Fantasy Articles
The Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim seem primed to repeat as AL Western Division Champs, thanks to some powerful players, both on offense and pitching.  They have a good number of players you’ll want to consider drafting, so let’s take a look at some of them.

Top Tier

Vladimir Guerrero (OF): Vlad is certain to be picked in the early rounds of a draft thanks to his high batting average and consistency.  In eleven full major-league seasons, he has never finished a season with a batting average below .300 or an OBP below .350. He’s a perennial MVP vote-getter as well as All-Star, and he’s good for 30 home runs and 100 RBI.  He also strikes out at an alarmingly low rate for being such a free-swinger.  He doesn’t steal as much as some of the other top outfielders (Holliday, Ichiro, or Crawford) and it looks as though he’s running even less these days, so you’ll need to get your steals somewhere else.  Otherwise, you can’t go wrong picking him.

Francisco Rodriguez (RP):
Also known as K-Rod, Rodriguez is one of the top closers in the major leagues.  While he faltered a bit in 2007, posting a career high in WHIP and an ERA a full run higher than 2006, those numbers are still comparable to the WHIPs and ERAs of other top closers.  He’ll be a free agent after 2008, so look for continued excellent numbers in his contract year.  He’s rated a bit lower than other closers due to his slight slide in 2007, but you can still pencil him in for 40+ saves (which he has done in each of the past three seasons) and about 1.3 K/inning.  He may last longer than the early rounds, so be sure to keep your eye out in rounds 6 and shortly thereafter.

Second Tier

John Lackey (SP): Lackey established himself as one of the game’s top starters after having a career year in 2007.  He posted career bests in wins (19), IP (224), walks (52), ERA (3.01) and WHIP (1.21).  Since coming on the scene as a full-time starter in the middle of 2002, Lackey has made seemingly all of his starts – he’s posted 32 or 33 starts in each of the past 5 years and is getting better each year.  Once Santana, Webb, Peavy and the other top starters are off the board, Lackey is a strong pickup. Expect him to be picked in rounds 4-7.  
**This Just In: The Ides of March have brought on some more bad luck.  On March 15, 2008, the news came out that the Angels expect John Lackey to miss at least a month due to a strained right triceps.  He’s expected back sometime around late April/early May at the earliest. 

Chone Figgins (3B/2B/OF): Figgins is an intriguing player due to his versatility and ability to play multiple positions.  It’s unlikely that he’ll replicate his 2007 batting average of .330, though a .290-.300 average is not out of the question.  He’s a lock for well over 40 steals, assuming that he’s healthy and plays the full year.  He’ll be a key contributor of runs, steals and a high OBP, so should be a strong pick around the 7th or 8th round.

Torii Hunter (OF): Hunter is a newcomer to the Angels after putting up very strong numbers with the Twins in his contract year.  He’s capable of posting a 20-20 season, though don’t expect him to repeat his 2007 performance.  Still, he brings a lot to the Angels lineup and should have plenty of RBI and scoring opportunities.  A season with an average around .270, 25-30 HR, 90 RBI and around 15-20 SB appears likely if he can avoid injury.

Third Tier

Howie Kendrick (2B): Kendrick has shown that he can produce at the major league level, and it looks like he’ll be taking over second base full-time.  Many think that Kendrick could post a .300 average and double-digits in home runs and steals, and his minor league career totals seem to support that idea.  Because of his inexperience, Kendrick should be available in the late rounds if a second baseman or utility player is needed.

Gary Matthews Jr. (OF):  Matthews disappointed fantasy owners in 2007 when he returned to Earth.  He played above his ability in 2006 when he hit .313 and was an All-Star, and 2007 saw him lose his leadoff spot after only one month.  He finished the season with a .252 average and significantly fewer hits than 2006.  With the crowded Angels’ outfield, it looks like Matthews will spend time as the fourth outfielder or DH.  The good news is that he can still post steals and home runs, both in the 15-20 range, but don’t expect Matthews to produce overall numbers similar to 2006.

Michael Napoli (C): After hitting 16 home runs in only 268 at-bats in 2006, injuries limited his playing time in 2007.  He’s low on the list of catchers, but it looks like he’s ready for a healthy 2008 and could produce 20 homers and a .250-.270 batting average if healthy. 

Question Marks

Kelvim Escobar (SP): Escboar had one of his best years in 2007 when he went 18-7 with a 3.40 ERA and 1.26 WHIP in 30 starts.  However, those stats would’ve likely been stronger if a sore shoulder hadn’t crept up and attributed to a 7.99 ERA in September.  It appears that the same injury could limit his playing time in 2008 as well.  Don’t count too heavily on Escobar for the 2008 season, though he could be a productive choice in the later rounds.  If you do draft him, be sure to keep an eye on him throughout the season as a stint on the DL could be in the works.

Jered Weaver (SP): After his impressive rookie year in 2006, it’s a bit of a disappointment that Weaver didn’t continue on that same path in 2007.  He increased his wins and innings totals, but there were also increases in losses, ERA and WHIP in his sophomore slump.  In addition, Weaver is an injury risk due to both his history of injuries and high-stress delivery.  He’s a question mark because of his injury possibilities, but also because even if he is healthy, he hasn’t shown that he’ll produce like some would hope. That said, he has registered double-digits in wins for two straight years as well as kept his ERA under 4.00 in the American League, so he wouldn’t be a bad pick in the late rounds.

The Great Debate

Jon Garland (SP): After two 18-win seasons in 2005 and 2006, Garland regressed in 2007 when he posted a 10-13 record for the Chicago White Sox.  He’s now with a contending team, so one might think that a change of scenery will benefit him.  In addition, he’s a durable starter and will almost certainly post 200+ innings along with double digits in wins.  However, he won’t help your fantasy team with strikeouts, and he’ll likely post an ERA in the mid-4.00 range.  You can count on Garland making most of his starts, though those may not be very productive ones.

Prospect Watch

Brandon Wood (SS/3B): Wood is competing with Erick Aybar for the starting shortstop position, though the odds don’t look promising that he’ll win that battle.  As of March 14th, Wood is 2-for-28, while Aybar is 7-for-23.  The good news is that Wood’s two hits are both home runs, and that’s indicative of the kid’s ability.  He’s a slugger (he owns a .528 Minor League slugging percentage), and like most sluggers he strikes out a lot.  The Angels will likely have him spend more time in AAA to get more seasoning, and the sooner he decreases his strikeout totals, the better his shot of getting called up. He may also get a shot if a spot opens up, whether by Aybar not succeeding, Chone Figgins moving positions, or an injury affects someone.

Nick Adenhart (P): With the Angels’ top two starters expected to miss time at the beginning of the season, Adenhart could see time in LA this year as a starter.  The kid was drafted by the Angels in the 2004 draft and has produced impressive Minor League numbers.  Several weeks into Spring Training, Adenhart has improved his chances of earning playing time in 2008 by posting a 3.11 through his first 8.2 innings.  Keep an eye on the Angels to see if they give Adenhart a chance, either for a spot start or a fifth starter until either Lackey or Escobar are able to return.