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Angels: Looks like a big season at the Big A

Signings of Albert Pujols and C.J. Wilson add strength to the lineup and rotation, making this a potentially great year for the Angels.

February 18, 2012|By Mike DiGiovanna
  • Mark Trumbo, who led the Angels with 29 home runs and 87 RBIs last season, is one of three power-hitting first basemen on the roster as spring training opens.
Mark Trumbo, who led the Angels with 29 home runs and 87 RBIs last season,… (Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles…)

Reporting from Tempe, Ariz. -- The Angels have so much depth on offense that their leading run producer from 2011 could be fighting for at-bats as a utility player, and a three-time All-Star outfielder could be discarded like a worn-out batting glove.

They have so much rotation depth that their projected No. 3 starter was the ace of a team that reached the World Series in 2011, and their No. 4 starter threw a no-hitter last season.

And the team that for so long has been one big bat short of pennant contention will enter 2012 with baseball's most feared slugger, Albert Pujols, who signed a 10-year, $240-million deal this winter.

There is high anticipation and intrigue surrounding the Angels as pitchers and catchers report to spring training Sunday, and for good reason: This could be the best team in the franchise's 52-year history, one that appears well equipped to compete with the American League's elite.

Among the story lines to watch this spring:

K-Mo or No-Mo?

That is the question for the second straight spring, as Kendrys Morales, who in 2009 hit .306 with 34 homers and 108 runs batted in, attempts to return from the broken left ankle that has sidelined him for a year and a half.

The first baseman, who underwent two surgeries, has been taking batting practice from both sides of the plate and jogging for a month. But he has not progressed to the rigorous activity that would give the Angels a better indication of whether he'll be ready to start the season.

If he is and regains his 2009 form, he would play mostly designated hitter and team with Pujols to give the Angels a formidable middle-of-the-order tandem. If not, the Angels might struggle to find a cleanup hitter who can adequately protect Pujols.

Transition game

Pujols, 32, has played his entire 11-year career for the St. Louis Cardinals and Manager Tony La Russa. How quickly the first baseman adapts to a new team, city, home stadium, manager, coaching staff and league could go a long way toward determining the Angels' fate.

Pujols battled a wrist injury for much of 2011, and though he had what for him was a career-worst season — a .299 batting average, 37 homers, 99 RBIs — he was a force in the playoffs while leading the Cardinals to the World Series championship.

Mumbo Trumbo

As the starter at first base last season, Mark Trumbo hit .254 with a team-high 29 homers and 87 RBIs and finished second in AL rookie-of-the-year voting. His role isn't nearly as defined heading into this season.

Pujols' signing pushes Trumbo, 26, to a utility spot in which his at-bats will come mostly at DH, at third base if he can become proficient at the position this spring, at first and possibly in right field.

Trumbo is also rebounding from a stress fracture in his right foot that could keep him from full baseball activities until March.

Bobby (bid adieu?) Abreu

The 37-year-old outfielder/DH will have an extremely limited role if Morales and Trumbo are sound, and that could force the Angels to trade him and swallow most of his $9-million salary.

The Angels discussed a deal that would have sent Abreu to the New York Yankees for pitcher A.J. Burnett, but Burnett would not waive his no-trade clause for a move to the West Coast. Abreu could be valuable insurance if Morales isn't ready.

Reasons for optimism

A rotation featuring Jered Weaver; Dan Haren; C.J. Wilson, the former Texas Rangers ace who signed a five-year, $77.5-million deal in December; and Ervin Santana, who threw a no-hitter against Cleveland in 2011; should be one of the best in baseball. Defense should be a plus as well.

The offense could be potent, especially with Pujols, Morales and Trumbo in the same lineup. Solid years from Howie Kendrick and Torii Hunter and a bounce-back year from Vernon Wells would give the Angels plenty of power, and Erick Aybar and Peter Bourjos should provide plenty of speed.

Reasons for skepticism

New General Manager Jerry Dipoto cited the bullpen as a big area of need, but his only significant winter addition was right-hander LaTroy Hawkins, a 39-year-old setup man.

Hard-throwing right-hander Jordan Walden showed promise as a rookie closer last season, with a 2.98 earned-run average and 32 saves, but he also had 10 of the team's major league-leading 25 blown saves. If he falters, Dipoto may be forced to trade for a proven closer.

Watch for

Wells and Mike Trout. The veteran Wells will start in left field, but if he struggles early he probably won't be given as long a leash as he had in 2011, when he hit .218 with 25 homers and 66 RBIs.

Trout, 20, is one of baseball's top prospects, and if he flashes his speed, power and on-base ability at triple A as Wells slips, he could be playing outfield in Anaheim.

mike.digiovanna@latimes.com

twitter.com/mikedigiovanna

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