The Angels 2016 regular season kicks off tomorrow. After a long and much discussed offseason, the Halos begin their quest for the playoffs and a World Series title as they take on a juggernaut in the Chicago Cubs. While many are skeptical of what the Angels will do in 2016, this is still a team that is very much interested in competing and may very well make the playoffs with a few lucky breaks. Here are my realistic predictions for the 2016 Angels ball club.
Yunel Escobar: A once defense first and bat second player, Escobar has seen quite the transition into a bat first player who has been a defensive wreck the past 2 years. The hope is his struggles in 2015 were due to him learning a new position at third base but at 33 years old and based on what we’ve seen this spring, that’s unlikely. However, Escobar churned in a career offensive year in 2015 thanks to a .347 BABIP. That will come down but even with a little regression, Escobar should be a fine hitter at the leadoff position. Prediction: Escobar posts a .275/.336/.375 line and is worth 1.5 WAR at the hot corner.
Daniel Nava: In an injury plagued 2015 season, Nava was seen as a buy low candidate in the offseason and Angels general manager Billy Eppler was first in line to give him a shot. Nava owns a career .358 OBP and 105 wRC+, both numbers that are vast improvements over the 2015 Angels left field unit. With an above average glove in left field, Nava should be a useful player in 2016. His hot spring training has led to optimism but it remains to be seen if he can bounce back. Prediction: Nava posts a .265/.320/.358 line and is worth 1.1 WAR in left field.
Mike Trout: Is anything but greatness expected from Trout at this point? The guy has arguably had the greatest stretch to start a career of any player in baseball history. He crushes baseballs, he steals home runs, he runs like the wind and he almost literally can take over games. After setting a career high with 41 home runs in 2015, there’s a chance Trout bumps that number up near 45 in 2016. If Trout cuts back on his strikeouts in 2016, he’ll essentially be a flawless player. Prediction: Trout posts a .307/.418/.605 line and is worth 9.8 WAR.
Albert Pujols: Though he won’t and never was going to live up to his contract, Pujols has still been a pretty big part of the Angels since his arrival. Injuries and age have derailed what was once an elite player but he still possesses some of the best power in baseball and should be a lock for 30 home runs. His days as an everyday 1st baseman are gone but he’ll still be an asset whenever he does start over there. Prediction: Pujols posts a .254/.315/.467 line and is worth 2.3 WAR.
Kole Calhoun: One of the best draft success stories in Angels history, Calhoun has gone from an 8th round pick to a potential 4th outfielder to a 3.5+ WAR right fielder. While his offense declined in 2015, his defense picked up and in return, he won his 1st gold glove. Calhoun has made a more conscious effort this spring to get his on base percentage back up and that will help bring him back to his 2014 offensive levels. Calhoun isn’t a star but he’s a very solid everyday regular who is in the category for most underrated player in baseball. Prediction: Calhoun posts a .268/.321/.437 line and is worth 3.4 WAR.
C.J. Cron: The former 1st round pick enters his 3rd MLB season and he’s been a frustratingly inconsistent player up to this point. He’ll wow you with tape measure home runs and a unique ability to hit badly located pitches ala Vladimir Guerrero. His poor plate discipline and lack of athleticism have killed his overall value so far and he’s a big x factor for the Angels this year. A lot of the Angels success offensively will depend on what Cron does hitting behind the big boppers in the middle of the order. Prediction: Cron posts a .266/.309/.445 line and is worth 1.2 WAR.
Carlos Perez: The Angels catcher of the now and the future looks to have a grasp on the starting job entering the 2016 season. An impressive rookie campaign made the Angels believers and Perez could open more eyes in 2016. Perez is a gifted defender who has an idea at the plate as a guy who will walk and add in some power every blue moon. He’s not the sexiest option but he is a useful starter going forward and will garner a bigger fan base this year. Prediction: Perez posts a .248/.301/.348 line and is worth 1.4 WAR
Andrelton Simmons: The most gifted defender in baseball enters his 1st year in an Angels uniform and big things are expected of him. The bat has declined since his impressive rookie year but even with his poor offense, he still provides crazy value with the glove. Any moderate improvements with the bat will add to an already good profile. Prediction: Simmons posts a .271/.326/.351 line and is worth 3.8 WAR.
Johnny Giavotella: Questions surround Giavotella as he enters his 2nd season as the Angels starting second baseman but he did a decent job in 2015. His clutch hitting(.801 OPS in high leverage spots in 2015) won over many fans but his below average bat and very sketchy defense made him an overall weakness. His defense looks improved thus far in spring after working with infield coach Ron Washington in the offseason. If this improvement is for real, he could be slightly more useful in 2016. Prediction: Giavotella posts a .268/.315/.361 line and is worth 1.0 WAR.
Craig Gentry: After several years of quality 4th outfielder’s work, Gentry found himself stuck in AAA most of 2015 and not very good in his limited time in the majors. The main skills still seem to be in tack: good base running and good defense. He’s never hit much but if he can hit lefties like he has in his career again, he’ll be a formidable 4th outfielder once again. Prediction: Gentry posts a .238/.288/.310 line and is worth 0.5 WAR.
Cliff Pennington: The Taylor Featherston utility player experiment failed miserably in 2016 and Pennington was brought in to assure that didn’t happen again. Pennington has gone from a starter to utility guy in recent years but he still brings a quality glove with him and just enough offense to be a nice role player. Look for him to play a little third base, short stop and second base throughout the year. Prediction: Pennington posts a .236/.303/.306 line and is worth 0.4 WAR.
Geovany Soto: The former 2008 NL Rookie of the Year has transformed from stud catcher to roving backup catcher recently but Soto should fill a nice role in 2016. He takes some walks, hits for some power and can frame pitches well. This isn’t a sexy profile but this was the perfect guy to bring in to complement the youngster Carlos Perez. Prediction: Soto posts a .228/.286/.355 line and is worth 0.4 WAR
Ji-Man Choi: The former highly touted prospect enters 2016 with his first shot to prove his worth in the bigs. His minor league track record features a .402 OBP and a little bit of pop to go along with some not terrible defense at first base. From what we’ve seen, the bat may be light on power and there could be some swing and miss issues. If he doesn’t hit to start the year, there’s a good chance he’s displaced. Prediction: Choi posts a .225/.275/.315 line and is worth -0.2 WAR and is displaced in June.
Rafael Ortega: The former Rockies and Cardinals farmhand could play a bigger role than he’s had before in 2016. He’s essentially next in line for 4th outfielder’s work if any injuries occur. Ortega runs well, covers ground and has a legitimate cannon of a throwing arm. He shows a decent approach at the plate and could be not awful at the plate but that remains to be seen. Prediction: Ortega posts a .231/.294/.311 line and is worth 0.2 WAR.
Rey Navarro: For AAA depth, you could do a lot worse than Navarro. He’s a plus with the glove at 2nd base and can play shortstop in a pinch. His bat won’t play up much but he offers enough power to at least bring something to the table. Prediction: Navarro posts a .215/.255/.345 line and is worth 0.1 WAR.
Garrett Richards: 2015 brought career highs in innings pitched and wins for Richards but he also regressed from a dominant 2014. Expectations were a bit lower coming off knee surgery and Richards looks primed for a big 2016. Now equipped with a change up he learned from Huston Street, Richards could contend for the Cy Young. Look for G-Rich to display his explosive arsenal and pitch closer to his 2014 level. Prediction: Richards throws 205 innings to the tune of a 3.05 ERA and is worth 4.0 WAR.
Andrew Heaney: After a solid rookie year in which he posted a 3.49 ERA in 18 starts, Heaney looks to prove that his performance wasn’t a fluke. The finesse left hander has long been touted as a mid rotation starter and his results last year backed that up. If Heaney is to make a jump forward, he’ll need to handle righties better(2.19 FIP vs lefties in 2015, 4.39 FIP vs righties). Prediction: Heaney throws 195 innings with a 3.58 ERA and is worth 2.2 WAR.
Hector Santiago: It’s easy to overlook Santiago because he’s been inconsistent in his time with the Angels but the 28 year old has a career 3.55 ERA. If you go by RA-9 WAR(WAR that accounts for runs allowed), he has been worth 3.2 WAR across 308 innings with the Angels. It’s too early to declare him a FIP beater, like Jered Weaver, but maybe this guy deserves the benefit of the doubt as a nice back end starter. Prediction: Santiago throws 165 innings with a 3.71 ERA and is worth 1.2 WAR.
Jered Weaver: It’s tough to watch Weaver in his current form as he was such a valued member as the ace of the Angels staff from 2010-2013. It’s tough to say how the Angels will handle Weaver but a good bet is he’s used exclusively at home and is on a thin leash most starts. Mix in a few phantom DL visits and Weaver won’t reach 100 innings pitched. Prediction: Weaver throws 92 innings with a 4.88 ERA and is worth 0.1 WAR.
Matt Shoemaker: After finishing 2nd in Rookie of the Year voting in 2014, Shoemaker unsurprisingly regressed in 2015 but he really fell off the radar. His splitter wasn’t so unhittable anymore and his home runs issues resurfaced(24 allowed in 135.1 innings). He enters the year as the #5 guy but he could find himself in a swingman role or back in AAA if he struggled like last year. Prediction: Shoemaker throws 85 innings to the tune of a 4.28 ERA and is worth 0.4 WAR.
Nick Tropeano: The 25 year old Tropeano entered the year as a candidate to steal the #5 spot in the rotation but he’ll begin in AAA. He’ll still pitch plenty of big league innings, however. His fastball-change up-curve ball mix played well last year and he should find himself eating up innings in the back of the rotation. He won’t wow you with great stuff but he’s a gamer who knows how to utilize his stuff. Prediction: Tropeano throws 75 innings with a 3.98 ERA and is worth 0.6 WAR.
Tyler Skaggs: The once former top prospect is coming back from Tommy John surgery and he looks to be ready by late April. There’s no questioning the talent here as Skaggs is a tall, athletic lefty who throws a firm fastball in the low 90’s with a hammer of a curve. His 2014 brought lots of grounders and a low walk rate and if he can duplicate that in 2016, he’ll fit nicely in the middle of the Angels rotation. Prediction: Skaggs throws 115 innings with a 3.85 ERA and is worth 1.7 WAR.
C.J. Wilson: Your guess is as good as mine when predicting what Wilson will do in 2015. His arm is having malfunctions right now and he has been completely shut down from throwing. At this point, you wonder if Wilson may benefit from moving to the bullpen again and being a multi inning specialist. With a crowded rotation, this may be the likely case. Prediction: Wilson moves to the bullpen and throws 60 innings with a 3.95 ERA and is worth 0.3 WAR.
Huston Street: The crafty closer enters his 3rd season as the closer with the Angels and he hopes to bounce back from a bit of a down 2015 season(3.18 ERA). Street continues to defy odds as an undersized command first reliever in a day and age where big, hard throwing relievers are the bees knees. His fly ball heavy ways fit well in Anaheim and there’s no reason to believe Street won’t be a reliable closer again. Prediction: Street throws 58 innings with a 3.04 ERA and is worth 0.7 WAR.
Joe Smith: Multi year deals for relievers rarely work out but Smith has been quite the exception. Smith has been worth 1.9 WAR and has posted a 2.64 ERA across 140 games with the Angels in 2 years. The sidearmer with a wicked high 80’s sinker and sharp slider continues to be one of the better set up man in baseball. Prediction: Smith throws 64 innings with a 2.90 ERA and is worth 0.8 WAR.
Fernando Salas: You look at Salas’ peripherals and think you have a legitimate set up man. Then you realize he’s had an ERA over 4 in 3 of the last 4 years and wonder how that could be? Stranding runners has been a major concern for Salas and that same issue continued in 2015. He posted the 11th best K-BB% among qualified relievers in 2015 yet had a 4.24 ERA. The peripheral jump is intriguing enough to think Salas could be better this year. Prediction: Salas throws 56 innings with a 3.55 ERA and is worth 0.4 WAR.
Michael Morin: Salas must have rubbed off on Morin, who himself had some absurd peripherals(21.2 K-BB%) yet finished with an ugly 6.37 ERA. A .344 BABIP and 44.4 LOB% plagued Morin as he struggled to get outs when he needed them. Morin has come into the season with a sharper slider along with his already good fastball/change up combo. He could really surprise people this year and become a bonafide set up option. Prediction: Morin throws 54 innings with a 2.98 ERA and is worth 0.7 WAR.
Cory Rasmus: The talent is obvious with Rasmus who can throw 4 legitimately good pitches when he’s on but command and injuries have plagued him. 2014 paints a good memory in Angels’ fans minds as he displayed his great stuff in a spot start/long reliever’s role. If he stays healthy and that’s a big if, Rasmus is a very nice option in the middle innings. Prediction: Rasmus predictably has a DL trip or 2 but has a 3.45 ERA in 41 innings and is worth 0.4 WAR.
Jose Alvarez: The epitome of boring yet effective, Alvarez was solid in 2015. Alvarez throws enough strikes, misses enough bats and gets enough grounders to find a role as a lefty who can get both righties and lefties out. His 3.49 ERA in 2015 was solid and his peripherals essentially back that up. His clean mechanics will allow his value to play up even with lesser stuff than most. Prediction: Alvarez throws 43 innings with a 3.68 ERA and is worth 0.2 WAR.
Greg Mahle: The 2014 15th round pick from Santa Barbara may be one of the steals of that draft, even if Mahle tops out as a lefty specialist in the bullpen. Mahle is an unorthodox, funky left hander who throws multiple pitches from multiple arm slots. It’s unclear if he’ll be able to handle righties in the bigs but for the time being, he’ll settle in as a good LOOGY. Prediction: Mahle throws 41 innings with a 3.64 ERA and is worth 0.3 WAR.
Cam Bedrosian: The former 1st round pick oozes potential every time you see him pitch yet he frustrates you with the inability to repeat his mechanics and throw strikes. Bedrosian throws legitimate mid 90’s heat with a two-plane slider with bite and clearly has the stuff to become a late innings option. It may take a while to reach his potential but it wouldn’t surprise many if Bedrosian started making progress in 2016. Prediction: Bedrosian throws 36 innings with a 4.38 ERA and is worth 0.2 WAR. He finishes the year on a strong note with 10 straight scoreless innings, however.
Al Alburquerque: The former set up man for the Tigers enters his 1st year in Anaheim and will start in AAA due to still having some service time left in the minors. The stuff still looks great even with a velocity drop and Alburquerque should find himself in the majors for the majority of the year. His quality 70 grade slider will be a useful weapon as a righty specialist in the pen. Prediction: Alburquerque throws 40 innings with a 3.68 ERA and is worth 0.3 WAR.
Javy Guerra: Another former set up man(and closer), Guerra was brought in as a buy low candidate who can regain his form as a solid middle reliever. Guerra is throwing 92-94 and still features that strong 12-6 curve and should find himself throwing quite a few big league innings when injuries occur. If Guerra can get back to his FIP beating ways(2.87 career ERA, 3.58 FIP), he can be a useful option in the middle innings of the bullpen. Prediction: Guerra throws 33 innings with a 3.97 ERA and is worth 0.1 WAR.
This Angels team does not feature the upside you’d like to see in a contender but the floor seems high enough that it won’t be a disastrous season but not one where the team is playing postseason baseball. Mike Trout makes up for lack of thump around the roster and should keep the Angels in the mix of things throughout the year. One thing the Angels have going for them is the extraordinary parity in the American League and the AL West being more wide open than it has been in recent years. The Angels are tough to predict as there seems to be a wide variance of outcomes. The offense could be great if Yunel Escobar or Daniel Nava hit but if they don’t, it could be a repeat of 2015 when Trout, Pujols and Calhoun hit a bunch of solo home runs. The starting staff could be good if the youngsters take a step forward but a few injuries could leave a lot of innings to Matt Shoemaker and Jered Weaver, which would be an issue. The strongest component of this Angels team may be the defense, which could be a top 5 unit in baseball. Mike Trout, Andrelton Simmons and Kole Calhoun are clear top tier defenders and Carlos Perez, Daniel Nava, Craig Gentry, Cliff Pennington and Geovany Soto are quality defenders in their own right. The bullpen may lack in high end arms but it’s easy to squint and see the possibility that guys stay healthy and pitch a little better in 2016. There’s a big glut of guys who could be average or better relievers, which isn’t a bad thing.
Most projection systems have the Angels finishing around .500, which seems about right. I have them pegged for 83-79 right now but it wouldn’t surprise me if the team finished in the 84-86 win range and was in a position for a Wild Card spot near the end. However, it’s pretty clear the team needs some guys to perform up to or beyond expectations for this to happen. If things go south to begin the year, the Angels could go a different route and sell near the deadline. 2016 could prove to be a big year for the future of the Angels and what direction Billy Eppler goes in. The “Trade Trout to replenish the farm” rumors are probably silly at this point as trading Trout would be a marketing nightmare and would be no guarantee to get the Angels any closer to contending in the future. For now, enjoy watching the Angels be underdogs and try to make their way into the playoffs, a thought that seems crazy given the expectations the team has had in recent years.