Minors : : General
Monday, February 13, 2012

Top Prospects: Los Angeles Angels

Todd Gold        

General Manager:  Jerry DiPoto
Minor League Director:  Mike LaCassa
Scouting Director:  Ric Wilson

AAA:  Salt Lake Bees (Pacific Coast League)  62-82
AA:  Arkansas Travelers (Texas League)  68-69
Hi A:  Inland Empire 66ers (California League)  69-71
Low A:  Cedar Rapids Kernels (Midwest League)  61-78
Rookie:  Orem Owlz (Pioneer League) 46-30
Rookie:  AZL Angels (Arizona League) 28-28
Dominican:  DSL Angels (Dominican Summer League) 52-18

System Overview

New General Manager Jerry DiPoto made a huge splash shortly after taking over the Angels. Something that should come as no surprise after his tenure as interim GM of the Arizona Diamondbacks in 2010 in which he made a pair of trades that were then seen as highly risky but have yielded very promising early returns.

Ironically, the deal that sent Dan Haren from Arizona to the Angels in exchange for prospects LHP Tyler Skaggs, LHP Patrick Corbin and RHP Rafael Rodriguez (with big leaguer Joe Saunders) put a significant dent in the depth of the Angels farm system.

DiPoto’s other trade in Arizona looks like a coup, having sent Edwin Jackson to the White Sox in exchange for Dan Hudson and LHP prospect David Holmberg. The deal not only provided a significant upgrade to the big league rotation and netted a quality pitching prospect, but also alleviated Arizona of Jackson’s $10 Milliion contract.

In spite of his success in the short stint as the interim-GM the Diamondbacks would go on to hire long time Padres GM Kevin Towers to take over the position on a full time basis. DiPoto stayed on as VP of Player Personnel and had a major role in the Dbacks direction in 2011, including their aggressive 2011 draft.

Heading into 2011 the Angels were chasing the 2010 American League Champion Texas Rangers, and then GM Tony Reagins made an offseason trade to attempt to add an impact bat to the lineup while clearing up the logjam behind the plate. Reagins sent C/DH Mike Napoli (along with OF Juan Rivera) to Toronto for OF Vernon Wells, including his remaining four years and $84 Million contract. Toronto would quickly flip Napoli to the division rival Rangers, who would go on to have a monster season, clubbing 30 Home Runs in 432 plate appearances with a 1.046 OPS (second best in MLB).

Meanwhile the Angels trio of Jeff Mathis, Bobby Wilson and rookie Hank Conger combined to post a line of .189/.241/.332 with 37 Runs, 10 Home Runs and 49 RBI.

While that disparity didn’t shift the balance of power in the west in favor of the defending champs, it certainly cemented it. It also likely led to the Reagins’ removal at the end of the season, creating the opening for DiPoto to step in and lead the new Angels regime.

Immediately after taking over the Angels, DiPoto took steps to resolve the catching situation. His first move was to trade RHP Tyler Chatwood to Colorado for power hitting C Chris Iannetta, before sending Mathis to Toronto a few days later to make room (receiving LHP Brad Mills in that deal).

With one significant offensive upgrade taken care of DiPoto and company took to the free agent market. While the newly minted Miami Marlins made the biggest splash of early part of the offseason, the Angels trumped their efforts when they announced the signings of former Rangers ace CJ Wilson and future hall of famer Albert Pujols (as well as reliever LaTroy Hawkins) on December 8.

In the span of 24 hours the Angels had announced the commitment of $334.5 Million to three players over a combined 16 years. As a point of reference, current owner Arte Moreno purchased the Angels from Disney in 2003 for $183.5 Million. It was a stunning development for a team that saw its 2011 payroll balloon to a club record $141.75 Million, and aside from Fernando Rodney’s $5.5 Million contract, had no significant contracts coming off of the books.

A few days later the source of capital to make those heavy investments became clear when the team announced a 20 year, $3 Billion agreement to the broadcast rights with Time Warner Cable. The deal trumped the 20 year, $1.6 Billion deal their division rival Rangers reached with Fox prior to the 2011 season.

In an era of ubiquitous media coverage from 24 hour sports news networks and websites such as MLBTradeRumors.com, it has become exceedingly rare for a team to land either the top free agent position player or pitcher on the market, let alone both, with such stealth and efficiency.

With the combination of a large market revenue stream, an owner committed to winning, a savvy GM, the best player of the current generation (Pujols) and a solid farm system that boasts arguably the best prospect in all of baseball (Mike Trout) the future appears to be very bright in Anaheim.

Perhaps the most telling sign about the current state of the Angels franchise is that one of their biggest question marks going forward is their first world problem of how and when they can get Mike Trout into the starting lineup every day.

2011 Draft

Under previous Scouting Director Eddie Bane the Angels were notorious for their preference for high upside high school draft picks, best epitomized by their back to back first round selections in 2009 when they grabbed Randall Grichuk and Mike Trout 24
th and 25th. Grichuk has struggled with injuries while Trout hit his first big league Home Run as a 19 year old last season.

In Bane’s final draft with the Angels in 2010 they took a high school player with eight of their first nine selections. By contrast, new Scouting Director Ric Wilson and his staff didn’t select a high school player until the 12
th round.

The Angels signed all of two high school products in 2011: 3B Joseph Krehbiel (12
th round) and 1B Jackson Whitley (13th round). In short: most of the players the Angels drafted in 2011 are older than the players they drafted in 2009. 

There was a point where they selected four straight high school players and five out of six in rounds 12-17, though two  of them (C Wayne Taylor, OF Dominic Jose) were considered extremely difficult to sign as they both had commitments to Stanford, which they both chose to honor. Another tough sign high school player the Angels took a shot on was Pennsylvania OF Mike Papi (30
th round) who is now at the University of Virginia.

In total the Angels signed 39 players for a total of $3,318,100 on signing bonuses in 2011, fourth lowest in baseball. While the strategy of selecting more polished players was a drastic departure from recent history, their spending habits were not. In fact, it was right in line, as in the past five drafts combined the Angels spent the fourth lowest amount of money on signing bonuses.

Whether or not the 2011 draft was an indication of things to come in the future is difficult to determine. Their top overall pick of Utah C/1B CJ Cron at 17
th overall was in line with his pre-draft projection. The yield of boom or bust drafts in past years had left a small group of impact prospects in the system and little depth. The 2011 college strategy may have been as much of an effort to address that weakness as an indication of future direction.

After Cron, the Angels’ next pick was Florida LHP Nick Maronde (third round), who has reached 97 mph as a reliever and has an above average changeup and solid slider. He was a setupman in college, but the Angels hope that he can make the transition to a starting role.

Juco RHP Mike Clevenger (fourth round) out of Seminole State joins Maronde at the beginning of a group of strong armed throwers, who the Angels player development staff will be charged with molding into pitchers. USC flamethrower Austin Wood (sixth round) is yet another prime example, and they certainly aren’t the only two big bodied raw power arms the Angels took a chance on.

Among the promising early returns 1B Frazier Hall (16th round) stands out for his impressive showing in his pro debut, hitting .355/.391/.575 with 9 Home Runs in 62 Games at Rookie Level Orem. Though first base is a crowded position in the Angels system, Hall has experience behind the plate in college, where he got in some work in Fall Instructs along with time in the outfield.

Late round C/1B Jett Bandy (31
st round) out of Arizona also had a strong debut, posting a .308/.392/.492 line in 50 games, mostly in the Arizona League, though he did get an at bat in AAA Salt Lake. Bandy’s draft stock plummeted after a disappointing junior campaign at Arizona, but has the tools to become a late round steal.

Without a second round pick due to signing of Type B Free Agent Scott Downs, or any compensation picks, and the lack of any major over slot bonuses gave the Angels a draft crop with a very specific goal: quality out of quantity. They took power arms and power bats from the college ranks, paid them reasonable signing bonuses and turned it over to their Player Development deparment.  CJ Cron looks like the only likely impact player from the crop, though it should produce several solid players in the years to come.

Top 10 Prospects

1.  OF Mike Trout
- Baseball-reference player profile

The minor league exploits of Mike Trout are well documented to this point, the 25
th overall pick of the 2009 draft already has 5 big league Home Runs to his credit and has nearly every team that passed on him in the draft due to his large but retrospectively justifiable signing bonus demands, kicking themselves.

Trout has the potential for four true plus-plus tools. His present speed is elite, grading out as a legitimate 80 on the 20-80 scale. While he may slow down to a 70-75 runner over the next few years, he should always have plenty of range to play centerfield (whether or not he gets the opportunity to do so). His contact hitting ability is excellent, as his hand-eye coordiniation is exceptional. The development Trout showed throughout his brief pro career to this point is astounding, and when you consider his intense work ethic and strong makeup, should come as no surprise. His power has shown perhaps the biggest rate of development, after hitting just 10 Home Runs in his breakout full season debut in 2010, he hammered 16 between AA Arkansas and the Major Leagues last year. Trout has developed the ability to work the count, with a willingness to take a walk if necessary, something he will likely do a lot of during his prime years.

The Angels’ most valuable asset may cost Manager Mike Scoscia a lot of sleep this season, as he will be hard pressed to find a way to get Trout into the Major League lineup in 2012. Veteran Bobby Abreu is in the final year of his contract, and will generally occupy the DH duties, leaving the Angels with an outfield of Torii Hunter, Peter Bourjos and Vernon Wells. Abreu and Mark Trumbo are slated to share DH duties (unless Trumbo can handle 3B). Also, Bourjos’ plus plus speed and range in center make Trout somewhat redundant, incredibly making it possible that the rare talent will spend some more time riding busses around the minors.

2. SS Jean SeguraBaseball-reference player profile

Signed out of the Dominican Republic in 2007 as a 17 year old, Segura hit the ground running in his full season debut in 2010 in Low-A Cedar Rapids. His follow up in the hitter friendly California League was cut short by hamstring issues, though he did show promise after moving from second to shortstop in his 52 game 2011 season.

Generously listed at 5-foot-11, Segura has a small strike zone, which he commands well. Combined with his compact swing and excellent hand acceleration allow him to make good contact with just about anything in the zone. Segura also shows surprising power, though his approach is geared toward driving the ball into the gaps. Segura’s defensive tools are equally as impressive, as he combines good range and lateral agility with an above average arm. However, he can be frustrating at times as well, as he has shown the ability to range far to either side, set his feet, and then mishandle a ball that he is position to field cleanly. He is also an above average runner with good instincts on the bases who can thrive on a team with an aggressive baserunning philosophy, not unlike the one managed by Mike Scoscia in Anaheim.

Though he didn’t get a lot of time in at Inland Empire in 2011, Segura is likely to climb to AA Arkansas in 2012. With Erick Aybar set to hit the free agent market after the season, Segura will be auditioning for the 2013 starting shortstop job, though he will have a lot of things to prove in order to earn it.

3. RHP Garrett RichardsBaseball-reference player profile

Richards was the third player the Angels selected in the 2009 draft, and two years later became the second player from that draft haul to reach the Major Leagues as a 23 year old. His success in the minors has been impressive to this point thanks to his overpowering stuff.

Armed with an arsenal that is highlighted by a mid 90s fastball with good sink, Richards backs his heater up with a pair of potential plus pitches. His mid 80s slider features big depth and sharp break with very hard spin, though he has yet to learn to harness it and struggles to locate it. He throws his changeup with similar velocity to his slider and it shows very good fade action, darting down and away from left handed hitters. Command is his biggest challenge going forward, he has the raw stuff to succeed in the big leagues already, but won’t do so consistently until he can consistently work ahead with his fastball and locate his secondary pitches.

Richards will head to Tempe this spring to compete for the fifth spot in a formidable rotation that boasts Jered Weaver, Dan Haren, CJ Wilson and Ervin Santana.

4. 1B
CJ CronBaseball-reference player profile

Cron is a product of a certified baseball family. His father Chris Sr spent over a decade playing professional baseball, spending parts of two seasons in the big leagues and is currently the Manager of the Erie SeaWolves (Tigers AA affiliate). His younger brother Kevin was a third round selection in 2011 after breaking his own single season Home Run record in high school. CJ was the 17
th overall pick out of Utah, where he hit an eye popping .434/.517/.803 as a junior.

Cron gritted his way through his pro debut, playing with a torn labrum in his throwing shoulder before ending his season with a knee injury. While being limited to DH duties, Cron absolutely punished Pioneer League pitching, blasting 13 Home Runs in 34 games (.629 slugging percentage). Cron’s massive build and plus bat speed allow him to hit the ball with serious authority, giving him plus power. His size also limits his defensive options, while he was a catcher at Utah, Cron will be a first baseman as a pro. First base in Anaheim is blocked for the next decade by Albert Pujols so Cron will either have to hit enough for DH duties (assuming Mark Trumbo doesn't lock up that spot as well) or be traded to another organization in order to get his opportunity in the big leagues. If the Angels don't have room for Cron he should make a valuable trade chip.

After a strong showing in the Pioneer League, Cron may be ready to jump to High-A Inland Empire to open 2012 and has a chance to move very quickly.

5. 3B Kaleb CowartBaseball-reference player profile

Cowart was a legitimate two-way prospect coming out of Cook County High School (GA), having touched 95 mph with his fastball. While many believed he could be a first round pick as either a pitcher or infielder, some thought he had more upside on the mound. However, Cowart strongly preferred to play every day, allowing the Angels to pick him with the 18
th overall pick.

A switch hitter with plus power potential from both sides of the plate, Cowart can get overaggressive at times, not only with the bat but in every facet of his game. He is a physical specimen at 6-foot-3 and 190 pounds with a lean strong build and he plays the game with good energy, though he tries to do too much at times. As he matures and refines his game he is likely to become an exceptional defender at third base and a hitter capable of posting high averages and good power totals. His arm is his best tool, having thrown 100 mph from the outfield during the 2009 Bo Jackson 5-Tool Challenge in Jupiter, FL. Should the need arise he would be well equipped for a move to right field, though he has more value at third.

Cowart is ready to make his much anticipated full season debut in 2012 at Low-A Cedar Rapids. It’ll be a difficult assignment but if he can begin to realize his exceptional raw potential he could have a breakout year. If he doesn’t fulfill his potential as a switch hitting third baseman with plus power, Cowart could make a return to the mound where he also has a lot of upside.

6. RHP Johnny HellwegBaseball-reference player profile

After turning down the Marlins as a 48
th round selection out of high school in 2007, Hellweg went to Florida State College in Jacksonville. He made tremendous strides there as he began to fill out his lanky 6-foot-9 frame and has become an excellent selection in the 16th round by the Angels in 2009.

Hellweg uses a smooth low effort delivery and long loose arm action to generate mid 90s velocity with good downhill plane. His two plane slider features very good depth and when he is able to locate, it can be a legitimate swing and miss offering. His changeup has made strides as a starter down the stretch, and its development will be important moving forward. Not only did he post excellent strikeout numbers as a starter, Hellweg also kept the ball on the ground very well, not allowing a single Home Run during his 14 starts (5:1 GO/AO ratio).

After a very strong finish at High-A in 2011, Hellweg will head to AA in 2012 to prove that his success in the starting rotation was not a fluke. If he continues to make strides he may not be far away from a trip to Anaheim.

7. 2B Taylor LindseyBaseball-reference player profile

A compensation first round pick in 2010 (38
th overall) out of Desert Mountain High School (AZ), Lindsey had a huge debut in 2011, hitting .362/.394/.593 en route to garnering Pioneer League MVP honors.

Lindsey generates good bat speed from a smooth, low effort swing from the left side. His strong compact frame gives him a small strike zone, though he hasn’t shown much of an affinity for the base on balls to this point. Though, as a .362 hitter at Orem he didn’t have much need as he was able to square up balls with authority routinely. He has surprising power in spite of his compact swing, giving him some offensive upside, especially for a middle infielder. Lindsey has solid defensive tools at second, so long as he is able to maintain his present level of athleticism he will be able to stay there where his bat will be an asset.

A full season debut in the Midwest League will be a lot more telling about Lindsey’s true offensive potential, he’ll head to Cedar Rapids in 2012 looking to prove that he belongs amongst the organization’s top prospects.

8. LHP Nick MarondeBaseball-reference player profile

The Angels second pick of the 2011 draft (third round) had a stellar debut in Orem after returning to a starting role. Maronde lost his rotation spot at Florida but as a pro he thrived in that role, going 5-0 with a 2.14 ERA and 50 strikeouts to just 15 walks over 46 innings in the Rookie-level Pioneer League.

At 6-foot-3 and 205 pounds Maronde has some room to fill in his frame. He worked comfortably in the low 90s, topping out at 95 showing plus command of his fastball. He works quickly and pitches aggressively with a power arsenal. The sinker-slider combo played very well in Rookie ball, though he’ll need to improve his changeup to continue having success as a starter in the long term. His changeup shows good potential as well, though having used it very little in college it currently lags behind at this stage of development.

Maronde will move to A-ball for his full season debut in 2012, with Low-A Cedar Rapids as a likely opening day destination and will likely advance quickly if he continues to be stingy with free passes while piling up strikeouts.

9. RHP Daniel TillmanBaseball-reference player profile

After being drafted in the second round in 2010 out of Florida Southern Tillman has hit the ground running , going a combined 6-3 with a 2.30 ERA with 78 strikeoutsin 66 innings between Low-A Cedar Rapids and High-A Inland Empire in 2011. Tillman was a closer in college, and aside from a five game stint as a starter in Low-A last year that appears to be the role where the Angels believe his future lies.

Tillman has a thick compact frame with good strength that allows him to generate low-mid 90s velocity with a simple delivery that utilizes his strong lower half well. He works with a good sinker-slider combination that allowed him to generate strong groundball and strikeout ratios in 2011. His short stride and quick delivery allow him to get a good downhill plane to his pitches despite his average height, but it also causes his arm to be late at times and leads to some wildness. Tillman has enough athleticism to improve his ability to repeat his delivery and cut down on his walk rate in the future, it is likely a matter of getting more repetitions in game action.

His progress to this point has been rapid and there is no reason to believe that won’t continue to be the case, Tillman could move quickly. He should reach AA at some point in 2012, if not open there.

10. RHP Ariel PenaBaseball-reference player profile

Pena has taken the long route to the Angels 40 man roster but was added during the offseason as a 23 year old in spite of having pitched just one game above A ball. Pena’s performance has yet to match his potential, though his strong showing in his second stop in the hitter friendly California League was a very encouraging step forward.

The 6-foot-3 flamethrower has a power arsenal that he showed strides towards learning to harness in 2011. His high effort delivery and lack of polish on his third pitch (fringy-average changeup) suggest his long term future is in the bullpen. Pena’s high strikeout and groundball rates in 2011 were positive signs, and while he still struggled with walks, his 4.8 per nine innings was an improvement. His jerky delivery and high octane arsenal seem to be tailor made for a high leverage relief role, though if he can harness his stuff and pitch effectively for six plus innings at a time then Pena has some upside. His low-mid 90s fastball combined with a power slider give him a similar profile to teammate Fabio Martinez-Mesa (who just misses the top 10 after being sidelined with a shoulder injury in 2011), and though the Angels hope to develop one or both as a starter, they appear to be future late innings relievers.

Pena will likely head to AA for the first time in 2012 to work on his command and changeup. If he moves to the bullpen he could move quickly.

Others in the Conversation (listed alphabetically):
   2B Alexi Amarista, C Jett Bandy, RHP Cameron Bedrosian, OF Chevy Clarke, 3B/OF Randall Grichuk, RHP Fabio Martinez-Mesa

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