The Los Angeles Angels won 98 games in 2014, which was the highest mark in baseball. Los Angeles finished with an outstanding +143 run differential and scored the most runs per game (4.7). Those stats are attributable to the reigning American League MVP, Mike Trout. Trout, who is entering his Age-23 season, hit 36 home runs, drove in 111 runs, and stole 16 bases during 2014. Despite Trout’s regular season accomplishments, Los Angeles was swept by the Kansas City Royals during the American League Division Series. Los Angeles will start a few new faces in its infield, but its outfield will remain the same. Los Angeles’s infield will be comprised of catcher Chris Iannetta, first baseman Albert Pujols, second baseman Josh Rutledge, shortstop Erick Aybar, and third baseman David Freese. The outfield will be manned by Josh Hamilton, Trout, and Kole Calhoun. Jered Weaver and CJ Wilson will once again anchor the starting rotation. Here are five things to watch during Spring Training:
Storyline #1: Replacing Howie Kendrick
Howie Kendrick is not a star player, but his consistency and production at second base has been a yearly luxury. The Angels, however, opted to trade Kendrick to their cross-town rivals, the Los Angeles Dodgers, one year before he hit free agency. Kendrick will be replaced by Rutledge, who was acquired from Colorado. Rutledge is not a proven player and Los Angeles may regret letting go of Kendrick. Los Angeles is squarely in ‘Win Now’ mode, so keep an eye on Rutledge during Spring Training to see whether he can effectively replace Kendrick.
Storyline #2: Major Rotation Questions
Entering the 2015 season, all of Los Angeles’s starting pitchers come with considerable baggage. Jered Weaver’s velocity continues to decline and he allowed a career-high 27 home runs during 2014. CJ Wilson posted a career high 4.51 ERA as his strikeout total fell from 188 to 151. Garrett Richards injured his knee in August and will likely start the season on the disabled list. Matt Shoemaker was a nice surprise (16-4, 3.04 ERA), but as a 27-year-old rookie, he doesn’t have much of a track record. Los Angeles will need stability from its starting rotation in order to compete for the American League pennant.
Storyline #3: What’s Next for Josh Hamilton?
Josh Hamilton has not lived up to his five-year, $125 million contract that he signed prior to the 2013 season. Hamilton has dealt with various injuries, has failed to hit more than 21 home runs, and has been critical of the fans. Los Angeles engaged in trade talks with San Diego and Texas during the offseason, but nothing materialized. When healthy and motivated, Hamilton is one of baseball’s best players, but hasn’t been able to consistently stay at that level during his time in LA.
Storyline #4: Power or Speed for Trout?
Over his first three full seasons, Trout has played at a historic level. Trout’s home run output has ranged from 27 home runs to a career high 36 home runs during 2014. Trout put more emphasis on his power numbers during 2014. Trout’s batting average (.284) and stolen base output (16) were the lowest of his career, but his power numbers resulted in the American League MVP Award. It’ll be interesting to see whether Trout focuses more on power or speed during 2015.
Storyline #5: Can Los Angeles Continue Its AL West Dominance?
Los Angeles won the American League West by ten games last season. Its two closest competitors, Oakland and Seattle, have made some off-season moves, but none of the moves should swing the balance of power. If Los Angeles’s starting pitchers can give length and remain healthy, Los Angeles should once again win the American League West.
Angels tickets during spring training currently have an average price of $68.46 for 16 games at Tempe Diablo Stadium.