The additions of Albert Pujols and C.J. Wilson to the Los Angeles Angels have already done wonders for the team. Just for openers, the club has already sold an additional 5,000 season tickets. There are teams that don't have a total of 5,000 season ticket holders. The Angels are close to selling 25,000 season seats. That is totally amazing.
But Pujols and Wilson don't only put people in the seats. This spring there is a noticeably different vibe around the club. It seems the players have taken their individual games up a notch. Especially Vernon Wells, Howie Kendrick and Erick Aybar. They are playing with total focus and attention to detail. That's what being surrounded by a guy like Pujols can do.
Albert Pujols is easily the most focused player I have ever seen. He doesn't miss anything. He makes road trips in spring training - something most superstars avoid. Pujols just loves to play the game. He watches everything. In batting practice he takes pitches to the opposite field as opposed to always wanting to jack the ball out of the park. In the outside batting cages he swings at curveballs. On the bench he watches every play on the field and talks to his teammates. He stares at the pitcher from the on deck circle, learning as he watches. He is in every minute of every game.
In watching the Angels this spring, I am witnessing some of the most fundamental baseball I have seen in a long, long time. They are hitting the cutoff man. They are in the correct positions defensively. They are hitting behind the runners. They are taking pitches where they are thrown. They are hustling. And, oh by the way, they are killing the baseball at the plate. At least in the games I've seen.
Wells has changed his stance and he's driving the ball again. His swing is shorter and quicker. I look for him to have a good year. I never thought I wouldd say that again. Wells can still take a ball deep or smack a single up the middle. His defense is fine in center. That's a good thing because it looks like Peter Bourjos may have to take it easier with a hip problem. Wells can spell him upon occasion.
I am really concerned about the health of Mike Trout. He has lost weight this spring. The team says he has a virus. This past fall he had a bad shoulder that impacted both his throwing and his hitting in the Arizona Fall League. I think he'll start the season at Triple-A. Even if he regains his health, I believe the numbers work against him. The team wants to find a place for Bobby Abreu who can still hit. By my roster count, Trout is the odd outfielder out. At least to start the season. That is not to say he won't get recalled at some point. Much depends upon his health and his progress. I wouldn't bet the ranch on Trout. Not yet.
Kendrick could finally become the player many scouts touted a few years ago. He is smacking the ball all over the field with that short stroke we originally saw. He's just trying to make good contact and use the barrel of the bat. It's working. The man can flat out hit. And he can run. And he can play defense. Find a place for Kendrick on your fantasy team and I think you'll be happy.
The Angels pitching is among the best in baseball. Any team having to face Jered Weaver, Dan Haren, C.J. Wilson and Ervin Santana on consecutive days will have their hands full. The fifth starter's spot is still in question. Garrett Richards looked fine when I saw him. Jerome Williams is also a pitcher the Angels like. We'll have to wait and see how that plays out.
Granted, the Angels will have a tremendous challenge from the Rangers in the AL West. Both teams are loaded with talent.
I have been impressed with Jean Segura, a shortstop I saw play in the Arizona Fall League. Segura is another in the long line of the Angels prototypical middle infielders with good range, quick feet and a nice bat. Segura needs development time, but he has the ability to at least be a utility player behind Aybar in the future.
They may still be weak behind the plate. I have never been a huge Chris Iannetta fan. He will share the role with Hank Conger. Conger still has issues with footwork and getting in the proper throwing position to make quick, crisp throws to catch base stealers. Iannetta has the edge there. Neither has shown the bat against quality pitching they once advertised. The Angels missed on their evaluation of Mike Napoli.
The final pieces of the Angels' puzzle await resolution. Can Kendrys Morales run? Well, he recently began running the bases, a huge accomplishment. If he can repeat that he will play in a game this week. If he can play in one game, he will play in another game. Then they will determine his progress. My guess is that he opens the season as their permanent DH. Morales will be very rusty with the bat. It will take some time to regain his stroke against live pitching. But if he's healthy, he'll be their guy. But really, we haven't seen consistent hitting from Morales. Just when he turned the corner he got hurt. My caution light is on. I like him, but I won't over pay.
Third base will belong to Mark Trumbo. He takes extra infield before games. He won't be a tremendous liability because he's a good athlete. Balls to his left may be an issue as well as short-hop grounders. His bat plays. He has tremendous power as witnessed by several long homers already this spring. The team has enough offense to withstand less than stellar defense at third base. Count on Trumbo at third when planning your team. If Morales can't play, Trumbo gets time at DH and third base, while Abreu becomes more important.
Abreu fits on the roster because of the uncertainty of Morales and his own expensive contract. They really can't move him until they determine if Morales can play. Abreu is a very tough contract to trade. So I think he makes the final 25-man roster regardless of Morales or anything else.
So here is what I believe will be the Angels alignment:
C Iannetta (Conger)
1B Pujols (Morales)
SS Aybar (Izturis)
3B Trumbo (Callaspo)
DH Morales (Abreu)
The bullpen should be adequate. I have my doubts about closer Jordan Walden's consistency and command. Before this spring I was very high on Walden. I haven't liked what I've seen this spring. In fact, I am backing off him personally as a closer in my own auctions unless there are no better options available. I don't think he's in jeopardy of losing his job, but he still leaves me unsettled. Latroy Hawkins and non-roster invitees Frankie Rodriguez and Jason Isringhausen don't excite me either. Scott Downs is solid, but he was so good as a setup man, I'm not sure the Angels will jeopardize that. Kevin Jepsen, Trevor Bell, Rich Thompson and Hisanori Takahashi are available to pitch late innings as well. I do think the Angels need help in the bullpen.
WHAT I LIKE ABOUT THE ANGELS
- They are a focused, driven team with a superstar leader in Albert Pujols
- They have no position weaknesses
- They have power, they have speed and their hitters make good contact
- They have an awesome top four in their rotation
- They have a strong bench
- They play the A's and the Mariners a lot
WHAT I DON'T LIKE ABOUT THE ANGELS
- They haven't figured out their fifth starter and the options are mediocre
- They have questions in their bullpen
- They don't have stellar offensive or defensive catching
- Their closer concerns me
- They play the Rangers a lot
- Kendrys Morales has been away from the game for more than a year
- Mark Trumbo is mediocre at best at third base
THESE ARE GUYS I WON'T HESITATE TO DRAFT OR BID ON
Pujols - perhaps a slight decline from changing leagues but a superstar
Kendrick - complete player offers help in every category
Aybar - helps with every category with the exception of home runs
Trumbo - awesome power, but adjusting to new position may impact him
Morales - given time, he could be solid if he can run
Wells - first time in three years that I would draft Wells
Bourjos - low-end pick offers steals and runs but hip a concern
Hunter - still has enough pop in his bat to put up numbers
Weaver - losing velocity on his fastball (be careful here not to overpay)
Haren - an absolute stud
Wilson - a shade below Haren for me
Santana - inconsistent but should catch good matchups against other fourth starers
THESE ARE GUYS I WANT THE OTHER GUYS TO DRAFT
Walden - I'm not secure about his status or his command anymore
Iannetta - I'm not a believer (AL-only league guy for me)
Conger - See Iannetta
Callaspo - not enough at-bats with Trumbo at third
Izturis - Scioscia loves him and he'll play, but not enough to help
Trout - Still needs development work. Better fantasy help next year
Abreu - not enough consistent at-bats if he remains with Angels
Yoenis Cespedes may be the real deal. I will see lots of him in the coming three weeks and I'll share my thoughts with you.
Keep your eye on left-handed hitting Eric Sogard as a potential starter at third base for Oakland. He's hitting the ball very well and the club has a tremendous hole at the position. I like Sogard. Better than any of the other options at this point in spring.
I am very concerned about the entire Indians team. Their pitching is getting clobbered and they aren't hitting. Ubaldo Jimenez has increased his velocity but his rhythm is a total mess.
This is tough to write this but Drew Pomeranz is getting rave reviews in the Cactus League. Please, please don't let me write about it again. I get sick to my stomach. Readers who have followed me know how I feel about "the trade." For his sake, I wish Pomeranz wasn't pitching in Coors. But his stuff is outstanding.
Mat Gamel is among my sleepers for the year. I like everything I've seen about him. His defense scooping balls out of the dirt is very good. And I've seen the power. This is his year. I trust him and I'm targeting him.
If there ever was a bat made for Petco, it has to be Yonder Alonso. He is a gap hitter and he makes tremendous contact. He won't hit home runs for you, but he'll hit. He has a tremendous work ethic. I really, really like Alonso. And Yasmani Grandal and Boxberger. I'll say it again - I think the Reds gave up too much for Latos. But I guess they did what they had to do. I'm not sure one starting pitcher is all they needed to get to the top. Like Cleveland, they gave up tomorrow for today. I hope their today is better than what Ubaldo delivered for Cleveland.
But the above paragraph being said, I like Latos. He admits that he was very immature in his earlier days. He wants a fresh start and I think he'll have a fine year for the Reds. He's on my target list. He has something to prove and I like that in pitchers. Can he lead them to a championship? Maybe he and Cueto together can do that. We'll see.
I don't see how the Royals can keep Wil Myers off the 25-man roster. But before you draft him, understand that he isn't even on the 40-man roster yet. He's a spring training invitee. His swing is so sound and his contact so consistent that he's a very tough out at the plate. His defense is improving in the outfield and his speed is a real weapon. Ultimately he can be a DH if they move Billy Butler for some pitching help. But Meyers is the real deal. Lorenzo Cain should open as the Royals' center fielder.
The Royals' pitching still hasn't impressed. They have all the stud arms, but many are struggling. Mike Montgomery is the poster boy in the scuffling category.
Jose Lopez has a good chance to make the Indians roster. He could help at several infield positions. I have a hunch Lonnie Chisenhall will be sent out. It's just a hunch. Nothing based in fact. I'm not making a prediction here; so don't hold me to it. I'm just sayin. Chisenhall needs much more seasoning.
That's it for this week. Follow me on twitter @BerniePleskoff. I tweet from every spring training game I attend. Follow me on MLB.com in the Voices section. As always, your comments and questions are always welcome.