By Greg Beacham/AP Sports Writer
ANAHEIM (AP) – Albert Pujols got to work early and stayed late at spring training. He’s honed his famed swing and gotten to know his new teammates, fastidiously preparing to give a full return on the biggest investment the Los Angeles Angels have ever made.
The Angels can’t wait to reap the dividends during the most anticipated season in franchise history.
The three-time NL MVP doesn’t appear to be missing a beat in his transition to the AL this spring, sliding into the heart of the Angels’ order with the same work ethic and power that enticed Los Angeles owner Arte Moreno to commit $240 million to the Dominican slugger over the next 10 years.
“Everybody here knows what I can do and, if I’m healthy, I’m going to try to do that,’’ Pujols said. “I don’t know what kind of numbers I can put up this year because I don’t get caught up in numbers, but I can tell you I’m going to give 110 percent for sure every day to help this organization to win. … All I can do is go out there and get myself ready every day.’’
While he prepares in Arizona, Pujols is at the center of the Angels’ marketing efforts all over Southern California, with eye-catching billboards only featuring the slugger’s back in a No. 5 jersey and a few simple slogans, often “El Hombre.’’
Pujols didn’t like that concept, saying it was too close to revered Cardinals slugger Stan “The Man’’ Musial. Still, it’s tough to blame the Angels for crowing over their pickup – particularly in Hollywood or the San Fernando Valley, where baseball fans in the longtime Dodgers strongholds might be coaxed down the I-5 freeway to get a look at arguably the greatest slugger of his generation.
“He works hard at everything,’’ Angels manager Mike Scioscia said. “I think a guy with his talent, they have the talent, but there’s a reason they play to such a high level. It doesn’t surprise us that he works this hard.’’
Pujols isn’t the only new addition that’s looking good for the Angels, who changed general managers and reloaded their roster after finishing 10 games behind Texas in the AL West standings last season and missing the playoffs in consecutive years for the first time in a decade. Even though the Angels had another winning season and even outdrew the Dodgers with more than 3 million fans at Angel Stadium, Moreno paid top dollar for even more elite talent.
Left-hander C.J. Wilson, who got $77.5 million in a five-year deal that became below-the-fold news when Pujols signed hours later at the winter meetings, has been sharp so far in his hometown club’s deep rotation alongside Jered Weaver, Dan Haren and Ervin Santana.
Catcher Chris Iannetta appears ready to shore up the Angels’ most deficient position last season, working with his new pitching staff and providing more offense than the players he replaced after arriving in a trade with Colorado.
And the Angels might even figure out a way to get more production at third base. Mark Trumbo, who led the Angels in homers and RBIs last season as a rookie first baseman, has looked fairly sharp across the diamond at third this spring, although he’s still adjusting to the new position.
“You don’t call it the hot corner for nothing,’’ Trumbo said.
The Angels are even cautiously optimistic they’ll add another talented bat to their lineup this year – one they haven’t seen in nearly two years. Kendrys Morales, the Cuban slugger who broke his ankle jumping on home plate in early 2010, was expected to return to spring games this week.
If Morales’ recovery goes well, the Angels would have three power-hitting first basemen on their roster, either giving them impressive depth or ample ingredients for a trade.
The Angels’ rotation appears rock-solid, but the final spot is still open. Jerome Williams, the right-hander who revitalized his career with a late-season surge last fall, hasn’t been able to pitch for two weeks after straining his hamstring, leaving Scioscia sorting among prospects Garrett Richards, Trevor Bell, Eric Hurley and Brad Mills for a fifth starter.
The bullpen, an Angels strength for most of the previous decade, was decidedly average last year. Los Angeles added LaTroy Hawkins for $3 million, while fellow veteran Jason Isringhausen is attempting to pitch his way onto the roster. Closer Jordan Walden earned an All-Star berth and 32 saves as a rookie last year, but also blew 10 saves.
But with a long season ahead, the Angels appear to have everything necessary to earn a postseason spot. Outfielder Torii Hunter, the Angels’ emotional leader and unofficial team captain, can’t remember being this excited for a season to begin since he was a youngster with the Minnesota Twins many years ago.
“It’s starting to get more intense,’’ Hunter said. “There’s a lot of chemistry formed down here. Every player is trying to get in a rhythm, and we want to take that into the season.’’