Saturday, August 14, 2010

By David Saltzer, Senior Writer
With 117 games played, the Angels are 8.5 games back in the A.L. West. This isn’t exactly the position the Angels wanted to be in. They’re not too far out to call it a season, but not so close that it’s likely that they will make the playoffs.

With 45 games left on the season, it’s time to start thinking about moves that the Angels should make now to make the most out of the remainder of the season. Here are three moves I’d like to see the Angels make between now and the end of the season in order to improve the club.

Move #1: Promote Trumbo Now
Here are some interesting numbers: In the 56 games since Kendry Morales was injured, Angels’ first basemen have combined for the following numbers .262/.302/.438. That includes 9 HRs and 34 rbis in 244 ABs for a .740 OPS. That’s far below the .269/.353/.458 line for the average Major League first baseman with an .811 OPS. The non-Morales first basemen for the Angels would rank 22nd out of all Major League teams for OPS.

Meanwhile, at Triple-A Salt Lake, Mark Trumbo has posted a .293/.357/.555 line with 56 extra base hits (27 HRs) in 436 ABs. While Salt Lake may be a bit of a homerun hitter’s park, most of those HRs would have cleared any ballpark and the rest would have most likely ended up as doubles. So, it’s not likely that his power numbers are that skewed by where he plays.

The argument against promoting Trumbo is that there is the glimmer of hope for the post season this year and Trumbo is a rookie. The critics would say that the pressure of a playoff race would be too much for him and the risk of him not performing is too great given the Angels mathematical chance at coming back from an 8.5 game deficit.

However, the glimmer of hope that the critics are talking about are fading with every Angels’ loss and every Rangers’ win. And, every year is going to have some level of pressure of making the post season because the Angels want to be contenders every year. Games in April count as much in the standings as games in August. So, no matter when the Angels promote Trumbo, there will be the pressure to perform right away. He won’t experience that much more pressure now than he will in April of next year.

The Angels need to see whether or not Trumbo can cut it at the Major League level or not to determine if he’s a part of their plans for next year. As hope for this season fades, the Angels should make this move to start the process of building towards next year. If he struggles, he struggles. But, it’s not like the Angels are getting a major boost in their offense from their current first basemen. So, they might as well promote him, like Bourjos, to see what he can do and to give him a leg up on the season for next year.

Move #2: Promote Alexi Amarista in September
Alexi Amarista is an exciting, dynamic, game altering player. Baseball America him rated as the Best Defensive Second Baseman in both the Cal League and the Texas League for this year showing just how gifted he is defensively.

Abe Flores, the Angels Director for Player Development, has raved about Alexi’s abilities calling him a “five-tool player” and telling that “He can beat you so many ways—with his legs, with his arm. He just plays with such an attitude on the field, and by attitude I mean good. I mean competitive. He brings energy to a team. He can just do so many things. Absolutely fearless. You really enjoy watching him play after a few days.”

Over the course of this season, Amarista has spent the majority of the season between Single-A and Double-A. He did, however, get a brief taste of Triple-A and went 4 for 8 with two doubles, a triple and a stolen base in two games. Overall, Amarista has posted a .306/.349/.423 line with 22 stolen bases. While he may not get too many At-Bats in the Majors in September, with the way he’s hit this season, he should be able to hold his own during the brief callup. And, by that time, the Angels will most likely be close to mathematically eliminated from playoff contention, so, playing him won’t jeopardize any post season plans this year.

Between the trade for Alberto Callaspo and the lack of power on the team, the Angels may need to find a way to boost their offense. One way to do that would be to consider trading Howie Kendrick this offseason for someone who can play third base. The Angels could plug Callaspo in at second base in 2011 (which was his natural position coming through the Angels’ organization) until Amarista is ready to take over the job. The Angels should promote Amarista now to give him a taste of the competition in the Major Leagues and to gauge how quickly he will be ready and how likely he is to succeed. That way they can make a determination this offseason if they can trade Kendrick to improve third base.

Move #3: Promote Jordan Walden in September
Jordan Walden is a fireballer that the Angels converted into a reliever last year. He’s been clocked at over 100 mph and has the potential to be a great closer for the Angels in the future. While he has spent the majority of this year in Double-A, he has been recently promoted to Triple-A. Thanks to one bad inning, his numbers there aren’t great, but, that’s mostly the result of being a reliever with few innings to balance out one bad performance.

Still, on the season, Walden has 3.49 ERA with 8 saves in 47.2 innings. He’s struck out 39 in that time frame and has posted a 1.40 GO:AO ratio. The potential is clearly there and aside from one bad inning in Salt Lake, he’s been good otherwise.

Like with Amarista, the goal for Walden isn’t so much to perform for this year, as it is to get the experience to improve him for next year and to get him on the depth chart for the team. If the Angels are going to make Walden their future closer, they need to transition him into that role and develop him over a period of time. Much like when the Angels had Lee Smith tutor a young Troy Percival, the Angels should start the tutoring process for Walden this year.

With the arm injuries that Walden has had in his Minor League career, the Angels should be cautious about sending him to Winter Ball, which limits the time that they have to develop him. But, giving him time in the Major League bullpen and letting him work with the Major League coaches would be a worthwhile use of time in September. It would give him the chance to perform in a less stressful situation rather than coming up like Kohn and having to face Boston in his very first callup.

With all the injuries that the team has suffered this year, the Angels have shuffled a lot of their players from the upper echelons of their Minor Leagues through Anaheim. Unfortunately, none of them seem to be offering any hope for this year or the next. While the Angels do have plenty of talent in their organization, it is mostly at the lower levels. However, three key prospects in the upper levels of the organization, Trumbo, Amarista and Walden have not been promoted so far.

In talking about Brandon Wood’s struggles this year, Mike Scioscia said "It's only a lost year if you don't learn anything from it”. The same is could be said for the Angels as a whole. By promoting Trumbo now and Amarista and Walden in September, the Angels could learn a lot this year that will help them for the years to come. That way, this year won’t be a lost year, even if the Angels don’t make the playoffs.
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