Halos pitchers, catchers first to spring into action
First full-squad workout set for Wednesday as club aims for bounce-back season
TEMPE, Ariz. -- Physical examinations are done outside of the Angels' Spring Training complex, so pitchers and catchers don't actually "report," per se. Some just trickle in later in the day to drop off their stuff, or kill some time before their appointment, or introduce themselves to the coaching staff, or even to play a light game of catch.
The symbolic nature, however, is the same.
Baseball is here again for the Angels, and if nothing else, Thursday signaled the opportunity to wipe away last year's 84-loss season and embrace a clean slate.
"I think if we can stay healthy, this is what you're going to see -- a great ballclub that can go out there and compete, and hopefully play deep into October," said first baseman Albert Pujols, who arrived the day before and is already taking batting practice.
Pujols thought back to last season, and the World Series expectations this club carried into it, then started listing off all the injuries that prevented that from happening -- Ryan Madson missing a second straight year recovering from Tommy John surgery, Sean Burnett appearing in only 13 games, Jered Weaver and Jason Vargas each missing significant time from the rotation, and his own season ending on July 26.
"We had a championship caliber ballclub," Pujols said, "but how many games did we play together as a team?"
Now, David Freese is the new third baseman, Raul Ibanez has replaced Mark Trumbo's bat, Joe Smith has been added to a much deeper bullpen, and two young starters, Hector Santiago and Tyler Skaggs, have joined the rotation.
The moves were subtle, at least relative to the Pujols and Josh Hamilton blockbusters of the prior two winters -- and the front office hopes it leads to the first playoff game in five years.
"Our last two offseasons probably got a lot more notice and generated a lot more fanfare," general manager Jerry Dipoto said. "Our belief and our hope is that this offseason was more effective in the sense that we have a complete and well-put-together team."
Pitchers and catchers will work out with a reshaped coaching staff at Tempe Diablo Stadium for the first time on Friday morning. On Wednesday, the first full-squad workout will take place. On Feb. 28 -- 12:05 p.m. PT against the Cubs -- the Halos will host their first Cactus League game. And before you know it -- March 31, vs. the Mariners at 7:05 p.m. at Angel Stadium -- it'll be Opening Day.
Before that, some important questions will have to be answered.
• Is Pujols, coming off a 99-game season hindered by plantar fasciitis, fully healthy and ready to resume his role as an everyday first baseman and elite run producer?
• Is Hamilton, about 30 pounds heavier after batting only .250/.307/.432 in 2013, in the right state of mind and ready to recapture the success of his Texas days?
• Are Santiago (26 years old), Skaggs (22) and Garrett Richards (25) ready to step up as full-season big league starters?
"I think we need to pitch and play defense," catcher Chris Iannetta said, when asked what it'll take to get back to the playoffs. "We need to have quality starts, we need to have a great bullpen, and we need to play solid defense all year. Pitching helps out your defense, and when you pitch and play defense, the offense can relax and take care of what it has to take care of."
The American League West is better. The Rangers have added Prince Fielder and Shin-Soo Choo, the two-time defending-champion A's are still rich in pitching depth, the Mariners signed Robinson Cano and Fernando Rodney, and the Astros' top-ranked farm system will be making a big league impact very soon.
But the Angels are thrilled with their bullpen depth, they feel more confident in a younger rotation, and the club believes that an offense led by the game's best player in Mike Trout can score with the best of them.
In less than 24 hours, the Halos can start to see how it all translates on the field.
"We like our talent, we like our mix, we like our flexibility and we like our depth," Dipoto said. "Now we'll go play the games."
Alden Gonzalez is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Gonzo and "The Show", and follow him on Twitter @Alden_Gonzalez. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.