Originally posted on Fox Sports West  |  Last updated 2/26/12
Nothing that happens in the Angels' camp this spring will be more closely scrutinized than every step Kendrys Morales takes on his attempted comeback. Morales has not played since suffering a fractured ankle in May 2010. But his return to full health could further transform an Angels lineup that has already added first baseman Albert Pujols. In the first week of camp, Morales' first steps on the road to recovery involved daily batting practice sessions (usually in a group with Pujols) and some low-intensity, straight-line sprints on the outfield grass. Angels manager Mike Scioscia has already ruled out having Morales in the lineup when the Angels start their Cactus League schedule on March 5, saying the team "there's a window we're looking at that has him in games somewhere around the end of the second week of March if everything goes well and he keeps progressing." Morales (who was rehabbing in Arizona for three months before camp even opened) said the ankle feels "much stronger" than it did a year ago before he underwent a second surgery in May 2011. The Angels are keeping their optimism about getting Morales back this time cautious. The addition of Pujols makes it unnecessary for the Angels to push Morales defensively and Scioscia said that will not be a focus during Morales' workouts this spring. "His main role on this club is going to be swinging the bat and being able to run so we're going to focus on getting him healthy, focus on getting his legs first healthy and then in the shape they need to be in," Scioscia said. "He's a DH until probably towards the end of spring and then we'll evaluate what he can do. I don't think we want him to totally lose touch with first base. But we all feel there's more important things he needs to do for our club independent of playing defense -- more important than going out there and playing first base. "I think we're more optimistic (than last spring) that he can reach a level to fill the need we have on our team as far as swinging it from the left side and bringing that presence behind Albert. Without that pressure of having to play first base ... it's attainable. I think it is." NOTES --RHP Jason Isringhausen signed a minor league contract with the Angels. The 39-year-old Isringhausen has 300 career saves (third among active pitchers) but was signed to add depth to the Angels' bullpen leading up to second-year closer Jordan Walden. If Isringhausen doesn't make the Angels' roster out of spring training, he will become a free agent. --IF Mark Trumbo took a bad-hop grounder off the face while working out at third base Feb. 24. The Angels are hopeful Trumbo will handle the transition to third base well enough to get some playing time there as well as in the outfield, at DH and as a backup to Albert Pujols at first base. Trumbo has not been cleared for full-speed workouts yet due to the stress fracture in his right foot, suffered last season. He is scheduled to have the foot re-examined on Feb. 28. --Angels assistant equipment manager Shane Demmitt was the first champion of MLB Network's "Baseball IQ." Demmitt defeated representatives of the Rangers, Mariners, Baseball Hall of Fame, Diamondbacks and Mets on his way to winning the baseball-knowledge quiz show. Demmitt earned 45,000 for the Angels' team charity with his win. ROSTER REPORT PROJECTED LINEUP 1. RHP Jered Weaver 2. RHP Dan Haren 3. LHP C.J. Wilson 4. RHP Ervin Santana 5. RHP Jerome Williams Only one team in the American League got more innings or a lower ERA from its starting pitchers in 2011 (the Tampa Bay Rays on both counts) than the Angels. But it was a very front-loaded rotation. The Angels were 58-42 when Weaver, Haren or Santana started but only 28-34 when any other starter took the ball. Looking to address that lack of depth, the Angels signed Wilson, the best available starting pitcher on the free agent market this winter. The fact that it took a piece out of the rotation of their AL West rivals, the Texas Rangers, only made the move more beneficial. The result is a rotation that should vie for recognition as the best in baseball in 2012. Weaver finished second to Detroit ace Justin Verlander in the 2011 Cy Young voting. Haren has been as reliable as any starter in the majors over the last seven seasons. Santana and Wilson could be the best No. 3-4 starters in the majors. Williams, a journeyman, will compete with top prospect RHP Garrett Richards and LHP Brad Mills (acquired from the Blue Jays in a trade for C Jeff Mathis) for the fifth starting spot. PROJECTED BULLPEN: RHP Jordan Walden (closer) LHP Scott Downs RHP LaTroy Hawkins RHP Bobby Cassevah LHP Hisanori Takahashi RHP Rich Thompson The Angels' bullpen had 25 blown saves last season (tied for third in the majors and first in the American League), including 10 by rookie closer Jordan Walden (tied with Cubs LHP Carlos Marmol for the most in MLB). So the relief corps figured to be high on the offseason agenda to address. But new GM Jerry Dipoto fired his bullets in other directions (i.e., the big-money signings of Albert Pujols and C.J. Wilson). The only move to improve the bullpen was the signing of veteran setup man LaTroy Hawkins to a one-year deal. That leaves Walden as the incumbent at closer, and the Angels are counting on a year of experience and added maturity to smooth over last season's rough edges. Downs was superb in a setup role, and manager Mike Scioscia now has Hawkins as a right-handed complement. The rest of the bullpen is a muddle with only Cassevah having acquitted himself well last year. Thompson will have to compete with Michael Kohn, Kevin Jepsen (returning from knee surgery) and Francisco Rodriguez for the final bullpen spots alongside Takahashi. PROJECTED LINEUP: 1. SS Erick Aybar 2. DH Bobby Abreu 3. 1B Albert Pujols 4. RF Torii Hunter 5. LF Vernon Wells 6. 2B Howie Kendrick 7. 3B Alberto Callaspo 8. C Chris Iannetta 9. CF Peter Bourjos The Angels have scored fewer than 700 runs in each of their last two seasons. but that offense got a major boost with the signing of Pujols this offseason. A successful comeback by 1B Kendrys Morales (out since fracturing his ankle on May 29, 2010) would transform the lineup even further. Another wild-card factor is the attempt to transform 1B Mark Trumbo into a multi-position role player capable of starting in the outfield and at third base. If Trumbo can handle third, that would give manager Mike Scioscia another way to get last year's team leader in home runs (29) and RBI (87) into the lineup alongside both Pujols and (potentially) Morales. Poor on-base percentage teamwide has also handicapped the Angels the last two seasons, and Scioscia might attempt to address that by mixing and matching his lineups based on the opposing pitcher. Look for Aybar, Bourjos and INF Maicer Izturis to rotate through the leadoff spot. Izturis, Callaspo and possibly Trumbo will share playing time at third base based on the team's daily offensive andor defensive needs. And the Angels are counting on the acquisition of Iannetta from the Rockies to provide at least some offensive production from a spot in the lineup that was woefully unproductive offensively last season. TOP ROOKIES: OF Mike Trout made the jump from Double-A (where he hit .326 in 91 games) to the big leagues at age 19 last summer. Though he stumbled against major league pitching (.220 with five home runs and 16 RBI in 40 games), he was Baseball America's Minor league Player of the Year in 2011, and his dynamic skill set could force the Angels to make room for him in their outfield soon. RHP Garrett Richards also made the jump from Double-A to the majors last season. Richards, 23, was 12-2 with a 3.15 ERA in Double-A and will compete for the fifth spot in the Angels' starting rotation this spring though additional seasoning in Class AAA is probably in his immediate future.
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