Angels hope newcomers can boost offense, key improvement in 2018

first_img“We’ve got a really good lineup,” Cozart said. “I feel like, 1 to 9 has a chance at any time to do some damage, put some good at-bats together. It’s going to be a fun lineup to see. It’s a really deep lineup, which is fun to be in.”Upton, Kinsler and Cozart all figure to be significant upgrades on the production the Angels got out of their positions last year.* Upton’s OPS over the last three years is .822. The Angels got a .698 OPS out of their left fielders in 2017, and that includes one month of Upton.* Kinsler has a .777 OPS over his last three years, compared with the Angels’ .601 mark at second last year.* Cozart has an .820 OPS over his last three years, a significant upgrade over the Angels’ .713 mark for their third basemen.Their additions have pushed Simmons and catcher Martín Maldonado to the bottom of the order. These are two players who were discussed as All-Stars last summer, before Maldonado’s offense slumped in the second half. Simmons finished with his best offensive season.“If you look at the guys at the bottom, I think that kind of tells the story,” Kinsler said. “Every good team has guys in the middle who are capable of playing really well. What tells the story of a championship team is the bottom.”New players aside, there is also reason to believe the Angels should get better offensive production out of the returning players.Last year Mike Trout missed about two months with a thumb injury, so getting him for a full season would obviously be an upgrade. Maldonado said he has a different workout routine, which he hopes will lead to consistent production all year.Albert Pujols had his worst offensive season last year. He since enjoyed a winter without any limitations because of injuries, which the Angels believe can lead him to an offensive bounceback. Luis Valbuena also figures to be due for a improvement, as his numbers were below his career averages.Given all of it, one scout who saw the Angels all spring believes they have the pieces to be serious contenders.“The Angels are going to score runs and catch the ball,” he said. “As long as the pitching holds up, some guys in the bullpen step up and the starters stay relatively healthy, I think they should be competing for that division.”Unseating the defending World Series champion Houston Astros will be a tall order. The Astros won 21 more games than the Angels in the regular season last season.In order to cut into that gap, they’ll need the offense to be better, and also to get the upgrades from a healthier pitching staff. Garrett Richards, Tyler Skaggs, Matt Shoemaker and JC Ramírez all missed parts of last season with injuries. All begin this season healthy.Also, there is the Ohtani factor. Despite a rough spring, Ohtani has the stuff and the track record from Japan to suggest he can become a front-line starter.“We have a lot of new additions and a lot of experienced guys who are pretty good at their job,” Simmons said. “It’s going to be exciting. It really is.” Andrelton Simmons hit fifth more frequently than any other spot in the 2017 Angels lineup. Simmons is expected to be the No. 8 hitter for the 2018 Angels.That contrast alone tells you most of what you need to know about perhaps the single biggest reason the Angels are optimistic that they will be a better team this year.The lineup is deeper. Much deeper.Of his drop in the order, Simmons said: “That’s a good problem to have. We have a stacked lineup. It’s going to be an exciting year to see how good the offense can be. We’ll see. It looks promising.” On their way to an 80-82 record last season, the Angels finished 11th in the league in runs, 14th in average, 11th in on-base percentage and 13th in home runs.While their pitching also needed to improve, General Manager Billy Eppler reasoned that better health might provide the answers to some of those issues. The offense, however, needed a boost from outside the organization.The boost started late in the 2017 season, when the Angels plugged their troublesome left field hole by trading for Justin Upton. They re-signed Upton, who had an opt-out in his contact, in the first days of the offseason.In one week in December, the Angels acquired Ian Kinsler to play second base and they signed free agent Zack Cozart to play third. The Angels also added Shohei Ohtani, who they still believe can be a power threat despite some troubles in the spring.Of the three key additions to the lineup, Upton and Cozart are both coming off seasons that were among the best of their careers. Kinsler had a disappointing offensive season last year, but he has a track record as one of the best all-around second basemen in the game.center_img Newsroom GuidelinesNews TipsContact UsReport an Errorlast_img