Spring Training Look: The Los Angeles Angels

I always enjoy going to Tempe Diablo Stadium in Tempe. The fans are usually decked out in Angels colors and the seats are usually filled to the brim. It’s a crowd that appreciates their ball club and cheers throughout the game.

The stadium is not one of the new, state of the art Phoenix area venues. But it has character and tradition. The media area is always buzzing before the game with scouts, team personnel and media. The media lunch is always good, and reasonably priced. I just like going to Tempe Diablo. They make everyone feel very much at home and comfortable.

Media park in a large lot behind the player lot in right field, walk through a tunnel and take an elevator to the top floor. When I arrived yesterday I couldn’t help reminding myself that Joey Gallo hit a home run into that same lot in right field while playing for the Rangers earlier this spring. What a blast that must have been.

I think the Angels are going to have a tough time keeping their heads above water this year in the American League West. Why? The lack of starting pitching could become very worrisome if Jered Weaver can’t rebound from a 7-12 season with a 4.64 ERA. If the aches and pains of C J Wilson and his reduced and limited repertoire don’t improve it could spell real trouble. They need both Weaver and Wilson to perform well and eat some innings..

I am really, really pulling for lefty Tyler Skaggs. If he returns from his elbow surgery and gives the club the type of innings of which he is capable, it could give the Angels a huge boost. If his elbow remains healthy, Skaggs could be a very big part of the teams future. Still young and very athletic, Skaggs was acquired by Jerry Dipoto twice while Dipoto was the team’s general manager. At 6-foot-4, 215 pounds, Skaggs could have the type of arm that could bolster the pitching staff. He could eventually pair with Garrett Richards to form a solid one-two punch of quality starters.

Lefty Hector Santiago started the game I saw. While he isn’t exactly overpowering, Santiago was among the spring leaders in strikeouts going in to the game. He looked sharp at times as he changed speeds and kept the opposing Oakland Athletics off-balance. While he isn’t an ace, he can eat up some innings and provide some quality starts. But I’ve never found him to be particularly consistent.

I like the back end of the Angels bullpen with Huston Street and Joe Smith. Those two in particular stand out to me as guys that can be counted upon to shut the door and preserve the late inning lead. Former Tigers reliever Al Alburquerque will be counted upon to do his part in the pen. The pen seems solid to me.

Mike Trout remains very, very special. i saw him drive balls deep to the outfield with a very measured swing and superb hitting mechanics. He doesn’t seem to have any holes in his approach. He can hit the high or inside fastball and can cover the plate very well for the outside slider. A true professional hitter, I think Trout will be more dangerous this year than ever-and that’s saying something. In Bryce Harper and Mike Trout we are seeing two young players that can probably rival any two mega stars of the past. And both have their best years ahead.

Albert Pujols is still not playing defense at first base. Being used strictly as a designated hitter, Pujols will soon return to the field and once again earn his reputation as a fine defensive first baseman. I do think the bat speed has slowed, but he still gets plenty of barrel on the ball. I look for home runs, doubles and RBIs but a continued bit of decline in the overall batting average. Pujols can still change a game with one swing of the bat. And he’s on a mission to prove that he is still a very viable and dangerous hitter.

One of my favorite American League hitters is Kole Calhoun. Last season he was one of my pre-season guys that I liked. Calhoun struck out 164 times last year. Way too many. He hit .256 with 26 home runs. I didn’t know he had that much power. He’s only 5-foot-10, but the left-handed hitter has some real pop in his bat and good upper-body strength. I like Calhoun to reduce his strikeouts and make more contact. So, in essence, Calhoun , Trout and Pujols could form a big three to knock in some runs.

C J Cron may feel a bit of heat from J-Man Choi at first base, but I don’t think Choi will be a major threat to Cron’s playing time. Choi has struck out a bunch here in Spring Training and may have some initial difficulty making contact against quality big league hitters. From South Korea, the swith-hitting, 6-foot-1, 230 pound first baseman may not make the final 25-man roster. If he doesn’t he will be a phone call away. It may be best for him to make his adjustments with less pressure and having an opportunity to play every day. But Choi could bring a nice organizational bat the the club.

left-handed hitting Daniel Nava is playing and hitting well and is in the mix to start in left-field. A switch-hitter, Nava has a chance to prove he belongs in the starting lineup of a big league club. He really never got the sustained opportunity he needs to stay sharp when playing for the Red Sox. He has his timing down and is showing that his versatile bat could really help.

There are three catchers on the 400-man roster. They include Carlos Perez, Geovanny Soto and big, 6-foot-4, 235 prospect Jett Bandy. I saw Perez start the game I scouted. He can be a better than meh hitter and will likely get lots of at-bats.

The Angels are not among the highest rated regarding their farm system. Depth, especially starting pitching depth could be an issue. However, with the booming bat of Mike Trout and the power of Pujols, Calhoun and Cron, the Angels should be in most games offensively. They may have to score lots of runs to keep up with the opposition.

Defensively, how can a team get much better than Andrelton Simmons at shortstop? The Angels gave up highly touted lefty pitching prospect Sean Newcomb in the deal with Braves to obtain Simmons, but man, can he play. I saw him make several difficult plays seem ordinary with lighting fast hands and feet, great range and a super arm. He will be a tremendous asset to the Angels pitchers. He and his second base partner, probably Johnny Giavotella will form an outstanding middle-infield combination.

Tomorrow: Kansas City Royals

Thank you for following my on twitter @BerniePleskoff

That’s it. I’m done. For now.


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