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OC Register: The 2021 Angels, position by position

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Although the Angels don’t have the star power at the top of the rotation that many fans would like to see, they believe they have a deeper and more dependable group than they’ve had in past years. The Angels are going to use a six-man rotation this year, in order to manage the workload for pitchers transitioning from a 60- to a 162-game season. Half of that rotation includes the three pitchers who performed well for the Angels last year. Right-hander Dylan Bundy, left-hander Andrew Heaney and right-hander Griffin Canning combined for a 3.91 ERA in 34 starts. In the other 26 games, their starters had a 9.22 ERA, so that’s what the Angels have sought to improve. They brought in free agent lefty Jose Quintana and traded for right-hander Alex Cobb. They had eye-opening performances in spring training to suggest that a rebound could be possible for one or both of the veterans. Of course, the wild card is Shohei Ohtani, who has top-of-the-rotation raw stuff. The two-way player has barely pitched in the last two seasons because of injuries. In spring training he showed he was healthy, although perhaps lacking command.


The first significant move for new General Manager Perry Minasian was trading for right-hander Raisel Iglesias from the Cincinnati Reds. Iglesias is an established closer who has saved 100 games in the past four seasons, so the Angels have a chance to start and finish the season with the same closer for the first time since Huston Street had the job in 2015. Otherwise, though, the bullpen is full of question marks. Right-hander Mike Mayers is back, and it looked like Ty Buttrey would be back before he was optioned in the final days of spring training. The Angels added side-arm left-hander Alex Claudio, who has been one of baseball’s best pitchers at inducing soft contact. The Angels also figure to have a few pitchers who can work multiple innings out of the bullpen, which could be an important role if the starters are going to have their innings watched closely. Right-handers Junior Guerra, Felix Peña and Aaron Slegers can all pitch multiple innings. The Angels also figure to keep at least one of their extra starters – Jaime Barria or Patrick Sandoval – in the bullpen. Peña is likely to start the season on the injured list, but he should be back quickly. The most intriguing bullpen decision could be keeping Chris Rodriguez, who has never pitched above Class-A but impressed in camp. Manager Joe Maddon said last week that Rodriguez is “looking really good.”


The Angels believe they’ll have elite infield defense, with Anthony Rendon at third base, newcomer José Iglesias at shortstop and David Fletcher at second base. They also should be upgraded at first with Jared Walsh getting more playing time over Albert Pujols. Although they lost Andrelton Simmons, arguably the best defensive shortstop in the majors, Iglesias is also very good, and now they’ll have Fletcher at second every day instead of splitting time with Tommy La Stella or moving around. Offensively, all four starting infielders are coming off good seasons. Rendon, one of the best all-around players in the majors, had his typical .915 OPS season. Fletcher (.801) and Walsh (.971) also were productive at the plate with the Angels, and Iglesias (.956) had a big season with the Baltimore Orioles. The most intriguing question will be how much playing time 41-year-old Pujols gets in the final season of his 10-year, $240 million contract. Pujols has been healthy for the last few years and he performed well in spring training.


Obviously any outfield with Mike Trout in the middle is going to be pretty good. The Angels aren’t sure what they’re going to get out of the players flanking Trout, though. Left fielder Justin Upton used to be one of the game’s better players, but he’s been hurt or non-productive for most of the past two seasons. He’s now healthy and his spring training was encouraging. Right fielder Dexter Fowler has also slumped in recent years, but the Angels might only need him as a temporary starter. Top prospect Jo Adell is expected to be the Angels’ long-term right fielder, once he cleans up some issues offensively and defensively. He’ll start the season in the minors.


Known primarily for his defense throughout his career, Max Stassi had a breakout at the plate last season, posting an .886 OPS in 105 plate appearances. If that was not a small sample size fluke, the Angels would get well above average offense at catcher. They also believe his pitch-framing can help the staff, even though it didn’t seem to help much last year.


One of the big surprises of the spring was when the Angels sent out all the middle infielders, leaving only Jose Rojas as the presumptive winner for the backup middle infield job. Rojas is a 28-year-old who has never played in the majors. He has hit throughout his career, but defense has been the issue. This spring, he apparently convinced Maddon that he can handle second base well enough to be the backup, with Fletcher backing up at shortstop. Veteran defensive specialist Juan Lagares was likely to win the backup outfield job. Kurt Suzuki is the backup catcher, and either Walsh or Pujols will fill out the four-man bench.


Maddon is back for his second year leading the Angels, but in a sense it is his first. Not only was last year a shortened 60-game season, but Maddon said that he didn’t have his full impact because he was new and still trying to learn the players and systems. One concrete example of the difference: he learned last season he didn’t like the way the scouting report information was being relayed to the pitchers, so this year it’s been simplified to be more “dugout friendly.” Maddon will be challenged this year to juggle a six-man rotation and get the most out of Ohtani without getting him hurt.

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