It was a winter extended by the cold realities of a lockout, but the 2022 baseball season is rapidly approaching. Given the vagaries of the scheduling and how rapidly everything has to happen, it would be easy to let some traditions go by the wayside. Not in this space! Playing Pepper returns for its 14th season with the assistant of some great bloggers and podcasters who rose to the challenge of the time crunch. There’s a lot of things to sort out so let’s stretch, get ready and play some Pepper! If you want to keep up with the Angels during the season, I’ve created a Twitter list using the recommendations of our contributors and some other options as well. You can follow that here!
While the other team in Los Angeles keeps piling up the wins and the postseason appearances, the Angels sit in the shadows. They have reasons to watch, of course, but the wins just haven’t come. Are they going to waste Shohei Ohtani the way that they have Mike Trout or are things going to change? Let’s find out what those that watch regularly have to say!
|Super Halo Bros
|SuperHaloBros (same on Instagram)
|Halfway Around the Halo
C70: Not including lockout issues, tell me about Los Angeles’s offseason. What did you like about it, what didn’t you like about it, was there something you were hoping for that didn’t happen?
Jon: Signing Noah Syndergaard was something I was hoping the Angels would do since before the offseason. It’s a risky move, but I think we appealed to Thor because of how we handled Ohtani coming back from Tommy John surgery and him having his best season ever, and I’m confident that the risk will pay off. He’s a top-of-the-line starter, and a healthy one-two of Ohtani and Sydergaard gives me hope. Although Thor is a great acquisition, I would’ve liked to have seen one more proven starter added to the rotation. Having said that, the Angels have built one of the scariest bullpens in the league, re-signing Raisel Iglesias, bringing in Aaron Loup, Archie Bradley, Ryan Tepera, and having strong in-house arms like Austin Warren and Mike Mayers. This gives the Angels flexibility if the uncertainty of the rotation rears its head, meaning that if a starter only goes 4 or 5 innings, you can be confident in who they’re turning it over to. Michael Lorenzen is an interesting add, as he’s been a Reds reliever and has okay success, but he’s admitted that he didn’t have his pitch selection locked in until recently. He’s pegged for the rotation along with Ohtani, Thor, Patrick Sandoval (who I’m a huge fan of), José Suarez, and likely Reid Detmers. The Angels got Tyler Wade from the Yankees, who’s been a fan favorite there, but never had a full-time opportunity. With bringing in Matt Duffy to play 2nd, we’ll see David Fletcher move over to Shortstop and see a platoon of Duffy and Wade.
Nick: As with every Angels offseason in recent times, this one felt big. Mike Trout’s prime isn’t going to last forever and Shohei Ohtani is going to need an extension very soon. This means that the club have to be in win now and a) put together a team that can get the most out of these superstars and b) show Shohei that this is a ballclub committed to winning or else I would not blame him for seeking pastures new in two seasons time.
I think the additions they have made have been fairly shrewd. We’ve bolstered the pen significantly. Re-signing top tier closer Raisel Iglesias to a four-year contract, and bringing in Aaron Loup, Ryan Tepera and Archie Bradley. This significantly strengthens an area that was lacking in recent years, and is potentially a throwback to the 2002 season when your world series champion Angels didn’t have the strongest rotation but a superb bullpen. There are still question marks over the rotation going into the year. There is no doubt Noah Syndergaard is a great starting pitcher when healthy, but it’s been a long time since we have seen him pitch so putting all our eggs in that basket worries me. We’ve also brought in Michael Lorenzen and are giving him a chance to start. The stuff is there, but can he be a difference maker at the back end of this rotation? Only time will tell. I would have liked another starter for depth, or to have traded for a front line guy to pair with Ohtani and Thor.
The other area I was hoping for was a shortstop. I think Angels fans were mixed in their views on the need to spend on another bat but to me another difference maker around Trout/Ohtani/Rendon would have given us the best chance to compete with the Astros. Instead we are rolling out a mix of cheap pickups and internal options to see who wins the job, with the current favourite being Tyler Wade who was brought over from the Yankees this off season.
I think the front office have done a good job so far, and there is a lot of potential for this team if things go right, but also there is a lot of risk too, and we desperately need another depth arm for the rotation, especially if we stick with a six man rotation.
Jacob: There were many things to like about the offseason for the Angels in terms of adding talent with the likes of Syndergaard, Lorenzen, and a lot of bullpen help that included Aaron Loup, Raisel Iglesias extension, Archie Bradley, Ryan Tepera. I think a lot of Angels fans and myself included thought that the team was going to acquire one of the big free-agent starters to a multi-year deal to lead the rotation, the team has been reluctant on signing free agent starters to multi-year deals.
C70: You’ve watched the best player in baseball (Mike Trout) for years, now you get him and perhaps the most dynamic player (Shohei Ohtani) at the same time. What is it like seeing those guys every day and does that help balance the overall struggles of the team in any way?
Jon: We’re spoiled here in Anaheim with those two, that’s for sure! Every game with these guys, you see something unbelievable. I caught a Sunday afternoon game when Shohei wasn’t in the lineup, and when he came into pinch-hit, the entire stadium erupted. It felt like your favorite WWE wrestler making a surprise return, haha! When the writing was on the wall for the Angels’ 2021 season and Trout wasn’t coming back, we had Shohei Ohtani to look forward to; his home run race and MVP contention made the Halos worth watching. That, and seeing the Angels give some of their youngsters a try, like Janson Junk, Austin Warren, Andrew Wantz, and seeing José Suarez and Patrick Sandoval have breakthroughs on the mound gave me hope that the Angels have a bright future. Trout seems fully healthy, and give me a full season of him and Ohtani, and I think this season will be something special. That being said, these two deserve a playoff run, as well as all MLB fans, and us Angel fans know this. A message to fans of baseball out there: be kind to the Halo fans in your life, because they want them in the playoffs as much as you do.
Nick: I honestly cannot overstate how much of a privilege and pleasure it is to watch both those guys every night. Last season in particular where we lost Trout for most of the season, having Shohei in the lineup in one form or another every night was worth the admission fee alone (or in my case the waking up at 3am to turn on MLB.tv). It means that even in a down year where the season is over by the trade deadline, you still have a reason to tune in, to see what special performance they are going to deliver that evening. I’m not sure it helps balance the overall struggles, as ultimately this is a team game and we want to see the team as a whole performing well and making it back to the postseason but it does at least offer some enjoyment amidst the disappointment.
Jacob: It’s been special seeing Mike Trout and Ohtani doing what they do on a daily basis, they are both extremely talented in their own ways. It’s been unfortunate we really haven’t gotten to see them at full strength for the full season. Ohtani was sidelined with Tommy John surgery early on in his pitching career, but was still able to provide offense. Trout was injured last season with his calf which made him miss a majority of the season, he was able to fully recover during the off-season. I do think he could’ve came back semi-healthy if the Angels were in the postseason hunt, but not being in it made it easier for Trout to recover.
C70: Former Cardinal Mike Mayers has been much more effective in Los Angeles than he was in St. Louis. What are your thoughts on him?
Jon: At one point in 2020, Mayers was our most reliable relief pitcher and even closed some games for us. He struggled a bit in 2021 likely due to some overuse, but made some adjustments in the second half that got him back to being the 2020 version again. As much of a struggle that Angels pitching has been the last 7 years, the recent additions of Bradley and Tepera will take some of the pressure off of Mayers. He will play the role he is fit for and not be asked to play above the type of pitcher he is. With Mayers, Loup, and Iglesisas, this relief core might prove to be one of the most devastating bullpens of 2022. I’ll never complain about receiving someone who came from the Cardinals, and I think Mike will be an integral part of the bullpen this year.
Nick: I really like Mike Mayers. He’s been thrust into some tough spots in his Angels career and pitched in high leverage situations and while results have been mixed he has been one of the brighter spots in the bullpen. I think this year with the pressure off considering the additions we have made to the back end of the pen, he should have a good year.
Jacob: Mike Mayers has proven himself to be a great setup for Iglesias and while he’s had his fair share of bad outings, he’s been more effective recently. If he continues to remain effective, he’ll remain the premier setup man for the team that seems to have a lot of bullpen options.
C70: Which prospect are you most excited for and when should they make their major league debut?
Jon: Reid Detmers is still technically considered a prospect, though he came up halfway through the season last year before going on the IL. He came through the system very fast, and will surely have long-term success, and with the injury to Griffin Canning, he’ll likey be the number-six starter. Sam Bachmann, our number-one pick in the 2021 draft has high velocity and could make a splash at the end of this season in a relief role, but I think the Angels would like to see him factor in as a starter in the future. The top Angels prospects are all very young, early twenties, so it may be some time before we see them. Interestingly, with the Angels’ shortstop issue, they have a handful of guys like Arol Vera, Kyren Paris, and Jeremiah Jackson who may solidify the middle infield in a few years. Another intriguing player is 26-year-old Michael Stefanic, an undrafted free agent we signed in 2018 who’s hit very well in the minors, although the Angels AAA Salt Lake hitting can be somewhat inflated. He’s got some holes in his defensive game, which might be the only thing holding him back from appearing in the Majors this season. I’ve been nothing but impressed with him in Spring Training, and I’m sure he’ll get a call-up in the middle of the season.
Nick: I might cheat here and say Reid Detmers. He had a cup of coffee last year but we are expecting big things from the number one rated left handed pitching prospect in baseball. He has a very good chance to start the season with the big league club this year. Aside from him though, Sam Bachman. The Angels first rounder last year has an elite fastball and slider, and is working on a third pitch. If that changeup improves he could be a legitimate front of the rotation starter very soon and is the sort of talent this team desperately needs an infusion of.
Jacob: The prospect I’m most excited about is Michael Stefanic, he’s had an impressive resume so far in the minor leagues at second base. Considering the Angels don’t have a proven second baseman, he could man the position should he improve his defense. His bat is explosive and consistent enough to already be called up to the big leagues, his defense still remains a question. If he works on his defense, I could see him joining the big leagues in May/June if he’s lucky enough.
C70: How do you see 2022 shaking out for this team? What’s your expectation of where they finish?
Jon: The expansion to 12 playoff teams will only serve to help the Angels make the postseason for the first time since 2014, and I could see that happening this year. The keyword is health; with a healthy Rendon, Ohtani, Trout, Jared Walsh, Justin Upton sharing time with Jo Adell and Brandon Marsh, and David Fletcher getting back to what he’s capable of, I think we’ll have a dangerous and pesky 1-9. Offense won’t be an issue, barring any slumps that naturally happen to everyone. Coming into 2022, the Angels combine for a 13.5 higher team WAR than they did in 2021, and that’s due to the breakthroughs in young starting pitching, solidifying the back of the bullpen, and the one-two punch of Ohtani and Syndergaard. As much as a first place finish in the AL West would be nice, the Astros have proven they don’t need trash cans and buzzers (allegedly) to be good, and the Mariners showed last season that they were one or two key players away from being legitimate contenders for the first time in a while. The A’s are going to fire-sale their stars, while the Rangers added Corey Seager, Mitch Garver, and Marcus Semien, they still have some starting pitching steps forward to take. The optimist in me sees the Halos finishing 2nd in the AL West, as long as they stay healthy and on the field.
Nick: I hate to sit on the fence with this one but you know what? Anything can happen. As I said in the opening there are a lot of things that need to go right for this to be a playoff team, but the potential is there. At the same time after the last few years I try to remain grounded in expectation because so often they have disappointed despite having some of the games premier players in the lineup every night.
This year we are hoping to have a healthy Mike Trout and Anthony Rendon. For Brandon Marsh and Jo Adell to have true breakout years and take the next steps in their development and for All Star Jared Walsh to return to the first half of the season’s form. This is a strong, deep batting lineup that should be successful.
Winning of course however depends on how the rotation holds up. Does Thor stay healthy? Can Ohtani repeat and improve on last year? Do Sandoval and Suarez continue their development into good to great mid rotation starters? A lot of question marks but there is no question the talent is there.
I think with this being said my expectation is for us to compete with the Mariners for second in the division and a potential wildcard spot. Of course the expanded playoffs give us a greater opportunity for a post season berth, but I think this team needs to get off to a fast start and build some momentum. Hopefully so that by the deadline they can add another starter.
Jacob: The main concern about this team has been health, it has been the biggest concern for the past couple of years. The talent has been there on the offensive side of things with Trout, Ohtani, Rendon, Walsh, Fletcher, etc. Having them all play more than 100 games this season is the bigger concern. If everything goes right, I see them grabbing a wild card spot, but don’t think they can handle the bigger teams in the postseason like the Yankees, Red Sox, White Sox, etc. It’s going to be exciting should they make the postseason, however.
C70: Besides yourself and the team account, give me up to three good Angels Twitter accounts to follow.
Jon: Andrew of Angels Top Plays on Instagram, who is also on Twitter @PlaysAngels, is constantly on top of Angels news and has great insights on the team! His Instagram page is a great community for Angels fans, and Andrew shares his free-flowing thoughts on Twitter.
Kyle Kishimoto, an Angels fan and who has a surprising obsession with Tony Kemp of the A’s, is someone who provides incredible post-game threads after most Angels games. He’s found at @kylemoto10, and he’s great at providing breakdowns of prospects, starting pitching analysis, and highlights what the Angels did well and what could have gone better.
Finally, Daniel Garcia of @Halos_Haven and host of the All Angels Podcast is always having great conversations with beat writers for the Angels and many other teams. He’s been a great friend to us and helped us get our podcast feet under us, and he’s been crushing the Angels podcast game for years now.