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A look at the Angels entering spring training

The most intriguing question is whether Kendry Morales is ready to be the starter at first base.

February 14, 2009|Mike DiGiovanna

Staff writer Mike DiGiovanna takes a look at the Angels heading into spring training:

Who's new: OF Bobby Abreu, LHP Brian Fuentes.

Who's gone: 1B Mark Teixeira, P Francisco Rodriguez, LF Garret Anderson, P Jon Garland.

Biggest question: Is first baseman Kendry Morales ready to be a starter in the big leagues? The Angels traded Casey Kotchman to Atlanta for free-agent-to-be Mark Teixeira last July knowing they had Morales as a fallback should Teixeira not re-sign. Morales has shown flashes of brilliance, hitting .483 (14 for 29) in August 2007, and his pinch-hit double to lead off the ninth inning in Game 4 of the division series in Fenway Park last October was impressive. But the 25-year-old switch-hitter has never started on a regular basis, and though his defense has improved, he is nowhere near as adept with the glove as Teixeira or Kotchman.

Job seekers: Barring the acquisition of a free agent or a trade, Dustin Moseley, Nick Adenhart, Anthony Ortega and Shane Loux will compete for the fifth rotation spot. Moseley's experience as a big league swingman -- part starter, part reliever -- gives him an edge. But Ortega, who went 5-0 with a 2.52 earned-run average in six triple-A starts after a promotion from double A last season, could win the spot with an impressive spring. The right-hander mixes a 94-mph fastball with a good slider and changeup. Adenhart was the team's top pitching prospect entering 2008 but struggled with his command, going 9-13 with a 5.76 ERA and 75 walks in 145 1/3 innings at triple A.

Keep your eye on: Gary Matthews Jr., and Kelvim Escobar. Matthews, who had an abysmal, injury-plagued 2008 (.242, eight homers, 46 runs batted in), underwent surgery to repair the patella tendon in his left knee last fall and is not expected to be ready for the season opener. If he returns at full strength in April, it will still be as a fifth outfielder, a job he won't be happy with. Will he pout and be a distraction or accept his reduced role? Escobar missed all of 2008 because of shoulder surgery, but if the veteran right-hander with the five-pitch repertoire returns by the All-Star break, he could provide a huge boost to the rotation.

Reasons to be excited: The bullpen, despite the loss of record-setting closer Francisco Rodriguez, should be among the best in baseball and, for the first time in years, will feature two left-handers, Brian Fuentes and Darren Oliver. Providing power will be hard-throwing rookie Kevin Jepsen and Jose Arredondo. The front four starters should keep the Angels in games most nights. Vladimir Guerrero is reportedly in great shape after undergoing off-season knee surgery. Howie Kendrick should be sound after strengthening his problematic hamstrings all winter. Mike Napoli emerged last season as a legitimate power threat.

Reasons to be worried: The lineup could be very productive if Chone Figgins, Torii Hunter, Juan Rivera, Bobby Abreu, Morales and Kendrick have solid to above-average seasons, but the Angels lack a 30-homer threat such as Teixeira to protect Guerrero. The fifth spot in the rotation could be a problem, forcing the Angels to look outside for reinforcements, and the organization also lacks starting pitching depth at the triple-A level, leaving the Angels vulnerable should one or two of their big league starters be injured.

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Projected roster

*--* STARTING LINEUP

Chone Figgins 3B Bobby Abreu LF Vladimir Guerrero RF Torii Hunter CF Juan Rivera DH Kendry Morales 1B Mike Napoli C Howie Kendrick 2B Erick Aybar SS *--*

*--* STARTING ROTATION

John Lackey RH Ervin Santana RH Joe Saunders LH Jered Weaver RH Dustin Moseley RH *--*

*--* BULLPEN

Brian Fuentes LH Scot Shields RH Jose Arredondo RH Darren Oliver LH Kevin Jepsen RH Justin Speier RH *--*

*--* BENCH

Jeff Mathis C Maicer Izturis INF Robb Quinlan 1B,OF Reggie Willits OF Brandon Wood SS/3B Gary Matthews Jr.* OF *--*

*Expected to open season

on disabled list

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mike.digiovanna@latimes.com

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