The 2014 Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim are coming into this season with a much different mindset than they did last year. They signed sluggers Josh Hamilton and Albert Pujols to huge contracts, but both severely underperformed and the offense suffered as a result. As a matter of fact, the Angels scored fewer runs last season, with Hamilton on board, than they did in 2012.
This past offseason, however, they traded one of their promising hitters, Mark Trumbo, to help bolster their pitching rotation with Tyler Skaggs, one of the top young arms in the game. Skaggs will work in the back of the rotation, but he's already been named someone to watch from a fantasy perspective.
In spite of all of the problems surrounding his ballclub, Mike Trout remains one of the top two fantasy baseball players in the game, alongside Miguel Cabrera. Last season, I was among those wondering if Trout could duplicate his freshman season, especially after all of the hoopla that followed one of the greatest rookie seasons in MLB history.
Needless to say, Trout proved me wrong, and hopefully I'm not wrong again, as I swing to the other side of the spectrum and guarantee he'll be the unquestioned top fantasy player in 2014, and will be the consensus No. 1 pick from 2015-2018. If you're in a keeper/dynasty league, and you don't own Trout -- start trade talks now, offer everything or talk with your commissioner about resetting all rosters.
MORE TEAM PREVIEWS:
1. Erick Aybar, SS
2. Mike Trout, CF
3. Albert Pujols, 1B
4. Josh Hamilton, LF
5. David Freese, 3B
6. Raul Ibanez, DH
7. Howie Kendrick, 2B
8. Kole Calhoun, RF
9. Chris Iannetta, C
1. Jered Weaver, RHP
2. C.J. Wilson, LHP
3. Garrett Richards, RHP
4. Hector Santiago, LHP
5. Tyler Skaggs, LHP
Others: Joe Blanton
Bullpen: Ernesto Frieri (Closer), Joe Smith
What can we expect in Trout's junior season? What's not to like from Trout? He can hit for power and batting average, he gets on base, he steals plenty of bases, he's usually healthy and he's just 22 years old at the start of the season. He can do it all; he's Justin Timberlake with a bat.
After batting leadoff almost exclusively in his rookie season, Trout dropped down a spot in the batting order in 2013, and sometimes hit third. Not only did he improve his on-base percentage by a few dozen points, but he also knocked in more runs.
Baseball-reference.com compares him to players like Frank Robinson, who had one of the all-time greatest MLB rookie seasons; Mickey Mantle, who led the league with 129 runs at age 22; and Ted Williams, who led the majors with 145 RBI in his rookie season. That's some pretty good company, but he has a long way to Cooperstown. The Fantasy Hall of Fame, however, is ready for him now. Realistic stats for him, as the two-hitter in his third full season, should look like another 40-SB season, with 30-plus homers and over 100 RBI and runs scored.
Do Josh Hamilton and Albert Pujols have anything left? Both will be batting behind the best spark plug in baseball, but can they both get past their recent issues to prove valuable for fantasy owners?
Pujols has to overcome the minor injuries that have beset him over the past few seasons. Ever since he joined the Angels, he hasn't been the fantasy player we knew and loved in St. Louis for so many years. His 2013 season ended in late July due to a foot injury -- which could pop up again at any time. The good news for Pujols' owners is that he still swings a mean bat, with 30-home run, 100-RBI potential, but he's going to need to stay healthy for a full season. That's the tough thing to predict, as he enters his 14th season.
For Hamilton, he has been able to stay healthy for the past couple years (299 games played in 2012 and 2013 combined), but his biggest issue has been a decline in skills. Over the past two years, his strikeout rate has skyrocketed above 25 percent. When he's still slugging .577, like he did with the Rangers in 2012, his strikeout rate is a little easier to swallow. In 2013, however, he slugged .432, with an ISO of .182, as one of the worst of his careers.
Hamilton, who is only one year younger than Pujols, is probably much older than his teammate in baseball years. Pujols has always posted consistent numbers in the batter's box, helping earn him the nickname of "The Machine." Hamilton, meanwhile, has a long history of drug abuse from the early part of his career, which likely took years off his baseball life. But the Angels have faith in him, since they signed him to a five-year, $125 million contract.
The good news for whoever drafts Hamilton near his Round 6 ADP is that he has rebounded from horrible seasons before. In 2009, Hamilton hit just 10 homers in 89 games, as he dealt with abdominal injuries. He rebounded to lead the league with a .359 batting average on his way to the AL MVP award in 2010.
Both players likely have something left in the tank, but drafting either in 2014 is a gamble on your part, unless it's well behind their ADP.
Are any of the Angels' troika of young arms worth drafting? The top of the Angels' rotation is manned by ace Jered Weaver and C.J. Wilson -- both of whom are helpful in all fantasy formats, but not dominant strikeout pitchers. Even among the rest of the rotation, only Skaggs has above-average strikeout potential on this staff, and he's still battling for a rotation spot this spring.
While Weaver and Wilson are both worthy picks in Rounds 10 and 15 respectively, the other three are intriguing fantasy prospects. Richards, Santiago and Skaggs are all expected to start the year in the Angels' rotation for the first time this spring. We'll dish more on Richards in a moment, but Santiago is a player of interest worth a pick in the final round of your mixed drafts.
Santiago comes over to Anaheim from the White Sox for his third full season in the majors. After spending parts of those seasons in the bullpen, Santiago looks like a starter for good now, even though he went 4-7 in 23 games as a starter last season. That's just the point you should remember going into this year -- that horrible record didn't indicate how well he pitched. He posted a 3.51 ERA in those starts, striking out 122 batters in 130 innings. This year's Angels team should be better than last year's White Sox, and pitching away from U.S. Cellular Field should be advantageous for the 26-year-old lefty.
Skaggs was one of the top pitching prospects in Arizona before coming over in the Mark Trumbo trade, and now he joins the American League after a few rocky starts in 2013. The Angels believe they can fix Skaggs' drop in velocity with some changes to his delivery. In redraft leagues, he's not yet worth a pick, but check his spring totals and his peripherals after his first couple starts in April.
Kole Calhoun, OF -- One of the quiet fantasy plays on this team, Calhoun should get regular at-bats in this lineup, which means if Hamilton and Pujols are hitting well, good things are ahead for guys like Calhoun. He can offer some power and some speed, with a batting average that won't hurt you. Essentially, he lines up as an excellent OF5 in 12-team mixed leagues. If he hits well, he could end up as a nice middle round pick next season.
Albert Pujols, 1B -- Considering Pujols is going to be drafted in the fourth or fifth round, he's an ideal candidate to not live up to that ADP. While he's starting to slow down, he's certainly capable of big numbers when he's healthy. The question is -- are we at the point where the 34-year-old machine needs more tune-ups on the DL than we're willing to put up with as the fourth or fifth player on our team. Also, first base is one of the deepest positions in fantasy baseball, which makes going elsewhere a smarter move.
Garrett Richards, SP -- Richards moves into the rotation after working in the bullpen for much of 2013. He did get 17 starts last season, and performed well enough to pique our interests going into his third full season in the majors -- usually a great predictor for a pitching breakout. Batters hit .263 against him as a starter, and he posted a 4.18 ERA in those 17 starts. But it was his final 13 starts that excite us a bit: 5-4 record with a 3.72 ERA. He's someone to consider once the season starts, or if you have a deep bench in mixed leagues.
AL-Only Guys to Know
David Freese, 3B -- Freese had a big season in 2012 with the Cardinals, but then stumbled to subpar totals in 2013. A new start in Los Angeles, in a new league, could serve as a kickstart for the 30-year-old third baseman.
Erick Aybar, SS -- With Trout, Pujols and Hamilton hitting behind Aybar, the Angels' leadoff hitter could be a run-scoring factory. Unfortunately, he doesn't offer up much else in the other categories. He's a solid pick in AL-only leagues, or 15-team mixed leagues.