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Angels Farm: Pioneer League Action Begins Thursday

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Nineteen of the Angels 2015 draftees have already signed and are reporting to Orem to begin their pro baseball careers with the Owlz as of Thursday.

The return of Joey Gatto...to new heights in Orem, Utah. (4756 ft!)
The return of Joey Gatto...to new heights in Orem, Utah. (4756 ft!)
Reid Compton-USA TODAY Sports

Many of you know I wasn't too thrilled with the results of this year's Angels draft. As much as I try to squint and puzzle out some irregular promise in the Angels' drafting strategy this year, I can't help but see many missed opportunities and miserly attention to marginal budgets in the team's overdraft-early and draft-Dipoto's-kid-late 2015 plan. Of course, I'm not the only one perplexed by it.

Bleacher Report named the Angels one of the "losers" of both Draft day one and the entire draft. (Even worse, they proclaimed Houston, Texas and the Dodgers among the winners.) Jason Fletcher of Rant Sports agreed.

Sports Illustrated, normally an Anaheim booster, dubbed their moves a "headscratcher." Keith Law called the Angels first pick a reach, knocked it as one of the four worst selections on day one, and spared no quarter in dissing Taylor Ward's ultimate upside:

I didn't have Ward on my top 100; I spoke to several scouts who said he wasn't even a second-round talent, questioning the bat (he hit only .304 with 34 strikeouts this spring) and the glove. His swing is very flat and he doesn't receive or frame well, with hard hands that betray him when working to his glove side. He has arm strength, but it's a swing overhaul with a lot of work to do on defense.

Oy vey. Punishing. Bad bat, bad glove, bad receiver, bad framer. That's quite a slam.

Outside of the Angels second pick in Jahmai Jones, who came in roughly where my consensus rankings suggested he should, the Angels' top ten picks were lackluster and often dubious, given what was available at the time they selected. The most interesting picks came in the 11 to 13 slots, where a couple high risk/high reward prepsters with genuine power upside were pulled in with Jimmy Barnes and Dalton Blumenfeld, plus a college pitcher who transitioned to the outfield and had an outstanding season with University of Illinois-Chicago last year. That guy's name is Jeff Boehm, and he'll join Taylor Ward and 17 other signees when the Orem Owlz start their season in the Pioneer League today.

That league, full of high altitude parks with iffy field conditions in Utah, Montana and Idaho, features action-packed games that are often bat-first, defense-last affairs. It's not unusual to see both team put up runs in the double digits, and recently liberated college bats accrue video game slash lines that come crashing down to earth once they hit the Midwest League and neutral parks. But still. These are fun games, and the Owlz are among the select teams below the AA level that are featured on MiLB TV.

So who might be interesting to watch on the team this year? Well, this will be 2014 second-round pick Joey Gatto's first taste of pro ball outside the controlled environs of Tempe. Gatto leads the Owlz rotation and starts on the hill today in Ogden. Additionally, Grayson Long, who (if you're optimistic) may become this year's Rhoades or Ellis with proper grooming, will join him in that rotation. He was likely to be around in round 4 or 5, but the Angels liked his junior season with Texas A&M (and maybe his bowtie) enough to grab him in the third round, and well, we'll see. They've had a fair amount of success with college arms in the past two years, so I suspend my judgment.

Among the bats, though, your guess is as good as mine. Jared Foster is still battling in the College World Series as the nine-hole hitter with LSU, so it'll be a week until he shows up in Orem. While he seems one of the more raw and incomplete hitters on an otherwise very good Tigers team, the Angels like his power potential, and you can watch him battle TCU tonight in the contest to take on Vanderbilt in the semi-finals. In the meantime, Jamie Moyer's son Hutton (7th round), as well as Conference USA player of the year Brendon Sanger (4th round), are likely to join Jeff Boehm toward the middle of the lineup in the Owlz' retooled offense. Those three are the ones I'm hoping to get a sense of initially, along with Dominican Ayendy Perez, who looks to be a top-of-the-order threat, given the 71 steals he's put up between the DSL and Arizona since signing.

If you are interested in intriguing storylines, two of the most compelling include the return of Jared Ruxer from Tommy John surgery. Ruxer was a potential top 100 pick in the 2014 draft who fell to the twelfth round due to TJ. He's got upside for days, but you never know how rehabs work out. The second one is 24-year-old Jeff Malm, previously a first baseman in the Rays org, who is attempting to reinvent himself as a lefty starter in the Owlz rotation. And the ever-contrary Angels are granting him permission to do so. If Kaleb Cowart comes down to earth in the coming weeks from his PCL perch, Malm's project may prove one alternative path to salvation.

No expectations are better than low expectations. Let's give the boys a chance!