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By Robert Cunningham, Angelswin.com Senior Writer It is at this moment where we need to take a moment, stop to remind ourselves, and extend a tremendous thank you to Arte Moreno for authorizing the largest extension contract in the history of Major League Baseball to lock up perhaps the Greatest Of All Time (the G.O.A.T.!!!!), our very own center fielder, Mike Trout. Thank you Arte! Great job Eppler! Mike we love you! As fans we are living the dream by actually signing our best player to a career extension and preparing to enter a period of greater team relevancy in terms of the potential to go to the playoffs. Next season should be a marked improvement across the entire roster as Moreno and Eppler have upgraded at multiple positions. By the time late May/early June rolls around, Trout should be flanked in center field by Justin Upton and our emerging number one prospect, Jo Adell and the middle infield will likely consist of Simmons at SS and Fletcher at 2B. First base might be one or a combination of Walsh, Thaiss, Pujols, or a free agent or trade acquisition. Third base has been markedly improved for the next several years via the signing of the best 3B in baseball, Anthony Rendon. Designated hitter will certainly be some combination of Ohtani, Pujols, and other members of the team cycling through the spot on days off from playing in the field. Our rotation has marginally improved through the acquisition and signing of Dylan Bundy and Julio Teheran, respectively, adding to the existing rotation base of Ohtani and Heaney plus one or more of Barria, Canning, Sandoval, Andriese, and Suarez. The bullpen should have a host of familiar names like Buttrey, Robles, Middleton, Anderson, Ramirez, Bard, Cole, and Mayers, among others. The point is that not only will there be significant upgrades but team depth will have improved once again, allowing the team to absorb temporary and even long-term injuries without losing much overall effectiveness. Beyond that the Angels deserve some better luck in staying healthy in 2020 (i.e. team health BABIP will hopefully return to the mean). If you are one of the fans out there worried about starting pitching, all the Angels really have to do is tread water up until the Trade Deadline where Eppler can look for upgrades to improve the team at that time. By increasing our overall production and hopefully being healthy to start the year, the Angels will be better positioned to compete in an American League West that appears to be heading towards greater parity among the five teams in the Division. Houston will be a tough nut to crack but the Athletics also performed well and project to do so again in 2020. The Rangers have a new media deal and are flush with cash so there may be unexpected fireworks from Texas, too. Even the Mariners are starting to pick up steam towards contention. All of this is contributing to a much more level playing field, if not this year, by the 2021-2022 time frame. Greater parity likely means that less overall wins (think 90 wins or so) are needed to claim the A.L. West Division crown. No matter what, Angels fans should enjoy their ride on the Mike Trout express for the next few years because that freight train is leaving the station on its journey to the playoffs! As a parting thought, the table below summarizes the last three years of Mike Trout hitting baseballs:
By Robert Cunningham, Angelswin.com Senior Writer There are only two words you need to remember for 2020 in Right Field: Jo Adell. Certainly Brian Goodwin will factor into the playing time, perhaps even more than we anticipate, but the light will be shining on the Angels top prospect as he is nearly a lock to be called up early in the season, perhaps even cracking the Opening Day roster. As Jeff Fletcher recently noted, the Halos may not even be concerned about his service time due to the fact that a new Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) will have to be negotiated prior to the 2022 season and one of the hot topics is player service time, due to some high profile cases, including the current, ongoing one, Kris Bryant is fighting. The potential result of a new CBA could be a complete rework of player service time that would possibly redefine Adell's overall years of control. Realistically, the Angels will probably error on the side of caution and wait until they gain the additional year of control which also, per Fletcher, should not be to long after the season begins. Regardless, Jo appears to be ready for the challenge of playing full or part-time in right field for the Angels in 2020. Below is a snapshot of his batter splits in the Minors over the last three seasons per Baseball-Reference.com: Each season he has shown pretty consistently equal splits against both sides of the mound, perhaps favoring LHP slightly which is not surprising and points to Jo being an everyday player and potential star in the making if it all breaks right. However, fans should temper their expectations for the Halos young star. Adell, currently, has some swing and miss to his game that could translate into his first couple of years in the Majors. Basically, he may struggle with strikeouts early on in his career as he adjusts to big league pitching and he would certainly not be the first to do so in the history of baseball careers. More to the point, the Steamer projection system, across 600 plate appearances (PA's), only sees a .241/.295/.405 slash line, good for an 85 wRC+ from Adell in 2020. However, Dan Szymborski's 2020 ZiPS projection sees more: Certainly Jo has the talent to exceed that Steamer slash line (or even the ZiPS line) but every player has variance in their total performance and migrating to the Majors can prove to be a challenge for any young player. That being said, Adell's floor appears high, as his right field defense should be solid and, with his power, he is very likely to contribute hitting-wise, probably, in the back of the order, in regard to total run production. Luckily, too, if Adell struggles, the veteran Brian Goodwin, who himself had a nice year of production in 2019, can bridge the gap, picking up the remainder of the games that Jo does not play. Additionally, the Angels have Michael Hermosillo who can also accrue playing time, particularly very early in the season, probably, hitting against left-handed pitching, which he excels at, creating a nice platoon with either Goodwin or Adell, as needed. It should be noted that Steamer believes both Brian and Michael will not exceed Jo's projected wRC+, as the projection system has them pegged at 83 and 73 wRC+, respectively. Remember that projection systems are generally conservative, so the author believes all three of them can exceed those projections handily. Also, to be clear, the Angels might best be served by signing a player to man first base that has some outfield experience in case one or all of our right field options falter, to ensure production remains steady, but that may be a luxury Eppler cannot afford right now which is understandable considering that team payroll is creeping toward the Luxury Tax limit for 2020 ($208M). Names like Mancini, Bell, and Castellanos would add additional firepower and depth to the 2020 Angels squad but are probably not in the cards, giving young prospects like Jared Walsh, Matt Thaiss, and Taylor Ward or an established veteran, like Tommy La Stella, more time at the position next season, foregoing the additional depth another outside acquisition might bring, that can split time at the cold corner and in the outfield. Kole Calhoun served the Angels well for multiple seasons in right field, but the position is about to be given a super-shot of adrenaline for the next several seasons and it could not have come at a better time with the Halos positioning themselves to make a real run at the A.L. West Division. We here at Angelswin.com are very excited to see what Jo Adell can do in 2020 and beyond!
By Robert Cunningham, Angelswin.com Senior Writer In 2020, Justin Upton will be entering his 14th professional season in Major League Baseball at the tender age of 32 years young. He is one of those guys, like Brett Anderson, that you feel like they have played forever and should be old men but they still have kick and life left in them as they progress through the seasons. Certainly, last year is one of those seasons that Justin would prefer to forget. In 2019, Upton ended a 10-year streak of playing 130 games or more each season, playing in only 63 Major League games to the tune of a weak wRC+ of 92, which also broke his streak of posting at least a wRC+ of 105 over that same time period. Uncharacteristically, Justin suffered from ailments, including a quad and knee injury, that ultimately limited his playing time and forced him to end his season early to receive treatment. The good news is that he appears to be recovering well and is projected to return to good health prior to Spring Training. This is good because the Angels really need Upton to recover to form. His offensive woes in 2019, most likely tied directly to his injuries, can be seen in his three-year hitting history, below: Justin Upton's Three-Year (2017-2019) Hitting History It should be noted that Justin has a career wRC+ of 120, so, other than last year, he has been above his own average during his tenure with the Angels. Really last year seems to be an injury-related abnormality. In that light, assuming Upton recovers well and is healthy to start the 2020 campaign, it would not be unexpected to see his numbers regress to his career mean and see a more productive season (say a wRC+ in the 115 to 125 range) out of the Angels left fielder. This brings me to one important note. Justin has been strikingly poor against LHP the last two seasons. Quite honestly when the author looked this up during mid-season 2019, it was stunning to see how bad the numbers were, as it was unexpected: Justin Upton's Five-Year (2015-2019) Hitting History Vs. LHP In fact, over the last five years, he has had three really bad offensive seasons (2015: wRC+ of 58 , 2018: wRC+ of 66, and 2019: wRC+ of 47) against them. On the flip side he had better years in 2016 and 2017 where he had a wRC+ of 100 and 202, respectively, both on elevated BABIP numbers (.300 and .369, individually). He has been wildly inconsistent against lefties and the trend is worrisome. To be clear poor production against LHP is not going to hurt the 2020 Angels too much. In fact, the Angels can mitigate this by simply having a back-up outfielder such as Goodwin, Hermosillo, or even Ward, pick-up some of Justin's at-bat's against them. The Angels could even acquire another bat to play 1B with some outfield experience to split time between the two positions to pick up some of the slack. One thing Upton has done well, consistently, is hit RHP: Justin Upton's Five-Year (2015-2019) Hitting History Vs. RHP People do not realize or want to recognize what an accomplished hitter Justin has been in his thirteen seasons in Major League Baseball. Recently, on Twitter, @MLB asked the question, "Who is the best left fielder of the 2010's?", and Upton came in last, vote-wise, which is a shame but is a by-product of his relatively low profile in baseball. Certainly Braun, Gordon, and Yelich are great players but Ryan has a PED's history, Alex was a strong defender but not nearly as good of a hitter, and Christian may go down as the best LF of all-time but he picked up the most recency bias in the voting process, perhaps deservedly so. The point is that Upton has been a durable power-hitter across his entire career and heading into his age 32 season, there is no reason to believe that 2020 will be any different for him, from an offensive perspective. Defensively, it might be the same or it might begin getting progressively worse. By both FanGraphs and Ultimate Zone Rating (UZR), Justin has been below average, mostly via unforced errors and an imprecise throwing arm. His range has been about average as well as his Defensive Runs Saved (DRS). Basically as he continues to age, his defense will get worse and his tendinitis issue from last season may or may not contribute to his defensive performance moving forward, only time will tell. It is this potential for worsening defensive skills that will ultimately drive Upton to the designated hitter spot once Pujols contract expires or he retires. Basically, Brandon Marsh, one of our really good young prospects, took a huge stride forward near the end of the Minor League season in the Arizona Fall League and he will almost assuredly be ready to play in the Majors next year or the year after. So these next two seasons will be the last that the Angels place Justin in left field, based on what happens with Pujols. Once that change occurs the Angels will have an incredible outfield of Trout, Adell, and Marsh, which should be very exciting for Angels fans as all three have really dynamic tools and Mike Trout is, of course, Mike Trout. Upton is owed $72M over the next three seasons. When Eppler signed him the Angels were, in-part, paying for his durability and for the most part he has been on the field pretty consistently minus last season. This is actually a trend across many of the players that Eppler is acquiring as evidenced by the Bundy trade and the Teheran signing. Having good players produce on a regular basis is what carries teams successfully through 162-game seasons as well as having excellent team depth at every position. Justin is a good example of this quality, consistent production. Finally, if Brandon Marsh has a breakout season in 2020 or 2021, there is always a possibility that the Angels might try to trade Upton, particularly if Justin also has an excellent season and the Halos are, for some reason, out of contention. This seems really unlikely and is further complicated by the fact that Upton has a no-trade clause, perhaps making this a moot conversation, but if the player and management agree a move is best for everyone involved, it could be a long-shot possibility, but highly doubtful. The expectation should be that Justin Upton will continue to play at an above average level for the next three seasons and, when Pujols is gone, take over full-time designated hitter duties, perhaps with a touch of left field, first base, and pinch hitter appearances until he, too, leaves after the 2022 season is complete and the Angels move forward with young prospects like the aforementioned Marsh and possibly others like Jordyn Adams or Trent Deveaux for example. Next up is the Right Field article of the Primer Series.