As is the case with just about every team in the majors, the coronavirus-forced delay to the start of the season will have an effect on the Angels.
It may be at least two or three months before we see any meaningful games, which isn’t necessarily horrible news for the Angels’ rotation. Last season, the organization’s fifth straight without a playoff berth and its fourth in a row with more losses than wins, the Halos’ starting staff was especially ineffective. The club’s starters ranked toward the bottom of the league in virtually every key statistic and didn’t have a single hurler amass 100 or more innings.
One important reason the Angels’ rotation had such difficulty in 2019? The absence of two-way star Shohei Ohtani, who could only DH – not pitch – after undergoing Tommy John surgery on his right elbow in October 2018.
The hard-throwing Ohtani dazzled on the mound as a rookie that year, albeit over a mere 10 starts and 51 2/3 innings, with a 3.31 ERA/3.57 FIP and 10.97 K/9 and 3.83 BB/9. The Angels desperately needed that type of front-line production from someone last year, and perhaps Ohtani will be able to provide it over a larger sample of work this season.
At last check about a month and a half ago, the 25-year-old Ohtani wasn’t going to be ready to return to the Angels’ rotation until the middle of May. Now, with the season having been pushed back, the Angels might be in a position to get a full year from Ohtani the pitcher. That’s welcome news for a team that, despite its best efforts, was not able to pull in a high-end starter during the offseason.
The Angels’ staff also could be more likely to get a whole season (or something close to it) from righty Griffin Canning. His status is less certain than Ohtani’s, though. The 23-year-old received “biological injections” in his balky right elbow March 11, at which point it was reported more would be known on Canning’s status in three to four weeks. But if Canning emerges with a clean bill of health and can take the hill in 2020, it would be yet another boon for the Angels. He enjoyed a respectable debut showing last year, after all, tossing 90 1/3 frames of 4.58 ERA/4.37 FIP ball with 9.56 K/9 against 2.99 BB/9.
If the season opened when it was supposed to on March 26, it’s unclear whom the Angels would have relied on after Andrew Heaney, Julio Teheran and Dylan Bundy. Patrick Sandoval, Matt Andriese, Jaime Barria and Dillon Peters are the other starting possibilities on their 40-man roster. It’s fair to say there isn’t a ton of upside in that group, but getting Ohtani and Canning back would change that and give the Angels a better chance to vie for a playoff berth.
Elsewhere, the Angels are anticipating the MLB debut of Jo Adell – a hard-charging outfield prospect who ranks as one of the sport’s elite farmhands. The soon-to-be 21-year-old seemed like a sure thing to come up sometime this season, but will that change with a shortened schedule? Will the Angels decide Adell needs a good deal more seasoning at the Triple-A level, where he accrued 132 homer-less plate appearances last season? And what about service-time considerations? That’s something every team keeps an eye on with respect to its top prospects, but we don’t know how baseball will sort that out in a truncated campaign. Whether Adell does premiere in 2020 will have an impact on the Angels’ current right field choices, Brian Goodwin and David Fletcher chief among them.
Up in the front office, the executive who drafted Adell – general manager Billy Eppler – is entering a contract year. One has to wonder if a season of fewer than 162 games will affect his status. For example, if the Angels struggle, will owner Arte Moreno be more inclined to give Eppler the benefit of the doubt because of these strange circumstances? That’s just one of the intriguing questions the Angels are facing heading into what will be an unusual season of baseball (if we get one at all).