The Angels won their division for the fifth time in six years last year, but if they hope to continue the trend this year, they'll have to do so without the ace pitcher and cleanup hitter who have carried them throughout their run. John Lackey and Vladimir Guerrero both departed via free agency, joined by leadoff man Chone Figgins, to give the Angels one of their biggest roster turnovers since they became an AL powerhouse.
Fortunately, they've developed enough talent over the years to make a seamless transition from the old to the new -- from Lackey to Jered Weaver and from Guerrero to Kendry Morales. Both Weaver and Morales have already broken out as high-end Fantasy options and still have the upside for more. The replacement at third base isn't quite as established, but in prospect Brandon Wood, the Angels have a potential 30-homer guy. True, he doesn't have the same skill set as Figgins, but the emergence of shortstop Erick Aybar, who hit .312 and has the upside for more than his 14 steals, should keep the Angels steady at the top of the order.
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The Angels also made up for their losses with two relatively quiet free-agent signings. Hideki Matsui joins fellow Yankees castoff Bobby Abreu in prolonging his usefulness beyond his time in the spotlight. His age will make him a sleeper in Fantasy as a potential 100-RBI man. Joel Pineiro offers some stability at the back end of the rotation, but he stands little chance of duplicating last year's numbers now that he's back in the American League.
Out of the bullpen, Brian Fuentes led all of baseball with 48 saves, proving a guy doesn't have to be K-Rod to pile up saves for the Angels. With the depth of the rotation and the addition of Fernando Rodney in middle relief, the trend should continue this year.
Breakout: Howie Kendrick, 2B
Like seemingly every Angels prospect, Fantasy owners have waited years for Kendrick to break out and become an impact player. And in the second half last year, he looked like he might have done it, hitting .358 with a .949 OPS. It wasn't easy -- he had to spend three weeks in the minor leagues to make the necessary adjustments. It also wasn't conclusive -- he played mostly against left-handers and might still lose at-bats to Maicer Izturis to begin this year. But it showed that even with his lack of strikeouts, he might just become the .360 hitter he was in eight minor-league seasons. If you can land him as your middle infielder or backup second baseman, he has a good chance of moving up your own personal depth chart by the end of April.
Bust: Torii Hunter, OF
Hunter did the unthinkable in 2009: He had a career year at age 34. His .873 OPS was his best ever, and his .938 mark at the All-Star break would have ranked 13th among everyday players by season's end. That doesn't happen for players his age, and as if to keep the laws of nature intact, his body stopped the insanity at the All-Star break, forcing him to miss a month. Still, when you adjust his stats for the time he missed, they place him among the top outfielders in Fantasy even though he's typically a middle-of-the-road option. As a guy who sniffs 20-20 production every year, he has his place, but if you put too much emphasis on last year's numbers, you'll end up reaching for him. At his age, he should be falling in drafts, not rising.
Sleeper: Brandon Wood, 3B
Anyone who suggests Wood can't succeed because he spent too much time in the minors or won't succeed because he did nothing in spotty major-league duty should remember the case of Kendry Morales. Think way back now. Just last year, Morales entered the scene as a three-year veteran of Triple-A Salt Lake who had compiled a .249 batting average in 377 major-league at-bats. And what happened? This year, Wood enters with a .192 batting average in 224 major-league at-bats, but with 76 homers over the last three seasons at Salt Lake. His 16.03 at-bats per homer puts him about at the same level as Jayson Werth, who hit 36 last year, which means all the prospect hounds who jumped ship on Wood better get back on board. As they showed with Morales, the Angels have a method to their madness.
| ||Pos.|| |
|1||Erick Aybar||SS||1||Jered Weaver||RH|
|2||Bobby Abreu||RF||2||Scott Kazmir||LH|
|3||Torii Hunter||CF||3||Ervin Santana||RH|
|4||Hideki Matsui||DH||4||Joel Pineiro||RH|
|5||Kendry Morales||1B||5||Joe Saunders||LH|
|6||Juan L. Rivera||LF||Alt||Matt Palmer||RH|
|7||Howie Kendrick||2B||Top bullpen arms|
|8||Mike Napoli||C||CL||Brian Fuentes||LH|
|9||Brandon Wood||3B||SU||Scot Shields||RH|
|Top bench options||RP||Fernando Rodney||RH|
|R||Maicer Izturis||INF||RP||Jason Bulger||RH|
|R||Jeff Mathis||C||RP||Kevin Jepsen||RH|
|Injury-plagued first-rounder finally stayed healthy, showed enough power to regain top-prospect standing.|
|Speed demon blocked by Hunter, but rising quickly. Gap power should help him pile up doubles and triples.|
|Deceptive lefty has to work on command, but thrived in Double-A despite young age. Likely a year away.|
|Control artist likely to get first call in event of injury. Probably just middle-of-rotation type.|
|Forearm injury set him back last year, but has size to dominate if he recovers and improves command.|
|Best of the rest: Garrett Richards, SP; Mark Trumbo, 1B; Tyler Chatwood, SP; Randal Grichuk, OF; Chris Pettit, OF; Ryan Mount, 2B; Andrew Romine, SS; Clayton Fuller, OF; Francisco Rodriguez, RP; Rafael Rodriguez, RP; Rich G. Thompson, RP; Bobby Mosebach, RP; Mike Trout, OF; Fabio Martinez, SP; and Tyler Skaggs, SP.|
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