ANAHEIM, Calif. (AP) — The Los Angeles Angels paired the best hitter on the free agent market and their three-time AL MVP this winter at the heart of a lineup stocked with an array of tested veterans and promising youngsters.
The Halos are still not anybody's favorite to end their decade-long playoff victory drought, largely because their starting rotation doesn't nearly measure up to Mike Trout, Anthony Rendon and all those bats.
But an aggressive offseason and an irrepressible new manager have sparked optimism around the Angels, who are on a streak of four consecutive losing seasons.
When spring training opens next week in Arizona, Joe Maddon believes he will be working with the pieces of a contender.
“The next step is we have to create a lot of energy and enthusiasm around here,” Maddon said in Anaheim last week. “The team on the field is, I think, pretty special. We have to continue to bring together the pitching staff, and as the pitching staff comes together as a unit, that’s when we really have a chance to take off.”
Maddon is back under the halo along with pitching coach Mickey Callaway, who has done impressive recent work with pitchers in Cleveland and New York. They'll spend plenty of time in spring training planning for Shohei Ohtani's return to the rotation, but the Angels are also betting heavily on newcomers Dylan Bundy and Julio Teherán to provide plenty of effective innings.
“There is enormous potential, obviously,” Maddon said. “But physically, it’s all there. The difference is young players have to go out there and pitch successfully and gain confidence.”
Rendon would be an upgrade at third base for any team, but the Angels haven’t had a player even close to this $245 million man's stature at the hot corner since Troy Glaus.
ROOKIES TO WATCH
All eyes are on Jo Adell, the slugging 20-year-old outfielder and a consensus top-five baseball prospect. He reached Triple-A Salt Lake last season, and the Angels are waiting to see whether he can play his way into right field at the Big A before the summer is out. The Angels’ long-barren farm system is finally bearing a little fruit after years of patient reconstruction by GM Billy Eppler, with outfielder Brandon Marsh and left-hander Patrick Sandoval also poised to move up the ranks this year.
The Angels have the best center fielder and third baseman in the game, while shortstop Andrelton Simmons and second baseman Tommy La Stella are an enviable combination. Albert Pujols must continue to contribute with solid defense at first base to keep Ohtani in the lineup as a DH. The bullpen also looks solid for now, with closer Hansel Robles leading the way.
The Angels’ rotation looks better largely because last season’s selection was so bad — and because Ohtani is back, of course. The sport's big-ticket free agent starters all got huge deals, so the Angels landed the innings-eating Bundy and the veteran Teheran instead. Even with Andrew Heaney and Griffin Canning returning in full health, Eppler probably isn’t done shopping for starting pitching, particularly if a couple of starters get off to a rocky April.
Maddon will spend the long spring weeks figuring out the ideal lineup with his new collection of sluggers, while catchers Jason Castro and Max Stassi must develop chemistry with their pitchers. A couple of bullpen spots are up for the taking, and the Angels must decide whether to keep four or five outfielders.
AP Sports Writer Joe Reedy contributed.
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