PRESEASON PREVIEW: Los Angeles Angels

Will Finley lead the Angels back?

The Angels have been through quite a few changes this off-season. On January 3, the Angels announced their official name change to the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, sparking much debate (and some laughter) in the baseball world. The move is meant to "strengthen the Angels' long-term economic health by enhancing the marketability through [the Los Angeles] metropolitan area and beyond." In addition to their new name, there will be plenty of new faces on the field in 2005.

ADDITIONS:

INF Maicer Izturis (trade); OF Juan Rivera (trade); RHP Dustin Moseley (trade); SS Orlando Cabrera (free agent – 4 years); RHP Paul Byrd (free-agent – 1 year); RHP Esteban Yan (free agent – 2 years); OF Steve Finley (free agent – 2 years with option for 2007); INF/OF Kendry Morales (free agent – 6 years); 2B Lou Merloni (free agent – minor league contract).

LOSSES:

OF Jose Guillen (traded to Washington); INF Alfredo Amezaga (claimed off waivers by Colorado); RHP Ramon Ortiz (traded to Cincinnati); 3B Troy Glaus (free agent – Arizona); Right-handed Closer Troy Percival (free agent – Detroit); SS David Eckstein (free agent – St. Louis); 1B Andres Galarraga (free agent – Mets minor league contract); 3B Shane Halter (free agent – Tampa Bay minor league contract); OF Raul Mondesi (free agent – Atlanta); 2B Adam Riggs (free agent – Japan); RHP Aaron Sele (free agent – Seattle).

PROJECTED LINEUP:

1: 2B Chone Figgins/Adam Kennedy

2: 1B Darin Erstad

3: RF Vladimir Guerrero

4: LF Garret Anderson

5: CF Steve Finley

6: SS Orlando Cabrera

7: 3B Dallas McPherson

8: C Bengie Molina

9: DH Robb Quinlan

Chone Figgins will be filling in at second base for the recovering Adam Kennedy, who had reconstructive knee surgery. Figgins made a name for himself last season as the Angels "super sub," filling in quite successfully wherever he was needed. The Angels, who are always finding room for Figgy in their lineup, will need to find a new place for him once Kennedy returns.

The American League Gold Glove winner at first base, Darin Erstad, is back to defend his title. Ersty's role will be the same as it always was: playing all-out on the field, and setting the table at the plate. No one defends the bag like Erstad, but the Angels have 1B Casey Kotchman and 1B Kendry Morales waiting on deck.

What is there to say about Vladimir Guerrero? The guy is a monster! He lived up to every expectation in 2004, carrying the team on his back most of the way. He was the Angels MVP and the AL MVP. He will prove to be the same steady right fielder with awesome defense and powerful offense.

Garret Anderson is looking to come back from his first injury-ridden season. He will make the move from center field back to left field, which will hopefully take some pressure off his arthritic body. Anderson is said to be feeling great with little or no pain. The team is hoping that he can return to his consistent success at the plate.

Former Dodger, Steve Finley, will be filling the hole at center field. Finley, a 16-year veteran, brings experience and success to the position at center. He is a four-time Gold Glove winner and leads all active players in career triples with 109. His walk-off grand slam in the 9th inning vs. the Giants on October 1 clinched the NL West for Los Angeles. The Angels are excited to see what Finley can do for them behind Guerrero and Anderson in the lineup.

When the Angels signed Orlando Cabrera, the acquisition left no room for SS David Eckstein, and the Angels did not offer him a 2005 contract. The fan favorite's departure shocked Angel's fans, as the St. Louis Cardinals quickly scooped up the free agent. Eckstein's departure left a hole in some of the fan's hearts, but he won't leave a hole at shortstop. Cabrera is known for his nice range on the field and has a career .977 fielding percentage as a shortstop. The Angels expect him to be a great asset on the field.

Cabrera's nice range should help out the rookie third baseman, Dallas McPherson. McPherson proved himself nicely with a bat last season, filling in for the injured Troy Glaus. The Angels liked his performance so much that they decided to give him his chance at third by not signing the free agent Glaus. McPherson has a good eye at the plate with plenty of power, but it is his defense that needs some practice. The Angels hope that he can follow in Glaus' successful third baseman shoes.

The two-time Gold Glover, Bengie Molina, will continue to provide direction as the Angel's backstop. Molina will continue to be one of the best catcher's in baseball and hopefully provide consistency with his bat. The only downfall to Bengie is his base running speed, but that is no surprise to anyone.

Robb Quinlan also proved himself last season with his glove at third base and his bat. Quinlan made no errors at third and had a 21-game hit streak, before his season ended with a torn oblique muscle. He was also named Rookie of the Month for July. The Angels have plenty of other choices at DH, but Quinlan will fit in nicely here. If McPherson doesn't do well at third, Quinlan could be a contender there as well.

BENCH:

OF Juan Rivera

OF Jeff DaVanon

DH Tim Salmon

1B Casey Kotchman

SS Maicer Izturis

INF/OF Kendry Morales

C Jose Molina

C Josh Paul

The Angels have always been known for their great depth on the bench. If someone gets hurt, there will always be a backup. Rivera is a new addition to this depth and will be competing with DaVanon for at bats and playing time in the reserve role.

Tim Salmon is coming off of knee and shoulder surgery, so it is likely that he will only see time at DH. How much time he will see at that position is yet to be determined. It is likely that he will miss most of the season, not returning until possibly August, September, or later. However, with Quinlan and all of the new additions, DH will be a stacked position.

Casey Kotchman came up from AA last year to fill the shoes of the injured Erstad. During that time he proved that he was ready for the big leagues. He and Maicer Izturis will probably fill most of their time coming in off the bench as late-inning replacements and might start games when Scioscia wants to give his starters a day off. If Kendry Morales makes the major league team, then he too would factor in as a utility player or a pinch hitter.

The Angels will never be out of catchers with two on the bench. Last season, Jose Molina split time with his brother Bengie in the catcher role. Jose is just as effective as Bengie and brings a little bit more speed to the plate. Josh Paul mostly saw time last year as a pinch hitter, but held his own in the catcher role as well.

ROTATION:

RH Bartolo Colon

RH Kelvim Escobar

LH Jarrod Washburn

RH Paul Byrd

RH John Lackey

Bartolo Colon had some ups and downs in 2004, but he is still considered the number one pitcher and will more than likely be the Opening Day starter.

Kelvim Escobar deserves the number two slot, as he was the most consistent pitcher the Angels had during the 2004 campaign. You wouldn't know he was the most consistent pitcher from his win-loss record, but there were many games where he pitched 1 run baseball and still lost.

Jarrod Washburn, once considered the ace of the staff, still holds his own on the mound. He serves as the only lefty starter on the mound, which gives him some leverage. Last season, he pitched his first complete game shutout, proving that there's still plenty more where that came from.

Paul Byrd and John Lackey will be vying for the fourth spot. Lackey had some ups and downs in his second complete season. He too pitched a complete game shutout in 2004, and won 11 of his last 17 decisions of the season.

Paul Byrd came back from Tommy John surgery on June 19 of last season while he was with the Atlanta Braves. He made 19 starts and had a record of 8-7. He allowed three earned runs or less in 15 of his 19 starts. The Angels are looking to him to add more consistency in their rotation.

BULLPEN:

Closer Francisco Rodriguez

MR Brendan Donnelly

MR/LR Scot Shields

MR/LR Kevin Gregg

MR Scott Dunn/Matt Hensley

MR/LR Esteban Yan

The Angels decided not to sign free agent Troy Percival in favor of Francisco Rodriguez (K-Rod). K-Rod filled in for the injured Percival quite a bit last season, thus proving that he was ready for the closer role. K-Rod was lights out in 2004, with 123 strikeouts in 84 innings of work, and will only get better in the closer role in 2005.

Brendan Donnelly missed the first half of the season due to an injury sustained during Spring Training. When he did come back in June, he did not have the command and velocity that he is known for. However, he pitched better in the second half. In 2005 he looks to reassume his role as the setup man.

Scot Shields was a great middle relief pitcher in 2004, and almost had as many strikeouts as K-Rod with 109. He is also known to spot start when needed, and can be a long relief pitcher. Shields is expected to continue his role as a dependable and exceptional relief pitcher.

Kevin Gregg also filled in nicely last season as both a middle reliever and a long reliever. He proved that he could be effective whether he's pitching for 4 batters or 4 innings. He had a 5-2 record in 2004, with 84 strikeouts. He should continue to be able to pitch effectively when he's needed.

Scott Dunn and Matt Hensley are still young pitchers learning the ropes in the big leagues. They will probably see less time than the other pitchers in the pen. Hensley did well last season, pitching in 16 games with 30 strikeouts in 27.2 innings pitched. However, he also gave up 15 earned runs. Scott Dunn only pitched in 3 games and 3 innings in 2004, giving up 3 runs and striking out 2. With more experience in the majors, these two have the stuff to be good relief pitchers.

Esteban Yan brings more depth to the bullpen. In 2004, he filled every relief role from long man to closer at sometime during the season. His versatility will be welcomed on a team that prides itself on depth.

 

BIGGEST QUESTION MARK:

Can the starting pitching hold up? The Angels didn't have much difficulty with their offense last season, with players like Vladimir Guerrero and Jose Guillen. It was mostly the starting pitching that gave them trouble. If the offense keeps up the good work, and the pitching keeps the score close, the Angels should have no problem.

BREAKOUT PLAYER:

Dallas McPherson

McPherson all ready broke into the big leagues last season, but is looking to show his talent on the field. He has the power to hit big numbers like his predecessor Glaus, but he will need to prove that his defense is just as solid.

PROJECTION:

The Angels are always looking to get to the playoffs, and their chances are looking good for 2005. They look to be atop the AL West standings, with the A's losing two of their "Big Three" pitchers. Texas still has a potent lineup, but somehow couldn't get it done last season, and Seattle did a great job beefing up their lineup this off-season. However, if the Angels can somehow regain the magic they had in 2002, and if everyone stays healthy, they have a great chance of making it to the playoffs. The rest will be up to them.

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