Angels Opening Day outlook

Angels Opening Day outlook

With a 95-win season and a second consecutive American League West title under their belts, the Angels did not head into camp laden with problems.

Basically, they needed to find some punch for their offense and fill a couple of holes in the pitching staff.

Jarrod Washburn and Paul Byrd are gone from the rotation, but Kelvim Escobar is back and healthy while Jeff Weaver was signed at the beginning of camp. Both pitchers are ready for the season.

The club did not land a major free agent or make a blockbuster trade on offense so it has turned to players like Juan Rivera and Casey Kotchman, and the pair had a productive spring. Jose Molina and Jeff Mathis are ready to share chores behind the plate.

BATTING ORDER
1. Chone Figgins, 3B:
Adding speed at the top of the lineup, Figgins will look to get on base and disrupt the opposition. The super-utility player will likely move around the diamond during the year.

2. Orlando Cabrera, SS:
His numbers picked up last season when he moved from sixth in the order to second, where he will be asked again to put the ball in play and keep the offense moving. Cabrera is the anchor of the infield.

3. Vladimir Guerrero, RF:
With a Most Valuable Player Award in 2004 and a third-place finish last season, Guerrero will again lead the team in most offensive categories. Guerrero has 30-plus homers and 100-plus RBIs in seven of the last eight years.

4. Garret Anderson, LF:
The Angels will need Anderson to remain healthy and provide steady RBI production in the middle of the lineup. If he's on the field, the Angels' offense should click.

5. Juan Rivera, DH:
A part-time player last season, Rivera will see his at-bats increase in '06 as the club looks for the outfielder/DH to add some power. He also will see time at all three outfield spots.

6. Darin Erstad, CF:
The three-time Gold Glove winner is moving back to center. Erstad is expected to provide more defensive presence than an offensive lift.

7. Casey Kotchman, 1B:
His bat has won him a job at first base and now Kotchman is expected to produce in a lineup that needs some offensive punch. Kotchman will also maintain the club's defensive integrity at first.

8. Jose Molina, C:
He will split time with rookie Jeff Mathis behind the plate. Molina has the superior arm and experience while Mathis is more athletic and has a more complete game.

9. Adam Kennedy, 2B:
He hit .300 last season in 129 games. Kennedy is linked to the top of the order and teams with Cabrera for a solid double-play combo.

ROTATION
1. Bartolo Colon, RHP:
The reigning AL Cy Young winner, Colon is the ace of the staff. He has logged at least 200 innings for the last five seasons.

2. John Lackey, RHP:
After his most consistent season as a pro, Lackey will look to build on his success. Lackey was one of the most effective right-handers in the AL over the second half of last year.

3. Jeff Weaver, RHP:
The club added a veteran arm capable of taking the ball every fifth day and getting deep into games. He established a career high with 14 wins last season.

4. Kelvim Escobar, RHP:
Elbow surgery limited Escobar to seven starts and a late-season stint in the bullpen last year. But the right-hander is pain-free and could challenge as top starter on the staff.

5. Ervin Santana, LHP:
Called up from Double-A last May, Santana had an up and down first half but settled down after the All-Star break. Santana can dominate and will be under less pressure in the No. 5 slot.

BULLPEN
Francisco Rodriguez took over as full-time closer last season and converted 45 of 50 save opportunities. The right-hander has one of the best breaking pitches in baseball that he can use to give different looks. He also mixes in an above-average fastball. This season, Rodriguez will add a changeup that he hopes to throw in any count.

Scot Shields will be the primary setup man. Last year, the right-hander led the team with 78 appearances, and he has the ability to go on consecutive days and for multiple innings. J.C. Romero will be the left-handed setup man, but he won't simply be a one-batter specialist. Romero will pitch to both righties and lefties and could go multiple innings.

Hector Carrasco will fill a swing role. The right-hander is capable of being a spot starter, middle reliever as well as pitch in the late innings. Brendan Donnelly, the team's key setup man in '03, will appear in a middle-relief role and will draw some late-inning duty.

OPENING DELAYED
Barring any last-minute injuries, the Angels are currently at full strength for Opening Day. Two players, Erstad and Anderson, have minor problems but are not expected to be placed on the DL.

BURNING QUESTION
The team's strength is pitching and defense, which should carry it throughout the year and keep it in the hunt in the AL West. The offense remains open to debate, however, after a year that saw it struggle periodically. The club did not add a big free-agent bat so it looked within the organization for help.

The usual suspects of Guerrero and Anderson in the middle with Figgins at the top of the order will be expected to be key pieces to the offense. Added to that for '06 will be Kotchman and Rivera, two players that showed last season they could provide both power and run production.

If the offense continues to struggle by midseason, the club may look to the Minors to bring up second baseman Howie Kendrick and, possibly, Kendry Morales to add some depth.

The offense put pressure on the pitching staff all last season, which culminated in a .175 batting average in the ALCS, when the Angels were eliminated by the White Sox. The staff is deeper this season, both in the rotation and in the bullpen, but the offense will need to step up at the plate if the Angels expect to make another run into the postseason.

ON THE RECORD
"I thought our team was pretty good last year. But with the guys we have, if we go out and play, we should be right there." -- Lackey

Mike Scarr is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.