By Chad Stewart
Spring Training is officially underway, and the answers to some of the Angels’ many questions have begun to surface. Kind of.
Considering most of the starting position players haven’t even reached 10 plate appearances yet, and the starting pitchers haven’t pitched more than two innings, what happens in the first week of Spring Training will oftentimes end up being meaningless. However, that doesn’t mean some performances are not worth noting.
Starting pitchers Hector Santiago, Matt Shoemaker, Garrett Richards, Jered Weaver, and Nick Tropeano all made appearances. Lefty Andrew Heaney was slated to start Saturday’s game against Seattle, but was scratched due to illness. Nate Smith started in his place. Santiago started the first game of the Spring, and pitched two scoreless innings, allowing one hit and striking out two batters. Aside from not having full command of his off-speed pitches, which isn’t too surprising for a player’s first start of the Spring, he was sharp in his two innings. Shoemaker followed him by allowing a solo home run, walking one batter, and striking out three over the next two innings.
Richards started on Thursday against Oakland, and it was obvious it was his first start of the year, as he struggled to find his command over his two innings of work. He walked a batter, did not record a strikeout, and allowed two runs on two hits. Since his pitches have so much movement, I don’t expect him to have full control of them this early on, so his performance did not concern me.
Weaver has shown that he can be effective even with his diminished velocity, and he showed just that on Friday against the Cubs. His velocity topped out at 83 mph, but he was able to keep Chicago batters off balance, striking out three over two scoreless innings.
The most impressive performance among starting pitchers came courtesy of Nick Tropeano. Tropeano tossed two perfect innings against the Kansas City Royals on Sunday. Tropeano was able to mix his pitches perfectly, and it took just 21 pitches for him to mow down the defending World Champions’ first six batters. This was a remarkable, and important, spring debut for someone vying for the fifth rotation spot.
Aside from Andrelton Simmons (0-8), and Albert Pujols who only played on Sunday (0-3), all of the starting position players had favorable offensive weeks. Left fielder Daniel Nava provided the most surprising performance of the week, going 4-for-8 with a walk, a double and four RBI. Coming into the week, I had next to no expectations for Nava since he is coming off an injury-riddle 2015. Safe to say, I was pleasantly surprised by his first week in an Angels uniform. I am not expecting him to produce huge numbers in 2016, but if he can produce numbers close to his career averages, he will provide a much needed boost to the Angels’ offense, and his performance this week gave me reason to be optimistic that he will do just that.
On Sunday, we saw what will likely be the Opening Day lineup with Yunel Escobar leading off followed by Nava, Trout, Pujols, Calhoun, Cron, Simmons, Perez, and Giavotella. The Angels were at their best when Calhoun was leading off, but he is probably more valuable in a run-producing spot in the lineup, and the career OBPs of Escobar and Nava (.350 and .358, respectively) make them ideal for the top of the order. If those two can get on base consistently and set the table for the middle of the order, this lineup could be much more effective than one might think.
Although Spring Training is more about individual performances than win-loss records in my mind, it is worth noting that the Angels went 2-3 this week, beating the Athletics and Mariners and losing to the Giants, Cubs, and Royals.
While it was an extremely small sample size, the performances of a few key players in the first week of Spring Training made me a little more optimistic. At least until next week.