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5 observations from Angels camp

@RhettBollinger
February 21, 2020

TEMPE, Ariz. -- The Angels wrapped up their final full-squad workout on Friday in advance of their Cactus League openers on Saturday, when they host the Royals at Tempe Diablo Stadium and travel to Glendale to face the White Sox at Camelback Ranch.

TEMPE, Ariz. -- The Angels wrapped up their final full-squad workout on Friday in advance of their Cactus League openers on Saturday, when they host the Royals at Tempe Diablo Stadium and travel to Glendale to face the White Sox at Camelback Ranch.

New manager Joe Maddon has raved about the club’s talent this spring and has been trying to instill a new culture as the club aims for its first postseason berth since 2014. He’s been impressed by what he’s seen in practice, but now it’s time for the games.

Here’s a look at five observations from camp as the Angels head into Cactus League play:

1. Upton looks primed for bounce-back year
Left fielder Justin Upton came into camp in noticeably better shape this spring -- general manager Billy Eppler said someone told him Upton looks like a prize fighter -- and is ready to put his injury-plagued 2019 season behind him. Upton suffered turf toe in an exhibition game last year that kept him out of action until mid-June and dealt with right knee tendinitis all season that eventually required a platelet-rich plasma injection. Upton finished the year hitting .215/.309/.416 with 12 homers and 40 RBIs in just 63 games.

But Upton has a long track record of success, as he averaged 30 homers and 89 RBIs per season from 2013-2018. If he can stay healthy and provide power, it would go a long way toward lengthening a lineup that already includes Mike Trout, Shohei Ohtani and Anthony Rendon.

“Everybody that’s seen him more than I have in the past has been commenting on how good he looks and how well he’s moving," Maddon said. "He seems to be in a good place mentally and I think it’s the residue of the offseason. You’ve seen the bat in the past. He can really carry teams for stretches."

2. Ohtani is healthy but Angels are being cautious
Ohtani is completely healthy but the Angels are erring on the side of caution, delaying his return to the mound until mid-May. Ohtani believes he’s healthy enough to pitch on Opening Day, but he’ll see his innings limited a bit because he’s returning from Tommy John surgery, and the Angels would rather him miss time early in the year than be shut down at the end of the year.

Maddon has repeatedly said he wants Ohtani healthy and available to pitch in September and in the postseason, which is why they decided to do it this way. Oh, and Ohtani has also gotten noticeably stronger as well.

3. Rengifo putting failed trade behind him
Infielder Luis Rengifo was nearly sent to the Dodgers in a trade that would’ve netted the Angels outfielder Joc Pederson and right-hander Ross Stripling, only for owner Arte Moreno to pull out of the deal. It was an awkward experience for Rengifo, but he’s ready to use it as fuel going forward.

Rengifo is another Angels player who got stronger in the offseason, and it’s shown in his batting practice sessions, as he’s been crushing the ball from both sides. Maddon has also been impressed by his coachability, as he quickly adapted to a new drill aimed at quickening his swing. With Tommy La Stella and David Fletcher expected to split time at second, Rengifo might not have a spot on the Opening Day roster, but the 22-year-old is set on proving the Angels made the right decision by keeping him.

4. Angels keeping it loose
The Angels begin most mornings with a fun meeting on the field with quality assurance coach Tim Buss, who usually dresses up in costume or wears a funny hat. They then play a game such as closest to the pin using fungo bats, or try to aim for a trash can that’s set up in the outfield. On Friday, Angels players also all played spike ball in the outfield as a team-building activity.

5. Maddon preaches patience
The Angels are easing into Spring Training, as regulars such as Trout, Ohtani, Upton and Albert Pujols won’t make their Cactus League debuts until Tuesday. Rendon is also attending the birth of his child, so his debut could come even later than that. The Angels are using non-roster pitchers in the split-squad game on Saturday, as pitching coach Mickey Callaway is also easing his starters into Spring Training action.

Rhett Bollinger covers the Angels for MLB.com. He previously covered the Twins from 2011-18. Follow him on Twitter @RhettBollinger and Facebook.