By Adam Dodge
With opening day less than two weeks away, it’s time to preview the 2007 Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim regular season. 2006 is a distant memory, and the Halos look to return to glory, with a balanced roster of youth and veterans.
As it has been for the past several years, pitching remains the strength of this Angels team.
*Note – Rotation includes Jered Weaver, who should be ready to pitch within two weeks of the start of the season, and Bartolo Colon, who should join the rotation by early May.
RHP – John Lackey
Entering his sixth big league season, for the first time, John Lackey is penciled in as a number one starter. Lackey has shown himself to be ace worthy for the Angels over the past two seasons, finishing near the top of MLB in strikeouts, ERA, and OBA. In the prime of his career, Lackey provides the Angels with a prototypical number one starter – a big, durable, power pitcher with post-season experience.
2007 Projection: Lackey should eclipse 15 wins, 200 innings, and 200 strikeouts, and is more than capable of making a run at the Cy Young Award.
RHP – Kelvim Escobar
Escobar is beginning his 4th season with the Angels, and first of his new three year deal. Loaded with the best pure “stuff” on the starting staff, including a mid-nineties fastball, splitter, change-up, slider and curve, Escobar and the Angels hope that 2007 will be his breakout year. Capable of winning 17+ games, Escobar will need the offense to produce at a much higher rate than it has in his first three seasons with the club. He will also need to avoid the nagging injuries, which have plagued him sporadically, throughout his Angels career.
2007 Projection: Expect another sub 4.00 ERA from the right-hander. If healthy, Escobar may finally reach his potential. 16-18 wins might be reasonable.
RHP – Ervin Santana
“Just win, baby!” The battle cry of the NFL’s Oakland Raiders may as well be the tag that follows the young Angel right-hander, who has done just that, posting 28 victories in just more than a season and a half in the Angels’ rotation. Santana hopes to continue his progression, and enter the game’s elite in 2007. His fastball is good, but not great, his slider, sometimes flat, and his command, not always impressive, but never question the value of heart when evaluating a professional athlete. Santana just seems to have “it.” Call it luck. Call it moxy. Whatever it is, he seems to carry it with him to the mound, especially in big games, against the toughest of opponents.
2007 Projection: It’s difficult to project statistics for a guy, who has a knack for being unhittable one night, and very Anthony Young-ish the next. With 12 wins his rookie year, 16 in his sophomore year, and the dominance he has shown at the Big A, we will remain realistically optimistic. A duplication of last year’s effort would suit the Angels just fine.
RHP – Jered Weaver**on DL to start season
Weaver, who will begin the season on the DL, should be available for his second scheduled start on or near April 12th. As a rookie, Weaver dominated opponents in just more than half a season, showing a good fastball, hard breaking off-speed pitches, and exceptional control. A future Ace, Weaver should have little trouble fitting into the bottom of a dominant rotation.
2007 Projection: If the forearm tendonitis has indeed subsided, Weaver should make 30+ starts in 2007 and can easily be expected to win 15+ games. With his ability to keep his pitch count down, and throw “pitcher’s” strikes, it’s hard to imagine Weaver having much of a sophomore slump. A cautious projection to be sure – Weaver has the stuff and knows how to compete for a Cy Young award already.
RHP – Bartolo Colon**on DL to start season
Once feared to be a long-shot to provide the Angels with anything in 2007, Colon, after a surprisingly speedy rehab process, appears close to ready to return to the Angel rotation. Still expected to miss the first month of the season, Colon will likely rejoin the Angel rotation in early May, and possibly even sooner. No longer needed to spearhead the starting staff, Colon will face less pressure than in years past. While the Angels would gladly accept #4 or 5 starter production from Colon, don’t be surprised if he returns close to the form, which earned him a Cy Young Award in 2005. It’s contract year for the burly right-hander, and all signs indicate that Colon’s still got the power, two and four seem fastballs.
2007 Projection: Predicated on remaining healthy enough to make 25+ starts, Colon should not be expected to be an Ace. 10+ wins in the regular season would be a welcomed contribution. Perhaps as important is the leadership he provides to the younger pitchers on the staff.
**LHP – Joe Saunders
Saunders was impressive as a rookie for the Angels in 2006, filling in for the injured Colon. He will once again be called on to join the rotation early in the season as Weaver and Colon rehab from injury. Saunders provides the Angels with something most teams do not have – a quality 6th starter, who is capable of pitching like a #3. Saunders features an average fastball, above average curveball and Major League command. We can expect Saunders to make his share of starts as the number one option in case of injury.
2007 Projection: Saunders could make anywhere from 10-30 starts depending on the health of the staff, and any trades, which may occur before season’s end. Expect a .500 or better record and an ERA around 4.00, though he has shown himself capable of pitching better.
**Right-handers Dustin Moseley, Chris Bootcheck and Hector Carrasco provide the Angels with more depth in the starting rotation.
CLOSER RHP – Francisco Rodriguez
K-Rod will once again finish off opponents in 2007, after having arguably the best season of any MLB reliever in 2006, and certainly the best of any Angel reliever ever. Frankie still has the mid-nineties fastball and unhittable slider. His improving change-up should lead to better success against left-handed hitters.
2007 Projection: Much of the same. 40+ saves, sub 1.00 WHIP and an ERA around 2.00. With another dominant season, Rodriguez could replace Mariano Rivera as the game’s most feared closer.
RHP – Scot Shields
Scot Shields might be the most versatile pitcher in all of baseball, and has shown to be one of the best set-up men over the past few years. Like most all Angel pitchers, Shields features a power fastball, and sharp slider. The movement on his two-seamer, and command in the zone makes Shields very difficult to hit. He can pitch to just one batter or up to three innings, and bounce back and pitch the very next day.
2007 Projection: Much like Frankie, we can expect another outstanding season from Shields, who is sure to get a lot of decisions, as he will certainly be in every close game. 80-100 innings, 1K p/inn, and a sub 3.00 ERA for the consistent set-up man.
RHP – Justin Speier
The Angels feel like they landed the top reliever on the free agent market this past off-season, in Justin Speier, who provides the Angels with even more depth in an already prolific bullpen. Speier was outstanding for Toronto last season, posting a 2.98 ERA and a better than 2 to 1 K/BB ratio.
2007 Projection: Could prove to be a workhorse. 50-60 appearances as the bridge from the starter to the back-end of the bullpen with Shields and Rodriguez closing games out.
RHP – Hector Carrasco
One of the most valuable Angels a season ago, Carrasco can do it all. He can start, mop up, set-up, go deep into extra innings, etc… Expect Carrasco to once again be the rover on the staff. He’s got a power arm, and the ability to throw in back to back games. Posted a K/BB ratio of almost 3 to 1 last season, finishing strong with a 3.41 ERA to go with a 7-3 record.
2007 Projection: 100+ innings, 70+ Ks, sub 4.00 ERA
LHP – Darren Oliver
JC Romero couldn’t fill the Angels’ need for a lefty a season ago. Enter Oliver, who had arguably his best season as a reliever for the Mets in 2006, holding lefties to a miniscule .208 batting average. The Angels will rely on Oliver to pitch effectively against lefties late in games, and as a possible mop man in the middle-innings.
2007 Projection: 60-70 appearances, 1.00 WHIP vs. left-handed batters.
**Rounding out the bullpen will be from a list of candidates, including Chris Bootcheck, Joe Saunders, Chris Resop, and Phil Seibel.
Offensively, the Angels look to find more consistency than they have displayed over the past two seasons. The Angels will once again rely on the production of Vladimir Guerrero and Garret Anderson to provide the thunder, a much criticized free agent acquisition and a cast of young players, who may be ready to hit their prime.
1. Gary Matthews Jr. – CF
After a career year in 2006, Matthews parlayed his success with the Texas Rangers into 5 year, $50 million contract. If the contract alone wasn’t enough to make fans wonder, allegations of steroid and HGH use did not help matters. Despite that, Matthews had a good spring and will open as the Angel centerfielder and lead-off man. If he can duplicate his 2006 efforts, the Angel offense is certain to be much improved over a season ago. Matthews may find the Angel style of play to his liking, and could set career marks in stolen bases and attempts.
Defensively, he is a big improvement over Chone Figgins, Juan Rivera, and the aging Darin Erstad.
2007 Projection: .280-.300, 13-20 Homeruns, 50-70 RBI, 35 + Stolen bases, 100 Runs
2. Orlando Cabrera - SS
Cabrera had the better of his two years with Angels in 2006, hitting primarily out of the two-hole. Protected by Vladimir Guerrero, we can expect a similar season to that of a year ago.
Defensively, Cabrera is one of the best natural shortstops in the American League.
2007 Projection: .270-.290, 8-12 Homeruns, 50-70 RBI, 20+ stolen bases, 90-100 Runs
3. Vladimir Guerrero – RF
There’s not much to say that we don’t already know. Pencil in another All-star appearance for the gifted right fielder, who should once again compete for MVP honors in the American League. Could have his best season as an Angel should Matthews Jr. produce from the lead-off spot, and Garret Anderson remain a healthy power threat behind him.
2007 Projection: .330-.345, 35-40 homeruns, 120-140 RBI, 120 Runs
4. Garret Anderson – LF/DH
Oft-injured over the past few seasons, Anderson finally looked healthy the final two months of 2006, hitting over .300 in that span with nine homeruns. He has enjoyed a healthy and productive spring and looks poised to return close to his pre-2004 form. With Juan Rivera expected to miss most, if not all of the first half, Anderson will receive less DH time than he probably should. Still could far exceed his projected totals.
2007 Projection: .280-.295, 16-22 Homeruns, 90-110 RBI
5. Shea Hillenbrand – DH/1B/3B
Despite what the Angels’ front office would have you think, Hillenbrand was brought in as an emergency replacement for Juan Rivera, who will miss a large portion of the season rehabilitating a broken leg. Hillenbrand is a professional hitter, who historically has good first halves, which might be just what the doctor ordered for Mike Scioscia. He provides depth at the corner infield spots, adequate power in the designated hitter role, and off the bench.
With Robb Quinlan, Kendry Morales, Casey Kotchman, Chone Figgins, and Maicer Izturis all in the mix, it’s difficult to say what type of role Hillenbrand will have on this Angel Club. We know this. If he hits, he’ll play.
2007 Projection: .270-.290, 12-18 Homeruns, 50-70 RBI
6. Casey Kotchman – 1B
If anyone is the poster-child for bad luck, it’s young Casey Kotchman, who time and time again has shown the Angels and their fans what he’s capable of – a high average hitting, powerful, gold-glove first-baseman. Injuries and illness have slowed him the past two seasons, but with another strong Spring under his belt it appears he’s finally ready to permanently take over the Angels first base job. If he can avoid injury, he’s a safe bet to put up some good numbers from the lower half of the line-up.
2007 Projection: .275-.300, 15-25 Homeruns, 70-85 RBI
7. Howie Kendrick – 2B
Howie won’t be in the seven hole long. Likewise, it won’t take long before he becomes the new fan favorite. Howie can flat hit, posting multiple .350+ seasons in the minors. He was a bit inconsistent as a rookie last year, but has absolutely crushed this Spring. The sky is the limit for the young second baseman, who is already a favorite of fantasy baseball players. Will likely prove to be the second biggest force in the line-up behind Guerrero.
2007 Projection: .315-.340, 12-20 Homeruns, 60-80 RBI, 35-50 Doubles, 20+ Stolen bases
8. Mike Napoli – C
Napoli hopes to improve on the dismal batting average he posted a season ago. But, that’s not likely to happen if history is any indication. Napoli is a throwback slugger. Anything close to .250 will be a plus. What the Angels will get is a disciplined eye and tons of power at the bottom of the line-up. Rob Deer, anyone?
If not for sharing time with Jose Molina, Napoli would be a lock to hit 30+ homeruns.
2007 Projection: .220-.240, .380+ OBP, 20-25 Homeruns, 55-65 RBI
9. Chone Figgins – 3B **On DL to start season
Figgins’ solid Spring was disrupted by two broken fingers in his throwing hand, which will cause him to miss the first month of the season. When he does return you can bet he will be in the line-up on most days, providing the Angels with a good bat, speed and superior base running ability out of the nine hole. Figgins will likely see action all over the infield and outfield by season’s end, and will provide the Angels with versatility offensively.
2007 Projection: .280-.300, 5-8 Homeruns, 30-50 RBI, 60-80 Runs, 40-50 Stolen bases, 8-12 Triples
Expect the Angels to improve on their poor defensive season of a year ago. Matthews Jr. will provide the Angels with consistency in the outfield, and a big play element. The ability to concentrate on just one primary position should prove valuable to Figgins. Perhaps most importantly to the Angels is the health and ability of Casey Kotchman at first base, who should save the Angels an adequate number of errors in the infield.
The Angels may not return as the top defensive team in the American League, but they should be close in 2007
Maicer Izturis – IF
With the injury to Figgins, Izturis will likely get the majority of starts at third base in the early going. He will also spell Orlando Cabrera and Howie Kendrick. Izturis is a valuable asset to the Angels, providing them with good defense at three positions, and a solid hitting approach at either the top or bottom of the line-up.
Robb Quinlan – 3B/1B/OF
Quinlan specializes in hitting lefties, and will once again be called upon to fill that role for the Angels. He’ll spell Kotchman at first and Figgins/Izturis at third, and provides depth at the corner outfield spots. Expect another .300+ season vs. the southpaws, and a primary bat off the bench late in games.
Jose Molina – C
It’s a luxury for Scioscia and the Angels to have one of the best defensive catchers in all of baseball on their bench. Jose Molina is an outstanding catcher in all aspects, and is prone to hot stretches at the plate. Not the typical second string catcher, Molina is more of a 1B type guy. He’ll likely latch onto Colon and/or Santana as a personal catcher, and will certainly be given the opportunity to catch back to back games. Expect 60+ starts.
Erick Aybar – IF
For most teams, this would be the season the Aybar would get a chance to start, but not for the deep Angels. With Figgins’ injury, Aybar is all but assured of a spot on the opening day roster. He’s a good hitter, and might be one of the fastest men in baseball. If on the roster, expect that Scioscia will use his talents as a pinch hitter, and runner late in games. Aybar also saw some action in the outfield this Spring.
Kendry Morales – 1B/DH/OF
Morales may find himself on a frequent flyer mile plan, as he will likely spend his share of time playing in Salt Lake as well. Morales is still in the Angels’ future and a potential middle of the line up guy, but will take longer than anticipated to develop. He’s more than capable of putting up big numbers if given the opportunity. Learning another position may be key to his playing time this season.
Tommy Murphy/Reggie Willits- OF
Both are speed guys, who can play good defense in the outfield. Neither should be expected to get an opportunity to contribute much offensively, but both will see there share of time with the big club on the bench.
Jeff Mathis - C
Mathis may still be in the future plans of the Angels as a starting catcher, but will need to have some things fall his way. It’s still undetermined if Scioscia will carry three catchers. With Mathis’ ability, it seems more likely that the Angels will allow him to play everyday in Salt Lake until his services are needed with the big club. Don’t count him out. Napoli is anything but a lock to be a productive everyday catcher.
First Place – Angels
An improved defense, healthy Garret Anderson and Casey Kotchman, and dominant pitching staff from top to bottom, and they are the clear favorite to win the Division for the third time in four years.
Second Place – Athletics
It’s still a two team race in the AL West, despite what others might say. The loss of Barry Zito should counter anything the A’s have added this past off-season. They’re far from out of it, but unless Bobby Crosby and Rich Harden prove they can stay healthy for an entire season, I don’t see any prolonged winning streaks in 2007.
Third Place – Rangers
The pitching is better, but still not strong enough to compete with the Angels or Oakland. Another poor campaign and the Rangers may decide to start over.
Fourth Place - Mariners
They could be much improved over the past couple of seasons, with the additions of the Joses – Vidro and Guillen. But without one dominant starter, and a poor front end of the bullpen, the Mariners are still a long way away from competing for a playoff spot.
AL Central Champ – Detroit Tigers
AL East Champ – Boston Red Sox
AL Wild Card – New York Yankees
NL West Champ – Los Angeles Dodgers
NL Central Champ – Chicago Cubs
NL East Champ – New York Mets
NL Wild Card – Philadelphia Phillies