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2017 Angels season preview: The path to the World Series

What if everything goes right for the Angels in 2017?

MLB: Spring Training-Los Angeles Dodgers at Los Angeles Angels Rick Scuteri-USA TODAY Sports

Last year, we watched the Angels stumble their way to 74 wins as just about everything went wrong. However, a new season is on the horizon, and the Angels, armed with a new-look roster, are ready to put 2016 behind them.

They’ve had a rough couple of years in terms of luck, but 2017 is the year everything goes right, and the Angels find themselves with the World Series trophy in hand at year’s end. And when I say everything is going to go right, I do mean everything.

The rotation lives up to its potential

The Angels’ success in 2017 hinges more on their rotation than anything else, as it was their undoing a year ago. Garrett Richards, Andrew Heaney, Tyler Skaggs, Nick Tropeano, and C.J. Wilson were all expected to be key parts of the rotation a year ago, but none of them made more than 13 starts.

Now, Wilson is retired and Heaney and Tropeano are recovering from Tommy John surgery. However, Richards and Skaggs are both going to be ready for the start of the season, and they’ll be at the top of the rotation along with Matt Shoemaker while Ricky Nolasco and Jesse Chavez will round it out.

Richards is coming off a season in which he made just six starts before he nearly underwent Tommy John surgery. He avoided it, however, opting for stem cell therapy instead. As of now, this has helped him avoid Tommy John surgery and if the Angels plan on going anywhere this year, he’s going to need to stay healthy and lead the rotation, which he is definitely capable of.

Since he became a full-time starter in 2014, Richards has a 3.11 ERA in 410 13 innings. If he is indeed healthy, there’s no reason he can’t post similar results in 2017.

Shoemaker’s performance will also be key to the Angels’ success next year. He was a Rookie-of-the-Year finalist in 2014, but he was unable to recapture the magic of that season the following year, pitching to the tune of a 4.46 ERA. And it looked like he was going to continue having difficulty finding his 2014 form again when he got off to an awful start in 2016.

In April of last year, Shoemaker had a 9.15 ERA, which resulted in a brief demotion to Triple-A. When he came back, he went on a spectacular run, posting a 3.13 ERA in 138 innings after the month of April before a frightening late-season injury cut his campaign short.

Those numbers were more in line with what Shoemaker provided in 2014 and if his 18 strikeouts in 13 Spring Training innings are any indication, he should have no problem putting together a full, dominant season this year, forming a 1-2 punch with Richards at the top of the rotation.

Then there’s Skaggs, who has yet to pitch a full season in the majors, but the former top prospect is poised to break out one of these days. If he does tap in to some of his potential this year, he will slot in nicely behind Richards and Shoemaker.

And finally, Nolasco, who posted a 3.21 ERA after the Angels acquired him at the Trade Deadline last year, and Jesse Chavez will provide some quality innings at the back of the rotation. Put all of that together and assuming they all stay healthy, it is not difficult to imagine the Angels’ rotation being a strength this year.

The bullpen comes together

The Angels’ bullpen is the club’s biggest mystery entering the season. But, like the rotation, it does have a chance to be better than it might seem.

Huston Street will start the season on the disabled list, but Cam Bedrosian appears ready to replace him as the closer. Bedrosian’s 2016 saw career-bests in numerous statistical categories, including a dazzling 1.12 ERA. He doesn’t need to do that again this year, but if the Angels can rely upon him in high-leverage situations, they’ll be in good shape.

Outside of Bedrosian, the bullpen situation is admittedly murky. However, there are a couple of young relievers who could conceivably complement Bedrosian’s talents at the backend of the bullpen: Mike Morin and Keynan Middleton.

After a fantastic rookie year in 2014, Morin has been unable to find sustained success. He has all the makings of a dominant reliever, and it’s only a matter of time before he becomes one again, so why not in 2017?

Middleton is 23 years old and will start the season in Triple-A. He was in the midst of an unforgettable start to his minor-league career when a move to the bullpen last year rejuvenated it. The move carried him from High-A to Triple-A in one season, and he’s now on the cusp of the Major Leagues.

Middleton’s fastball touched 102 mph in 2016 and in this best-case scenario where the Angels win the World Series in 2017, he gets called up early in the season and becomes part of a three-headed monster of sorts with Bedrosian and Morin. It’s not that far-fetched, I promise. Well, maybe it is, but it’s possible. I think.

As for the rest of the bullpen, well, an effective Middleton-Morin-Bedrosian combination would probably be enough to mask the remaining uncertainty of the group, keeping guys who shouldn’t be pitching in big moments away from them. But Andrew Bailey continuing his late-2016 resurgence wouldn’t hurt.

Left field and second base are no longer black holes

The Angels have received almost no offensive production from both left field and second base over the last two years. But with the acquisitions of Cameron Maybin and Danny Espinosa, that is set to change this year.

Since the start of 2015, Angels left fielders have hit .212 with a .574 on-base-plus-slugging percentage, both of which are the worst in the majors by a wide margin. In that span, the Angels have failed to find a reliable everyday left fielder and have thrown a countless number of players out there.

Maybin, who had a career-year in 2016, should turn out to be the player they’ve been searching for. He probably won’t replicate the .801 OPS he had last year, but there’s always a chance he legitimately figured something out in his age-29 season and that he will carry it over to 2017. His stolen-base ability will also be a welcome addition to a team that is 25th in the majors in stole bases since the start of 2015.

However, he will still make a noticeable impact even if he does regress back to his career norms. Remember, the Angels missed the postseason by just one game in 2015 with David Murphy and Shane Victorino manning left field the majority of the time down the stretch.

And, hey, even if he does flop, the Angels could always turn to light-hitting speedster Ben Revere, whose one-year deal could turn out to be a bargain.

The Angels’ second base situation over the last two years hasn’t been much better than the one in left field. Their .617 OPS at the position in that span is also the worst in the majors.

Espinosa isn’t a great hitter, but he is better than what the Angels have had and, like Maybin, he will at least provide some stability. On defense is where Espinosa’s impact will truly be felt, though. Angels second basemen have combined for -8 Defensive Runs Saved since 2015, third-worst in the majors, while Espinosa managed 8 DRS at shortstop last year and 10 at second base two years ago.

They don’t need to have All-Star caliber years, but solid seasons from both Maybin and Espinosa are a necessity for an Angels run to the World Series.

Albert Pujols has a renaissance

The extent of Albert Pujols’ demise is often a bit exaggerated. Of course he isn’t what he once was, but he is still a valuable offensive player. However, if the Angels really want to win it all this year, he’s going to need to be more than that.

Pujols’ best season came in his first year in Anaheim when hit .285/.343/.516 with 30 home runs and was worth 3.6 Wins Above Replacement. He has declined in each full season since, and he hit .268/.323/.457 with 31 home runs while accumulating 0.9 WAR last year.

He’s coming off his third foot surgery since he joined the Angels, but he has looked great in Spring Training so far, hitting .323 with a pair of home runs and a .948 OPS in 11 games. A season more in line with what he did in 2012 shouldn’t be too much to ask for and would go a long way in getting the Angels to the promised land this year.

So there you have it: The Angels’ simple path to the World Series. Richards, Shoemaker, and Skaggs will form a formidable trio at the top of the rotation; Middleton, Morin, and Bedrosian will do the same at the backend of the bullpen; Maybin and Espinosa will solve the team’s two biggest problems; and Albert Pujols will return to being a genuinely feared hitter who provides more than just the occasional home run.

There are plenty of other things that would help, too, such as C.J. Cron and Jefry Marte having breakout years, but those aren’t as important. And I think I’ve already asked for enough from this team.

Will the Angels win the World Series in 2017? No, probably not. But the pieces are (sort of) in place for it to happen, and it is certainly within the realm of possibility. After all, the only thing that needs to go right is... almost literally everything.