Big thanks to Diamond Digest writer Brian Schlosser who also contributed to this article.
The 2019 Angels seem to be set at almost every position, and appear to be deeper than they have in past. Being as deep as this team appears to be will definitely help if they have another injury filled season. When you go back and look at the prime Angels teams in the mid to late 2000’s and early 2010’s, this has the makings of one of them. There is a lot of young versatility that will be major league ready, or very close to major league ready that can be called up as well.
The Angels will enter 2019 with a manager not named Mike Scioscia for the first time since 1999. Brad Ausmus will be taking the reins this seasons after spending a 2018 as a special assistant to general manager Billy Eppler. Ausmus has a good amount of experience having managed the Tigers from 2013-2017, however he only led them to one postseason berth during that time. Ausmus was not the most popular of managers during his time with Detroit, but has gained a better understanding of analytics in his time as special assistant and says he feels better prepared for his second time at the helm. Joining Ausmus among newcomers will be bench coach Josh Paul, hitting coach Jeremy Reed, and pitching coach Doug White. Josh Paul is the only one of those with any previous big league coaching experience for the Angels, having served as bench coach under Scioscia in 2018.
Jonathan Lucroy, who was acquired on a one-year $3.35 million deal this offseason, seems to be in line to get the majority of the play time behind the dish. Lucroy, who is only 3 years removed from a season where he put up a 4.5 fWAR in 142 games, is coming off his worst major league season. In 126 games last season, he had just a 0.2 fWAR, slashed .241/.291/.325 -11 defensive runs saved, 10 past balls, and a -4.1 FRM.
Backing Lucroy up will be both Kevan Smith, who the Angels picked up this offseason, and Jose Briceno. Last season versus left-handed pitching, Smith slashed .431/.481/.625 with a 205 wRC+ in 54 plate appearances while being an average pitch framer. Expect Smith to start the season off as the backup, but know that the Halos have a little depth at the position too.
Early in the offseason Angels owner Arte Moreno was quoted as saying that they would be looking for a left handed power bat this offseason. Justin Bour, who the Philadelphia Phillies DFA’d, fit that mold, and a few weeks later the Halos picked up Bour on a one-year $2.5 million deal. Bour is coming off the worst offensive season of his career. In 141 games combined with the Phillies and Marlins, he put up a 0.5 fWAR, slashed just .227/.341/.404, and hit 20 home runs, to go along with a 107 wRC+. The Angels are hoping for him to get back to his 2017 self, where in 108 games he had a 2.4 fWAR, slashed .289/.366/.536, and had 25 big flies.
Future first ballot hall of famer Albert Pujols is now entering his age 39 season with still 3-years and $87 million left on his current deal. The Angels are badly hoping that he will return not to his St. Louis Cardinals form, but just an above replacement level player. Since 2015, Pujols has played in 475 games and has put up just a a 0.2 fWAR with 113 home runs. AP has said that he will play until he can no longer be productive and contribute to a team, and with the declining numbers and aging body we begin to start wondering when that time will be.
There are a few other options that we might see at first base this year if there are any injuries to either Bour or Pujols. One of those option is Angels top 10 prospect Matt Thaiss. Thaiss, who has been tinkering with his swing, may have finally found something as he is hitting for more power. Thaiss slugged 16 home runs in the minors last year, including 10 at AAA, and has a 1.131 OPS in spring training thus far. The two way prospect Jared Walsh is also in consideration for playing time should injury occur. Walsh had an incredible 2018 season, slashing .277/.359/.536 with 29 home runs across 3 levels of the minors. The promising part about Walsh’s offensive game is that his numbers never significantly dipped following a promotion to the next level. While his .811 OPS in AAA was a .100 point different from his numbers at AA, they also represented his lowest totals in the minors that year.
Second Base/Third Base:
Fan favorite and Orange County native David Fletcher looks to be one of the guys who will play both second and third base. Fletch took Angels fans by storm as he played phenomenal defense at both second and third base. He put up 9 defensive runs saved, and a 10.3 UZR combined at both positions. The Angels will continue to try to improve at second base as they put up their first 1+ win season at the position since 2014 when Howie Kendrick manned the keystone.
Zack Cozart, who played in only 58 games last season(torn right labrum), after signing a 3-year $38 million deal will be playing either second or third base along side of David Fletcher. Last season in the time he was healthy, Cozart started in 15 games at second base, 11 games at shortstop, and 32 games at third base. Early in the spring Cozart had a few setbacks, suffering a grade 1 calf strain which cost him a few weeks, and also experiencing some shoulder soreness.
Tommy La Stella, who the Angels acquired from the Cubs this offseason, Luis Rengifo, and Taylor Ward will also all be looking to get some playing time at second and or third base with La Stella getting the bulk of the time.
No surprise here as Andrelton Simmons will hold down the fort at shortstop. Simba has put up back to back seasons of 5+ fWAR. Francisco Lindor is the only other shortstop in baseball to put up 5+ win season in 2017, and 2018. Simmons is also the undisputed best defensive shortstop in baseball. His defense combined with his much improved hitting will make him once again a top shortstop in all of baseball.
Zack Cozart, David Fletcher, and Luis Rengifo have all spent time at shortstop, and it wouldn’t be a surprise to see all of them get some time at the position if Simmons needs a day off.
Nothing new in the outfield as the Angels will line up with Justin Upton in left field, Mike Trout (lifetime Angel) in centerfield, and Kole Calhoun in right field. The Angels will try to start off a little bit better than last year in the outfield as both Justin Upton and Kole Calhoun started off rather slow. On the other hand, Mike Trout, who signed a 12 year $426.5 million extension this offseason, will continue to do Mike Trout things in center field.
Peter Bourjos and Jarrett Parker will look to be the 4th and 5th outfielders this year. Michael Hermosillo looks to be in the mix as well once he returns from his groin injury that has kept him out of spring training games.
You might also be wondering about a certain top prospect named Jo Adell. Well he sprained both his ankle and hamstring while running the bases during a spring training game, and is out for 10 to 12 weeks. Adell probably would’ve been a non-factor in the Angels outfield this year anyway, but expect him to be a regular next to Mike Trout come 2020.
Albert Pujols will more than likely DH for the Halos come Opening Day while reigning Rookie of the Year Shohei Ohtani recovers from Tommy John surgery. Ohtani is expected to be back in May for the Angels, and when that happens we might see a shake up and the Angels roster. Ohtani will be a necessity in the lineup, so it may be hard for Pujols and Bour to find consistent playing time.
The Angels are set to visit the St. Louis Cardinals in mid June for a three game set. That would be Albert Pujols’ first time back to St. Louis since joining the Angels, and while the odds of Pujols calling it quits during that series are very low, if he struggles out of the gate I wouldn’t be surprised if the Angels decided to cut ties with him. Though it is possible, the odds of something like this happening aren’t very high.
Manager Brad Ausmus has come out with the starting rotation, and it goes as follows,
2. Matt Harvey
3. Felix Pena
4. Tyler Skaggs
5. Jaime Barria
The Angels again have been hit with the injury bug early and often, as Andrew Heaney will start the season on the IL with elbow inflammation. Don’t worry too much about the injuries though, as Andrew Heaney was in the same situation last season, and still made 30 starts. Shohei Ohtani will also not be pitching this season as he recovers from Tommy John surgery. The Angels do have a good amount of depth they can call upon if any other injuries might occur. Dillon Peters, who was acquired from the Miami Marlins this offseason, Griffin Canning, Jose Suarez, Nick Tropeano, and Forrest Snow will all be in the conversation make starts this season if any injuries do occur.
The following names should be mainstays in the Angels bullpen all season:
Cody Allen (CL)
Other options to fill out the bullpen will consist of the following: Noe Ramirez, Jeremy Rhoades, Matt Ramsey, Greg Mahle, Jake Jewell, Williams Jerez, Dan Jennings, Daniel Hudson, Taylor Cole, John Curtiss, Luke Bard, and Miguel Almonte
The Angels finally addressed their bullpen needs this offseason, signing closer Cody Allen to a one year contract worth $8.5 million. Allen is coming off the worst season of his major league career, but still managed 27 saves while pitching to a 4.70 ERA, although he didn’t allow a run in 52 of his 70 appearances. It remains to be seen if Allen’s ERA was an anomaly or not, but having a solidified closer will surely help this season. Helping to bridge the gap to Allen will be Justin Anderson (10.9 K/9), Cam Bedrosian (3.80 ERA), Ty Buttrey (11.0 K/9, 1.63 FIP), Luis Garcia (10.0 K/9), and Hansel Robles (2.97 ERA). With Jose Alvarez being traded to the Phillies this offseason, the Angels don’t have many left handed options for the bullpen this year. Dan Jennings and Greg Mahle seem like the two most likely candidates to fill the lefty role this season, although previously mentioned two-way player Jared Walsh could be a candidate to fill a bullpen spot.
The Angels ranked 13th in the majors in bullpen ERA in 2018. That’s not bad, but it also isn’t good. However, the bullpen as a whole had 26 blown saves. Only the Twins, Giants, Diamondbacks, and Rockies had more than that. The Angels will strive for more consistent performance out of their pen this year, and while most of the names won’t jump off the board at you, they have an incredible amount of depth at the position and are fully prepared for any injuries.
Shohei Ohtani: Recovering from Tommy John. Will hit in May, but wont pitch this year.
Keynan Middleton: Recovering from Tommy John. Will be back in June.
Andrew Heaney: Elbow inflammation. Will start the season on the IL.
Michael Hermosillo: Groin. Will start the season on the IL then will likely go to AAA Salt Lake.
JC Ramirez: Recovering from Tommy John. Will return midseason if all goes right.
Taylor Cole: Shoulder soreness. Will start the season on the IL.
1. The Angels will finish the season 84-78, but will miss out on the 2nd Wild Card spot by 3 games.
2. Not sure if this is a prediction, but Mike Trout will win his 3rd MVP.
Potential Opening Day Lineup
- Zack Cozart 3B
- Andrelton Simmons SS
- Mike Trout CF
- Justin Upton LF
- Justin Bour 1B
- Albert Pujols DH
- Kole Calhoun RF
- Jonathan Lucroy C
- David Fletcher 2B
Trevor Cahill SP