It is hard to argue that the Angels were not the most exciting MLB team to watch last season: Shohei Ohtani pitching, Shohei Ohtani hitting, Andrelton Simmons’ wizardry at shortstop and of course, Mike Trout, the greatest player on the planet.
With just two years remaining on Trout’s six-year, $144.5 million deal, the Angels are desperate to get their iconic centre fielder back into the postseason.
There are not enough superlatives to describe the 27-year-old’s brilliance. Trout has won or finished second in MVP voting in six of the last seven years. He finished a lowly fourth in the other year.
His career slash line of .307/.416/.573 is better than all but five players in history. The list includes Babe Ruth, Ted Williams and Lou Gehrig. Not to take anything away from those guys, but there are modern day challenges with facing the 100+ MPH firepower that every bullpen possesses.
Worryingly for the rest of the league, but fantastic for MLB fans across the world, he is still getting better. Last season, Trout outhomered Giancarlo Stanton, outwalked Joey Votto, outslugged Nolan Arenado and posted a higher OPS than Mookie Betts.
One of the big changes for 2019 is the departure of manager Mike Scioscia (whose name I’ve hated spelling over the years). He is replaced by another former catcher, Brad Ausmus. It will seem so strange seeing a different manager sitting in the Angels’ dugout for this first time this century.
Having lacked stability behind the plate for many years, the signing of Jonathan Lucroy, albeit with his declining offensive production, is a great addition to assist the young pitching staff.
Lucroy’s presence will impact the opportunities for rookie Francisco Arcia, who produced one of the most memorable games of last season.
Cast your mind back to mid-September. Matt Shoemaker gave up five runs in the third inning to the A’s, before Jim Johnson and Junichi Tazawa combined to allow a further seven runs in the fourth inning. At 12-1 it was a blowout.
The final two innings of the game were pitched by the Angels’ catcher; It wasn’t pretty, but it saved bullpen arms. Arcia then launched a home run in the ninth inning to become the first player in MLB history to catch, pitch and homer in the same game.
A bigger problem for the Angels’ pitchers than giving up runs, is staying healthy. Maybe there is something in the Orange County water, otherwise it looks a lot like organisational negligence. The list of Angels’ pitchers who have undergone Tommy John surgery over the last couple of years includes: Tyler Skaggs, Andrew Heaney, Nick Tropeano, Garrett Richards, JC Ramirez, John Lamb, Keynan Middleton and, of course, Ohtani.
Although Skaggs and Heaney offer plenty of upside, the rotation looks fragile again this season, so GM Billy Eppler has thrown the dice with one-year, lottery ticket pitchers.
As with all lotteries, there is a chance of winning, so maybe Matt Harvey gets back towards his previous elite level. Pre-2016, Harvey made 65 starts with 2.53 ERA. Since then, his 63 starts have been at a rate of 5.39 ERA. At least he was trending in the right direction in his 2018 spell with the Reds.
The signing of right-hander Trevor Cahill to a one-year, $9 million deal, could be an inspired addition if he can improve upon last season’s 20 starts of 3.75 ERA (3.54 FIP).
Another stopgap, one-year signing is former Marlins’ first baseman Justin Bour. He can’t hit left-handers, but with a career .853 OPS, he makes up for that against righties. Bour projects to get playing time at first base and designated hitter, although much will be down to Albert Pujols’ health/production and Ohtani’s return date.
The latest news is that Ohtani will not be ready for Opening Day. Most position players bounce back pretty easily, but obviously Ohtani is a special case. During the season he will be the Angels designated hitter while rehabbing his arm on the side.
He really was the most compelling player to watch last season. 22 home runs, .925 OPS, 10 stolen bases and 10 starts with 3.31 ERA and a strikeout rate of 11.0 SO/9. He was everything that we as MLB fans had hoped, and more.
Until Ohtani returns, the Angels designated hitter will be future first-round Hall of Famer, Albert Pujols. Quite simply, the 10-time All-Star is one of the greatest players ever to have picked up a bat. In 2018, The Machine became only the 32nd player in Major League history to reach 3,000 hits and will pick up his 2,000th RBI this season.
Despite his sensational career, Pujols is a frustrating fixture in the lineup. He will earn $87 million over the next three seasons, but statistically was worth a combined -1.4 WAR over the previous three seasons. Cooperstown beckons and hopefully his reputation will not be too tarnished as he works through the remainder of his career.
Down on the farm, the Minor League system has greatly improved over the last few years. Outfielder Jo Adell looks like a future franchise player, first baseman Matt Thaiss has polish and great control of the strike zone, and pitcher Griffin Canning could make an impact as early as this season.
A healthy Zack Cozart, the additions of Harvey, Cahill, Allen and Bour, and a late-career resurgence from Pujols, could see the Angels push the Athletics and Astros in the competitive AL West. The loss of Ian Kinsler and the subsequent void at second base might be more troublesome than it appears.