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Angels prepared to reclaim place among elite

Angels prepared to reclaim place among elite

Angels prepared to reclaim place among elite
ANAHEIM -- The Angels' mission heading into Spring Training is clear: Prove that 2010 was an aberration and that they remain among the elite teams in Major League Baseball.

On the heels of three consecutive American League West titles and five in the previous six years, they fell below .500, to 80-82, for the first time since 2003. The loss of slugging first baseman Kendry Morales with a fractured left leg on May 29 was a turning point, and the offense slumbered with off years from virtually the entire cast.

The return of Morales and the acquisition of slugging outfielder Vernon Wells are expected to restore clout to the attack, while comeback seasons from Bobby Abreu, Maicer Izturis and Erick Aybar would be vital in restoring the top third of the attack to its former production level.

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The strength of the club is in its pitching depth, both in the rotation and in the bullpen. In Jered Weaver -- the Majors' strikeout leader in 2010 -- and Dan Haren, the team has a pair of aces to throw down at the top of the rotation. They're supported by Ervin Santana, Joel Pineiro and Scott Kazmir in a potentially formidable group of starters.

Free-agent signings Scott Downs and Hisanori Takahashi figure to give the bullpen a strong left-handed presence, with Fernando Rodney the leading candidate to succeed Brian Fuentes as the closer. Such young guns as Kevin Jepsen, Jordan Walden and Michael Kohn are expected to deliver out of the bullpen along with veterans Matt Palmer and Jason Bulger and a host of young power arms.

While the offense will get most of the attention, manager Mike Scioscia and his coaching staff also will attempt to improve the defense, which faltered in 2010. The emergence of Peter Bourjos as an exciting presence in center field was one of the encouraging storylines late last season, along with the excellent work of the youthful bullpen. Bourjos, Wells and Torii Hunter could give the Angels one of the premier defensive outfields in the game.

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Pitchers and catchers report

Sunday, Feb. 13

Full squad reports

Friday, Feb. 18

First Spring Training game

Home vs. Los Angeles Dodgers, Feb. 26, 12:05 p.m. PT

Opening Day

At Kansas City, March 31, 1:10 p.m. PT

Triple play: Three questions that need answers

1. Who will be the leadoff man?

The Angels were unsuccessful in replacing Chone Figgins' multiple talents at the top of the lineup in 2010. They have a variety of candidates to fill that role but probably won't know who will be the Opening Day leadoff man until late in the spring. Izturis, who was injured much of last season and hopes to claim the third-base job, is a leading candidate along with Aybar. Other possibilities include Abreu, Reggie Willits, Howard Kendrick and Bourjos.

2. Will Bourjos be the regular center fielder?

With the ability to be one of the game's premier defenders, Bourjos needs to get comfortable with the bat and hit in the .250 to .270 range to be a highly productive player. The ideal outfield has the ultraswift Bourjos flanked by Wells in left and Hunter in right, the two veterans bringing a total of 12 Gold Gloves (nine by Hunter) into play as settling influences on their young teammate. Abreu is the swing outfielder, and he will be a regular corner outfielder if Bourjos is returned to Triple-A Salt Lake to find his stroke.

3. Can Rodney handle the closer's role?

After an uneven debut season in Anaheim, Rodney hopes to regain his 2009 form in Detroit when he was successful in 37 of 38 save attempts. If he can come close to that success rate, the Angels will be in good shape. If Rodney struggles with his command of the strike zone, as in 2010, Scioscia can turn to a variety of sources in the ninth inning, including young power arms Jepsen and Walden.

2010 record

80-82, third place in the AL West

Projected batting order

1. 3B Maicer Izturis:
  .250 BA, .321 OBP, .363 SLG, 3 HR, 27 RBI in 2010
2. DH Bobby Abreu:
  .255 BA, .352 OBP, .435 SLG, 20 HR, 78 RBI in 2010
3. RF Torii Hunter:
  .281 BA, .354 OBP, .464 SLG, 23 HR, 90 RBI in 2010
4. LF Vernon Wells:
  .273 BA, .331 OBP, .515 SLG, 31 HR, 88 RBI in 2010
5. 1B Kendry Morales:
  .290 BA, .346 OBP, .487 SLG, 11 HR, 39 RBI in 2010
6. 2B Howard Kendrick:
  .279 BA, .313 OBP, .407 SLG, 10 HR, 75 RBI in 2010
7. SS Erick Aybar:
  .253 BA, .306 OBP, .330 SLG, 5 HR, 29 RBI in 2010
8. C Jeff Mathis:
  .195 BA, .219 OBP, .278 SLG, 3 HR, 18 RBI in 2010
9. CF Peter Bourjos:
  .204 BA, .237 OBP, .381 SLG, 6 HR, 15 RBI in 2010

Projected rotation

1. Jered Weaver, 13-12, 3.01 ERA in 2010
2. Dan Haren, 12-12, 3.91 ERA in 2010
3. Ervin Santana, 17-10, 3.92 ERA in 2010
4. Joel Pineiro, 10-7, 3.84 ERA in 2010
5. Scott Kazmir, 9-15, 5.94 ERA in 2010

Projected bullpen

Closer: Fernando Rodney, 14/21 saves, 4.24 ERA in 2010
RH setup man: Kevin Jepsen, 3.97 ERA in 2010
LH setup man: Scott Downs, 2.64 ERA in 2010

The new guys

OF Wells: After missing out on Carl Crawford and Adrian Beltre in free agency, the Angels turned to Plan C and landed Wells, sending Mike Napoli and Juan Rivera to Toronto while inheriting the remaining four years and $86 million on Wells' contract. A proven power hitter (31 homers, seventh in slugging and total bases in the AL in 2010), Wells provides flexibility defensively with his three Gold Gloves as a center fielder and willingness to move to a corner spot to accommodate Bourjos.

LHP Downs: One of the Majors' most effective left-handed relievers for the Blue Jays for six seasons, Downs gives the Angels a dependable setup man and late-game specialist against left-handed hitters who can also close if necessary. Signed to a three-year, $15 million deal, he had a 7-2 strikeouts-to-walks ratio and held left-handed hitters to a .152 batting average last year.

LHP Takahashi: Further deepening their bullpen, the Angels acquired one of the most versatile arms available in Takahashi, who flourished in a variety of roles for the Mets in his debut Major League season in 2010. He started 12 games and relieved in 41 others, going 10-6 with a 3.61 ERA. He had a strikeouts-to-walks ratio of 8.4-to-3.1 and held left-handed hitters to a .217 batting average.

Prospects to watch

C Hank Conger: The team's first-round Draft pick in 2006, Conger has made rapid progress defensively after being held back by injuries his first two professional seasons. A switch-hitter with power from both sides, he is considered the catcher of the future and did nothing to diminish that projection with a strong performance in September with the Angels. He'll compete for a job this spring with Mathis and Bobby Wilson.

1B/OF Mark Trumbo: The Minor Leagues' co-leader in home runs in 2010 with 36 while driving in 122 runs for Triple-A Salt Lake, Trumbo is hoping to nail down a bench role with the Angels and get some DH opportunities. He is blocked at first by Morales and is in the early stages of learning outfield play. Trumbo continued to pound the ball in the Venezuelan Winter League. His power is enormous and his strike-zone judgment is improving.

OF Mike Trout: Cited as the No. 1 prospect in the game by MLB.com, Trout has been brilliant at three stops in two professional seasons and is probably a year away from making an imprint with the Angels. He turned 19 in August after an eye-popping performance at Angel Stadium in the All-Star Futures Game. In Trout and Bourjos, the Angels will have two of the swiftest players in the sport in coming seasons.

RHP Tyler Chatwood: The organization's premier Minor League pitcher in 2010, Chatwood, like Trout, is on the move -- swiftly. He could be a challenger for a rotation spot in 2012 if he makes similar progress this season. His size and overpowering stuff call to mind Roy Oswalt and Jake Peavy.

On the rebound

SS Aybar: A terrible final month hurt him considerably statistically, his average falling from .312 in 2009 to .253. But Aybar was injured and not himself down the stretch. Healed and motivated, he should return to his 2009 form when he was one of the game's emerging shortstops both offensively and defensively. His talent is unquestioned.

INF Izturis: Like Aybar, Izturis was a valuable performer in 2009, batting .300 while handling multiple positions and playing near-flawless defense. But a shoulder injury cut him down in 2010, limiting him to 61 games and a .250 average. If he claims the third-base job, Izturis likely will lead off, a role he savors, and could inject the kind of juice Figgins supplied.

C Mathis: After a brilliant 2009 postseason against the Red Sox and Yankees, Mathis was off to a great start when he fractured his right wrist two weeks into the 2010 season. He was never the same when he came back, struggling at the plate and behind it with the glove. The Angels regard him as one of the best defenders in the game when he's healthy, and he aims to show it in a comeback campaign.

LHP Kazmir: A two-time All-Star and one of the game's dominant young pitchers in Tampa Bay, Kazmir excelled down the stretch in 2009 but struggled to find his command throughout 2010. A new winter training regimen and fresh start could signal good things for the gifted southpaw. He is only 27, far too young to be dismissed. If he finds his breaking ball, he could give the Angels a brilliant rotation.

OF/DH Abreu: One of the game's most productive players for 14 seasons, Abreu had the worst season of his career statistically in 2010, landing well below his career norms across the board. But he retained his power (20 homers, 41 doubles) and baserunning acumen (24 steals) and expects to recover his old form in 2011.

3B Brandon Wood: The Angels' starter at third base to open the season, Wood dug himself a hole with an early slump and never really escaped, finishing the season with a .146 batting average in 226 at-bats with four homers and 14 RBIs. Once viewed as one of the game's brightest prospects, with 30-homer, 100-RBI potential, Wood hopes to rebound with a clean slate. At least he didn't carry his offensive woes over to his defense, which was excellent at third and shortstop.

Long gone

C/1B Napoli: Dealt to Toronto, which shipped him to Texas, Napoli led the Angels in homers with 26 in 2010 but struggled to make consistent contact (137 strikeouts, .238 average). He could be a thorn in his former club's side if he gets enough at-bats with the Rangers.

OF/DH Rivera: Shipped to Toronto in the Wells deal, Rivera struggled offensively and defensively in 2010 after a strong 2009 season. He is in the final year of a three-year contract and was considered expendable with the Angels' outfield depth.

OF/DH Hideki Matsui: The Angels' primary DH in 2010, Matsui moved north to grace the Athletics in a similar capacity and is counted on to deliver his customary solid numbers in Oakland.

RHP Scot Shields: One of the game's premier setup men for seven seasons, Shields had trouble finding a consistent groove in 2010 after winter knee surgery. He is an unsigned free agent.

INF Kevin Frandsen: A vital contributor after signing a Minor League deal last spring, Frandsen was a victim of the numbers in the infield and was not offered a contract. He signed a Minor League deal with the Padres and is given a good shot at making the team's roster.

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

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