LA Angels 2017 Devoid Of Top Talent But Could Go A Long Way.

Sep 26, 2016; Anaheim, CA, USA; Los Angeles Angels right fielder Kole Calhoun (56) is met with a low five by shortstop Andrelton Simmons (2) after the game against the Oakland Athletics at Angel Stadium of Anaheim. The Angels won 2-1. Mandatory Credit: Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports
Sep 26, 2016; Anaheim, CA, USA; Los Angeles Angels right fielder Kole Calhoun (56) is met with a low five by shortstop Andrelton Simmons (2) after the game against the Oakland Athletics at Angel Stadium of Anaheim. The Angels won 2-1. Mandatory Credit: Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports /
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The LA Angels have arguably the top player in baseball on their team in Mike Trout, but after Trout there’s no one on the team that ranks in the top 10 players at their position. To be fair if not for Albert Pujols‘ health he’d be a top 10 DH.

This should sound somewhat familiar to LA Angels fans who followed the 2002 World Championship team. No disrespect to that amazing group of players, but this team does have some similarities.  How you may ask?  Let me take a few minutes of your time to explain it to you.

When I was looking at the 2017 projected Angels starting line-up and pitching rotation I was wondering where our player rank among the league’s best.  To my surprise there was not an Angel to be found in the top 10 at any position other than reigning AL MVP Mike Trout in the outfield. As for the pitching there was no Angel starter or key relievers in the top 20.

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Does this mean that the 2017 Angels are devoid of talent or that they are going to struggle due to lack of quality players? NO!!! Not at all is my answer.  The Angels have plenty of talent to compete for a playoff spot and maybe even a pennant.

First Base – The Angels have a three-headed first baseman with C.J. Cron being the lead with help from Luis Valbuena, and Jefry Marte.  All have produced solid power numbers last season with 16, 13, and 15.  Cron has the best batting average of the bunch and is probably the best defender as well.  No All-Stars here, but Cron has potential to develop into one.

Second Base – Newcomer Danny Espinosa is an upgrade at 2B from last season.  Defensively Espinosa is above average and he has nice power numbers with 24 homers last season.  His only issue is his 174 strikeouts last season and .209 batting average.  Hopefully he will improve in both of those categories in 2017.

As for reserves Kaleb Cowart and Cliff Pennington will see some time at 2B, but only as an occasional starter (resting Espinosa and possibly a pinch-hitter). Both have decent gloves, but don’t provide much offense. So second base is solid, but no all-star here.

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Third Base – Yunel Escobar had a great first season with the Angels offensively hitting .304 with five homers and 39 RBI’s with a .355 OBP as the Angels lead-off hitter.  Offensively Escobar is above average, but defensively he was a liability at times.  Escobar definitely gives the Angels so stability at third, but not a top-tier third baseman.

Marte and Valbuena as well as Cowart will give the Angels so back-up at third when needed, especially in late game situations where the team needs better defense. However, no all-stars here.

Catcher – This is probably the weakest position in the Angels line-up as Carlos Perez and Martin Maldonado will battle this Spring for the starting job.  Both catchers are very good defensively with Maldonado possessing a strong arm.  Perez was a finalist for the Gold Glove Award at catcher.

The problem for this duo is they both batted under .210 for the season with only slight power  (8 homers for Maldonado and 5 for Perez).  Angels manager Mike Scioscia has never minded having a defensive catcher.  He was once a defensive specialist who was average to below average hitter.  Definitely no all-stars here.

Shortstop – The Angels made a major upgrade last season when they acquired defensive wizard Andrelton Simmons to play shortstop.  Simmons, despite being injured for six weeks early in the season, was as good as advertised. He saved a number of pitcher’s tails with amazing plays in the field.

Surprisingly Simmons had a very strong season offensively as well as he finished with a .281 average hitting four home runs and driving in 44 runs.  Although many Angels would rate him as an All-Star and a top 10 candidate CBS.Sportline.com did not see it the same way.  I’m sure it was because Simmons is not a big bopper at shortstop compared to a Carlos Correa or a Corey Seager.  He is definitely an honorable mention.

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Outfielders – In left field the Angels received a major upgrade with Cameron Maybin being acquired from the Detroit Tigers.  Maybin is fairly strong defensively and on the offensive side he hit pretty well too batting .315 with four homers and 43 RBI’s plus 15 stolen bases with a .381 OBP.

If Maybin had played more than 94 games and had comparable numbers he could have cracked the top 10 and been in consideration for being an all-star.  Ben Revere was also signed along with Ryan LeMarre to be back-ups and d they both could provide some depth for the team.

In center field we don’t need to saw much as the Angels have Mike Trout who is the reigning AL MVP putting up great numbers .315 batting average, 29 homers 100 RBI’s with 30 stolen bases and a .443 OBP.  He also led all of baseball with 116 walks and 123 runs scored.  Defensively you could not ask for much better than Trout.  He is the lone “star” on the Angels and means a lot to this team.

In right field Kole Calhoun holds down the fort and has done well there in the past three seasons he has been starting at that spot.  Calhoun is just below all-star level as his defense is outstanding and offensively he is solid.  Calhoun has average 20 homers and 72 RBI’s over the past three seasons.  Calhoun has a .265 batting average over that period as well.

Again that is above average, but not quite all-star worthy.  If Calhoun continues to improve he could reach this level, but we will have to see how 2017 goes before we elevate him to that status.  Nevertheless right field is a position of strength for the Angels.

Designated Hitter – This is an interesting spot depending on the health of future hall of famer Albert Pujols.  If Pujols is ready to begin the season the Angels have one of the best hitters in the game over his career who should hit close to 30 homers and drive in 100 runs or more.  If not then it will be a revolving door I believe with Jefry Marte, Luis Valbuena, and even C.J. Cron managing this spot in the line-up.  We will just have to wait and see.

Starting Rotation –

1. Garrett Richards – If Richards can stay healthy for a full season (he has only done this once in three years as a full-time starter) he could be considered an elite pitcher and definitely crack the top 10 best pitchers in baseball and make the all-star team.  However, that has not been in the cards so far.  However this could happen any year hopefully in 2017.

2. Tyler Skaggs – Here is another young Angel hurler that has amazing potential if he can stay healthy.  Skaggs and Richards could be a deadly combination that could carry the Angels a long way in 2017. Let’s hope.

3.  Matt Shoemaker – Shoemaker has been amazing at times and terrible at other times.  If he can put together two strong halves like he did in his rookie season of 2014 he could really elevate the Angels staff.  Last season after being sent to the minors in early May with a 1-4 record and an ERA of 9.15, Shoemaker bounced back to have a great rest of the season finishing with a 9-13 record with an ERA of 3.88.

Shoemaker’s rookie year was even more impressive when Shoemaker went 16-4 with a 3.04 ERA. We will see which Shoemaker this Spring.  Hopefully there will be no ill-effects of his late August beaning by a line drive off the bat of the Mariners Kyle Seager.

4.  Ricky Nolasco – Nolasco pitched pretty well after his trade to the Angels in late July.  He finished with a 4-6 record and a 3.21 ERA after having a horrible year with the Minnesota Twins going 4-8 with a 5.13 ERA.  . What was even more encouraging for the Angels and Nolasco was his 1.07 WHIP and his opponents only hit .232 against him.

If Nolasco can continues this into 2017 the Angels got a steal.

5. The fifth starting spot is still up for grabs with rookie Alex Meyer considered to be the front-runner along with veteran Bud Norris and Jesse Chavez.  This spot will not produce any all-stars this season, but with Meyer in the mix he could reach that potential once he gains more big league experience.

The Bullpen- The Angels bullpen was in shambles most of the first half of the season due to injuries and ineffectiveness.  The group found it’s groove later in the season thanks to a break out year by potential closer Cam Bedrosian and veteran potential closer Andrew Bailey who both pitched well for the Angels.  The question is the health of closer Huston Street.  Street has been stellar throughout most of his 1.5 seasons with the Angels saving 41 of 47 games for the Angels.

Injuries cost Street most of the season and led to a 3-2 record with a 6.45 ERA when he did pitch.

If all three of these guys can pitch well this season the Angels can have one of the strongest bullpens in the league.  Let’s hope so.

Next: Will C.J. Cron hold on to his job?

All in all the Angels have the makings of a much stronger team in 2017.  If things go their way and they avoid major injuries it could be a very good year maybe even a great year.  It could happen.