By Chad Stewart
The Angels returned to Southern California this weekend to wrap up their Spring Training schedule, facing the Dodgers three times and their Opening Day opponent, the Cubs, once. The Halos won all four to improve their Spring Training record to 19-8-6, the best among American League teams and second in the Cactus League.
The Angels’ trio of young left-handers — Andrew Heaney, Hector Santiago, and Tyler Skaggs — provided the most notable performances of the week. Heaney allowed one run across six innings on Thursday, Santiago tossed five scoreless, and Skaggs threw three scoreless in relief on Saturday. Combine those three with ace Garrett Richards and the Angels could have a formidable rotation when Skaggs returns soon after the season begins.
The Opening Day roster was announced this weekend, and there weren’t many surprises. First baseman Ji-Man Choi made the team, which was expected since he had a decent Spring and is a Rule-5 pick, meaning they cannot send him to the minor leagues without first offering him back to his original team. Choi made the team over outfielder Rafael Ortega who also had an impressive Spring, but, being a Rule-5 pick, Choi always had the upper hand. Choi could provide a left-handed counterpart to C.J. Cron, but I think Cron should and will receive the bulk of the at-bats at first base/DH. The Halos already have two players — Cron and Albert Pujols — that play the same position as Choi, so he will probably just be a left-handed power bat off the bench. He did see some playing time in left field this Spring, but he did not look comfortable out there. Sure, the Angels have four outfielders on the team already, but I think Ortega’s speed and defense will prove to be a more valuable asset than Choi’s limited skill set. Therefore, I think we will see Ortega on the big league team sooner rather than later.
Reliever Cam Bedrosian made the team instead of lefty Greg Mahle. While Mahle turned heads this Spring (1.46 ERA and 8 strikeouts in 12 1/3 innings), he has yet to pitch above Double-A, so I think Bedrosian is the correct pick right now. However, Jose Alvarez is currently the only left-hander in the Angels’ bullpen, so Mahle has great value, and, like Ortega, should make his way to the big league team later this year.
This is where I would like to mention one or two standout offensive performances, but I would have to list the whole starting lineup. Left fielders Daniel Nava and Craig Gentry were certainly the most surprising contributors, but they weren’t the only ones. From new acquisitions Yunel Escobar and Andrelton Simmons to franchise cornerstones Mike Trout and Albert Pujols, all of the starters were outstanding. Players like Ortega and outfielder Todd Cunningham turned in solid Springs as well, and showed that they will be able to provide quality depth at the minor league level.
Starting pitching was more inconsistent, but the aforementioned lefties performed well, and Garrett Richards showed signs that he has the ability to return to his 2014 form. The same cannot be said about Jered Weaver and Matt Shoemaker, although Shoemaker was better in final start of the Spring on Sunday. The struggles of those two plus the fact that C.J. Wilson will begin the season on the disabled list make the back-end of the rotation somewhat worrisome. That is until Skaggs returns, of course.
Many are already writing off the Angels, but they won the second most games in the Cactus League this year, ranking second in runs scored. Meaningless, sure, but winning Spring Training games is definitely not a bad sign. The real fun starts tomorrow though, as the Halos kick off the regular season at home against the Chicago Cubs. It’s time to find out if their Spring Training success is a sign of things to come, or if it was all just a mirage.