To get everyone ready for the 2007 season, I am going to start in the American League West with the Angels. Some previews will be more detailed than others and the format will probably change.
FYI, the Southeast Missouri State baseball team’s home opener is Friday at 2pm.
2006 Finish: 89-73, 2nd place, 4 games back of the Oakland A’s
Manager: Mike Scioscia, 7th year with Angels
Comings: The Angels paid big money for Gary Matthews, Jr. (5 years, $50 million) not bad for a guy who has been through seven organizations in five years, and averaged .254, .330 OBP, .408 SLG, 11 HR, 43 RBI and 60 runs in all his other 300-plate-appearance seasons before last year. Shea Hillenbrand was signed for a year at $6.5 million to try to solidify one of the corner positions or DH. Justin Speier was given $18 million over 4 years to make a deep bullpen even deeper. Darren Oliver was brought in for $1.75 million to help in the bullpen from the left-side.
Goings: Long time Angel Darin Erstad left Anaheim to sign with the White Sox. Left-handed reliever J.C. Romero joined the Boston bullpen. Second baseman Adam Kennedy was allowed to leave to open up the position for Super Prospect Howie Kendrick.
Offense: For the second straight off season, GM Bill Stoneman failed to bring in a true power bat. He did pay Matthews a whole lot of cash for a career year in a very hitter friendly ballpark in Texas. Matthews is penciled in to leadoff. Vlad Guerrero is still one of the most lethal hitters in the bigs and can carry a team when on. Last year he hit .329/.382/.552 with 33 HRs and 116 RBIs. Garrett Anderson is showing his age and is no longer the offensive threat he once was. Juan Rivera’s 23 long balls and 85 RBIs will be missed as he broke is leg in winter ball. Hillenbrand’s 21 HRs will hopefully ease this loss. Orlando Cabrera hit .282 and stole 27 bases. Kendrick was very impressive in his debut hitting .285 while playing a variety of positions. Mike Napoli was called up after Jeff Mathis struggled and hit a surprising 16 HRs with 42 RBIs but the league adjusted to him and he ended up hitting only hit .228. Chone Figgins had an OBP of .336 and stole 52 bases.
Defense: The defense is going to be much better with the addition of Matthews in center. Guerrero still has one of the most deadly arms in right. Figgins is an adequate defender at third and Cabrera plays a Gold Glove caliber defense. Kendrick is a solid although unspectacular defender. If Casey Kotchman is back and healthy, he is a superb defender at first. Napoli is very good behind the plate, his defense kept him from being sent down as he struggled mightily at the plate down the stretch.
Rotation: When healthy, this rotation can match up against anyone. Right-handers John Lackey, Kelvim Escobar, Ervin Santana, Jered Weaver, and left-hander Joe Saunders are projected to be the starting five to begin the season. Bartolo Colon is recovering from a partially torn rotator cuff and his return time is not known. Weaver and Saunders were two of the top rookie pitchers in baseball last year going 11-2 and 7-3 respectively. Santana was 16-8 and just turned 24 this past December. When Colon returns, he should bump Saunders out of the rotation. The Angels could possibly trade one of their surplus starters for some offense.
Bullpen: The bullpen was very good again. Francisco Rodriguez was one of the top closers in the majors, saving 47 against only 4 blown saves. He posted an ERA of 1.73 and struck out 98 in 73 innings. He has 106 career saves and just turned 25. Scot Shields established himself as one of the top setup men in baseball, appearing in 74 games. Justin Speier was brought in to help set up recording career best numbers in 06. Hector Carrasco was very durable out of the pen, pitching 100 innings in 56 games with an ERA of 3.41.
Prospects: Brandon Wood-SS-Considered one of the top 5 prospects in the game. Doesn’t turn 22 until March. Hit .276/.355/.552 in first year of Double A. The Angels recently announced he will get some work at third, as the Angels have quite a few prospects at SS and Cabrera is solid at SS for the big league club.
Nick Adenhart-RHP-14th round steal of June 2004 First Year Player Draft. He blew out his elbow during his senior year and most teams backed off. Throws 91-94 with a wicked curveball. Doesn’t turn 21 until August and is already in the Angels plans, probably sooner than later. Was 10-2 with a 1.95 ERA in the Midwest League in 06.
Erick Aybar-SS-Electric shortstop with sizzling speed and Gold Glove caliber defense. Also has an outstanding arm. The switch hitter has hit over .300 in his minor league career and is viewed as a definite leadoff man as he makes good contact and has a great eye. Hit .283/.327/.413 and stole 32 bases at Triple A.
Analysis: The team is solid if the rotation is healthy. The verdict is still out on Colon’s injury and when he might return. When healthy, he is a workhorse and remember he was the 2005 Cy Young Award winner. Good news that he did throw from 120 feet on Wednesday. It has been reported that Weaver is having some shoulder tightness and Escobar has had injury problems the last few years. If the rotation gets healthy, maybe the Angels could trade using this depth to obtain a bat. The offense is really thin and could be the reason that the Angels stay home in October. It should be fun to watch the kids from the farm should they get to come up and contribute.