Once a near-perennial playoff team -- they made the playoffs six out of eight years from 2002-09 -- the Angels have only made the playoffs once in the last 11 years. They've had the best player in baseball for the better part of a decade and haven't been able to put the right mix around him for a deep playoff run. After a pair of 80-win seasons, the Angels regressed to 72-90 last season.
This past offseason, the Angels made a major splash by signing free agent star third baseman Anthony Rendon. In the dugout, they grabbed another star in manager Joe Maddon, who returns to the organization he called home for 30 years.
Further, two-way threat Shohei Ohtani is full go after returning from Tommy John surgery on the mound.
Will the changes be enough to get the Angels back to the playoffs and help give Mike Trout the national, playoff spotlight he deserves? Let's dive in.
Win total projection, odds
- 2020 Sportsline projection: 30-30
- World Series odds (via William Hill Sportsbook): 18/1
- 2019 record: 72-90
- Tommy La Stella, 2B
- Mike Trout, CF
- Anthony Rendon, 3B
- Shohei Ohtani, DH
- Albert Pujols, 1B
- Justin Upton, LF
- Brian Goodwin, RF
- Andrelton Simmons, SS
- Jason Castro, C
There's some serious thunder there, if everyone stays on the field and hits like they can. La Stella had 16 homers in 80 games last year before breaking his leg. We know plenty about Trout and Rendon. In 710 career MLB at-bats, Ohtani has 41 doubles, seven triples, 40 homers and a .532 slugging percentage. Pujols' prime is far in the rearview, but he still hit 23 homers in 131 games last year. Upton had a forgettable 2019, but he's still 32 years old and topped 30 homers in each of the 2016-18 seasons. The only sure things are Trout, Rendon and maybe Ohtani, but there's big potential here if everyone hits their upside.
- Andrew Heaney, LHP
- Dylan Bundy, RHP
- Griffin Canning, RHP
- Matt Andriese, RHP
- Jaime Barria, RHP
- Shohei Ohtani, RHP
It appears they will again go with the plan that Ohtani starts once a week, which means a six-man rotation. Canning suffered elbow issues in the spring, but has gotten a platelet-rich plasma injection and has said he feels healthy and "normal." He's definitely someone to watch.
- Closer: RHP Hansel Robles
- Setup: RHP Ty Buttrey, RHP Kenyan Middleton, RHP Cam Bedrosian
- Middle: RHP Noe Ramirez, RHP Justin Anderson, LHP Ryan Buchter, RHP Mike Mayers, RHP Luke Bard, LHP Patrick Sandoval
- Long: RHP Felix Pena
That's an awful lot of no-names, no? Robles actually emerged to have an excellent season as closer once the Cody Allen thing didn't work out in 2019. Those worrying that last season was a fluke for Robles should rest assured that his development of a killer changeup is what has pushed him forward. That isn't going away. He's a good anchor.
After plucking Rendon via free agency, the Angels now boast the best left-side infield defense in baseball. Rendon and Simmons will make beautiful music together on the left side. Who might like that?
Newcomer Dylan Bundy induced grounders 41.5 percent of the time last season. Matt Andriese was over 50 percent. It would behoove the other members of the rotation to try and get contact to the left side, but Bundy and Andriese should see a bump in production in 2020 thanks to the Simmons-Rendon combo.
As noted, Bundy and Andriese have joined the organization and are likely to enjoy the change of scenery.
If Canning can stay healthy, he's a decent breakout candidate. He's their best homegrown pitching prospect in a long time. He's had dominant stretches in the minors and last season looked like a mid-rotation starter in his 90 1/3 MLB innings. In his age-24 season, expect another step forward, assuming he can avoid injury.
Barria was absolutely torched last season with the long ball being the main culprit. He was good as a 21-year-old rookie in 2018, though, and a bounce-back season is possible. If he pitches to that 3.41 ERA as he did two years ago, he's a nice mid-rotation guy for the Halos.
The Angels also signed veteran righty Julio Teheran in the offseason, but he has not yet reported to camp.
And, of course, there's Ohtani. In 10 starts as a rookie, he was 4-2 with a 3.31 ERA (127 ERA+), 1.16 WHIP and 63 strikeouts in 51 2/3 innings. At times, he looked like the most dominant pitcher in baseball. At others, he was knocked around and couldn't find his command. The upside is ace, though.
Getting good versions of Ohtani, Canning and even Barria would do wonders for this rotation. Bundy and Andriese don't have much untapped upside, but all they have to do is be productive and it's an improvement. That's a good thing, considering Angels starters were 28-60 with a 5.64 ERA last season. Yes. Brutal.
This rotation will look all kinds of different than what we saw out of Angels starters in 2019. If they make the playoffs -- we have to imagine what needs to happen for a playoff run -- a playoff rotation probably looks something like: Ohtani, Canning, Heaney and Bundy.
Trout has company, could use more...
We mentioned the Rendon signing multiple times but it's worth noting because Trout hasn't played with a true superstar unless you count post-prime Pujols his first few years with the club. Rendon is a true superstar.
What about adding another potential star, though? Outfielder Jo Adell is in camp and was ranked the second-best prospect in all of baseball by CBS Sports' R.J. Anderson. Here's what Anderson said about Adell in the winter:
There's a case to be made that Jo Adell is the best non-teenage prospect in baseball. That case begins with the fact that Adell is a fantastic athlete. Here, watch him do some plyometrics then check back. Done? Good. Adell can hit the ectoplasm out of the baseball just as well as he can ghost around the basepaths or in the outfield. He might finish his development with four tools that project as plus or better -- that isn't a common profile. Talking about only the pluses with top prospects can get boring, but there are few minuses to nitpick with Adell. The main one is that he's prone to swinging and missing. He struck out in roughly a third of his plate appearances in Triple-A over a 27-game stretch. But it's worth noting that he fanned a lot during his initial exposure to Double-A, only to return this year and hit .308/.390/.553 in 182 plate appearances -- with, it should be known, a greatly reduced K rate. If you want a second negative about Adell it's that he's yet to appear in 100 games in a season. (He finished with 99 in 2018.) A third? Uh ... he might never be on your favorite team. Otherwise, Adell is a very good prospect. You're going to like watching him play baseball. You should get the chance to do sometime in 2020.
Adell is only 21, but we've seen top-level prospects make the leap with great success, notably Juan Soto and Ronald Acuna in recent years. Maybe throw Adell in the nine-hole to start the year? Then he's on base for the likes of Trout, Rendon and Ohtani. Surely he'd see pitches with the top of the order right behind him.
Regardless, we'll likely see Adell make his debut this season and that's going to be fun.
The Maddon Effect
Joe Maddon took over the Devil Rays from Lou Piniella in 2006. The organization was a laughingstock and had never won more than 70 games in a season. He had two more bad years. But then in 2008, the Rays improved by 31 games and won the AL pennant. They would make the playoffs in four of six years -- despite carrying a shoestring payroll and competing against large-market titans like the Yankees and Red Sox -- and didn't again have a losing record until 2014.
Maddon next went to the Cubs. We know about the championship drought. There was lots of young talent there and they signed free agent ace Jon Lester. Still, Maddon had to work some magic to make a 73-89 team into a 97-win team that ended up in the 2015 NLCS, right? They won the World Series the next year. For the first time in club history, the Cubs made three straight NLCS appearances (2015-17) and four straight postseasons.
It's possible -- maybe even likely -- that the Cubs players tuned Maddon out last season, which fizzled out with a September collapse. Still, there's little doubt he was the right man for the job in 2015 and had a huge part in developing his young, position-playing core at Wrigley Field.
Will he have the same effect with the Angels? There are certainly some young guys who could benefit, such as Canning, Barria and Adell. As for the others, well, they haven't won together as a group. It's time Maddon taught them how to do so. He's proven himself twice before to be up to the challenge of teaching a team how to win.