November 24, 2015
Los Angeles Angels Top 10 Prospects
The State of the System: There are good systems, there are poor systems, then there’s 50 pounds of effluence, and then there’s the Marlins. Add another 50 pounds, and you’ve finally reached the Angels.
The Top Ten
1. Joe Gatto, RHP
Gatto is easily the most athletic pitcher in this system (he was a standout in three sports at St. Augustine’s Prep in New Jersey) and that athleticism, along with elite arm strength, gives him the most upside. He already touches 95 mph, sits comfortably 90-92 with solid plane and there’s still some projection left in his frame, so a bump in velocity isn't out of the question. The curveball varies from start to start, yet it’s a plus pitch with hard, downward break when he’s at his best. Because it’s rarely in the strike zone, however, it’s a pitch he can’t throw when behind in the count. The change is also very much a work in progress, as is his overall command, since Gatto either misses the zone entirely or pitches wild in the strike zone.
Ideally, Gatto isn’t one of the three best prospects in a system—much less the best—but this isn’t an ideal world or an ideal system. He’s a high-ceiling player who has the potential to be a frontline starter, but there’s just as good of a chance—if not better—that he ends up pitching in the bullpen.
Bret Sayre's Fantasy Take: Let’s be honest, this is not a good system for dynasty prospects, but in deep leagues (250-plus prospects owned), Gatto is someone who should be owned for his upside—which, if you really squint, could eventually be an SP3 residing in an attractive home park.
Major league ETA: 2018
2. Jahmai Jones, OF
There was never a consensus on Jones as a pre-draft prospect. One area scout believed he was the best player in the state of Georgia, while several others thought he was more of a Day 2 selection. The Angels liked him enough to buy out his commitment to North Carolina and he now possesses the highest ceiling of any position player in the system. While he has plenty of strength, it doesn’t translate in games. His swing is short to the ball, with minimal loft or weight transfer, and he doesn’t incorporate his lower half much, making him more of a gap-to-gap guy than a home-run hitter. Jones atones for that by being a natural athlete with plus speed whose quality jumps make him a legitimate 20- to 30-steal candidate.
Jones played all over the field as a prep, but the Angels moved him to the outfield where the speed, above-average arm, and instincts make him a natural candidate for center field. Some scouts believe his frame makes him a better fit for right—which would slice his value substantially—but as is it is Jones profiles as a defensive asset who can get on base and run. Scouts rave about his makeup and work ethic, so he's as likely to reach his ceiling as any prospect in the system.
Bret Sayre's Fantasy Take: It’s someone who can run! Sorry, got a little excited there. If it all comes together, he could be an Ender Inciarte type (without the .300 average), which is good enough to be a fourth or fifth outfielder in mixed leagues. However, being forever away makes him tough to invest in now.
Major league ETA: 2019
3. Victor Alcantara, RHP
Alcantara has alternated promising seasons with disappointments since 2012. Yet even coming off one of the latter, he managed to improve his stock within the system. He has good arm strength, with a four-seam fastball that touches the high 90s with late life. When everything is clicking, he’ll complement that pitch with an above-average slider that has hard, late tilt. Alcantara’s change also made progress last year, though the pitch is rarely in the strike zone and better hitters will pick up on a slight difference in arm speed.
Alcantara’s issues—and the causes of that ugly stat line up there—come in the form of command and delivery: both poor enough that he profiles best as a reliever. He struggles to locate any of his secondary pitches, and all the effort in his delivery takes a toll on his stamina and durability. The Angels continue to believe he can start, but it looks increasingly likely that his impact will come in the bullpen, where he has enough stuff to profile as a traditional closer.
Bret Sayre's Fantasy Take: If the reasonable best-case scenario for a pitcher is that he’s getting holds and maybe can strike guys out, that means you shouldn’t worry about him in dynasty leagues.
Major league ETA: 2017
4. Taylor Ward, C
The selection of Ward caused many (including me) to mock the Angels, as this was at least a round earlier than most scouts projected the Fresno State backstop would/deserved to go. Despite his big numbers this summer, it still looks like a reach. The swing has a good deal of moving parts, and while he gets through the zone with average bat speed, anything hard and on the inner half gives him trouble. There is some natural uppercut in the swing, and he’s shown that he can drive the ball into the right-center gap, so there’s reason to believe he can put up average power totals for a backstop. Still, this is a player who took advantage of playing against bad competition in friendly hitting confines, and who is very unlikely to carry these stats to the upper levels.
While Ward lacks offensive upside, he does possess a strong defensive skill set. The arm is plus, and he’s a quality athlete who gets rid of the ball quickly and accurately. The receiving skills—like every catching prospect ever—are a work in progress, but those who saw him in Fresno were impressed with his ability to block balls in the dirt; they also claim he’ll be a natural framer in time.
Bret Sayre's Fantasy Take: Nope.
Major league ETA: 2017
5. Kyle Kubitza, 3B
Kubitza had a chance to establish himself as the Angels’ third baseman of the future, but his experience in The Show brought about more questions than answers. Kubitza lacks the ideal power you’d want from a player who doesn’t have the athleticism to play anything but the corner infield. He does have an advanced approach, and his line-drive swing allows him to make hard contact to all parts of the field. He’s a sure-handed defender with a plus arm, and though he’s not fleet of foot, his instincts are good enough to project at the hot corner in the short term.
The lack of power makes it impossible to project Kubitza as a first-division regular, but the approach is good enough that he should become a solid bench bat—one who can give regulars a day off against right-handed pitchers.
Fantasy Impact: Nope.
Major league ETA: Debuted in 2015
6. Roberto Baldoquin, SS
When you’re given the the largest bonus ever awarded to a Cuban amateur hitter, you’re not expected to struggle in the friggin’ Cal League. Yet here he is. Baldoquin flashed very little offensive upside, showing some bat speed but struggling to make consistent hard contact with a swing that features some glide and isn’t always in sync. The bat speed and his strong wrists make fringe-average power a possibility, but it certainly didn’t translate into games, as you can see from his 14 extra-base hits in nearly 300 at-bats. He’ll make the plays in front of him defensively and possesses enough arm strength to play short, but he’s a below-average runner who might have to move to second or third. A lack of speed doesn’t always equate to a move, it just makes the margin of error very thin.
Simply put, Baldoquin was among the most disappointing prospects in baseball. It’s not unheard of to see big bonus players struggle in their first year, but nothing Baldoquin showed suggested he’s more than a backup infielder, and organizational fodder is not out of the question. That’s not a great return on $8 million.
Bret Sayre's Fantasy Take: There’s probably not much room left for optimism here, but if I’m going to gamble on any prospect in this system outside of the top two, it’s Baldoquin. The transition from Cuba to the United States can be tough for many, many reasons and dynasty owners should be willing to forgive a fair amount of disappointment in the first stateside year. That said, he was bad and Baldoquin shouldn’t be owned unless your league rosters at least 300 prospects.
Major league ETA: 2017
7. Jake Jewell, RHP
Despite hailing from a school that sounds fictional, Jewell had his share of supporters coming out of the 2014 draft. One scouting director told me he thought Jewell was the second-best relief prospect in that year’s class. The Angels have given him a chance to start, though, and so far there’s been more good than bad. He throws a four-seam fastball that’s plus-plus, routinely touching the high 90s and sitting comfortably 94-96 with life. He doesn’t command the pitch very well, which is enough of an issue that it might force him back to a relief role. He’ll also throw an average slider that doesn’t feature huge break, but the spin makes it competent. He’s shown the makings of a change that’s nothing but a “show me” pitch at this point.
The big development for Jewell in 2015 was his ability to throw strikes, which was the issue in college that led so many to assume his ceiling was as a reliever. The lack of a third useful pitch makes it unlikely he’s anything more than a back-end guy, but this is a player who could jump up this list in 2016 if he shows the same stuff/control at the higher levels.
Bret Sayre's Fantasy Take: This is a bad profile for fantasy leagues. Stay away until he makes real strides with his secondary offerings.
Major league ETA: 2017
8. Julio Garcia, SS
It’s tough grading a player this far away, but the reports I received on Garcia were mostly positive—even though there’s a lot of work to be done with the bat. The swing is simple and short; there’s almost no power now, but he should fill out enough to put the ball into the gaps, allowing his above-average speed to claim extra bases. Most of his contact is weak, however, and he’ll have to improve the bat speed and fix some timing issues to hit for average.
There’s considerably less work to be done with Garcia’s glove. He possesses excellent instincts with an above-average throwing arm—which could be plus in time—and his range gives him a chance to be above average at the premium position. The floor is defensive-minded backup, but there’s just enough with the bat that it’s possible he could become an everyday player up the middle.
Fantasy Impact: Nope.
9. Nate Smith, LHP
It was a tale of two halves for Smith, as the southpaw impressed in his time in Double-A but was lit up upon his promotion to the PCL. He’ll throw four pitches, the best of which is a change that has late tumble and mimics the arm speed of his average two- and four-seam fastballs. He’ll also mix in an average slider and fringe-average curveball, but the pitches run into each other and he’d be better off dumping the curve and seeing if he can get a more pure slider. His ability to throw all four pitches for strikes and repeat his delivery gives him a chance to start, but he profiles best as a swingman who can fill in for a start or nine rather than someone you trust in the rotation.
Bret Sayre's Fantasy Take: Maybe Smith is the kind of pitcher who can have some short-term success in a strong park, which could make him worth keeping an eye on in AL-only leagues this coming season, but long-term answer to anything he is not.
Major league ETA: 2016
10. Chad Hinshaw, OF
When senior-signees make your top 10, you can either question what has gone wrong or applaud your scouts for finding a productive player this late. For the Angels, it’s a little bit of both. Hinshaw pairs a high-contact, line-drive stroke with the best approach in the system, routinely working counts into his favor and getting on base via the walk. He’s not an elite runner, but he reads pitchers well, helping to compensate for the fact there’s almost no power to project. He’s also a quality defender in center, using plus speed and quality jumps to make the plays you’d expect, and then some you might not. Ideally this is a fourth outfielder, but it isn’t completely insane to believe that Hinshaw could become a regular in center.
Bret Sayre's Fantasy Take: It’s someone with speed again! There’s just very little else here to like, which makes him another guy to monitor in AL-only leagues over the next couple of seasons—especially with such a thin system (fewer prospects means more opportunities).
Major league ETA: 2016
Five that are just interesting
Brendon Sanger, OF – Sanger was an offensive stalwart during his time at Florida Atlantic University, and after joining the Angels he continued to rake, hitting .320/.420/.456 in just over 250 plate appearances. As you might guess from the on-base percentage, he’s a patient hitter who doesn’t beat himself by swinging at pitches outside of the zone; he also possesses a line-drive swing with extension that allows him to shoot the ball to left field. Speaking of left field, that’s what Sanger is limited to, as he’s an average runner with a fringe-average arm. The bat will have to carry him and as good as the approach is, there are real doubts about whether or not that can happen.
Grayson Long, RHP – The Angels took Long in the third round of June’s draft, which essentially split the difference of the evaluators I spoke with who saw him this spring. There’s zero projection left in his frame, but he has four pitches that flash average and he can touch 94 with his four-seam fastball. His durable frame and ability to throw strikes make him a potential fifth starter, but expecting anything more than that is wishcasting. That’s not ideal from a third-round pick, but it goes in line with the Angels choosing floor over upside in the 2015 draft.
Jeremy Rhoades, RHP – If you don’t keep the ball down in the Cal League, you’re gonna have a bad time. Rhoades learned that the hard way, as he gave up 14(!) homers in just over 50 innings upon his promotion to Inland Empire. Despite the struggles, there’s enough here to project a potential quality hurler. Rhoades has two plus pitches in a mid-90s four-seam fastball and a power slider with bite. Both the change and command are closer to 30-grade than 50, though, so it would make sense for Los Angeles to see if the stuff will play up in shorter spurts.
Natanael Delgado, OF – Delgado has the talent to do it all someday, but the in-game skills to someday tend bar for a living. He will show a smooth swing with natural loft from the left side, and he’ll show plus raw power during BP. Little of that shows up in games yet, as his complete lack of approach makes him an easy out. He also hasn’t made any progress with the glove, routinely taking bad routes and struggling with the basic mechanics. Is there still a high ceiling here? Sure, but he’s the definition of a boom-or-bust prospect, and bust looks far more likely.
Austin Robichaux, RHP – Another member of the 2014 class, Robichaux is your prototypical back-end starter candidate: a pitcher without a plus pitch or a true weakness (though not having a plus pitch is its own weakness). He commands both his two- and four-seam fastballs to all four quadrants, and he’ll mix in three average secondary pitches with his slider, curve, and change. He throws all four pitches for strikes, but scouts complain that he pitches to contact too often, which makes sense given his weak strikeout totals (92 in 142 innings pitched). If any of these pitches makes a step up he’s a potential no. 4, with long reliever or sixth starter also in the realm of possibility.
Notable omission: Kaleb Cowart, 3B – This is the worst system in baseball, so you might be wondering how in the world someone with Cowart’s pedigree isn’t a top 10 prospect? Well, it’s pretty simple: Outside of a 62 game sample in some of the friendliest hitting confines in baseball, Cowart has shown a 40 hit tool with 40 power. Even as a plus defender with a very strong arm, there’s just nothing that suggests that he’ll ever be anything more than a defense-first backup, and while we’ve seen guys like that have big-league roles (Jack Hannahan), they are few and far between. If this was a top 15 he’d be there, but it’s not. So he isn’t.
Take away the no. 1 guy, and this becomes one of the worst collections of 25-and-under talent in the league. As is, Trout heads the list for the sixth consecutive year and you can pretty much Sharpie him in for next season’s as well. Trout has overwhelmingly been the league’s best player since the start of 2012, and it feels unjust that he has only one MVP to show for it. He very easily could have won four, and it’s fair to wonder whether the snubs will affect his legacy decades from now.
Following Trout are a pair of southpaws with 54 big-league starts between them. Heaney posted a strong rookie season in 2015, looking every bit like a mid-rotation starter following a promotion to Los Angeles last June. On his best days, Heaney works with a plus fastball and slider, and he gets the most out of his stuff with strong sequencing and a good feel for pitching. If there was a blip in Heaney’s campaign, it was that he had trouble putting away good right-handed hitters. They slugged over .400 against him last season, and limiting damage when he doesn’t have the platoon advantage will be important for him going forward. It’ll be interesting to monitor the progress of his changeup, a fairly firm offering with inconsistent depth at present.
Skaggs is the enigma of the list. He’s significantly underperformed his peripherals throughout his career, but health is the bigger question mark. He underwent Tommy John surgery in August 2014, and while he considered accelerating his rehab last spring, he opted to delay his return until 2016. There’s some evidence to suggest that he made the right call: As a group, pitchers who wait longer to return to the mound fare slightly better than those who rush back within a year of surgery. If he makes a full recovery, he could be a solid no. 3.
Tropeano just missed the cutoff for the prospect list. He made eight appearances for the Angels last season, and was a reliable source of innings when called upon. He projects as a back-end starter long term, armed with a plus changeup, a low-90s fastball, above-average command, and a ton of moxie.
Some might be surprised to see Perez ahead of Ward, but at present, I’ll take the sure big-leaguer over the relatively untested first-rounder with a questionable hit tool. Perez isn’t flashy, but he’s a good defensive catcher and he should hit for more power than he did last year.
There are a few others who merit a mention: Mike Morin, Cam Bedrosian, and Trevor Gott have all appeared out of the bullpen, with mixed success. Bedrosian and Gott haven’t missed as many bats as their stuff suggests, while Morin took a battering entirely out of line with his peripherals a season ago. Finally, Kaleb Cowart debuted last season, and while he no longer projects as an impact player, he could see big-league time in a reserve role this season.
Ultimately, the Angels don’t have a deep crop of young players. Plenty of the ones they have are big-league contributors though, and Trout is Trout. With no impact talent in the pipeline, the Angels are under a lot of pressure to win before Albert Pujols ages beyond use and while Trout is an Angel. To take a step forward in 2016, the Angels need guys like Skaggs, Tropeano, Perez, and Morin to contribute above what they provided last season. — Brendan Gawlowski
It’s difficult to judge this group, as several new faces are in new roles, but the hiring of Eppler brings a chief who has a quality scouting background. While he’s best known as the Director of Pro Scouting for the Yankees (and Brian Cashman’s right-hand man), he also spent time on the amateur side while in Colorado, and though it’s a large task to finish (begin?) rebuilding this system, it’s one Eppler and his staff are qualified to accomplish.
The Angels have been willing to spend big money on the free-agent market, but with the regrettable exception of Baldoquin, they have been frugal—to put it nicely—with their draft and international free agent decisions. Some of that can be blamed on the new allocation system and the fact the Angels have given up a number of picks to sign free agents, but they have not taken chances with the picks they have had, going the safe route with players like Ward early and often.
That being said, several teams have been able to build strong systems without spending big; the Angels player-development just hasn’t done a good enough job of developing players. They’ve historically underinvested in that department, and it could be seen in their Latin American facilities, their use of technology in minor-league ballparks, and many smaller areas. That’s an issue that the club has tried to fix in recent years, but they’ve been playing catchup, and it shows. There are far too many Delgados and Hunter Greens in this group. While some of that is bad luck, ultimately it comes down to Scales and his group to flesh these players out. There’s something to be said about the process of the players acquired, but ultimately it’s a results-driven business, and the results haven’t been good enough on the player-development side.