Now that Cactus League games are finally underway and here are my top 5 things to watch for during this spring:
Will the real Kendry Morales please stand up
I often read about how people are concerned if Morales will be able to take over for Mark Teixeira. It seems people have forgotten Teixeira wasn't on the Angels' opening day roster last season. In fact, Sean Rodriquez, Rob Quinlan, and Brandon Wood played in more games for the Angels last season than Teixeira. So, Morales isn't replacing Teixeira, he's replacing Casey Kotchman. But I'm not convinced he can adequately replace Kotchman...and I don't think the Angels are completely convinced either. Morales has had a fantastic minor league career where he's compiled a .901 OBS in 4 seasons. However, the minor league success hasn't translated into major league hits. The thing that bothers me about Morales is he hardly ever draws a walk, which seems to be pretty typical of Angels' hitters, but in 404 major league plate appearances, Morales has just 27 base on balls (3 intentional) resulting in a career OBP or .302. I don't know if the lack of walks is because he can't work the count or if he's just a "free-swinger" since it appears he has good strike zone judgment (he's struck out just 56 times in those 404 PA), it just hasn't been converted into consistent performance. During the 2006 season Morales appeared in 57 games (197 AB) and hit .234/,293/.371, but in 2007 Morales hit a respectable .294/.333/.479 in 119 at-bats. Last season in just 61 at-bats, Morales hit a poor .213/.273/.393. Which is the true Morales? Unless Kendry does extremely bad during spring training he'll open the season as the Angels' first baseman, but I think if he gets off to a slow start, the Angels may look into other options via trade...again.
The opening day shortstop will be?
Erick Aybar? Maicer Izturis? Brandon Wood? Miguel Tejada (just kidding). Either because of trade or injury, the Angels will probably use the last man standing at shortstop to open the season. I'm hoping to see Wood at this position as it will allow the Angels to show more patience with his bat. If he starts off slowly, it's less of an impact if he's playing shortstop than if he's at third base. I know that sounds strange, and you may ask, "why does it matter which position he's playing if he's not hitting?" I think the preception in baseball is there's more allowances for a light-hitting shortstop than there is for a third baseman who's not getting the job done with the bat. Another way to look at the shortstop situation is; Can Wood hit well enough to replace Aybar's bat? Aybar is slightly better than Wood with the glove (Aybar's range factor is 4.33 , Wood's RF is 3.29), so unless Wood can provide more hitting ability than he has shown in the past, there might not be any room for him on the major league roster for him to get fulltime at bats. A Brandon Wood / Howie Kendrick infield would remind me of the Detroit Tigers' outstanding middle infield of Alan Trammell and Lou Whitaker from the late 1970's to the early 1990's. How awesome would that be?
Abreu or Rivera in leftfield?
Expect to see newly-acquired Bobby Abreu in leftfield early this spring. The Angels already know what Juan Rivera can do on the field, so I think they'll want to see for themselves just how bad of a fielder Abreu is. Abreu hasn't played leftfield in over 12 years (and then it was just 10 games), and no one outside of the Angels' organization and Abreu himself know for sure how much playing time he was told he'd get when he was signed. We all know the Angels are a better team with Abreu at DH and Rivera in left, let's see if the Angels know that.
Who gets traded?
I think the Angels are going to make a deal this spring. I think they have to make a deal. Not right away, but before they break camp and head to Anaheim. The Angels are slightly below last season's payroll total, which leaves them some room if they decide to take on salary for an established player. This club has depth at short to trade from, especially if they have plans of playing Brandon Wood at that position, making either Erick Aybar or Macier Izturis expendable. The Angels also have more depth in the middle of the infield with the play of Sean Rodriquez last season at Salt Lake City. If Wood has a strong spring, and the front office decides he'd be a better fit at third base, Chone Figgins could possibly be had in a deal. The only holes that need to be filled is at the backend of the rotation, or if it looks like Morales isn't going to work out (see above) another bat at first base. Possible trade options - Aybar and/or S-Rod for a starting pitcher, Figgins to the White Sox for Paul Konerko, or a package deal for Jake Peavy. There are too many reason for the Angels to deal, something's going to happen and it's just a matter of time.
Who's the 5th starter?
I have no idea because I think they all suck. At least in 2009. Okay, I know it's the #5 starter and no team in baseball has a #5 starter who's capable of having a great season...a Cy Young season, but with the Angels offense once again lacking that "big bat", giving up every 5th game could come back to haunt the club if one of the other division rivals makies a run at first place. Here's my Vegas odds of who'll open the season at the backend of the Angels' rotation:
|Someone else from within the organization
|Someone else from outside the organization