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MLB Team Previews: 2011 Angels Preview

Kevin O'Brien

Kevin O'Brien

Kevin O'Brien writes about fantasy sports for RotoWire.




The Angels’ three-year run atop the AL West ended after the team finished with an 80-82 record last season, 10 games behind division winner Texas. Jered Weaver had his best season yet, but the loss of Kendry Morales and the inconsistency of both the offense and the bullpen proved too much to overcome.

Though the Angels were effectively out of the race, they still took the opportunity to improve their pitching staff by acquiring ace Dan Haren from the Diamondbacks in July. In the offseason, after missing out on the top free agents, the Angels traded Mike Napoli and Juan Rivera to the Blue Jays for Vernon Wells – and $81 million remaining on his deal. The trade was a bit puzzling given the amount of money left on Wells’ contract, but it will likely determine how successful the Angels are in 2011.

Though the Rangers are still strong and the A’s are improved, the Angels will enter the 2011 season in position to take back the AL West crown. Having Haren and Morales for a full season will provide a big boost, and the pitching staff is deep enough to carry the team. If the Angels’ offense improves, there is no reason to believe the team won’t be fighting for a division title come September.

Offseason Moves:

Signed Hisanori Takahashi to a two-year, $8 million contract.

The Angels were left without a left-handed reliever following the trade of Brian Fuentes, but they replaced him in the bullpen by signing Takahashi in December. Takahashi was a valuable utility pitcher for the Mets last season, starting 12 games and recording eight saves, but his role will likely be more defined in Anaheim. Though Takahashi could make a spot start if needed, he will pitch primarily between the fifth through eighth innings this season.

Signed Scott Downs to a three-year, $15 million contract.

One left-hander in the bullpen is typically not enough, so the Angels added another one in Downs - arguably one of the top southpaws in the league. In 262 games since 2007, Downs has posted a 2.36 ERA and a 205:78 K:BB ratio in 236.2 innings. Downs has picked up just 16 career saves, and none last season; but given Fernando Rodney’s propensity to walk batters, Downs could find himself in the closing mix at some point. Even if he is not closing, Downs remains an elite setup option.

Lost Hideki Matsui to the A’s.

Matsui only played one season in Anaheim, but the Angels will miss the power he brought from the left side of the plate. Matsui’s 84 RBI were second on the squad, and his .820 OPS led all Angels who qualified in 2010. Matsui will no longer play his home games in Anaheim, but the Angels will still see a lot of him after he signed with AL-West rival Oakland.

Traded Mike Napoli and Juan Rivera for Vernon Wells.

Wells’ .847 OPS last season was his best mark since 2006, but both his .643 OPS against lefties and his .708 OPS away from home are big question marks as he heads to a new club. And, when Wells’ exorbitant contract and the two starting-caliber players the Angels sent the other way are added to the mix, it’s quite clear this is a risky move for the Angels. However, the acquisition of Wells does give the Angels one of the top defensive outfields in the league with the likelihood that he will shift to left field and allow Peter Bourjos to patrol center field.

Projected Lineup/Rotation

Lineup (vs. RH and LH)

1. SS Erick Aybar
2. DH Bobby Abreu
3. RF Torii Hunter
4. 1B Kendry Morales
5. LF Vernon Wells
6. 2B Howie Kendrick
7. 3B Alberto Callaspo/Maicer Izturis
8. C Jeff Mathis
9. CF Peter Bourjos

The Angels will have established players batting in the second through fifth spots in the order, but they need leadoff hitter Erick Aybar to get on base at a better clip if they hope to improve upon last season’s average offense. The return of Kendry Morales – the team’s top offensive player – will provide a boost, but the bottom of the order is severely lacking at the plate after Mike Napoli and Juan Rivera were sent to Toronto. Don’t be surprised to see Mike Scioscia shuffle the lineup early on if the offense comes out of the gates slowly.

Starting Rotation

1. Jered Weaver
2. Dan Haren
3. Ervin Santana
4. Joel Pineiro
5. Scott Kazmir

The Angels rotation heading into the 2011 season looks fairly similar to the one they entered last season with, but the addition of Dan Haren, the bounce-back season of Ervin Santana, and the marked improvement of Jered Weaver have given the team a trio capable of rivaling any in the American League. Joel Pineiro had another steady season a year ago, but the key to his success will be staying healthy after a mid-summer oblique injury limited him to just 23 starts. Scott Kazmir is a big question mark in the fifth spot considering he pitched more than 6.0 innings just four times last season. An improved Kazmir would go a long way in solidifying the rotation, but the Angels probably won’t be as patient with him since 2011 is the last guaranteed year of his current deal. The Angels don’t have many options to replace Kazmir if he struggles – Trevor Bell and Matt Palmer are better suited for the bullpen and no starter at Triple-A Salt Lake posted an ERA under 5.00 last season – so the Angels may be forced to make another in-season trade for a starter if Kazmir does not pan out.

CL: Fernando Rodney

Rodney closed out 14 games last season, but his 4.63 BB/9 ratio and 1.544 WHIP indicate he is a bit unreliable in the ninth-inning role. Rodney will likely open the season as the closer given his experience – 64 saves over the last three seasons – and the fact he is the incumbent, but the Angels do have several other pitchers in the bullpen who could take over the closing duties if Rodney struggles. Scott Downs could get a shot given his dominance against lefties, and Jordan Walden could also get the nod thanks to his 100-MPH fastball 13.5 K/9 ratio with the big club last season.

Notes of Import, Fantasy and Otherwise:

Was the Vernon Wells trade worth it?

After missing out on top free agent target Carl Crawford, and also watching Adrian Beltre sign with the Rangers, the Angels decided to make a bold trade. They shipped Mike Napoli and Juan Rivera – who combined for 41 home runs last season – to Toronto in exchange for Vernon Wells. While Wells hit 30 home runs himself last season, he benefited from the Blue Jays’ free-swinging offense and most of his production came at home. And, with four years and $81 million left on a contract that was once thought unmovable, the Angels are taking on a huge financial risk for a guy who comes with question marks. The Angels will be counting on Wells as one of their top offensive players, but his .226 batting average in 39 games at Angel Stadium is cause for concern. If Wells does not pan out in Anaheim, GM Tony Reagins will have a tough time living this trade down.

Will the Angels' homegrown talent contribute more on offense in 2011?

Several of the Angels’ top prospects have reached the majors in recent years, but nearly all of them suffered a drop-off at the plate in 2010. Erick Aybar hit .312 two seasons ago, but he hit just .253 last season after being moved to the leadoff spot. Howie Kendrick hit .291 with 10 home runs in 2009, but he hit the same number of home runs and only knocked in only 14 more runs despite playing in 53 more games a year ago. Kendry Morales was having another quality season, but it was cut short after he broke his leg in late May. Lastly, while the Angels decided to give extended playing time to Brandon Wood, Jeff Mathis, and eventually Peter Bourjos, the trio combined for just a .180 average in 612 at-bats. All players mentioned above, save Wood, will play key roles in 2011. For the Angels to have success, they need their youngsters to make big strides at the plate – and stay on the field.

Can the Angels get back into contention in the AL West?

The Angels made a habit of winning the AL West in recent years; so last year’s third-place finish can only be considered a disappointment. However, there is reason for optimism about the Angels’ chances in 2011. The team’s starting rotation matches up with any of the other four teams in the division, and their bullpen is much improved. The Angels will get their best hitter back with Kendry Morales recovered from his broken leg. The Rangers still have relatively the same squad that took them to the World Series, but they lack a true ace with the departure of Cliff Lee. The A’s are improved, but they are similar to the Angels in that they will rely upon a strong pitching staff to get by. The Mariners are, well, just not very good except for Felix Hernandez. If the Angels can get better play out of their younger players, and establish a closer by the end of the season, they have just as good a chance as anyone of taking the AL West.

Strengths

The Angels’ starting rotation is among the best in the American League, and their bullpen, though lacking a definitive closer, should also be improved after several key offseason additions. The pitching staff should also benefit from a speedy outfield of Wells, Bourjos, and Hunter.

Weaknesses

Power will be a big question mark this season after the Angels traded 26% of their home runs from last season in the Vernon Wells deal. Wells and Kendry Morales should help in this department some, but playing Jeff Mathis and Peter Bourjos regularly will really sap the lineup of overall pop. The bottom third of the order won’t give any pitchers nightmares.

Sleepers

Rising: The Angels entered last season without an established ace, but Jered Weaver proved he was up to the task by posting a 3.01 ERA, 1.07 WHIP, and an AL-leading 233 strikeouts. Weaver is in his prime at age 28, so any drop-off from those numbers is unlikely to be significant. He will go much higher in fantasy drafts in 2011.

Declining: After knocking in at least 100 runs in seven consecutive seasons, Bobby Abreu hit just .255 last season and finished with only 78 RBI. Shifting to the DH role should allow him to focus more on his offense, but Abreu is not getting any younger and will be 37 when the season begins. Abreu’s speed still gives him some fantasy value, but his days as a big-time power threat appear over.

Sleeper: The Angels have question marks at the back end of bullpen, so don’t be surprised to see Jordan Walden elevated to the closer’s role some point during the 2011 season. While Scott Downs would also be considered if Mike Scioscia decides to change closers, he is better suited for a setup role. Walden’s power arm would allow him to rack up saves – and strikeouts – in bunches if he takes over in the ninth inning.

Supersleeper: Mike Trout may only be 19 years old, but he is already one of the top hitting prospects in all of major league baseball. He will likely start the season at Double-A, but a strong start to the year could force the Angels to consider putting him on the fast track. The Angels don’t really have any other major-league-ready outfield prospects, so if one of the regular outfielders goes down with an injury, or Peter Bourjos struggles, Trout would offer the team the best replacement. If Trout gets called up, don’t expect him to go back to the minors.

Roster

Here's a rundown of players not mentioned above:

Alexi Amarista - Amarista began last season in High-A, but he advanced all the way to Triple-A by the end of the season and finished with a .309 batting average, 42 extra-base hits and 25 stolen bases. Amarista has been a high-average/high-stolen-base player throughout his minor league career, so it is now time to start getting excited since he will likely open 2011 in Triple-A again. Still, don’t expect much at the major league level this season unless Amarista tears it up and forces the Angels to deal one of their infielders.

Erick Aybar - Aybar really struggled at the plate in 2010, as evidenced by the .130 drop in his OPS to .636. He hit from the leadoff spot a lot, but his .306 OBP did not do his fantasy owners, or the Angels, any favors. Aybar's 22 stolen bases in 30 attempts were a bonus, but not big enough to make up for his offensive ineptitude. It remains to be seen if the Angels will keep Aybar atop the order; but either way, he will have to do more with the bat to be a fantasy regular.

Trevor Bell - Bell was a valuable utility pitcher for the Angels last season, pitching 18 times out of the bullpen and also making seven starts. His 4.72 ERA was not terrible, but it was a bit lower than it should have been consider he allowed 98 baserunners and posted a .312 BAA in 61 innings. Bell will compete for a bullpen spot during spring training, but don't expect him to be a fantasy factor even if he makes the club.

Peter Bourjos - Bourjos' 6:40 BB:K ratio in 181-at-bats last season indicates he may need more time in the minors to work on his plate discipline, but it appears the Angels are ready to hand him the starting center field job in 2011. Though Bourjos struggled to get on base, he usually picked up a few bases at a time when he did, finishing with 16 extra-base hits (including six homers) and 10 steals. Bourjos is unlikely to maintain those rates throughout an entire season, but he could provide some surprising speed, and is certainly a guy those in AL-only leagues will want to get to know as a result.

Jason Bulger - Bulger was a key bullpen arm for the Angels two seasons ago, but a shoulder injury cost him most of the summer months last season and limited him to just 25 appearances. However, Bulger made it back late last season and will be healthy when the new season begins. Considering that he has averaged more than a strikeout per inning in his career, Bulger will likely be part of the Angels' middle-relief unit.

Alberto Callaspo - Callaspo broke out for the Royals in 2009 with 73 RBI and a .813 OPS, but he struggled with the stick last season, especially following a midseason trade to the Angels. In 58 games with Los Angeles last season, Callaspo knocked in just 13 runs and posted a .605 OPS. Callaspo probably is not as good as he was two years ago, but he is not as bad as he was last season, either. Still, he offers little speed, and on an Angels team that lacks power, Callaspo could wind up being a utility player so the team can add some pop at third base.

Bobby Cassevah - Cassevah went 1-2 with a 3.15 ERA in 16 appearances out of the bullpen for the Angels last season. He throws a hard sinker and also features an impressive slider, but he is not a big strikeout guy. Cassevah will likely compete for a bullpen spot during spring training, but do not expect much from him fantasy-wise even if he makes the cut.

Scott Downs - Downs enjoyed another fine season out of the Toronto bullpen last year before inking a three-year deal with the Angels in the offseason. He's been a solid staff filler in each of the last four years and figures to be in the closer's mix in Anaheim depending on offseason moves.

Dan Haren - The Angels acquired Haren from the Diamondbacks around the trade deadline last season, not just as a rental for a couple months but rather as an affordable No. 1 starter who is under team control through at least 2012. Haren struggled a bit with the Diamondbacks last season before the trade, but he did not disappoint with his new club, posting a 2.87 ERA and 75:25 K:BB ratio in 94 innings over 14 starts with the Angels. Haren still finished last season with double-digit victories and 200-plus strikeouts for the third straight year, so fantasy owners should focus more on Haren's statistics with the Angels than his overall numbers.

Torii Hunter - Despite playing 33 fewer games, Hunter's numbers last season were nearly identical to those from the year before. However, Hunter would have had a career year in 2010 if not for injuries, and his statistics from last season were actually pretty similar to his career averages. Due to age, Hunter will not run as much and will no longer man center field, but his offensive skills don't appear to have diminished much. Expect another steady campaign.

Maicer Izturis - Izturis' numbers took a dive last season when injuries and depth limited him to just 212 at-bats. Izturis showed two years ago that he is capable of decent production when he gets the opportunities, but he will likely serve his customary utility role in 2011 since the rest of the Angels' infield will return as well. Izturis will still get a couple of starts each week, but not enough to make him a consistent fantasy option.

Kevin Jepsen - Jepsen pitched a bit better last season than he did in 2009, but his impressive 61:29 K:BB ratio in 59 innings was offset by a 1.407 WHIP. Jepsen, who reaches the upper-90s with his fastball, is a potential closer of the future in Anaheim; but he is also a valuable trade chip that could net the Angels another starter or position player. The Angels have yet to name an official closer, but expect Jepsen to be one of the top setup options in front of the pitcher that wins the job, likely Fernando Rodney.

Scott Kazmir - Kazmir battled health and mechanical issues last season and saw his ERA rise for the fourth consecutive season. Once the possessor of a wicked slider, Kazmir was basically a fastball-changeup pitcher last season, which allowed batters to be patient and work deep into counts. As a result, Kazmir finished with just 150 innings pitched, and 79 walks in all. The Angels gave Kazmir a lot of chances last season because his contract was guaranteed for 2011, but don't expect them to be as patient this season if his struggles persist.

Howie Kendrick - Kendrick played a full season for the first time in his career, but didn't deliver the high batting average or overall production many thought was possible if he could just stay healthy. Kendrick posted strong batting averages in the minor leagues, but he hasn't been able to duplicate that success in the majors due to a low walk rate that didn't get any better last season. A below average BABIP last season suggests he could improve and he'll be entering his prime at age 27, but his upside may not be much more than last year's numbers.

Michael Kohn - Kohn took the express train to Anaheim, reaching the majors just two seasons after being taken in the 13th round. The key to Kohn's success? How about a 13.6 K/9IP in 135 minor league innings. Kohn still struggles with walks, so it would not be a total shock to see him open in Triple-A just to get some extra work in. Still, expect the Angels to find a spot in their bullpen for this hard-throwing right-hander at some point this season.

Jeff Mathis - Mathis recorded a hit in each of his first 10 games last season, but a broken wrist knocked him out for the next two months and he really struggled with the bat the rest of the way. Mathis hit .170 and walked just four times in 170 at-bats after his June 18 return, and he was on the bench a lot even though fellow catcher Mike Napoli saw considerable action at first base. Mathis will enter the 2011 season healthy, but Napoli will likely catch more with Kendry Morales back at first base. While Mathis will make a few starts a week because he is better defensively than Napoli, he will not benefit fantasy owners at all unless he makes big strides with the bat.

Kendry Morales - After a big 2009 season, Morales was expected to help carry the offense again a year ago. He did so early on, but following a walk-off grand slam in late May, Morales broke his leg during the celebration at home plate and was lost for the season. The Angels really felt his absence while they struggled to score runs on a consistent basis the rest of the way. Now several months removed from the injury, Morales has made good progress and is expected to be ready for spring training. He is capable of a .300 batting average, 30 home runs, and 100 RBI if he plays the whole season, so don't be the owner to forget about him during your draft.

Anthony Ortega - Ortega was an up-and-coming starting-pitcher prospect several years ago, but injuries limited him to just 56 innings the last two seasons. Ortega is healthy again, but his star has also faded a bit. He should get a shot at a bullpen spot during spring training, but expect him to ultimately begin the season with Triple-A Salt Lake.

Matt Palmer - Palmer won 11 games for the Angels two seasons ago in somewhat of a utility pitcher role, but he picked up just one win last season and posted an ugly 17:20 K:BB ratio in 33.2 innings. Palmer was a late bloomer who did not come up with the organization, so he is by no means guaranteed a bullpen spot if last season's struggles continue.

Chris Pettit - Pettit entered last season as one of the Angels' top prospects after hitting .321 with Triple-A Salt Lake in 2009, and he even had an outside shot of securing a roster spot. However, a shoulder injury in spring training ended Pettit's 2010 campaign before it even began. Pettit is almost guaranteed to begin the season with Triple-A Salt Lake after missing all of last year.

Joel Pineiro - Injuries limited Pineiro to just 23 starts last season, his first in Anaheim, but he still manged to pick up 10 victories and post a 3.84 ERA. Pineiro's ratio stats rose a bit with the move to the American League, but he was able to limit the damage by walking just 34 batters. Pineiro is not a big strikeout guy by any means, but the rest of his numbers make him a decent fantasy option in deeper formats as long as he can stay healthy.

Fernando Rodney - Rodney became the Angels' closer last season following the midseason trade of incumbent Brian Fuentes. Rodney was a bit erratic thanks to 35 walks in 68 innings, so he is not guaranteed to enter this season in the same role in a bullpen that includes Kevin Jepsen and free-agent acquisition Scott Downs. Rodney is still worth a later-round pick since he will likely get the first crack at the ninth-inning role, but don’t be surprised if he cedes the spot at some point.

Francisco Rodriguez Murillo - Pitching out of the bullpen for the Angels last season, Rodriguez Murillo compiled a 4.37 ERA and 36:26 K:BB ratio in 47.1 innings. He served as both a starter and reliever with Triple-A Salt Lake, but his poor control likely limits his upside as a starter. Rodriguez Murillo will likely compete for a middle-relief role during spring training.

Andrew Romine - Romine hit a solid .282 last season, but arguably his most impressive stat was his .370 OBP. Getting on base allowed Romine to steal 21 bases, but he was caught nine times, indicating there is still room for growth in that area. Romine has a shot to begin the season in Triple-A, but don't expect him to make an impact in the big leagues this season given the depth in the Angels' infield.

Ervin Santana - Santana bounced back from a rough 2009 season to win a career-high 17 games for the Angels last season. None of his other stats were overly impressive, but the 28-year-old's peripherals were in line with his career norms. Santana is in the prime of his career; but while his numbers are more likely to improve than decline, don't expect him to reach the 214 strikeouts he recorded in 2008.

Hisanori Takahashi - Takahashi, who the Mets signed last offseason to a one-year deal after 10 years in Japan, proved to be a godsend, filling the role of starter, middle reliever and closer at various points during the season. The deal he signed enabled him to become a free agent, and he was ineligible to return to the Mets until May 15. Thus, Takahashi signed a two-year, $8-million contract with the Angels. He is expected to pitch out of the bullpen, and given his splits between the first time through the lineup and thereafter, that seems to be the best place for him.

Richard Thompson - Thompson has bounced back and forth between Anaheim and Triple-A Salt Lake the last couple seasons, but last year was easily his best in the big leagues. Thompson threw just 19.2 innings with the Angels, but he only gave up three earned runs and posted a 15:4 K:BB ratio. Thompson is not guaranteed a spot in the Angels' bullpen, but he will have the opportunity to lock one up with a strong spring training.

Vernon Wells - Wells bounced back in a big way last season, hitting .273 with 31 homers and 88 RBI for Toronto. He's now entering the cringe-inducing portion of his contract as he's set to make $21-$23 million in each of the next four years. There's virtually no way he'll earn that, but the Jays would be thrilled with a repeat performance of his 2010 campaign. There wasn't a drastic change to his approach at the plate, so tread carefully if you're chasing his power spike as he hadn't topped 20 homers since 2006 prior to last year's outburst.

Reggie Willits - Willits' role with the Angels has fluctuated the last couple seasons - starter, reserve, pinch-runner, out of the picture - and he likely will open the 2011 season in a backup role. Willits' only true fantasy asset is his speed; and considering he has stolen just nine bases since 2008, he is unlikely to be a valuable part of any fantasy team barring a rash of injuries.

Bobby Wilson - Wilson played in a career-high 40 games last year thanks to injuries to Jeff Mathis and Kendry Morales, but he still only managed to see 96 at-bats. With Mike Napoli back at catcher due to Morales' return, Mathis' ability to handle the pitching staff, and Hank Conger knocking on the door at Triple-A, Wilson is unlikely to see much major league time this season.

Brandon Wood - Wood was basically handed the starting third-base job during spring training last season, but he looked anything but major league ready by hitting just .156 and striking out 36 times in the season's first two months. Due to his early struggles and an injury that cost him a few weeks, Wood was pushed to a backup role and saw just 104 at-bats from June through September. Although Wood could use a little more seasoning after finishing with a .146 batting average and woeful 6:71 BB:K ratio, he will turn 26 this season and is out of options. This is a make-or-break spring training for Wood, and the Angels were wise to give him time in the Arizona Fall League during the offseason to showcase him for potential suitors.

Top Prospects:

Tyler Chatwood - An 8-3 start with High-A Rancho Cucamonga earned Chatwood a midseason promotion to Double-A Arkansas, an impressive rise for a high school pitcher selected just one year earlier. Chatwood, still just 21, throws a mid-90s fastball and a biting curveball. He was able to improve his walk rate last season, but there is still some work to do in that department. Chatwood will likely begin the 2011 season by returning to Arkansas.

Jean Segura - While Mike Trout understandably collects the bulk of the hype in the Angels' system, Segura is a nice prospect in his own right. As a 20-year-old last season, Segura posted excellent numbers in the Midwest League with Low-A Cedar Rapids including 50 steals. Further, his impressive slash line is supported by a good skill set, including an 86 percent contact rate and eight percent walk rate. It's rare to find a young player with plus speed and the requisite tools to utilize it, but he offers that with pop in his bat (46 extra-base hits) as well.

Hank Conger - Conger had little trouble figuring out the pitching in his first Triple-A season, finishing with a .300 batting average, 11 home runs, 49 RBI and an .848 OPS. Conger, the team's top selection in the 2006 draft, appears ready for the big leagues, but several other experienced catchers on the roster still block his way. Conger will likely do no better than split the playing time behind the plate at any point this season, but expect the Angels to get him enough playing time to potentially take over the full-time duties in 2012.

Garrett Richards - Richards followed up a strong rookie season by striking out 149 batters and walking just 43 in 143 minor league innings last season. Richards is still a few years away from the big leagues, but he has top-of-the-rotation stuff with a four-pitch repertoire that includes a mid-90s fastball, two breaking pitches and a developing changeup. He may be the Angels' top pitching prospect heading into the 2011 season.

Fabio Martinez - Martinez posted an absurd 141 strikeouts in 103.1 innings with Low-A Cedar Rapids last season before his season was cut short by a shoulder injury. However, his impressive strikeout rate was offset by the 76 walks he issued opposing batters. Martinez throws a mid-to-upper 90s fastball and a hard slider, but his changeup is still a work in progress. Martinez has been a starter up to this point, but his walk rate and the lack of a third quality pitch could have him ticketed for the bullpen down the road. Martinez will not turn 22 until October, but this could be the year that determines his role going forward.

Mark Trumbo - Trumbo has never really been considered a big-time prospect, but last season's numbers with Triple-A Salt Lake might lead one to think otherwise - a .301 batting average and an impressive 36 home runs and 122 RBI. Trumbo is a free swinger - he struck out 126 times with Salt Lake last season - but he also improved his walk rate and set personal bests in both OBP and SLG. Still, Trumbo is blocked at first base by Kendry Morales, so he is unlikely to see much playing time there in 2011. His best bet for at-bats at the big league level will be in either an experimental outfield role or as the DH.










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