Los Angeles Angels 2019 season preview: Mike Trout isn't going anywhere -- are the Angels?

The Angels are entering a new era of sorts in 2019. The club locked down the best player in baseball when Mike Trout reportedly agreed to a record-breaking 12-year, $430 million contract this week, just before the start of the regular season. The Angels eliminate the possibility of losing Trout to free agency (he was set to enter FA after the 2020 season) and now they have time to figure out how to build around him. Trout and the Angels will be fighting to make the playoffs for the first time since 2014, when they were swept out of the ALDS by the Royals.

The team will have a new manager at the helm in Brad Ausmus. Ausmus was named Mike Scioscia's successor at the end of last season. Ausmus, who managed the Tigers from 2014-17, is no stranger to the Angels organization. He spent the 2018 season as a special assistant to general manager Billy Eppler, assisting with scouting and evaluations.

The Houston Astros own the American League West, and after back-to-back 100-win seasons, they are the clear favorites to take the division title once again. But the Angels have more depth heading into 2019, and if the team can stay fully healthy, they're in a position to contend for the last Wild Card spot and snap their skid of three consecutive losing seasons.

Probable lineup

  1. Kole Calhoun, RF
  2. Mike Trout, CF
  3. Justin Upton, LF
  4. Justin Bour, 1B
  5. Albert Pujols, DH
  6. Andrelton Simmons, SS
  7. Jonathan Lucroy, C
  8. Taylor Ward, 3B
  9. David Fletcher, 2B

Bench: Shohei Ohtani, DH, Taylor Ward, 3B, Kevan Smith, C, Jefry Marte, 1B, Tommy La Stella, 1B, Peter Bourjos, OF

The Angels won't really have to address their first base/designated hitter situation until Shohei Ohtani returns in May from his Tommy John surgery. If Justin Bour can be productive for the Angels, the club might have to platoon Albert Pujols. This all depends on injuries and performance once the season gets going. It'll probably be like this for the majority of the season: Ohtani at DH, Pujols playing 1B versus LHP and DHing when Ohtani is off and Bour at 1B versus RHP.

Probable rotation

  1. Tyler Skaggs, LHP
  2. Andrew Heaney, LHP
  3. Matt Harvey, RHP
  4. Jaime Barria, RHP
  5. Trevor Cahill, RHP

Nick Tropeano, RHP, Felix Pena, RHP, Dillon Peters, LHP all add some depth to the rotation. Plus the Angels' two top pitching prospects, Jose Suarez and Griffin Canning, should both be ready to make their big league debuts this season, if needed.

Probable bullpen

Closer: Cody Allen, RHP
Setup: Cam Bedrosian, RHP, Ty Buttrey, RHP
Middle: Dan Jennings, LHP, Hansel Robles, RHP, Justin Anderson, RHP, Noe Ramirez, RHP, Luis Garcia, RHP, Taylor Cole, RHP

Building a core around Trout

The Angels deserve some serious credit for locking down Mike Trout. But now comes the hard part. The Angels have struggled to build a winning team about their franchise player for years. Now with Trout set to likely retire in an Angels uniform, the team should do everything it can to give him the best chances to lead the team to success.

They'll need to supplement the big league roster (especially their pitching staff) with young talent and/or use their farm system depth to make some trades. The Angels can also use free agency to improve the team, but if more top talents do the same as Trout and Nolan Arenado and sign extensions instead of testing free agency, then there might be less top talent to pick from in future free agencies. 

MLB: Oakland Athletics at Los Angeles Angels
Mike Trout has yet to win a playoff game with the team that drafted him as the 25th pick of the 2009 MLB Draft. USATSI

Success for the Angels ultimately depends on the organization's willingness to reshape the organization so that Trout has stronger pieces surrounding him. The good thing is that they're a large-market team with financial flexibility. Despite the hefty contract commitments to Albert Pujols (through 2021) and Justin Upton (through 2022), the team should be able to maintain the urgency to spend for the right players to compliment Trout. 

Another upside to the Angels' process of building a competitive foundation is their farm system. The Angels farm system has quickly improved since 2016 when it rated as one of the worst in baseball. ESPN's Keith Law recently ranked the Angels' system No. 7. That's a jump from No. 19 in 2018, which was also an improvement from 27th in 2017. There's outfielder Jo Adell, a powerful and athletic player who could make his MLB debut in 2019 as well as pitchers Griffin Canning and Jose Suarez who are very close to their call-ups too.

Rotation health will once again be a concern

Just like the Angels' future is largely dependent on a consistent core of talent to supplement Mike Trout, it also revolves around the health of the starting pitching staff. No team in baseball has had more difficulty putting out a healthy rotation over the past three seasons than the Angels. The injuries to the rotation last season included: losing Shohei Ohtani to Tommy John surgery (only 10 starts in 2018), Garrett Richards missing a bulk of the season with elbow issues (he left for the Padres in free agency), Nick Tropeano spending three stints on the shelf with shoulder inflammation, Matt Shoemaker making just one start before missing the rest of the season with an elbow strain and Tyler Skaggs spending three stints on the IL because of an adductor strain. The Angels used 16 starters last year. Jaime Barria led the staff with 10 wins.

They tried to make big-time upgrades this winter, but fell short on signing both Nathan Eovaldi and Patrick Corbin. So the rotation that posted a 4.17 ERA in 2018 (19th in the majors) brought in Trevor Cahill and Matt Harvey to round things out. Although the Angels' starting pitching is still undoubtedly the weakest aspect of this team and heading into 2019 without their ace in Ohtani, they still have a chance to bounce back if the majority of pitchers stay healthy. And worst case scenario, at least the Angels have more pitching depth (Griffin Canning, Jose Suarez) in case injuries strike again.

Questions for Ohtani, Pujols in 2019

The obvious concern for both Albert Pujols and Shohei Ohtani is how the two players will hold up in 2019. Pujols, at 39-years-old, isn't as strong as he used to be, and after ending his 2018 season early following knee surgery (he also had bone spur removal surgery), we don't really know how he'll look after rehabbing this offseason. Ohtani is set to hit in 2019 while he continues rehabbing from his Tommy John surgery this past October.

angels-shohei-ohtani.jpg
Shohei Ohtani remains on track to return as a designated hitter in May. USATSI

To start the season, Pujols will likely be the team's everyday designated hitter until Ohtani returns. Justin Bour, whom the Angels signed this past December, will likely play first base. But when Ohtani returns, the Angels are going to want him in the lineup. When Ohtani isn't playing, Pujols will probably go back to DH and when Ohtani is in the lineup, first base will have to switch between Pujols and Bour platoon.

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