Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports
I think I can speak for all Angels fans when I say it would be best to forget another playoff-less season like 2013. Despite having a hot August and September, the Angel’s overall record was 78-84, a whole 18 games back from the division leading Oakland Athletics. All we have to look forward to now is Spring Training, and then Opening Day 2014. With the trading of Peter Bourjos and Randal Grichuck for David Freese and Fernando Salas, much of the Angels’ position players will be switching around. Here are my predictions for their Opening Day Starters in 2014.
The ace of the starting pitching staff is obviously Jered Weaver. Weaver has put up spectacular numbers throughout his career with the Angels. His ERA has been below 4.00 ERA in all but one year of his eight with the Angels. Despite suffering a fractured elbow on his non-throwing arm, Weaver put up a good 2013 season with a 3.27 ERA, 117 strikeouts, and a 1.14 WHIP despite pitching only 154.1 innings.
Saying which catcher manager Mike Scioscia will go with on Opening Day is for anyone to guess. He claims to not like “personal catchers”, but Hank Conger catches most of C.J. Wilson‘s starts, and he prefers his catchers to be more defense oriented than offensive, but Chris Iannetta allowed the second most stolen bases (84) and Conger was 13th in American League catchers in caught stealing (15). Although towards the end of the season it seemed like Scioscia started to favor Conger a little bit more than Iannetta. This may have been caused by Iannetta’s whimsical offensive stretch where he had more walks than hits. He finished the 2013 season with a .225 batting average, 11 home runs, and 31 RBI in 115 games played. Conger didn’t do much better, ending 2013 with a .249 batting average, 7 home runs, and 21 RBI in 92 games played. Iannetta, in his 7 year career, has never hit over .260, hit more than 20 home runs or knocked in more than 65. Conger on the other hand is a 25 year old switch hitting catcher who has shown power from the left side of the plate and a decent throwing arm who has many more years to sharpen his defensive work as a catcher.
Assuming that he will be 100% in 2014 – like he is on track to be – Albert Pujols will most likely be playing first base on opening day. Although restricted to 99 games in 2013, Pujols put up a decent – but unPujols-like – .268 batting average, 17 home runs, and 64 RBI. Since joining the Angels he has not hit over .300 (which he did 10 of his 11 seasons with St. Louis) or put up an OPS of over 1.000 (which he did 8 of his 11 seasons with the Cards). Pujols, the Angels, and the fans are all hoping that he returns to his MVP-like self in 2014.
Howie Kendrick is the Angels’ most viable option at second base. I don’t believe that Grant Green is ready for the major league level yet, but he is good for the future. Kendrick is one of the trade chips that were dangled around the trade deadline and could be put out yet again for the right price: starting pitching. Howie has put up consistent numbers throughout his career for the Angels: averaging a .292 batting average, 9 home runs, and 53 RBI a season in his 7 years with the Halos. Not only is he spectacular offensively, but he turned 68 double plays last year, good for 10th in the American League, along with playing 1,043.1 innings in 2013 despite suffering a hyper extended knee.
Erick Aybar starting at shortstop on opening day is basically a given. He is the only viable, major league ready shortstop that the Angels have. The switch-hitting fielder had a good 2013 season, finishing with a .271 batting average, 6 home runs, and 54 RBI, a very Aybar-like offensive output.
With the acquisition of David Freese from the Cardinals, it’s clear that the platooning days of Chris Nelson, Andrew Romine and Luis Jimenez are over. Freese will become the Angels’ primary third baseman, as both his offensive and defensive skills are greater than that of the other options. Despite a sub par 2013 season, Freese has put up spectacular numbers over his 4 year career at St. Louis including a career .286 batting average, 44 home runs, and 237 RBI. We all hope that David returns to his normal self, like reunited teammate Pujols, for the 2014 season.
As an avid fan of J.B. Shuck, it breaks my heart to say that Kole Calhoun will most likely be starting in right field in 2014. The trade of Peter Bourjos to St. Louis opened up center field, and because of that Calhoun gets his chance to be an opening day starter in right. He started 45 games in 2013 for the Angels, mostly in situations when Josh Hamilton needed some rest for his recurring back spasms or other injuries. He proved himself valuable in hitting .271 with 8 home runs and 33 RBI in his short playing time. Not only was he valuable offensively, but his 4 assists proved his arm strength.
With Kole Calhoun starting in right, super star Josh Hamilton gets pushed over the left field. Hamilton, like teammate Pujols, is widely criticized for their lack of offense in 2013. Hamilton, although experiencing hot streaks near the end of the season, ended 2013 batting .250 (up significantly from the .217 batting average he had at one point) with 21 home runs and driving in 79. Hamilton is basically guaranteed a starting spot on Opening Day, and left field is the most obvious option at this point.
With the trade of Peter Bourjos to St.Louis, this opened up center field for non other than Mike Trout. Trout is most definitely guaranteed an opening day starting spot, and trading Bourjos opened up his preferred position. Scioscia was widely criticized for starting Peter Bourjos in center field over Trout, but now that doesn’t matter. I doubt I’ll have to explain to you why Trout is starting in center field, but I’ll do it anyway. Mike Trout finished his sophomore season batting .323 with 27 home runs and 97 RBI. Trout is a given starting center field for opening day.
The only position left to predict is designated hitter, but I’m sure you all know who it’ll be. With Pujols taking back his rightful spot at first base, Mark Trumbo will be left to DH. His bat is too powerful to leave out of the line-up, and DH is the only other position. Widely criticized for his high strike out rates, Trumbo finished 2013 with a .234 batting average, 34 home runs, and 100 RBI. His amazing consistency to hit with power is making him the topic of trade rumors. Assuming he makes it out still an Angel, he will start at DH on Opening Day 2014.
Assuming General Manager Jerry Dipoto doesn’t make any other huge trades involving position players, this will most likely be the 10 players on the field on March 31, 2014 against the Mariners. The addition of David Freese to the Angels has solidified the infield and taken away the fragile platoon type third base for the Angels. Let’s all just hope for a playoff bound 2014!