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Tommy Mendoza: Top Angels Prospect #29

29) Thomas Mendoza, 8/18/87 - RH SP, AA and AAA

9 wins, 8 losses. 150.1 IP, 3.29 ERA, 96 SO/42 BB. +6 runs saved.

Ranking in a Nutshell: On the surface, Mendoza's 2009 season appears an unequivocal breakout: he racked up 2.6 wins above replacement level on his way to the 4th best pitching performance in the Angels' system.  That landed him back on the prospect map for the first time since 2007, bittersweet for the Halos since the timing coincided with his eligibility for the Rule 5 draft. They couldn't afford a roster spot to protect him, so Mendoza seemed on the verge of becoming just the latest surplus arm the Halos must annually sacrifice in the name of competitive balance.  

The Rule 5 Draft came and went, and Mendoza stayed pat while two lower profile arms departed.  What gives? Ironically, his participation in the Arizona Fall League may have killed his appeal: Mendoza's heater didn't show up in Phoenix, sitting in the high 80's and only touching the low 90's. Not coincidentally, he was hit hard.  The tepid velocity alone isn't catastrophic, but the line on Mendoza is that he lives and dies by his fastball, since no publicly available source has said anything nice about his secondary stuff since 2006.  Put that together with the fact that much of his 2009 success came in a ridiculously pitching-friendly ballpark, and you have good reasons for discounting his chances of becoming a major league starter.

Track Record: Mendoza has some pedigree behind him - it wasn't all that long ago that Baseball America anointed him the 10th best Halos' prospect two years running in 2006 and 2007. The Halos had taken him in the 5th round of the 2005 draft, signing him for $159,000, and the investment yielded quick returns: as a 17 year old, he tossed 52 innings with 56 strikeouts and a 1.55 ERA in rookie ball. His encore was nearly as impressive, with Mendoza holding his own in the Midwest League as the circuit's second youngest starting pitcher.  Scouting reports raved about a fastball that touched 96 mph, and initially touted his secondary arsenal that included a potentially plus curve, a cutter, change and slider.

A shoulder injury limited him to just 58 innings in 2007 and contributed to his backslide when he repeated the Midwest League.  2008 was another disappointing year, memorable mostly for a 50 game suspension for amphetamine use and a K/9 that plummeted to 4.1.

He obviously turned it around in 2009, holding down the back end of the Trav's rotation and then keeping the Bees in contention through the final days of the season. He kept the ball in the park, was stingy with the walks, and permited a lucky but not extraordinary .287 BABIP allowed. On the other hand, he posted a mediocre K-rate and flyball tendencies, which played fine in a cavernous home ballpark but could potentially be disastrous over a full season in Salt Lake. The one positive takeaway from his AFL showing was a spike in his groundball rate to 59%. He wasn't throwing his two-seamer more often, at least in his first appearances, so the GB's are likely statistical blip, but it is something to look out for when he returns to Utah in April. 

Win the Lottery Ceiling: A solid middle reliever and swingman, ala Dustin Moseley in a good year. 

Scouting Report: I haven't seen him play, there's no video available, and there hasn't been a decent scouting report made publicly available since 2007. I have some lines out to folks who watch a lot of Trav's games, but would love for anyone who's seen him pitch to give us a better picture below.