By Chad Stewart
Before Spring Training began, the Angels’ biggest strength was thought to be their starting pitching depth while their biggest weaknesses were thought be their left field and second base. Oddly enough, their strengths and weaknesses have seemed to switch places, as Daniel Nava, Craig Gentry, and Johnny Giavotella have outperformed expectations thus far, and multiple starting pitchers have either struggled or been slowed by injuries — or both.
Following the performance — or lack thereof — of Angels left fielders last year, I entered March with next to no expectations for what Nava and Gentry would provide offensively. My expectations were surpassed almost immediately, as both came out of the gates firing on all cylinders. Both Nava and Gentry were hampered by injuries for the last couple of years, so the health of the two was the biggest concern. Both have shown that they are indeed healthy by producing impressive numbers. Nava is currently 16-for-32 (.500) with four doubles, nine RBI, a home run, eight walks, and just two strikeouts, and has shown that he has what it takes to be the everyday left fielder. Craig Gentry, who may now be no more than a bench player, has also found success this Spring, going 11-for-35 (.314) with a pair of doubles. Neither will produce eye-popping numbers in the regular season, but neither needs to, and the fact that they are now is a sign that they are healthy and should become consistent, productive parts of the Halos’ offense in 2016.
Before Spring Training, many were worried that Giavotella’s 2015 season was just a fluke, and that his shaky defense would only get worse. Through 3 weeks of Spring Training, the 5-foot-8 second baseman has silenced his critics, going 13-for-44 (.295) with four doubles, two triples, a home run, and eight RBI. And he’s done all that while showing improved defense. Giavotella has squashed all concerns and solidified his role as the starting second baseman.
On paper, starting pitching depth is the Angels’ biggest strength, as they have eight major league-caliber starters. The only problem is that three of them are dealing with injuries. Lefties C.J. Wilson and Tyler Skaggs were expected to be ready for Spring Training and Opening Day, but neither have appeared in a game this Spring. Skaggs will make his debut on Thursday, but that still leaves him a few weeks behind and not ready for the first time through the rotation. Wilson has faced multiple setbacks this offseason, and he is now completely reworking his delivery. Jered Weaver has appeared in a minor league game since he got rocked in his start against the Dodgers — his fastball topping out at 81 mph — and will return to the mound on Friday. It’s a positive sign that he’s returning to major league action after an injury scare and that he says that he will be ready for Opening Day, but, even if he is, what can we expect from him?
Because of the health concerns of the aforementioned pitchers, either Matt Shoemaker or Nick Tropeano — maybe even both — will have to step in to the rotation, and neither has been spectacular. Shoemaker has not shown signs that he will return to his 2014-form, and Tropeano has been solid this Spring, and was good in seven starts last year, but he has not yet pitched in a full major league season. Tropeano, like many of the rotation candidates, has upside and potential because of his age, and he has the ability to develop into a quality middle-of-the-rotation starter sometime soon. There is a good chance he gets the opportunity to do just that in 2016.
If Spring Training is any indication (it probably isn’t), the Angels’ strengths and weaknesses have reversed. Nava, Gentry, and Giavotella have all played well, and their starting pitching depth is being tested early. But, hey, that’s the reason it is so important to create depth in the first place. I think it’s safe the Angels don’t regret hanging on to their starting pitching depth when they could’ve reached into it to trade for help in left field and second base like so many suggested.