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An email chain for the ages: HH writers talk Jerry Dipoto versus Billy Eppler, drafting, player development, trades, & more

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If you call yourself an Angels fan, this is a must read.

MLB: General Managers Meetings Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

The following conversation took place via email between HH writers. I had asked our writers to vote on their top prospects for the midseason re-rankings, which we hope to have up soon (hint hint). The dialogue that proceeded is substantial enough to belong on this site, and we would be remiss to not share with our community.

Get your coffee ready, there’s a lot to digest here.

Turks Teeth: I dropped mine in. Harder time ranking the list this time – my top five could be in almost any order. There's a lot of youth and ceiling this time with Adell, Marsh and Jones. I could have gone with Marsh at #1 as well, but I've been burned too often with hot starts at Orem, and the injury bug concerns me there.

Nonetheless, it's a more interesting farm than it was a year ago, and almost all of that is due to prep and international signings, to my eye.

Rahul Setty [in reply to Turks Teeth]: Heck, one might argue that our top 7 prospects (Adell, Marsh, Jones, Canning, Barria, Rodriguez, Thaiss) are all 50 FV or will be by the end of the year, all guys that have legitimate arguments to be top 100 prospects. Our top 10/top 15 looks respectable for the first time in a long, long time and Eppler has gone from 'worst system in existence' to bottom 10 in 1.5 years...that's quite impressive.

Turks Teeth [in reply to Rahul Setty]: I'm still fairly sour on Thaiss​, and can't imagine him a top 100 prospect. He ultimately fell just outside of my top 10, and I notice Ryan had an even grimmer outlook, placing him at #16.

He's effectively a DH with a 10-15 HR MLB projection. He's struggled to keep an OPS around .750 all season. It's worth recalling that Cron hit 27 HRs over 525 ABs at the same age in the Cal League, and Casey Kotchman was putting up a .350/.441/.524 slash at age 20 there. Neither player would go on to light the MLB on fire, and Thaiss is significantly underperforming both.

It's interesting that a fourth-rounder from '15 like Brendon Sanger, currently leading the 66ers with an OPS of .893 and 10 HRs in <200 ABs, is simply clobbering Thaiss on most counts, and is hitting eighth in the lineup, as Thaiss/Ward hit 3/4 on the club. Talk about unwillingness to admit to error and make organizational adjustments.

Rodriguez is a high upside arm, but I need to see a little more before I group them with the top five. Ultimately this list could re-sort itself quickly, given how the 18-20 yos and recent intl pickups prove out over the next 12 months.

I put the regeneration of the farm less down to some innate talent of Eppler's and more to the fact that the team finally has had two years in a row of good drafting position, didn't trade away any of their recent picks, and is finally able to play in the intl market again. And one has to concede that some of the good news on the farm (Jones, Barria, Rivas, Paredes) were actually acquisitions under Dipoto, as were many of the arms who have made good in the MLB of late (Newcomb, Clevinger, Middleton).

Rahul Setty [in reply to Turks Teeth]: Yeah, Thaiss at top 100 is definitely a stretch. Top 200 in the back back end, probably. I'm not as sour on him, but I definitely don't think it's a lock that he's an everyday player or even an average player. When it's all said and done, I expect him to hit for average, OBP 15-20 points above league average, hit 10 HRs a year, play solid-average defense (which the latest reports are that he's average as of now), and be slow as s*** but still not slowest on the team (obviously).

Any powerless profile is looked down upon at 1b, but if Thaiss plays good D and takes his walks, he should be fine as a 1.5 WAR guy. Remember that positional adjustments kill his WAR. Cron & Kotchman are/were both solid players: one is mentally bound, the other had 2 solid-average seasons and both showed they have the talent to stick in MLB. Scouts can assess tools but not the other factors that go into big league transition periods. As for rghan's vote, I wouldn't read into it too much: he digs upside, and Thaiss has next to none.

Sanger looks to be a lot better than Ward at this point and needs a promotion to Mobile, badly. He's tearing the cover off the ball, which is a nice surprise. [Ed. Note: Sanger was promoted to AA Mobile shortly after this conversation occurred]

Dipoto brought a few decent pieces, but none have developed well until Eppler has come along (Newcomb and Clevinger were traded, obviously). 2016 2nd & 4th rounders Marsh & Rodriguez look to be top 100 MILB talents, though they need to prove it. If they do end up progressing per usual, then Eppler would deserve tremendous credit in adding 2 impact players, plus Thaiss and any other contributions (all signs point to them being advanced, with Eric Longenhagen saying Rodriguez has mid rotation stuff & that Marsh has an excellent chance to hit).

Turks Teeth [in reply to Rahul Setty]: These long discussions are probably best held in the forums, but suffice to say that your optimist's argument for Thaiss is basically my pessimist's argument against him. Given there's no positional scarcity at first base, unless a player is providing an unusual asset (like power), they aren't adding much team value, and the positional adjustment makes sense (and was meant to account for this). Any number of our collegiate outfielders could likely be shifted to first base and provide the same offensive profile as Thaiss, with greater athleticism.

Not sure it's fair to tie the emergence of Dipoto's draftees to Eppler – most of the names I mention were not stateside or were only in the system a month when Dipoto resigned. Dipoto was implementing essentially the Cardinals developmental playbook from '14 on, and I don't see that priorities have shifted significantly since Eppler took over. He brought on the Card's scouting director to help better effectuate what Dipoto had already put in motion.

There's a bit of a cult of Eppler at the moment around HH, but I don't know that there's as much daylight between the two GMs as people say. Eppler just has a better working relationship with Scioscia, which has both benefits and drawbacks. IMO, both GMs made mistakes – the Ward and Thaiss picks were effectively similar ones, though Eppler had more fortunate drafting position when he made his.

Rahul Setty [in reply to Turks Teeth]: Agree to disagree on the GMs and player development. True that Dipoto didn't have two first rounders, but he couldn't successfully develop a single everyday player under his 4 year tenure from start to finish.

Dipoto was mostly good in trades, while Eppler has proven (thus far) to be highly competent in all areas of GMing. Ward and Thaiss were similar in nature, but Ward was a consensus 3rd round pick, while Thaiss was slated in the early part of the 1st comp picks. Ginormous difference in magnitude.

And that's not even touching on all the diamonds in the rough that Eppler continues to find: David Hernandez, Norris, Petit, EYJ, Bridwell, Ramirez, so on so forth. Agree to disagree, but keep in mind I'm not as sour on Dipoto as others are. I really do believe Eppler is the complete package.

Would you like me to make a post about this and copy/paste our conversation? I have a feeling our community and readers would dig it.

Rick Souddress [in reply to Rahul Setty]: I, for one, would love for you to make this a copypaste post. Dipoto vs. Eppler has been a long-standing debate and for good reason.

I also think that Eppler has shown a much wider range of success and there has been MUCH less drama under his reign than under JeDi's. Eppler has not had a serious PR issue beyond that of signing Matt Thaiss (And Simmons? But that's just because non-NL fans hadn't really seen him). Compare that and the Brandon Marsh SOURCE??? fiasco which wasn't even his fault to the Ward signing, The Dipoto Four, the FO-Sosh feud and, worst of all, Roberto Baldoquin. He's had less time with the team, yes, but it's hard to ignore the running joke the team had become between 2012 and 2015. Regardless of who is to blame, whether the Front Office, the Coach, or the Owner, the tenure of Jerry Dipoto will always be a black mark on the history of this team, in my opinion.

htennis [in reply to Rick Souddress]: I don't see it as a black hole. You take whatever the hell was going on before Dipoto took over and call that a black cave that you have to navigate through. When we hired Dipoto, we got the flicker of the candle flame, and under that candlelight we were able to barely see the oars of our boat, pick them up, and start rowing slightly quicker than we had been moving (or not moving). When the candlelight flame went out, we groped around and found a lantern in Eppler. He's obviously not the sun, but we're definitely able to see a lot better than under Dipoto or even pre-Dipoto.

We had Stoneman come back and be our GM under pre-Dipoto. We were in the middle of the hunt, and the only piece he picked up was a utility infielder (I think Callaspo?). Please.

Black mark? I say nay. He helped us sail through the black cave, no matter the speed.

JeffJoiner [in reply to htennis]: I've stated many times that I was in love with the idea of Jerry Dipoto, a young, stats driven GM who would pull us out of the dark ages. I so desperately wanted the Angels to join the ranks of big boy front offices.

I gave him the benefit of the doubt time and again and blamed most failings on Arte's meddling and/or Scioscia's stubbornness.

In hindsight I think part of Sosh's wall of refusal was due to the way Dipoto carried himself and came at Sosh.

But I also think the fallout and subsequent PR nightmare are what made Mike and Arte check their egos and give Eppler the authority and autonomy he needs to run a franchise.

In short, I prefer Eppler but realize we needed to go through the Dipoto crisis in order for any GM to be the GM in function and not just title.

Rick Souddress [in reply to JeffJoiner]: I didn't say that Dipoto was a black mark by the way; I said that the years of his tenure were. There were so many issues and so much melodrama during those 4 years that it just got very tiresome. I am not blaming it all on Dipoto at all. I liked a lot of things he did. A few of them: Sean Newcomb, Andrew Heaney, Jahmai Jones, Grilli for Frieri, firing Hatcher, having the same birthday as me, etc.

I just feel like the time period of Billy Eppler's employment by the Angels has had so little controversy comparatively.

Turks Teeth [in reply to Rick Souddress]: I'm not sure that everyone agrees that the team was a running joke between '12 and '15. The very reason the club had such atrocious draft position in 2015 was because the team had a 98 win season, the best record in baseball, in 2014. The Angels had a winning club 3 of 4 years Dipoto was GM.

If we're going to talk about outcomes, Dipoto's last team ended eight games above .500, and Eppler's first team ended 14 games below .500 – a 22 game negative swing year over year. The 2016 Eppler Angels were the worst Angels team in 17 years.

Eppler is getting a ton of credit for one half of a season of a good bullpen (always a crap shoot), but he's failed to build enough pitching depth to keep the team consistently above .500. The bullpen he built in 2016 was the third worst in baseball last year according to FG. Yes, he's had to deal with a lot of injury misfortune on the SP front, but he's also relied overmuch on players with significant injury histories (Skaggs, Richards, Shoemaker), and just assumed they'd be well again. Stopgaps like Chavez and Nolasco are exactly what you'd expect, second base is still a garbage fire, 1B is a disaster, and LF is meh. You can't grade one GM on a curve, and the other not.

I'll continue to disagree that Ward and Thaiss differ markedly – there's not a "ginormous difference in magnitude" between a supplemental rounder and a second/third round pick. The difference between a top 10-15 pick and a supplemental rounder is far greater. 20 pt difference in bust rate between 1-20 picks and 21-40 picks, vs a 6 pt difference between 21-40 picks and 61-80 picks. That Angels were already well behind the eight ball when Dipoto chose 26th in a weak draft class.

Moreover, Ward wasn't a consensus third-rounder – he was right in the middle of my board for the Angels in round two, and Baseball America had him ranked at the back of round two as well, one notch above Jahmai Jones. Given that the Angels had the last pick of round two, if you thought he was going to be picked up before pick #70, it was a reasonable gamble if that was the guy you wanted. Not the choice I would have made, but neither was Thaiss.

I think choosing Taylor Ward over Donnie Dewees or Cody Ponce (along with Scott Kingery, the three BPAs on my board at that time) wasn't as much of a stretch as picking Thaiss when top-12 ranked players like Dakota Hudson and Blake Rutherford were still available. Kingery may be killing it now, but he was also passed up 47 times and viewed as a future utility guy at the time. Both Kingery and Ward were both considered top 75 guys outside the first round, whereas Hudson was the Newcomb of 2016 – he just fell into the Angels lap, and Eppler chose a guy with fringe average power and no defensive home instead.

Just a year before, when given decent draft position, Dipoto chose rationally, and Eppler was able to trade that value (Newcomb+Ellis) a year later for Simmons, a franchise player. In four years of drafts, Dipoto only had decent drafting position once, and he didn't fuck it up. His first pick in 2012 was pick #114. His first pick in 2013 was at #59 (his third rounder of that year, Middleton, is in the Majors). His #16 pick in 2014 is now an impact starter for Atlanta, and his 2015 pick was #26 – and 2015 picks are barely beginning to touch the MLB now. Complaining that Dipoto failed to develop an everyday player when he had exactly one top 20 draft pick in 3.5 years seems tendentious at best.

In sum: My main complaint with Dipoto remains Baldoquin, but I'll concede that Eppler is the superior GM only when he produces multiple clubs that make it to the postseason, and guys he's drafted make it past AA and themselves become everyday players. We can be excited about the farm at this point largely because the Angels clubs have performed badly enough to give them more fortunate draft position than they've had in some years.

I also think it's easy to forget just what a shrewd trader Dipoto was, and how he transformed a fair number of shitty prospects into everyday players via trade.

I stand by what I wrote on Minorleagueball in Feb of last year.

The main problem with the Angels is that since 2008, they have either forfeited or traded away FOURTEEN of their picks from the top 3 rounds of the draft. That includes 3 forfeited first-rounders, 2 forfeited second-rounders, and 9 others traded.

As to whether their trades have been "very poor", well, I don’t know. Those trades netted them Andrelton Simmons, Huston Street, Zack Greinke, Chris Iannetta, David Freese, Dan Haren (when he was still good), Fernando Salas, Ernesto Frieri, Cesar Ramos, among others. That’s ~22 rWAR in value before Simmons even plays a game with the Angels, and doesn’t mention the two trades that netted them Skaggs, Santiago, Nick Tropeano and Carlos Perez for Trumbo and a backup catcher in Conger.

I’d say outside of the Grichuk trade, the Angels have a very decent trade record and a mixed, but solid, drafting record. Their problem is a half-decade of win-now moves that had them dipping too deeply and too often into their prospects and barely investing at all in the international market (outside of the spectacular and disastrous bust of Roberto Baldoquin).

So the Grichuk trade joins Baldoquin as another black mark for me. I don't valorize Dipoto – I just think he gets a bad rap for a guy whose clubs won more than lost.

But when you read the list of every day players up there, and realize that a lot of those trades were done with middling prospects, and he kept the team competitive throughout most of his tenure, one can recognize how creative of a GM Dipoto was. And the fact that he did battle with a stubborn Scioscia who openly admired Vernon Wells and GMJ, sidelined Napoli, and often drove the fanbase crazy, is not a negative to me.

The Dipoto era was also the era of peak meddling for Moreno and Mike. I think their relative quietness of late is what happens when an owner acknowledges his costly mistakes and takes a step back, and a manager near the end of his contract presides over sequential sub-.500 teams.

htennis [in reply to Turks Teeth]: I honestly really don't know when the community turned against Dipoto. One moment we were reminiscing about the solid job he did, and the next he suddenly became the really bad GM who was replaced by the awesome Eppler. I agree that he's always been a good trader. He's still at his magic. Pulled Segura and Haniger from Walker.

Part of the vitriol (imo) comes from memes. We have draft day GIF of Ward's selection and the Thanksgiving dinner rant meme. Those are flashbulb instances, and they stick in a person's mind.

Rahul Setty [in reply to Turks Teeth]: If we're going to talk about outcomes, then are we going to mention that Eppler has two of the most flukishly injured teams in Angels history? He's supposed to get 8-10 MLB ready starters every season, despite the worst starting pitching class in recent history? Of which we had in 2016 and 2017, and we're still in a shitty position. Between Skaggs, Richards, Heaney, and Tropeano, that's four torn UCLs and a Shoemaker skull fracture. How is any GM supposed to prepare for that??

What one must acknowledge is if we get Rutherford or Hudson in 2016 1st round, we likely don't go for Marsh and we definitely don't get Chris Rodriguez due to signability. Comparing Ward and Thaiss is apples to oranges with all due respect, as the Angels went one high school outfielder as opposed to four prep players. Again, huge difference there. Continually drafting for floor versus calculated gambles on advanced prep talents, high risk high upside. Huge difference.

I'm not ignoring the tire fire that has been second base or left field, but similar tire fires have existed at multiple positions under Dipoto as well, so that's a moot point (see Joyce, Frieri, Fuentes, bullpen implosions, Dipoto's Core Four free agents in 2013). Eppler hired Charles Nagy, who is a pitching coach god in every way, he brought back Roenicke, who suggested Maldonado would be a solid starting catcher. He has implemented Trackman in Angels affiliate parks (which, for whatever reason wasn't installed before), hired a rocket scientist from JPL, and have meals cooked for players based on proper nutrition information, among other things.

Dipoto and Eppler both had to manage the Pujols/Hamilton contracts as well as communicating between Scioscia and Moreno. Dipoto's ended in a decade's worth of franchise dooming PR fiasco; under Eppler, we've seen actual meritocracy based bullpen deployment, and a stretch where Scioscia has guided the Angels for 6 weeks without the game's best player. In one of Jeff Fletcher's revent pieces, Bud Norris jokes regarding roles and when they enter the game. The two (Eppler and Sosh) have an excellent relationship with each other as well.

And with all due respect, taking Taylor Ward in the 1st round is not a reasonable gamble, ever. At the time of drafting, Thaiss was a C to C- pick. Ward was an F, and most HHers saw it right away. Thaiss was frustrating because he was announced as a catcher and was the second straight draft in which they took a catcher in the first round.

The whole Baldoquin thing is a sad, unfortunate facepalm. Goodbye to dreams of seeing Vlad Jr. in an Angels uni for the next 15 years...

Dipoto was and is a solid trader. The problem arises when he does it too much: we could really use Mike Clevinger as a cost controlled starter right about now.

My issues are with his minor league drafting and player development, as well as the international side.

On the whole, Dipoto is a competent GM. But his continual preference towards quick results drained the farm (if I remember correctly, Baldoquin's ETA was 2018) and the long term health of the org as a byproduct, and it took a few years to expose that. It's the same process he has used in his Seattle tenure, and somehow they have lucked out having Kyle Lewis and Sam Carlson fall into their lap.