It's almost inevitable, there's always a turnover every year. Some players lose it, some players catch fire, it's why they play the game and we discuss it from every angle. Here's what I got:
Catcher: Mike Napoli vs. Jeff Mathis. Of course the easy answer is Mike Napoli. He's been a stud this Spring and has "future 40 HR DH" written all over him. But wait, Jeff Mathis isn't looking so bad anymore. He's always had a beautiful swing, but now he's actually making contact, on top of which, it appears his air-mailing days could be over, his throws this Spring have been on target. Chances are, we'll see another year of splitting the spot and next year Naps takes over part time DH/ catcher spot as Conger is integrated in. But for this year, don't be surprised if Jeff Mathis catches 20 more games than he has in the past.
Second Base: Howie Kendrick vs Maicer Izturis. Howie's primed for a HUGE year, last season he quietly proved that if he stays within himself and doesn't push, he could probably hit .350 over a full year. Yeah I know .350? BS. Not for Kendrick through. Beautiful swing, renewed confidence, more patience and playing time. He might force Maicer to the bench more than the Soth would prefer. Maicer's steady and should reasonably be a starting middle infielder somewhere. This is great depth to have. Don't be surprised if Howie Kendrick ends up starting 130 games at 2B this season.
Third Base: Brandon Wood vs Maicer Izturis. It's do or die time for Brandon Wood, though it probably isn't any fault of his own. This Spring, he's looking like he's ready to be the player we all knew he could be. 3 years ago many were up in arms that Wood wasn't our starting SS. He's gifted defensively, should challenge for a gold glove, and he's shown a lot of growth in his approach. Wood's the type of player that could explode with regular playing time. With Maicer, the same applies as at 2B, he's a great option, but he could be forced to the bench. Don't be surprised if Woody opens lots of eyes and plays 140 games at 3B.
Backup Outfielder: Reggie Willits vs EVERYONE. Reggie's more than likely going to stick with the big league club. He's useful in a role such as this, but given his injury and our relatively unknown depth of talent for the backup OF spots, Reggie could be bumped. Terry Evans has the tools but doesn't have any minor league options left, he's getting his looks this Spring, though not exactly impressing. Michael Ryan is a proven hitter everywhere but the big leagues. He plays infield and outfield and that kind of versatility could land him a spot with the Angels. Cory Aldridge is very similar to Terry Evans, lots of skill, looking for a home. The Soth has proven he has a love affair with inserting Rob Quinlan into odd positions (grow up and stop laughing), he could take the backup OF spot. Finally, Peter Bourjos, he's getting a VERY long look this Spring and he's impressed a lot of folks. He's faster than Willits, younger than Willits, plays better defense than anyone not named Hunter and maybe Hunter, and he's got more pop than Willits. Bourjos could force someone's hand soon. Personally, I think we'll see Quinlan back with the Angels until Willits is healthy again.
Closer: Brian Fuentes vs. the Angels bullpen. Sure Fuentes saved a ton of games last year, but anyone who looks at more than just the saves stat could see that Fuentes was shaky and prone to the long ball. If he finishes a lot of games this season, he will become very expensive next season, will the Angels let that happen? On top of which, something no one is talking about, the Angels don't have a left handed specialist. Fuentes could be that guy. Rodney has closer stuff and experience. Shields has handled the 8th inning better than anyone in baseball the last decade. Jason Bulger came in and saved our tails on multiple occasions last year. Jepson's a closer in waiting and someone else not a lot of people are discussing, Brian Stokes. He looks strong this Spring and could probably close games. I see Fuentes splitting the 9th inning duties. With the lead in the 9th and facing lefties, Fuentes will come in. If the opposition had power hitting righties up next in the order, don't be surprised to see Jepson or Rodney. Bottom line, I don't think Fuentes holds down the closer spot on his own and I don't think he meets his vesting option this season.
Rotation: The weak link vs. Reckling. Reckling put up GREAT numbers in AA as a 19/20 year old last season, he's still 2 or 3 years ahead of the curve and so far this Spring, he's looking like the real deal. He's deceptive, has an average fastball with movement, and a wicked curveball and change up. His numbers may not be great in AAA because of it's HR tendencies, but if Reckling shines in AAA and someone struggles with the big league club, do you think the Soth would make the switch? Spot starts look like they'll go to Matt Palmer, but what happens if Pineiro gets shelled like some think he will? What is Ervin can't settle into his 2008 form? What if Kazmir can't get his new slider or even old slider over? Personally, I don't think it's gonna happen. I think Reckling will spend another 2 years in AAA and our rotation will be as good as any in the game. But Reckling certainly looks like the future of our middle rotation.