Here begins the Halos Heaven second-half Top 30 prospect list.
We wanted to time this list for early August, just after the trade deadline, but are getting to it a bit late due to family contingencies and the sheer volume of trades the Angels have transacted in the past two months. This time, two of us prospect hounds (rghan and Turk’s Teeth) have teamed up to attempt to provide a "consensus" summary of our personal rankings from the farm, based on the average of our own stack ranks.
These rankings are as much about gut and feel as data science and scouting. Ryan often leans toward upside and projectability, and Turk toward the unranked and unwashed who carry some likelihood of making the MLB level as a contributor in any role, but more often than not, our personal rankings are remarkably similar, especially toward the top of the list. Both of us spend more time than our spouses and kids can likely appreciate listening to minor league radio games, watching MiLB.TV broadcasts, and combing scouting reports, box scores, game notes and Twitter to get a read on the farm’s green shoots and "sure things" from Salt Lake to Tempe and the Angels’ Dominican complex in San Pedro de Macoris. But there are precious few sure things on the farm these days, and many of the current crop are kids with a few good-not-great tools who project more as role players than arms or bats who might become high-ceiling franchise players.
That's not to say that the farm is utterly barren. While some fans and members of the media are often quick to point to players like Trout, Cron and Richards as evidence that the Angels' farm is more underrated than some will admit, this overlooks the fact that these players were acquired 4-6 drafts ago, and plenty has changed in the interim. It's not a conspiracy that credible prospect analysts like Keith Law and John Sickels, or publications like Baseball America and Baseball Prospectus, all concur that the Angels' minor league system is one of the three worst at the moment. The farm is very thin.
But saying so does not mean that certain young players in the Angels organization do not have value, will not ultimately become MLB regulars, or more crucially, may not ultimately have value to the Angels as currently constructed. The loss of Taylor Lindsey and Jose Rondon will be felt at minimum on the Angels bench of 2015 or 2016, and likely in the cost of free agency in coming offseasons. But there are some young pitchers, specifically, that may contribute significantly to the Angels in the next two to three years, and it's probably the case that (as with the cases of Garrett Richards and Matt Shoemaker) the mainstream of farm analysts have not quite caught up with them yet.
By and large, the bottom of this list are not those guys. Prospects #21 through #30 are a miscellany of recent draftees on whom we have insufficient data (Houchins, Gatto, Jewell), high-upside players who have fallen due to injury or underperformance (Cowart, Wood), or future components of an Angels bench or bullpen. Beyond these, we include an unranked "In the Picture" section for guys who were on the bubble of our top 30, anyone of whom might have a credible argument for being included in the 20s of this list, or who might find themselves in our next top 30 when we publish it this offseason.
Feel free to leave feedback and impressions in the comments section, especially if you've seen any of these players in live action. Our comments on individual players are prefaced 'RG' and 'TT' for Ryan and Turk respectively.
21 - 30
(21) Zachary Houchins (player page)
RG - Since a promotion to the Midwest League, the Halos' 2014, 13th rounder has fanned in a quarter of his PA's, but I've heard enough buzz to believe in the bat. Really, the Halos may have gotten a steal here. He won't stick at shortstop, but could be an above-average hitter capable of manning third and second. Current testimony says that he's mensch enough to survive as a public figure - which is the primary reason his stock fell in the draft - and attributes past Twitter transgressions to youthful ignorance.
TT - He absolutely drove the Orem Owlz offense before he was promoted to Class-A Burlington, and the Bees still feel good enough about him that they continue to bat him in the 3-spot despite a soft entry through his first 14 games. Some draft analysts were indeed very bullish on him as an athletic super-ute, and it was probably the social media controversy that had teams backing off. He'll likely start at Burlington next season, when he's 22, and be given an opportunity for mid-season promotion if he can show that he can hit in less favorable park environments.
(22) Austin Wood (player page)
RG - Wood is back from the Tommy John surgery that claimed most of his 2013 season. There's little to no chance that he remains a starter, but his mid-to-upper 90's monster of a fastball could make an impact with the big league club as soon as 2015. Don't forget about him: that FB is a special pitch.
TT - He turned 24 last month and is at high-A. He's looked healthy in his first six appearances, and if he remains healthy, he's likely to reach the MLB at some point, because as Ryan notes, his fastball could profile well in late innings, and his slider is enough of a plus pitch to give him the second look to make him stick as an MLB reliever.
(23) Jake Jewell (player page)
RG - An early favorite to be one of the Angels' better picks this year. His current 64% groundball rate looks awfully good, though it's at the expense of complex-league teens. Depending on how he responds to professional coaching, our 2014 fifth rounder and his mid 90's heat could develop in any number of directions in the coming years.
TT - I am not a big fan of the Angels' top ten draft selections after Newcomb this year, but Jewell is an exception. While he's working on a slider and changeup, it's with his fastball that he found success as a JuCo closer. The Angels are letting him stretch out and start in rookie ball, and the Halos have had success developing big junior college righties like this. But his heater is quality enough that he should have a place in the bullpen if the rotation experiment doesn't pan out.
(24) Kaleb Cowart (player page)
RG - Will they please just put him on the mound? It's not just that he hasn't hit upper level pitching: it's that he's consistently not hit, having bested a .600 OPS in only 5 of 10 months at that level. He hit the .700 OPS plateau only once, so he isn't even showing flashes of putting it all together. I'm as bummed as anyone that the position player thing didn't work out, but the Halos could still get some value out of him - and he could still have a productive MLB career - if he goes to the mound.
TT - I find it shocking that other rankings find a place in the top five for Cowart at this point. The latest experiment in "simplification" is having the kid bat exclusively from the left side (though he hit worse as a lefty in 2013). Guess what? It's not working. He's hitting .189 in August. My sense is that they are babying this kid, who was drafted as a two-way player in 2010 and expressed a strong personal desire to play the infield. But other teams wanted to draft him as a pitcher, where he had strong upside. Reminder: As a high-school senior, Cowart had a mid-90s fastball (clocked as high as 97mph), a plus slider and a developing change. His final year, he had 10-1 W-L record, an 1.05 ERA, and struck out 116 batters in 73 innings. The Angels are continuing to compound an early mistake by expending almost 1000 PAs letting Cowart not hit in AA. The kid still could have an MLB career, and the org is needlessly retarding that development process.
(25) Jett Bandy (player page)
RG - He's a solid defensive backstop showing flashes of power in AA. Future fourth catcher on MLB depth charts into his 30's?
TT - Bandy cracked my personal top 20. I recognize that he's not likely to make many prospect lists, but I think that's a function of how analysts misunderstand the extreme park factors on the Angels farm, and how catchers are too often judged on age and offense. Catchers develop more slowly than other prospects, and Bandy already demonstrates MLB-caliber defense. He's throwing out 40% of runners, the Travs' pitchers are outperforming in part due to Bandy's receiving and gamecalling skills, and he's a favorite of Scioscia and received long looks in spring training. Oh, and he's quietly leading the AA club in home runs. The Angels could use a good defensive catcher (they have no other catching prospects of note nearing the MLB level), and I think Bandy's ~.750 OPS in a notorious pitcher's park could suggest a plausible benchmark for what we might see in Anaheim in a year or so.
(26) Danny Reynolds (player page)
RG - A sixth round, prep draftee from the Halos' historically good 2009 draft, Reynolds has advanced slowly through the system as a hard-throwing starter/swingman with problematic secondaries and command. The Halos moved the diminutive righty with mid-90's heat to the bullpen full-time in 2014, and the results have put him on the depth chart. We're likely to see a lot of him in spring training next year, and he looks like a decent bet to carve out a middle relief role with the big league club over the next few years.
TT – I was a doubter on Reynolds, but he has been much more effective this year in relief, and at 23 in AA, age is still on his side.
(27) Joe Gatto (player page)
RG - Lottery-ticket-teen with a good fastball. This year's numbers don't tell us much, other than he has work to do.
TT – He was one of the oldest prepsters taken in the draft, and hasn't been overly impressive out of the gate. I'm not terribly fond of using early round draft picks on prep pitchers – when we've been successful with them (eg, Adenhart), we pulled them in later rounds, and sometimes developed them after injury. Gatto was very inconsistent approaching June, so much so that he fell completely off Keith Law's list, and he assessed him as having more projection than talent. He's shown as much at Arizona, and it will likely be five years before we know who this kid is as a pitcher.
(28) Garrett Nuss (player page)
RG - Nuss comes way over the top with a low 90's FB, a good curveball, and an improving change-up. When I saw him pitch back in June, he got a lot of swinging strikes up in the zone on the FB/curve combo, which was impressive, but struggled with command. He's still only 21, so if he develops to the point where he can put the heater where he wants, he could put himself into the Halos' growing stable of viable back-of-the-rotation candidates.
TT - Seventh round pick from 2013, and work-in-progress. Solid, if not spectacular, performance at 21 in Class-A ball, he has a lot of time to develop still.
(29) Eduardo Paredes (player page)
RG - A big relief arm that we'll see a lot of in the coming years. He isn't quite up there with the Bedrosian/Diaz/Gott group in velocity, but the Venezuelan side-armer sits in the low 90's with a confounding sinker and an improving breaking ball. He struggles at times with his command, and the secondary pitches need some work, but he's fanning 41% of Pioneer League hitters while suppressing hard contact. He's 19 for 19 in career saves opportunities.
TT - He's also 19 years old. 1.80 ERA with 26 Ks over 15 IP at Orem. He's only given up 6 hits in that time. That's not easy to do in those Pioneer League parks.
(30) Sherman Johnson (player page)
RG - Johnson's overall numbers have been dragged down by a June .169/.250/.301 slash line, which corresponded with a career high flyball rate, but he's generally been very good this year. As of this writing, he's hit for 201 total bases, exactly as many as Alex Yarbrough and Kody Eaves, and is posting an OBP 50+ points higher than either of those guys. Capable of playing all over the infield, he could emerge as a very good utility man if his swing holds up against better pitching.
TT - I think any number of the more advanced college kids taken in 2012 or 2013, currently at Inland Empire or Burlington, could take Johnson's spot here: Wade Hinkle, Cal Towey, Mark Shannon, Chad Hinshaw, Eric Aguilera. The next wave could include Bo Way, Andrew Daniel or Houchins from this year's draft class. All have played reasonably well, but none have separated themselves offensively the way Kole Calhoun and Zach Borenstein did recent seasons. Of all of them, Johnson may possess the best mix of speed, modest power and positional flexibility to find his way onto the MLB bench at age 25 or 26.
"In the picture"
Eric Aguilera, Michael Bolaski, Andrew Daniel, Chris Ellis, Ryan Etsell, Miguel Hermosillo, Wade Hinkle, Chad Hinshaw, Jordan Kipper, Eduar Lopez, Mario Martinez, Chris O'Grady, Angel Rosa, Mark Sappington, Mark Shannon, Kurt Spomer, Eric Stamets, Cole Swanson, Cal Towey, Bo Way.
Of this unranked list (#31-50), Mark Sappington may rate the biggest surprise among those who have not been following the farm closely of late. While Sappington still has the pure stuff to rate as high as #9 on the MLB Angels prospect list (and for that, #24 on Ryan's personal list) – the results have otherwise just not been there this year for the 5th rounder from 2012. His first nine starts at Arkansas were so awful (6.44 ERA, 1.816 WHIP) that he was demoted to high-A in late May, where, after an extended flirtation with the rotation where he did no better, he was converted to relief. Over 18 relief outings, he's been much better, with a 3.24 ERA, a .211 BAA, and 6:1 SO/BB ratio. But he'll be 24 to start next season, and fooling A-ballers is a bit below-grade at this point in the game. If he can repeat this at the higher levels, he could find himself back in the top 20 again in the coming year.
Chris Ellis is another name that some might expect to be higher in our rankings. He didn't make it higher than #34, however, on either of our lists. While the 3rd rounder from this year ranks #3 on the MLB pipeline list, Turk in particular dislikes this pick. Ellis was supremely hittable throughout his college years, where he struck out fewer than 6 batters per nine, and his inability to miss bats, combined with inconsistent command, resulted in him basically pitching Ole Miss out of the College World Series this year. He has a lot of work to do, and has suffered badly in the early going in the Pioneer League. Much depends on how and if he improves his changeup – and his fastball command – in the next year or two. There were good college and prep bats available in the third round that the Angels missed out on for Ellis, so expect them to give him plenty of rope to succeed.