If you’d like to view these prospect grades in greater detail, you can do so here.
20. Leonardo Rivas (SS/2B) — 32 points
Scouting Report: I, admittedly, didn’t know anything about Rivas before doing this. In fact, my very first impression was, “holy crap! This dude is tiny!” He would look like me out there, 150 lbs., but a few inches shorter. Heck, we even almost have the same birthday. The similarities are uncanny.
Onto the actual scouting report, Rivas maybe small, but he can ball. As a 19-year old, he’s shown an advanced approach at the plate (36 BB’s vs. 39 K’s, along with an identical 16 BB’s vs. 16 K’s when he get promoted to more advanced AZL Angels, his first taste of stateside baseball). It’s a very encouraging thing to see from a 19-year old and that should help him be a decent hitter from the beginning. However, at only 150 lbs., he doesn’t hit the ball with authority (which is seen in his career .377 SLG% so far). Not surprising with the lack of size and muscle, but that’s something that can be added with time. Per Taylor Blake Ward, he does have a nice line drive swing with some decent bat speed, but he’ll have to gain some weight behind that swing in order to take his bat to the next level. But a great approach at the plate, a nice level swing, and plus speed is a place to start for a 19-year old shortstop.
Speaking of which, there were concerns about his ability to stick at shortstop because of his arm strength (or lack thereof), but he’s been able to silence those critics a little bit. He has the instincts, foot speed, first step, and athleticism to play there, but you gotta get it across the diamond to play short. At the very least, this could lead to him becoming a second baseman (or his very possible future as a utility infielder). Hopefully, with more strength, he’ll be able to at least have an average arm.
So the final tally? A very young and raw shortstop with a good-to-great approach at the plate, no power, a weak throwing arm, good speed, and the instincts and feel to play shortstop. If he can continue to add weight and muscle to hit the ball with more authority, he could become a legitimate prospect to follow, and while it is hard to project these really young international kids at the lowest levels of the minors, you cannot help but be somewhat intrigued by his skillset. Be sure to track his development with the AZL Angels in 2017 and, perhaps more importantly, his weight to produce more hard-hit balls. That could change his ceiling from a utility infielder, to a full fledged shortstop prospect. Could be important since around that time, Andrelton Simmons’ contract will be up. —CK
19. Jose Rodriguez (SP) — 42 points
Scouting Report: The second of several Rodriguez’s (Rodriguii?) featured in our countdown, Jose edges out Elvin (no relation) mostly due to the fact that he has a full season under his belt and features more than one pitch. Appearing for the first time at low-A Burlington, Rodriguez acquitted himself quite nicely, making 27 starts while holding a 3.14 ERA across 131.2 innings. Relying primarily on a fastball-changeup combination, the right-hander struck out 7.9 batters per nine innings while allowing 2.2 BB/9.
Despite averaging a hit allowed per inning, he held opponents to only 4 HR all year. Much of that weak contact likely came as a result of his trusted change-up, which comes in 10-15 MPH slower than his fastball. According to Angels’ prospect guru Taylor Blake Ward, he throws the change-up with the same arm speed as his fastball, helping play up his modest high-80’s heater. He mixes in a two-seamer, though his ground ball rate has decreased each of the last two seasons, so expect him to settle in as more of an off-speed/fly ball specialist. His breaking ball has been described as a bit slurvy, something he will have to refine as he moves up the minor league ladder.
Rodriguez earned mid-season All Star honors, following it up with an even stronger second half. With under-whelming stuff, he is going to rely heavily on his control of the strike zone and ability to change speeds if he hopes to eventually crack the Angels’ rotation. He seems likely to make the move to high-A Inland Empire this season, where the hitter’s haven that is the Cal League is sure to provide him with his biggest challenge to date. —CF
18. Jordan Kipper (SP) — 47 points
Scouting Report: Jordan Kipper has two claims to fame so far in his short career. The first is less impressive but more of a fun fact in that he played with Kevin Cron (C.J. Cron’s younger brother) in high school, where he was a 3-letter winner. The second, is that he threw a no hitter back in May of 2016 which was in just his second full pro season. Kipper was drafted three times and finally signed with the Angels in the 2014 draft. Previously, the Dodgers and Phillies had drafted him in the 39th and 30th rounds during the 2011 and 2012 drafts.
You would have a hard time finding a better pitcher in the Angels organization last year and Kipper even threw a no-no back in May - just missing a perfect game by walking the first batter (who was retired with a double play). Kipper was also a mid and post season All Star in 2016.
Despite a lack of command of a true third pitch, Kipper gets the job done and is pretty solid across the board. He throws from a 3⁄4 arm slot with an easy delivery. His main roadblock to becoming a future big league starter lies in lack of third pitch, which could ultimately land him back in the bullpen (where he started his pro career). Kipper has a solid fastball, his best weapon, and average to above average slider. He also throws a changeup and curve, one of which will have to improve for him to continue to impress as he climbs the ladder.
Kipper is not a dominant strikeout pitcher (5.9 K/9 in his career) and instead relies on his low walk rate and his ability to induce ground balls which is due to his sinking fastball and slider that drops to the bottom of the zone. In 2015, 55% of hits he gave up were on the ground and that number climbed to 58% in 2016. Kipper had a fantastic year in AA, though some would argue he pitched in a hitter-friendly ballpark. I did the calculations myself, and Kipper actually pitched BETTER in hitter-friendly ballparks than he did in pitcher friendly ones. Despite the Angel’s heavy pitching depth at the AAA level, he should make the move to Salt Lake to start 2017 and as a ground ball pitcher should perform well in the Pacific League. It’s unlikely, we will see him pitch in the big leagues in 2017, but he could have a shot during September call-ups. Most likely, we should expect to see Kipper some time in 2018. —JD
17. Troy Scribner (SP) — 51 points
Troy Scribner is all about command, and command is all about him. If he were a Janet Jackson song, he wouldn’t be “Nasty”, because he doesn’t really have nasty stuff...he’d be “Control”. If Troy Scribner were a living real estate cliche, he’d be “Location, location, location”. Are you beginning to understand what Scribner’s #1 asset is on the mound? Yep. It’s his command and control.
Scribner, who was picked up from the Astros last March by Billy Eppler, in exchange for some cold, hard cash, was undrafted in 2013 (coming out of Sacred Heart University), and that created quite the large chip on his shoulder. In his case, though, that may have been for the best, because it lit a competitive fire under him that’s kept him afloat amongst the stiffest of competition, leading him to defy all of those scouts that had told him he didn’t have MLB stuff.
If there was ever a knock on him from said scouts, it was his lack of a powerful and/or elusive pitching arsenal, but what he lacks in make-batters-look-silly ability, he makes up for in...you guessed it...command. Scribner is extremely consistent in his pitching attack, and can put pitches exactly where he wants them, over and over again. He’s got four pitches in his quiver, including a fastball that, on a good day, will barely top out in the low 90s, but he’s got confidence and enough control over those pitches that he can get guys out before they realized what happened.
His minor league career has still had it’s fair share of ups and downs, and while he’s a fine example of getting the job done with a completely basic approach, there is still plenty to be desired from him on the mound. The Astros LOVED him at first, as he dominated their minor league system in 2014, ultimately getting promoted from low-A up to AA all in the span of one season. Troy Scribner was going places. Then, 2015 happened, and the mouth-watering 2.09 ERA in ‘14 turned into an atrocious 5.49.
That entire ‘15 season made the Astros fall out of love with him, and that’s when Billy Eppler scooped him up. Perhaps it was the shunning from Houston that kicked that axe-to-grind attitude back into gear, because Scribner took his opportunity with the Angels and ran with it in 2016. He pitched to a 3.47 ERA and 8-3 record in 16 starts at AA Arkansas, and then a nice 3.30 ERA at AAA Salt Lake (which also included his first professional complete game shutout).
Scribner has gone back and forth between starter and reliever roles, and I suppose both remain an option with the Halos. That said, it’s obvious that right now, they like him as a AAA depth piece. If he can continue to outsmart batters by changing speeds and consistently locating his pitches, then he should continue to have success.
Whether or not that will translate to MLB success remains to be seen. But considering the injury woes of the Angels’ starting rotation last year, he may get his shot one of these days, and who knows? He could do at that level what he’s done at every other level in his pro career thus far, and that’s defy expectations. —JM
16. Cole Duensing (SP) — 56 points
Scouting Report: Out of the strong Kansas prep class this year, Duensing fared quite well this year in Arizona rookie ball; he only made eight appearances and four as a starter, but he put up a 1.38 ERA with a 7.62 K/9 and a 3.46 BB/9, relying mainly on a fastball-changeup combination. His curveball is still in its infancy, but again, keep in mind that he’s only 18 years old and far away from the majors.
Clocking in at 6-foot 4 and 175 pounds, the broad-shouldered Duensing is an extremely projectable athlete. Adding muscle to his rather-skinny frame will provide a lift to both velocity and stamina, allowing him to pitch deeper into and maintain his stuff in games. As you can see here, Duensing has a free-and-easy delivery which equates to clean mechanics and less arm stress. Because of his loose arm, he works quickly which is a positive.
This season, his fastball was sitting around 89-91 mph with some movement, at times touching 92-93. Compared to sitting in the high-80s for most of the high-school season, and you can see how Duensing could become something a lot better than he is now. His changeup is thrown often but doesn’t have the velocity separation that makes it effective, and his curveball has an 11-to-5 late break to it. Because he will fill out his frame, I’ve given Duensing a lot of projection.
Overall, this is a project arm that will test player development. He has raw tools but he has major work to do with command and his secondary pitches. Because he’s so far away from the bigs, Duensing carries high risk but simultaneously has the upside to be a #3/4 starter in the majors, but he — and the player development staff — is going to have to put it in the work for him to get there. —RS