Angels Spring Preview Baseball

Associated Press

 Changes Afoot — In this Oct. 22 file photo, new Angels manager Brad Ausmus smiles while talking to reporters during a news conference in Anaheim.

 

ANAHEIM — For the first time since 2000, a new manager will be in the home clubhouse at Tempe Diablo Stadium when the Los Angeles Angels report to spring training.

Mike Scioscia spent 19 years in charge of the Halos, and Brad Ausmus is aware of the enormity of the shoes he is about to fill.

The former Detroit manager already got a jump on his new job as a special assistant to general manager Billy Eppler, watching up close while the Angels completed their third straight losing season. He already has ideas about how to change it when the Angels get back to work.

“I was with the Angels all last year,” Ausmus said. “I know the entire front office. I know the players. The players know who I am. So I think that’s going to make it a little bit easier.”

Mike Trout, Albert Pujols, Justin Upton, Andrelton Simmons and Shohei Ohtani are all familiar with Ausmus, and they’re not alone. The Angels didn’t change the major components of last year’s 80-win team, instead banking on improved health and new leadership to propel them closer to their first playoff victory in Trout’s career.

One thing fans won’t see much in spring is Ohtani, who is recovering after undergoing Tommy John surgery Oct. 1.

Ohtani has been cleared for weight training, and he will be cleared to swing a bat shortly. He probably won’t hit in spring training games, and he won’t pitch at all this year.

But Ohtani will be with his teammates throughout spring, and the AL Rookie of the Year’s mere presence will be enough to attract some fans hoping for a pregame autograph.

Here are some more things to watch as the Ausmus Era begins in Tempe:

NEW LOOK: Although Eppler never mentions it, Pujols’ mammoth contract looms over every decision made by the Angels, who didn’t spend on the biggest names in free agency. They added veteran starters Matt Harvey and Trevor Cahill and picked up Cleveland career saves leader Cody Allen for the bullpen, but well-traveled catcher Jonathan Lucroy was the biggest position-player addition. They’ll have proven big-league pitchers at every spot in the rotation, but no stars like Dallas Keuchel, who would seem a natural fit at the Big A.

ROOKIES TO WATCH: For the first time in years, the Angels might have a couple of these — and it could make a big difference. Former GM Jerry Dipoto decimated the Angels’ farm system before he left in July 2015, and Eppler’s seeds are finally starting to blossom. Right-hander Griffin Canning seems likely to crack the roster this season, and promising position players Luis Rengifo and Jo Adell could be ready soon afterward.

THEY’RE SET: The Angels look good up the middle, with Trout in center field backing a double-play combination of brilliant shortstop Simmons and youngster David Fletcher or veteran Zack Cozart at second. Lucroy is a quality veteran behind the plate, although many quality veteran hitters have suddenly forgotten how to hit upon joining the Angels.

THEY’RE NOT: Pujols makes far too much money not to play, but Ohtani is a superior designated hitter. That means Pujols must keep himself in shape enough to play consistently at first base, where he is still a solid fielder. The Angels’ bullpen is an unpredictable mix of newcomers and inconsistent holdovers, but Eppler has a solid track record here.

ON DECK: Along with Adell and Rengifo getting a taste of big-league camp, the Angels are welcoming back Peter Bourjos, the speedy outfielder drafted by LA in 2005. He spent four seasons with the Angels before making stops with six other organizations, but he is back with a minor-league deal and an invite to spring. If he rediscovers his swing, a roster spot could be available when the Angels open the regular season March 28 in Oakland.

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