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Pressing Questions: The Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim

Brad Evans
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For only the second time since 2004, the Rally Monkey was spanked. Despite a hefty payroll, the perennial division contender finished a disappointing two games below .500, a full 10 games behind AL West champ Texas. Critical injuries, particularly Kendry Morales’(notes) celebratory bone-cracking in late May, were mainly responsible for the club’s sharp decline.

Entering the offseason, SoCal supporters had high expectations for the franchise. With a large treasure chest at his disposal, most expected owner Arte Moreno to shell out blockbuster bucks for high-profile free agents Carl Crawford(notes) and/or Adrian Beltre(notes). Instead, Halo fans were awarded a smelly pile of Vernon Wells(notes). The erratic outfielder and his remaining $86 million owed were acquired from Toronto for Michael Napoli and Juan Rivera(notes) on January 21. Happy 50th anniversary.

On paper, the strength of LAA is clearly its starting rotation. Outside the massively disappointing Scott Kazmir(notes), Jered Weaver(notes), Dan Haren(notes), Ervin Santana(notes) and Joel Pineiro(notes) are a fearsome foursome. However, its aging outfield, suspect infield and competitive bullpen present several fantasy questions.

Here’s your Angels primer heading into spring training:

Will a change of scenery spark Wells?

After experiencing much public scrutiny, Moreno vehemently defended his move to acquire Wells, justifying it with economics. With the former Jay, ticket prices will remain stable, which couldn’t have been possible if Crawford, who commanded $142 million over seven years from Boston, was signed – a poor excuse. Most fans are willing to spend a few extra bucks to watch a winner, unless those patrons happen to reside in Florida.

Thankfully, unlike Moreno, fanatics understand what Wells truly is, an overpriced, largely inconsistent producer who simply can’t be trusted as anything more than an OF4 in mixers.

To be fair, Wells bounced back nicely in the power department a season ago, reaching 30 homers for the first time since 2006. Though his steals output the previous year evaporated, his consistency in both halves was refreshing. He finished just outside the top-20 among qualifying outfielders in overall value, yielding a Round 6 rank (for 12-team mixers) according to Baseball Monster. His ability to put bat-on-ball (81.2 contact rate) lends hope for a useful encore. Teammate Torii Hunter(notes), who lobbied hard to bring Wells to SoCal, believes Angel Stadium’s soft turf will enhance the veteran’s numbers:

"If you watch the game, he steals bases. He can do it all," Hunter said. "He was playing on turf. People don't realize how hard turf is on the body in the second half. Nobody wants to hear a rich baseball player complain."

Regardless of Hunter’s glowing outlook, it’s important to keep Wells’ potential impact in perspective.

Moving to Anaheim will likely sap some power, considering he will be playing more games in unfriendly road environments at Oakland and Seattle. On the backside of his pop prime at 32, 23-26 homers, not 30-plus should be expected. Keep in mind he’s always hit a sizable amount of ground-balls (1.00 GB/FB in ’10).

His current 101.40 ADP is fair based on his expected .270-25-85-80-5 line. However, rising stars Delmon Young(notes) (106.11 ADP), Michael Stanton(notes) (141.45), Chris Young (190.24) and Drew Stubbs(notes) (191.07) are far more attractive later on.

In a similar vein as Mike Stanton, Jason Heyward(notes) and Starlin Castro(notes), can elite prospect Mike Trout emerge at age 20?

Sorry Tim Salmon, but Trout will soon be the greatest fish-related name to ever don an Angels uniform. More Amazonian piranha than a flavorful dish for grizzlies, the future superstar, who was recently dubbed the No. 1 prospect in the game according to Baseball America, is a multidimensional outfielder with blazing speed, reminiscent of Andrew McCutchen(notes). At two levels of A-ball a season ago, he notched a .341 average with 10 homers and 56 steals in 131 games. Though his power will likely develop slowly, he has the necessary tools to be a very productive player out of the gate.

When should we expect a promotion? Based on Mike Scioscia’s infatuation with the youngster, he could arrive sooner than you might think:

"Mike Trout has tremendous upside," Scioscia said. "He can really run, and he can do a lot of things on the field, offensively and defensively. Obviously, we're extremely high on him. He's an exciting player with a tremendous attitude.”

"At some point, if you project where Mike's going to be. I'd be surprised if he's not on our depth chart at some time late in the year. I'm not saying he's going to get called up. He's obviously opened up a lot of eyes. When he's ready, he'll get an opportunity."

Trout has been invited to spring training, but, even with a sterling camp, he is expected to start the season at Double-A Arkansas. If Peter Bourjos(notes) struggles or a significant injury impacts the Angels outfield, he will almost certainly be given a long look. In keeper leagues, he’s a commodity worth going the extra buck for. Initially, high marks in AVG, steals and runs will be his forte.

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It’s not a matter of if but when Fernando Rodney(notes) carpet bombs fantasy ERAs with a string of late-game implosions. What Angel waiting in the wings could become an unsung source of saves?

Because of his propensity for walks (4.63 BB/9 in ’10), only an owner with an iron stomach should endure Rodney’s late-game misadventures. Recall last season he blow seven saves in 21 opportunities.

Though Scioscia appears to favor the rocky veteran entering spring training, a small two-man committee could be installed. If implemented, expect it to be a temporary solution. As the Angels skipper hinted a month ago someone will likely step up:

"I think with the power arms that we have in the back end of our 'pen, we're going to have a closer that is going to emerge.”

Scioscia certainly isn’t short on alternatives.

Hisanori Takahashi(notes) was magnificent in end-game situations for the Mets a year ago, going a perfect 8-for-8 in save opps. The lefty, though, is more of a Ryan Franklin(notes)-type who relies on finesse, not power, to get the job done. In the event Rodney fails, he would likely be a long-shot for saves.

For bazookas Kevin Jepsen(notes) and Jordan Walden(notes) the story is very different. The former, who closed often in the minors, is blessed with an excellent mid-90s fastball and mystifying cutter. He tallied a terrific 9.31 K/9 and 2.13 GB/FB in 59 innings with the senior club last year.

Meanwhile, the latter is a classic flamethrower with one of the biggest fastballs in the game today. The converted starter smoked the gun at 98.8 mph on average last year, topping out at 102 mph. Also equipped with an effective slider, he clearly has the make-up of a dominating closer. If the Noise was a betting man, his money would be placed on Red 51.

Both relievers could stand to refine their control, but it’s quite possible one of them will become a very valuable RP2 at some point this year. Scott Downs(notes), who totaled nine saves for the Jays in '09, could also force his way into the mix.

How underappreciated is Morales?

It’s an absolute travesty Morales is the 11th first basemen and 60th player overall selected on average in early drafts. Yes, he’s coming off a significant leg injury, but all indications point to the Cuban import trotting out to first base opening day. For the frugal, there may not be a better value pick in the early rounds.

Remember, during his breakout season in ’09, Morales finished with a .306-34-108-86 line, good for 33rd overall among hitters. Prior to landing on the shelf last year, he was on pace to match those numbers. Because of his contact consistency, stellar HR/FB rates, prime age (27) and meaty spot in an above average order, a step forward is very possible. Basically, he’s a discounted version of Miguel Cabrera(notes).

As Andy Behrens commented in our first mock in early January, anyone who steal Morales sometime after pick No. 45 should feel “very pleased.”

PQ pick ‘em – Who is the better sleeper: Erick Aybar(notes) or Peter Bourjos?

Unquestionably, shortstop is a harder to fill spot. Once the top tiers come off the board, reliability at the position dips precipitously. For those advocates of usability at middle infield, Aybar has some upside. Although he totaled a bland .336 OBP in the leadoff spot last year, he could wind up in the catbird seat to start the season with a strong spring. Scioscia wants him to be more passive-aggressive. Considering his plus speed and spectacular contact numbers (87.3 CT% in ’10), he’s a dark-horse for 30 steals and 75-plus runs. For deep-thinking owners, he’s a quality MI grab in the wee hours.

Despite Aybar’s upside, Bourjos is the better Rip Van Winkle. Undoubtedly the fastest Angel currently on roster, the cheetah-wheeled outfielder could prove very valuable across several categories. Last year in a test run with the senior club, he launched six homers with 15 RBIs, 19 runs and 10 steals in 181 at-bats. Yes, the .204 AVG was an eyesore, but based on his excellent minor league track-record (.314 AVG at Triple-A in ’10) and 80-plus contact rate, he should finish north of .260. Throw in double-digit power and 25-30 steals, and he’s this year’s Andres Torres(notes). Undrafted often in early 12-team mixers, he’ll likely graduate from waivers quickly. But keep in mind Trout is just over his shoulder.

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