Prospect season is in full swing, and the Halos have been mocked. I mean, really, really mocked. Like, once in a decade mocked. The system is bad.
Actual performance on the farm was weak this past year, especially once you subtract Newcomb's dominance. According to a blend of my computations and fangraphs "runs above average" (RAA), thiry-four guys put up better than 2.0 WAR in 2014. The year before that, there were thirty-five. This past season? Just twenty-five.
Below are a group of Angel and ex-Angel middle infielders worth tracking, even if three of the four didn't quite meet the 2.0-WAR threshold. Johnson remains one of my top ten prospects in the system.
Sherman Johnson, 24, 2b/3b/U. 1.1 WAR. .204/.325/.314 with 7 HR and 20 SB (87% success rate)
Key Number: 845 total pitches taken
June 16th. That's when www.minorleaguecentral.com, one of the two best sites in all baseball internet, cut out, presumably because founder and sustainer Andrew Grant either took an MLB job or rearranged life priorities. At any rate, Johnson watched 304 pitches go by over nearly two months of Double A baseball, which comes out to 85 more pitches taken than any other guy in the upper minors. He swung at a lower percentage of pitches than all but five other guys. Simply put, Johnson was among the most passive hitters in the game. Like, way on the tail end of the bell curve passive. MLBcentral.com disappeared before the allstar break, but I doubt Johnson changed things up much: his walk rate remained above 11% every month and he finished the year at 15%.
The ultra patient approach has mostly worked for him since college. I remember catching an Owlz game back in 2012, and watching him go down on strikes after keeping the bat on his shoulder for four straight pitches. I wrote that he looked way too passive. Of course, he came up swinging against the same pitcher in the next PA and laced a double off the opposite field wall on the first pitch. At his best, that's who he is.
One point very much in his favor is that all of those taken pitches don't lead to high strikeout rates. He fanned at a 17% rate last year, better than league average, and made all the more acceptable by his elite walk rate. He's able to take so many pitches because when he does swing, he makes contact at a rate that is better than 94% of his peers.
It's the quality of that contact that will determine the course of his career. Johnson's BABIP last year was a miserable .240, and if that's who he is, he won't make it. However, he was running a .319 BABIP as a professional before his time with Travs, so there's still hope that 2015 resulted from some combination of bad luck and lingering injury. I have no idea what his recent offseason surgery addressed, but hopefully his recovery will mean something.
Generally speaking, his most impressive periods of success - August of 2014 and May/June of 2015 - correlated with his highest groundball rates, at 48% and 51% respectively. Those groundball-heavy periods didn't just translate into BABIP bumps; they also correlated with the majority of Sherman's homeruns. Weird, but perhaps indicative of what he looks like when he's right. On the other hand, periods of poor performance generally correlated with a high fly ball rate. Line drives essentially made no difference. For example, through the first month of 2015 he hit just .197/.342/.320 despite an ultra-healthy 26% LD rate. Pull heavy and opposite field heavy months didn't seem to make much of a difference. He's a guy still in search of a consistent swing.
Johnson obviously fell short of the two WAR cutoff for this list, but he's here because I still rank him among the top ten Angels' prospects. Baseball Prospectus was more generous in grading out his 2015 performance, crediting him with 1.9 WAR due to a more sympathetic park adjustment and more love for the baserunning. I believe he's got a real shot at developing into super-sub type, and I wouldn't be shocked to see him work into a platoon situation with Giovatella in late 2016, despite likely beginning the year in Arkansas again.
Eric Stamets, 23, SS. ~1 WAR . .230/.287/.320 with 4 HR and 7 SB's (In the Indian's system)
Key Number: .571 OPS v right handers
If Stamets is as good with the glove as he's supposed to be, then you might tack on another full win in runs saved at shortstop. Is that glove enough to get him to the big leagues? Probably, but it won't help him stick. Not if the bat doesn't come along. Stamets needs some more development time to make that happen - he's been rushed - but after being swapped for David Murphy at the deadline, maybe he'll have a little time to kick around the upper minors with the Tribe.
Jose Rondon, 21, SS. ~2.0 WAR. .267/.320/.359 w/ 3 HR and 18 SB's (in the Padres system)
Key Number: 20 RC+ in AA
Rondon stumbled when he hit the high minors, then returned to the California League and put up a +113 RC+ for Lake Elsinore, the Padres affiliate. He's got time, but hasn't yet had the breakthrough that folks were hoping for when he headed the package that netted the Halos Huston Street. At this point, that swap looks like an outstanding move on Dipoto's part.
25) Leonardo Rivas, 17. 2B/OF: 2.0 WAR. .258/.401/.376 with 1 HR and 21 SB's.
Key Number: 13.4% BB rate
Here he is folks: the future. Rivas is one of just two teens to make this list. Fellow DSL 17 year old Angel Molina outslugged him in the Dominican, but missed the list due to being more of a future first base/DH type, having already moved off the catcher position. Highly touted shortstop Julio Garcia, also seventeen, managed just a .502 OPS across two rookie leagues, so for the moment, he remains just a guy to keep an eye on for me (though many other prospect watchers still place him in the top ten to fifteen Angels prospects due to the glove and athleticism).
At any rate, Rivas. The Venezuelan fanned less than 20% of the time, walked 13.4% of the time, slugged a homerun, and stole 20+ bases. He's a 5'10," 150 pound nominal switch hitter who pounded DSL lefties at .366/.447/.707 clip while managing just a Sherman-esque .233/.391/.297 line against righties. So maybe he's not a switch hitter. Regardless, at just 18 now, he's got time to figure it out. He's on my watch list in a big way headed into 2016. Sometimes guys who perform like this at 17 become highly interesting (Jean Segura, Jose Rondon), and sometimes not (Eduardo Soto, Mario Martinez). Still, if there's hidden upside anywhere in the system, here it is.