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Billy Eppler & Matt Swanson make out like bandits in Angels’ best first-day draft since 2009

This is why drafting the best player available is always the best strategy.

As the draft inched closer and closer, there became more and more questions as to who the Angels would select. In the first round of mock drafts, they were linked to college arms, athletic outfielders, and high school starters. In the day leading up to the draft, there was some talk of the Angels going with a “safe, high floor” hitter and the Brewers, who picked right before the Angels, taking a toolsy high-school outfielder to go alongside Lewis Brinson and Corey Ray. Luckily, the Brewers took the safe pick in Keston Hiura and the Angels drafted the high upside Jordon ‘Jo’ Adell.

Judging by the war room’s reactions, this is the guy whom the Angels wanted all along.

When Billy Eppler said he was looking for athletes, he wasn’t kidding. But this time around, not only did the Angels not select a catcher in the first round, but also they selected far and away the best player on the board. Adell is widely viewed as the toolsiest player in the draft: his combination of power and speed is extremely rare, he is a good fielder with good instincts, and while the arm strength was down this spring, it sounds more like a quibble than a legitimate concern (especially given he has touched 97 mph on the mound before). Scouts have comped the body to Justin Upton, and if you hear the sound off his bat, you’ll understand why many are so excited.

Matt Swanson scouted him three times (in addition to a workout with the Angels), going as far to say that he is a potential franchise player to the Angels. Though there’s swing and miss here, it’s highly difficult to hit good breaking balls if he’s never seen pitchers throw good breaking balls in high school. In an interview with Trent Rush on AM830 last night, Swanson added Adell had “incredible upside”, saying they felt “very, very comfortable” in selecting him due to his vast toolset. And if that’s not enough to get you excited, Baseball America had this to say.

Adell’s explosive raw tools are rarely matched. He’s a workout legend, capable of running a 6.4 60-yard dash, smacking a 450-foot home run with a wood bat or making a 70-grade throw from the outfield. He’s got all the body cliche’s–the high-waist, the broad shoulders and the defined muscles stretching his sleeves. When the players walk off the bus, Adell’s the guy scouts want. The degree to which Adell translates those attributes into baseball-specific skills will determine whether or not he becomes a superstar.

After a tough week at the Tournament of Stars, Adell made adjustments to his swing and showed more contact ability at the Metropolitan Baseball Classic and the Under Armour All-America Game. He had closed off his open stance and reduced the load of his back elbow, improving his direction to the ball, helping his head stay on plane and allowing his bat to stay through the zone longer...After a dedicated winter, Adell has done everything possible to reduce concerns about the swing-and-miss to his game.

After passing on the best available players in the first round of the ‘15 and ‘16 drafts, this was a much-needed change.

Swanson admitted the Angels took a “best player available” approach, and it ended up working nicely with the next selection as well, Griffin Canning.

The Angels drafted Canning with the 47th pick, nabbing him after he fell due to unspecified injury concerns. He was slated to be drafted in the 15-20 range, but that did not materialize (Taylor Blake Ward said it was shoulder-related). Per this Fangraphs piece, Canning was heavily overused at UCLA, which may very well explain this shoulder issue in the MRI. According to Trent Rush, the Angels were not concerned “at all” regarding his injury.

Canning has a deep array of pitches from which he draws, including a fastball from 90-94 mph, a cutter, slider, and a changeup. His secondaries are quite advanced with good control and a solid pitch mix. He’ll need to command better as he moves up the ladder but he throws strikes and the consensus is that he projects as a safe, quick-moving #3/4 starter. Swanson sees him as “high-upside” and an athlete that “still has some projection to him”. He apparently has a strong “feel for pitching” as well, and his success will dictate how quickly he progresses within the Angels system. As a bonus, Canning grew up thirty minutes south of Angel Stadium and grew up as an Angels fan, which is just icing on the cake.

There’s no denying the Angels did very, very well on the first day of this draft. They drafted the best player available at each step of the way, quite a nice change from their usual safe, low-ceiling pick. Sean Newcomb in 2014 was nice, as was Jahmai Jones in 2015 and Brandon Marsh in 2016, but there’s no denying this combination of high-upside and high-floor in Adell and Canning is the best haul the Angels have received on day one since 2009, when they landed Trout, Grichuk, Richards, Skaggs, and Corbin.

Day two of the draft is today, and it will be interesting to see as Matt Swanson digs deep to find talent in a relatively top-heavy draft. He has done incredibly well thus far.