September 23, 2013; Anaheim, CA, USA; Los Angeles Angels relief pitcher Garrett Richards (43) pitches during the first inning against the Oakland Athletics at Angel Stadium of Anaheim. Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

Los Angeles Angels: Key Positional Battles in 2014

The Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim will open Spring Training when the Pitchers and Catchers report to camp on Thursday in Tempe. Despite the fact that the Angels finished 78-84 in 2013, they have one of the finest lineups in Major League Baseball and will likely compete for the AL West crown this season. However, there are some major questions for the 2014 Angels and they must be solved before the season kicks off on March 31st against the Seattle Mariners. Let’s take a look at some of the key positional battles.

Right Field

The Angels will give every opportunity to Kole Calhoun to win the Right Field job. Calhoun batted .271 last season and hit 8 home runs and had 32 RBI’s in 192 at bats. The Angels traded Mark Trumbo to the Arizona Diamondbacks in the offseason for P Tyler Skaggs and Peter Bourjos to the St. Louis Cardinals for 3B David Freese.

If Calhoun fails to deliver in Spring Training the job may fall to Raul Ibanez, whom the Angels signed this offseason. Ibanez is old, he turns 42 in June, but has proven that he can still rake at the Major League Level. While the Angels probably envision Ibanez as a DH and an occasional outfielder, if Calhoun can’t asset himself Ibanez may find his way into the every day lineup.

Let’s not forget that Ibanez was a stud for the Mariners last season and was perhaps their best position player. Despite only hitting .242 on the season, Ibanez cranked out 29 home runs in 496 at bats. The Angels are hoping he replaces some of the power lost by trading away Trumbo.

Third Starter

Will Garrett Richards, 26, be ready to take over the 3rd spot in the Angels rotation behind Jared Weaver and C.J. Wilson? Richards was 7-8 for the Angels in 2013 while posting a 4.18 ERA in 17 starts. There is little doubt that Richards is a solid pitcher and will continue to grow as a Major Leaguer; however, the Angels are banking on him to be a consistent #3 this season. I don’t know if he’s ready for that yet.

The Angels had one of the worst pitching staffs in the Major Leagues last season and, to be frank, didn’t really do much in the offseason to improve it. The burden now falls on the shoulders of the Angels young pitchers to step up to the rubber and deliver for an entire season. If the Angels have dreams of playing in October they’re going to need their young studs to step up in a big way.

Prediction: The Angels have no other choice than to ride with Richards.

4th and 5th Starters

If Garrett Richards is slotted as the third starter, and he is right now, who will fill out the rotation for the Angels? Anaheim traded away one of the best young power hitters in baseball in order to acquire P Tyler Skaggs from the Diamondbacks this summer. Skaggs, 22, is one of the best pitching prospects in baseball; however, he has only pitched 68 innings in the big leagues. The Angels fully expect that Skaggs is going to be in the rotation on Opening Day. Of course, the Angels will probably not let Skaggs throw a full season and he definitely will not be part of the September roster. Right now I believe he is the 5th starter.

So who is the Angels 4th starter? The options within the organization include Hector Santiago, Joe Blanton and Mark Mulder. Yes, that Mark Mulder. The Mark Mulder that hasn’t pitched since 2008. The Mark Mulder that watched tape on Dodgers reliever Paco Rodriguez and found that he could still throw the baseball effectively by mimicking Rodriguez’s mechanics. I’m sure that will work out well for the Angels.

Realistically the Angels are going to ride with Blanton or Santiago unless they sign a free agent like Chris Capuano or somehow convince A.J. Burnett to come out of his pseudo retirement and switch back to the American League. That’s seems highly unlikely.

Prediction: Blanton will be the 4th starter. Skaggs will begin the season as the 5th starter.

Will Mike Trout hit 3rd?

With Albert Pujols and Josh Hamilton struggling for the Angels it seems like the team has an interesting decision to make with its lineup construction. Mike Scioscia, the Angels longtime manager, has never been one to shy away from making bold lineup moves and I would anticipate him taking a look at how to place the best hitter in baseball in his lineup.

Trout, the 22-year old all-everything outfield, has been the 1st or 2nd hitter in the Angels lineup for the majority of his two-plus year career; however, Scioscia may try to move him to third. While this may prevent Trout from maximizing his run scoring output, it may make the Angels lineup stronger as a whole. Trout is going to get on-base regardless of where he is in the lineup; however, batting him third and putting Pujols and Hamilton at 4th and 5th may allow Trout to see more pitches and maximize his runs batted in output.

Prediction: Scoiscia begins the season with Trout batting third; however, he ends up batting second for the majority of the year.

Third Baseman

The Angels traded away starting CF Peter Bourjos to the St. Louis Cardinals for former World Series MVP David Freese this offseason. While Freese has struggled the past couple of seasons, he is a supreme fielder and has the potential to be a capable hitter in the American League. While it may seem like a lock for Freese to start at 3B Opening Day, Kaleb Cowart, the Angels top prospect, may have a thing or two to say about that during Spring Training.

Cowart will be the everyday third baseman in the future; however, he may want to get a jump on that job. If he blows away Freese during Spring Training it would not be a shock to see Cowart as the Opening Day starter. While this scenario isn’t likely, it’s something to look out for.

Prediction: Freese gets the starting job. Cowart gets a look at 3B during this season.

The Angels first Spring Training game is quickly approaching and will take place on Friday February 28th at Tempe Diablo Stadium against the Chicago Cubs. It will be interesting to watch how these key positional battles play out over the course of the spring.

Tags: 2014 Albert Pujols Cactus League Garrett Richards Kole Calhoun Mike Scioscia Mike Trout Spring Training Tyler Skaggs

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