By Jon Hoppie – AngelsWin.com Contributor
This offseason, we as Angels fans have seen some of our most beloved icons venture off to new beginnings. We have seen Angels General Manager Tony Reagins make some of the best acquisitions for which a team could ever hope. We have seen players come and we have seen players go. In this era, there is not the profound loyalty to “team” that baseball has seen in years past.
One thing is sure for each and every halo fan, whether they like to admit it or not: the Angels have always put fans first. Arte Moreno has done a great job of putting together a winning team this offseason and I look forward to being witness to one of the L.A. Angels’ most remarkable years.
With that said, the losses our team incurred this winter were more than offset by the addition of players both young and seasoned. A certain recent free agent departure said that “winning was always (his) first priority for a team,” and I think we can all rest assured that the remaining Angels players have more than the tenacity and the talent required to do just that. There is no denying that 2009 was a disappointing end to an overall successful season, but I’m here to tell you that 2010 is going to be nothing short of mind blowing. Here, in no particular order, are my top 10 reasons why the Angels are shaping up to be better in 2010.
1. Brandon Wood – A Troy Glaus type shortstop turned corner infielder, Wood is finally going to get the opportunity to show halos fans just what they have all been waiting to see... a big bat at third. A first round draft pick in 2003, Wood has been waiting in the wings behind players like Figgins and Izturis for his chance to shine, and with the departure of Figgins to the M’s this winter he is going to get just that. His last four seasons in AAA he put up some staggering power numbers, posting a .547 slugging percentage and 76 homeruns in 317 games played. Though his major league stats have left much more to be desired, look for Brandon to settle in right at home down that third base line hitting 24 to 28 homeruns and batting about .305 this season. There will be a catalyst to get Wood going, and that catalyst is going to be consistent playing time.
2. Scott Kazmir – Beginning the season with the Rays in 2009, Kazmir put up a mediocre at best 9-8 record with an ERA of 5.92 in 20 starts before he turned in his uniform and shipped off to the left coast. Once arriving in Anaheim, and reuniting with former Tampa Bay pitching coach Mike Butcher, something ignited Kaz to finish out his season with the Angels in an illustrious fashion. In only 36 1/3 innings he boasted a 1.73 ERA, 26 K’s and only 10 free bases. This offseason, Kazmir has focused on building core strength and conditioning in an effort to get back to max velocity and retain command of his fastball. If healthy, I don’t think there’s anything that will keep Scott from a 16 win 200 strikeout season.
3. Joel Piniero – Certainly a journeyman of sorts, Piniero is a great pickup for the Angels this season. Never in Angels’ club history have they ever had a cast of starters as experienced and as winning as we are going to see in 2010. The fulfillment of that elusive fifth spot in the rotation is expected to give the Angels staff a sense of completeness, and allow them to keep their young guns fresh and ready to roll in September. Joel revised his arsenal this past season with the Cardinals to include a 2 seam fastball and an aim to pitch to contact, landing him top rankings in ground-ball and walk rates throughout the majors. Though his 3.49 ERA was his best performance since ’02, I expect those numbers to rise to the mid 4’s with his transition back to the historically more powerful American League West. He does have a tendency to give up the long ball about once every nine innings, but look for that number to diminish with his newly developed 2 seamer. Look for him to go 13-10 on the season with 150 to 160 K’s.
4. Kendry Morales – An absolute monster in 2009, Morales swung his way into the upper echelon of AL sluggers with a staggering 34 homeruns, more than Abreu and Guerrero combined. A .341 hitter at home in 2009, it’s clear that Kendry takes his cue from the crowd and we are sure going to be giving him every bit of confidence once again this year. When he plays at home, look for him to really shine as he has now clearly established himself as a force to be reckoned with in the Angels lineup.
5. Fernando Rodney – Fernando, while not boasting overwhelming stats at the end of his 2009 campaign, should be recognized for his incredible ability to convert saves, blowing only one opportunity this past season. While Rodney is assumed to be the setup man for halos closer Brian Fuentes, his conversion rate and ability to keep opposing batters to a mere .208 AVG with RISP makes him a threat not only as a setup man, but as a formidable RHP capable of assuming the closer role and cinching the win in a righty versus righty situation. Any manager would kill to have that versatility in the bullpen, and Rodney gives the Angels just that.
6. Torii Hunter – In Torii’s second season as an Angel he was selected to his third All Star team, collected top honors as the AL Silver Slugger, and was named the Major League Branch Rickey Award winner for his excellence off the field. In addition, he delivered yet another anything but ordinary season defensively, winning him his ninth consecutive gold glove for his performance in the outfield. Without a doubt, he is one of the most amazing defenders to ever capture the hearts of halos fans. A career .992 Fld% is a mark that may not be matched for ages to come. Batting .287 against right-handers, he hit an astonishing .336 versus southpaws, and still 15 of his 22 HRs came against hard throwing righties. A dangerous man to face regardless of how the opposition chooses to pitch to him, Hunter batted .353 in late and close games making him a definite go to man in any clutch situation. He has been and will continue to be an anchor for the halos both on the field and in the clubhouse.
7. Mathis & Napoli – This year is without a doubt going to be the year of the catcher for the halos. While Jeff Mathis is highly regarded by Angel’s manager Mike Scioscia as being an extra coach in the dugout, Napoli has by far set the standard for Angels offense when it comes to picking the offensive catcher of choice. Though both players have multiple years remaining on their contracts, there is a wealth of prospects coming up through the Angels organization that could threaten one of these two spots on the 25 man roster. Mike Napoli has blasted 40 HRs over the last two years, and though his .273 BA is no tremendous feat, in 18 games last season as the halo’s DH he sported a .359 average. Look for him to be yet another name mentioned for that DH spot in the lineup, in addition to a late inning replacement for Mathis.
8. Hideki Matsui – Though not the short porch of old Yankee Stadium, Angel Stadium looks to be a more than fitting landmark for the aptly named Godzilla to make his mark on baseball in the 2010 campaign. I bet Angels fans would love nothing more than to see Hideki slam another 28 to 30 homeruns for the halos this year, short porch or not. Signed in the offseason to a 1 year – 6 million dollar deal, Matsui is the obvious replacement for ex halo Vlad Guererro. Comparing the two side by side, it’s no wonder the Angels jumped at the prospect of signing Matsui when they did, as he was clearly the most productive of the two. Batting .274 in the regular season, 20 points lower than Big Daddy Vlad, Matsui was able to contribute 13 more HRs and 40 more RBIs. Matsui also came up clutch during the 2009 season, grounding into only 4 double plays all year long, compared to Guerrero’s 16. Oh, and if my memory serves me right, the Angels did lose to the Yankees in the ALCS this past year. The New York Yankees did go on to win the World Series, and for those of you that care, Hideki Matsui was the MVP of that series.
9. Brian Fuentes – Fuentes, a California native, joined the Angels in 2009 and quickly proved to the halo fans that they need not fear the loss of K-Rod. Fuentes led the AL last season with 48 saves and made his 4th All Star appearance, his first as an Angel. Facing 242 batters this past season, he did issue a free pass to one tenth of them, and though his K’s have not seemed to reach the numbers he offered up in previous years as an NL closer, he was undeniably the best closer in the American League in 2009. My hopes are high that Brian is able to repeat and improve on last year’s performance with the supporting prelude of his bullpen cohorts.
10. Jered Weaver – With the departure of John Lackey to the Boston Red Sox, the halos fans, myself included, will be looking to Weaver to take hold of the reigns and lead this team to another postseason, and another fall classic. Weaver, the assumed staff ace of this 2010 season, is complemented by a supportive cast that rivals any in baseball. Coming off a 16-8 season in 2009, this CSULB alumn and five-year Angels vet will no doubt be looked upon as the team’s number one arm come the beginning of his first windup this spring. Ranking 3rd in CG and among the American League’s top ten in IP this past year, Jered will no doubt carry this team all season long through what is expected to be a season among the greatest ever seen in team history.
Angels fans, it’s going to be a great year! Stay Fan Strong!