If you're a farm watcher like me, you really look forward to this time of the year, when we learn where our prospects, near-prospects, scrubs and sundry lottery tickets end up distributed across the minor league system after various spring evaluations and games on the minor league fields. There are often some surprises, as we learn that the organization is more bullish on some players than we previously knew, as well as reminders of names that were previously forgotten, and others who have disappeared due to releases or retirements.
The Angels' MLB site just posted a summary of where the Angels' top prospects (according to MLB analysts) will be starting the season this week. Ryan Ghan and I plan to release our own revised Top 20 Prospects list for the first half of 2015 by the end of the coming weekend, but in anticipation of that totally awesome event, here's a quick link list capturing all of the Halo-centric action that gets underway today at FOUR levels of Minor League Baseball:
- Angels Farm Scoreboard
- Salt Lake Bees, AAA: Roster
- Arkansas Travelers, AA: Roster
- Inland Empire 66ers, A+: Roster
- Burlington Bees, A: Roster
Check back here throughout the day as I post some reflections on the newly assembled rosters at each level, and please feel free to use this as a game thread as the first game begins at 4:30pm PDT. That would be Angels top prospect Sean Newcomb taking the mound at home for our Midwest League A-ball team, the Burlington Bees!
Salt Lake Bees, Pacific Coast League (AAA ball)
As ever, this is where you'll find the immediate offshoots of the Angels MLB depth chart – a collection of spare parts, AAAA guys, and a few legit prospects just south of heaven. Of course there's no such thing as AAAA, but that's an almost perfect descriptor of replacement-level guys like Marc Krauss, Daniel Robertson, Adam Wilk and (increasingly) actual infield candidates like Grant Green and Josh Rutledge. This is a potentially explosive infield as far as offense is concerned, with Kyle Kubitza, Alex Yarbrough, Krauss, Green and Rutledge all pushing to make the club at the first hint of injury. Save for Krauss, all of those guys are more hitters than true sluggers, but given the park environments in the PCL, there's opportunity for a lot of frenzied sequences this season. On the other hand, this is one of the least interesting Salt Lake outfields in some time. I'm most interested to see what Kubitza does, since the front office seems pretty well certain that he will replace Freese next year, and that's a big bet absent any other real options behind him.
Of course, all eyes will want to be on the Bees' battery, specifically Andrew Heaney and Nick Tropeano, and their two catchers Carlos Perez and Jett Bandy. The PCL can be a real punishing domain for even the best pitchers, but these four are unquestionably in the Angels' immediate future, and Tropeano improbably thrived in the League last year. Let's see what they do, and if Cam Bedrosian can get his game together the way we all expect he should. We'll see soon enough.
Arkansas Travelers, Texas League (AA ball)
Call this the land of the crafty lefties. Soft-tossers all, the Travs have three of them in Nate Smith, Tyler DeLoach and Chris O'Grady, though the last name there has operated mostly out of the 'pen since being drafted in the 10th round in 2012. All three of them have solid K-rates, and O'Grady has shown good control, whereas the others have shown weakness on that front worth watching closely. Arkansas also has two promising righthanded pitchers in Austin Wood and Kyle McGowin, both of whom have been recently injury-embattled – Wood coming back from Tommy John a year ago, and McGowin looking like he'll succumb to it any day now due to elbow trouble that plagued him through the second half of last season. Wood has an impressive fastball that's a real burner, but can lack movement. He also has a secondary arsenal that could make him a legit rotation candidate if he isn't sent to the bullpen first.
And speaking of bullpens, as with the past two years, Arkansas' is packed. Trevor Gott, Nate Hyatt, Danny Reynolds – if the Angels don't dive into their Salt Lake stash for Snodgress, Bedrosian or McBryde, this is where our future bullpen is likely to be found. And nearly everyone in the Trav's current rotation is a candidate for that as well.
In the lineup, things are a bit less interesting. There are two utility pieces that I'm pretty keen on in Sherman Johnson and free agent spare part D'Arby Myers. Both Ryan Ghan and I hope that this is Johnson's breakout season, and that he eventually ascends to the big club to play a Figgins-like role we've lacked for awhile. As of tonight, he's hitting leadoff for Arkansas and already has two runs on two doubles, so auspicious beginnings! But on the matter of bats like Chad Hinshaw, Cal Towey and Brian Hernandez, this is really their show-me-what-you-got moment, because if they don't hit in the Texas League, they aren't advancing much further.
Outside of Baldoquin at Inland Empire, this is a farm system that lacks compelling talent at shortstop. It's interesting to note that they did not promote Eric Stamets to AAA this April, probably hoping to give most of those ABs to Josh Rutledge and Grant Green in preparation for an Aybar injury or Featherston collapse. Stamets has a glove that would already prove elite at the MLB level, but his hit tool has been irregular enough that they'd probably like to season it more in the younger league.
Inland Empire 66ers, California League (A+ ball)
This is going to be an interesting team to watch. It was the last roster to be filled out this week, and the most obvious thing that folks will notice is that this is where our poor top-prospect-of-old, Kaleb Cowart, has fallen. News out of camp was that, after trying a stint with him batting exclusively from the left side for a few months, they now have Cowart switch-hitting again. To most observers, this must seem like madness. Convert the kid to the mound already! But, apparently, this decision is largely his to make, and by any measure, the fall goeth before the pride, and Cowart is playing himself straight out of the sport. Farm watchers will remember that Mark Sappington was also recently demoted from Arkansas to Inland Empire, but that was only a brief stop before he was summarily shipped out in the Cesar Ramos trade. Until the kid develops some sense for where his true talent is likely to lie, he's fallen off all my personal prospect lists. I suspect this is his last stop in the Angels org.
OTOH, the Angels seem to be rather optimistic about some of the college talent they picked up in last year's draft. This is where the org has decided to place last year's third-round draft choice Chris Ellis, for instance. He's on the mound tonight. Based on his performance in the College World Series last year, I was rather low on that draft selection, and Ellis really got hit around in Orem when he arrived post-draft. I may have been overly hard on him based on the three games I watched, but I just didn't see an out pitch, and he gave up a lot of hard-hit balls. Now he's going to a hitter's league in the Cal League, so he'll be genuinely tested.
What should be fun to watch is the infield tandem of rugrat Kody Eaves and new Cuban import Roberto Baldoquin. They could potentially tear things up with the bats too, if all goes well. I also note that the Angels promoted new acquisition and seventh-rounder Bo Way to San Bernardino. He was one of the few college bats that actually thrived last year after being promoted from Orem to Burlington, which is a much harder environment in which to hit than Utah. It'll be interesting to see whether Way emerges as something more than a Reggie Willits, or whether he stalls out in the upper minors like so many Drew Heids before him.
There are pitchers to watch here as well. This will be a decisive year for Victor Alcantara, where we see if he's the top ten prospect we've all charted him as, or whether his command and control issues get the better of him against stronger competition. One relief arm that I am paying close attention to is eighth-rounder from 2012, Austin Adams. Take a look at his K-rates and BAA and you'll see why. He's the guy I have pegged to take a major leap forward, if he can just harness his control and simplify his approach, to become a back-of-the-bullpen weapon that we were looking for in RJ Alvarez, Mark Sappington and (still) Cam Bedrosian. Alvarez, just to hasten my tears, struck out two in closing out Oakland's 10-0 shutout of Texas the other night.
Burlington Bees, Midwest League (A-ball)
As expected, this is where the lion's share of our college picks from last year's draft ended. Much of the offense resembles the Orem Owlz from last fall, with Zachary Houchins, Jake Yacinich, Andrew Daniel, Caleb Adams and others filling out the lineup. Most of these kids are a bit older that the competition, so they'll need to hit pretty well to impress and move up the ladder quickly. This is also where 19-year-old Natanael Delgado is now, and we'll get a full season to assess whether his left-handed power can develop and he can keep the swing-and-miss in check, developing a more patient approach at the plate. Delgado, Houchins and maybe Daniel are the offensive players to watch here, I think.
But offense isn't where the action is at Burlington. This is where our stud first-rounder from 2014 will reside for at least the first half of this season, and as of this writing, Sean Newcomb has struck out six in three innings, four swinging. This will be a great controlled environment to see just how good he might be.
In addition to Newcomb, we find our 4th and 5th round picks from last year in Jeremy Rhoades and Jake Jewell. I prefer Jewell's arsenal to that of Rhoades, but some have the former tagged as a future bullpen piece. I think both will be allowed to start at Burlington for the time being. Also here is Jonah Wesely, who was Halos Heaven's #7 prospect last fall, though this was a rather high rank relative to other lists, and the Angels have imported a lot of talent since then. He's likely to fall toward the end of our Top 20 this spring, but he's still a young kid to watch. He too may be moved to the bullpen this season, given the improved rotational depth chart Dipoto's constructed.
Who you will not find at the moment at Burlington, to our chagrin, is either of our second-round picks from the past two drafts: Hunter Green or Joey Gatto. Still need to fish out whether this is due to injury or development issues, but I thought there might be a chance that we'd see at least Gatto starting the season in the Midwest League this April. Current status suggests that both Green and Gatto are in extended spring training. Hopefully Green has moved past his balky back problems from last year, and re-takes the mound in competitive action this season. If not, we'll need to begin worrying that that was another crap prep pick in a draft where we could've used more college talent. (The Angels have not gotten a lot of value from prep pitcher selections in the past decade.)