"Help is very much not on the way for the Angels" begins Baseball Prospectus' review of the Halos' system. "Obviously this is a farm system with a lot of problems. There is almost a complete lack of impact prospects" writes John Sickels at minor league ball. I'm sure Baseball America will add another pithy slam in their upcoming review tomorrow.
So yeah, the system isn't attracting much in the way of positive press. Despite that, more Angels' affiliates played postseason baseball than any other teams' save the Astros (damn you Astros, again!!! And a hat tip to Alden Gonzalez for making these particular points). Baseball America's J.J. Cooper, in the same Gonzalez article, attributes the success to minor league pick-ups out of independent ball. So there you have it: mercenary minor league imports propelled the Angels' farm to glory.
Trouble is, that narrative doesn't stand up under scrutiny. Of the 35 most productive players on the farm in 2014, only five were signed as minor league free agents, and the best performer of the lot was good enough to rank just eighth in the system. Yes, the top performers of 2012 included only two imports, and only three in 2011. But there were also nine fewer players in each of those years who racked up more than 2 WAR than there were in 2013. Minor league FA's helped the cause, no doubt, but the primary driver to the farm's win/loss record was good performance from players whom the Halos drafted and signed themselves.
The question is, does it matter? Drafting young guys with standout tools and underdeveloped skills made for some horrendous High A and Double A teams over the past fifteen years, but it also produced a lot of big league players. Pete Bourjos, Mark Trumbo, Tyler Chatwood, Jordan Walden, etc. were all high upside plays from the third round or later, after most teams had shifted focus to filling out affiliate rosters with more polished college players. There were a lot of teenage flameouts, sure, but the system got it done in terms of producing big league talent without high first round picks, or first round picks at all.
Dipoto and Co. have shifted the Angels' focus to "safer" college players, and have already attained a reputation for finding value out of those ranks who will "contribute quickly." I'm not really sure why they're getting any props yet: the only real college draftee in the system who's a lock to contribute as a regular is Kole Calhoun, and it was Eddie Bane who drafted him back in 2010. Zach Borenstein, C.J. Cron, Alex Yarbrough, and Eric Stamets all might contribute someday, but each of those guys come with big questions in their games that they'll need to answer before anyone thinks about penciling them into the big league line-up. They'll have to outplay expectations at every stop to earn a crack at a starting job on a big league club. Seems to me, they are just as much a lottery ticket as Bourjos in the tenth round; the college guys just top out a little higher in the system.
At any rate, college products played good baseball up and down the farm last year. First up is the number 35 top performer, Mark Shannon:
35) Mark Shannon, 22, Of. Rookie Ball Orem. 2.0 WAR. +8 bat, +2 glove. 11 HR's and 9 SB's.
Shannon is my bet to develop into the best position player from the Halos' 2013 draft. It's an ankle-deep crop, sure, but Shannon has an outside shot at a 4th outfielder gig down the road, and will likely be a solid organizational player for years. He reminds me of Matt Long, with a modest power/speed toolset that plays up in games. He also has a similar lefty swing, with an uppercut path that builds up bat speed out in front, so his best contact is to the pull side. Like Long, he has the quick hands and barrel control to avoid the k's despite the uppercut - he struck out just 13% of the time - but he does pay a price in frequent weak contact, either by rolling over to his pull side or sending weak pop flies to left. Click here to see his spray chart. Long made some adjustments to mitigate his reliance on pulling the baseball, and Shannon will have to do the same. In the field, Shannon appears to be a competent outfielder, capable of playing center and with sufficient arm strength to hold down right. He made too many errors with the Owlz, but that's likely not anything to worry about.