Mike Scioscia started the spring with a stated focus of finding a way to galvanize the Angels' offense around superstar center fielder Mike Trout. It was, in the manager's estimation, the problem that most plagued his 2015 team that fell one win short of qualifying for the playoffs.
Asked how he thought the team would support Trout barely a week before opening day, Scioscia said he hoped for improvement, but stopped short of guaranteeing it.
"I mean, do you have a crystal ball?" he asked. "We don't have a crystal ball. But, after the process that we went through all winter, I think we're better poised to do that. It remains to be seen where everything ends up."
The Angels are hitting well in the Cactus League, but those statistics are fraught with issues, from small samples to varying quality of competition to changes in conditions.
They have hit .312, with a .373 on-base percentage and .482 slugging percentage. Their .855 on-base-plus-slugging percentage is third in the major leagues, including Arizona and Florida spring trainings. Their 162 runs rank fourth, and their 144 strikeouts are the fewest across the sport.
Scioscia said batting average, OPS and runs scored do not adequately capture teams' performance during Cactus League play. He said he preferred to evaluate his players on the quality of their at-bats, "guys getting a good pitch to hit and putting good swings on it," and overall perceived depth.
And, based on those aspects, he said, "Offense is showing up much earlier this spring than it ever evolved to last year," citing statistics produced by the left-field platoon of Daniel Nava and Craig Gentry, who are both hitting over .300.
"These things are tangible," Scioscia said. "So, are we better offensively? For these reasons, yes. Right now, there is no comparison to where we are offensively as compared to where we were last year."
Last year the Angels were 27th in the majors in regular-season batting average, 26th in on-base percentage and 20th in slugging. The year before, they had been sixth, seventh and fifth in those categories.
"If you have enough guys in your lineup who aren't swinging the bat well at the same time, you're in trouble," Scioscia said. "That's what we ran into last year."
Scioscia spotlighted outfielder Todd Cunningham's situational-hitting successes. Cunningham, who can play all three outfield spots, has twice executed hit-and-run plays in recent days. He is out of options and remains on the bubble to make the opening-day roster. . . . The Angels reassigned catcher Juan Graterol, right-handers Yunesky Maya and Ramon Ramirez and outfielders Quintin Berry and Nick Buss to minor league camp. Their spring roster stands at 38 players, with 13 more to be cut before April 4. . . . The Angels traded cash to Houston for minor league right-hander Troy Scribner, who pitched for Class-A Lancaster last season. In more minor league news, the team released outfielder Trevor Gretzky, the son of Wayne Gretzky, who had been acquired in a trade for Matt Scioscia, the manager's son. The younger Gretzky had not surpassed Class-A ball.