The Angels have made arguably the most noise this off-season, if you can call it that, convincing Japanese-superstar Shohei Ohtani to sign with their club this past December. They then went out and signed one of the better infield options on the market in Zach Cozart, who is coming off the best season of his career, while also swinging a deal with Detroit for veteran 2nd baseman Ian Kinsler.
All of these moves made after a season in which Mike Trout finished the year tied for 3rd in WAR, while missing 48 games due to a torn UCL ligament. On top of this, the Angels finished just five games back of the Twins for the final wild card spot, despite being 21 games back of the Astros in the division last season. Simply put: the Angels pass the eye test as a playoff team.
Angels GM Billy Eppler has given Trout a solid supporting cast of talent, one of the best in recent memory. Currently, Fangraphs projects the Angels to improve by eight wins in 2018, which would likely make them a wild card team. However, the outlook for the Angels in 2018 is still rather murky as the team has plenty of ‘what ifs’ surrounding their roster.
Can Ohtani push the Angels into the postseason?
The biggest question the Angels need to answer is whether or not Ohtani truly can find at-bats on a daily basis. It was rumored that interested NL teams like the Cubs or Padres were pondered the idea of playing Ohtani in a corner outfield spot.
But currently, the Angels outfield look settled with Justin Upton and Cole Calhoun on either side of Trout. So the odds of Ohtani playing over either of those established players is doubtful, meaning the majority of his at-bats will come as a designated hitter.
Pitching-wise, while Ohtani isn’t a total lock to become an ace in Anaheim, it’s safe to assume the 23-year-old rookie should produce solid numbers in 2018. Looking at the ZiPS projections for Ohtani, it has the rookie finishing the season with a 3.55 ERA and a 3.3 WAR. For comparison, the Angels best arm in terms of WAR was reliever Yusmeiro Petit, who finished with a 2.2 WAR.
Of course, the Angels were devastated with injuries in their rotation, losing their three best arms in Garret Richards, Matt Shoemaker, and Tyler Skaggs for extended periods of 2017. Adding Ohtani will help strength the rotation, while hopefully also giving the staff a reliable ace to lean in for the next few seasons.
But if Ohtani can show even some promise as a hitter, it could be enough to push the Angels from borderline playoff team to true title contenders. For starters, having anyone besides Albert Pujols DH for the Angels would be a massive improvement. Like, literally anyone in baseball, as the future hall of famer in Pujol registered the worst WAR out of any qualified hitter last season with a -2.0 WAR.
Currently, Fangraphs has Ohtani projected as a 0.7 WAR hitter, slashing .257/.334/.454 with 11 home runs. Of course, Ohtani was one of the best hitters the Nippon Baseball League (NPL) had to offer, with a career slash line of .286/.358/.500 with 48 home runs. Ohtani has offensive pop, that’s for sure, but can he translate those numbers to something productive against MLB teams?
The safest answer is no, but even if Ohtani can just prove to be an overall more useful player than Pujols at the DH, it could be enough to turn the Angels into title contenders. They’ve improved everywhere else on their roster, the only glaring hole is DH, and if Ohtani can produce in that spot between starts, the Angels could be scary good in 2018.