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2017 Angels season preview: Big storylines to follow in 2017

A not-so-subtle hint: Albert Pujols and Mike Trout are in here.

MLB: Los Angeles Angels at Seattle Mariners Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

It all came crashing down in 2016, but a new offseason and an improved roster brings with it new hope for the new season. And with that comes new things to follow for this 2017 team: here are those things.

A healthy starting rotation?

The 2017 team will go as far as their starting pitching will take them. All signs are pointing up after a super-unlucky injury bug in 2016 that knocked out Garrett Richards, Andrew Heaney, and Nick Tropeano until 2018. Luckily, Richards’ successful stem cell procedure (yay science!) means he’ll be able to pitch this year. And for what it’s worth, he says he’s feeling “100 percent” and according to a scout, he even reached 99 mph in one of his Cactus League starts.

It has never been a question of whether the arms are good enough, but rather if they can stay on the field. If Richards and Skaggs, the Angels will be a force to be reckoned with.

A defense to kill for

Billy Eppler set out to fill the holes of this team in the offseason, acquiring terrific defenders in Danny Espinosa and Martin Maldonado. Cameron Maybin and Ben Revere also have above-average range in outfield positions, which leaves the only below-average defensive position to be third base, which is manned by Yunel Escobar.

When you throw in these acquisitions in with what already was the fourth best defense in baseball, you get a team that is one of, if not the best fielding team in baseball. That’s Trout, Simmons, Espinosa, and Maldonado up the middle with Calhoun, Maybin/Revere, and Cron/Valbuena to boot, if you weren’t keeping score. Expect to see a lot of satisfying highlight-reel plays!

Will Mike Trout win his 3rd MVP in six years?

Now that I’m thinking about it, this is a silly question. No, no, it’s a really, really dumb question that really should be a non-question. Here’s how we’d rephrase this: Mike Trout will win his 3rd MVP in six years.

Now that the voters have come around to the idea of the best player being awarded the MVP, this is no longer a question and more of an accepted fact. If this were accounting, Mike Trout winning the MVP would be like following Generally Accepted Accounting Principles: if it doesn’t happen, then it’s almost as if the whole year was for nothing.

Albert Pujols’ quest for 600 home runs and beyond

One might point to WAR totals to point to Pujols’ decline, but that’s all relative since Pujols gets dinged for not playing defense now as he’s a DH. However, we can see his OPS+ and wRC+ totals and see that he is an above average hitter, even though he is nowhere near his peak during his Cardinals days. But that’s OK! Pujols is going into his age-37 season and despite plantar fasciitis issues on both feet since joining the Angels, he has averaged 33 home runs over the past three seasons.

Take a look at the all-time HR leaders: Albert Pujols currently sits in 9th place at 591.

Career home runs

Rank Player Home runs
Rank Player Home runs
1 Barry Bonds 762
2 Hank Aaron 755
3 Babe Ruth 714
4 Alex Rodriguez 696
5 Willie Mays 660
6 Ken Griffey Jr. 630
7 Jim Thome 612
8 Sammy Sosa 609
9 Albert Pujols 591

If we project Albert out to 25 homers for the remaining five years on his deal, then he’d be sitting pretty at 716 home runs, two-upping the Babe for third-best slugger all-time. It’s insane to even think about, but not only could Pujols eclipse the 700 HR mark, he might even pass Babe Ruth!

Now, as for this season, should Pujols hit 30 HRs he’d have 621, which would move him up to 7th all-time and put him within striking distance of Griffey. If he is to turn back the clock to his Cardinals days and have a 40 HR season, he would even surpass Griffey.

Whether he is to catch The Kid is in doubt, but eclipsing 600 dingers as well as Sosa and Thome? There is little to no doubt that he gets there this year.

Depth, depth, depth, baby!

It doesn’t dominate headlines, but it really helps when injuries strike, a valuable lesson learned in the misery of what was 2016.

It’s exactly what Billy Eppler set out to assemble in the minors and majors, on top of all the usual acquisitions. Most notably, you probably noticed Eppler working the waiver wire to obtain another former top prospect, prospective bullpen piece, or veteran journeyman. Most of this depth is unproven and/or untested at the big league level, but just going off the sheer amount of arms piled up, if a few of them become reliable, cost-controlled starters or relievers, then the entire expenditure becomes worth it.

Not all depth is ‘wasted’ depth, though. Ben Revere and Luis Valbuena are legitimate starting position player options on a division winning team. The former’s career batting average is .285 and averaged over 30 stolen bases since 2011 while the latter had a higher OPS+ and wRC+ than Kole Calhoun last year.

On paper, this is a better team than the 2015 one that won 85 games. But regardless of the wins and losses outcome, there are a lot of things to look forward to in what was originally supposed to be a year that merely bridges the gap to the three years afterwards.