MLB Preview: Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim

With baseball season fast approaching, it is time for TheWaiverWire’s inaugural Baseball Preview package. We will look at every division in baseball, starting in the American League and moving from East to West by division. Also, we each team by who will finish last to first. So, the first team you read about from each division is in the basement, and the last is who we determine to win the division.

American League West – 

Division Champion – Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim 

Second Place – Texas Rangers (read season preview here)

Third Place – Oakland Athletics (read season preview here)

Fourth Place – Seattle Mariners (read season preview here)

Starting Line-Up – 

Catcher: Chris Iannetta (28) – 112 games, .238/.370/.414 14HR 55 RBI (with Colorado Rockies)

First Base: Albert Pujols (32) – 147 games, .299/.366/.541 37HR 99RBI (with  St. Louis Cardinals)

Second Base: Howie Kendrick (28) – 140 games, .285/.338/.464 18HR 63RBI – 2011 All-Star

Shortstop: Erick Aybar (28) – 143 games, .279/.322/.421 10HR 59RBI – Gold Glove Winner

Third Base: Alberto Callaspo (28) – 141 games, .288/.366/.375 6HR 46RBI

Left Field: Vernon Wells (33) – 131 games, .218/.248/.412 25HR 66RBI

Center Field: Peter Bourjos (24) – 147 games, .271/.327/.438 12HR 43RBI

Right Field: Torii Hunter (36) – 156 games, .262/.336/.429 23HR 82RBI

Designated Hitter: Kendrys Morales (28) – Did Not Play in 2011 due to Injury

The Good News…

Sent from heaven to save the Angels?

The best news any team could say after this is off-season is “We signed Albert Pujols and you didn’t!” Look, I’m all for tempering expectations for a player going from one team to another and switching leagues, but Pujols is truly a once-in-a-generation talent. Did you read his numbers from 2011? Yeah, that was his worst offensive season in his career. Those numbers. Right there at the top of the page. His worst offensive season in his brilliant career. He was still the best player on the World Championship team. That was his worst season to date! He played with a broken arm! 

I still think that, by the time his career is finished, Pujols will have the all-time home run record and may be remembered as the most complete hitter the game has ever seen. I truly don’t know if casual baseball fans are aware of what they get to see when the watch Albert Pujols play. I’ll be able to tell my kids one day that in 2006, when Pujols and Carlos Beltran were battling for the league MVP, I got to watch Pujols tee-off John Maine for two home runs and seven RBI in 3 innings, while the Mets came back to win on a Beltran walk-off home run in the 9th. It may be the best game I’ll ever see in my life. And Albert Pujols was a huge part of it. He makes an already deep Angels line-up arguably the best line-up in baseball. There is no pitcher in baseball who can say they have his number, that’s just fact. The Angels stole him from the Cardinals. Good job.

The Angels double play combination of Howie Kendrick and Erick Aybar are due for huge seasons with the power depth hitting behind them. Kendrick is a doubles hitting machine and his talents were finally rewarded with his first All-Star selection last season, while Aybar is a strong top-of-the-order hitter who, believe it or not, was close to being a New York Met last year, as Aybar would’ve been the headliner in a package that could’ve sent Jose Reyes to LA. That’s how valuable other teams think Aybar will be for years to come.

It’ll also be valuable for the Angels to get Kendrys Morales’ production back into their line-up after he broke his leg in the now-infamous home runs celebration from two years ago. It seems like ages ago, but in 2009, Morales finished 5th in the American League MVP voting, hitting .306 with 34 home runs and 108 RBI. He was well on his way to another monster season in 2010 when he went down this the injury that has kept him off the field for the last year and a half. But, the team says he’s fully healthy now, and being able to place his switch-hitting bat between Pujols and Torii Hunter is such an advantage for manager Mick Scioscia. 

The Bad News…

What happened to Vernon Wells?

How terrible is Vernon Wells? Seriously. What happened to this guy? Once upon a time, when he signed that massive deal with the Toronto Blue Jays that pays him $20+ million annually, it was once considered a smart move. What happened! I need to know! 

There is some good news to the whole Vernon Wells conundrum, if you can believe that. It’ll only be a matter of time until the Angels feel super-prospect Mike Trout is ready to patrol center field at the big league level full time this year, forcing a move of Peter Bourjos to one of the corners. You won’t move Hunter out of right, especially with Morales entrenched as your designated hitter, so the natural move would be to slide him over to left and put Wells on the bench. Are you paying a lot for a fourth or fifth outfield? You sure are. But, I’d rather give him his paycheck where he isn’t hurting my team every time he steps into the batters box four times a game. 

While Chris Iannetta is light years better offensively than Jeff Mathis was last year, he still isn’t Mike Napoli, the guy the Angels traded to division rival Texas. Iannetta will accomplish everything the team wants defensively, but he is still a bit of a question mark offensively, never developing his tools at the plate the way scouts had hoped when he was a top prospect coming out of the Rockies farm system. But, he isn’t Jeff Mathis, which is actually a plus.

Starting Rotation – 

Ace: Jered Weaver, RHP (29) – 33 starts, 18-8, 2.41ERA, 235.2 IP, 198 Ks, 56 walks, 1.01 WHIP – 2011 All-Star, 2nd in American League Cy Young Voting

#2: Dan Haren, RHP (31) – 34 starts, 16-10, 3.17ERA, 238.1 IP, 192 Ks, 33 walks, 1.02 WHIP – 7th in American League Cy Young Voting

#3: C.J. Wilson, LHP (31) – 34 starts, 16-7, 2.94ERA, 223.1 IP, 206 Ks, 74 walks, 1.19 WHIP – 2011 All-Star, 6th in American League Cy Young Voting (with Texas Rangers)

#4: Ervin Santana, RHP (29) – 33 starts, 11-12, 3.38ERA, 228.2 IP, 178 Ks, 72 walks, 1.22 WHIP

#5: Jerome Williams, RHP (30) – 6 starts, 4-0, 3.68ERA, 44.0 IP, 28 Ks, 15 walks, 1.36 WHIP

The Good News…

Did you see all that bold? After signing C.J. Wilson in free agency, they now have 3 of the top 7 pitchers in the American League from the season before. There is no rotation with that kind of depth, I don’t think. Before I start gushing about these guys individually, please take a close look at the Innings Pitched column for their top 4 starters. 225+ innings. All of them. Who needs a bullpen when your starters never come out of ballgames? Incredible.

Ok, individual gushing time.

Will Jered Weaver finally win a Cy Young?

Jered Weaver is this generation’s version of Juan Marichal. He’s an insanely talented pitcher with the potential to boast Hall of Fame credentials, but has never won baseball’s top honors for a starting pitcher. It’s not his fault, though, that he’s pitching at the same time as other greats like C.C. Sabathia, Justin Verlander and Felix Hernandez. The last three years have been remarkable for Weaver, lowering his ERA each year from 3.75, to 3.01 to 2.41. He has great control of all his pitches and consistently works deep into ballgames. That, and he’s a guy you want on your team. Even though he easily could’ve waited until free agency to cash in on his talents, he took a huge hometown discount to get security from the Angels because, as he said, money is money, security is more important. God, I’d love to have him or a guy with his mindset on my team, any time. 

Two years ago at the trade deadline, with the Angels out of the playoff picture, the team made a move for Dan Haren because they wanted him for the long-term, not just a short rental. Now, it appears the Angels are ready to cash in on that trade with a stacked rotation for this season. Haren has arguably the best control in the American League (nobody compares to Cliff Lee), and probably should’ve been honored with an All-Star selection last year. He has struck out 200+ hitters in a season before, and has a herky-jerky delivery that will keep hitters off balance from the first inning to the ninth.

Any questions about C.J. Wilson not being an elite, front-line starting pitcher were answered last year, when he had an even better season than his breakout 2010 performance. Maybe the most important part about Wilson’s addition to LA is that he is no longer pitching in Texas. The Angels made themselves stronger and their main competition weaker all in one fell swoop. Also, its worth noting, Albert Pujols purposely took less money from the Angels so that management would have enough wiggle room to sign Wilson. WHAT OTHER SUPERSTAR DOES THAT?! Jeez, this team is loaded with stars and quality human beings. It’ll be hard not to root for them next year.

The Bad News…

Ervin Santana is an interesting option as a fourth starter

You never know what you’re going to get from Ervin Santana every fifth day. One day, he could throw a perfect game. The next, he could give up 10 runs before recording an out. However, my concerns about Santana’s performance were a lot higher before the Wilson signing. As a number four starter, I love Ervin Santana. You can live with his roller-coaster ride starts when he’s going up against the opponents bottom end of the rotation. In fact, that’s probably where he’ll thrive. So, this really isn’t bad news. This is great news for the Angels. I just didn’t know where to mention Santana before. So, I waited.

To summarize, this rotation is stacked. This line-up is stacked. Is there any question why I picked them ahead of the Rangers? There really shouldn’t be. But, I’ll get to this more in the give it to me straight section…

Bench – 

OF Bobby Abreu (38) – 142 games, .253/.353/.365 8HR 60RBI

IF Maicer Izturis (31) – 122 games, .276/.334/.388 5HR 38RBI

IF/OF Mark Trumbo (26) – 149 games, .254/.291/.477 29HR 87RBI – 2nd in American League Rookie of the Year Voting

C Bobby Wilson (28) – 57 games, .189/.252/.288 1HR 8RBI

The Skinny…

There’s actually a good news, bad news situation with this Angels bench. 

Starting with the good, the Angels have clearly said they’re going to find Mark Trumbo at bats. He was an absolute force at the plate last season, as evident from his runner-up finish to Jeremy Hellickson in the Rookie of the Year voting. They’re going to play him in left, third and give him looks at designated hitter to keep the power in the line-up. 

Speaking of players that could be starting on just about any other team in the Majors, how about Maicer Izturis? This guy is a plus defender at three different positions in the infield, but is a hair behind Alberto Callaspo offensively. In fact, both Callaspo and Izturis can play anywhere in the infield and provide equal offensive production near the bottom of the line-up. These guys are literally interchangeable. I think they’re both great pieces to a larger, championship puzzle. How Mike Scioscia uses them, along with Trumbo, will be an interesting management strategy to follow.

As for the bad news, Bobby Abreu is proving that he is not that great of a teammate. Instead of realizing that he has a chance to win a ring with a loaded team like the Angels, he only cares about getting his at bats which are shrinking as each day passes in LA. Abreu is behind all three starting outfielders, Trumbo and Morales in the pecking order. In fact, as awful as Wells has been, he’s more valuable to this Angels team because at least he understands the roll he has to play in the bigger picture. If I had to guess, Abreu will be traded long before we get to the deadline in July. Actually, word is the Angels had a deal set up with the Yankees that would’ve swapped Abreu for A.J. Burnett, but Burnett nixed the deal with his no-trade clause. Another head-scratcher to me. 

Bullpen – 

Closer: Jordan Walden, RHP (24) – 62 games, 60.1 IP, 2.98ERA, 32 saves, 10.0 K/9, 26 walks, 1.24 WHIP – 2011 All-Star, 7th in American League Rookie of the Year Voting

8th Inning Reliever: Scott Downs, LHP (36) – 60 games, 53.2 IP, 1.34ERA, 1 save, 5.9 K/9, 28 walks, 1.01 WHIP

Middle Reliever: LaTroy Hawkins, RHP (39) – 52 games, 48.1 IP, 2.42ERA, 5.2 K/9, 10 walks, 1.24 WHIP (with Milwaukee Brewers)

Middle Reliever: Hisanori Takahashi, LHP (37) – 61 games, 68.0 IP, 3.44ERA, 6.9 K/9, 25 walks, 1.22 WHIP

Middle Reliever: Rich Thompson, RHP (27) – 44 games, 54.0 IP, 3.00ERA, 9.3 K/9, 20 walks, 1.22 WHIP

Middle Reliever: Bobby Cassevah, RHP (26) – 30 games, 39.2 IP, 2.72ERA, 5.4 K/9, 19 walks, 1.19 WHIP

The Skinny…

Like I said, the Angels don’t need a great bullpen when they have four starting pitchers that are going to give them 200+ innings. 

Regardless, the Angels have a pretty solid ‘pen from top to bottom. Jordan Walden turned heads in his rookie season, making the All-Star team and locking down 32 saves in the process. The two lefties LA has in Scott Downs and Hisanori Takahashi have the ability to get batters out, and Takahashi can even make a spot start if necessary. Personally, I love what Takahashi can do on a team. He was one of the lone positives from the dismal 2009 New York Mets squad, being able to come out of the ‘pen and go multiple innings or make an emergency start. He’s a great organizational piece.

The team brought in LaTroy Hawkins to teach as much as they did to get outs. With so many young arms in the ‘pen, the Angels decided it was beyond important to get someone who has been around the league, pitched in the post-season and has been on great teams and terrible teams. Well, that’s LaTroy Hawkins in a nut shell. He’s a nice arm and you’ll know exactly what you’ll get from him. But, any information about being a Major League pitcher he can give to the kids coming up in the system is more valuable then any out he may record this season.

Top 10 Prospects (courtesy of MLB.com)

#1: OF Mike Trout (20) – Expected 2012 Level – AAA, for a short time

What can’t Mike Trout do? He stole 33 bases, hit .326 with 11 home runs, 18 doubles and 13 triples in AA, plays a Gold Glove-caliber center field, and he just turned 20 last August. He’s a beast. Did he struggle when he was promoted to the Majors last year? Yes. Was he 19 when he was promoted? Yes. He was 19 in the Majors! Give the kid a break. As I’ve mentioned before, the Angels are going to let Trout get off to, hopefully, a hot start in AAA this year before promoting him full-time to LA and play center. Once that happens, Bourjos moves over to left to split time with Trumbo and Wells moves to the bench. Trout’s going to go to All-Star games. He’s going to be fine in the Majors. Let him prove that this year.

#2: SS Jean Segura (22) – Expected 2012 Level – AA

Segura is one of the few prospects in baseball that impressed so much at second base, the team decided to shift him over to shortstop. His ability to play the position well will only increase his rising stock. He will hit for a decent average as a middle infielder, somewhere between .275-.300. He doesn’t have plus power, but does have the speed to turn singles into doubles and  steal some serious bases. He is a bit of a ways from the Majors, which is fine for the Angels, who are looking to rebuild their farm system.

#3: RHP Garrett Richards (23) – Expected 2012 Level – AAA

Richards isn’t far from being Major League-ready. His strikeout numbers limit his potential as nothing more than a solid #3 or #4 starter. Then again, with arms like Weaver, Haren and Wilson at the top of the rotation, what more do you need? Depending on how Richards starts the year and if Jerome Williams can prove to be a reliable at the end of the rotation, Richards’ debut to the show may be sooner rather than later.

#4: 1B C.J. Cron (22) – Expected 2012 Level – A+

Well, when the Angels drafted Cron in the first round in 2011, they had visions of him being their first baseman of the future. Then they signed some guy named Pujols. Things change. Cron is still a good year and a half away from being considered for the big league squad. So, for now, the Angels are going to ride the wave and see what Cron can offer as a professional.

#5: 3B Kaleb Cowart (19) – Expected 2012 Level – A-

There’s a lot to learn about this switch-hitting third baseman, who will be making his full-season professional ball debut in 2012. He did well in Rookie ball last year, so his ceiling remains high as for now, but there is work to be done in his game.

#6: 2B Taylor Lindsey (20) – Expected 2012 Level – A-

Lindsey outperformed Cowart in rookie ball last season, hitting .362 and slugged .593. He has the potential to grow into a strong, offensive second baseman who can hold his own defensively. But, like Cowart, he has a long way to go in his development with plenty more stops along the way.

#7: LHP Nick Maronde (22) – Expected 2012 Level – A+

Maronde was a reliever at Florida, but the Angels have visions of stretching him out to into starter at the next level. He impressed in his short stint after being drafted in the third round of 2011, and has potential to move fast through the Minor Leagues. He’ll skip past Low-A in favor of keeping him on the fast track.

#8: RHP Daniel Tillman (23) – Expected 2012 Level – A+

After starting him off in the rotation in Low-A to begin 2011, the Angels moved Tillman back to his more natural role in the bullpen as a closer. He has a heavy fastball and a sinker that could profile him as an effective back-end bullpen piece, and relievers tend to move incredibly fast through Minor League levels. Tillman reached High-A ball last year and could cruise through the level with a quick start this year.

#9: RHP Johnny Hellweg (23) – Expected 2012 Level – AA

Hellweg was struggling as a reliever when the Angels decided to try him out in the rotation to give him more innings. The switch stuck, and Hellweg’s stock began to rise as he continued to enjoy more success as the season went on. He will make the significant jump from High-A to AA this season, and the Angels will keep him in the rotation as long as he continues to show growth.

#10: RHP Cam Bedrosian (20) – Expected 2012 Level – Short League Rookie Ball

The Angels 2010 first round pick is yet to appear in a Minor League baseball game because of Tommy John surgery. However, he has Major League bloodline and still possesses the same potential that got him drafted in the first round out of high school. At some point, he needs to become less potential and more results, so his clock is ticking before he falls off the map completely.

Give it to me straight, Greg…

There is no reason not to be excited about the Angels potential. They have four starting pitchers that can tally up 200+ innings, five hitters with 25+ home run potential and a top five prospect about ready  to make playing in the Major Leagues a permanent job.

The only reason I think the Detroit Tigers will win more games than the Angels is due to the Texas Rangers playing in the same division. The Rangers will present problems for Los Angeles, but not enough to wrestle the division away from them. 

The American League West is the Angels division to lose. They’re playoff bound after two down years and have a World Series winning manager at the helm. The sky is the limit in Anaheim, and it’ll be a fun team to watch all through the summer.

2012 Season Projection – 96-66, American League West Champion