So this year was a total bust for the Los Angeles Angels, and people all over the baseball world are trying to make sense of it. The most optimistic are holding on to the hope that the Halos will be able to bounce back in 2017, while at the other end of the spectrum, there are others who think the Angels will never again be contenders during the Mike Trout era, but let me tell you something — there are four very compelling reasons to think that the Angels will be a championship caliber team again in 2018.
The Return of the Pitching
The elbow monster that ravaged through the Angel pitching staff and ripped apart Garrett Richards, Andrew Heaney, and Nick Tropeano’s elbows is most to blame for the giant turd of a season that 2016 has turned out to be. At least two of these three will be out for all of 2017 (we’ll see how Richards’ stem cell treatment goes — so far the prognosis is encouraging), but all three should be ready for a return to regular action in 2018 and join Matt Shoemaker and Tyler Skaggs in a starting rotation that could be one of the best the Halos will have had in some time.
The Core Talent
When Heaney and Tropeano (and possibly Richards) join the Angels in 2018, there will be a core of talented, veteran players waiting for them. Albert Pujols should still be able to deliver the power from the DH position, Kole Calhoun and Mike Trout should still be doing great things at the plate and in the outfield, Andrelton Simmons should still be wizarding his way around the left side of the field, and Carlos Perez and Jett Bandy should be settled in as the Halo backstops by then, shaking the hand of Cam Bedrosian after Angel wins. That is a nice core to have if you are Billy Eppler. The duo of Perez and Bandy are the most unheralded of this group, but I think they have the potential to be powerful contributors to the 2018 team. Defensively, they are terrific — they have great range, are great at blocking balls that bounce in the dirt, and are terrific at throwing out runners. As of this writing, Bandy is third in the league with a 44% caught stealing rate, and Perez is fifth with a 38% rate. Bandy seems like he will be a decent OBP guy who has the power to keep the doubles and home runs coming, and Perez has shown at times that he can be reliable with the bat, so hopefully in 2017 he can learn to be more consistent at the plate.
A Lot of Money is Coming Off the Books
Within the next two years, Arte Moreno is not going to have to pay Jered Weaver $20M a year, CJ Wilson $20M a year, nor Josh Hamilton $26.4M a year. Now while the 2016-17 off season doesn’t hold many free agent enticements, the 2017-18 off season is a completely different story. Here are some of the free agent plums to be had over the next two years: (SP) Andrew Cashner, Jake Arrieta, Yu Darvish, Tyson Ross, Chris Tillman; (RP) Mark Melancon, Aroldis Chapman, Luke Gregerson, Craig Kimbrell; (1B) Eric Hosmer, Yonder Alonso; (3B) Todd Frazier, Mike Moustakas; (OF) Colby Rasmus, Ian Desmond, JD Martinez, Lorenzo Cain.
A Minor League Infusion
If a restoration of the starting rotation, a strong core of veteran players, and a free agent pick up or two wasn’t enough to build a championship caliber roster, there will be players who are currently in the Angel farm system who will be ready to help as well. Do not get caught up in the “Oh, dear me, the Angels have the worst farm system in all of baseball” nonsense. Baseball prognosticators get stuff wrong all the time. Case in point — the Angels are supposed to have this cataclysmic cesspool of a farm system, but guess what? If you go by farm system winning percentages this year, from rookie ball all the way up through Triple-A, the Angels’ farm system does not have the worst record. The Angel farm has compiled a .452 winning percentage so far this season, which is better than three other franchises’ percentage. The Royals’ farm has produced a .443 winning percentage, the Brewers’ a .441 winning percentage, and the White Sox’s has produced the worst percentage, coming in at number thirty with a .438 winning percentage. So there. It is the Chicago White Sox who have the worst farm system in baseball.
And guess what else? The Angels have some minor league players, like Jett Bandy this year, who will be ready to help out the 2018 Angels. The pool of likely candidates includes:
- starting pitcher Troy Scribner, who has a 3.01 ERA and a 1.05 WHIP while pitching at Double and Triple-A this year. Over four minor league seasons, he has a career 1.18 WHIP and 10.2 strikeouts per nine innings.
- relief pitcher Samuel Holland, who has a 0.76 ERA and a 0.68 WHIP while pitching in Low and High-A this season. The Australian native has an 8.9 K/9 rate and has 162 strikeouts to 33 walks in four seasons.
- relief pitcher Keynan Middleton, who has a 1.15 WHIP and a 12.9 K/9 rate while pitching in the top three minor league levels this season. His fastball, which has always been his best pitch, has reached 100 mph this year.
- first baseman Matt Thaiss, the Angels’ first pick in this June’s draft, is slashing .320/.392/.513 this season in rookie ball and Low-A. Look for him to keep moving up the minor league ladder.
- second baseman Andrew Daniel, has a .355 OBP during his three-year minor league career, and currently has a .349 mark at Double-A. He is a line drive hitter who sprays doubles and triples all around the outfield.
- outfielder Cal Towey has a .264/.372/.437 slash line with 12 stolen bases and nine outfield assists while playing Double and Triple-A ball this year. He has a career .389 OBP in four minor league seasons.
So when you put it all together, the Angels are going to have a roster that will be built to make it to the playoffs in 2018 and challenge any of the other teams that make it to that year’s post season playoff tournament. You have my permission to join me and push all of your chips across the table to that very spot on the betting area.