By David Saltzer, AngelsWin.com Senior Writer
Baseball is back!
While the stands may not be entirely full of fans, the players will be taking the field and we have games to watch. I’m excited! It’s been a long year, and springtime and baseball both bring hope and joy for a new and better year.
In the past, I’ve never actually published predictions for the Angels at the start of the season. Call me superstitious, but it’s like talking about a no-hitter during a game. I’ve always been a bit too worried that I’d jinx the team if I published a prediction.
But, since the last 12 months have been anything but usual, this year, I’ve decided to break that streak and try something different. I’m going to write my predictions for the team. If they come true, it’ll make for a thrilling year for fans and the team. And, throughout the season, it will be great to follow these predictions to see if they come true.
So, here they are:
Bold Prediction #1: The Angels will have 4 players finish in top 15 vote recipients for the AL MVP Award
Okay, at first this seems a little bit easy with a lineup that features Trout and Rendon. But that’s just half of the prediction. I still need 2 more players to receive votes and finish in the top 15 recipients. Considering how many good players there are in the league, and, that there are 15 teams in the mix, that is a tall order. Throw in the possibility for ties in the voting, and it is an extremely bold prediction.
For the remaining two Angels to receive AL MVP top-15 vote recipients, my money is Ohtani and Fletcher. Ohtani has been crushing the ball all spring and has kept his back foot a lot more steady than he did last year. As a result, the ball has been flying off his bat. Joe Maddon has been using him a LOT more in games, and he should finish the season with north of 450 ABs this season. At the rate he has been piling up numbers this spring, that should result in over 25 HRs and an OPS over 900. That should get him plenty of consideration, without even factoring in what he will do on the mound.
As for Fletcher, he is the sparkplug that the team needs. Seeing him in #22 reminds me always of another sparkplug for the team—David Eckstein. Both just seemed to have an outsized affect on the team’s performance. Both made their teams greater than the sum of their parts, and both provided more than just their raw stats indicated.
With Fletcher leading off, and solidifying 2nd base, our infield is very set defensively. And, when Iglesias needs a day of at SS, Fletcher can capably fill in there. Hitting in front of Trout, Ohtani, and Rendon, I can see him scoring over 100 runs while providing solid defense at two positions. That makes him a serious candidate for some MVP consideration. Last year, Fletcher barely missed being in the top 15 of MVP vote recipients, finishing in a tie for 17th place, and my bet is that this year he will do even better.
With Fletcher, Ohtani, Trout, and Rendon all in the top of our lineup, they will not make each other perform better, but they will make this team fun to watch.
Bold Prediction #2: The Angels will have 2 players vie for the AL Comeback Player of the Year Award
Last year, Ohtani struggled on both sides of the game in ways that we have never seen him struggle before. He was coming back from TJ surgery, and just never got the feel or ability to pitch. And, worse, in the box, he struggled mightily, pulling his back foot out and pulling his head. As a result, he had his worst year ever.
But, this year, in Spring Training, Ohtani appears to be back to form. His velocity has been clocked in triple digits. His splitter has looked wicked at times. I know his Spring Training ERA doesn’t look pretty (12.19), but that doesn’t tell the whole story. He’s had 17 Ks in 10.1 innings. And, don’t forget that in the 2018 Spring Training, he had an ERA of 27.0 and then went on to post a regular season ERA of 3.31. So, we can take this year’s ERA with a grain of salt.
With the return of the velocity, Ohtani should perform much better during the season. And, with a more normal spring training, and a regular workload, he should get back into the rhythm of things. If that happens, he could easily be the AL Comeback Player of the Year, or if not, one of the top vote recipients for that award, in addition to receiving plenty of votes for the AL MVP Award.
But there is another Angels player who has also been quietly having a great spring and looking like he’s back to having fun playing baseball. And, he has been struggling mightily for a while now: Justin Upton. In 44 Abs this spring, he has posted a .364/.404/.738 line with 4 dingers and 2 SBs. While that is a small sample size in the spring, what I’ve noticed is the ease at which he has hit the ball and the joy with which he has been playing. It’s a big difference between what we have seen over the past two years, where he has struggled with injuries.
Getting a healthy Upton back into the lineup with be a huge improvement for the team, now and in the future. Not only will his bat help the team win, if he’s hitting, it will allow Adell and Marsh the time to develop in the Minor Leagues and refine their craft. When both of them are ready, they will have an easier and smoother transition to the Majors than we saw from Adell last year, when he was rushed up without enough time to develop.
A healthy Upton should post a line around .260/.350/.475 with 25+ dingers. That’s not far from his career norms, and a huge improvement for him over the last 2 seasons. If he does that, he should get serious consideration for the AL Comeback Player of the Year Award considering how much he struggled. Getting that kind of production out of Upton will dramatically deepen our lineup and give our pitchers the comfort of knowing that they don’t have to be perfect—they just have to keep us close and know that our offense will pull out the wins.
Watching these two return to form not only will be fun, but will lead to many more Angels wins. And, watching them improve will make the race for the AL Comeback Player of the Year Award a lot more meaningful for Angels fans.
Bold Prediction #3: Mike Trout will play in the postseason for the first time since 2014
We all know the story: The Angels have been wasting Mike Trout’s prime and he hasn’t played in the postseason since 2014. There are many reasons for it, such as bad gambles on pitchers who did not work out (both starters and relievers), players choosing to play elsewhere, injuries, lack of player development, etc.
The reality is that it doesn’t matter why the Angels haven’t made the postseason in a long time, it’s just that they need to get there while Trout is capable of being the start that he is. And, until they get there, Angels fans will continue to hear and read a litany of stories about how the team is wasting Trout’s prime.
But, I think that this will be the year that all of those story lines will end. The new Angels GM, Perry Minasian, did a lot this offseason to raise the floor for the team. In the past, everything had to go perfectly for the Angels to contend. A single injury or bad contract was devastating to the team. We essentially had a poor foundation for the team due to a lack of depth and needed to pull the ace of spades out of the deck for a chance at contending. Worse yet, when things did go wrong, we generally lacked the depth to fix the problem, and instead had to hope that the ship would right itself.
However, with the moves made this offseason, and, with the emergence of several prospects, the Angels aren’t in that position anymore. A single injury or two won’t sink this ship. And, far less has to go right for the Angels to stay in contention. We don’t need above average performances from many key players to contend—we just need average performances.
The storyline on Trout has led to a sense of urgency that seems to have permeated throughout the Front Office. Already, we have seen it in place. Recognizing the obvious weakness of the team, the bullpen, Minasian moved quickly and decisively to fix it by signing several players immediately. Rather than rolling the dice to see if things work out on their own, Minasian and Moreno immediately moved to bring in help. With moves like that, it seems far more likely that if the Angels are contending this year that they will continue to make moves throughout the season, especially near the trade deadline, to give the team that final boost to the postseason.
There is one more piece to the puzzle to getting Trout back to the postseason, and that is Trout himself. During Spring Training this year, Trout revealed that he’s been fighting an “uncomfortable feeling” at the plate for most of the past year. And, with that feeling, he still produced a .281/.390/.603 line. To remedy that, he’s been doing new drills and working to get right and stay right at the plate. Reportedly, he said that it’s working and that he’s feeling better than he did last year.
Imagine what a much more comfortable Mike Trout will do at the plate. Even better, imagine what he will do with a potential MVP vote recipient David Fletcher and a potential AL Comeback Player of the Year/AL MVP vote recipient Shohei Ohtani hitting in front of him and a potential AL MVP vote recipient Anthony Rendon and another potential AL Comeback Player of the Year Justin Upton hitting behind him. That will be one incredibly deep lineup and pitchers will have to pitch to him. Trout should crush, and combined with all the other offense, should outslug their improved pitching and win plenty of game. Winning lots of games wins to the postseason, which is where we want to go.
While some fans have been struggling to get back into baseball, watching the games this spring has gotten me excited for baseball again. More importantly, it has gotten me very excited for Angels baseball. With our new announcers and improved team, there is a lot to be excited about with this team. They will be fun to watch, and if these bold predictions come true, they will be a very good and successful team.
Now that the games are for real, it’s time to play ball and have fun watching Angels baseball!