation. I’m sure it was tough for him to ‘transition’ over the last couple of years & even though he had a sense of humor about things, the dude wanted to fight for everything when he was on the bump. For that, as a fan first, I’m grateful Jered Weaver wore the Angels uniform for as long as he did. He was, without a doubt, the leader of the pitching staff. A guy’s guy and from what I’ve heard, a consummate pro/teammate. Thanks, Jered…it was an honor calling your starts. My best to you and your family with whatever the future holds.
As always, feel free to reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Livin’ the dream…