Angels camp report: Likes, dislikes
What I like, and dislike, about the Angels. ...
TEMPE, Ariz. -- What I like, and dislike, about the Angels:
• A full season of Mike Trout. You can make a strong argument that the Angels cost themselves a playoff spot last year by leaving Trout in the minors for most of the month of April. That argument will not be available in 2013. Trout will open the season atop the Angels' batting order, and it will take an Act of Congress to move him off of this team. Even playing only five months last year, Trout finished second to Miguel Cabrera in the AL MVP voting and won the Rookie of the Year award, hitting .326 with 30 homers, 83 RBI, 129 runs scored and 49 stolen bases. Watching him over a full season should be some kind of fun.
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• Angels have a devilish middle of the lineup. Two-time MVP Albert Pujols (.285, 30 homers, 105 RBI in 2012) is expected to hit third, 2010 AL MVP Josh Hamilton (.285, 43 homers, 128 RBI with Texas last year) will hit fourth and Mark Trumbo (.268, a team-leading 32 homers and 95 RBI) will hit fifth. Manager Mike Scioscia earlier this winter toyed with hitting Hamilton second, but he's too aggressive and whiffs too often to be an ideal two-hole hitter. Hamilton led the majors last year in swinging at pitches outside of the strike zone (45.4 percent). Still, when he connects, which is often, it is a thing of beauty.
• Outfield defense. The Angels essentially will deploy three center fielders: Trout in left, Peter Bourjos in center and Hamilton in right. Trout is a human highlight reel with blazing speed, so you know if the Angels are shoving him over to left from center ... Bourjos must be unbelievable. And he is, both with the glove and in his speed. The big debate among scouts over the past year is who is faster, Trout or Bourjos? Consensus: Bourjos is faster running straight, Trout is faster circling the bases. Either way, with the skilled Hamilton as well, the Angels' outfield should be where many would-be hits go to die. Fly balls are hereby put on notice. “It will give us a lot of confidence to throw the ball, attack the strike zone and not be too fine,” giddy reliever Ernesto Frieri says.
• Wanted: A No. 2 hitter to sandwich between leadoff man Mike Trout and Albert Pujols. This was an issue early last year, too, before Scioscia moved Torii Hunter into the two spot and the Angels took off. Hunter arguably was the team's MVP during the month of September. But with him in Detroit, Scioscia will choose this spring from a pool that includes third baseman Alberto Callaspo, shortstop Erick Aybar and second baseman Howie Kendrick. Scioscia will spend much of the spring evaluating this, among other things. Callaspo is a switch-hitter and is a little more patient than the other two, so don't be surprised if he winds up being the guy despite a lifetime .247 average and .303 on-base percentage in 85 career starts. Whomever it is, the Angel will have difficulty matching what Hunter did last year over 85 games batting second: .343 with 69 RBI.
• Weakened rotation. Wholesale changes abound behind ace Jered Weaver (there is absolutely zero weakened about him) and C.J. Wilson, where Tommy Hanson (acquired in a trade with the Braves), Joe Blanton (signed as a free agent) and Jason Vargas (acquired from the Mariners in the Kendry Morales deal) will pitch. In their primes, Dan Haren and Ervin Santana were better, but age started to catch up with Haren last year and Santana's maddening inconsistency finally earned him a ticket out. This will be a case of quantity over quality: Vargas threw 217 1/3 innings for the Mariners last season (14-11, 3.85), Blanton 191 for the Phillies and Dodgers combined (10-13, 4.71) and Hanson 174 2/3 for the Braves (13-10, 4.48). If this trio matches or exceeds that workload, the Angels will be in good shape.
• Ryan Madson's elbow. The new and would-be Angels' closer hasn't thrown since Feb. 1 after experiencing a setback in his surgically repaired elbow. Given that he missed the entire 2012 season following Tommy John ligament transfer surgery, and given that no small part of the reason the Angels fell nine games behind Texas in the season's first month in 2012 was because of a shaky bullpen, this is not the way you want to begin spring camp. Madson was hoping to be ready for the April 1 season opener in Cincinnati, but that is almost certainly out now.
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