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OC Register: Angels head to spring training after a winter of small upgrades

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Perry Minasian’s first winter as the Angels’ general manager netted at least seven new players who will, barring injury, be a part of the big league roster.

It’s a pretty standard offseason overhaul, although devoid of the marquee names that could energize the organization and provide confidence that the six-year playoff drought won’t become seven.

Days before the Angels’ first workout of the spring, scheduled for Wednesday in Tempe, Arizona, Minasian was asked to assess the progress he had made since he was hired to replace Billy Eppler in November.

“I don’t know if you’re ever satisfied,” Minasian said. “When it comes to roster building you always want to improve as much as you can. We do feel like we’ve improved the overall group from a depth standpoint. I think we’ve added some players that have been there and done that. Whether it’s on the offensive side, the defensive side or the mound, I think we’ve raised the floor and brought in quality people and quality major league players.”

Pitching, of course, was the Angels’ primary need after they ranked 26th in the majors in ERA on their way to a 26-34 record in the shortened 2020 season. The starters were particularly bad, finishing 29th in ERA.

To that group, Minasian has added José Quintana and Alex Cobb. The Angels are taking a gamble that they can regain their form from a few years ago. The Angels took similar chances on Trevor Cahill, Matt Harvey and Julio Teheran in recent years, with disappointing results.

As for the bullpen, the Angels added closer Raisel Iglesias and lefty Alex Claudio, along with a handful of lesser relievers who will be fighting for spots on the roster.

Among the position players, the Angels picked up Jose Iglesias to be their new everyday shortstop, Dexter Fowler to be their right fielder (at least until Jo Adell is ready) and Kurt Suzuki to be the backup catcher.

While none of those acquisitions are too sexy, it looks like a windfall of talent compared with what the top teams in the division have done.

The Oakland A’s and Houston Astros, who both made the playoffs last year, added no one of significance while losing Marcus Semien, Liam Hendriks and George Springer.

That’s the reason the Angels can go into this spring training with the hope that even modest improvement could be enough.

“I’m not one for projections,” Minasian said. “I’ve been on both sides of it. The last couple of years in Atlanta we were picked to finish fourth and (won the division). There’s so much unknown. Who’s healthy? Who’s not? Performance? Some guys have incredible years, some guys struggle. Let’s play the games. Let’s see what happens.”

Starting those games in April will provide the real answers to the Angels’ questions, but some questions will be on the table starting from Day 1 of spring training.

Here’s at look at five of the most significant ones:

How is Shohei Ohtani?

Ever since June 2018, when Ohtani first suffered a serious elbow injury, the Angels and their fans have been waiting for him to be the player they saw during that magical start to his big league career.

They expected it last year, but the pandemic wiped out the start of the season and altered his rehab schedule, perhaps leading to another injury.

Once again, the Angels believe Ohtani is 100 percent healthy. If he is, he could provide the rotation boost that they need, and another dangerous bat in the middle of the order.

“He’s ready to go,” Minasian said. “From the discussions that we’ve had, he’s not coming in on a different schedule than everybody else. He’s ready to go and be a part of this club and work with the other pitchers in his group.”

After Ohtani agreed to a two-year deal earlier this month, agent Nez Balelo said Ohtani has taken his offseason workouts to a higher level, in an effort to move past the struggles and injuries of the past two years.

It still might be hard to judge Ohtani based on spring training, because he showed in 2018 that he doesn’t put much emphasis on games that don’t count, but we should begin to get a gauge on whether he’s really back.

Are the offseason moves over?

There are still a few players on the free-agent market who could help the Angels, most notably starting pitchers Jake Odorizzi and Taijuan Walker and reliever Trevor Rosenthal.

Although Minasian said last week that he’s comfortable with what they’ve got, he didn’t close the door entirely on another move.

Adding any of those players could shift the expectations upward.

“We’re open to all areas,” he said. “I wouldn’t box us in to one area. If there’s a rotation upgrade, we’ll take a look at it. If there’s a bullpen upgrade we’ll take a look at it. The same thing on the position player end.”

Has Adell improved?

The Angels tossed Adell in the deep end last year, and months later Manager Joe Maddon conceded that the 21-year-old probably wasn’t ready. Adell posted a .478 OPS and he struck out in nearly half of his at-bats.

That prompted the Angels to pick up three veteran outfielders as a cushion so Adell could get some more seasoning in the minors. They traded for Fowler and signed Juan Lagares and Jon Jay to minor-league deals. They also picked up journeyman Scott Schebler.

Of course, in a perfect world, Adell will quickly demonstrate that none of that was necessary. He’s had a winter to work on the things he did wrong last year, and now he’ll go into spring training with some experience and the challenge to prove that he is still the super prospect he was supposed to be.

Who will win the final roster spots?

The Angels probably have three bullpen spots and two bench spots up for grabs as spring training begins.

The only certainties in the bullpen would seem to be Iglesias, Claudio, Ty Buttrey, Mike Mayers and Felix Peña. The candidates fighting for the other two or three spots include Luke Bard, Junior Guerra, Jose Quijada, Gerardo Reyes, Jose Alberto Rivera and Aaron Slegers.

Jaime Barria is out of options. Unless an injury to one of the starters opens a spot for him in the rotation, expect Barria to take one of those bullpen spots.

The utility infield spot is likely to go to either Luis Rengifo or Franklin Barreto, who is out of options.

The competition for the fourth outfield spot comes down to Taylor Ward, Lagares, Jay and Schebler. Lagares, a former Gold Glove winner, and Jay are the best two defensive players, so they would have an edge.

How will they work around the Mickey Callaway situation?

The Angels suspended their pitching coach, pending an investigation into reports that he inappropriately pursued at least five women in the media over the past five years. The allegations mostly spanned Callaway’s time as Cleveland Indians pitching coach and New York Mets manager.

There’s been no decision yet from the team, but unless Callaway is exonerated, they’ll need a new pitching coach. Minasian couldn’t say much about what might happen with that position, but he said they have “backup plans we’ve discussed.”

The most obvious choice would be to promote bullpen coach Matt Wise, a former minor league pitching coach in the Angels’ system.

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