Ohtani joins Trout, Pujols as Angels hope for playoff return
ANAHEIM, Calif. (AP) Mike Trout, the best player in baseball, won’t be the biggest attraction in spring training for the Los Angeles Angels.
That distinction will fall to Japanese two-way sensation Shohei Ohtani, who chose to sign with the Angels in December following league-wide interest and years of intrigue about the 23-year-old with a powerful right arm and productive bat from the left side of the plate.
The hope is that the arrival of Ohtani, a rebuilt infield and better health from its starting pitchers can get the two-time American League MVP and the Angels back into the postseason for the first time since 2014, their only appearance in the last eight seasons.
And while he won’t see as much hype off the field, Trout continues to deliver on it. He hit .306 with 33 home runs, 72 RBIs and 22 stolen bases despite spending time on the disabled list for the first time in his career with a thumb injury.
Here’s what to watch for when the Angels arrive in Tempe, Arizona, for spring training:
NEW LOOK: The addition of third baseman Zack Cozart in free agency and second baseman Ian Kinsler via trade reshaped the Angels infield with a clear emphasis on generating more offense. Los Angeles averaged 4.38 runs per game, which ranked 22nd last season, but had a 65-23 record when scoring at least four runs. Cozart hit a career-high 24 home runs for Cincinnati, and Kinsler is coming off consecutive seasons with 20-plus home runs for the first time in his 12-year career.
ROOKIES TO WATCH: The Angels will give Ohtani, who had a 42-15 record with a 2.52 ERA and .286 batting average with 48 home runs in five seasons in Japan, every opportunity to become the most impactful two-way player MLB has seen in decades. Ohtani will likely work as part of a six-man starting rotation and then share DH duties with Albert Pujols when not on the mound. The situation is so unprecedented that fantasy baseball platforms are treating Ohtani the pitcher and Ohtani the hitter as two different players.
THEY’RE SET: Following the best defensive season in team history, the Angels should pick up where they left off. They committed a franchise-low 80 errors, didn’t commit an error in 101 games to set a new team record, and tied the team record with a .986 fielding percentage. SS Andrelton Simmons won his third Gold Glove, and C Martin Maldonado picked up his first.
THEY’RE NOT: Injuries have decimated the Angels’ starting rotation in each of the last two seasons, and they enter the upcoming season with plenty of uncertainty there. The return of Garrett Richards, Tyler Skaggs and Andrew Heaney could offer stability, but they appeared in a total of 44 games in 2016 and 2017. J.C. Ramirez (11-10) and Parker Bridwell (10-3) are the only pitchers on the roster who made at least 20 starts last season.
ON DECK: The focus on Ohtani’s two-way potential is not only going to dominate the daily conversation about the Angels but will be one of the driving storylines across baseball in spring training. Would the plan to prioritize Ohtani’s spot in the starting rotation change if he proves to more effective as a hitter than as a pitcher early on? There is also the lingering issue of a sprained ligament in Ohtani’s right elbow, an injury revealed during a physical last November, but the Angels aren’t concerned.
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