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2017 Angels prospect rankings: 1-5

We finally made it! Here's the best of what the Angels farm has to offer.

Here’s what we’ve gone over thus far: Introduction | Notables | 21-25 | 16-20 | 11-15 | 6-10.

If you’d like to view these prospect grades in greater detail, you can do so here.

5. Nate Smith (SP) — 172 points

Scouting Report: Nate Smith was signed for the bargain price of $12,000 back in 2013 and with that came low expectations that Smith quickly exceeded. After his first full pro season in 2014, Smith was ranked the Angels #14 prospect and was invited to the Arizona Fall League. He has continued to rack up awards and in 2015 was the #3 prospect along with a mid AND post season All Star AND was named pitcher of the year for Arkansas. He followed that up in 2016 with an invite to play in the MLB Future’s game and was named a AAA All-Star. Smith’s climb has been noticeable and he was slated to see big league action late in 2016 before troubling elbow tendonitis shut down his season.

Smith is not an overpowering pitcher and isn’t the type of guy who’s going to blow away a roster on his way to 15 Ks. Instead, he relies on his 4 pitch arsenal, all of which he can throw for strikes, as well as mixing up his velocity and location well. His fastball sits around 90MPH which works great to set up his above average changeup that comes around 75MPH with late drop. His slider is just a bit stronger than his curveball, though both pitches are around average and can look similar at times. Smith gets the job done with movement and command more so than velocity and he has the strength and stamina to go late into games. He profiles as a 4th or 5th starter or swingman out of the bullpen.

In 2016, Smith had flashes of brilliance like on August 23rd when he allowed just 1 hit and zero walks over 7 solid innings. On the flip side, Smith tends to unravel at times and had 4 games were he gave up 6 or more runs. Smith isn’t really a shut out type pitcher as he does give up a fair amount of hits (almost 10 per 9 innings in 2016). Smith is only 25 years old and the change from his 2015 to 2016 seasons in Salt Lake was dramatic. His road stats were impressive and his record away from home in 2016 was 5-3 with a 3.74 ERA and 1.14 WHIP.

It’s not out of the question that Smith could earn an opening day roster spot if he has an impressive spring. Either way, it won’t be long before the lefty gets his big league debut some time in 2017. —JD

4. Alex Meyer (SP) — 239 points

Scouting Report: The Angels probably took on more risk than they had to when they acquired Meyer as a primary return from the Hector Santiago trade at the deadline. In doing so, they acquired a oft-injured 26 year-old starting pitching prospect who couldn’t find the strike zone, a problem which worsened as he climbed each rung of the minors. It’s no secret that Meyer can strike out or walk the side in any given inning: when he’s good, he’s unstoppable but when he’s bad, he spirals out of control. This combination makes him a highly intriguing player to follow.

He recovered from his shoulder injury to make five September starts and the results were decidedly mixed: a 4.57 ERA (3.93 FIP), a 9.97 K/9, 5.40 BB/9, and 0.83 HR/9. That’s simply too many walks in a game to succeed at this level.

Make no mistake; while Meyer is a pitcher that has more than his fair share of warts, a lack of tools isn’t one of them. During his time in Anaheim, Meyer’s sink-heavy fastball sat around 95-97 with his slider around 86 mph. His lanky 6-foot 9 frame makes it extremely difficult to maintain his mechanics throughout the game, which sometimes resulted in bursts of ineffectiveness. However, extra-tall pitchers like Meyer usually take a longer time than average to figure it out; it didn’t all click for 6’6” reliever Andrew Miller until his age-28 season. Just imagine how it is for someone who is three inches taller.

Because of his height and injury history, Meyer is a very risky pitching prospect but he has all the tools to succeed: a pitching coach who understands mechanics, premium velocity, and a plus breaking ball to compensate for inconsistencies in command. He could fix his command issues in several ways, including taking a few mph off pitches to improve mechanics and command or adding another secondary pitch to keep hitters off balance. He would profile extremely well in the bullpen, but the organization is still holding out hope he can develop into a starter. I’ve soured on him a bit but still believe his command will improve enough to the point where he can be a #5 starter, at the very least. He has #3 starter or back-end bullpen upside if things go right. —RS

3. Brandon Marsh (OF) — 275 points

Scouting Report: It is all about the tools with this two-sport star. A wide receiver in high school, Brandon Marsh was committed to Kennesaw State University, but the Angels managed to lure him into the fold, instantly making him one of the most exciting prospects in their system. As one would expect from a wide receiver, Marsh’s current greatest asset is his speed. He focused solely on baseball his senior year, hitting .559 and earning Player of the Year honors in his region and leading his team to a state title.

Marsh is considered very raw but impressed scouts with his ability to hit balls to all fields, striking out only nine times his senior year. His power should develop as he matures and he already receives high marks for his approach at the plate. He played mostly right field in high school, but the Angels plan on trying him at all three outfield positions. A back injury prevented him from seeing any playing time in the Angels’ system last year, so we have yet to see what he can do against pro-level pitching.

Prospect maven John Sickels puts his raw tools are on par with Jahmai Jones, another second round pick out of Georgia. On top of blazing speed, he has a very strong throwing arm, so he could eventually challenge Jones for center field honors as the two climb the system. Again, this kid is very raw and has never faced professional pitching. There is a wide range of outcomes when it comes to his potential, but given his electric speed, strong arm and advanced bat control, it won’t take much for him to become at least a solid regular one day. —CF

2. Matt Thaiss (1B) — 315 points

Scouting Report: It’s been almost 8 months since Billy Eppler, in his first draft as GM of the Angels, selected Matt Thaiss as the Angels’ first round pick. It’s been almost 8 months since some of us here at Halos Heaven (yes, myself included) were momentarily thrown into delirium when Rob Manfred said “CATCHER Matt Thaiss”; all I heard was the word “catcher”, booming and ominous, and I suddenly found myself questioning reality.

Why the overreaction?

Angels fans had already been incensed at the previous year’s draft, when the Angels used their first round pick on a guy that projected as a Jeff Mathis clone (after the team had drafted a dozen or so catchers in the two previous drafts), so I think we should be cut a little slack for the collective knee jerk. Luckily, by the end of the afternoon, the coolest of heads prevailed, as usual, and the reality of the pick was surfacing: this was far, far from a Taylor Ward-type situation; quite the opposite, in fact.

The Angels must have sensed that people were focusing on the catcher aspect of their pick shortly after it was announced, because Eppler was already letting the beat writers know that day that he was NOT picked to be a backstop. He was chosen for his excellent skills with the lumber, first and foremost, and they’d move him to 1B.

He was coming off a season at Virginia where he slashed .366/.468/.557, a veritable on-base machine with an eagle-eye purview of the strike zone and contact for days. The day he was drafted, calmed down but still side-eyeing the pick, I said “If the bat is legit, then cool.”

Welp, the bat is legit. I’m a happy camper.

Thaiss started his minor league career in Orem, fresh out of the draft, and instantly made his mark. The Pioneer League is definitely hitter-friendly, but still, Thaiss’ .569 SLG and .964 OPS were some standout, video game-like numbers. He only lasted 15 games in Orem before the organization thought it was too easy for him, and he got sent to Low-A Burlington.

He ended up playing 52 games with the Bees in 2016, and the stellar numbers came back down to Earth a bit, but were still enough to turn heads of fans, writers and scouts alike. He hit .276 over those 52 games, but he slugged .427, hitting 12 doubles and four homers. His presence at the dish was unwavering; he was still making contact like crazy, still keeping his K% respectable and still getting his walks.

The glove at 1B is still a work in progress, and he did have 11 errors, but pretty much everybody that watches this kid hit will tell you that he’s a big league batter through and through, with enough chops, discipline and power to be regularly penciled into a lineup in a couple years. Coaches barely even talk to him about his hitting approach, because he doesn’t need it. He’s already “there”.

Once he gets more cozy being on the field and not behind the plate, fans will get a good picture of the first baseman of the Angels’ future. We may get to see him at class A Inland Empire to begin 2017, and it’s perfectly within reason that he could reach AA Mobile by the end of the season.

All this success, all this wonderful hype and excitement, and it’s only been about 8 months since Billy Eppler drafted him; almost 8 short months of Matt Thaiss shattering my expectations, and about 8 months since Billy Eppler proved to us all that we can all relax...he knows what he’s doing.

After all, we’ve got the proof. We’ve got Matt Thaiss. —JM

1. Jahmai Jones (OF) — 340 points

Scouting Report: I am a huuuuuuuuuge Jahmai Jones fan, I even went as far as making my first post as part of the masthead of Halos Heaven about Jones. In a system that still lacks a plethora of high-end talent, Jahmai offers some hope in that aspect. Jahmai was the guy taken in the second round following the pandemonium of the Taylor Ward selection and, in some ways, may have calmed some people down (including myself). He had a commitment to attend and play at the University of North Carolina, but was swayed to sign with the Angels by receiving a $1.1 million dollar signing bonus (obviously a significant amount higher than the $800,000 bonus pool slot for the 70th overall pick). Boy am I glad they blew the wad to convince him.

Jones comes from an athletic family, his late-father, Andre Jones, was a defensive end for the 1988 national championship Notre Dame team and played briefly for the Detroit Lions. His two older brothers, TJ and Malachi, both played football in college and TJ is even in the NFL with the Lions. Talk about the genetic lottery, and you can see how it trickled down to Jahmai (6’0” and 215 lbs.) as his athleticism shows through in multiple ways on the diamond, let alone the gridiron.

Jahmai gets high praises for his natural talent, raw athleticism, and makup, but a lot of evaluators have been impressed with his approach at the plate early on for someone who did not focus solely on baseball until getting drafted two years ago. Here’s just one example from a well-regarded prospect hound, Eric Longenhagen of FanGraphs, on Jahmai in one of his ‘Prospect Chats’ where he answered in on my Jones optimism.

I think it’s fine to be excited about Jones. Good athlete, great makeup, excellent feel to hit, plays CF for me.

For someone with as little baseball experience and as young as Jahmai, who was two years younger than the average player in the Pioneer League, to hit as well as he did (.321/.404/.459 with 21 BB’s vs. 29 K’s) is rare to say the least. Here’s a Longenhagen tweet that perfectly exemplifies Jones’ raw ability.

Jahmai Jones has squared 96 into the gap for a stretch double, stayed back on 83mph slider and slapped it the other way. LAA's best prospect

An advanced approach at the plate, a nice compact swing, and a burning desire to get better with a good brain in between the ears from an 19 year old prospect? How could this get any better?

Well, like in every other sport, there’s another side of the ball: defense. When Jahmai was drafted out of high school, he was originally a second baseman/middle infielder, the Angels put him out in the outfield permanently and it seems to be paying its dividends. Orem manager, Dave Stapleton, reveals a little bit of the leader Jones needs to be in center.

He's been a big plus of this first half. He's done a tremendous job in the outfield of directing and making sure people are moving and shifting. He's extremely mature for his age."

He’s able to use his plus speed in playing a very strong center field, thank you football genes, and on the bases where he’s considered a plus baserunner already. He stole 29 bases with Orem in only 48 games, but was caught 19 times. So you can see the plus speed coming into effect. He’s expected to stick in center field and he’s a legitimate basestealing threat, that speed is a serious weapon.

Aside from the physical tools and ability, Jones perhaps draws the most raves for his makeup and maturity. Seriously, check out any article on Jahmai and you see nothing but high praise for the dude. Just ask the man himself.

"I've changed most as a player physically, I think," he said. "I've gotten stronger. I've focused on certain parts of my body that need to be better than others. But I've also changed the way I think about things, the way I work my pregame prep, even my in-game prep.... I'm thinking about all the possible outcomes at all times now, like making sure what base I needed to throw to if, say, the ball's in the gap or if it's hit to another player, what base I need to be backing up. I'm thinking about everything before it happens."

I know it’s an intangible that people can joke about and undersell, but this is fan-freaking-tastic to see from someone so young. I highly implore all of you to find more articles on Jahmai and see his quotes or follow him on Twitter, they make my eyes watery just thinking about them.

So there you go Angels fans. This is the key to the kingdom, this is the guy who should help put the Angels farm system back on the map, this is the guy to get excited for. He’s finally making some headway on the national level getting placed 90th overall in Keith Law’s Top 100 Prospect list yesterday and continues to earn respect and high praise from around the league. He initially did struggle when he was first promoted to Burlington, hitting only .242/.294/.306, but it’s important to remember he’s still very young, very raw, and it was only 62 AB’s against a much higher level of competition. Keep a close eye on this guy’s development, if the barren Angels system is going to produce a star, this is a the guy (kid). If you want to read more on him, check out my article from August, I was able to go a little more in-depth then. Point still remains, the sky’s the limit for Jahmai. Rejoice Angels fans. He’ll be playing next to Mike Trout in a few years. —CK