If you’d like to view these prospect grades in greater detail, you can do so here.
T-9. Jaime Barria (SP) — 135 points
Scouting Report: In 2016, for the first time in his four-year minor league career with the Angels, Jaime Barria was REALLY put to work. The 20 year old, originally from Panama, and who had spent some time playing in the Dominican Summer League as a teenager before being brought to the United States in 2015, had come from a situation in the DSL where he was striking guys out left and right, and was definitely turning some scouting heads in the process.
There was plenty to like about the youngster; he had a nice fastball, and his off-speed stuff was coming along, albeit slowly. The ability to locate and command pitches was there, and even though when he got to the USA and found himself in some stiffer competition, not to mention his numbers began to take a hit, he was still showing he had what it took to continue to move up in the system.
His 2015 with the Burlington Bees showed a continued focus on good command, and a sinkerball that was still able to get the job done. He had a 3.66 ERA in 91 innings that year, but his strikeout rate left much to be desired.
It was this past season, though, where he was put to a consistently tougher test, and got the most playing time, thus far. Barria pitched 117 innings at Low-A Burlington, had a 3.85 ERA, while striking out 78 batters (he walked 21), and while most are still questioning his ability to get guys to whiff at competitive levels, the 2016 season was still largely a success for the kid. So much so, that he was named the Angels’ Top Pitching Prospect of the Year.
He still needs to work on his strikeout ratio, and it’d be nice if his secondary pitches could improve to the level that his fastball is currently at, but there is still a ton of talent here, and he’s still merely 20 years old. The 6’1, 210 lb pitcher still has time to grow some more, and pack some more muscle on, which will only help to make his arsenal more deadly.
We’re still a few years away from Barria making any impact at the upper levels of the farm system, or even the MLB level, but his youth gives the Halos plenty of reason not to rush things. With some more work, some more consistent innings pitched under his belt against top competition, and the help of the Angels’ developmental staff, Barria has the potential to be a sneaky good starting pitcher at the MLB level. —JM
T-9. Chris Rodriguez (SP) — 135 points
Scouting Report: Selected 126th overall in the 2016 amateur draft, Chris Rodriguez has soared through the ranks quickly for a guy with only 11 professional innings under his belt. He made the most of his debut, with a 17/3 SO/BB ratio, allowing only 2 earned runs in 7 games. He showed good command of a mid-90’s fastball, flashing a tight slider as well as a change-up. The pitch-mix is a standard one, but it bodes well that he was able to pound the strike zone as a 17 year-old.
Rodriguez has a bit of funk in his delivery, hiding the ball as long as possible before whipping it through the zone. The quick arm action is reminiscent of a power reliever, though his three-pitch mix and plus command have the Angels grooming him to start. His slider darts away from right-handed batters, coming from the same angle as his fastball. His change-up compliments his heater, though he needs to work on maintaining the same arm speed for the pitch to deceive more advanced hitters.
The young right-hander ended his prep career on a high note, pitching a 1-0, two-hit shutout in the Class 5A state semifinal. He was named Pitcher of the Year at the Miami Herald’s All-Dade Athletic Awards Ceremony, earning First Team honors, as well. Despite dominating hitters in rookie ball, expect the Angels to move slowly with young Rodriguez. The stuff is electric; the key is to iron-out his mechanics to keep him healthy and maintain that velocity. While far too early to make any realistic projections, Rodriguez profiles as a back-end reliever, with the ceiling of a number three starter. Not bad for a fourth-round pick. —CF
8. Grayson Long (SP) — 150 points
Scouting Report: Long had a solid collegiate career (3.08 ERA, 19-5, 199 Ks in 231 IP) before being drafted, and the Angels (according to Ric Wilson) saw him on probable fast track to the big leagues. That track was slowed a bit in 2016 when he missed a good portion of the season with biceps tendonitis followed by a fractured finger he suffered while on his rehab assignment. Had it not been for that delay, there would have been a chance he’d start in Mobile for 2017 but he should land back in A+ at least to start the season.
Long has a big workhorse type build that can eat a lot of innings. The Angels limited him to just under 20 innings in 2015 since he was coming off a 100 inning season for Texas A&M. Despite Long’s rough showing in his rehab starts (8 runs through 11 innings), he still logged a 3.18 combined ERA in 2016 with a 1.22 WHIP and 70 Ks through 65 IP. He was also a mid-season all-star but didn’t get to pitch in the game due to injury. He has solid mechanics and a smooth consistent three-quarters arm slot. His bread and butter fastball sits in the 91-93 range, but has good life to it and can hit 95 at times. He also has a plus changeup and average slider in his arsenal. Long’s slider will likely improve and it’s great to have three solid pitches that are all average or higher. He has plenty of ceiling, but is expected to be a back end rotation guy.
Long is a good bet and pretty solid prospect to be a future starter in the Angels rotation. He is often compared to former Angels prospect Chris Ellis who landed with the Braves in the Andrelton Simmons trade. He has some room for improvement with his slider and his walk rate is pretty high (3.75/9IP). Projections had him arriving in 2018/2019 but given his setbacks last year, I’d say it’s looking like 2019. —JD
7. Taylor Ward (C) — 158 points
Scouting Report: Everyone’s favorite Angels prospect. Ward will forever, unfairly, have the stigma of being the “reach pick”, let’s put it nicely, in the first round back in 2015 as we watched the draft room cheer and celebrate to the likes of something that paralleled the crew that put the first man on the moon. Ward didn’t control where he was drafted, but the early reports about a glove-first catcher whose future looked like a backup backstop definitely was enough to get underneath the skin of Angels fans who wanted to see the barren farm system replenished with high end talent.
Ward temporarily silenced critics early on, hitting .348/.457/.438 across the two lowest levels of the minors with an impressive 39 walks compared to 23 strikeouts. He continued to earn high praises for the bulk of his glove work, the consensus was that he needed more time and professional coaching to improve the finer things of catching (game calling, general receiving skills, etc.).
The honeymoon ended the first half of 2016. Ward hit .224/.283/.259 in the seasons first half in his first stint with the Inland Empire 66ers (High-A). Starting to get that bad feeling you have in your stomach when you see a prospect fail to adjust at one point of their development? You all know the feeling. Think about watching Brandon Wood flail at Major League pitching.
But Ward did adjust, he credits the second half success to a change in his batting stance by lowering his hands. Ward hit .274/.359/.415 in the second half and nearly doubled his walk numbers (31 BB’s vs. 17 BB’s in the first half). That got him a trip to the Arizona Fall League where he ended up hitting .283 with a .321 OBP and earned a selection to the AFL All-Star game.
Ward will always be a defensive first player, he has a very strong throwing arm that comes from a quick catch and release, he gunned down 38% of potential base stealers last year (77 successful, 48? Not so much). He’s a very athletic catcher, if he can improve the other areas of his defense, there’s no doubt his glove plays in The Show. It’s his bat that will always make things murky, he generally has a pretty good idea of the strike zone, doesn’t chase at bad pitches, and has a little pull power. If he can provide a .700 OPS in the majors, he’s at least a pretty nice backup.
There’s the caveat, a “premium athlete” behind the plate who’s a glove-first catcher with a questionable-to-bad bat. And as long as Scioscia is the manager of the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, those guys will tend to start. We just really need to hope he’s “okay” with the bat. Whispers Jeff Mathis* —CK
6. Keynan Middleton (RP) — 160 points
Scouting Report: A true three-sport athlete, Middleton was drafted out of junior college as a projectable athlete with high upside but that did not manifest itself on the baseball diamond...until this year. Middleton struggled as a starter for his first three seasons (47 starts of 5+ ERA across Rookie and A-ball), so the Angels converted him to a reliever and he has looked every bit like the big league contributor evaluators once envisioned. In 46 appearances this year, Middleton threw 66 innings with a 3.41 ERA, 1.136 WHIP, and a 3.14 K/BB across high-A, AA, and AAA.
Middleton’s breakdown of his performance by level shows maturity and progression, as he finally figured out his command at AA and AAA, the upper most levels of the minors. It’s a small sample size, but his low walk rates (2.45 BB/9) and low HR rates (0.6 HR/9) in AA and AAA make him an athletic, talented reliever with oodles of upside. His velocity went up from low-90s as a starter to now mid-upper 90s as a reliever, with his four-seamer sitting in the 96-99 range, often touching triple digits and once touching 102 mph. This sets up his offspeed well, and he uses his two-seam fastball for late-run. His slider is reportedly very, very good when he can command it, which he did at the upper levels of the minors this year. In relief capacity, he rarely throws his changeup and curveball as those pitches need more development before they are used regularly in in-game situations.
Middleton has the potential to be the setup man or closer if his improved command is the real deal, and even if he doesn’t he profiles as a reliable middle relief option. Expect to see him next season in some capacity. With the volatility of Angels relievers, Middleton might even make the big league team out of Spring Training and get his first taste of the majors. Don’t let the 40/45/50 overall grade fool you: although relievers are graded more harshly since they pitch less, Middleton has the stuff to be one of the better ones on the Angels’ 2017 squad with a chance to be much more. —RS