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OC Register: Angels 2019 spring training preview: Billy Eppler says team is slowly going in right direction

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TEMPE, Ariz. — The Angels have concluded another offseason with a ticking noise in the background.

At least, that’s the narrative outside the organization.

Just about every time the Angels have done anything over the past few years, it’s been accompanied by a discussion about whether it’s enough to make the team a winner in the remaining years of Mike Trout’s contract.

It’s down to two.

Tick, tick, tick …

General Manager Billy Eppler, however, insists that he does not view his job in such a Trout-centric way.

While acknowledging that Trout is obviously a generational player who the Angels love to have, Eppler has said many times he’s looking out for the long-term health of the franchise. The way to have sustained success, he says, is by building a strong farm system.

The quickest way, of course, to have a strong farm system, is to trade away a lot of veterans and lose a lot, accumulating high draft picks. The Angels, however, didn’t want to do that either.

Instead, they’ve chosen to keep almost all of their established players, supplementing them with short-term potential solutions, to give them a chance to remain competitive while they wait for the farm system to blossom.

“Our approach with this organization is a direction over speed approach,” Eppler said in the days leading up to Tuesday’s deadline for pitchers and catchers to report to spring training. “Results are important, and getting things accomplished quicker is better, but not at the expense of us going in the wrong direction.”

From about 2011 to 2015, the Angels searched for quick fixes. They relied heavily on free agents and neglected the farm system, and it set back the organization.

Eppler is trying to avoid that.

“We’ve taken every step we can to be able to build a core group within our farm system and challenged these guys to move aggressively,” he said. “We know we want to build that internally and have sustainability in the long haul. If you are pointed in the wrong direction, it doesn’t matter what speed you are traveling.”

Eppler insists the Angels are headed in the right direction after winning 80 games and finishing fourth in 2018. Of the players who were on their active roster at the end of last season, the most significant ones who are now gone are relievers José Álvarez and Blake Parker. They also lost Garrett Richards, Martín Maldonado, Ian Kinsler and pitcher Shohei Ohtani, all of whom made significant contributions earlier in the season.

Replacements have come in the form of as many as eight or nine new players who figure to be on the 2019 Opening Day roster.

While some fans certainly hoped that the additions would include names such as Bryce Harper, Manny Machado or Dallas Keuchel, Eppler believes the Angels have improved with a series of smaller moves.

The Angels didn’t commit any long-term dollars and didn’t give up any promising young players in trades, while adding what they hope are the right pieces to make a run at the playoffs in 2019.

They added starting pitchers Matt Harvey and Trevor Cahill to a core of Tyler Skaggs and Andrew Heaney. They’ve added veteran closer Cody Allen and power right-hander Luis Garcia to the bullpen.

Offensively, they have Justin Bour to pick up some of the first base slack while Albert Pujols and Ohtani recover from their surgeries, and Jonathan Lucroy to plug the hole at catcher.

They’ll all be managed by Brad Ausmus, who takes over after the end of Mike Scioscia’s 19-year tenure running the club.

“If we can keep our top 30 guys as healthy as possible and put them in a position to perform optimally, and manage their workload and health, I think we can be in a really good spot to win a lot of games,” Eppler said.

“We feel good about the progress. We can see progress around and I think the players on our 25-man roster can see progress, because they talk about it.”

Which brings us back to the most important player of them all: Trout.

As spring training begins, the most significant question the team faces surrounds Trout.

WILL TROUT SIGN AN EXTENSION?

Although Eppler refuses to comment on the organization’s plans with Trout, a club source said earlier in the winter that extension talks were expected to begin in earnest after Harper and Machado signed, setting a baseline for Trout’s next contract.

Assuming those players sign soon, and assuming the Angels and Trout would prefer not to negotiate during the season, this spring training will represent the best window for the two sides to get to work.

It is likely that the Angels will be willing to pay whatever it costs to keep Trout – whatever mind-boggling number that might be – so it’s going to come down to whether Trout wants to stay.

Trout said at the end of last season that winning is a priority. The Angels have been to the playoffs for just one three-game cameo in Trout’s seven seasons. Once Trout arrives in camp, he will certainly be asked his thoughts on the organization’s direction and his desire to stay. The answers will be telling.

If the Angels and Trout don’t come to an agreement this spring, the sides are likely to keep talking for at least another year. It would be a shock if the Angels even considered trading Trout before July 2020, and then only if the team is out of the race and he has made it clear he’s not signing an extension. Even if one of those scenarios exists, it wouldn’t be enough to trade him.

HOW QUICKLY WILL OHTANI AND PUJOLS RECOVER?

Ohtani had Tommy John surgery on Oct. 1, so he’s not going to pitch this season. He’s expected to be a key part of the Angels lineup as the designated hitter for most of the season, but when that starts is unclear.

The Angels have only said Ohtani won’t be ready by Opening Day. As Ohtani goes through his rehab throughout spring training, each week will provide a better picture of how soon he’ll be in the lineup.

Ohtani’s immediate absence provides a little more time for Pujols, who has no challengers to his time at designated hitter while Ohtani is out. Pujols is coming back from surgeries on his knee and elbow. He is expected to be ready to hit by Opening Day.

When Ohtani comes back, though, the Angels would prefer that Pujols can play first base so Ohtani can DH. Playing 70 games in the field in 2018 was likely a contributing factor to Pujols getting hurt, so it’s certainly worth wondering how much a 39-year-old Pujols will be able to handle this year. Spring training will start to provide some answers.

WHO EMERGES IN THE THREE-HEADED INFIELD RACE?

Andrelton Simmons will be the Angels’ shortstop and Pujols or Bour will be at first base, but beyond that the infield is uncertain.

Zack Cozart, who is coming back from surgery on his non-throwing shoulder, will play either second or third. The other spot will be occupied by one of a group of three young players.

David Fletcher, Taylor Ward and Luis Rengifo all enter spring training with a chance to emerge as an everyday player. Ward could win a job at third, Rengifo at second and Fletcher at either spot.

Fletcher probably enters the spring in the pole position, because he performed the best in the majors last year. However, Ward (power) and Rengifo (speed, on-base percentage) both have some attractive qualities.

WHO WILL GET THE FINAL SPOTS ON THE PITCHING STAFF?

After the top four starters – Skaggs, Heaney, Harvey and Cahill – the Angels have four pitchers in the running for the fifth spot. Jaime Barría, who performed well as a rookie, is likely at the top of the depth chart going in, but Nick Tropeano, Felix Peña and Dillon Peters also have a chance to win their way into the rotation.

All four have options, so there could be a shuttle throughout the season with those pitchers moving between the majors and Triple-A Salt Lake. They also figure to use pitchers from this group to slot a sixth starter into the rotation occasionally, providing extra rest for the others.

In the bullpen, Allen will be the closer and Ty Buttrey, Hansel Robles, Cam Bedrosian, Garcia and Justin Anderson are relatively safe bets to join him. Daniel Hudson, Noé Ramírez, John Curtiss, Taylor Cole and Williams Jerez are all in the mix for the final spot.

HOW WILL THE PROSPECTS DO?

The Angels’ farm system has gone from being the worst in the sport to somewhere in the upper third, and most of their most promising players will be in big league camp.

Outfielders Jo Adell – ranked as high as No. 2 overall in baseball – and Brandon Marsh, infielder Jahmai Jones and pitchers Griffin Canning and José Suarez are the organization’s top five prospects, and all will be in camp. It will be the first big league camp for all but Jones.

“I’m excited to watch those guys get acclimated and get an opportunity to learn from the guys they’ll be exposed to,” Eppler said. “I think they’ll embrace all the knowledge that’s imparted.”

Canning and Suarez are both likely to start the season at Triple-A, so a good showing in Arizona could help their chances at a quick promotion to the majors. Although Adell is only 19, he finished at Double-A last year, so he could also be up sometime in 2019.

View the full article

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"HOW QUICKLY WILL OHTANI AND PUJOLS RECOVER?"

Fixed.

OMG can we please please please stop the obnoxiously delusional narrative that a healthy Pujols is pivotal to the success of this team?

650 plate appearances from Pujols probably hurts this team a hell of a lot more than 200 plate appearances.

 

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8 minutes ago, Dtwncbad said:

"HOW QUICKLY WILL OHTANI AND PUJOLS RECOVER?"

Fixed.

OMG can we please please please stop the obnoxiously delusional narrative that a healthy Pujols is pivotal to the success of this team?

650 plate appearances from Pujols probably hurts this team a hell of a lot more than 200 plate appearances.

 

where did you see that narrative included in what was written.  My guess is that nothing of the sort was put in there purposefully.  

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18 minutes ago, Dtwncbad said:

"HOW QUICKLY WILL OHTANI AND PUJOLS RECOVER?"

Fixed.

OMG can we please please please stop the obnoxiously delusional narrative that a healthy Pujols is pivotal to the success of this team?

650 plate appearances from Pujols probably hurts this team a hell of a lot more than 200 plate appearances.

 

Who's narrative is that exactly?

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I think there are other players who could take at bats from Pujols.  It will be interesting to see if Ausmus is willing to bench Albert for the likes of Tommy La Stella or if Ward breaks camp with the team then someone like Fletcher, Cozart or Ward could actually be moved around to where they would get at bats over AP.  I doubt any of that happens, but it really should.  

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Could just be me, but the mere inclusion of Pujols name in that headline (sub headline I guess) is just off to me.

It makes sense to rank "how soon will Ohtani be back" as the second thing listed to consider after the Trput extension subject.

It seems absurd to me add Pujols name to that question.  A healthy Ohtani could be a beast.  Pretty important subject of when he is ready and healthy.  Does anyone ANYONE think a healthy Pujols could be a beast?

I mean, they didn't ask "Will Trout and Pujols sign extensions?"

That is definitely more absurd, of course, but it at least shows the point I am attempting to make as to how out of place adding Pujols name to the Ohtani question is.

That's how I read it.  If it's just me, then it's just me.

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10 minutes ago, Dtwncbad said:

Could just be me, but the mere inclusion of Pujols name in that headline (sub headline I guess) is just off to me.

It makes sense to rank "how soon will Ohtani be back" as the second thing listed to consider after the Trput extension subject.

It seems absurd to me add Pujols name to that question.  A healthy Ohtani could be a beast.  Pretty important subject of when he is ready and healthy.  Does anyone ANYONE think a healthy Pujols could be a beast?

I mean, they didn't ask "Will Trout and Pujols sign extensions?"

That is definitely more absurd, of course, but it at least shows the point I am attempting to make as to how out of place adding Pujols name to the Ohtani question is.

That's how I read it.  If it's just me, then it's just me.

Everyone is sick of AP.....   You may be reading more into than others but everyone is over wishing/waiting on number 5.

Edited by Inside Pitch

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11 minutes ago, Dtwncbad said:

That's how I read it.  If it's just me, then it's just me.

It’s just you. 

The article did not include the narrative you suggested. 

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15 minutes ago, RBM said:

It’s just you. 

The article did not include the narrative you suggested. 

Fair.  The Pujols content following the headline (reading it a couple more times) is relevant to the main Ohtani point.

I still would not have included Pujols name in the subheadline though.

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Agreed @Dtwncbad. I think the key is getting Ohtani back at DH. When that happens Pujols may become a part time player. Bour has great splits against RHP’s so Pujols may be relegated to starting at 1B against LHP’s and an occasional start at DH. 

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1 hour ago, Dtwncbad said:

Fair.  The Pujols content following the headline (reading it a couple more times) is relevant to the main Ohtani point.

I still would not have included Pujols name in the subheadline though.

It's relevant because Albert is most likely slated to get the at bats Ohtani won't.  If Albert wasn't going to be ready, then there would be another discussion about who was going to get DH at bats early in the season.  

just like it's relevant to discuss the three headed infield race or the final spots on the pitching staff.  It's roster relevance.  Not Albert relevance.  

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1 hour ago, Angel Oracle said:

Pujols should not get over 80-90 total starts between 1B/DH.    His knees and feet clearly cannot withstand much more anymore.

He should start talking with the FO, if not already, about stepping aside after 2019 and negotiating how to pay out his 2020-2021 player salary.

Hope you're correct about Albert.  I don't think his health will allow him to be effective stating more that 80-90 games.  I know he' s got some personal milestones he wants to hit, but at this point anything over 300 AB's hurts the team.

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6 hours ago, greginpsca said:

If Bour were to get hurt, would Ward or Walsh play first base, instead of Pujols?

Probably LaStella immediately, depending how Walsh and Thaiss look. Not Ward. He’s still learning 3B. Although I think it’s fair to have him try 1B eventually, I think they want to give him some more time to work on 3B before they throw more at him.

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10 hours ago, Dtwncbad said:

Fair.  The Pujols content following the headline (reading it a couple more times) is relevant to the main Ohtani point.

I still would not have included Pujols name in the subheadline though.

Two of the 9 guys expected to be mostly their everyday lineup are coming off surgery. That’s why I listed two.

Also, Pujols is one of the greatest players in the history of baseball and he’s at a career tipping point. I think that’s worth keeping an eye on. 

 

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Albert was at that tipping point a couple years ago. He has been one of the worst starting players in baseball over the last two seasons and if he wasn't named "Albert Pujols" and/or being made $25M+ a year, he would not be given a spot on any team's major league roster.

But good article. I really like Eppler's approach and am optimistic--or at least hopeful--that Trout will get an extension before Opening Day. He doesn't strike me as a player that wants to be playing a year or two in uncertainty. 

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Eppler's got a good plan;  given the uncertainty over the extension of Trout and needing to be ready to throw a bunch of money at him, if he shows a willingness to stay.

Heck, it's a good plan for ANY scenario. Always competitive, to a certain extent, with a chance at making the playoffs.

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54 minutes ago, fan_since79 said:

Stopped at "SLOWLY going in the right direction".

Sigh...as long as we get back to the playoffs before I'm 90. Just give me that much and I'll be happy.

Wait, you’re not 90?  

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On ‎2‎/‎11‎/‎2019 at 9:47 AM, Dtwncbad said:

"HOW QUICKLY WILL OHTANI AND PUJOLS RECOVER?"

Fixed.

OMG can we please please please stop the obnoxiously delusional narrative that a healthy Pujols is pivotal to the success of this team?

650 plate appearances from Pujols probably hurts this team a hell of a lot more than 200 plate appearances.

 

The only worry is while Ohtani isn't DHing yet.   Then the Ghostly one will unfortunately get pretty much full playing time.

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On February 11, 2019 at 9:03 AM, AngelsWin.com said:

They also lost Garrett Richards, Martín Maldonado, Ian Kinsler and pitcher Shohei Ohtani, all of whom made significant contributions earlier in the season.

lol 

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I admit that I was bummed to read Billy said the team is "Slowly" going in the right direction, but if we can add a solid FA here and there and develop our own guys, I'd like we had in 2000-2009 where it was a good mix of our own homegrown stars and players traded for or signed from outside the org.

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