Keys to Success for Angels Pitchers and Catchersby B.J. Martin February 18, 2021 0 comments
After a tumultuous 2020, the Los Angeles Angels pitchers and catchers report to Tempe Diablo Stadium, their Spring Training home for the past three decades.
While many around baseball speculated Trevor Bauer to be the natural fit in Anaheim throughout the winter, he will not be reporting to Angels camp today. Instead, the reigning NL Cy Young winner will be reporting to Dodgers camp, a thirty-minute drive northwest from where Joe Maddon’s battery mates will begin preparing for the upcoming season. First year general manager Perry Minasian did add to the team’s pitching and catching corps this offseason, adding quantity and upside over high-dollar signings.
Here are five key components that will factor into the 2021 Angels pitching, catching, and management. They hope this will lead the club to their first postseason appearance since 2014.
While the Angels enter camp without having made a deal to acquire a rotation ace, Japanese two-way superstar gave the MLB a glimpse of an ace the first three months of 2018, his rookie season. Maddon is impressed with the 26-year-old’s early workouts this year so far. A return to the form he demonstrated three years ago could provide the rotation with the arm they have been seeking the past several years.
Ohtani was clearly not himself in 2020 at the plate or on the mound. Perhaps it was the pandemic, the disappoint of his performance in three starts on the hill, or the overall challenge of playing without fans in the stands. The superstar talent tends to feed off the crowds in major league ballparks and that was missing. He did not pitch during spring training games last spring, and the additional rest provided after they shut down his arm last August should benefit him in 2021.
Maddon has stated he’s not looking to use any “Shohei Rules” this year that were previously used by Scioscia/Eppler regime in 2018. It’s a fresh slate for the 2018 Rookie of the Year to improve on his 4-2, 3.31, 63 strikeouts in 51 2/3 innings MLB debut of three years ago. If he can duplicate or improve on that for a full season of 27 to 30 starts, the Angels have found their ace.
Free Agent Season Booms
As of today, the Angels projected six-man rotation includes only two players, Ohtani and Griffin Canning, that will be under team control a year from now. Dylan Bundy and Andrew Heaney along with newcomers Jose Quintana and Alex Cobb will all be free agents next offseason. Certainly, incentive for all four to put together stellar resume seasons for the Halos this summer.
Bundy joined the staff last year after five seasons in Baltimore. The change of scenery did him wonders as he finished the abbreviated season 6-3 with a 3.29 earned run average and 72 strikeouts in 65 2/3 innings. Bundy would eventually finish ninth in AL Cy Young award voting. The Angels are hopeful that one-time staff aces Cobb and Quintana reuniting with Maddon as their manager will help rejuvenate past successes playing for their veteran skipper.
29-year-old Heaney has been troubled by injuries throughout his six seasons in Anaheim. However, he finally looked healthy in 2020 and the Halos can expect to see him perform as he did when he made 30 starts in 2018. The likelihood of all four players performing at high level for entire season may be a stretch, but expect two to three to provide Maddon much needed innings from his rotation.
New Blood Bullpen
The 2020 bullpen was the baseball version of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde during the brief 60-game season. Hansel Robles and Ty Buttrey (stalwarts from the 2018 club) struggled in their roles as late-inning stoppers. The emergence of newcomer Mike Mayers and previous swingman Felix Pena were a revelation during the second half of the season.
One of GM Minasian’s first moves was acquiring Cincinnati Reds closer Raisel Iglesias in early December to build a new, improved 2021 bullpen around. Iglesias is expected handle the ninth inning duties as he did for the Reds the past four seasons, saving 28 or more games each of the past three full seasons. Last year’s end-of-year closers — Mayers and Pena — can now settle into set-up roles. The still developing Buttrey can slide into a less pressure-filled role in the middle innings.
In addition to Iglesias, the Angels also added left-handed reliever Alex Claudio and right-handers Junior Guerra, Aaron Slegers, Gerardo Reyes, and Rule 5 selection Jose Alberto Rivera. All provide a new look to a bullpen that has been reset with the departure of previous holdovers Robles, Noe Ramirez, Cam Bedrosian, and Keynan Middleton.
Adapting at Catcher
The Angels knew they had one of the better defenders behind the plate when they acquired Max Stassi from the Houston Astros in 2019, but his bat is what impressed last season. While continuing to struggle with an ongoing hip injury, the .216 lifetime hitter batted .278 with an .886 OPS during his 105 plate appearances in 2020.
Anaheim also added a local talent in former Cal State Fullerton and 2019 Washington Nationals World Series champion Kurt Suzuki. The addition of Suzuki provides depth that was absent at the position a year ago and two veterans that excel working with pitching staffs.
As the Angels enter camp with Stassi and Suzuki sharing duty behind the plate, it would not be a surprise to see Minasian continue to pursue other options at the position during the season. Former Maddon protégé Willson Contreras (Cubs) or Boston’s Christian Vazquez could both be potential targets as the season progresses and teams begin to fall out of contention.
Like the catcher position, the front office will be in communication with all twenty-nine other clubs to see who they may be looking to move midseason. Several high-profile veteran starting pitchers such as Max Scherzer, Zack Greinke, Justin Verlander, Noah Syndergaard, and Eduardo Rodriguez are all heading into free agent seasons. They could be dealt if their teams falter this year.
2020 first round draft pick Reid Detmers along with Chris Rodriguez, Patrick Sandoval, Packy Naughton, and Jose Suarez are among the intriguing talent within the upper levels of the farm system. They could potentially impact the rotation late in the season. Much like the impressions John Lackey and Francisco Rodriguez had on the 2002 World Series championship team, it’s not always who the team starts the season with but who is on the hill for the final games.