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Sappington Zapped to A-Ball, McGowin & Smith Promoted to Arkansas

With a dearth of quality starting pitching prospects being the chief weakness at the higher levels in the Angels minor league system, the Angels are promoting promising arms fast, and cutting dead weight even faster.

Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

The Angels aren't messing around on the farm these days. Those used to seeing our prospects slow-walked level by level each year to the upper minors are getting a bit of fast pitch action. In the month of May, a throng of pitchers have been outright released, several promoted, and as many demoted, causing a lot of turnover on the farm. We usually don't see this much action until summer, near the ASB, but the front office is wasting no time separating wheat from chaff this season.

In the past two weeks we've seen Ryan Crowley and Alex Keudell both released from Inland Empire. Each pitcher was getting hit around badly in high-A ball, but both had very solid seasons at Burlington in 2013, and both are greenhorns in the organization. Keudell was a 2012 draftee (albeit by the Rays), and Crowley was a 2011 pick. LHP Crowley had low walk rates and decent GB tendencies, so it's unusual to see the org cut bait with a 23 year old at that level so quickly.

But the real action this week was with the Arkansas Travelers:

AA: Promoted – Nate Smith, Kyle McGowin and Danny Reynolds; Demoted – Mark Sappington and Yeiper Castillo

Four of these transactions happened today, and this is a big surprise. Sappington, the Angels' #4 prospect according to MLB and #6 according to John Sickels, has been absolutely miserable to start the season, but this has to hurt. Over his first nine games with the Travelers, Sappington has walked 36 batters against 34 strikeouts. That, combined with 44 hits in as many innings, results in an outlandish WHIP of 1.85. At 23 years of age, you really don't want to be going back to A-ball, but that's where Sappington is headed, and if the Angels are wise, they're probably considering a bullpen conversion soon.

Nate Smith, meanwhile, is a nice surprise. An 8th round pick out of Furman University (yeah, I don't know it either) in last year's draft, he's a 22-year-old 6'3" lefty who leads the Angels farm in strikeouts with 51, combining a low walk rate with enough missed bats to produce an impressive WHIP of 0.99 over his first 10 starts at Inland Empire. It's not particularly fluky either, as he had a very solid premiere in 15 appearances at Orem last season, and Orem is simply a brutal environment in which to pitch. In any case, this is a prospect definitely worth watching, as it's been awhile since we've had a 22-year-old starter with solid peripherals graduating to the upper minors less than a year after drafting – and there's more to like here than Michael Roth, I think.

Joining Smith is Kyle McGowin. We heard good things about McGowin coming out of spring training – it was clear that he impressed the coaches, and John Sickels even placed him on his prospect "sleeper" list recently. McGowin was also a 2013 draftee, a 22-year-old righty who may have flown under the radar some due to coming from a lower-ranked program (Savannah State). Ryan G recently profiled McGowin here. He was our top April performer, so perhaps the quick promotion should have been anticipated, but I was surprised nonetheless, as the regression that Ryan anticipated in his April profile was evident in McGowin's four May starts (where he was 0-3 with a 4.62 ERA). The two worst of those were in the challenging park environments of High Desert and Bakersfield, so perhaps the FO is conceding the context and seeing what he can do in a less punishing league (albeit against better hitters). Definitely another guy to watch.

Yeiper Castillo was an offseason free agent pickup who had previously bounced around in the Boston and Cubbie orgs, so his demotion was not too astonishing. Terrific name or no, a BB/9 of 5.6 and ERA of 5.36 in pitcher's heaven at age 25 is not going to keep you employed very long.

The Travelers now have a rotation of Drew Rucinski, Michael Roth, Kramer Sneed, Nate Smith and Kyle McGowin. Joining them are swingmen Orangel Arenas and Danny Reynolds, the latter also recently promoted from the 66ers. Grandfathering in Smith's and McGowin's stats from A+ ball, there's not a pitcher among them older than 25, and all with ERAs below 4. It's starting to look passable in here again. I had prematurely written Reynolds off after two seasons of struggle starting at Inland Empire. But as a long reliever at three different levels this season, he's shown strong peripherals, durability, and results (a 2.00 ERA over 15 appearances). A sixth-round pick from the famous Trout draft, he's another one the organization seems to like.

We should remember that all promotions don't go swimmingly. Michael Clevinger absolutely torched the Midwest League in April, got promoted to the Cal League in early May, and has been wobbly his first three starts there, failing to get out of the fifth inning in each. He's still getting his Ks, but elevated walks and pitch counts have him with a 4.80 ERA in the early going.

The one guy who has not been promoted yet who may be past due is Burlington's ace Elliot Morris. An imposing 6'4" righty taken in the 4th round of last year's draft, he leads all Angel affiliates with a 2.25 ERA, with an excellent SO/9 of 9.9. He's contained the walks, hits and HRs to a minimum, but the Bees have kept his innings logged low, rarely letting him go past 5-6 IP. He just turned 22, but it'll be interesting to see if he advances to high-A in the next month or two.

Update: And just like that, within 24 hrs of posting, Elliot Morris has been promoted to Inland Empire, with Yency Almonte taking his place in Burlington. Godspeed, and wish 'em luck. (Hat tip, Halos 4 Life)