Angels aim to put their many stars in playoffs

March 26th, 2021

TEMPE, Ariz. -- The Angels have plenty of optimism heading into the 2021 regular season after a successful Spring Training and are ready for showtime. Or perhaps, more fittingly, Sho-time.

Two-way star was the star of camp, proving that he’s healthy by hitting as high as 102 mph on the mound, while also leading the club in homers, including a pair that went over the 30-foot batter’s eye 420 feet from home plate at Tempe Diablo Stadium.

The Angels also saw strong performances from their starting pitchers, especially from , and . And veterans and had strong springs at the plate. It bodes well for a club that is star heavy with , and Ohtani but needs the rotation and key veterans to step up.

Manager Joe Maddon has made it no secret that he believes the Angels can compete, and they appear primed to contend for their first postseason berth since 2014.

“We're trying to put together a team that we believe has a chance to go deeply into the playoffs and get to the World Series this year,” Maddon said.

Best development
It’s undoubtedly Ohtani showing that he’s back to his form in 2018, when he won American League Rookie of the Year honors before a slew of injuries derailed his progress. Ohtani is now healthy after Tommy John surgery in ’18, a left knee operation in ’19 and a forearm/elbow strain in ’20 that limited him to two starts on the mound.

The Angels plan to be aggressive with Ohtani. He’ll be a normal member of their six-man rotation and will serve as designated hitter roughly three to five times a week. He even batted leadoff during a pitching start against the Padres, which is something he could also do occasionally in the regular season. The Angels are giving Ohtani the power to determine when he’s available to DH and work it around his pitching schedule.

Unfortunate events
The Angels managed to avoid any major injuries to any of their regulars this camp, but reliever suffered a right hamstring strain that is expected to keep him off the Opening Day roster. Fellow reliever has been plagued by back spasms this spring and isn’t expected to be ready for the regular season, either.

Infielder , who was the frontrunner for the club’s utility role, was diagnosed with right elbow inflammation that likely will keep him out until May. It opens the door for either or José Rojas to make the club.

Player who opened eyes
Rojas is a great story, as he’s an Anaheim native who was drafted in the 36th round of the 2016 MLB Draft. He has hit at every level and could finally reach the Majors as a 28-year-old rookie. Rojas has a .292/.350/.502 slash line in 411 Minor League games and has had an incredible spring offensively.

His lack of a true position has held him back, but he could make the club as a backup infielder. He can play second base, third base and first base. He can’t play shortstop, but second baseman could shift over there when is out of the lineup. Rojas is not on the 40-man roster, which could keep him off the Opening Day roster in favor of Rengifo, but it’s clear he’s close to making his long-awaited Major League debut.

'Wow' moment
Ohtani was incredible pulling double duty against the Padres on Sunday. He struck out five over four strong innings and hit as high as 101.9 mph on the radar gun. He also went 2-for-2 with a walk at the plate while serving as leadoff hitter, including going 1-for-1 with a walk against left-hander Blake Snell. Snell, the 2018 AL Cy Young Award winner, called him a “freak” after the game.

In case you missed it
Despite being a three-time AL MVP and an eight-time All-Star, Trout has made the postseason only once in his 10-year career. He is looking to change that narrative this season.