The Angels rolled their way to the best record in baseball last season on the strength of one of the best offensive units in the league. With a lineup featuring the current best player in the game as well as one of the greatest right-handed hitters in its history, they paced MLB with 773 runs scored and a collective .277 TAv. Pitching wasn’t quite as pretty, as the Halos’ 3.58 team ERA ranked just a middle-of-the-pack 15th even though they call one of the more pitcher-friendly parks in baseball home. Despite the overall mediocrity of the staff, there were several standout arms for fantasy purposes, with guys like Garrett Richards and Matt Shoemaker coming out of nowhere to produce strong returns on FAAB investments.
Despite the regular season success the Orange Countians were quickly dispatched from the playoffs by the Tasmanian Devil that was your October 2014 Kansas City Royals. But with only Jason Grilli headed from a contributing role into free agency this offseason they’ll head into 2015 as the early favorites to repeat as Western Division champions, and they currently project to feature pretty much the exact same cast of fantasy-relevant characters. Let’s take a look at what they have to offer.
A note for our readers. While informative, since we are still months away from pitchers and catchers reporting to spring training, these previews are far from definitive or complete. Free agent signings, trades, and other offseason news will change the landscape for most if not all teams. For any moves that take place after a team preview is written, please look to our Transaction Analysis coverage for instant reactions, and then check back on the Team Previews for more detailed updates (including lineups, rotations, bullpens, etc.) as we get closer to Opening Day.
Another note for our readers. The characterizations below (for example, “stud”) are designed to be taken in context for each team. Not every team has a Mike Trout or Giancarlo Stanton, so the “stud” category represents the best player or players on each team, not necessarily in comparison to the league.
Albert Pujols – 1B
It’s easy to take a look at the soon-to-be-35-year-old version of Pujols and see only his relative deficiencies. After all, he’s a shell of what he was in his peak days as the consensus no. 1 overall fantasy pick for several years running. But for all Old Man Pujols can’t do anymore, there are a few fantasy-relevant things he can do, most notably hit a whole bunch of homers and drive in a whole bunch of runs. Despite a second consecutive year failing to post a .300 TAv Pujols still finished as a top-30 overall option in standard formats on the strength of his 28 homers and 194 R+RBI. There are warning lights flashing everywhere around his batted-ball and approach profiles, and obvious age-related injury concerns have to be factored into his draft-day value equation. But Prince Albert should still have plenty left in the tank to return solid value as a top-50 pick again in 2015.
Huston Street – RP
I’m not generally in the business of touting relief pitchers with any degree of confidence, but it may be time to admit that Street has earned it. Yes, he has a lengthy injury history. He’ll be injured next year, too. I’ll nigh on guarantee it. But through it all he hasn’t ever worked in less than 40 games in a season, and while his annual innings cap somewhere south of 60 keeps him out of the elite tier there’s something to be said about his steady consistency at a position wholly lacking it. Over the last six years, he’s saved at least 20 games every season along with a cumulative 2.76 ERA, 0.99 WHIP, a strikeout an inning, and a 91.4 percent conversion rate. He’s not the stuff of legend, but he’s very good, he’s very consistent, and he’s in a good place to rack up saves whenever he’s on the field.
Up and Coming
C.J. Cron – 1B
Cron showed some flashes of being a decent fantasy asset in his first taste of big-league ball last summer, and if you just look at the topline numbers it looks like he largely held his own out of the gate. He ripped 11 homers in 253 plate appearances and kept his strikeouts at least in an acceptable range given the power output. But after a hot start, the book on Cron was written, published, and circulated right quick. He was eaten alive by major-league sliders, and once pitchers started sequencing better, he became more vulnerable against fastballs, too. After July 1st, he hit just .216/.257/.396 with three homers and a 29 percent strikeout rate. His aggressive approach is likely to make him a persistent AVG liability, but there’s enough pop in his bat that his power potential will probably still make him a relevant gamble, particularly in non-OBP leagues. It probably also bares mentioning for owners in keeper and dynasty formats that his defense at first was pretty brutal last summer, albeit in a small sample. So barring a Pujols injury, it may end up being a bit of a barnburner as to whether he’ll garner the standard 20 games there to retain eligibility past this season.
Josh Hamilton – OF
I almost put him in the “What You See” section below, but the reality is that his performance just doesn’t warrant it at this point. He’s now put up over a thousand plate appearances between his age-32 and -33 seasons with a composite line of .255/.307/.426 and an average just south of 19 homers per 550 at-bats. He’s still drawing walks at an acceptable-enough pace, and I guess the slugging percentage hints at some remaining pop in his bat. But among hitters with 350 plate appearances last year, he swung at the 12th-highest percentage of pitches outside the zone en route to producing the single worst contact rate in all of baseball. The approach just isn’t sustainable, and pitchers have no reason to throw him a fastball anymore. On name recognition alone he’ll likely cost more than his performance trends warrant at this point, making him a poor candidate to return surplus value on his draft position even as just a mid-round flier.
Collin Cowgill – OF
Real-world fourth outfielders can often be a fine source of untapped fantasy value in roto leagues, but that’s not really the case with Cowgill. He doesn’t have a carrying fantasy tool to where he can return value in part-time at-bats, and outside of a handful of the deepest AL-onlies, he shouldn’t really be much of a draft-day consideration in any league.
Chris Iannetta – C
There was a time when Iannetta turned some scouting heads and looked like he might just evolve into the next great hitting catcher, but that ship has long since sailed. Now entering his age-32 season, he has settled in as a low-average, decent-pop catcher who may or may not make a run at top-16 standing from year to year. The Big A is lethal in suppressing his above-average power, and while his stellar walk rates still make him a quite useful end-game target in OBP leagues, his value in standard formats is quite limited.
What You See Is What You Get
Jered Weaver – SP
I’ve already tendered my resignation at trying to rationally deconstruct Jered Weaver’s performance at this point. Outside of his glorious 2010 season where his whiff rate inexplicably spiked he’s been a model of consistency in posting strikeout rates in the 18-21 percent range, and he’s always been a guy who rather dramatically outpaces his FIP projections. He continued to defy the baseball gods last year despite hemorrhaging velocity seemingly by the start and walking more guys than he had since 2009. Despite that formula for disaster he still posted a solid SP3 season, and yet… the party’s got to end at some point, right? He’s getting fewer and fewer batters to chase his stuff, and an increasing amount of the contact he allowed last year was on pitches in the zone. He’s gotten considerably shorter in his delivery over the last couple seasons, and that’s a big deal for a pitcher as seemingly dependent on creating deception as Weaver has been. I refuse to predict collapse yet again and in turn be proven wrong yet again, but I wouldn’t feel comfortable grabbing him on draft day unless his price tag comes in significantly lower than that SP3 value he returned last season.
Kole Calhoun – OF
I almost tossed him into the X-factors section, but it turns out there really aren’t a ton of questions about Calhoun’s game. He’s been a remarkably consistent .290 TAv player over his season-and-a-half in the league, with a nominally above-average offensive profile that can generate solid counting stats depending on his lineup context. That last part is worth mentioning, as he garnered a ton of his value last season from hitting leadoff for the Angels and scoring 90 runs despite an OBP profile that suggested a better fit further down the lineup. Even if that swap does come he should trade some runs for some RBI, though any loss of at-bats would presumably translate into a loss of counting stat opportunities on the whole. He’s a nice complimentary player as an OF3 in deeper leagues and an OF4 in shallower ones, and there’s some slight room left for projection as he enters his age-27 season.
Howie Kendrick – 2B
Kendrick may just be the poster child for this category. Over the past six seasons he’s hit between .279 and .297 and averaged 11 homers and 12 stolen bases. Outside of his career year in 2011, when he went 18/14, he’s been between 19 and 24 HR+SB in every season. He’s never quite blossomed into the batting champion some predicted in his younger days, but he’s been an incredibly consistent performer throughout his career. He did a nice job boosting his walk rate and curtailing his whiffs last year, and entering his age-31 season, there don’t appear to be any glaring signs of trouble in his profile. He’s known to be on the block this offseason with just one year left on his contract, but for now you can still pencil him in for his standard production in an Angels’ uniform.
Erick Aybar – SS
Aybar again managed to crack the top-10 among shortstops in standard leagues last year, as his moderate-across-the-board production underscored just how low the bar is for fantasy relevance at the position. He’s on the wrong side of 30 now, though, and there is one red flag of particular note in his profile: he’s lost a couple steps. It caught up with him last year to the tune of an ugly 64 percent conversion rate on his 25 stolen-base attempts and diminishing speed scores. The days of him as a threat for 20-plus bags look like they may just be gone for good, and it’s an open question how much longer he’ll be ticketed for mid-teens production. Paired with an ISO that has declined for four straight years, there are some serious questions about what his future offensive profile might look like. Still, he’s probably a decent bet to hit over .270 and stay on the field enough to compile decent Run and RBI totals for the position. Even with the diminished steals that plays in most leagues.
Garret Richards – SP
There’s certainly an argument to be made for including Richards in the “Studs” section above, and I almost did. His seemingly out-of-nowhere breakout last year wasn’t particularly fluky outside of a depressed homerun rate, and the combination of power stuff, a strong whiff rate, and a bunch of burnt worms makes him a very intriguing package going forward. The gruesome broken leg he suffered in August kept him from challenging 200 innings, and along with his lack of track record helped keep him in this section as well. Assuming a return to health, however, Richards has the potential to vault into the upper tiers of SP options with a repeat performance.
Matt Shoemaker – SP
Shoemaker was another guy who took a couple nips of whatever was in the OC water and miraculously transformed from an inconsistent minor league pitcher into an above-average major leaguer. After stalling out in Triple-A as a decent starter with no standout pitching tools, Shoemaker looked like quintessential organization depth, and indeed got his first crack at holding a rotation spot only after Tyler Skaggs was lost to Tommy John surgery. And boy did he run with it. His 3.04 ERA checked in 12th in the AL among pitchers with 130 innings, and it was a reasonably well supported mark by FIP and xFIP. His potent splitter/slider secondary combo generated strong whiff rates despite fairly average movement, and while he’d always shown an ability to limit walks in the minors he took things to the next level with a 4.4 percent walk rate that was sixth best among AL starters. Overall the stuff isn’t as impressive as Richards’, and as a 28-year-old with over 750 minor-league innings under his belt and no prolonged demonstration of this ceiling, it’ll be a tough for him to return value on his likely draft slot next year.
C.J. Wilson – SP
Wilson was terrible last year. He led the league in walks and finished with the third worst WHIP among all qualified starters, leading to a season in which he rated as the 128th starting pitcher in standard leagues. Not exactly a solid return on his ADP as the 33rd starter off the board. His control is bad enough that he’s always going to be a WHIP liability, but he strikes out just enough guys and plays for a good enough team to where he should be able to at least make the jump back into mixed league relevance. His present skillset is one that generally requires some good fortune in the win column to generate value, however, and that’s never a fun bet to place.
Cam Bedrosian – RP
The son of former CY Young winner Steve Bedrosian, Cam’s big league debut last summer did not go quite as swimmingly as save speculators might have hoped. Virtually everything that could’ve gone wrong for him did in his first 19 1/3 big league innings: he was tattooed for a .356 BABIP, his strand rate was abysmal, and his command wobbled to the tune of 12 walks in those 19 1/3 innings. Still, when a guy armed with mid-90s gas plows through three levels and strikes out over 16 (!) batters-per-nine he probably deserves a mulligan. The big questions about command and the development of an effective second pitch persist with Bedrosian. But he whiffed almost half the batters he faced last year, and that kind of potential doesn’t grow on trees. If he learns from last summer’s wake-up call, he’s a guy with the potential to rack up holds and strikeouts in large quantities in the middle innings next summer, with an outside shot at closing if/when Street goes down for a prolonged stretch.
David Freese – 3B
Freese’s struggles making contact against same-handed pitching have really gotten out of hand as his bat has slowed a tick, and he posted a second consecutive season with a negative FRAA in the field. Poor fielding third basemen who can’t hit righties don’t have many legs to stand on in the big leagues. Fortunately for Freese, it makes him a less-than-desirable trade chip and he’s still cheap enough to where he’s probably likely to get the nod on Opening Day. Even with everyday playing time, he’s better suited as a platoon bat to stream against left-handed pitching in mixed leagues, and he’s a lower end option in AL-onlies.
Hector Santiago – SP
Santiago’s profile is a dangerous one for real life and fantasy alike, as he mixes a below-average whiff rate with extreme fly-ball tendencies. While his cross-the-body motion largely succeeds in generating weak contact against same-handed hitting, righties teased out an 11 pecent walk rate and pounded him to the tune of a 4.89 FIP last year. In a best-case scenario Santiago’s a streamer against lefty-heavy lineups at home or in other pitcher’s parks. He’s probably better suited to the bullpen, though, and he’ll be the likely odd man out if and when the Angels acquire another arm this winter. Even as things stand Nick Tropeano, could push him for the slot in spring training.
Gordon Beckham – 2B/3B
After posting an intriguing .272 TAv as a 22-year-old rookie in 2009, Beckham hasn’t done much of fantasy note since. Southern California did seem to agree with him last summer, but 61 plate appearances do not a trend make in a career of almost 3,000. Current reports indicate a strong possibility that either Kendrick or Freese is dealt this offseason, however, and in such a case Beckham becomes the immediate in-house frontrunner to snag the vacant spot out of spring training.
Joe Smith – RP
Smith was quietly one of the more valuable relievers around last year, providing sparkling rate stats to go along with 18 holds and 15 saves. It’s probably unrealistic to expect that many save opportunities come his way again in 2015, but especially if he’s able to carry over his success against lefties he can be a decent option to pad ratios in leagues with no innings cap.
Tyler Skaggs – SP
I created this little section just as a reminder to those in keeper leagues that while Skaggs is likely to miss the entire season as he works his way back from August 2014 Tommy John surgery, he’s certainly someone to monitor through the rehab process as a possible mid-summer injury stash claim. He made some interesting progress in refining his approach after going back to his old mechanics last spring, and the raw material of a mid-rotation starter is still here if the recovery goes well.
Prospects for 2015
Nick Tropeano – SP
Tropeano’s an interesting name for AL-only leaguers to monitor, as there’s a non-zero chance he ends up laying claim to the Halos’ fifth starter slot out of camp. He pitched reasonably well in a four-start cup of coffee with Houston last season before packing his bags for the coast as the Anaheim’s haul for Hank Conger. His command profile won’t set the fantasy world on fire, but he’s got a nasty change-up and by all accounts understands how to use it. He’s probably somewhere in the gray area of fifth starter/swingman long term, but there’s enough here to warrant attention in case he gets a crack at starting next season.
Kaleb Cowart – 3B
Cowart’s once-promising bat has curiously stagnated at AA, with two straight seasons hitting around .220 and well below-average game power. As our own Jeff Moore recently noted after checking him out in the AFL, there really isn’t a great reason to explain his struggles. There’s no denying the depths of those struggles, though, and while he’ll only play next season at age 23, one has to figure the clock is starting to tick. He benefits from some additional leeway given how thin on the farm this organization is, but he’ll creep further along towards bust status if he doesn’t show some progress in refining his approach.
Alex Yarbrough – 2B
In the event Cowart never figures things out, Yarbrough probably represents the next-best shot at one day generating fantasy value. Even so, we’re talking about a fairly limited ceiling as an Omar Infante type if everything comes together. His numbers took a step back this season in Double-A (a year removed from the California League), but scouts generally remained positive about his hit tool projection. That’s pretty much all he’s got going for him, however, as he doesn’t profile well defensively at the keystone and he lacks plus power or speed tools. The 23-year-old will likely start the season in Triple-A, though a Kendrick trade would immediately bump him up on the depth chart and likely leave him one prolonged Gordon Beckham slump away from an MLB debut. Those in AL-onlies and Jacque Cousteau-deep mixed leagues should at least be aware he exists.
Carlos Perez and Jett Bandy – C
Perez arrived with Tropeano in the Conger deal, and will likely do battle with Bandy for the honor of backing up Chris Iannetta. There isn’t much worth mentioning here for anyone outside of the deepest two-catcher formats, but Perez has hit .277 with a .359 OBP in over 2,200 career minor-league plate appearances, so it’s possible he generates enough largely empty batting average to have some value if he wins the job. And Bandy appeared to take a legitimate step forward in repeating the Texas League at age 24 last year, nearly doubling his walk rate to nine percent and slugging 13 homers in 363 plate appearances. Neither is likely to offer much value in 2015, but either could be forced to try in the event of an Iannetta injury.