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Shane Cobb. 2nd April, 2006 - 4:42 am

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The Halos are back and ready to defend their 2005 division title. After eliminating the Yankees in the first round of the playoffs, the Angels got embarrassed by the White Sox, who would later ride Mr. Mo to a championship ring. Here is what the Angels will put out on the field at each position.

Potential batting order:

3B Chone Figgins
SS Orlando Cabrera
LF Garret Anderson
RF Vladimir Guerrero
1B Casey Kotchman
DH Juan Rivera
CF Darin Erstad
C Jose Molina
2B Adam Kennedy

Catcher

They Angels will hold two catchers on their major league roster. The Angels did not choose to resign catcher Bengie Molina, so Molina decided to head north to Canada and play for the Toronto Blue Jays. Bengie?s brother, Jose, will now share catching duties with highly touted prospect, Jeff Mathis. Mike Scioscia was a catcher in his playing days and is real picky on who he has catching his staff. He shows tremendous confidence in Mathis and hopes him to be an elite catcher down the road. Bengie Molina was a great defensive catcher, but so are Jose and Mathis. Jose should be the starting catcher to begin the season, but look for Jeff Mathis to take over that role shortly.

First Base

Last year?s first baseman was Darin Erstad, but with Erstad moving back to centerfield, young Casey Kotchman will take over. Defensively, Erstad is slightly better than Kotchman at first but hitting wise, Casey is miles ahead of him. Kotchman will provide power in the lineup most like in the 15-20-homerun range. He should also hit around .290.

Second Base

The gold glove is wide open in the American League now with Orlando Hudson switching to the National League. This is Adam Kennedy?s year. Adam Kennedy is now, hands down, the best defensive second baseman in the AL. Kennedy is in the final year of his contract and might be playing his last season with his hometown Angels. His season might not even be a full year as they might trade him before the July 31 trade deadline. Who is waiting in the wings? Only the best 2B prospect in all of baseball, with Richie Weeks now in the majors, Howie Kendrick. Kendrick is a hitting machine and is only down in Triple A to work on his defense.

Shortstop
Speaking of gold gloves, the Angels shortstop, Orlando Cabrera, just missed out on a gold glove last year losing to Derek Jeter. Cabrera was good on defense, and on the base paths. He was the Angels second leading base stealer last year with 19, but should be a lock to get more this year, as he is the official #2 hitter.

Third Base

Third Base was a disaster last year for the Angels, well, along with the DH. That should change this year though. As it stands right now, Chone Figgins is the opening day third baseman. Dallas McPherson still needs time to recover from his injury that made him sit out most of the 2005 season. His most likely destination is to begin the season is with the Salt Lake Bees, the Angels Triple A affiliate.

Outfield

In left field, barring any more injury problems, will be Garret Anderson. If Anderson goes down with another injury Chone Figgins and Juan Rivera will split time. If it were my choice, I?d put Garret at DH and start Juan Rivera in left field. Rivera has a good bat and a strong arm.

In center field, the Angels will have Darin Erstad. Erstad will be returning to the outfield so that Casey Kotchman can play everyday. Against lefties, Juan Rivera will most likely get the start. If Garret and Darin both go down with injuries, the Angels will upgrade their team with Chone in center and Rivera in left. Yeah, I know, ?better backups than starters?. I know it sounds funny, but it is true.

Yay! The Angels actually do have an outfielder that will play everyday and won?t let us fans down. Yay for the only player on the offense who is consistent! Yay for Vladimir Guerrero! Vladdy will be the starting right fielder for the Angels. He will most likely have to carry this offense on his shoulders again.

Designated Hitter

The Angels still haven?t decided on who the DH will be. The options for the spot are Tim Salmon, Juan Rivera, and an Angels top prospect, Kendry Morales. Tim Salmon is healed from his injury that made him sit out the whole 2005 season and is looking really fit. If he is the DH, he will provide experience and power, making him the good, safe choice. Juan Rivera is also a candidate for the spot and also has plus power. Kendry Morales is a name not too many people are familiar with except for those die-hard Minor League and Angel fans. He put on a good showing last year at Single A, Double A, and the AFL league. He is a switch-hitter with a lot of pop in his bat.

Starting Pitchers

1. Bartolo Colon
2. John Lackey
3. Jeff Weaver
4. Kelvim Escobar
5. Ervin Santana

A righty dominant staff will once again have to carry the Angels throughout the season and into the playoffs assuming they make it.

I am certainly tired of hearing people say that this year?s staff isn?t as good as last years ? I beg to differ. Jeff Weaver is very underrated, well maybe not very, but he is somewhat underrated. He eats up a lot of innings and throws a lot of strikes. He is better than Jarrod Washburn. I am a Washburn fan, but I must admit, last year was probably a fluke year.

Last year the Angels had Paul Byrd. Replacing Paul Byrd is Kelvim Escobar. Escobar spent a lot of his 2005 season on the DL. He is now healthy and pitching great. Escobar is way better than Paul Byrd.

Ervin Santana filled in for Escobar while he was on the DL and showed great signs of his potential. Ervin is back in the rotation this year and has a good season under his belt.

If any of these pitchers happen to get injured, the Angels will look to the minor leagues where Chris Bootcheck, Joe Saunders, and Jered Weaver are stashed away. The best of the bunch: Jered Weaver, Jeff?s younger brother. In fact, some say Jered will be better than his brother Jeff.

Bullpen

The Angels will keep the same faces we?ve seen the past few years and gain some new ones. Francisco Rodriguez will continue to close after leading the league last year in saves and Scot Shields will be the setup man. Brendan Donnelly, J.C. Romero, and Hector Carrasco will also be in the relief pitching rotation.

Even though it may not seem like it, but this team is improved from last year. If they put everything together they should have a good chance to win the division for a third consecutive year. The A?s will put up a really good fight, and the sleeper team, the Texas Rangers, should too.

Here?s to an injury free, successful, 2006 season Angels fan!

Let?s Go Angels!