2017 Fantasy Baseball Draft Prep: Angels outlook beyond Mike Trout doesn't look much different
Can the Angels build a playoff team around Mike Trout? It shouldn't be this hard, Chris Towers says.
Building a playoff team around Mike Trout should be one of the easiest jobs in baseball. He's a perennial MVP favorite; A walking, running, catching, throwing and slugging five-tool, 10-game head start in the standings.
And yet, here are the Angels, entering Year 6 of the Trout era with no playoff wins to show for it. Trout is an incredible force, but even he can't single-handedly drag this team to respectability. Even mighty Trout needs help, and the Angels, to their credit, have tried to get him some. The problem is, they don't have many assets or flexibility with which to make big moves.
It's hard to be excited about the likes of Danny Espinosa, Cameron Maybin or Martin Maldonado, but that collection could at least represent some minor upgrades across the board. The bigger problem is a pitching staff built around hugely risky guys like Garrett Richards, Matt Shoemaker and Tyler Skaggs. That could be a nice trio at the top of the rotation, but injuries and limited track records make each of them a risk.
If nothing else, the Angels might have put a high-variance roster around Trout, one that can at least contend for a playoff spot if everything clicks. That's hardly the ideal way to utilize Trout, but it could be an upgrade over last season. At this point, small victories loom large.
Is there even another candidate for the No. 1 pick?
At their best, other players can top Trout in Fantasy. Bryce Harper did it two years ago, and Mookie Betts did it last year. It's not inconceivable that Kris Bryant could do it this year. However, nobody's ever done it twice, and it takes a pretty gargantuan effort just to edge him out.
In Betts' case, it took some of the best run production numbers of the decade in a historically-great offense. Harper needed to be possessed by the spirit of Ted Williams to top Trout. If you have to No. 1 pick, you might get the thought in your head that someone else might be worthy of the honor. Dismiss it.
The scary thing is, it's entirely possible we haven't seen Trout at his best. His peak as a power hitter came in 2015, and his plate discipline has never been better than it was in 2016. He drove in a career-high 111 runs in 2014, and scored a career-high 129 in 2012. Trout has never had an '06 Ryan Howard or '15 Bryce Harper -- or '16 Mookie Betts, for that matter -- season where absolutely everything goes right.
At their best, other players can come close to Trout. How good can he be at his best? It's not worth passing on him to find out.
Can Garrett Richards stay healthy?
A few years ago, opting to avoid Tommy John surgery seemed like nothing more than delaying the inevitable. However, Masahiro Tanaka has (mostly successfully) come back from a partially torn UCL without surgery, and advances in modern medicine have opened up a wider range of possibilities.
Richards' opted to forgo Tommy John surgery after tearing his UCL last year, and went a step further than Tanaka and his PRP injections. Richards had his ligament treated with stem cells in addition. This is a largely untested procedure at the major-league level for an injury of this severity, so Richards isn't just pitching for himself. He could be pitching for untold elbows of pitchers to come. Of course, he has to actually get on a mound and contribute, and that looks like a huge question mark.
When he's right, Richards has all of the makings of an ace, but it's fair to wonder if he can sustain elite velocity while trying to stay healthy, and if not, whether he can still be an ace with diminished stuff. Given that he is almost certainly going to have his innings and pitches closely monitored this season, Richards might not be worth the trouble, even with his immense upside.
Who will be the closer?
Based solely on last season, Cam Bedrosian looked like the obvious choice to close out games for the Angels over Huston Street. Bedrosian overcame control issues in his first two seasons to post a 1.12 ERA, while striking out 11.4 batters per nine over his 40 1/3 innings of work, a strong rate. Street, on the other hand, regressed badly amid an injury-marred campaign, stumbling to a 6.45 ERA in 22 1/3 innings, with just two more strikeouts (14) than walks (12).
Of course, what happened last year is just an imperfect predictor for what will happen this year, and it can't take into account something like a manager's whims. If Street is healthy, he has a great chance of closing, given his experience in the job. Add in Bedrosian's mixed track record, and there's no guarantee he gets the job, even if he looks like the much higher upside option.
If we get close to the start of the season and there is no clarity on whose job it will be, bet on the guy who strikes out nearly a third of opposing batters faced. Just know no matter which you pick, there's a coin flip's chance you pick the wrong one, so don't go after them too early.
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