The Angels are set to kick off 2016 in a couple weeks, and with Spring Training finally giving some clarity as to how this team will look, it's about that time we all put on out our final prognostications for the squad. There are still some questions that need to be answered before Opening Day, but we'll get to that in another post. This post is going to take a VERY optimistic look at the various avenues or alleyways the team could go down that would lead them to the Promised Land: a World Series berth and, even better, taking home the title of world champs. So, here are the absolute best case scenarios for the various team divisions that could make 2016 a season to remember.
The starting rotation youth movement shows up BIG:
One of the most intriguing aspects coming into Spring Training, for me, was the starting rotation. You had 8 potential starters, but of course only five spots available. We were on the precipice of some entertaining and informative battles for starting rotation supremacy coming out of camp, but then, wouldn't you know it, some nagging injuries and sore body parts put an end to that real quick. With Jered Weaver's body aching and his fastball struggling and C.J. Wilson having to basically learn a new delivery from scratch to avoid pain, we're already crossing two guys off the list. Tyler Skaggs is also not as far progressed as the Angels would hope, especially since he hasn't pitched in a game since 2014. Between the Weaver and Wilson issues, and Matt Shoemaker having a bad Spring so far, this team is going to need some AMAZING starts from youngsters Garrett Richards, Andrew Heaney and Nick Tropeano. Once Skaggs is okay to get back in the rotation(probably towards the end of April), then he'll also form an important cog in the Angels' 2016 World Series machine. Hector Santiago will still be in the mix, doing his usual thing of one bad start followed by one good start, rinse, repeat. I just don't know how much I trust the arms of Weaver, Wilson and Shoemaker, right now, as much as it pains me to say it, so it's evident that if the Angels should find themselves in contention for the playoffs and beyond, it will be on the backs of the organization's talented, young hurlers showing up BIG TIME.
Surprise potency from the bottom of the lineup:
If Spring is any indication, then we shouldn't have to worry TOO much about the 1-3 hitters this year. Yunel Escobar, Daniel Nava and, of course, Mike Trout, all prove to be meshing just fine in their March ABs. You know what to expect, for better or worse, from Albert Pujols. Kole Calhoun will probably be a fine #5 hitter, continuing his great 2015 campaign. Where things get interesting is batters 6 through 9. If the team is going to have success, they'll need guys like Ji-Man Choi and/or C.J. Cron mashing and getting on base. They'll need Andrelton Simmons to do his best to replicate his 2015 season and improve upon it, and they'll need the usual spark plug heroics from Carlos Perez and folk hero Johnny Giavotella. The nucleus is there for a team that can get on base...they'll not be tasked to slug a ton or knock some dingers out of the park. No, they just need to get on base, and the opportunity is there. If they find themselves knocking on the door of a pennant come October, you'll probably be able to find it was on the back of one or two surprise standouts from the bottom of the Angels' order.
Left field production:
This one's simple: they just need some production...ANY production...out of the probable left field platoon of Daniel Nava and Craig Gentry. It's that simple. Last year, they fought for a wild card spot even in the face of getting barely anything all season long from that position. If Nava and Gentry can get anywhere close to the production they're giving the Angels in Spring Training games, then the front office is going to look pretty darn smart, and fans will be fairly happy. The bar is low...now it's a matter of much Nava and Gentry can clear it.
There aren't any new names here, except for Al Alburquerque, and we can somewhat surmise what we're going to see out of him. There will be no bullpen surprises, as far as breakouts go. Not yet, at least(you could see someone like Greg Mahle get a call-up later in the season). If we're to be surprised and rewarded for this bunch, it will solely be from them exceeding their somewhat shaky 2015 season stats. Does Huston Street have another year in him of being a lights out closer, or will more morale-killing blown saves be in order? The starting pitching will be suspect at many points throughout the season, so it'll be on the bullpen to hold on to some leads in high scoring games. If the Angels bullpen staff can play up to their ability, then they'll be in good shape.
Again, these are "best case scenarios" and in the wild and wacky world of Major League Baseball, anything can happen, good or bad. But these components on the team are heading into the 2016 scrum with some heavy implications behind them. If we see these "best case scenarios" then I have no doubt that the Angels will be playing in the playoffs, and at that point, with their foot in the door, don't be surprised if they go all Jake Taylor on us and win the whole f****** thing. The dominoes have to not only fall just right, but they have to continue falling for about six months straight. No turning back now, time to get one last sip from the well of optimism...drink it in...and buckle up.