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Buy in Bulk: Angels’ FO Should Sign 2011 Prep Draftees

Sure, it's been a great year for the Angels' farm system -- recent alumni Peter Bourjos, Mark Trumbo, Jordan Walden, and Tyler Chatwood account for nearly a quarter of the team's production, according to Baseball Reference's WAR metric -- but it's been a down year on the Angels' farm, which is looking mighty thin as the 2011 season winds down.  For a team facing significant roster turnover in the coming years while inexplicably choosing to pay down the ass-end of Vernon Wells' contract, that is a problem.

Sam Miller at the OC Register reported on Monday that the Angels are still negotiating with 2011 mid-round prep picks Wayne Taylor, Hunter Lockwood, and Dominic Jose. Each of those players falls into the not-quite-polished-enough-to-be-a-first-rounder, but could-be-a-top-ten-pick-in-three-years category.  Signing some combination of these guys would add a much-needed shot of upside into an otherwise cheap draft (only $2.5 million so far).  The clock is ticking, as the window for signing 2011 draftees closes for good this Monday at midnight.

Other notable, late-round guys whom the Angels drafted but failed to sign out of high school? Buster Posey and Brian Matusz...

Not every high-octane prep athlete can rapidly turn his tools into uber baseball skills, like Posey and Matusz did (or, for that matter, Trumbo or Bourjos). Case in point: not one of the Angels' six prep draftees drafted in the first three rounds of the 2010 draft cracked a full season team roster in 2011, and instead remained in rookie ball to polish their respective games. When a team commits six of its top seven picks to high school kids, only to see that kind of disappointing early return, there is good reason to tack towards older players in the next draft, if just for the sake of balance.

But that does not mean that the Angels should abandon the prep talent pool, which has yielded so many of their major leaguers over the last decade.  Not one of the Bourjos-Trumbo-Walden-Chatwood cohort went off the draft board in the top two rounds of a draft -- in fact, only Chatwood was selected before the tenth round -- yet here they are in the big leagues, masking the deficiencies of more expensive free agent acquisitions.

Developing late-round high school athletes into major leaguers may not appear very efficient.  The Angels selected four high school position players before taking Bourjos in the 2005 draft, and not one of those guys has sniffed the major leagues. Two haven't made it out of A-Ball.  For every Flete Pete, attrition claims its share of PJ Phillips'.  For every Trumbo, a gaggle of Doug Reinhardts.  From a team's perspective, busts are the price of doing business.

Yet the whole draft and minor league system is even more inefficient when it comes to consuming human capital. It does its job, producing the best possible 25 man rosters across the league with a kind of rational, fiscal efficiency. But in terms of human capital, it chews up athletes in droves, felling the vast majority of big league dreams.  Baseball America's 1997 study (hat tip to Stephen Smith via Ryanfea, most recently) breaks down the numbers, finding that slightly more than nine out of ten guys selected in even the second round flame out before reaching big-league regular status.  By the time you get down to the tenth round, it's one draftee who carves out a starting big league role versus thirty-three who don't.  So, for every Bourjos, Trumbo, and Walden cohort, the ambitions of approximately one hundred guys fall victim to attrition.

The Angels have beaten those odds consistently for more than a decade through good scouting, shrewd over-slot bonuses, an appetite for risk, and a willingness to trust their coaches with teaching athletes how to play the game.  Yes, their failures tend to attract derision because their investments often defy industry consensus (I'm looking at you, Jake Locker).  Their patience with toolsey, raw athletes also leads to some pretty horrific High A and Double A teams.  Perhaps most damming from a fan's view, their drafts haven't yet resulted in a late round offensive superstar.  But their willingness to take on prep projects is responsible for keeping the 2011 Angels competitive in a year when, frankly, they should have been sunk by every offseason decision they made regarding personnel over the age of 25.

To return to the original point: the Halos still have the opportunity to add high upside talent to their thinning system in 2011. It won't come cheap. Dominic Jose and Wayne Taylor each have Stanford commitments, giving them howitzer-caliber leverage in negotiations, so it may take Trumbo-type money ($1 million +) to sign either of them.  Taylor is a catcher with defensive upside who also swings a power bat from the left side, while Jose is more the classic 4 to 5 tool outfielder favored by the Angels in recent years. Take a moment to check out their bios, here for Taylor and here for Jose.  Hunter Lockwood, committed to the University of Oklahoma, might come a little cheaper.  Like Taylor, he has a chance at developing into a power threat who sticks behind the plate.   

Any one of these guys - or all three of them - could pull a Buster Posey and be first round material in three years.  So if he wants to see that next Posey arrive in the big leagues wearing an Angels' uniform, Reagins needs to sign as many of these guys as possible. The Angels have to keep buying in bulk.