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OC Register: Angels to focus on pitching market, while looking internally for offensive upgrades

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ANAHEIM — Billy Eppler has two specific goals for improving the Angels in 2019: a deeper pitching staff and a better offense.

He has a different path for each.

The general manager said he’s more comfortable with the internal options among the everyday players, so his outside shopping is going to be focused on pitching.

“We are going to be in the pitching market, both in the starting and relief market,” Eppler said Monday. “What that’s going to yield, that’s hard to predict, but we’re going to have a lot of conversations.”

A year ago, Eppler said he had nine starting pitchers on the depth chart who they believed could contribute in 2018. Eight of them ended up getting injured.

Heading into this winter, Eppler said he only has three starting pitchers he considers to be “locks.” Although he wouldn’t specify which ones they are, two certainly are Tyler Skaggs and Andrew Heaney.

The other three who finished this season in the rotation are Matt Shoemaker, Jaime Barría and Felix Peña.

Although Barría was the best of the group this season, he’s also 22 years old. Eppler, speaking in general, added: “Sometimes, with young players, you have to be patient with them.”

Beyond that, Eppler said there “are a lot of candidates to emerge into that group.”

That likely includes Parker Bridwell, Nick Tropeano, Alex Meyer and minor leaguers Griffin Canning and José Suarez. JC Ramírez also could be back from Tommy John surgery sometime toward the end of the season.

Clearly, though, Eppler isn’t satisfied with that group, which includes a lot of time on the disabled list.

“We’re going to prepare for adversity,” he said. “That’s kind of what we have to do, but we hope we can get through with a little less patchwork than we’ve had in the last couple seasons.”

In order to supplement the pitching, the Angels probably have something in the neighborhood of $30 million to spend on players not currently in the organization, assuming the payroll is going to be near what it was this season.

It sounds as if most of those resources will go to the pitching staff, because Eppler said he’s confident that the answers to their offensive problems could be solved internally.

“We have more depth on the position player side than we’ve had,” he said.

Eppler said the Angels need to improve their on-base percentage to make better use of their power. They ranked 20th in the majors with a .313 OBP, which is why they were 15th with 721 runs, despite being seventh with 214 homers.

“A lot of solo home runs,” Eppler said.

David Fletcher, Taylor Ward, José Fernández, Michael Hermosillo, José Briceño, Francisco Arcia and minor leaguers Matt Thaiss and Luis Rengifo are all among the players Eppler said could provide an offensive boost.

Further away, but perhaps also looming later in 2019, is top prospect Jo Adell.

The performances of those players in the minors gives Eppler hope that they can graduate to improve the offense in the majors. His evidence: Triple-A Salt Lake City finished second in the Pacific Coast League in on-base percentage, and Double-A Mobile led the Southern League.

“The philosophy is there,” Eppler said. “They know it. The players know it. They’ll help contribute, no doubt.”

As for where the young players can fit, Eppler said he’s told Zack Cozart to prepare to play second or third, which would allow for a young player at the other spot. Fernández, Thaiss and Walsh all could share time at first with Albert Pujols.

Eppler conceded that the Angels still could look to upgrade externally at first base and catcher. Last year, however, he believed the Angels absolutely needed to address second base (Ian Kinsler), third (Cozart) and left field (Justin Upton) and he said this year he doesn’t feel any of their position player needs are as dire.

“That position player depth, knocking on the door and pushing their way in here, allows us now to direct more focus toward the pitching side,” Eppler said. “We’ve always been opportunistic there. That depth now gives us comfort that we didn’t have in previous years. I think we have a lot of answers internally.”

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