Here is the introductory post to this series, explaining our methodology.
If you’d like to view these prospect grades in greater detail, you can do so here.
25. Luis Peña (SP) — 19 points
Scouting Report: It is difficult to call a 5.28 ERA a breakout year, but that’s exactly what 2017 was for Luis Peña, who struck out the most hitters in the Cal League all season thanks to starting his feet on a different side of the mound as opposed to at the center. Looking past the ugly surface level number will reveal the positives, as Peña’s strikeout rate stayed north of 10 despite playing at Inland Empire for the first time. Peña is a flyball pitcher that generates weak contact in the air, most often to the pull side (47.6% pull-side contact at high-A). That’s a strategy that would lend itself well to the AL West and Angel Stadium, though the juiced ball definitely reduces his margin for error.
MLB Pipeline provides us this succinct scouting report.
Pena’s out pitch is a slider that flashes plus, a real difference-maker that misses bats. His fastball plays up because it has solid life, with run and sinking action to it. His changeup lags behind the other two offerings, but it made progress during the 2017 season as he threw it more.
While Peña’s lack of size has evaluators mixed on whether he will stick as a starter long-term, his ability to maintain velocity deep into games gives the organization a reason to continue his development on the mound. Consistency of mechanics and mastery of the strike zone will determine the extent to which Peña will go. —Rahul
Fun fact: Struck out 44 batters in a five-start stretch in July-August (8.8 K/9), not including a 12-strikeout start on July 2.
24. Jake Jewell (SP) — 21 points
Scouting Report: Jewell bounced back nicely in 2017, advancing to double-A for the first time and spending most of the year there. A 4.84 ERA and 4.55 FIP in pitcher-friendly Mobile won’t turn any heads, but Jewell’s 55.7% ground-ball rate should, generating optimism he can succeed at the big-league level. He improved his command considerably, lowering his walk rate by more than one point per nine, previously his largest obstacle preventing him from reaching the majors.
He has MLB-caliber stuff with a large repertoire from which to draw: a 91-95 mph plus fastball helping him coax ground balls from opposing hitters, a fringy-average split changeup, both a slider and a curveball (with the slider being the more advanced pitch), and a cut-fastball still in development. Though there are concerns regarding his ability to work through a lineup for the third time, there is a starter here if he can figure that out. The Angels will more than oblige to give him that opportunity. The likelier outcome, however, is Jewell ending up in the bullpen and being a solid long reliever. —Rahul
23. Jerryell Rivera (SP) — 27 points
Scouting Report [Video]: Rivera is a tough one to rate being only 18 years old with a very small time in pro ball. However, there is enough known about Rivera and I did manage to find a few videos of him pitching. While not overwhelming by any stretch, Rivera does have a nice and easy delivery with a 3⁄4 arm slot. Those efficient mechanics will definitely bode well for his future development.
Rivera is the definition of a project pitcher who has future potential and if the Angels take their time developing him - they may find a gem. Baseball America had him projected to go around 208 overall and the Angels managed to snag him at 325. His fastball currently sits in the upper 80s but has room to progress to the mid 90s given his body type and frame. He did hit a top speed of 93 on his fastball last spring. He also has quite a bit of work left to do on his off speed offerings.
Last year the Angels held him back at bit and in 8 games and 11 innings he struck out 11, allowed 7 hits and walked 3 for a WHIP of 0.91 and BAA of a mere .175. Rivera will likely land back in Arizona for a good chuck of the season (if not all of 2018) before he’s ready to take on the non-pitcher friendly Pioneer League —Jessica
22. Nate Smith (SP) — 39 points
Scouting Report: About a year and a half ago Smith looked to be on his way to the major leagues. His solid but not spectacular arsenal along with a slew of injuries combined to open a door that Smith was not able to walk through. Smith was injured first with a flexor strain then missed almost all of 2017 with a shoulder injury.
Nate shows up 12 spots lower on the Halos Heaven rankings than he does on MLB Pipeline’s, so there are evaluators who like his upside more than we do. Our ranking may be due to recency bias (what have you done for me lately?), the emergence and addition of other talent, or a bit of both.
If Smith is able to recover and get back to health, he could see some MLB action as early as 2018 and no later than 2019. His fastball sits just a click above 90 but it has enough zip and movement on it to keep hitters honest against his plus change up. His slider has improved of late to give him a viable third pitch. If he makes the big squad, it will be on the shoulders of that change up and his command.
Smith had some noticeable splits in 2016. In Salt Lake he had an ERA over 5, averaged 2.64 BB/9 and a WHIP of 1.40. Away from the extremely hitter friendly home park, though, his numbers were notably better: 3.74 ERA, 1.99 BB/9, 1.12 WHIP. This could mean his stuff will play up better once he gets below 4300 feet of elevation.
Overall he has the look of a solid swingman/spot starter with the potential to carve out a role as a back end starter. Sadly he’ll miss all of 2018 after undergoing shoulder surgery so his time frame to the bigs is impossible to predict. —Jeff
21. Livan Soto (SS) — 43 points
Scouting Report: Following the Braves International Signing Scandal, nine players were granted free agency and released from their contracts. Livan Soto, who had initially signed under John Coppolella for $1MM, fell right into the Angels Front Office’s lap along with fellow 2016-2017 international shortstop Kevin Maitan. Soto signed for $850,000 (of next year’s international signing pool) after the scouting department traveled to his native Venezuela to watch the two work out and introduce them to their vision.
Soto has yet to hit in limited minor league playing time and expecting more home runs than Erick Aybar used to put up for the team is almost foolhardy, but there are several things going for Livan Soto even in adolescence that show promise.
He has an arm. It’s not eye-popping yet, but it’s ready now. There is a pretty good chance it can improve as he gains some muscle and fills out his now-gangly frame, but he’s already “there.” His glovework complements it nicely and will also get better as he sees more playing time. He seems like a darn solid bet to be a Web Gem regular, but please don’t confuse his stuff with our current shortstop. No one is Simba but Simba.
He needs to start hitting, to be sure, but he is actually very patient. His 27 walks to 26 strikeouts this past year is a positive sign and a consistently impressive On-Base Percentage could go a long way toward helping him reach his ceiling of major league starter.
It is disappointing that he’s only 17, but he’s only 17! “Projectable” is a word that can be thrown around a lot regarding Soto, and he has a lot of time to fill out his frame and figure out solid contact. He’s light, quick, and has a nice floor. It might be pessimistic to expect less than a utility player, even with the lagging development of his bat. —Rick