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Angels' new-look lineup high on potential

Angels' new-look lineup high on potential

ANAHEIM -- If the season started today, with the Angels entertaining the Twins at Angel Stadium, here is how manager Mike Scioscia's lineup might look against probable Minnesota starter Scott Baker:

1. Erick Aybar, SS
2. Bobby Abreu, RF
3. Torii Hunter, CF
4. Hideki Matsui, DH
5. Kendry Morales, 1B
6. Juan Rivera, LF
7. Howard Kendrick, 2B
8. Mike Napoli or Jeff Mathis, C
9. Brandon Wood, 3B

If it's Maicer Izturis at third rather than Wood, Scioscia could have Izturis leading off, Aybar batting second and the rest of the order sliding down one spot.

Another option would have Aybar or Izturis ninth, creating, in effect, dual leadoff men in front of Abreu, who will be bidding for his eighth consecutive season with at least 100 RBIs.

It is a lineup with a different look and feel than the one that featured Chone Figgins at the top and Vladimir Guerrero batting third or cleaning up. But it appears to have the potential to be close to as explosive as the outfit that set club records in 2009 for runs scored (883), batting average (.285) and average with runners in scoring position (.297).

The depth of the lineup was reflected with 11 players driving in 50 or more runs, a Major League record.

Only the Yankees produced more runs than the Angels, and the Bronx Bombers will be without one of their weapons, Hideki Matsui, when they launch their title defense in 2010.

Matsui's move to the Angels as a free agent adds a left-handed weapon alongside Morales and Abreu, creating new balance. With Guerrero, their wonderful slugger for six seasons, the club tilted to the right.

Matsui ranked seventh in the American League in homers per at-bat in 2009, going deep once every 16.3 trips. He was one place ahead of new teammate Morales (16.6).

While conventional wisdom holds that Matsui's home run numbers will tumble playing half of his games at Angel Stadium, he actually delivered more long balls away from Yankee Stadium's inviting fences last season.

In 203 road at-bats, Matsui unloaded 15 homers, compared to 13 bombs in 253 at-bats in the Bronx.

Also worth noting is that Matsui won't need to take a seat against any lefties. His .976 OPS (on-base plus slugging) against southpaws was ninth-best in the AL and the highest by any left-handed hitter in the league.

Matsui's .618 slugging percentage was the fourth highest against lefties -- Rivera was one spot higher at .645 -- and the best by far among left-handed batsmen.

This lineup, with Wood at third, figures to produce more home runs and fewer steals. It won't go first-to-third quite as often in Figgins' absence, but that bottom-third could be lethal if Wood connects often enough to hold down the job.

If the power-hitting Wood doesn't find his stroke and Izturis emerges as the third baseman, the lineup regains a look similar to last year's with the expectation that Aybar continues his development and grows more confident on the bases and Izturis performs at his customary level.

While neither Aybar nor Izturis brings what the threat Figgins created atop the order, both have the ability to push their boundaries significantly on the basepaths.

Izturis' .785 OPS was close to Figgins' .792 in '09.

"I love to run," Izturis said. "Stealing bases has always been part of the game I really enjoy. I'd like to get more opportunities."

Aybar, with his blazing speed, needs only to get more comfortable reading pitchers' moves and making a confident break to become a top-tier basestealer.

"Aybar can fly," Figgins said late in the season. "Once he gets it figured out, he's going to cause some havoc. Going first to home, he's right there with just about anybody."

So, it would appear that the Angels' familiar blend of speed and power, plus situational hitting, will remain intact in spite of the alterations.

A new contract bringing back Abreu, with his polished talents, communication skills and clubhouse leadership, was pivotal in Scioscia's plans.

"Last year I think what Bobby Abreu did to our club is as important as anything that happened," Scioscia said. "Bobby is a professional hitter. We signed him late. Bobby helped to set a tone that made an extremely talented lineup much deeper.

"We've got some young bats that have to develop. You want to have some experience in your lineup and let those [younger] guys hit down lower and get some experience."

Wood has explosive power and figures to be eased into his role, as Morales was last season before emerging in July as a force. Morales, like Hunter, Matsui, Rivera and Kendrick, can be productive hitting anywhere from third to sixth. Napoli and Mathis give the Angels exceptional power production from the catching position.

"We might need that luck again this year with Brandon Wood hopefully getting his feet on the ground, and some other young players," Scioscia said. "Howie Kendrick is still moving forward, Mike Napoli, there's some young hitters in our lineup.

"I know that that offensive depth is something that carried us last year and it's important to us. I think we do have to put some priority in reestablishing that. Our lineup is definitely one that right now has some versatility."

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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