The Mariners have seen their rivalries ebb and flow through the years, but for the better part of the last decade it’s felt clear that Seattle’s best match as a rival right now is the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. As the second series between the two clubs continues, now with far different plans than their previously paired trajectories, I chatted with Editor In Chief of Angels-focused site Crashing The Pearly Gates, Rahul Setty. You may recognize Rahul from his prior work as a featured writer at FanGraphs and Halos Heaven. He can be found at @RahulSetty_ on Twitter.
You can see my answers to his questions here, and read his answers below!
1. Rahul, I won’t dance around the big news. Jo Adell is here. In Mariners land, we’ve developed a healthy dread of the lad already, clinging to the tiny shred of hope that his strikeout rate is still a challenge. Tell it to us true though, from an Angels-focused perspective that’s followed his career since day one: how good is this kid and how worried should we be?
Rahul Setty: John, let me tell you, Jo Adell is an incredible baseball player. Lauded for his intelligence and charisma, Adell has arguably the loudest tools in the minor leagues—he has box jumped 66 inches. He’s quick to make adjustments, having struggled initially when promoted, and that precocious nature will drive him to success. I’ve never been one for player comparisons, but his swing resembles Justin Upton quite closely, and even as a player coming up, Upton is an excellent comparison. Both called up at an extremely young age (Adell is the youngest position player in baseball), have incredibly strong raw and game power, can cover a lot of ground in the outfield, and are baserunning threats. While we could conceivably see quite the strikeouts given his newness to Triple-A and MLB, Adell will display the elite power skills that has made him so well renowned in time. Think of a young Justin Upton: 25+ homers a year (in today’s environment), an OPS pushing .900, and excellent speed on the bases is a realistic hypothesis. If the bat-to-ball skills improve from here, you’re looking at a perennial MVP candidate.
2. A couple weeks into the Joe Maddon Experience, has there been a different feel for fans after so many years of Mike Scioscia?
RS: Yes, definitely. Maddon has injected life into the clubhouse, and it certainly *feels* like players are being more authentic even if nothing has tangibly changed. Scioscia’s tone was always matter of fact, and Ausmus’s was quite stiff. I’ve disagreed mightily with some of the managerial decisions albeit just 11 games in (curious lineups, pitchers being pulled too early or left in too late, etc.), but there’s no denying that such an energy is incalculable for the clubhouse (and most certainly incalculable on its effect on player performance!).
3. The Angels and Mariners were on similar tracks for the past few years, with elite veteran hitters and household names anchoring their lineups and a few more question marks in their rotation. Now, Seattle is in year two of a rebuild while the Angels extended the best player in the world and invested in the best position player on the market this winter. Do you feel good about the Angels being contenders for the next few years with their stars in their prime?
RS: Raised in Anaheim for almost my entire life, I want so desperately for the Angels to contend. And perhaps as importantly, as a baseball fan, I want to watch competitive baseball night in and night out. It’s no secret that the Angels haven’t delivered either for the last half-decade.
While there is a conceivable window for the Angels to be big contenders within the next five years, I find it hard to believe that ownership meddling won’t continue to drastically decrease the chances of doing just that. As we witnessed with the botched Angels-Dodgers trade in February (that would have sent Luis Rengifo to the Dodgers for Ross Stripling, Joc Pederson, and a prospect), and as we’ve witnessed in countless free agent signings (it was Moreno who wanted a big name this offseason, just as he did Pujols and Hamilton), ownership is an impediment to baseball operations doing their jobs. While I have not been thrilled with the overall body of work that Billy Eppler has produced, I may never be able to know what the team would have looked like had he been given full autonomy. And, honestly, the same is true of Jerry Dipoto’s time in Anaheim.
4. If you were tasked with creating an average bullpen by combining the Angels and Mariners relievers, could you do it? Failing rule changes to allow that, do the Angels have enough in their bullpen to back up their impressive lineup and young rotation?
RS: Wow, what a fun question! Unfortunately, the answer is no (I am thoroughly flabbergasted at the tire fire of the Mariners bullpen). If I were to approach that exercise, though, I’d swipe Matt Magill, and perhaps be interested enough in Altavilla’s velocity to take a flier. While the Halos’ bullpen was never expected to be a focal point, it was thought to be good enough to Elmer’s Glue through the season. Former closer Hansel Robles has lost more than a couple ticks in velocity, and Ty Buttrey looks to have regressed. Most of the bullpen has not looked crisp, and Joe Maddon seems to be confused as to what options to use and when. It’s not necessarily his fault: Angels relievers have a 4.64 BB/9, and just swingman Felix Peña has proven to be a standout option. The strategy at this point seems to be to let regression bringing the group back to their mean: crossing fingers and hoping it ends up nice.
5. The Angels have a trio of ultra-athletic outfielders on top of their prospect lists in Adell, Brandon Marsh, and Jordyn Adams. Who are you most excited about beyond those three in their system, who opposing fans may be glossing over?
RS: After those three, Chris Rodriguez is easily the most exciting to me. A high-schooler drafted in the fourth round in 2017, he throws in the mid-to-upper 90s. He’s battled injuries but last season touched 97 mph in high-A without letting his above-average slider or curveball decrease in efficacy. His stuff is good enough be in the back-end of a bullpen right now (and given the Angels’ bullpen situation, closer-caliber), but additional seasoning will help. If the Angels start to make a push, don’t be surprised to see him used in high-leverage situations as a bullpen reinforcement.
Jeremiah Jackson is exciting as an infielder with oodles of power, but he strikes out a ton and we’re yet to see him at higher levels. Reid Detmers, just by being a 50 FV starting pitcher who’ll be MLB-ready as soon as next year makes this list for me. It’s not sexy, but durable arms have been the primary impediment to the Angels’ on-field success in recent memory.
6. Injuries are never fun, and while M’s fans may retain some bitterness about being first loser in the Shohei Ohtani sweepstakes, his absence dims the light of the sport as a whole. Is there something amiss with how Ohtani has been handled? And can the Angels make a playoff push this year if he is limited to offense only?
RS: Ultimately, I do think the Angels will make the playoffs, as diluted as a term as that is now. Ohtani’s loss in the rotation is more than offset by breakthroughs being seen from Dylan Bundy, Griffin Canning, and Patrick Sandoval. And Ohtani in the lineup makes the Angels a deeper team and helps solve their handedness problems, siphons away at-bats from the fringier Taylor Ward and Jared Walsh, and provides a lineup—one that scored the 3rd most runs in the AL through Monday having missed Trout and Rendon for several games—that can give most teams a run for their money. Something like...David Fletcher, Trout, Rendon, Ohtani, Brian Goodwin, Pujols, Adell, Jason Castro, and Rengifo/Tommy La Stella. That’ll play.