Kendry Morales has huge shoes to fill at first base for the Angels.
1) Their second-string outfield is better than some starting outfields.
Seriously. They have Torii Hunter in center, Vladimir Guerrero in right and Bobby Abreu, Juan Rivera, Gary Matthews Jr. and Reggie Willits all scrapping for whatever is left over. Would you rather have the Angels backup outfield (Rivera, Matthews Jr. and Willits) or the Padres starting outfield (Jody Gerut, Chase Headley and Brian Giles)? This is no accident, either. The Angels signed Abreu in February, after re-upping Rivera and picking up the option on Guerrero. To think, the Angels could have had even more depth in their outfield, but let Garret Anderson go after 14 years with the team. In order to find at-bats for all these guys, everyone except Hunter figures to DH. Rivera could see some time at first base. And Willits, a Rookie of the Year candidate two years ago, will likely be relegated to pinch running.
2) Mark Teixeira will miss this place.
The Angels are still processing the shock that there was a free agent who actually did not want to play for them. After all, they have some selling points -- the mild climate, the relaxed clubhouse, the generous owner, the steady manager, the stable front office, the enthusiastic yet respectful fans, and of course the fact that they win their division almost every year. "It's just an outstanding place to play," said reliever Scot Shields. The Angels offered Teixeira $160 million -- compared to the Yankees' $180 million -- but they also offered him the kind of environment where he thrives. Teixeira appreciated his time in Anaheim because there were few distractions and he was surrounded by people as focused and professional as he is. When he returns, as part of the Alex Rodriguez traveling circus, Rodriguez will get his share of boos. But Teixeira will get more.
3) The Angels will miss Teixeira, too.
Introducing the new first baseman, a 25-year-old from Cuba, Kendry Morales. From the time Morales defected to the United States, in 2004, he had little trouble adjusting to small-town America. In parts of four minor-league seasons, he batted .329 with a .523 slugging percentage. But in brief appearances with the Angels over the past three seasons, his average sunk to .249. This winter, to show he was ready for a permanent call-up and a starting job, he went to the Dominican League and batted .387, pounding 15 home runs and knocking in 45 RBIs in 48 games. Now he has to prove he can hit big-league pitching and field his position. In contrast to Teixeira, a Gold Glove first baseman, Morales was an outfielder in Cuba and was nicknamed "Brick Hands" when he switched to first. He has made vast improvements since then, but the Angels are obviously going to sacrifice some defense and plate discipline
Please send ... someone who can take a walk
Starting in 2002, the year they won the World Series, the Angels have ranked 26th, 25th, 28th, 24th, 23rd, 21st and last year 25th in walks. Teixeira brought a lot to the team, but perhaps his biggest contribution was his patience. Hitting instructor Mickey Hatcher would make young players study his at-bats. In the American League Division Series against Boston, Teixeira was one of the few Angels hitters who did not appear overanxious. The Angels swung their way out of the playoffs, losing to the Red Sox in the first round for the third time in five years.
Prospect creating a buzz
The Angels lost Francisco Rodriguez, who posted a major-league record 62 saves last season, and somehow their bullpen looks as potent as ever. "It should be one of the best," new closer Brian Fuentes said. That's partly due to the emergence of Kevin Jepsen, a hard-throwing right hander who was called up in September and immediately impressed his new bullpen mates. Just as power righty Jose Arredondo emerged for the Angels last season and helped lock down the seventh inning, Jepsen could join Arredondo in getting games to Shields, who will get them to Fuentes.
The bullpen is deep, but it will also be rested, thanks to a starting rotation that is among the most formidable in the majors. After John Lackey, Ervin Santana, Joe Saunders and Jered Weaver, the Angels have an opening for a No. 5 starter. The most intriguing candidate to eventually fill that void is Kelvim Escobar, the five-pitch phenomenon who missed all of last season with shoulder surgery. Escobar will not be ready for Opening Day, but if he can return around the All-Star break, the Angels should be well-armed for the pennant race.