2014 Fantasy Outlooks: Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim
The Angels made some significant changes this winter, trading away some offense for more pitching. Our Al Melchior examines the 2014 roster for Fantasy gems.
Having finished with an 89-73 record in 2012, the Angels seemed to be a missing piece or two away from returning to the playoffs for the first time since 2009. They attempted to add one of those pieces by signing Josh Hamilton, but the arrival of the former Rangers slugger was not enough to prevent the Halos from heading in the wrong direction, as they wound up a disappointing 78-84.
Hamilton was actually part of the problem, not the solution, as his home run production was sliced by more than half (from 43 to 21) and he hit a career-low .250. Meanwhile, the previous season's major acquisition, Albert Pujols, experienced his fourth straight year of decline. With plantar fasciitis getting the better of him, last year's downturn was particularly steep, as Pujols mustered a .258/.330/.437 slash line before sitting out the final two months of the season. It also didn't help that the Angels lost three-fifths of their rotation heading into 2013, and as starters, replacements Jason Vargas, Garrett Richards, Jerome Williams, Joe Blanton and Tommy Hanson collectively posted a 4.82 ERA over a combined 99 starts.
For those more inclined to view the glass as half-full, despite these problems, the Angels had a shot at a winning record going into the season's final week, and there were a number of positives that played a role in that. Mike Trout obviously tops that list, actually improving on his improbably superb 2012 rookie season and finishing again as the runner-up in the American League Most Valuable Player voting. Mark Trumbo delivered another 30-plus home run campaign, and rookie Kole Calhoun provided some unexpected thump and run production, as he picked up the slack when Pujols sat in August and September.
In fact, despite the lackluster showings by Hamilton and Pujols, the Angels ranked seventh in the majors in runs scored, but they also owned the seventh-highest ERA. This offseason, general manager Jerry Dipoto took a step towards addressing that imbalance, dealing Trumbo to the Diamondbacks as part of a three-way trade with the White Sox, and getting back starting pitchers Tyler Skaggs and Hector Santiago. Jered Weaver and C.J. Wilson will head up the rotation once again, and Richards, who pitched well down the stretch last year, should settle in as the No. 3 starter. Skaggs and Santiago are the leading candidates to round out the rotation.
The Angels' biggest additions to their lineup are Raul Ibanez and David Freese, but neither is likely to fill the hole in the middle of the order left by Trumbo. Ibanez did slug 29 homers last year with the Mariners, but he will turn 42 this June, so 2013 could have been his last hurrah. Freese can hit for average with moderate power, but both were mysteriously absent in his final year with the Cardinals. The middle of the Angels' order is full of question marks, and if they go with Erick Aybar in the leadoff spot, the team's mashers may be lacking in run producing opportunities. His four straight years of sub-.330 on-base percentages have not helped the Angels, and his stolen base trend -- from 30 in '11 to 20 in '12 to 12 in '13 -- have not helped Fantasy owners.
Among the Angels' everyday players, only Trout, Pujols and Hamilton are worth drafting across all standard mixed league formats, though Calhoun and second baseman Howie Kendrick have value for Rotisserie owners. Weaver and Wilson are top 50 starting pitchers, and Richards is worth drafting in deeper Head-to-Head leagues for his dual SP/RP eligibility. Closer Ernesto Frieri is a low-end option in standard mixed leagues, and as he showed last season, his extreme flyball tendencies make him vulnerable at times.
For a team that has made some big splashes in the free agent market over the last few seasons, it seems odd that their only elite-level Fantasy option is a 22-year-old who came up through the organization's minor league system. Then again, Pujols and Hamilton are not far removed from being must-starts in Fantasy, and Weaver was a top 10 pitcher in Fantasy as recently as 2012. With the exception of Trout, chasing after Angels on Draft Day is fraught with risk, but with a few good breaks, the payoff could be Fantasy heaven.
Buyer beware ... Albert Pujols, first baseman/designated hitter
Pujols is reportedly fully recovered from the torn plantar fascia that wreaked havoc on his 2013 season, but even at 100 percent, there are reasons to doubt that he can return to his prior elite form. His power and plate discipline have been eroding steadily, and at 34, Pujols may not recover those skills or be free of future ailments. Even if he gets back to hitting 30 home runs with a .280 batting average, that probably won't be enough for him to keep pace with the likes of Edwin Encarnacion and Prince Fielder. He may not even match the production of Freddie Freeman and Eric Hosmer, though at least Pujols has demonstrated the upside of a .300 hitter with 35-plus home run power. He just hasn't shown it in either of the last two seasons. Owners have grown accustomed to taking Pujols in the very early rounds, but given his recent history, it's best to let at least the first 40 picks elapse before giving thought to taking him.
Rotisserie gem ... Howie Kendrick, second baseman
Kendrick is about as unexciting as a player can be for Fantasy purposes. He doesn't excel in any standard Fantasy category, and he's downright unhelpful with walks. Even though Kendrick frequently misses time with injury, he manages to be relevant in standard mixed Rotisserie leagues every year, since he consistently hits around .290 and is a decent run-producer. Kendrick's secret to Roto success isn't the most glamorous: he almost never pops out. So while Kendrick doesn't have great contact skills, his ability to get hits on balls in play makes him a reliable contributor in the batting average, runs and RBI categories. Poor plate discipline makes him a hazard for points league owners, but he's a worthy late-round option in Roto if you missed out on one of the top second basemen.
Closer-in-waiting ... Dane De La Rosa, relief pitcher
|2.||Dane De La Rosa||RHP|
As mentioned above, Frieri is not one of Fantasy's more reliable relief options, and the presence of De La Rosa might mean a short leash for the Angels' incumbent closer. In fact, after a difficult midseason stretch last year, manager Mike Scioscia had Frieri and De La Rosa briefly share closing duties. Though De La Rosa doesn't get whiffs at quite the same rate as Frieri, he is much better at avoiding extra-base hits. Along with Rex Brothers and Joaquin Benoit, De La Rosa is one of the better relief options in Fantasy, once all of the annointed closers are off the boards.
The past year has not been especially kind to the Angels' minor league system. Third baseman Kaleb Cowart and first baseman C.J. Cron entered 2013 as two of the organization's most promising prospects, and both put up underwhelming numbers at Double-A Arkansas. It's not surprising to see players experience a drop in power after leaving the Advanced Class A California League, but they were especially power-deprived last year. Randal Grichuk did fare well after making the jump to Arkansas, but he was dealt along with Peter Bourjos to the Cardinals for Freese and reliever Fernando Salas ... Taylor Lindsey also took a step forward at Arkansas, bashing 17 home runs and hitting .274, and he is now widely considered the Angels' best prospect. Especially if the team moves Kendrick at some point this year, Lindsey could take over as the starting second baseman or at least inherit the utility role from Grant Green ... If Freese struggles or gets hurt, 26-year-old Luis Jimenez could get another shot at third base, where he could provide a combination of moderate power and speed ... Hunter Green is the organization's top pitching prospect, but at 18, he is years away from the majors, but is worth owning in dynasty leagues.
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