Last September, Arte Moreno’s Los Angeles Angels finished their sixth straight year without making the postseason. The first order of business this offseason was the firing of general manager Billy Eppler and the hiring of his replacement.
New general manager Perry Minasian made a series of crafty trades and one-year free-agent contracts to shape his 2021 roster. Joe Maddon looks to get the Angels back to the World Series heading into his first 162-game season as skipper of the Halos.
Minasian’s goal is to build a contender around the likes of some of baseball’s brightest stars. Mike Trout, Anthony Rendon, and Shohei Ohtani return while Gold Glove shortstop Andrelton Simmons departed for Minnesota. They quickly acquired Jose Iglesias from Baltimore to provide defensive upside at the position.
The majority of the bullpen was non-tendered this winter and replaced by several new faces. Former Reds closer Raisel Iglesias has averaged 30 saves a season the past three full seasons with the Cincinnati. Now he will be expected to close games for new starting pitchers Jose Quintana and Alex Cobb. All the newcomers have plenty of motivation to personally succeed in 2021, as they all enter free agency next winter.
2B: David Fletcher
3B: Anthony Rendon
SS: Jose Iglesias
Future Hall of Famer Pujols is entering the final season of his enormous 10-year contract. The heir to his position became clear last season with Walsh hitting 9 home runs in September. The Angels expect to platoon both at the position as they enter the season.
Fletcher will be the lead-off hitter and should settle in as the everyday second baseman. He will finally find himself locked in at one position after being a super-utility player the past two campaigns.
Rendon will get his first chance to show the fans what he can do over course of six months. He will look to push teammates Trout and Ohtani for MVP contention this summer.
Iglesias has demonstrated excellent defense and the ability to hit as the team’s new shortstop. The Cuban infielder hit a remarkable .373 for Baltimore in 2020’s 60-game season.
Barreto, acquired from Oakland in exchange for Tommy La Stella last season, is the lone finalist out of options. This should give him an edge for the Opening Day roster spot over the other two players with remaining options.
Veteran catcher and local Cal State Fullerton alumni, Kurt Suzuki joins the Angels at the ripe age of 37-years-old. He will join the younger Stassi sharing time behind the plate this season. Stassi busted out at the plate during the brief 2020 season, hitting .278 with 7 home runs in 90 ABs.
LF: Justin Upton
CF: Mike Trout
RF: Dexter Fowler
DH: Shohei Ohtani
Trout enters the season 29-years-old with three MVP awards to his credit. He does not have a playoff win on his resume yet and hopes to anchor a postseason outfield this year. You can write him up for 30-40 home runs with over 100 runs scored and driven in this season.
Upton has two-years and $51 million remaining on his five-year contract. After almost two years of sub-par performance, the 33-year old began to look like himself in September. J-Up finished the final month of last season hitting .284 with a .936 OPS. This giving the indication he could be a force to reckon with in the middle of the Angels line-up.
The Angels acquired Fowler to bridge the gap to future outfielders Jo Adell and Brandon Marsh. While the two prospects are getting more time to develop on the farm, expect Fowler to play right field nightly. A member of Maddon’s 2016 championship Cubs, he will provide veteran leadership and a great clubhouse personality for the team.
Ohtani is one of the more powerful left-handed bats in the league when not on the mound. After a tough 60-game season, he appears ready to rebound based on the moon shots crushed during Spring Training. When on the mound every six days, expect Pujols to get reps as the designated hitter.
Former Mets Gold Glove center fielder Juan Lagares is the leading candidate to earn the job as the fourth outfielder. Lagares is battling veterans Scott Schebler and Jon Jay for that job and expected to land the role. Prospects Adell and Marsh are expected to provide additional reinforcements during the second half of the season.
Starting Rotation Projections:
SP1 – Dylan Bundy
SP2 – Andrew Heaney
SP3 – Shohei Ohtani
SP4 – Jose Quintana
SP5 – Griffin Canning
SP6 – Alex Cobb
Maddon has stated the team will institute a six-man rotation for the upcoming season. Bundy stood out among Angels starters during the brief 2020 season. Finishing ninth in the AL Cy Young award voting, he will be toeing the rubber on Opening Day. Last season’s No. 1 starter Heaney is likely the de facto number two. The left-hander has averaged 10.4 strikeouts per nine innings since 2019. Ohtani is healthy after recovering the past two seasons from Tommy John Surgery. The 26-year-old right-hander is expected to start every six days and hopefully pick-up where he started during the 2018 season.
Quintana is reunited with a skipper he earned 20 victories for during portions of the 2017 and 2018 seasons. His fastball, change, and breaking ball all look sharp this spring and he has eaten innings throughout his career. 24-year-old right-hander Canning enters his third season and has the potential to be a future staff ace. The UCLA product will likely find himself pitching before another former Maddon disciple from Tampa Bay. Cobb’s sinker and control have looked outstanding during Cactus League play.
Only Ohtani and Canning are under team control beyond 2021, giving this staff additional motivation for standout free agent seasons. If injuries should strike the staff, Jaime Barria, Patrick Sandoval, and Jake Faria are going to step into the role. The organization’s top pitching prospects, Reid Detmers and Chris Rodriguez, expect to begin the season in the minors. Both starters could progress quickly to Anaheim and factor into big league games this summer.
Closer – Raisel Iglesias
RP2 – Mike Mayers
RP3 – Felix Pena
RP4 – Alex Claudio
RP5 – Ty Buttrey
RP6 – Junior Guerra
RP7 – Aaron Slegers
RP8 – Jaime Barria
The Angels’ 14 blown saves in 2020 were the worst in baseball. The addition of Iglesias gives the Angels their first proven closer since Huston Street. Expect him to get the ball in the ninth inning the majority of games the Angels lead this year. Mayers and Pena are the most effective returning relievers and expected to set-up games for their new closer. Both served in the closer role last year with some effectiveness and are now assuming their more appropriate duties.
Claudio brings his deceptive left-handed delivery to the Halos bullpen and will favorite to face tough left-handed hitters. Buttrey has shown the promise of being the closer in the future but has lacked consistency. Former Milwaukee starter Guerra comes to the Angels after a solid season as a middle reliever for the Diamondbacks.
Slegers was a revelation for the World Series-bound Tampa Bay Rays last season. Expect to see him facing opposing batters in middle innings for Maddon’s bullpen this summer. A healthy starting rotation will likely bounce Barria to the bullpen in 2021. Out of options, Barria seems to stick as a swingman with his ability to pitch multiple innings per game.
Pena’s strained right hamstring is likely to force him to begin the season on the injured list. Rule 5 selection Jose Alberto Rivera and starter Sandoval are next up for spots in the bullpen due to injuries. While non-roster invites Jesse Chavez, Faria, and Jake Reed also remain options for final bullpen openings.
Players to Watch For:
Marsh – While most are familiar with Angels’ outfield prospect Adell, many have overlooked the rise of Marsh. The left-handed-hitting, longhaired and bearded outfielder has the ability to play all three positions well. His swing reminds many of Bryce Harper or Paul O’Neil when compared to past prospects. His overall performance and style of play fits best somewhere between these two comps.
Adell and Marsh are both to begin the season at Triple-A before helping the team this summer. The tandem will eventually replace corner outfielders Fowler and Upton in the coming year.
Rodriguez – Limited to only three minor league games since 2017, he’s now fully recovered from the stress fracture in his back. The hard-throwing right-hander is back and healthy and could make an impact as a starter or reliever his year. While his professional games have been primarily as a starter, Maddon is intrigued by his powerful arm as a reliever. The 22-year old is a longshot for the Opening Day roster but expected to get the call when pitching required. Rodriguez fastball lands between 96-98 mph to provide a successful complement to his slider.
Expect the team to make a big leap in Maddon’s second year and first full season at the helm for the Angels. After all, he pushed the Cubs to a championship in his second season in Chicago. The skipper is committed to not only leading this ball club into the postseason but also deep into October games. The rest of the AL West has experienced losses to their rosters this winter. The Halos seem ready to pounce on the rest of the AL West and move their way up the standings.
Conservatively predicting them to win 91 games in 2021, it would not be surprising to see the Angels reach the 98 wins they finished within 2014. Regardless of the final win total, 2021 will be the year that Trout returns to the postseason. Putting the best player in the game on a national stage will be great for the game and sports as a whole.
Record: 91-71, second place AL West, Wild Card