Top Prospect Performances At The Half: Pitchers

USA TODAY Sports

Taking a look at the top pitching performances on the Angels farm through July 12th.

Keep in mind that this is not a traditional top prospect list because it focuses entirely on 2013 contributions. I rank guys according to advanced metrics which, for position players, include batting runs above average, positional adjustment, defense, and a replacement level calculation that scales the total to "Wins Above Replacement" (though the concept of replacement level doesn't really apply to minor leaguers). I use a standard "runs allowed based" WAR formula for pitchers.

1. Brandon Hynick, 28. AA. 3.0 WAR. 8 Wins, 2.84 ERA. 82.1 IP, 72 hits, 8 HR 49k/14bb

The Angels desperately needed arms to soak up AA innings entering 2013, so brought Hynick in as a minor league free agent. He's done exactly what the Angels hoped he would do, but don't expect a promotion anytime soon: so far in Hynick's career, he's put up a solid 3.38 ERA in AA, but a much less impressive 5.08 ERA over 305 AAA innings. Hynick usually pitches in the mid to high 80's, but locates well and can vary the velocity and shape of his breaking ball, giving him a weapon potent enough to knock out Texas Leaguers. He has an interesting delivery, tilting his front shoulder towards the sky, then stands tall while coming way over the top, hiding the ball and creating good angle to the plate. It's working for him. Well, that and the Travs' cavernous home park.

2. Mark Sappington, 22. A+, 2.7 WAR. 6 Wins, 3.66 ERA, 110.2 IP, 94 hits, 8 HR, 91k/52bb

Sappington racked up 2.3 WAR in a dominant first month, looking very much like a top flight pitching prospect breaking out. Something that the Angels desperately need, as we all know. A disastrous month followed - Sappington gave away half of his accrued value - but then he turned another corner in mid June and has been solid ever since. His best pitch is a big, heavy fastball, which sat between 94 and 96 in spring training. Consistent command has never been his thing, and whether he can improve it will ultimately determine his ceiling. He's leaned on a mid 80's slider since becoming a pro, but experimented with a slower curveball this year. He also throws a change-up that everyone hopes will be average one day. He reportedly tips those offspeed offerings, adding to his list of mechanical issues that he needs to work out. His most likely outcome remains bullpen arm, but we'll see.

3. Jarrett Grube, 31, AAA, 2.6 WAR. 7 Wins, 3.84 ERA, 105.1 IP, 99 hits, 111k/37bb

Released by the Mariners after a disastrous 2012 first half in the PCL, Grube joined the Travelers and pitched competently down the stretch. He returned to the Texas League in 2013, fanned 30% of opposing batters through 7 starts and earned a promotion back to AAA, where he's held his own so far. I wonder if he views the PCL as his personal white whale. Grube throws an 88-92 fastball that he locates well, mostly, but when I've seen him, his best results came primarily from leaning heavily on a potent slider/change combo, giving him sort of a Jerome Williams vibe (though the comp breaks down when you compare actual pitch mix). The offspeed arsenal might make him an interesting middle innings guy in the big leagues.

4. Alexander Keudell, 23, 2.4 WAR. 5 Wins, 3.58 ERA, 93 IP, 88 hits, 65k/26bb

Keudell has a nice amateur back story: he helped University of Oregon baseball go from fledgling program to NCAA powerhouse, earning PAC 12 player of the year honors in the process. The Rays selected him in the 27th round as a senior pick, then promptly cut him before his second professional season. I don't know why they did that so soon, because his 85+ mph fastball and plus curveball were mowing down rookie ball hitters. The Angels picked him up, and he's rewarded them with a strong A-Ball showing. He's stumbled a bit in two starts with High A Inland Empire, but don't count him out. "I feel like I've been overlooked my whole entire life," he says; I know I'll be keeping tabs on him.

5. Mike Piazza, 26, 2.1 WAR. 4 Wins, 3.31 ERA, 70.2 IP, 64 hits, 75k/31bb

Since signing as a non-drafted free agent in 2009, reliever Mike Piazza has recorded 306 strikeouts in 306 professional innings while posting a 3.17 ERA, besting the performance of hundreds of guys drafted in his class. It isn't clear why a team didn't take a flier on him in the later rounds: At 6'4" and 205 lbs, he has the classic pitchers' frame, and he put up decent numbers as a starter at Florida Tech. He likely wound up with the Angels due to Tom Kotchman's omniscience regarding all things Florida baseball.

He graduated with honors and seems to be generally a sharp guy; check out his interview with Rev here.

Piazza's fastball ranges between 88 and 92 mph, and he has enough command to get away with it. His change and slider compliment the fastball well, and while both lack wow factor, they've been highly effective against AA hitters. He's seen heavy duty with the Travs' these past two seasons, bouncing between the rotation and bullpen, and my hope is that his arm doesn't fall off. Injury is a very real concern here, because the organization has ridden his arm hard these past two years. If the Angels are smart, Piazza's already shared a lunch or two with Dipoto, because he seems like a future FO type.

6. Michael Morin, 22, 2.1 WAR. 3 Wins, 1.53 ERA, 47 IP, 35 hits, 48k/7bb

The Angels may have picked up a steal with Morin when they drafted him in the 12th round last year. He commands his low 90's fastball well, and his change-up is flat-out devastating. I was mildly surprised that the Angels converted him to relief so soon - I'd be curious to see how he holds up in the rotation, and it's not like the Angels are exactly overrun with competent A-ball starters - but he may be useful in the bullpen sooner rather than later. He could have a Robert Coello type impact for the Halos due to that one plus-plus pitch. This guy is the safest bet on this list to have a long big league career, though probably only in the middle innings.

7. Matt Shoemaker, 26, 2.1 WAR. 8 wins, 4.62 ERA, 128.2 IP, 146 hits, 111k/22bb

Shoemaker has earned his shot at Anaheim. The unflappable righty has steadily improved his rate stats against the minor's best hitters while gritting out 1.5 seasons in pitchers' purgatory (otherwise known as the PCL). His K's are up by 5% over 2012 while his walk rate, already below average, is down a point. He currently leads the PCL in punch outs . All of those strikes make him vulnerable to a fair number of hits, so the rate stats don't scream dominance, but there's more to his value than that. The guy's a workhorse, and generally cleans up his own messes. After leading the PCL in innings pitched last year, he's doing it again this year. He's averaged 6.3 innings per start over that time, remarkable for a guy pitching the bulk of his games in places like Salt Lake, Las Vegas, and Colorado Springs. The fastball is pretty straight, but consistently sits in the low 90's and he spots it well. He has a real weapon in his splitter, which keeps lefties off balance, and the slider plays up against righties.

Shoemaker's apparently who the Mets wanted in return for Cowgill. Dipoto obviously wasn't stupid enough to make that trade, but I'm confounded as to why he keeps going to arms like Enright, Buckner or even Roth when he has Shoemaker stashed with the Bees. At this point, I'd wager Shoemaker's performance floor is where Hanson and Blanton are performing now, and with a little luck he could be an average major league pitcher through his peak. I'm sure he has more upside than Hanson. He's the kind of guy who becomes a minor league free agent, only to blossom like Ryan Vogelsong or Miguel Gonzalez after he joins another organization.

8. Kramer Sneed, 24, 2.0 WAR. 7 Wins. 3.12 ERA, 66.1 IP, 57 hits, 64k/20bb

Sneed came from the Yankees in exchange for Vernon Wells, so he's already contributed big-time to the organization beyond the steady 2013 competence. Apparently, on a good day, with the wind at his back, he can hit the low 90's, but I'm skeptical about that scouting report because of his low draft position and the Yankee's willingness to toss him into the Wells deal. Big lefties who pitch in the 90's consistently and throw strikes have more value than that. Dipoto has said that he views Sneed as a potential bullpen piece, but given the dearth of starters in the Halos' system, he will likely stick in the rotation when he advances to AA in the second half or next year. He's the one arm on this list whom I haven't seen pitch, so I don't have a personal scouting report on him yet.

9. Ryan Crowley, 22, 2.0 WAR. 8 Wins, 3.23 ERA, 92 IP, 85 hits, 71k/25bb

Crowely could have a Matt Shoemaker type career in the Angels organization if his command sharpens up. He has decent velocity for a lefty, but the pitch is straight, so if he doesn't locate it properly he gets slammed. His curveball is a nice offering and gives both lefties and righties fits. His change is passable. He has consistent mechanics, good demeanor on the mound, and can pile up lots of innings when he avoids the crooked number. He probably doesn't have a big-league ceiling, but he could stick in professional baseball for a long time.

10. Jeremy Berg, 26, 1.7 WAR. 3 Wins, 2.83 ERA, 54 IP, 50 hits, 42k/11bb

Berg is doing his usual yeoman's work in AAA, but his balls-in-play profile is a little confounding. He's traditionally been a groundball guy, which allows him to succeed despite the ho-hum k-rate, but this year he's not killing many weeds. Rather, he's getting guys out with a well-above average 15% pop-up rate. I haven't seen him throw yet this season, so don't know if his pitch mix has has changed. He's side-armer who lives in the mid 80's with good control, in the tradition of Darren O'Day, and I've always been impressed by the shape he achieves on a slow but big-breaking curveball.

11. Eric Cendejas, 25, 1.6 WAR. 6 Wins, 3.04 ERA, 53.1 IP, 50 hits, 43k/11bb

Speaking of side-armers, the Halos just promoted Cendajas to AAA, and so far the righty has held his own. Fastball (don't have the velocity numbers, but I imagine mid 80's), breaking ball and change-up. We'll see if he can continue to get more advanced hitters out.

12. Lay Batista, 23, 1.5 WAR. 3 Wins, 4.11 ERA, 76.2 IP, 73 hits, 66k/22bb

When I saw Batista last year, my thought was, this guy just annoys hitters into outs. Sort of a funky Jon Garland type. He hides the ball well with a herky-jerky delivery, can really slow down the game's pace, throws mostly strikes from a three quarters angle, and at his best induces weak contact with a sinking fastball, slurvy breaking ball, and change-up. He's undoubtedly benefiting from the pitching friendly characteristics of his home park. It will be interesting to see if he earns a jump to AAA in 2014, or if the Halos will prefer to see him continue to eat innings with the Travs.

13. Kevin Johnson, 24, 1.3 WAR. 3 Wins, 2.20 ERA, 41 IP, 37 hits, 22k/11bb

At some point before the 2012 season, the Halos decided that they really liked Kevin Johnson, and jumped him ahead of a lot of guys with better track records. I'm sure they had their reasons, but I've never really understood them. According to Baseball America, Johnson's boosted his velocity in pro ball, going from the mid 80's to the low 90's. His FB gets good downhill plane from his stay-tall delivery, and he got a lot groundballs against A-Ballers. He just didn't get them in AAA last year, and he's never struck guys out because his slider isn't very good. Predictably, he flopped with the Bees, and was demoted to AA. He's there again in 2013, and is back to his ground-balling, low K ways, trying to earn another crack at the PCL.

14. Michael Roth, 23, 1.2 WAR. 2 wins, 3.61 ERA, 47.1 IP, 39 hits, 31k/18bb

Sam Miller describes Roth as a "30-stuff/80-makeup" guy, and I see no reason to argue with that assessment. However, I do want to point out that Roth hit 90 more times in spring training and in his early big league appearances than anyone (that I read) had expected coming into the season, so there's some reason to believe that his stuff will continue to evolve.

Needless to say, he was rushed to the big leagues by a misguided (or just desperate) decision by the FO. I suppose they were thinking, with improved velocity, already good command, and outstanding maturity, that Roth was as good now as he was ever going to be, so why not see what he's got at the big league level? The results so far: a 32% line-drive rate against, and 24 hits in 18 innings. It looks like Roth may have the rest of the season with the Angels to prove that the BABIP stuff is just due to small sample size. He seems eminently like-able, so I'm rooting for him, though he would probably be better off learning his lessons in the Texas League.

15. Billy Buckner, 29, 1.2 WAR. 6 Wins, 4.50 ERA, 72 IP, 72 hits, 61k/35bb

The prototypical journey-man, Buckner keeps hanging on to the tail end of big league depth charts, despite dealing with a steady decline in velocity through his late 20's. He currently averages 87 mph with his fastball, throwing it barely half of the time, but he plies his junk with guile. While I'd rather see Shoemaker at the big league level, you have to give props to Buckner for his ability to remain effective against good competition.

16. R.J. Alvarez, 22, 1.1 WAR. 3 Wins, 2.78 ERA, 35.2 IP, 25 hits, 56k/18bb

In my opinion, Alvarez is the second best pitching prospect in the organization, behind only newly acquired Hunter Green. He has a violent delivery and occasionally looses the strikezone completely, so there is some risk of injury and/or collapse, but he misses bats more frequently than anyone else in the organization (37% k-rate so far this year). During spring training his FB sat at 95-97. His slider was slower than average, sitting at 78-80, but had huge break. If Alavarez' command improves even a bit, he could move extremely quickly, possibly in time to inject some phenom magic into the 2014 season.

...

You'll notice that the list above contains few guys - very few guys - who are on the young side for their league. Here are the closest teenagers:

Jose Rodriguez, 17, 0.9 WAR for the DSL Angels. 24 K's to 5 bb's in 23.2 innings. A skinny tall kid with lots of projection, and that's about all I know. He's pitching in relief, but has been highly effective so far.

Eduar Lopez, 18, 0.2 WAR for the DSL Angels. He was the DSL leader in k-rate last year as a 17-year old, and I expected him to pitch stateside this year, but he instead returned to the DR following spring training. He's still fanning guys like crazy, but his command is clearly a mess, and he's walking almost 20% of the batters he faces. Probably best that he works those issues out in a familiar, low-stakes setting.

Yency Almonte, 19, 0.2 WAR with the Orem Owlz. Almonte's one of the raw, projectable pitchers trying to establish themselves in the Owlz' rotation. So far, Almonte's been the best of the lot. He is really loose and athletic-looking on the mound, but command and general pitchability are a challenge. His secondary stuff didn't have a chance to shine when I saw him, mostly because he was working from behind in the count so often. Alfonso Alcantara, Keynan Middleton, and Arjenis Fernandez are all struggling with the same issues, but more so. Alcantara reportedly hit 100mph in instructional league, but his velocity was down to the low 90's a couple of weeks ago, and his delivery looks roughest out of the four. Middleton has a great slider, but has to lean on it heavily to get through lineups, as his FB isn't there yet in terms of command or velocity (I do like him a lot though: completely unflappable on the mound, tremendously athletic, and he will get better with experience). Fernandez has a good change-up, but, well I didn't see much else worth reporting.

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