Los Angeles Angels center fielder Mike Trout (27) hits a single during the eighth inning against the Cincinnati Reds at Angel Stadium.

Biggest storylines for the Angels entering Spring Training

We are finally just a few days away from pitchers and catchers reporting! The Los Angeles Angels announced the 27 non-roster players that will be invited to Spring Training. The list is highlighted by prospects like right-handed pitcher, Caden Dana, outfielder, Nelson Rada, catcher, Alberto Rios and veteran infielders, Miguel Sano and Hunter Dozier. For the prospects, the invite is a chance to get some big-league experience, but Dozier and Sano will be competing for a spot on the Opening Day roster.

Last week, we took a stab at projecting their roster, which will probably be wrong, but also illuminated some of the positions of note for the Los Angeles Angels. The battle for playing time in the outfield should be especially intriguing. With that in mind, here are some of the biggest storylines heading into Spring Training for the Angels.

Biggest storylines for the Angels entering Spring Training

How noticeable will Shohei Ohtani’s absence be?

Any team that loses one of the best players in the MLB is sure to miss their presence and this is doubly true for the Halos. Shohei Ohtani migrated up the Interstate Five during the offseason and left the Angels with a large role to fill.

The Angels and general manager, Perry Minasian, have not signed any big-name free agents and the only real change to the lineup will come at designated hitter, which will be filled by some combination of Brandon Drury and one or two outfielders. Ohtani was worth 10 Wins Above Replacement (WAR) last season, so in short, the Angels have a lot of work to do to mitigate his loss on the field.

But another element to consider is how opposing teams will pitch to Mike Trout now. With Ohtani batting behind Trout, pitchers were more likely to give him good pitches to hit because they didn’t want to risk putting a runner aboard for Ohtani. But without Ohtani protecting him and because Los Angeles doesn’t have another player that strikes fear into the hearts of opposing pitchers, Trout will likely see fewer pitches in the zone. Teams will be more comfortable pitching around Trout and walking him more because they don’t think anyone else in the Angels’ lineup can beat them. This puts more pressure on the LA lineup to find new and more explosive sources of offense in an effort to protect Trout.

It’s possible that if Anthony Rendon rejuvenates his career, he could provide that support that the Angels’ center fielder needs. But at this point, Rendon is an afterthought and not really expected, at least by fans, to contribute on a meaningful level this season. If Nolan Schanuel can unlock the power that his 6’4, 220-pound frame suggests, he could also be another answer. Outfielders, Taylor Ward and Jo Adell, who have proven to be solid power hitters in the past, may also be the ones to break out and protect Trout. 

But Ohtani wasn’t just an MVP-level hitter, he was also one of the best starting pitchers in the league and the Angels are really going to miss his right arm. This team has famously struggled to generate adequate pitching to go with its superstar bats and the Angels are still in search of an ace to replace Ohtani. Reid Detmers has the potential to be an ace, but he’s still just 24 years old and still has a lot of room to grow. Patrick Sandoval looked like he was going to reach another level last year after his performance for Mexico in the WBC, but his ERA jumped from 2.91 in 2022 to 4.11 in 2023. As much as LA will miss Ohtani in the lineup, they will probably miss him on the mound even more.

What is going on in the outfield?

As noted last week, the Angels have a surplus of outfielders on the roster right now. Trout, Mickey Moniak and Taylor Ward are expected to start, leaving Adell and Aaron Hicks to battle for reserve roles. Even if Trout does spend significant time in the DH spot, the Angels are unlikely to carry five outfielders on the team, which means someone is going to be an odd man out.

The most obvious player would be Jo Adell. Given his age and former prospect pedigree, he would fetch the best return on the trade market. In four MLB seasons, Adell has a .214 batting average and has struck out in 219 of his 619 plate appearances (35%). He is just 24 years old, but those are not the types of numbers that make him an enticing trade commodity and the fact that the Angels signed Hicks in the first place probably indicates that they don’t feel comfortable giving Adell the fourth outfielder spot.

Minasian trading either Moniak or Ward isn’t realistic because they have both been phenomenal for stretches of their Angels tenure. There was a time in 2022 when Taylor Ward was an early-season MVP candidate and Moniak is a former number-one pick who slashed .281/.307/.495 last season and was worth 2.2 WAR. 

Hicks is 34 years old and coming off a season in which he was atrocious on the Yankees but above average on the Orioles. He can play all three outfield spots but is also a career .233 hitter who hasn’t had double-digit home runs since 2019. If Hicks has a bad spring, or Adell has a particularly good one, it might make sense for the Angels to simply cut him, even though they just signed him to a one-year deal a few weeks ago. However, the Yankees are paying all of Hicks’ salary, so the Angels wouldn’t be on the hook for anything if they decide to move on from him.

The regular season is still over a month away, but expect the outfield to be a place of contention once Spring Training kicks off.

How much will the young players develop?

With every Spring Training comes countless stories about how a player is in the best shape of their life or how they worked on a new pitch or made swing adjustments during the offseason. Every new season also brings bigger expectations for young players and the Halos have quite a few young players to keep an eye on this spring.

Zach Neto and Logan O’Hoppe will be two of the most scrutinized players on the Angels this year and showed flashes of great potential last season. O’Hoppe had his season cut short by a shoulder injury but should be ready to go in 2024. 

The 24-year-old catcher played in 51 games in 2023, slashing .236/.296/.500 with 14 homers and 29 RBI. He was also phenomenal at avoiding strikeouts: he only struck out 48 times in 199 plate appearances, just a 4.1% strikeout rate. FanGraphs projects him to hit 21 bombs, have a .338 OBP and produce 1.8 WAR, which is a season the Angels would love to get from him. He has the potential to be a top-15 catcher by year’s end and is the Angels’ catcher of the future, so his continued growth will be key for this squad.

Neto was a first-round draft pick of the Halos in 2022 and became the first player from that class to make the majors, debuting on April 15th, 2023. In 84 games he was worth 1.6 WAR, hit nine home runs and played good defense. His OPS+, which adds OBP and SLG and adjusts for external factors like ballpark conditions, was 86, which was below the league average of 100. But considering that was his first exposure to major league pitching, he performed well as a rookie. FanGraphs projects him to hit 10 homers and 3.2 WAR. It is possible he will eclipse both of those numbers if he stays healthy.

Mickey Moniak and Reid Detmers are two other young guys to watch, as they are just 25 and 24 respectively. A change of scenery seemed to help Moniak, who had his best MLB season by far in 2023 and with another offseason under his belt, he should be another solid, 3+ WAR player for the Halos. Meanwhile, Detmers will be LA’s de facto ace this season. He has the stuff and the command to be an elite pitcher, he just needs to work on being more consistent. 2024 will be an important year in determining his growth as a starter.

Will the pitching hold up?

Speaking of Detmers and pitching, how will this pitching staff perform after another year of mediocrity? The Angels didn’t bring in any new starters this offseason but did sign a few relievers, the most notable being Robert Stephenson. This staff finished 19th in starter ERA (4.47) and 25th in bullpen ERA (4.88) last year. In other words, the Angels’ pitching needs to make huge strides if the team wants to compete now or in the future. Detmers’ performance will be a key part of the staff’s turnaround, but so will Patrick Sandoval and Griffin Canning.

Both Sandoval and Canning were promising starters when they first broke into the league, but have struggled to put everything together. Both are 27 years old and this year could go a long way to determining their futures with the club. Sandoval had the lowest K:BB (128:74) ratio and the highest WHIP (1.51) of his career in 2023 and was still a slightly above-league-average pitcher by ERA+ standards. But the Angels simply need more from him than that.

After missing all of 2022 with a back injury, Canning returned last season and had his best year since 2020. He was worth 2 WAR and had a 139:36 strikeout-to-walk ratio and a 4.32 ERA in 24 games. He gave up 22 home runs, which was a bit of a problem, but he gave the Angels a very solid 127 innings of work. He profiles as a number three starter and that’s exactly what he’s slated to be for the Angels in 2024. 

Chase Silseth and Tyler Anderson fill out the back half of the starting rotation but are at very different points in their careers. Anderson is just an innings eater at this point, but Silseth is just 23 years old and very much on an upward trajectory. He is also someone who could make strides this season and improve the 

The bullpen looks improved compared to last season, at least on paper. Robert Stephenson is a great addition who can shore up the set-up and closer roles and could very well be LA’s best pitcher this year. Matt Moore and Carlos Estevez also pitched well last year and will hope to build on last season. 

Ben Joyce is someone to be very excited to see this spring as he returns from an elbow injury that ended his 2023 season. Joyce is the definition of a flamethrower, famously throwing a 105.5 mph pitch when he was at the University of Tennessee. If he can remain healthy and improve his command, he can be a real x-factor out of the bullpen this season.

Final Thoughts

It feels like there is less pressure on the 2024 Angels. But at the same time, Mike Trout is entering his age-33 season and hasn’t made the postseason since 2014. An entire decade has passed without one of the best players ever reaching the playoffs, that’s just unacceptable.

This year’s Los Angeles Angels aren’t expected to be a contender either, but if a few things break right (the pitching staff improves, young players make strides, players stay healthy), this team might just find itself still within range of a Wild Card spot. But that will have to be settled on the field and with Spring Training games a few weeks away, it’s almost time to get started.

Main Image: © Kiyoshi Mio-USA TODAY Sports

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