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With Ausmus at helm, Angels eye big season

@RhettBollinger
March 25, 2019

ANAHEIM -- The 2019 season has a different feel for the Angels and much of it is because there’s a new manager in charge for the first time since 2000, as Brad Ausmus replaced longtime skipper Mike Scioscia this offseason. Ausmus, a former big league catcher like Scioscia, is familiar

ANAHEIM -- The 2019 season has a different feel for the Angels and much of it is because there’s a new manager in charge for the first time since 2000, as Brad Ausmus replaced longtime skipper Mike Scioscia this offseason.

Ausmus, a former big league catcher like Scioscia, is familiar with the organization after spending last year as a special assistant with the team. But now he’s in charge of leading the club, which is aiming for its first postseason berth since 2014.

What's the goal?

The Angels believe they are playoff contenders, but the Astros remain the heavy favorites in the division. The Yankees, Red Sox and Indians are also projected to be in the top tier of the American League, so it’s more likely the Angels compete for the final AL Wild Card spot, as they figure to be in that mix along with the Twins, A’s and Rays. The Angels, though, are focused on more than just this season, as general manager Billy Eppler is trying to build a sustainable winner and has succeeded in vastly improving the club’s farm system. The Angels signed Mike Trout to a record extension, keeping him in Anaheim through 2030, so the biggest piece is in place for the long haul.

What's the plan?

The Angels added talent this offseason without sacrificing future flexibility, signing veterans such as Matt Harvey, Trevor Cahill, Cody Allen, Jonathan Lucroy and Justin Bour to one-year deals. The Angels only have Trout, Albert Pujols (owed $87 million through 2021) and Justin Upton (owed $90 million through 2022) under contract beyond next season, which gives them the financial flexibility to structure the club however they want. They're also counting on top prospects such as Jo Adell, Griffin Canning and Jose Suarez to contribute as soon as this season, as much of their future will be determined by how their current group of prospects pans out.

What could go wrong?

The Angels were hurt by injuries in 2018, especially with the rotation, and their current group of starters has had some concern with durability in recent years. Of their five starters, only Andrew Heaney made 30 starts last year, while both Harvey and Cahill have had injury issues over the years. The health of the rotation will be key for the Angels this season, while their bullpen should be improved but will lean on several inexperienced relievers. Heaney is set to start this season on the injured list due to a sore elbow.

Who might surprise?

The biggest surprise last year was the emergence of two-way sensation Shohei Ohtani, who proved the doubters wrong en route to AL Rookie of the Year Award honors. Ohtani won’t pitch this season after Tommy John surgery on Oct. 1, but he will still be a key part of the club once he returns in May as a designated hitter. Second baseman David Fletcher posted solid numbers as a rookie, especially defensively, while Zack Cozart is coming off a down season that saw him undergo season-ending surgery on his labrum in his left shoulder in June. Relievers who could surprise include Ty Buttrey, Taylor Cole and Hansel Robles.

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