Wednesday, October 10, 2007

By Sean Scanlon - Columnist

Part 2 of Red’s 2007 season recap. (pitching can be found here)

Going in to the 2007 season the big question was…who was going to provide some pop and protect Vlad in the lineup. For the most part, neither of those questions were answered, and a third was added…when were the Angels going to protect Vlad from becoming a human bullseye. But it’s safe to say the Angels exceeded even the most optimistic projections offensively. Built on an aggressive approach at the plate, putting the ball in play, situational hitting, and speed on the bases the Angels confounded the stathead community by finishing 4th in the AL in offensive output. As Rex and Hud liked to point out repeatedly…over and over…again and again…continuously…the Angels led the league in going first to third. Important? Yes…but really guys…we get it.

Unfortunately for Halo fans, ultimately the Angels offensive philosophy finished with a resounded implosion as their inability to hit with runners in scoring position meant a quick exit in the playoffs. After three quick playoff exits in the last 4 years, does this mean the Halos offensive philosophy is a non-starter? Well, that’s a nice topic for another post…someone get on it.

Let’s break things down a little more…we’ll start with the infield today and move on to the outfield tomorrow (or the day after...or sometime in the future...I do have a job).

Mike NapoliC – Never projected to be a big offensive force behind the plate Mike didn’t disappoint…he wasn’t a big offensive force behind the plate. He provides occasional pop and some nice plate discipline, but he’s never going to hit for average and is very streaky. Behind the plate Mike continued to make solid strides, though he needs to work on his throwing as clubs ran rampant on Mike, especially during the beginning of the year. Going in to his third year this is probably what we can expect from Mike, a decent major league catcher.

Jeff MathisC – After a disastrous 2006 campaign where Jeff was returned to Salt Lake for being downright awful (both defensively and offensively) Jeff returned due to injuries and appeared to have made some strides. Jeff has a fantastic arm that he is not afraid to show off and calls a good game. At the plate Jeff brings back unfond memories of no hit all defensive catchers of days gone by. Long term Jeff may improve at the plate, but he’ll never be confused with Johnny Bench.

Casey KotchmanC+ - 2005…06…I mean 07 was supposed to be Casey’s break out year. After missing most of 06 due to, hell…how do you explain mono? I mean…have you ever heard of a pro athlete going down with mono? Oh well…After a 2006 Casey returned and didn’t embarrass himself. At one point in the season prior to being beaned with a pickoff throw Casey appeared to be the missing bat behind Vlad, only to struggle when he returned from a concussion. I also think he tends to be a very streaky hitter…when he’s on the line drives pound the gap and he can hit some monstrous shots…when he’s off you can just write down 4-3 in the scorebook. The big question re: Casey is will power develop or will he be Mark Grace? On a team lacking power Mark Grace isn’t really the best option. My guess, Casey continues to make strides and the power develops, .310, to 20-25 bombs is within his reach.

Howie KendrickB – For stretches this year we all saw what the scouts have been raving about, Howie is a hit machine. Still prone to chasing breaking pitches, Howie needs to work on his plate discipline. He also struggled hitting with runners in scoring position. Personally I expect Howie to win a few batting titles, hit at the top of the lineup, and be an Angel stalwart at second for years to come.

Orlando CabreraA – You could make the case he was the Angel MVP this year. A career year offensively, and a gold glove caliber year in the field. I would not expect a repeat performance from OC at the plate and the Angels brass needs to think long and hard about his future with the team. He’s not getting any younger and can be expected to regress at the plate. Do you block a talent like Wood or sign OC to a 2-3 year extension? OC’s performance in 08 will go a long ways towards determining what the Angels do in that regards.

Chone FigginsA- - Chone really should have been considered for the comeback player of the year award, not just from his lackluster 06 campaign…but just for how he started 07. At one point he probably wasn’t hitting his weight and he went on a year long tear starting in mid May finishing in the top 10 in AL batting. Was it a career year? Personally, I’m not so sure, his improvements weren’t due to being lucky, or just hot…but a whole new approach at the plate. Suddenly Chone started to lay off pitches, drove the ball to LF, and stopped trying to yank the ball out of the park. He may not be at 3rd next year, but I would expect Chone to be the leadoff hitter come April 08 for the Halos.

Maicer ItzurisB+ - Folks laughed when they saw Maicer penciled in at the #5 slot to open the postseason, but his .400 average with runners in scoring position was best on the team (actually, I didn’t check…but I’m guessing). Maicer also was the most productive hitter in the Angel’s lineup during the postseason hitting .333 with an .833 OPS. A solid utility guy who could start for a lot of teams, don’t be surprised if his name appears in lots of trade rumors this offseason.

Robb QuinlanC – More useless hand wringing occurred over Robb than any player on the Angels come post season roster time. What does Robb provide? A solid right handed bat who can play the corners and hit lefties (though he did struggle some this year). Signed to a reasonable deal next year expect Robb to play a key role on the bench next year.

Kendry MoralesC+ - Kendry had some fantastic moments for the Halos this year, with a key 2 run dinger in early May vs. the Indians in a game that helped set the Angels season straight. He also returned from Salt Lake and immediately went on an offensive tear and looked like he could provide some pop come post-season. Alas, Vlad’s injury threw a monkey wrench in to those plans, as Kendry drew the short straw and returned to the bench so Vlad could DH. Finally showing signs that he could be the impact back the Angels have long thought he could be (hey, did you know he defected from Cuba?) he should be given an opportunity to win a regular job with the Halos next season. Expect Kendry to spend lots of time playing winter ball in LF and RF (and really, have they given up on the 3b idea?).

Erick AybarC- - Erick started off the season getting thrown out twice trying to steal ending ball-games. And that was the highlight! Kidding. Erick showed flashes of brilliance with the glove and that he could be a solid utility guy. Does he still project as a top-tier major league short stop? I don’t think so. He needs to spend some time with Nathan Haynes to work on his approach ala Figgins.

Brandon WoodC – Only mentioned because he will play prominent in upcoming decisions. Is he the real deal? Can he be a .280/30hr hitter in the middle of the order? During his brief callups Brandon didn’t show much. He played solid defense but didn’t necessarily impress at the plate. I would expect Brandon to start 08 in Salt Lake where he needs to work on his plate discipline and continue to cut down on his strikeouts.

Season Grade: B (not counting the postseason)

To wrap it up, the Angels infield had a solid year, with guys like Figgins and OC providing the spark for the Angel’s offense. Howie showed flashes of brilliance and why he can be considered a future batting title winner and middle of the order presence. Questions going in to the offseason still exist though. Is Kotchman the long term answer at first base and will he develop the power needed from a first baseman? Will Figgins stay at 3rd or be moved to the OF in place of a monster bat (cough…arod…cough)? Does Wood work his way in to the lineup anytime soon? How do you get AB’s for Kendry? Do I know these answers? Nope…that’s why I’m not on the Halos payroll (or get paid to write for this blog).

Next up…the Angels Outfield

Love to hear what you think!


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