TEMPE, Ariz. -- Angels camp has been at the epicenter of media attention this spring, and it's not because of the presence of superstar Michael Trout or future Hall of Famer Jose Pujols.The main draw this year has been Shohei Ohtani, the 23-year-old pitcher/hitter who is attempting to translate his
TEMPE, Ariz. -- Angels camp has been at the epicenter of media attention this spring, and it's not because of the presence of superstar Michael Trout or future Hall of Famer Jose Pujols.
The main draw this year has been Shohei Ohtani, the 23-year-old pitcher/hitter who is attempting to translate his two-way play to the Majors after five groundbreaking seasons in Japan.
Ohtani has sparked plenty of curiosity because of the novelty of his endeavor in the Majors, but he is expected to be a key member of the Angels' roster in 2018, forming part of their six-man rotation and serving as a part-time designated hitter in their lineup.
The arrival of Ohtani and several other new pieces have created heightened expectations for the Angels, who were forced to watch the postseason unfold without them for the third consecutive season after falling just short of an American League Wild Card berth in 2017.
"With all the new additions, we're just going to go out and try to win ballgames," Trout said. "People are going to think the expectations are higher, for sure. We're trying to get to the playoffs and make a push."
What's the goal?
The Angels haven't won a postseason game since 2009. They've reached the playoffs only once since Trout debuted in 2011, when they were swept by the Royals in the '14 AL Division Series. With Trout under contract for only three more seasons, the urgency to win is building for the club, which was active this offseason in building a competitive roster for '18.
The World Series champion Astros will enter the season as the heavy favorites in the AL West, but the Angels' offseason additions should, at the very least, put them in contention for an AL Wild Card spot.
What's the plan?
In addition to landing Ohtani, general manager Billy Eppler and his staff largely focused on beefing up their offense this offseason, re-signing left fielder Justin Upton, acquiring second baseman Ian Kinsler from the Tigers and convincing free-agent infielder Zack Cozart to come onboard to play third base. The Angels are hoping the newcomers will help deepen their lineup, which ranked 11th in the AL in on-base percentage and last in slugging percentage in 2017.
After being burned by rotation injuries in each of the past two seasons, the Angels are also entering '18 with enough depth to make a six-man rotation both feasible and sensible. Their pitching staff should receive plenty of support from the club's defense, which has Gold Glove Award winners all over the diamond, including Andrelton Simmons, Martin Maldonado, Kole Calhoun, Kinsler and Pujols.
What could go wrong?
The Angels' projected rotation features five pitchers -- Garrett Richards, Tyler Skaggs, Andrew Heaney, Matthew Shoemaker and JC Ramirez -- who missed substantial chunks of last season due to injury, so their success this season will likely hinge on their starters' ability to stay healthy.
There are also questions surrounding the Angels' bullpen, which lost two of its best relievers, Yusmeiro Petit and Bud Norris, to free agency. Richard Parker, who enjoyed a breakout 2017 campaign, and Keynan Middleton, who showed promise as a rookie, will be back, but the club will be counting on bounce-back seasons from Cam Bedrosian and veteran Jim Johnson to help fill the gaps at the back end of their bullpen.
Who could surprise?
Everyone will be watching Ohtani, who could become the Majors' first two-way star since Babe Ruth. The Angels will give Ohtani a chance to hit and pitch, but managing his workload while keeping him sharp in both disciplines will be a challenge for both sides.
Still, Ohtani clearly possesses the talent, discipline and skill to make this unique undertaking work. He has the potential to be a top-of-the-rotation starter, with an upper-90s fastball and an impressive array of secondary pitches, including a splitter, slider and curveball. A left-handed hitter, Ohtani is also gifted with elite raw power and was known to launch 500-foot home runs in Japan.
Ohtani will face a myriad of adjustments this year, from the higher level of competition, to the grueling 162-game schedule to living alone in the United States for the first time. It's a tall task for any rookie, let alone one who will be subject to intense media scrutiny as he navigates his first season in the Majors.
Maria Guardado covers the Angels for MLB.com.
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