Mike Scioscia voices optimism as Los Angeles Angels gather for spring training

C.J. Wilson plotted his left hand at eye level, his right a foot below.

His left hand would play the part of baseball's $189-million luxury-tax threshold in this demonstration, he said. His right would represent the Angels' payroll. He then raised that hand quickly and brought it to an abrupt halt one inch below his left.

"There's a number there, and they stay right at that level," the Angels left-hander said Thursday at Tempe Diablo Stadium. "They're comfortable here. They don't go there."

So, Wilson said, he was not surprised that the Angels did not sign a prominent free agent in the off-season to stay below the limit. And he said that did not hurt his confidence in the roster that is starting to assemble for spring training.

Manager Mike Scioscia began his 17th season in charge of the Angels and expressed that same certainty, despite the widespread apprehension the rest of the sport has aimed at their 2016 chances.

"Whether people think we're a fluke or the next best thing to sliced bread, it doesn't matter to us," Scioscia said. "Two years ago we won 98 games, and nobody expected us to win 98 games. Last year we won 85, and people probably felt we were going to win 95. I'm confident in this team."

Thursday was the Angels' unofficial first day of spring training. Pitchers and catchers arrived to take physicals. Many threw to each other. Friday, it begins in earnest, with everyone on the field. All position players report by Tuesday, and the first full-squad workout will be Wednesday.

To confirm his confidence, Scioscia compared the current roster to those of several years past. The small-ball style of the 2002 World Series-winning team went unmentioned but understood. He guaranteed that his team will make more contact on offense than in 2015, and predicted more depth.

"We will have a more versatile, deeper look than we had last year. There is no doubt," he said. "I think we're retooled in a little different way than we've seen the last couple years. I think we'll resemble a lot of the things that we did well for a long time, not relying so much on four guys hitting the ball out of the park."

Nearly 25% of the Angels' 2015 runs were scored via home runs from Mike Trout, Albert Pujols and Kole Calhoun.

"We feel like we have a very solid core," Wilson said. "It's just a matter of: How does [designated hitter C.J.] Cron hit? How does [new third baseman Yunel] Escobar play? Those are big factors. Because, obviously, Albert, Trout and Calhoun have established themselves as known quantities. Now it's a matter of, what are the other guys?"

The issue is the same to Scioscia, only framed differently. He said he is focused on finding the best way to orient the lineup around Trout, who watched his RBI chances decrease by more than 10% last season.

Fifty-four fewer runners were on base when he batted in 2015 as compared to 2014, and he drove in 90 runs, 21 fewer than in 2014.

"I don't even know how he got to 90 RBI," Scioscia said. "His chances just were not there."

But, Scioscia said, he is intent on batting Trout third in the lineup, a strategy he switched to last June. While batting Trout second would get him roughly 18 more plate appearances over a full season, the manager believes more men will be on base for Trout if he bats third.

That choice was the only one Scioscia was willing to confirm Thursday. He wouldn't address likely lineup possibilities or his opening-day starter, but he did say Trout would be his No. 3 hitter.

Copyright © 2016, Los Angeles Times
A version of this article appeared in print on February 19, 2016, in the Sports section of the Los Angeles Times with the headline "Scioscia optimistic as Angels gather - Manager enters 17th season at helm with a team he says is deeper, more versatile." — Today's paperToday's paper | Subscribe
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