Third section in the series. The Pioneer League Orem Owlz are managed by Tom Kotchman, and are perennial winners in the league. This year's team was especially good.
A third level of Rookie-ball. Guys start to get decently projectable once they hit this league. Generally whatever numbers you put up here, you'll put up roughly similar numbers once you get to Rancho a year or two later, at least as a hitter. Pitchers are less predictable. Useful things to know:
- Moderate Hitters' League. Usually you're doing pretty well if you can keep your ERA down around 3 as a starter, though 2006 was kind of weird there. Similarly, if you can't keep your OPS around at least .800, you probably aren't going very far.
- Age Range. 19-20 is a good age to be, and if you're 18 you're probably really good. 21 is old, 22 and above is ancient, though like the AZL some college guys come in and play a partial season here before jumping several levels the next season.
- Rookie League. Take it for granted that anybody mentioned here is likely 4-5 years away, minimum.
- I am not a professional scout, nor have I watched these players in person.
Roberto Lopez- 1B Born 10/01/1985 (22) - .400/.480/.667/1.146, 67 G, 270 AB, 28 2B, 1 3B, 14 HR, 32 BB, 24 SO, 3 SB, 2 CS
I actually came very close to not including Lopez on this list, because frankly, the fact that he wasn't moved up a level at some point is a little annoying. A 22-year old putting up these numbers has no business being held back in Rookie League. I know Tom likes his championships, but come on. Lopez was clearly too good for this league (Just for comparison, Howie Kendrick was hitting .360+ at AAA when he was 22).
All that being said, it's is still impressive just HOW good Lopez was. Hitting .400 over a full season is not easy, ever, and it counts for something that this was Lopez' first year of professional ball. Just how hard is it? Well, in the last four minor leagues seasons (the ones I have ready access to records for) there have been ZERO other players who have done it, at any level. Again, this may be because normally people who show signs of being able to hit like this are promoted, but it's worth noting.
Lopez combines his outlandish hitting ability with a great batting eye as well as solid power. His 1.146 OPS is also tops in the minors the last four years. His K/BB rates were very good as well, a relative rarity among Angel prospects.
The question now becomes, where does Lopez go from here? Assuming that Trumbo is in SLC and Morales is moved up to the Majors or traded next year, Arkansas will probably have an opening at 1B, and that's where I'd put him. We likely won't know how "for real" Lopez is until then, so by all means pop your eyes out at his numbers, but just keep in mind that they are probably too good to be true.
Luis Jiminez- 3B Born 1/18/1988 (20) - .331/.361/.630/.991, 66 G, 284 AB, 28 2B, 6 3B, 15 HR, 11 BB, 45 SO, 6 SB, 2 CS
Jiminez may be the best all-around hitting prospect we've had in a while, certainly the best we've had at the Orem level. His 49 XBH are the most we've seen by any player at the pioneer league level in the last four years, and his fifteen homers led the league. He also maintained a very nifty .331 batting average.
While Jiminez is a tad to the high side of the league prospect line age-wise, he's still perfectly respectable in terms of age. Walks were scarce for him, but on the other hand he managed to keep his strike-outs down. Jiminez might head to Cedar Rapids next season, but he's probably good enough that they could send him to Rancho and I think he'd be fine.
For comparables, try this on for size- Jiminez's power numbers are significantly ahead of the pace Dallas McPherson was setting back when he was hitting in the Pioneer League at the same age (to be fair though, D-Mac walked more and hit .395 in his half-season at Provo)
Angel Castillo- OF Born 6/07/1989 (19) - .281/.345/.533/.878, 66 G, 270 AB, 20 2B, 4 3B, 14 HR, 18 BB, 85 SO, 7 SB, 2 CS
In another season, Castillo would probably be the best hitting prospect on the team. His power numbers are certainly impressive. Just in case you've gotten the impression that it must be easy to hit the ball out of Orem, since we have all these guys getting 10 or more homers, let me assure you that this is not business as usual. In the previous 3 seasons at Orem, only two other guys hit 10 or more homers: Mark Trumbo and Jeremy Moore, and of those two, only Trumbo was age 19 when he was hitting here.
However, Castillo's K-Rate represents a serious concern. It's not just bad, it's REALLY bad. If he's not careful, Castillo might very well turn into another Jordan Renz (who struck out 178 times in 118 games in Cedar Rapids back in '06). Fortunately he's still pretty young and has the potential to learn his way around it.
William Smith- LHSP Born 7/10/1989 (19) - 3.08 ERA, 73 IP, 1.08 WHIP, 6 BB, 76 K
First thing's first--he has an awesome name. There is no end to the potential nicknames and blogger in-jokes with a name like Will Smith.
Moving beyond that, he also had a great season this year, which was technically his age-18 season (baseball "age" is determined by whether your birthdate comes before or after July 1st, which means if you're born in July, your stats will claim you are a year younger than you actually were for the last half of the season). The ERA is impressive, as is his whip and the nearly 13-1 K/BB rate is downright jaw-dropping.
Some comparisons to a couple of other guys who wandered through Orem previously, and whom you shall see more of later- Sean O'Sullivan was 18 in 2006, and put up a similar WHIP and BB total while posting an ERA nearly a full run lower. However, Smith struck out significantly more people than Sean did. Jordan Walden was a year older when he came through Orem, posting a similar WHIP and ERA, as well as a similar K/9, but pitched fewer innings than Smith and gave up more walks, though Walden posted a better groundball rate than either Smith or O'Sullivan.
The big difference for Smith though is that he's a left-hander, which could be a significant factor down the road.
Also worth a mention...
Darwin Perez- SS Born 7/27/1989 (19)
Jayson Miller- LHSP Born 11/25/1985 (22)
Christopher Garcia- 1B Born 11/25/1987 (20)
Perez would have made it onto the prospects list if he'd kept up the numbers he was showing back in July, but sadly this didn't happen, and he fell off the table instead. His numbers are still perfectly respectable for a guy in his age-18 season, but they leave him looking more like David Eckstein than Howie Kendrick. Miller was technically a better pitcher than Smith, but he's four years older, and since his numbers weren't historically awesome the way Lopez's were, he doesn't make the prospect list.
Garcia is a guy who seems to have been forgotten when it came time to put a put a roster together for Cedar Rapids. After splitting time between the AZL and Orem last season at age 19 and putting up respectable numbers, he nevertheless found himself once again stuck in the AZL to begin this season. He predictably tacked an extra 70 points onto his overall OPS while otherwise putting up nearly identical numbers, so hopefully he makes the jump this time.
Orem might easily be considered the team that saw the most raw talent of any of our minor league teams this season, and they showed it by completely demolishing the rest of the Pioneer League to the tune of a 52-23 record. They are still in the playoff chase as we speak, playing the decisive final game of the semi-finals against Ogden today. Next up, Cedar Rapids.