Angels' roster hinges on health of stars

Richards hopes to regain ace status; Pujols recovering from surgery

Angels' roster hinges on health of stars

With Spring Training fast approaching, MLB.com takes a look at a different aspect of this year's Angels squad each day this week. Today's topic: Predicting the 25-man roster.

After a winter of retooling, the Angels will head to Spring Training with an improved roster and a few crucial holes filled. After a disappointing fourth-place finish in the American League West last year, the Halos are hoping their additions will help launch them into contention in 2017. Here's a look at who appears primed to make the club's 25-man roster this year.

Catcher (2): Martin Maldonado, Carlos Perez
The Angels made a catching swap over the offseason, acquiring Maldonado from the Brewers in exchange for Jett Bandy. Maldonado, 30, batted .202 with a .683 OPS, matched his career high with eight home runs in 2016 and is known as an elite pitch framer. Maldonado will likely enter the season as the Halos' primary backstop, though he has never played in more than 79 games in a season. He'll split time behind the plate with Perez, who hit .209 with a .568 OPS and five homers over 87 games with the Angels last season.

First base (3): Luis Valbuena, C.J. Cron, Albert Pujols
Los Angeles has a surplus of corner infielders after signing Valbuena to a two-year, $15 million deal last month, though their playing time will depend largely on Pujols' health. The veteran underwent foot surgery in December and is expected to be out for four months, which could cause him to miss the start of the season. In that case, the left-handed-hitting Valbuena would likely receive most of his at-bats at first base, with Cron serving as the designated hitter. If Pujols is healthy, he'll likely take over the majority of DH duties, giving the Angels the option to platoon Valbuena and Cron at first.

Valbuena on signing with Halos

Second base (1): Danny Espinosa
The Angels filled the hole at second by acquiring Espinosa from the Nationals in December. A switch-hitter, Espinosa, 29, batted .209 with a .684 OPS and a career-high 24 home runs in 157 games in 2016. While he primarily played shortstop last season, Espinosa has extensive experience at second and will provide a defensive upgrade at the position.

Third base (1): Yunel Escobar
Escobar will reprise his role as the Angels' everyday third baseman after hitting .304 with a .745 OPS in 132 games last season. Valbuena could also earn some occasional starts at third and spell Escobar against tough right-handed pitchers. Espinosa is entering the final year of his contract and will be a free agent at the end of the season.

Shortstop (1): Andrelton Simmons
Simmons will once again be the Halos' starting shortstop, providing premier defense up the middle. The 27-year-old also took a step forward offensively in 2016, hitting .281 with a .324 on-base percentage. While not known for his power, Simmons does possess some speed and stole 10 bases for the Angels last season.

Simmons' slick play

Utility (1): Cliff Pennington
Pennington will serve as Los Angeles' primary backup middle infielder, though he has also seen time at first and third. The 32-year-old switch-hitter batted .209 with a .573 OPS in 74 games with the Angels in 2016. Kaleb Cowart, Jefry Marte and Dustin Ackley could also challenge Pennington for the reserve role during Spring Training.

Outfield (4): Mike Trout, Cameron Maybin, Kole Calhoun, Ben Revere
The Angels will boast a solid cast of outfielders led by Trout, who will enter the season as the reigning AL MVP. He'll be flanked in center field by the newly acquired Maybin in left and Calhoun in right. Revere, a free-agent addition, will serve as the fourth outfielder and is capable of playing all three spots.

Trout remains Angels' star

Starting pitchers (5): Garrett Richards, Tyler Skaggs, Matt Shoemaker, Ricky Nolasco, Jesse Chavez
Los Angeles' rotation was ravaged by injuries last year, but the club is hoping for better luck on the health front in 2017. That begins with Richards, the Angels' unquestioned ace who appears to have avoided Tommy John surgery by opting for stem-cell treatment. Skaggs made only 10 starts for the Halos last season after returning in July from Tommy John surgery, though he has shown flashes of dominance. Shoemaker enjoyed a solid 2016 campaign, but missed the final month of the season due to a skull fracture he suffered when he was struck by a comebacker. Nolasco pitched well for the Angels after being acquired from the Twins at the Trade Deadline. The Angels will hold an open competition during Spring Training for the fifth rotation spot, though Chavez, a free-agent signee, will likely enter as the front-runner.

Richards fans six in solid start

Bullpen (7): Huston Street, Cam Bedrosian, Andrew Bailey, JC Ramirez, Mike Morin, Jose Alvarez, Kirby Yates
Street, Bedrosian and Bailey are the only locks for the Angels' bullpen, and all three will compete to be the closer. Street probably has the advantage, due to his experience and proven success pitching the ninth, though Bedrosian enjoyed a breakout season last year before undergoing surgery to remove a blood clot. The Angels are expected to try Ramirez as a starter during Spring Training, but he has a good chance of landing in the bullpen since he's out of options. Morin, Alvarez and Yates will likely round out Los Angeles' relief corps. Alex Meyer, Bud Norris, Keynan Middleton and Yusmeiro Petit could also put themselves into the bullpen mix with strong springs.

Maria Guardado covers the Angels for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.