Friday, December 1, 2023

Uncustomed Heroes of 2023: Angels


It is that time of year once again. All of the players I didn't get to posting customs of during 2023, wrapped up by team as an end of the year package, to full put a bow on 2023 as a season. As usual, I will go in alphabetical order, and as usual, that means I get to start with the Los Angeles Angels. 

And look, I really thought this season would be different for the Angels. Things started a bit better, a lot more seemed to be working. But, alas, once Trout got injured there was really no point, and once Ohtani got injured it got really sad. They'll always have that month or so where they thought they were invincible, with that 25-1 victory over Colorado, and that sweep of the Yankees where they thought they could compete.

Taylor Ward, injuries aside, picked up where his 2022 left off, and hit .253 with 14 home runs and 47 RBIs in 97 games, along with a 1.7 WAR boosted by his above-average hitting habits. The midyear injury did take a lot away from his appeal as a trusted member of the team, and the search for a full-year campaign worthy of his May 2022 numbers continues.
2024 Prediction: If he does deliver an excellent campaign, he'll be traded by August. If he gets hurt again, he'll be cut before 2025. 

Tyler Anderson, on the heels of an excellent season in LA, was a candidate for an Angels fixture upon his multi-year contract he signed prior to the season. Despite only missing 7 or so games, Anderson struggled this year, going 6-6 with a 5.43 ERA. Like fellow starters Patrick Sandoval and Griffin Canning, he did provide consistency, but he wasn't there in terms of quality.
2024 Prediction: This will be a fuller, more impressive season from Anderson. There's still the worry that an injury could upend things, but I think 2024 will consist of Anderson holding up his end of the bargain. 

One of the most exciting aspects of the early part of the season for the Angels was Logan O'Hoppe, a breath of fresh air behind the plate, one who came over from Philly in exchange for Brandon Marsh. O'Hoppe, in his first 16 games, hit .286 with 15 hits, 4 home runs and 14 RBIs. For a season where the Angels knew they'd be without Max Stassi behind the plate, O'Hoppe was a refreshing, confident replacement. Then he got hurt. By the time he returned in August, the Angels had given up on competing. O'Hoppe finished the season with a .236 average, 14 home runs and 29 RBIs.
2024 Prediction: I think O'Hoppe's gonna build on his initial numbers and produce a solid season that makes the Angels realize they don't need Stassi anymore. 

An early season success for the Halos was picking up Matt Moore in relief, who had struggled the previous year in Philly. A refreshing market was all Moore needed, with a 2.66 ERA in 44 innings. Through the first half, Moore was the Angels' strongest relief option, and reclaimed his Arlington dominance, despite giving up Bryce Harper's 300th home run. Once the team threw in the towel, he wound up pitching for Cleveland and, eventually, Miami. 
2024 Prediction: A contender signs him and has some level of success with him, though maybe not quite Anaheim levels.

I think I've said this every year, but the emergence of Luis Rengifo as a starting highlight for the Angels typically means that something has gone terribly wrong for the Angels this season, much like how Jose Suarez starting games used to be an indication that the injuries to the rotation had reached the 'we don't know what to do now' threshold. 2023 is the nth degree of this. Rengifo was brought in to start after David Fletcher, Gio Urshela and Anthony Rendon all got injured, and had a very nice run for himself, hitting .264 with 104 hits and 51 RBIs...and then right at the end of the season, he gets injured. So now the Angels need a replacement for their usual replacement player. What else can you do but laugh?
2024 Prediction: I don't know how many times the Angels can keep using Rengifo in the same exact way. Either they actually start the guy or they just cut him loose midyear given all the young talent they've brought up.
Around June, the Angels, with injuries piling up, got two smart bench options. One was Mike Moustakas, who was having a decent year in Denver, and comically left the Rockies for the Angels right after the 25-1 game. Moose is clearly not who he was in 2015, but he was still good for some power moments, with 8 home runs and 36 RBIs in 65 games.
2024 Prediction: It'd be very funny if Moose plays in 2024 and his old battery partner Eric Hosmer doesn't, but that's honestly the way things might be going. Maybe Pittsburgh picks him up or something. 

Actually participating in the 25-1 game on the Anaheim side was Eduardo Escobar, who was flipped from the Mets, convinced they would be find with Brett Baty [they weren't]. Escobar responded with a .219 average and 39 hits in 59 games, essentially proving why the Mets had given up.
2024 Prediction: Maybe someone picks him up for the spring, but I don't see Escobar playing a substantial role in the story of 2024, which sucks considering it was only 7 years ago that he was such a fun young infield guy in Minneapolis. 

After the Angels became buyers at the deadline due to their post-Yankees bravado, they went for several high-profile weapons. The highest profile was Lucas Giolito, who was having a strong year in Chicago. And then, of course, Giolito arrives in Anaheim, goes 1-5 in six starts with a 6.89 ERA, and all of the sudden the Angels aren't competitors anymore for some reason. And now the White Sox have Edgar Quero, who will be a big part of their rebuild. 
I have one more Giolito custom in this series, at which point I'll divulge my 2024 prediction.

One big indication that things may begin to look up in 2024? The number of prospects willing to launch themselves onto the team so soon after being drafted. This year featured playing time from Zach Neto, a prominent 2022 draftee, and Nolan Schanuel, a man named after an Angels legend, a prominent 2023 draftee. Schanuel had literally no photo for baseball reference to choose from, so the whole season went by with Schanuel as the Unknown Player while starting at 1st for the Angels. And that's a wild bit of this season; by the end, the Angels were so starved for options at first after Cron's injury that they were turning to a guy they'd drafted two months earlier to play first. And to his credit, Schanuel did pretty well, hitting .275 with 30 hits in 29 games. Not sure how Anthony Rendon felt about a 21-year old playing better than he did this year with what he was being paid.
2024 Prediction: A lot like Nico Hoerner in 2020, I don't think Schanuel's going to start the season in the majors, in order to give him a more traditional growth period. But once he's up, expect more of what we saw this year.

Coming Tomorrow- The Angels were a team that thought to base their entire future on one series with the Yankees. Tomorrow's team, meanwhile, should have seen their series with the Yankees as an omen.

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