On the eve of 1st Spring Training game LA Angels filled with anticipation & questions.

CINCINNATI, OH - SEPTEMBER 25: Matt Harvey #32 of the Cincinnati Reds throws a pitch against the Kansas City Royals at Great American Ball Park on September 25, 2018 in Cincinnati, Ohio. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
CINCINNATI, OH - SEPTEMBER 25: Matt Harvey #32 of the Cincinnati Reds throws a pitch against the Kansas City Royals at Great American Ball Park on September 25, 2018 in Cincinnati, Ohio. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images) /

The LA Angels have made a lot of moves this off-season which has filled in a lot of holes on the roster.  Will these moves pay off and help the Angels get back to the promiseland of the MLB playoffs.

On the eve of the first Spring Training game on Saturday against the San Francisco Giants the LA Angels go in with cautious optimism.  One of the biggest questions is whether or not the starting rotation will one, be able to stay healthy, and two be effective this season.  Both of the answers to this same question last season would have been a resounding NO!

In 2018 only one starter, Andrew Heaney, made 30 starts during the season.  The rest of the opening day rotation ended up on the disabled list Matt Shoemaker, J.C. Ramirez, Tyler Skaggs, Garrett Richards, and Shohei Ohtani.  Ohtani, Richards, and Ramirez were lost for the season, and Shoemaker also missed the majority of the season before coming back in September.  Ohtani was still able to hit in the second half of the season, but couldn’t pitch.

Shoemaker and Richards are no longer with the team and Ramirez will start the season on the disabled list as he is trying to recover from Tommy John surgery. This season’s starting rotation includes Heaney and Skaggs, but it will be filled out with some new names. Matt Harvey and Trevor Cahill were signed via-free agency this winter to help anchor the rotation.  The fifth starter role is up in the air with last year’s rookie surprise Jaime Barria being the most likely candidate to fill this role.

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The other options for the 5th starter are Nick Tropeano (coming off Tommy John Surgery as well), Felix Pena, and newly acquired Dillon Peters who will start tomorrow’s first Spring game. J.C. Ramirez could end up in the mix upon returning from the disabled list around mid-season.

If the staff remains healthy is one big thing, but the other more important thing is whether or not the pitchers in the rotation will be effective.  Tyler Skaggs and Andrew Heaney were decently effective, but fell far below what was expected from them.

Skaggs was 8-10 with a 4.02 ERA or 1.33 WHIP. Decent numbers for a number four or five starter, but not for a number one / number two starter.  The same goes for Andrew Heaney. Heaney was 9-10 with a 4.15 ERA and a 1.20 WHIP which was slightly better than Skaggs but still not numbers you would like from a front of the rotation starter.

Matt Harvey and Trevor Cahill the two key acquisitions the Angels made are also question marks due to both health and effectiveness. Harvey was once the ace of the New York Mets staff. However, over the past four years Harvey has battled both injuries and inconsistency.  He has already had a slight setback this Spring straining a glute muscle which has caused him to be out for 10 days.  He is throwing again so he should be ready to make his first Spring start in the next week or so.

The Angels also upgraded their bullpen signing Cody Allen who they hope will bounce back from a sub-par 2018 season.  They also added Luis Garcia in a trade with the Phillies as well as John Curtiss, Peters, and Dan Jennings.  The latter two will possibly be in line for the lefty specialist role along with Williams Jerez, who was acquired from Boston last summer for Ian Kinsler.

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Ty Buttery will also be a new arm in the bullpen.  Buttery was also acquired in the Kinsler trade and was the Angels’ closer in September, performing admirably collecting four saves in six opportunities with a 3.31 ERA.  Buttery’s ERA was under one until one bad outing against Houston in late September ballooned it to from 0.59 to 2.93 as he gave up four runs without retiring a batter.

Keynan Middleton will also be a welcome addition when he returns from Tommy John surgery near mid-season.

On the hitting side the Angels added two key pieces in catcher Jonathan Lucroy and first baseman Justin Bour.  Lucroy brings stability to catching position after Martin Maldonado was traded last July to Houston.  Bour gives the Angels a left-handed power bat that play first base and also DH.

The biggest question mark is who will play second and third base this season. David Fletcher and Taylor Ward finished the season at second and third, but now there is up and coming prospect Luis Rengifo, Tommy La Stella (acquired from the Cubs), and Zack Cozart, who was injured for the second half of the season.  Cozart is pretty much assured of a starting job at either second or third base.  That leaves the other four to battle for a starting spot and then one utility spot.

The favorite has to be David Fletcher who performed very well in half of the season with the Angels in 2018.  La Stella will most likely be the utility infielder since he can play 2nd, 3rd, and shortstop and is he is also an accomplished pinch-hitter.  This means that Taylor Ward and Luis Rengifo will have to have a stellar Spring in order to unseat Fletcher and earn a roster spot.

The final question marks are when will Japanese phenom Shohei Ohtani be able to return to the line-up in the designated hitter spot, and how will new Angel manager mesh this roster together and begin the post-Mike Scioscia era.  Ausmus does have managerial experience. Ausmus also knows the team pretty well after serving as general manager Billy Eppler’s right-hand man which should make the transistion to the manager’s chair pretty seemless. As for Ohtani, his return will be a big lift to the line-up as well. Ohtani won’t be able to pitch, but can hit as the DH all season once hie is healthy and last year he hit close to .300 and hit 22 homers

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So as we get ready for tomorrow and the start of the Spring Training schedule I am cautiously optimistic that this year’s team could be the one that gets the Angels back to the playoffs.  There are a lot of questions, but if things go right I think the Angels have a team that could be pretty special under new manager Brad Ausmus.

Let’s get it on!!!!