After another disappointing season, the Los Angeles Angels return to spring training this month with high hopes and even higher expectations for the upcoming season.
In an unusually slow off season throughout the baseball world, the Angels were one of the only teams making notable additions to the team before training for the season began. The Angels were clear front runners on having the best off season after signing highly touted Japanese two-way phenom, 23-year-old Shohei Ohtani.
Standing at 6-foot-4, Ohtani offers the rare feat of throwing a 95 mph fastball and the ability to hit a ball more than 400 feet, a talent that hasn’t been seen in one player in the major leagues since Babe Ruth. All 30 teams in the MLB were actively pursuing Shohei, but ultimately the Angels were his final choice.
Almost forgotten in the Ohtani frenzy is two-time MVP Mike Trout. Even though Trout only played 114 games last year due to a torn thumb ligament, he somehow still got better, and continues to do so entering the season at age 26.
The Angels managed to extend the recently acquired left fielder, four-time all-star Justin Upton to a five-year contract after his short-term success with the team last season. The team completed its lineup by adding second baseman Ian Kinsler and third baseman Zack Cozart.
The biggest question marks the team has entering the spring is how first baseman/ designated hitter Albert Pujols will fare with the team expecting him to play more first base than he has in his entire tenure with the Angels, and if the pitching staff can manage to stay healthy after a season that was littered with injuries.
The team didn’t just have additions that were significant, they also had some key losses as well, notably the go-to reliever, right hander Yusmerio Petit and closer Bud Norris.
The Angels will be depending on ace Garrett Richards to return to his 2015 self, after spending the last two seasons plagued with injuries to his elbow and then his arm.
This spring will give Angels fans a glimpse at some of the top prospects, outfielder Jahmai Jones and infielder Matt Thaiss, who were the brightest spots of a previously weak farm system and are among the 19 non-roster players invited to the major league camp.
All the improvements the Angels have made will keep them right in the heart of the wildcard race, but if their pitching staff can’t stay healthy, the team will have to start again from scratch next year.
Cactus league play begins Feb. 23 against Oakland, and continues through March 27.