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AngelsWin Top 30 Prospects: #6 RHP Jaime Barria

Prospect: Jaime Barria Rank: 6 2016: 14 Position(s): Right Handed Pitcher Level: AAA Salt Lake Age: Entering Age 21 season in 2018. Height: 6’1” – Weight: 210 lbs Floor: Back end of the rotation starter in the major leagues. Ceiling: Greg Maddux type of hall of famer. Likely Outcome: Mid-rotation starter in the major leagues. Summary: Jaime Barria is one of those pitchers that you really learn to appreciate the longer you watch him.  He’s also one of those pitchers that shows the masses just how important a well-placed pitch is.  In a world full of high octane heat, Barria has cut and carved his way through every level of minor league baseball by the time he’s 21 years old. He just flat out shoves. I’ve watched Barria pitch probably twenty times now, and each time he shows me the same thing.  Extreme confidence on the mound.  No cocky celebrations or anything of the nature.  No it’s like bases loaded, nobody out in the 9th inning with a one run lead and general faith in his ability to put up a zero.  That kind of confidence.  You can’t shake him. You might expect to see that from Clayton Kershaw, because he’s great.  He’s been there and done that and proven it already.  But Barria hasn’t reached the majors yet…..and yet that’s how he composes himself.  You can’t teach it, it’s just natural. Jaime Barria doesn’t really have a “plus” offering.  He has good offerings.  Like his change up……a very good offering.  His fastball that cuts and dives…..a good offering.  His slider that he can throw in the dirt or drop in at the knees.  A good offering.  But nothing that stands out.  yet he continues to put up numbers that show just how he baffles hitters, no matter what level they’re at.  He has pinpoint control.  He just doesn’t walk hitters, and doesn’t give them the pitch they want to hit either. If we’re in the business of making claims, and as a prospect writer I certainly am, Jaime Barria is ready to be a good major league starter right now.  The only thing that’s stopping me from claiming that Jaime Barria is ready to be an all-star is the fact that he’s a fly ball pitcher.  He doesn’t throw hard, doesn’t have the prototypical “out pitch” and he generates a lot of fly balls.  This could be a recipe for disaster.  It hasn’t hurt him yet, and I don’t anticipate it hurting him. The reason being, there’s a difference between pop-flys and fly balls.  A fly ball can travel great distances and result in crooked numbers.  A pop-fly is a medium depth fly ball to the center fielder that you aren’t really concerned about.  You’d think he’d be tested by hitting friendly environments but so far, it doesn’t matter where the Angels put him, Barria succeeds, and that includes a stint in the most hitter friendly park in the most hitter friendly league in America, Salt Lake in the Pacific Coast League. Granted, it was only three starts but it was three utterly impressive starts for a 20 year old child pitching against major leaguers.  And that my friends is why Jaime Barria isn’t a major leaguer yet.  He’s so young he simply hasn’t had the opportunity to be one yet.  But he will, and Angels fans will take to him over time.  The media will largely ignore him until they can’t anymore, then they’ll ask where this kid came from.  Then the next season there will be those that will call his success a fluke because his “stuff” just isn’t that good, and then he’ll do it again.  By his third year in the majors, he’ll develop the “underrated” label. But we don’t care about that so much.  As fans, we care about how good he’ll be in the majors.  Jaime Barria will be the sort of pitcher that you can pencil in for 180+ innings and a solid ERA on a yearly basis. What to expect: Word is Barria will have a chance to compete for a spot on the Angels 6-man staff.  I don’t buy it, at least not in the early going.  The Angels have too many arms like Skaggs, Shoemaker and Tropeano that they’d like to see get healthy and contribute.  But the longer Barria puts up solid numbers in Salt Lake, the harder it will be to ignore him.  I envision Barria breaking into the Angels rotation in July and not looking back. Estimated Time of Arrival: July, 2018.  Jaime’s age 21 season. Grade as a prospect: B+. Grades Explained: Grade A player is a future superstar.  Grade B player is a future regular.  Grade C is a fringe major leaguer.
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AngelsWin Top 30 Prospects: #7 RHP Griffin Canning

Prospect: Griffin Canning Rank: 7 2016: UR Position(s): Right Handed Pitcher Level: DNP Age: Entering Age 22 season in 2018. Height: 6’1” – Weight: 170 lbs *20-80 scale.  20 is not existent, Major League average is 50.  Good Major League is 60.  Great Major League is 70.  The best I’ve ever seen is 80.  These aren’t given very often. Floor: Back end of the rotation starter in the major leagues. Ceiling: Front of the rotation starter in the major leagues. Likely Outcome: Middle of the rotation starter in the major leagues. Summary: Griffin Canning is a fun prospect.  It’s fun when you can draft a kid that’s pretty much major league ready, and you don’t necessarily need to invest a lot of time developing.  It’s fun for me when I can watch a kid and know with certainty that he’s probably going to be a major leaguer.  And it’s fun for the fans when the Angels can draft a  local product that is himself, an Angels fan.  And finally, it’s fun when you get a first round talent at a second round discount and inevitably will get to see the rest of the baseball wonder just how they missed on this kid. All the signs were there.  Griffin Canning – similar arsenal to that of Zach Greinke, comes from pitching powerhouse UCLA, posts impressive numbers in his career, and before being drafted, reports had him going anywhere from fifth overall to twenty fifth.  There are no durability concerns, he throws strikes, no red flags… Then the medical report comes out.  There’s no damage at all, just signs of wear, which is expected of a kid that has pitched for as long as Canning has, at the level that Southern California high school and colleges demand. Other major league teams over-thought it.  They asked themselves too many “what if” questions, which just isn’t healthy for anyone. Not the Angels. They scooped Canning up in the second round of the draft and immediately have one of those guys that will inevitably be labeled “steal of the draft.” Canning has the necessary tools to pitch at any part of the rotation.  His fastball sits 92-93 with a ton of action in on right handers.  Griffin’s best pitch is likely his change up, that he uses the same arm speed and release with, but spins it in at 83-84 mph with sink.  Canning also has an excellent big bending curve that he throws 78-79 and a tight slider that he throws around 82-83.  The curve he can use against lefties and righties, but the slider looks like it can be death on a righty.  Canning has a pre-release hitch that can make his motion a little “herky-jerky”, but it serves to throw the timing off hitters.  Possibly what makes Canning the most dangerous of all, he can throw every single pitch for a strike in every count and every situation. Hitters really have no choice but to keep guessing.  Scouts believe all four of his pitches are average or better, and really the only part where myself and the larger publications disagree is his curve ball.  I see the making of a “plus” pitch whereas other talent evaluators see it as a major league average pitch. Canning’s change up definitely leads to a lot of routine ground balls, as do all of his pitches but most specifically the change up.  That’s a “plus” pitch no matter who you ask. Upon selecting Canning, the Angels shut him down.  No more pitching, just stretching and staying loose.  This was for two reasons.  The human body is an amazing organism.  When there’s evidence of wear and tear on most parts of the body, not using that part yet keeping it mobilized allows for healing.  Most specifically for baseball purposes, the elbow and shoulder.  The second reason, Canning had already accumulated a full workload this season.  The Angels try to keep their pitching prospects around 120-150 innings if they are fully healthy.  Canning threw 119.  So he’s good. With a clean bill of health, we can expect to see the Angels allow Canning to progress as far in 2018 as he’s ready for. What to expect: It will be interesting to see just how far the Angels will push Canning.  If the Angels choose to be aggressive, Canning has the ability to start the season in AA and pitch in the majors after the all-star break.  If they go the conservative route, we could see Canning spend the year at Inland Empire.  The likeliest route they’ll take is an early placement at Inland Empire, then within a month or two a promotion to AA, then a quick promotion to AAA Salt Lake to end the year.  It will be interesting to see if Canning has to shake off any rust after not throwing competitively for eight months.  I’ll also be interested in seeing what major league hitters make of his fastball.  The combination of movement, velocity and location were way too much for college hitters to handle.  But professionals might find a way to turn on a heater that tails in toward the inner half of the plate.  So while Canning is a ground ball pitcher, if hitters figure him out, he could show a propensity to give up the long ball.  I doubt this will be a problem, but to me it seems like something worth watching. Estimated time of arrival: 2019, Griffin’s age 23 season. Grade as a prospect: B Grades Explained: Grade A player is a future superstar.  Grade B player is a future regular.  Grade C is a fringe major leaguer.
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AngelsWin Top 30 Prospects: #8 1B Matt Thaiss

Prospect: Matt Thaiss Rank: 8 2016: 1 Position(s): First Baseman Level: AA Mobile Age: Entering Age 23 season in 2018. Height: 6’0” – Weight: 200 lbs *20-80 scale.  20 is not existent, Major League average is 50.  Good Major League is 60.  Great Major League is 70.  The best I’ve ever seen is 80.  These aren’t given very often. Floor: Below average starting 1B in the major leagues. Ceiling: Borderline all-star caliber starting 1B in the major leagues. Likely Outcome: Starting 1B in the major leagues. Summary: Matt Thaiss is a very polarizing prospect.  Anyone that watches him is certain that he’s going to be a major leaguer.  Everyone that watches him comes with their own preconceived expectations as to what a starting first baseman should be and what he is.  Some will insist that he just doesn’t have enough power to play first base and is too small for the position as is.  Others believe that power is almost certainly coming and that Thaiss is a great hitter with good athleticism and will end up being a good starting first baseman. Personally, I think the further we get away from what a hitter has done in the past at a certain position and using that as a benchmark for future players, the better.  Forget for a minute that Matt Thiass is a first baseman and just look at him as a hitter.  What do you see?  A good hitter that can eventually be a very good hitter. Now why does it matter if that value comes as a first baseman or right fielder?  It shouldn’t.  The Angels certainly don’t believe it does. So let’s unpack Matt Thaiss as a player.  He’s an ok hitter right now.  Not great, he has trouble catching up with some pitches and keeping his timing consistent from pitcher to pitcher, but he’s alright.  Thaiss makes hard contact though.  His one-hoppers off the fence in the gap sure look like a strong kid that’s almost ready for the major leagues.  Thaiss as “plus” plate discipline and is great at forcing pitchers to make pitches he can hit.  He can even move a little bit and has dedicated himself to eating right and building muscle.  At first base, he’s improved a lot since being drafted.  He isn’t a gold glover out there right now but he’s ok. Now let’s unpack where Matt Thaiss might be in three years.  Sure he’s an ok hitter right now, but he’s only been a professional for one full year, that’s it.  He’s probably going to be a very good hitter.  And yeah, he makes solid contact right now.  Some leave the yard, most don’t, but he’s only 22.  He’ll be stronger, better at 25 than at 22.  So the power should be just fine.  That great plate discipline he has?  That’s not going anywhere, he may even get better!  And defensively, he never played first base until he was drafted.  The more reps he gets, the better he’ll be.  Sure, he’s short for a first baseman, but unless we have Yunel Escobar at 3B again, we don’t need a 6’5” first baseman.  6’0” should be fine. The important thing to take away here is that Thaiss isn’t a finished product.   He’s making adjustments.  He’s narrowed his stance, shortened his swing, learned to punish the ball where it’s pitched and has adjusted to much higher level pitching and playing a new position.  This all happened in one year. He’s going to be fine, and Angels fans will quickly fall in love with the idea of having an inexpensive young first baseman that gets on base better than 37% of the time batting in front of Trout/Upton/Cozart/Calhoun/Pujols. What to expect: When you have a player like Thaiss who’s strong compact swing is generated toward barreling line drives and doesn’t chase pitches too frequently, you don’t anticipate there being much of a learning curve.  But there are still a lot of subtle nuances that these players need to make, even if their surface numbers are sold.  Thaiss did a fantastic job in AA to end last year and I expect he’ll return to AA to start this year.  Personally, I expect this is going to light AA on fire and get promoted to AAA almost immediately and will be so successful there that the Angels start toying with the concept of starting him at 1B in July or August.  But that’s expecting a lot.  The casual fan should feel comfortable with Thaiss spending the majority of this next season in AA, and that would be fine too. Estimated time of arrival: Late 2018, Thaiss’ age 23 season. Grade as a prospect: B Grades Explained: Grade A player is a future superstar.  Grade B player is a future regular.  Grade C is a fringe major leaguer.
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AngelsWin Top 30 Prospects: #9 RHP Chris Rodriguez

Prospect: Chris Rodriguez Rank: 9 2016: 9 Position(s): Right Handed Pitcher Level: Class A Burlington Age: Entering Age 19 season in 2018. Height: 6’2” – Weight: 185 lbs *20-80 scale.  20 is not existent, Major League average is 50.  Good Major League is 60.  Great Major League is 70.  The best I’ve ever seen is 80.  These aren’t given very often. Floor: A premier reliever that throws in the upper 90’s with good command. Ceiling: An ace starting pitcher in the major leagues. Likely Outcome: Mid-rotation starting pitcher in the major leagues. Summary: Drafting players is frequently a guessing game.  Because of advances in scouting and metrics, it has become an educated guessing game, but it’s still a guess nonetheless.  A team drafts a kid with the idea that if they invest money and time training the kid, he could play for the major league team and make them better, or be traded for a major leaguer that makes them better. Chris Rodriguez is simply one of those players where the Angels were in the right place at the right time. If we go back in time just a little bit, Chris Rodriguez was seen as a kid that would be drafted but not near the front of the draft.  He was a skinny yet athletic kid that threw in the high 80’s/low 90’s.  Pretty good, but the draft is full of those.  Major league teams have a lot of kids to watch, so when a team sees a kid like that, they’ll generally scribble his name to memory and send him to the national cross-checker. The Angels weren’t the only team to see Chris pitch.  Just about every team watched him pitch.  The Angels scouts just happened to stay around the longest.  As teams had already formulated their draft plans, the Angels regional scouts were still keeping tabs on Chris, and as his senior year went on, Rodriguez’s fastball jumped from 90 mph to around 92/93 mph.  That’s pretty significant growth.  He started showing a promising change up too.  The Angels were intrigued. So when they selected Rodriguez in the 4th round, it didn’t make waves.  Scouts generally believed he’d last a bit later in the draft than that, and 4th round was a small reach but nothing to cause too much attention.  But in post draft workouts, Rodriguez started reaching back and firing 94/95 on the radar gun, and that will get people’s attention. Enter 2018, and Rodriguez short season throwing 96/97 and averaging 95/96.  That slide row his that was though could be a decent pitch someday began to take shape and tighten and the change up has become a workable option.  And so now the Angels have an 18 year old throwing in the mid-90’s without too much strain and a couple of nice off-speed pitches.  Not bad for a 4th round pick. While Chris’ arsenal is impressive, he doesn’t come without some warnings.  First, his delivery is high energy.  It can even be described as violent.  There’s a leg kick, fast, intense motion and even a small hitch where he separates his hand from the glove, like a reliever would.  That’s fine became that’s what it takes to throw the ball that hard for most people.  So the risk of injury is always there.  Next, Chris can put the ball where he wants, but in his performance last year, he generally kept the ball up and over the plate.  So despite throwing an outstanding heater, he was hittable.  Of course these are all things that can be worked on. If Rodriguez isn’t done maturing, and at the same time refines how he goes about getting hitters out, he could be an ace someday that throws in the upper 90’s.  If he’s physically set, but continues to refine, Rodriguez could be a solid mid-rotation starter.  If Chris is maxed out and can’t make the adjustments, he could move to relief and be a very dynamic weapon there too. What to expect: Chris go his first taste of full season ball a full year year faster than anticipated, which is great to see because it shows his growth and the Angels willingness to appropriately place him.  I expect Rodriguez will spend the entire season at Class A Burlington, even if he outgrows it.  He’s been on an innings limit for the past couple seasons and the Angels have been careful to protect his arm and not overuse him.  But at age 19, Rodriguez appears ready to go 120 innings next year.  There’s a small chance he could move up to Inland Empire, and Chris could certainly merit this promotion, but it would seem to be more aggressive in nature than what we are used to seeing from the Angels.  I’ll specifically be looking for Rodriguez to make some of the very same adjustments Garrett Richards made once he entered full season ball, which is keeping the ball down, trusting his stuff but not also falling in love with just one pitch. Estimated Time of Arrival: 2021, Chris’ age 22 season. Grade as a prospect: B Grades Explained: Grade A player is a future superstar.  Grade B player is a future regular.  Grade C is a fringe major leaguer.
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AngelsWin Top 30 Prospects: #10 OF Michael Hermosillo

Prospect: Michael Hermosillo Rank: 10 2016: 8 Position(s): Outfielder Level: AAA Salt Lake Age: Entering Age 23 season in 2018. Height: 5’11” – Weight: 190 lbs *20-80 scale.  20 is not existent, Major League average is 50.  Good Major League is 60.  Great Major League is 70.  The best I’ve ever seen is 80.  These aren’t given very often. Floor: 4th outfielder in the major leagues. Ceiling: All-star caliber starting outfielder in the major leagues. Likely Outcome: Starting outfielder in the major leagues. Summary: Everyone loves the story about the professional athlete that came out of nowhere.  Guys like Matt Shoemaker really are a great story.  Well Michael isn’t that story.  As much as others may want to peddle that story, it simply isn’t true.  Yes, he was a late round draft pick, and yes, he was more known for his accolades on the gridiron and his scholarship to play football at Illinois.  But he was also a ball player that was very much on the Angels (and other teams) radar. I didn’t get to spend a lot of time as a scout.  I had other goals.  But I made some connections and learned some things over those two summers.  Really I learned two things. 1. Anyone over 6’2” that’s left handed and has a pulse will be drafted. 2. Athletes, athletes, athletes.  Not ball players.  Athletes. Hermosillo fits neatly into the second, along with Mike Trout, Keynan Middleton, Andelton Simmons, and prospects like Jo Adell, Jahmai Jones and Brandon Marsh.  See scouts watch kids play baseball.  Baseball tells them where the skills are right now.  But it’s everything else that suggests where the skills may be in five years.  Scouts like kids that got good grades school, ones that started on the football or basketball team, ones that have goals outside of major league baseball (like being a meteorologist, Mike Trout).  Athletes just have an easier time adjusting to failure than ball players do.  Plus their natural ability tends to carry them through the low minors at a brisk pace. Hermosillo was a good running back/wide receiver and a terror at safety.  But he chose baseball.  Smart choice.  The Angels agreed to pay for all of his schooling should he elect to attend school, plus a well above slot bonus.  Smart choice for Hermosillo, smart choice for the Angels.  But it wasn’t easy in the beginning for Michael.  He’d never seen pitchers throw that hard before, or pitches move that much.  Adjustments were needed.  First of all, Michael was a couple inches shorter and considerably lighter at the time, so there was physical development that needed to take place.  But there was also the manner of refinement that was necessary.  Hermosillo’s routes in the outfield were poor, and he showed dead-pull power, but not much else in the way of hitting. The breakout really didn’t come for two more years until 2016.  Hermosillo’s performance in the weight room and being on a nutrition plan really began to take shape.  He’s a couple inches taller and very well built.  Not only that, Michael quieted his swing and began hitting the ball back up the middle on pitches over the plate and on the outer half. This past season, Michael was clearly well beyond the competition in Advanced A Ball.  He was automatically the best player to step on the field every night and that was simply a product of development.  The Angels promoted him to AA (all in his age 22 season, which is pretty solid on the age curve), which was a much more appropriate level for Michael to be at.  He really struggled for the first couple months.  This was his first time facing pitching in the high minors which is a huge step up.  He was still getting on base at an outstanding clip which speaks volumes about his selectivity and value at such a young age.  But after three months, Michael finally turned that corner (the way that athletes instead of ball players tend to do).  Hermosillo had officially found his comfort zone.  He was a completely different player.  He had failed to hit higher than .234 in any month in AA before that but in July he hit over .300, was hitting for power, being more aggressive on the base paths, and still flashing the same ability to reach base as before. The Angels felt the had officially outgrown AA which led to his promotion to AAA.  Again, all at the age of 22.  As it was with AA, AAA proved to be a much more fitting environment for Michael’s development.  While he did hit for more power (the altitude in the PCL is quite favorable to hitters that make solid contact like Hermosillo), Michael’s ability to work a walk wasn’t as effective as it had been at the lower levels.  His overall numbers were solid (.287/.341 6 DB 1 triple 5 HR’s 9 SB in only 30 games!), but it’s clear that Hermosillo can still learn a few things down on the farm. Still, we do have a good idea as to who Michael is at this point.  He’s a very line drive oriented RHB that can drive the ball up the middle.  If pitchers make the mistake of busting him inside, Hermosillo definitely has the ability to yank these balls out of the park.  Teams will likely begin shifting on him with more data becoming available but it shouldn’t hinder his ability to reach base.  Hermosillo is also a smart, aggressive base runner that gets down the line quickly and can steal when given the green light.  Defensively, Hermosillo is a good defender at all three spots, so it won’t matter where you plug him in at, he’ll get the job done. What to expect: I expect Hermosillo to spend most of Spring Training in big league camp, learning from the big leaguers and getting exposed and accustomed to what expectations are at the next level (last Spring Training was valuable for him as well).  I expect the Angels will keep Hermosillo in AAA until he’s ready for the next stage of development and they have at bats to offer him.  The Angels outfield is obviously pretty full for the time being, but you never know when or how opportunity may arise.  So Michael might be ready in May, or he may not be ready until the end of the year.  We’ll just have to wait and see.  It’s possible Hermosillo finishes the year in Anaheim and begins taking at bats away from Kole Calhoun.  It’s possible he finishes the year as the Angels fourth outfielder.  It’s possible he spends the entire year in AAA.  Lots of directions we can go here. Estimated time of arrival: September 2018, this year.  Michael’s age 23 season. Grade as a prospect: B Grades Explained: Grade A player is a future superstar.  Grade B player is a future regular.  Grade C is a fringe major leaguer.
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AngelsWin Top 30 Prospects: #11 OF Trent Deveaux

Prospect: Trent Deveaux Rank: 11 2016: UR Position(s): OF Level: Rookie Ball Age: Entering Age 18 season in 2018. Height: 6’0” – Weight: 160 lbs Since we haven’t had the opportunity to watch Deveaux play in person, we are relying on other scouting reports.  He’s been described as the best athlete from the 2017 international class and a 5-tool player.  The most in depth scouting report on Deveaux comes from Ben Badler… “Deveaux is an outstanding athlete with a strong but lean, projectable build. There’s quick burst in everything he does. He’s an 80 runner who has been clocked as fast as 6.2 seconds in the 60-yard dash. When Deveaux went to the Dominican Republic, he began training full-time in center field, which has been a better fit for his skill set. He glides to balls and covers a lot of ground quickly. With an average arm and an easy throwing stroke that could allow his arm strength to improve, Deveaux has the attributes to develop into an above-average defender at a premium position. Scouts highest on Deveaux said his hitting ability has taken a huge leap forward. Last year, Deveaux had an upright, open stance and a tendency to either slice or roll over too many balls. He closed off his stance, improved his balance and did a better job of staying through the ball and using the middle of the field. He also shows a solid understanding of the strike zone. Deveaux has the frame to add more power later on, though right now he’s mostly a line-drive hitter who can occasionally hit a ball out. A fluent English speaker, Deveaux picked up Spanish during his time in the Dominican Republic, and his aptitude and athleticism have likely contributed already to his ability to make adjustments.” Essentially, the Angles purchased a lottery ticket with Deveaux.  It’s no secret that the Angels haven’t been able to make any high profile international signings for close to a decade and the reason for that can be traced to Arte Moreno’s decision to fire every director and scout he had in Latin America and start anew.  While there’s little doubt the Angels employees were guilty of these transgressions, they weren’t any more so than any other club.  Moreno simply took a moral stand against such things, which cost the Angels because as we’ve heard before, when it comes to signing international prospects, it’s all about who you know, and after cleaning house, the Angels knew no one. So it makes sense that upon the Baldoquin restrictions being lifted, the Angels would enter into bidding wars for these international prospects.  In what seems a savvy move, Eppler and co. began with the Bahamas, where no team has any sort of foothold on those prospects.  It’s a market that is just beginning to produce more and more athletes, and the Angels just signed two of the top three prospects coming out of the Bahamas.  While it doesn’t signal any sort of change in the international scouting scene, it could be seen as the start of something.  In a similar fashion, the Angels may hope that signing Shohei Ohtani may lure more Japanese players to choose the Angels in the future, or that by signing Kevin Maitan they could gain some traction in Venezuela.
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AngelsWin Top 30 Prospects: #12 C Taylor Ward

Prospect: Taylor Ward Rank: 12 2016: 4 Position(s): Catcher Level: AA Mobile Age: Entering Age 24 season in 2018. Height: 6’1” – Weight: 190 lbs *20-80 scale.  20 is not existent, Major League average is 50.  Good Major League is 60.  Great Major League is 70.  The best I’ve ever seen is 80.  These aren’t given very often. Floor: AAA/MLB depth at catcher. Ceiling: A good starting catcher in MLB. Likely Outcome: A platoon or strong backup catcher in MLB. Summary: Taylor Ward is one of those prospects that is evaluated a bit unfairly because of where he was drafted.  When a major league team seriously reaches to draft a player, that player is immediately heavily scrutinized.  People want to understand what this organization saw in a player that others didn’t see.  The Angels compounded that curiosity with their reaction to drafting Taylor Ward that went viral among Angel fans.  You’d think they just landed themselves the next Mike Trout. That’s not Taylor Ward though. Let’s forget where he was drafted and where he should’ve been drafted for just a moment and analyze who Taylor Ward actually is as a prospect. Offensively, Ward has quick hands, puts back spin on the ball and enough strength to drive the ball out of the park enough times to matter.  He also has an advanced knowledge of the strike zone and is willing to work counts and take a walk instead of swing away.  While he isn’t fast, he’s faster than most catchers.  As for the swing itself, Ward has worked diligently to quiet his pre-swing motion and even simplify the swing itself.  I know this name is a bit taboo in prospect circles, but the swing reminds me of Brandon Wood.  Similar build, similar ability to lift the ball, same finish. Now obviously Wood’s minor league numbers are the stuff of legend, as was his inability to translate that into major league success.  Wood’s problems were all mental and Taylor Ward is not Brandon Wood, he just looks like him up there. Defensively, Ward is an exciting prospect.  His actions behind the plate may only be a tick above average for now, but he gives you a lot to dream on.  When he was first drafted, Ward had a difficult time managing pitchers, framing pitches and keeping the ball in front of him, which is a terrible spot to be at for a collegiate catcher.  However, last year he showed a tremendous amount of growth.  It was really night and day, like he figured out what he needed to do and simply did it.  He did a good job with he staff, got more pitches called strikes and kept the ball in front of him.  But two things Ward has always been good at were his ability to pop out from behind the plate and his arm.  Ward is athletic and his movements behind the dish are fast.  And his farm….goodness gracious that arm. The best in the Angels system at catcher.  Maybe the best in the minor leagues.  Maybe the best in the major leagues and that says something because Martin Maldonado gets the ball down to 2B better than any catcher I’ve ever seen wear an Angel uniform. The exciting part of Ward’s game defensively are the adjustments he made in only one year.  Like if he can do that one year in the minors, what might happen after a couple years in the majors?  The ability to be a gold glove defensive catcher is certainly there, though Ward currently isn’t there yet. Ok….now we can all remember where he was drafted and where he should’ve been drafted.  That’s the knock on Ward.  He was drafted in the first round.  Ward likely could have been drafted in the third round.  And because he was drafted in the first round when no one was expecting, he’s come under additional scrutiny.  Ward’s upside was enough to get in him the first round for sure.  I mean a gold glove catcher with a solid OBP and power?  Who wouldn’t want that?  But Ward’s inconsistency as a player has made that ceiling a very difficult outcome to foresee.  No one doubts he’s a future major leaguer.  There just seems to be disagreement on what role he will play as a major leaguer, and that’s a hard question to answer right now. Ward will likely be a platoon or backup catcher with advanced defensive ability and spotty offensive performance in the major leagues.  You can decide what round he should’ve been drafted in but it doesn’t change the fact that he’s here now and he’s not bad at all. Another thing we should take into account, Ward’s signing bonus wasn’t exactly huge.  It left some financial wiggle room and allowed the Angels to gamble on an upside player like Jahmai Jones in the second round, which has been a boon for the Angels system.  It could be argued that the Angels wanted Jahmai, but knew he’d last until the second round, and also wanted Ward, but weren’t convinced he’d make it to the second round.  Should the Angels have picked a higher upside player in the first and not had the financial room to pick Jones in the second?  We don’t know.  But the fact that both prospect are now in their top 15, even after the franchise-changing infusion of talent that has occurred over the last three years has to say something. At the end of the day, Taylor Ward is a good prospect and will likely be a decent major leaguer too. What to expect: Ward seemed to figure out his swing and approach last year and made his way to AA, where he posted an OBP north of .400 with a .286 batting average, more walks than strikeouts and decent power.  While he is beginning to get a little old for a prospect, it should be noted that catching prospects develop slower than everyone else, particularly ones that must operate under the weight of the watchful eye of Mike Scioscia.  Like him or not, he knows better than anyone in major league baseball right now what it takes to be a major league catcher and how to teach a young player how to grow into that.  I expect Ward will be in AA for most if not all of 2018. Estimated time of arrival: 2020, Taylor’s age 26 season. Grade as a prospect: B- Grades Explained: Grade A player is a future superstar.  Grade B player is a future regular.  Grade C is a fringe major leaguer.
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AngelsWin Top 30 Prospects: #13 SS/2B Leo Rivas

Prospect: Leonardo Rivas Rank: 13 2016: 29 Position(s): Infielder Level: Class A Burlington Age: Entering Age 20 season in 2018. Height: 5’10” – Weight: 150 lbs *20-80 scale.  20 is not existent, Major League average is 50.  Good Major League is 60.  Great Major League is 70.  The best I’ve ever seen is 80.  These aren’t given very often. Floor: Utility infielder and outfielder in major leagues, like Alexi Amarista but with more patience. Ceiling: A very solid starting middle infielder and leadoff hitter in the major leagues. Likely Outcome: Super utility player or borderline starting 2B in major leagues, like Maicer Izturis. Summary: Rivas’ stock continues to inflate, the more others have a chance to take notice of this kid.  He was a low profile international signing at age 16 and was really something of an “Angels Special” which is a player that’s smaller in stature that other teams ignore.  In his first season in the Dominican Republic, Rivas flashed solid bat to ball skills, great speed and an advanced instinct for the game.    As an 18 year old, he came stateside and didn’t disappoint, showing the same skills yet more refinement.  This past season as a 19 year old, we saw Leo really begin to blossom.  We saw a more steady, confident fielder at shortstop, the ability to make adjustments, and most of all, he took another step forward in the plate discipline department.  Rivas is giving Matt Thaiss a run for his money as the prospect with the best strike zone judgment in the system, and Thaiss is a few years older and played in college.  Rivas is still a teenager. And that’s really Leo’s calling card right now, that outstanding ability to reach base.  Of course once he’s on base he’s definitely a threat to steal, but more than that he’s a smart, aggressive runner.  In the field, Rivas has smooth actions, good range and a fringe average glove for  shortstop with enough arm to keep him there.  His long term home is at second base, where he projects to be a “plus” defender in every aspect. Rivas also figures to be the sort of player that can climb the minor league ladder very quickly and be a major leaguer at a very young age.  Typically, the largest predictor of future success for a position player is the ability to make adjustments.  Consider these facts when evaluating Rivas. 1. In 2016, Rivas has a 39/36 K/BB ratio as an 18 year old.  As a 19 year old at more advanced levels, he recorded a 44/59 K/BB ratio.  That’s more walks than strikeouts. 2. When Rivas first arrived in Burlington for full season ball to finish the season, he began his stint going 2/21.  Over his next 21 games, Rivas recorded a hit in 19 of them. 3. Over Rivas’ last 21 games, he reached base in 20 of them. 4. Rivas recorded a hit in 13 of his final 14 games in A Ball. 5. After hitting .233 and .205 against RHP in his first two seasons, Rivas hit .293 against more advanced RHP last season. As we can see, Rivas is getting better, not only over longer stretches of time, but also shorter stretches.  Pitchers are trying to figure out ways to get him out and Rivas is adjusting. What to expect: Rivas should return to Burlington next season as a 20 year, but I don’t anticipate him spending the full year there.  He’ll likely be promoted to Advanced A Ball in June or July and finish out the season in the Cal League, which would set him up nicely to make his high minors debut at only 21 years old.  The big thing I’ll be watching for next season is Rivas’ LD%, how he performs against RHP and in general, his batting average.  Rivas is a very average hitter right now.  He won’t get the bat knocked out of his hands and he’s a lock to reach base and terrorize opposing pitchers on the base paths.  But as far as his ability to hit, it’s only average for now.  But that skill really could take another step forward in 2018 Ultimately, I really do expect Rivas to develop into somewhat of a Maicer Izturis type of infielder.  One that is technically a reserve, but plays so often he’ practically a starter.  Angels fans may remember, Izturis himself was a solid defender and could reach base, no matter where he was batting or what spot in the lineup he was hitting out of. Estimated Time of Arrival: Late 2020, Rivas’ age 22 season. Grade as a prospect: B- Grades Explained: Grade A player is a future superstar.  Grade B player is a future regular.  Grade C is a fringe major leaguer.
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AngelsWin Top 30 Prospects: #14 RHP Jesus Castillo

Prospect: Jesus Castillo Rank: 14 2016: 15 Position(s): Right Handed Pitcher Level: AA Mobile Age: Entering Age 22 season in 2018. Height: 6’2” – Weight: 175 lbs *20-80 scale.  20 is not existent, Major League average is 50.  Good Major League is 60.  Great Major League is 70.  The best I’ve ever seen is 80.  These aren’t given very often. Floor: 5th starter  or swingman in the major leagues. Ceiling: Legitimate #2/3 starter in the major leagues. Likely Outcome: #3/4 starter in the major leagues. Summary: As you can see, I’m pretty bullish on Jesus Castillo.  I have been ever since the Angels trades 2 months of Joe Smith for him.  He’s one of those pitchers where I just can’t quite figure out what the rest of the world is missing.  Other sites will rate his curve and change up as fringe average, but every time I see them I think, “Wow, that’s a good off-speed pitch!” The only reasoning I can think of is simply a combination of factors.  The first being a very generalized ignorance of the Angels system.  I mean we have this kid, who owns a career 2.40 ERA in A Ball, and climbed his way all the way to AA at age 21 and owned a 3.04 ERA while there.  He has a fastball  that sits 92-93 comfortably, a sharp curve and a great change up with fade, all that he can deploy in any count.  Everything about him screams major leaguer, and yet we see pitchers with the same repertoire, same age and less success being ranked as Top 100 prospects or at the very least, being touted as truly valuable assets, that are surefire mid rotation starters.  The second reasoning may simply be that whatever little buzz the Angels system receives goes toward Shohei Ohtani or one of their extremely athletic, huge upside outfielders, so a kid like Castillo goes largely unnoticed.  Perhaps another reason may be due to a former familiarity with Castillo.  He was a high profile signing for the D-Backs when he was 16, but Castillo physically developed very slowly and after being traded to the Cubs, was stashed in Rookie Ball a year too long.  So perhaps those that used to know him in other systems now ignore him.  But that was 3 years, two inches, 25 lbs and 5 mph ago. He’s a different kid now. And it isn’t just the arsenal that is so impressive about Castillo.  It’s the little things.  His fastball darts down and in on a right hander, similar to how Richards’ can, though not with the same velocity obviously.  His curve which is more of a tight slurve has the exact opposite movement, and his change up looks exactly like the curve, but fades away with horizontal movement.  Castillo has a fast motion, a hitch to throw off timing and hides the ball extremely well.  But even with these nuances, his delivery is completely repeatable and shows very little stress on the shoulder or elbow. Partially as a result of this, and partially because he’s worked very hard in this area and is good at it, Castillo operates with a manner of pinpoint control that is only rivaled by Jaime Barria in the Angels system and reminds one of the days of Dan Haren. I think any way you shake it, this kid is a hidden gem, and appears to be very underrated.  But perhaps he’ll begin to catch more attention publicly, as he’s been added to the 40 man roster, and may only be a year away from the majors. What to expect: While Castillo was successful in AA last year, I wouldn’t expect the Angels to skip him up to AAA so soon.  For on thing, it was only a month or a month and a half worth of starts.  For another, the Angels look to have more depth than they know what to do with in the majors and AAA this season.  And perhaps as a final reason, Castillo isn’t a finished product yet.  Yes, he probably could get major league hitters out and survive in the majors right now. But just because he can at age 22 doesn’t mean he should.  So I expect Castillo to remain in AA for at least half the season, if not longer and finish the season in AAA.  What may be an interesting development will be what the Angels do when Castillo’s fully ready.  Do they stash him in the minors in favor of a Shoe/Skaggs/Bridwell option or do they allow him to claim his rightful spot.  Or perhaps they trade him.  But for now, I’d expect the Angels to hold onto him, especially given the rash of injuries this organization has endured for the past 2-3 years. Estimated Time of Arrival: 2019, Jesus’ age 23 season. Grade as a prospect: B- Grades Explained: Grade A player is a future superstar.  Grade B player is a future regular.  Grade C is a fringe major leaguer.
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AngelsWin Top 30 Prospects: #15 SS David Fletcher

Prospect: David Fletcher Rank: 15 2016: 13 Position(s): Shortstop Level: AAA Salt Lake Age: Entering Age 24 season in 2018. Height: 5’10” – Weight: 175 lbs *20-80 scale.  20 is not existent, Major League average is 50.  Good Major League is 60.  Great Major League is 70.  The best I’ve ever seen is 80.  These aren’t given very often. Floor: AAAA player. Ceiling: Starting 2B in major league baseball. Likely Outcome: Steady utility infielder in major league baseball. Summary: David Fletcher is a smaller stature player that just seems to come up big when the spotlight is on him.  His diminutive size is more than made up for in his play, and the manner in which he endears himself to teammates and fans alike.  He’s a solid defensive shortstop, with a steady glove, decent arm and good footwork.  Scouts think he profiles better as a second baseman at the next level, and while I don’t disagree, I think it should be noted that Fletcher could likely succeed anywhere you put him on the field. He plays the game at 100% and will rarely make mental mistakes. Sure, his ceiling isn’t high.  He doesn’t figure to ever be a future hall of famer right now.  But he does profile to be employed as a major league baseball player for a long time.  Guys like Fletcher tend to stay in the game longer than others.  They do all the little things right.  Fletcher’s bat isn’t as bad as advertised.  He isn’t a power hitter, but he has a very short, simple, compact swing that lends itself to a contact and line drive oriented approach.  This is the sort of bat that will not need a ton of adjustment in the major leagues.  He could be of value from the beginning. David keeps it simple.  He makes contact and drives the ball into the gaps. He did a rock solid job in AA and continued to play very high quality defense at SS and 2B in AAA.  But AAA pitching did expose some flaws in Fletcher’s early count approach, or more specifically he was being a bit more aggressive with the bat than we’d like to see from more of an on-base oriented player.  So David will need to shore that up before being promoted to the big stage.  But everything about him suggests that David will be able to make those adjustments this season. He’s climbed the ladder so quickly that it’s easy to forget that last year was just his second full season of professional baseball.  To make it to AAA that quickly is fantastic.  You have to think that’s what the Angels were hoping for when they selected him in the 6th round out of Loyola Marymount. What to expect: Fletcher should spend most, if not all of next season in AAA.  He needs to improve his approach at the plate and get on base more frequently.  The hitter friendly environment in Salt Lake doesn’t benefit players of Fletcher’s ilk, so the numbers that we see him put up will likely be authentic.  I’d love to see Fletcher up with the angels in a utility role at some point next season, because fans are gonna love this guy.  But if it takes one more year, I could understand why. Estimated Time of Arrival: Late 2018.  David’s age 24 season. Grade: C+

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Angels win Top 30 Prospects: #16 RHP Jake Jewell

Prospect: Jake Jewell Rank: 16 2016: UR Position(s): Right Handed Pitcher Level: AA Mobile Age: Entering Age 25 season in 2018. Height: 6’3” – Weight: 200 lbs Floor: Middle reliever. Ceiling: Back of the rotation starter. Likely Outcome: Middle reliever that covers multiple innings. Summary: If you’re looking for a prospect that just confuses the heck out of me, you’ve found him in Jake Jewell.  Back when the Angels drafted him in the 5th round of the 2014 draft, Jewell was coming out of a college I’d never even heard of, and that college used him primarily as a reliever.  I figured, big kid, strong, has a mid-90’s fastball, he’s definitely a reliever.  But the Angels have used him as a starter.  Now we see this sometimes with guys at the lower levels, just to get them more innings, but the Angels appear to be very serious about keeping him in the rotation. The first opportunity I had to watch Jewell pitch, was in relief in Burlington.  He had a very solid fastball, 92-94, sometimes popping 96, a great slider and nothing in the way of a change up.  Later in the year the Angels moved him into the rotation and the results just weren’t as promising as they were in relief, so I just figured it was a failed experiment. The next season, Jewell is at Inland Empire and I see the Angels using him as a starter again, and that was just a head scratcher for me.  But after further review, I sort of get it.  Jewell has the stamina to throw quality pitches late in the game.  Relievers don’t have that.  As for the offerings themselves, I saw someone that was quite the opposite as the year before.  Jake couldn’t find the strike zone anymore like he had in Burlington, and the great slider I’d witness, now looked soft and loopy, and the non-existent change up suddenly looked like a very solid offering. So I was confused. Enter 2017, I figure since Jake’s ERA was over 6.00 the last season, the business of using him as a starter was over and done with.  Not so.  He was back in the rotation and had a solid three starts at Inland Empire before moving up to AA.  Jewell’s experience in AA was up and down to say the least.  It doesn’t appear he found any sort of consistency.  Like Ervin Santana early in his career, he might have one start where he goes seven strong and keeps them off the scoreboard, and the next he can’t make it out of the third. And I don’t get it.  His mechanics and arm slot are clean.  He attacks hitters and throws strikes.  He should have a much better K/9 than 7.2, which is solid, but not evident of a pitcher with as many quality offerings as Jake has.  Speaking of those offerings, I feel 2017 cleared up some of my confusion.  The quality slider I saw before appears to be gone, replaced by one that’s simply ok.  He gets it over for strikes.  The change up is real though.  There isn’t a ton of movement in his, but the speed differential and keeping it low in the zone is enough to generate weak contact in any count.  The fastball, Jake effortlessly delivers at 93-94, but it’s plain to see there’s a lot left in the tank there.  But this might be the velocity he’s comfortable at which is fine. The Angels protected Jewell from the Rule 5 Draft by adding him to the 40 man roster, and with good reason.  This is the type of kid that if he suddenly figures it out, you’ll want him on your staff at the major league level.  If he does stay in the rotation, I think he can be a back end starter.  If he switches to relief, I picture Jewell’s fastball climbing to the 96-98 range pretty comfortably, and I think he can be very effective in that role. At any rate, this looks like a major leaguer to me. What to expect: Jake started the season in the Cal League and AA Mobile pretty strong, but the wheels fell off right around the all-star break, so I think we’ll see a return trip to AA.  Normally, I’d say we can expect to see Jewell in relief, but speaking with members of the front office, they’re still committed to keeping him in the rotation. Estimated Time of Arrival: 2019, Jake’s age 26 season. Grade: C+

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AngelsWin Top 30 Prospects: #17 SS Livan Soto

Prospect: Livan Soto Rank: 17 2016: UR Position(s): Shortstop Level: Rookie Ball Age: Entering Age 18 season in 2018. Height: 6’0” – Weight: 160 lbs Floor: Utility infielder. Ceiling: Gold Glove caliber starting shortstop in MLB. Likely Outcome: Elite defensive utility infielder or “second tier team” starting shortstop. Summary: Livan Soto has had a very interesting ride through major league baseball so far.  He signed at age 16 with the Atlanta Braves for an even one million.  We aren’t sure how much Soto actually received, as the Atlanta Braves have been severely penalized by signing prospects for less and channeling funds through other foreign entities to these plays as an extra bonus.  We don’t know who received more money than reported and who didn’t.  This much doesn’t matter.  What does matter is the Braves lost their rights to Livan (and all others who were signed for more than $300,000), and he was declared a free agent, while getting to keep the money the Braves sent his way in the first place. The Angels saw a unique opportunity set before them.  They never had a chance to sign Livan when he was 16 because the Angels were still under the Baldoquin restrictions.  And if by chance he were a free agent and they could only use this season’s international spending budget, they wouldn’t have been able to afford Soto without going over and thus, receiving the same restrictions they had under Baldoquin.  So Major League Baseball, understanding the predicament many teams would find themselves in, allowed teams to eat into next season’s international budget. And so, the Angels decided to spend next year’s international budget money to acquire a couple high profile Braves prospects, Livan Soto being the lesser of the two. So who did the Angels acquire and what can they expect to see? Consider this, Soto at age 16 was 5’9” and 140 lbs, and was considered a marquee defensive shortstop.  In the last year, Soto has grown to 6’0” and 160 lbs.  There’s a chance that Soto could turn into a better than marquee defensive shortstop.  I’ll let your imagination figure out exactly what that is.  I don’t think Soto is Andrelton Simmons, mostly because I’ve only watched one shortstop that captivated me the way Andrelton does (Ozzie Smith).  But I do think Soto could be part of the next tier down, guys like Francisco Lindor or Brandon Crawford (defensively speaking). Soto grades as “good” in every aspect of the defensive game, but by the time he’s in his mid 20’s, he could be great.  Offensively, Soto has some things to dream on.  He has a very solid,  contact oriented approach.  He won’t strike out very often.  He also has excellent plate discipline, particularly for a Latin American teenager.  They say “you don’t walk off the island” and while Soto isn’t from the island, the saying applies to all foreign prospects not from the Orient.  They’re collectively very good at swinging the bat and most don’t emphasize taking a walk until later in their development. But not Soto, he’s already very good at it.  But when Soto does swing, he does have some whip to his bat and quick hands.  some scouts believe he’ll grow into some power, but that’s far from a foregone conclusion.  There’s potential, but given Soto’s build, we have no idea if that can come to any fruition.  Inevitably, that’s probably what will determine Soto’s future.  He’s of very slight build, he needs to add strength, and a lot of it. But the good news is at 17, it’s highly likely he will over the next five years.  Soto isn’t a good hitter right now.  He’s a disciplined hitter, but not a good hitter.  When we compare him to Andrelton at a similar age (Simmons didn’t play professional baseball until age 20), Simmons had the same discipline, but was stronger, with better defensive tools across the board.  so the prevailing thought is, perhaps Soto can develop into a poor man’s Andrelton Simmons. What to expect: Soto will likely be ticketed for short season Orem in an effort to build his skill with the bat and add strength and stamina before going to full season ball. Estimated Time of Arrival: 2023, Livan’s age 23 season. Grade: C+

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AngelsWin Top 30 Prospects: #18 RHP Jose Soriano

Prospect: Jose Soriano Rank: 18 2016: UR Position(s): Right Handed Pitcher Level: Rookie Ball Age: Entering Age 19 season in 2018. Height: 6’4” – Weight: 170 lbs *20-80 scale.  20 is not existent, Major League average is 50.  Good Major League is 60.  Great Major League is 70.  The best I’ve ever seen is 80.  These aren’t given very often. Floor: Middle reliever. Ceiling: #2/3 starter in MLB. Likely Outcome: #4/5 starter or multi-inning reliever. Summary: Soriano is a product of the last part of the “dark times” for the Angels in terms of international presence.  In the Latin American baseball scene, it’s really all about who you know, and long tenured relationships.  Several years ago when scandal rocked the Angels minor leagues, owner Arte Moreno fired every scout, director, training, everybody in the Dominican Republic.  The Angels are just now beginning to reestablish a presence in the Dominican Republic (their scouts in Venezuela, Panama and the Bahamas are still well placed and influential). Soriano was part of a surprisingly deep 2015 international class, and the Angels managed to land him for just $70,000.  Granted, that is a lot of money, but compared to the multi-million dollar bonuses top prospects are getting, it meant Soriano was more than just under the radar, he wasn’t even on the radar. And it makes sense.  As a 16 year old, Soriano was 6’1” and 150 lbs.  His fastball sat 88-89 and his curve was loopy.  But the Angels signed him because they saw a ton of projection, and in this case they ended up being quite right.  As a 7 year old, Soriano was standing 6’3” and 160 lbs and his fastball sat 91-92 and a curve ball that he could get over for a strike, but no feel for a change up.  Extraordinary development in just one year.  Last year as an 18 year old, Jose was 6’4” and 170 lbs with a fastball that sat 93-94, a sharper breaking ball that he throws for strikes and the more consistent ability to throw a change up. It’s this sort of development that excites scouts and begs the question, where might Soriano be at age 22……or how about age 25?  He could be 40 lbs heavier, pumping high-90’s heat.  Or he could be right where he is right now.  Who knows?  I think it’s a fair guess to say Soriano all put on another 30 lbs and gain another tick or two on that fastball of his. Soriano’s success will ultimately dictated by him ironing out some of the rough patches in his game.  Specifically, his balance, landing spot and release point are all very inconsistent at this point.  And while he gets the curve over for a strike, it can still get a little loopy at times.  The change up shows promise, but he’s still years away from effectively deploying it as an “out pitch.”  So there definitely is development needed from Soriano. But the early results are promising to say the least.  A 1.58 ERA as a 17 year old in the Dominican Republic and a 2.92 ERA in his first year stateside. What to expect: Soriano pitched all but one game in Arizona and he did a fantastic job.  Despite the quality arsenal, he didn’t log a ton of strikeouts.  In his lone appearance in Orem, Soriano’s end result was pretty solid but he couldn’t find the plate at all.  I’d expect a return trip to Orem for Jose, unless he settles his delivery this year.  The Pioneer League is a very unforgiving environment for prospects that either can’t find the plate or find too much of it, so it should be a great learning environment for Jose.  Still, I wouldn’t be surprised to see him in Burlington this next year. Estimated Time of Arrival: 2022, Jose’s age 23 season. Grade: C+

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AngelsWin Top 30 Prospects: #19 LHP Jose Suarez

Prospect: Jose Suarez Rank: 19 2016: UR Position(s): Left Handed Pitcher Level: A Ball Age: Entering Age 20 season in 2018. Height: 5’10” – Weight: 170 lbs *20-80 scale.  20 is not existent, Major League average is 50.  Good Major League is 60.  Great Major League is 70.  The best I’ve ever seen is 80.  These aren’t given very often. Summary: The Angels have had a penchant for signing undersized players in the past.  Sometimes it works to their advantage, and sometimes it doesn’t.  Generally speaking, prospects that are under 6’0” don’t garner a ton of recognition because scouts have a prototype they prefer in a ball player.  6’2”, 180 lbs, and athletic.  Kole Calhoun would be a great example of this.  Kole played for one of the premier college baseball teams, Arizona State.  Not only did he play, he starred.  Leading his team to the College World Series, Kole never hit below .300, flashed very good power, good speed, great patience and great defensive ability.  But because he was short and stocky, Kole lasted until the 8th round of the draft, as a college senior.  Of course the rest is history, he flew through the minors and became a very slid starting major league outfielder by the time he was 25. Had Calhoun been three inches taller, he’d have gone in the first ten picks of the draft. Now obviously pitchers and position players a little different.  The prospect we are talking about right now, Jose Suarez is more the result of the Angels having no foothold in the D.R., Venezuela or Puerto Rico for the longest time.  They ended up having to get creative and signing the kids other teams have passed on.  Suarez, was one of them.  Short and thin in stature, only throwing in the mid-80’s. Where other teams focused on a lack of projection, I’m guessing the Angels saw the mechanics and the ability to locate and believed there was more in the tank.  And that’s really where we are today.  Suarez has grown much stronger, and still hasn’t maxed out physically.  His fastball has climbed up to 89-91, which is just a tick below average for a lefty, but we could see him climb to 91-92 by the time he’s done maturing.  But the big thing, Suarez can locate, locate, locate.  He’s generated gaudy strikeout numbers based off an exceptional change up and keeping the ball down and keeping hitters off balance, but my guess is that doesn’t last much longer. More likely, as Suarez reaches the higher levels of the minors, the strikeouts go down, but the routine groundouts to shortstop and third base go up.  Jose doesn’t have the curve ball you’d expect from such a prospect.  It’s slow and loose, but he does get it over as a third option. Typically, I shy away from making comps, but I think a fair one for Jose Suarez would be Jason Vargas (if Suarez can further develop that curve of his). What to expect: Suarez pitched well enough in A Ball last year to garner a promotion to Advanced A Ball.  The Angels may keep him in A Ball for a month or two as it will be his first season in playing a full minor league schedule.  Either way, Suarez should finish 2018 either in AA as a 20 year old, or ticketed for AA.  He won’t get a ton of recognition because crafty guys such as himself don’t in most top prospect lists, but because you’ve read this and you’re “in the know” I’m sure you’ll keep tabs on him. Estimated Time of Arrival: 2020.  Jose’s age 22 season. Grade as a prospect: C+

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AngelsWin Top 30 Prospects: # 20 OF Brennon Lund

Prospect: Brennon Lund Rank: 20 2016: 21 Position(s): Outfield Level: AA Age: Entering Age 23 season in 2018. Height: 5’10” – Weight: 185 lb. ____________________________________________________________________ Floor: AAA Depth. Ceiling: Starting outfielder and lead off hitter in the major leagues. Likely Outcome: 4th outfielder. Summary: I remember, just after Lund was drafted in the 11th round in 2016, hearing that he was actually very good.  Much better than his draft slot.  BYU baseball program is no slouch, and neither is their conference.  Hitting .387 in his junior season definitely opened some eyes, but the fact that he never hit below .300, even as college freshman makes a statement.  Flat out, Brennon Lund is a good hitter. His draft status slipped because Lund remained quiet about his intentions and didn’t end up going on a missions trip the way many mormons do.  Teams weren’t sure if this kid, who probably could’ve been selected in the 5th round would end up playing at all.  Scouts were also unsure as to how Lund projects at the upper levels of the minors or majors.  Scouts still wonder if he’s tapped out physically. But the Angels were clearly convinced of Lund’s abilities and drafted him in the 11th round.  Lund in turn rewarded them not only by signing but by producing immediately.  It started in Rookie Ball, but Lund has just kept hitting, even after making his way to AA, Lund hit .287.  That’s AA in his very first season as a professional.  Granted, the plate discipline all but disappeared once he got there, but I think you get the point. Lund is very good at striking a ball with a bat and sending it somewhere defenders aren’t. The rest of his skills are all varying degrees of solid (except his power), which the ends result becomes a pretty solid ball player.  He hits, gets on base, and won’t hurt you on defense.  Granted, he won’t change the game with one swing of the bat, and isn’t a lock to steal second if he’s on first, but he’s capable of both which is generally what you want. I think in the most basic terms, good hitters become major leaguers, and Brennon Lund is a good hitter. What to expect next season: Lund will make a return trip to AA for 2018.  While he did manage to hit .287 there, his K/BB ratio was an ugly 33/3.  His K/BB was exceedingly well in A Ball and solid in Advanced A Ball.  And so far, Lund has shown the ability to make adjustments at every level.  So I’m confident Lund will figure it out in AA.  I expect he may even spend a month or so in AAA as well.   Estimated Time of Arrival: Late 2019, Lund’s age 24 season Grade as a prospect: C

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AngelsWin Top 30 Prospects: #21 RHP Eduardo Paredes

Prospect: Eduardo Paredes Rank: 22 2016: 19 Position(s): Right Handed Pitcher Level: MLB Age: Entering Age 23 season in 2018. Height: 6’1” – Weight: 170 lbs ____________________________________________________________________ Floor: Middle reliever in MLB. Ceiling: Elite, shutdown closer in MLB. Likely Outcome: Very good middle reliever that can go 2 innings. Summary: Relievers get no love when it comes to prospect reports.  I mean how is it that a kid, 22 years old, already in the major leagues and likely already a better than average major league reliever be ranked in the 20’s on prospect lists?  Simple.  We just don’t value pitchers that only go 50 innings a year the way we would a starter that pitches 180 innings or a hitter that starts 150 games (and with good reason). But ideological rankings aside, Paredes is about as sure of a sure thing as you”ll get with prospects. The very nature of a prospect is that they are popcorn in a pan, some pop, and some don’t (Thanks Jerry!). But not Parades.  He shot through the Angels system with relative ease, mostly because the Angels simply couldn’t find a level that would challenge this kid.  The highest ERA he’s ever posted was a 3.35 and that was in AA.  His career minor league ERA is 2.53.  His ERA in Salt Lake last year was 2.92.  That’s where routine pop flies go to be home runs. And this wasn’t accomplished by just wishing he’d throw more strikes and hoping his arsenal would be good enough to carry him. Eduardo did it by throwing strikes. He throws from a sidearm slot, and has a fastball that sits 94 and a sharp slider.  That’s it.  See if you can hit it.  He’ll throw it over the plate and everything.  That’s his recipe for success and generally speaking, when you can build one as simple as that, you’re golden.  Parades doesn’t have to change a single thing. Make no mistake, Eduardo Paredes is already a good major league reliever.  Yeah, he was shaky in his first taste at age 22.  Not terrible, but not as good as he truly is.  But it won’t be long.  As I said, just 22 years old.  By the time he’s 25, he could be an all-star, or at least one of those middle relievers that gets snubbed every year. What to expect next season: Paredes will likely get squeezed out of the bullpen to start 2018 simply because he’s young and he has options.  But the Angels won’t be able to keep him down long.  They’ve played it conservative with him his entire minor league career because of an old school stigma against sidearm relievers, but Eduardo has proven himself at every level, including AAA.  He’ll be with the Angels in 2018 and by the end of the year, he’ll one of their best relievers and likely won’t see the minor leagues in an Angel uniform again.  Estimated Time of Arrival: He’s already here! Grade as a prospect: C+

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Merry Christmas AngelsWin

By David Saltzer, AngelsWin.com Senior Writer Yes it does. For me, the most important part of the Grinch’s transformation comes right before the singing. It’s what makes it possible for the Grinch’s heart to open, for him to finally hear the message of the holiday. It’s that he paused. While we should all do it more often, at least once a year, we need to pause and give thanks for one another. With the hustle and bustle of modern life, and the ability to stay informed nearly instantaneously through social media (as if so many things were that important), it’s often easy to forget to take the mime and take that time for ourselves and to just pause. Throughout the year, we can fight and argue over lineups, rotations, defensive alignments, bullpen uses, trades, and signings. But at this time of year, we pause. And give thanks. And reflect. And appreciate that as much as we argue on AngelsWin, there are others on the site there to argue back with us. And draw us in. And debate those lineups. Critique those sick rotations. Respond with stats about defensive alignments. Use Fangraphs and other data sources on how to best use the bullpen. Tell us why our ideal trades will never happen. And most of all, explain why so-and-so won’t sign with us. Without all of that, we wouldn’t have community. We wouldn’t have a reason to come here. And our lives would be empty. We’d miss the laughter. We’d miss the joy. We’d miss the camaraderie. We’d miss each other. So today, take a moment. Pause. Remember your family. Remember your friends. And most of all, remember one another. Take the time. Make the time. Find that one person who debates the most with you and wish him/her a Merry Christmas. And mean it. And appreciate all the good that is AngelsWin. It’s there. It always has been. And it always will be. Merry Christmas AngelsWin.  

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AngelsWin Top 30 Prospects: #22 RHP Cole Duensing

Prospect: Cole Duensing Rank: 22 2016: 17 Position(s): Right Handed Pitcher Level: Rookie Ball Age: Entering Age 20 season in 2018. Height: 6’4” – Weight: 195 lbs ____________________________________________________________________ Floor: Middle reliever that touches mid-90’s. Ceiling: #2-3 starter in major leagues. Likely Outcome: #4/5 starter in the major leagues. Summary: Duensing checks all the boxes you want to see in a prep pitching prospect.  Solid fastball with projectable growth.  A feel for two off speed pitches.  Coachable.  Wants it, and is willing to work for it.  Tall, lean frame with room for growth.  When Duensing was drafted he was a bit of a bean pole at 175 lbs, but came packed with a solid 91-92 mph fastball.  Since taking on a nutrition and weight training regimen, we’ve seen Duensing just up toward 195 lbs and a fastball that was regularly 92-94 mph, from a 19 year old. Duensing attacks hitters with a hurried, high effort, yet low impact delivery.  He hides the ball well and has a true three-quarters release point.  His balance, release point and landing spot seem to be varied and inconsistent, so there’s definitely some refining needed. From a numbers standpoint, Duensing struggled with control this season.  While the quality of his pitches were clearly better than last year, his results were quite a bit worse and this was based mostly off the fact that hitters knew Duensing would either walk them, hit them or leave the ball out over the middle of the plate where hitters could do something with it. Really, the mechanics, the ability to throw strikes (and balls when necessary) and the ability to spot your pitches to each side of the plate, low or high in the zone are ultimately what dictate the success of a pitcher, as well as the role.  Pitchers that can’t consistently do it are transitioned to relief, and pitchers that can, stay in the rotation. So for Duensing, all the pieces to be a successful major league pitcher are there.  Now it’s just up to hi and the Angels to find a way to put it all together. What to expect next season: Duensing spent the majority of the short season at Orem, and while typically pitchers all graduate and move on to A Ball after Orem, Duensing’s trouble with finding the strike zone could ultimately lead to a return trip back to Utah.  However, if Cole shows up to Spring Training with a more repeatable delivery and can find the strike zone, there is some chance he could move on to A Ball for 2018.  But when you have a pitcher as young and projectable as Cole, the best thing the Angels organization can do is remove personal expectations and allow Cole to show them when he’s ready to move up.  He may suddenly be major league ready at 22, or it may take longer, you never really know.  For the moment, I expect Duensing to be in A Ball, simply because he’ll be a year older and more developed, he’s better than what we saw in Orem last year, and he his second to last start against Idaho Falls looked like a pitcher ready for A Ball. Estimated Time of Arrival: Middle of 2022, Cole’s age 24 season. Grade as a prospect: C Grades are given from the 20-80 scouting scale.  20-being non-existent ability, 80-being the best I’ve ever seen.  MLB average is 50.

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Peak Payroll

By David Saltzer, AngelsWin.com Senior Writer I don’t know about you, but it sure seems like it’s been a slow offseason for baseball. Sure, the Angels have been killing it, and there have been some big trades, but overall, someone should check to see if the hot stove has been lit for most of the free agents out there this year. So far, there have been several theories advanced regarding why the owners have been holding off on making the large free agent splashes that span quite a few possibilities. I’ve read that owners are holding back in preparation for next year’s free agent class, which is expected to be much better than this year’s free agent class and that the market has been held up by notable trades/signings (Ohtani and Stanton in particular). But that doesn’t seem to fully explain the lack of free agent signings this year, and the overall slowness to the market. To figure out why I think that the market is slow, I’d like to draw on my background in geology. In the petroleum industry, there’s a term called “peak oil” which refers to the point in time when maximum rate of petroleum is extracted from the earth. After that, petroleum extraction is expected to decline. It is a controversial theory, based on the work of M. King Hubbart, and has certainly been affected by many technological developments, such as slant drilling, and the discovery of many new oil fields. However controversial the theory is, especially in geology, it still is useful for explaining many phenomena. Often things will reach a peak, and after that, taper off. And I believe that this is what may be affecting this offseason. While fans love to look at each season as an independent event, most owners view their franchise in a much longer term. And two things have to be particularly jarring to baseball owners, especially as they project their payrolls going forward. The first is the ongoing implosion at ESPN. The second is the radical decline in football ratings. Over the past 6 years, ESPN has lost over 13 million viewers. That’s over 2 million viewers per year! And, as that has happened, ESPN has fired over 250 employees this year, including many highly paid and well known announcers.  While not all of these moves appear to be the direct result of the declining subscribers, there’s no doubt that ESPN has been looking to find ways to reduce their payroll to shore up their financial commitments. Projecting this forward, if ESPN continues to lose viewers, at some point, it will become unprofitable to continue. ESPN owes so much in guaranteed TV contracts, that without a substantial increase in fees, ESPN may not be able to fulfill its financial obligations to the major sports leagues. While ESPN could consider raising its fees to its ongoing subscribers to cover this potential loss, that could accelerate the rate at which viewers unsubscribe from the network, leading to a death spiral. If I were an owner, this ongoing situation at ESPN would be quite alarming on its own. It’s hard to make substantial long-term financial commitments to players without having a guaranteed funding stream to pay for the obligations. And, that’s why the ongoing situation with the NFL is doubly alarming. As much as the owners in the NFL don’t want to admit it, ratings for the NFL are down about 9% overall this season. While attendance in the stadiums appear to be up, there is plenty of anecdotal evidence that the actual attendance in the games is down quite a bit. Worse still ticket resale prices appear to have dropped quite substantially. It will be very interesting to see what happens in the NFL next year with season ticket sales in order to gauge the seriousness of concerns that the changes to the NFL are causing to owners in all sports. While the decrease in the NFL appeared to buoy the World Series ratings for baseball, owners have to know that ratings and viewership can be quite fickle. Prior to 2016, the NFL didn’t identify their ratings and fan attendance drop. So, I wouldn’t be surprised if owners everywhere, and in all sports, are being cautious on their long-term financial commitments while they analyze what is happening with the NFL. The combination of these forces has led to a slow offseason and a decrease in the salaries being offered to free agents. Furthermore, owners may have finally learned that in the negotiation dynamics with a free agent, owners can gain an advantage by waiting further and further into the offseason to sign free agents. Players, who have lofty projections of their worth at the start of the offseason may start to accept a more realistic offer as the number of suitors dwindle and the prospects of starting the season without a contract become more realistic. Finally, it appears that many teams are finally being forced into financial restraint, or possibly learning financial restraint through the ongoing penalties associated with the luxury tax. The Dodgers recently made a trade to get out of those penalties and the Yankees appear to be doing all they can to stay beneath the limit. All combined, it appears that there are many factors that may be suppressing the free agent market this offseason beyond the potential signings and trades that have been so often cited. And, the combination of these factors may play out over many years, leading to a dampening on the overall market, and the potential for a “peak payroll” or at least a peak in the rate of growth in payroll. For baseball fans, this may play out to our benefit. Since baseball payrolls have grown far faster than inflation, or our salaries, we may see a period where ticket prices and stadium concession prices start to stabilize and not increase as quickly as they did for most of the past 30 years. That could come as welcome relief. And, for the baseball owners, there are a couple of bright spots for them. First, with regional sports networks becoming more and more important for the financial future of the sport, and the national broadcasters providing less and less content, they should be less affected by the problems at ESPN than the NFL or other sports. Second, baseball has the possibility to expand into more markets to generate more fans and revenue. The Angels, with Shohei Otani, should be able to expand into Japan to introduce new revenue streams. And, if baseball chooses to expand (which in a separate article I will outline), they could place an expansion team in Mexico City, opening up another market to increase their revenues. Overall, as much as there have been some plausible theories for why the market this offseason has been slow, I do believe that we may have entered into an era of peak payroll, or at least peak growth in payroll. Even if next year has a frenzy for a few pivotal free agents, overall, I would expect the trend to decrease in the following years as owners return to their more cautious approach to financial commitments. If team payrolls continue to grow in the beyond that, it might be at a much slower rate–more in line with inflation–than they have grown in the past.  And, that would make this offseason the year teams hit peak payroll.

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AngelsWin Top 30 Prospects: # 23 SS Nonie Williams

Prospect: Nonie Williams Rank: 23 2016: 7 Position(s): SS Level: Rookie Ball Age: Entering Age 20 season in 2018. Height: 6’2” – Weight: 200 lb. ____________________________________________________________________ Floor: Minor League Fodder Ceiling: All-star caliber infielder. Likely Outcome: Utility Infielder with power Summary: Nonie has certainly had his share of ups and downs as a ball player, dating all the way back to high school.  As a home school student, Nonie attended a class or two on campus at Turner High School in Kansas City (KS), in order to be eligible to play on their baseball team.  Shortly before last season’s draft, Nonie spoke with scouts who had convinced him to take a couple of extra classes to graduate and declare himself as draft eligible as an 18 year old rather than at age 19 as he would have been this year.  Williams’ raw skills were on display at scouting tournaments and major league organizations began to take notice of a kid that is built like a young A-Rod, is a switch hitter with tape measure power from both sides of the plate and was one of the fastest players in the draft. The Angels may have selected him in the third round of the draft, but the consensus was that Williams likely could’ve gone near the first round last year or in the first round this year. His first experience in the AZL last season didn’t go so well.  Williams struggled against higher quality pitching, more specifically, strike zone management and while he was a big, athletic shortstop, his actions were very unrefined.  So this past year Williams focused own improving his pitch recognitions, showing patience at the plate and cleaning up his footwork and actions at shortstop. His second experience in the AZL didn’t go any better than the first.  Nonie did improve his offensive skill set by taking more walks, but he also struck out more.  And for all that power he has during batting practice, it hasn’t translated to the game yet.  But at the very least we can say that Williams made himself into a better infielder.  People that saw him play in the AZL last season indicate that his swing looked slow, and mechanical.  A scout I spoke with said that Nonie was in the process of learning a new swing because the one he graduated from high school with was too long and just was not going to work at the upper levels.  He’s opened his stance a little, has more bend in his knee, doesn’t bring his hands as far back, and doesn’t have the high leg kick and load that he did in high school. However, from a scouting standpoint, it’s all still there.  Williams has as much if not more bat speed than anyone in minor league baseball.  His swing and strength rival that of Randal Grichuk when he was Williams’ age.  In fact their general build and mannerisms are quite similar as well. But patience is key with Nonie as he basically learns how to hit again and develops as a player. And so it stands with Williams, he’s at a bit of a cross road heading into his third season of professional baseball.  Nonie appears to be outgrowing the shortstop position as he is bigger and stronger than he was on draft day, so a move to third base or second base (or even the outfield) could be in the works.  For now he still has the skill set to play a competent shortstop, though one wonders if that’s ultimately his defensive home.  From an offensive standpoint, power is the last tool to develop and so we can’t expect Williams to suddenly grow into a power hitter overnight.  However, that ability to does reside in his frame and potential.  But Nonie will need to start making contact and getting on base with some regularity. He isn’t running out of time at age 20.  Not by any means.  But Nonie has to show the ability to make the adjustments. What to expect next season: The Angels may slot Williams back in the Arizona Rookie League for the third consecutive year, and they’d be justified in doing so based on his performance.  Or if Williams does show considerable improvement coming into Spring Training, he could be headed to Orem for the higher level of Rookie Ball.  After two seasons of professional ball and working with his swing, I expect Williams will show up to camp in a better position to compete and will find himself in Orem next season.  Specifically, I’ll be looking for Williams to cut his K% and play with more fluidity and confidence.  He’s been blessed with so much athletic ability, and one can get so caught up in coaches trying to implement different things, but at some point, Williams natural ability just has to take over. Estimated Time of Arrival: 2023, Nonie’s age 24 season.  Grade as a prospect: C

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The 2018 Angels Are Closing the WAR Gap

Owner Arte Moreno, Manager Mike Scioscia, Shohei Ohtani, General Manager Billy Eppler and President John Carpino pose for a photo after a press conference at Angel Stadium in Anaheim on Saturday, Dec. 9, 2017. (Photo by Kevin Sullivan, Orange County Register/SCNG)By Brent Hubbard, AngelsWin.com Feature Columnist –  I like it when the Angels are among the best teams in the AL. I like it when they win. I know that the statement above is silly and obvious. I think, however, that complacency has set in since the off-season of 2009-2010, when our free agents all left and our big add was what Hideki Matsui? Even with Pujols and Trout, the Angels have only made the playoffs once in the last 8 seasons. And the problem is not the same each year. Some years they have led the AL in runs scored, some seasons they’ve been near the bottom. They had arguably our best pitching season ever (or at least under Scioscia) in 2011, with two average starters and three great ones. They’ve had bad bullpens and surprisingly good ones. They have had injuries and under performances, surprises and reaches, plus the game’s best player and MVP for six years. But that’s the past. And in 2017 whatever the cause, they were a middle of the pack team. 80-82, 21 games behind the Astros, who won the AL Pennant at 101-61 and 22 behind the Indians, who had the best record in the AL at 102-60. The Angels then have a bit of a gap to make up. A WAR gap to be specific. All of my figures are from Baseball Reference’s calculation on the WAR stat, that is Wins Above Replacement. The Astros and The Indians were the two best teams in the AL this past year by record, but they did so in different ways. The Astros had a superior offense, scoring 896 runs and posting nearly 40 WAR from their batters (39.8). The Indians had 33.3 WAR from their pitchers, which is far and away the best in the league. The Astros only managed 13.4 WAR from their pitching staff, while the Indians were more even and managed 27.6 from their batters. Each team then had over 50 WAR with the Astros at 53.2 and the Indians at an amazing 60.9. The Angels managed 18.2 WAR from their batters and 12.7 from their pitchers. That’s a total of 30.7. They have a big WAR gap to get over to get near the top teams in the league. Can the Angels pick up enough WAR next year to close this gap? Adding 20 to 25 WAR being the goal. That’s a lot. Is it doable? By all accounts, the Angels have had a spectacular offseason so far. But before we get to the acquisitions, lets assess the performance of the holdovers. Re-signing August 31st acquisition Justin Upton to fill the hole in left field cannot go understated from its impact. They acquired Upton for prospects to replace Maybin, Revere and Young in left on August 31st. Upton has had multiple 5 WAR seasons in his past few years and he will certainly provide a boost to the Angels in 2018. He’s possibly worth 3 additional WAR over the collection of left fielders in 2017. Also, because they have the best player in baseball, we should of course mention that with Trout more likely to play the entire year that may be one of the biggest “splashes”. Trout only managed 6.7 in an injury-shortened campaign in 2017. Yet, Trout was on pace for his best year ever offensively, perhaps another 10+ WAR season.  If you look at the possible improvement by a healthy Trout, you could be looking at 3 to 4 more WAR. There have been a few articles recently, before all the offseason acquisitions started happening, about how the Angels hope to improve with their current players. Valbuena and Calhoun put up sub-par numbers last season as compared to their previous seasons, but the biggest improvement with other current players has to come with Albert Pujols.  Whether Pujols gets back to 2014-6 form or just plays less, he was worth negative -1.8 WAR last season, and that simply can’t continue. I don’t know if he can give them 3 WAR as a DH, even if he plays twice or three times a week against lefties, the WAR formula makes that pretty hard to do. But getting back to 2016 form where he managed 1.4 would be a 3.2 WAR pickup, so that would go a long way. These three guys may be able to get 3-4 additional WAR combined, just by not slumping. Pujols will likely play less and so will Valbuena. So let’s just say Pujols gets 3 WAR (from -1.8 to 1.2) and Valbuena picks up 1.5 (from 0.0 to 1.5) and additional Calhoun picks up 1 additional WAR (from 2.1 to 3.1) then you’re at an additional 5.5 WAR combined. Also on the same note, just by eliminating the guys who put up negative WAR, the Angels can go a long way. The Astros had only 5 players with negative WAR, on the batting side, one was a pitcher, one a catcher, the others were AJ Reed, Cameron Maybin, and Carlos Beltran. A total of -1.2 WAR. The Angels managed to run out players at the bottom who made -4.8 WAR. (Includng Pujols). A lot of that came from second base. Danny Espinosa was worth -1.3, Nolan Fontana -0.3 and Brandon Phillips -0.2. Getting a regular second baseman that could put up 2+ WAR would be a huge improvement, being as much as 4 WAR gain. Of course, there were not a lot of those on the free agent market. So the Angels traded for former enemy and new leadoff batter, Ian Kinsler. Kinsler had a down year in 2017, but even a down year for him was still worth 2.1 WAR. However, his previous four seasons (from ages 31-34) averaged 5.7 WAR! Even if you account for somewhat of a downturn, a 4.0 is definitely possible and a 6 WAR season is not outside of the realm of possibility. That is a stunning increase, as the black hole that was 2B since Kendrick was traded is now an asset, and as much as a 7 WAR switch. Originally, Eppler and company approached free agent shortstop Zack Cozart about playing 2nd, who despite not playing a full season, had an offensive breakout in 2017. He was a 4.9 WAR player at shortstop in 2017, hitting .297 with a .385 OBP and a .548 SLG. He was equally good on the road and at home, and even though it was a power spike, it was actually better on the road than in Cincinnati’s bandbox of a stadium. From the MLB Trade Rumors article regarding the signing. Those of the mind that his power spike was in any way tied to his hitter-friendly home park in Cincinnati, though, should also take note that 12 of Cozart’s 24 homers came on the road, and his .279 road ISO handily topped his .230 mark at home. Hopefully, he can recreate some of that offensive magic in Anaheim as the Angels, after acquiring Kinsler, decided to ask if Cozart would instead switch to third base instead of switching to second. Cozart putting up a similar offensive season would be fantastic, and he can back up Simmons at SS as well. So I’d hope to put his offensive contribution at 3rd as maybe a 3.5-4 WAR season, hoping for a repeat offensive and defensive performance. In 2017 at third, I mentioned Valbuena’s contribution earlier as effectively replacement level, Escobar was worth 0.4 and Jefry Marte’s negative -0.7 WAR disappearing in this situation, also helps. Overall, the Angels added a player who was 4.5 wins better than what they had there last season (0.4). Let’s hope for 3 additional WAR from the 3B position in 2018. The last position of need is 1B. I originally advocated for Eric Hosmer or Carlos Santana here, but the Angels went a different route. Instead of adding a free agent or trading for a full-time first baseman, they turn to a three-headed monster of Valbuena and Pujols, plus incumbent CJ Cron. I’d expect Pujols to play against 2 days a week at first, maybe three if there is 7 games that week. I expect him to get a similar same number of starts at DH, and a day off each week to keep him healthy. This will result in 60-65 starts as the 1st baseman, and probably 70-75 starts at DH, for 135 games played. This means roughly 100 starts left over for Valbuena at 1st, and they need his lefty bat in the lineup. Cron is cheap insurance, but also out of options, so he may be moved in a trade sooner or later. Cron was worth roughly 0.8 WAR last year in his time at 1st, and I think that will be effectively neutral, having already accounted for Valbuena and Pujols’s likely increased production, whether Cron gets 40-50 starts at 1st when Valbuena plays 3rd, or the Angels sign a right handed bat to backup the OF and play 1st, or go with a Catcher who can do the same. Overall, it should be better at 1st, but I’ve already accounted for the increase. One can only hope for similar performances from C and SS, but even a slight regression there may only be 1-2 WAR, which is fine, and they may even improve should Simmons take another step offensively like he did in the first half and Maldonado also may improve offensively, or they could improve at the backup position. But lets hope for neutral. With improved production and health from the offense, the 20 WAR they need can come entirely from the offensive side. The Angels had the salary space to add multiple players, they have opened the season the past two years in the mid 160 M’s in actual payroll, and would sit at just over 137 M if they kept all of their arbitration eligible players. This leaves roughly 30M in real payroll to address 2B, 3B, and 1B, which isn’t a lot, but they did it, adding Kinsler for 11M and Cozart for 12.7M. They also added Jim Johnson in a trade that completed the bulk of their shopping. Yes, except for one guy, but I’ll get to him in a minute. On the pitching side, I doubt the Angels will sign anyone else of note. They did add a starter, and I simply can’t see them adding another one, which would likely take them over the luxury tax threshold. The two best names being Yu Darvish or Jake Arrieta, whereas next offseason there are significantly better pitchers available. Free agent relievers Wade Davis, Greg Holland, and Addison Reed scare me for the money. A lot of relievers cashed in this offseason, and it was probably wise to stay out of the bidding. The Angels did lose outstanding minor league contract surprise pitcher Yusmiero Petit, but could still sign Bud-Norris. Overall, though the Angels did have a decent pen this last season, and a return to the pen from swingman and 2017 starter JC Ramirez may go along way. But back to the WAR Gap…Cleveland had an amazing 33.3 WAR from their pitching staff. Kluber led the way with a deserving Cy Young winning year (an MVP caliber year too) and 8 WAR. Carlos Carrasco gave them 5.4 WAR, former Angels farmhand Mike Clevinger gave them 3.2 WAR, and Trevor Bauer 3.1. Their top four starters gave them nearly 20 WAR (19.7). The rest of the rotation gave them another 3 WAR in Danny Salazar, Josh Tomlin, and Ryan Merritt combined. Their bullpen led by Andrew Miller, Closer Cody Allen, Zach McAllister and the aforementioned Bryan Shaw added 6.8 WAR, while the rest of the pen gave them 3.7. Only one pitcher pitched below replacement value and that was only -0.1 WAR. The Angels didn’t come close here, but neither did the Astros. The Angels top starting pitcher by WAR was Parker Bridwell at 2.0, followed by JC Ramirez at 1.7, then Garrett Richards at 1.1 (in just 6 starts). Overall, their starters were worth, 7.3 WAR as opposed to Cleveland’s 19.7. In relief, they weren’t close either with Blake Parker at 1.7, Yusmiero Petit at 1.6, and David Hernandez at 1.0. Total from the pen was half of Cleveland’s pen (10.8 vs 5.4). They had 12 guys post slightly better than replacement values (between 0.1 and 0.8). They also had 9 players post lower than replacement between -0.1 and -0.4 WAR. Going into next year, they hope that they can get more innings from guys like Richards, Skaggs, Shoemaker, and Heaney, and that in turn will propel this 12.7 WAR closer to 20. I’m not sure if that will happen, but Richards is capable of a 4+ WAR season or higher as he did in 2014, that would help. Shoemaker and Skaggs also reaching that mark, and getting 2.0 WAR from Heaney and whomever the sixth starter is would also help break 20. Let’s hope for 15.5 WAR from the returning staff, with Richards giving us the most of returning starters at 4.5 WAR, Skaggs finally pitching to his ability at 3.5 WAR, Shoemaker, Bridwell and Heaney all hitting the 2.5 WAR spot.  That’s 15.5 WAR from the returning starters, an increase of 2.8 WAR. Lastly, finding diamonds in the rough like Petit, Norris, and Parker may not happen every season, but guys like Middleton and Bedrosian are also capable of jumps forward. Plus Parker is back, and likely to be the closer. Ramirez likely goes back to the pen, and gives them hopefully a similar impact as he did in 2016. I’d recommend re-siging Norris if they can and taking a risk on a guy or two on minor league deals, hope to hit the reliever lottery again. If you can get another lefty reliever, I’d do that too. Let’s hope they are effectively neutral in the pen. But the bottom line is there isn’t a lot of money to spend here and the Angels should be able to increase their pitching WAR somewhat from their current staff. The one wild card, of course, is Shohei Ohtani. Japan’s “Babe Ruth” is the Angels #1 acquisition of the offseason. What potential difference a frontline starting pitcher and part-time DH/OF Bat would have is potentially significant but unknown. As he is a non-factor for salary, being under club control, he would take the place of a young reliever or starter, without any salary ramification. That makes him appealing if he was just league average. Scouting Reports vary, but if he was truly a two-way player, there aren’t any examples. He supposedly has Ichiro level speed, Matsui power, and can pitch like Hideo Nomo in his prime. That can’t all be true, but if it is, he could rival Mike Trout for potential WAR impact. There are a lot of projections for Ohtani the pitcher, and he definitely has frontline stuff. As a hitter, projections vary, but he could also be an impact player there. Systems like WAR though have their problems with a player like Ohtani, as a pitcher, his offensive contributions are weighed against other pitchers, so even as a league average hitter, the WAR impact would be insane. So I’d bet the good folks at Baseball-Reference and Fangraphs calculate his WAR impact separately, as though he never hit as a pitcher (like some American League pitchers do not) and then judge him as a part-time DH. He supposedly doesn’t like to hit when he pitches, but you’d have to think at least one or two starts will come in National League parks, so he will likely do both at least one time this year. If you consider he is likely to get 80 games as the DH, his offensive value could be significant, but the main impact is likely to come on the mound. If the Angels go with a six-man rotation, or even a 5.5 man rotation (skipping a guy when his start falls on an off day), which seems likely, it means that they are on a six-day schedule. On such a schedule: Ohtani pitches the first day, and takes the day off the second, then he hits as the DH for three consecutive days, then takes the day off the day before he pitches again. He’d likely get 27 or 28 starts this way with 160 IP, so that could be worth 3 WAR or 5 WAR depending on how well he does. And as a hitter, maybe 350 plate appearances at 120 OPS+?  Some of that will replace others value I’ve stated above, but adding a 4-5 WAR starter is legit. Say he adds an additional 2-3 WAR as a hitter, he’s worth at least 5-6 additional WAR to the Angels in his first year. He is a unique player and if he hits as well as Ichiro or Matsui, or even 80% as well as the two of them combined, and pitched like Noah Syndergaard, whom he has been compared to stuff wise, it’s tough to calculate his total impact on the team WAR, but perhaps it’s as high as 8-10 WAR between his pitching and hitting? That would be excellent. It stands to reason the Angels and other teams like him as a pitcher more than a hitter, but we won’t know where his biggest impact comes until he actually suits up. Overall, then with modest return to health and a increase in production from their acquisitions, I can easily see the Angels topping 45 WAR from this team, maybe even as high as 60 WAR if everything goes right (My bold projections for each position are my best case options). As the replacement level is set at 48 wins, that means the Angels could win anywhere from 93 to 108 wins, which is pretty close to what I think their win range is going into 2018. Thus, they have effectively closed the WAR Gap with their additions this offseason. They are looked at as a wild card contender because Houston just won the World Series, but I think Houston will be a few wins shy of their total last year, due to a World Series hang over, and the Angels can take advantage of this. I hope they are good and I hope they win, because like I said, I like it when they win.

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AngelsWin Top 30 Prospects: # 24 OF D’Shawn Knowles

Prospect: D’Shawn Knowles Rank: 24 2016: UR Position(s): OF Level: Rookie Ball Age: Entering Age 17 season in 2018. Height: 5’11” – Weight: 170 lb. ____________________________________________________________________ *Note – D’Shawn is not a player I’ve seen personally and there isn’t a ton available as far as his scouting reports go.  All information I have received is second hand, so take this with a grain of salt. Floor: Minor League Depth Ceiling: Major League Regular Likely Outcome: Unknown Summary: So much of what we know about Knowles comes from sites based in the Bahamas that come across as mere advertisements, or from candid quotes from the Angels scouts.  So please keep in mind, everything I have here is based off a quick conversation and some googling.  We know the Angels liked Knowles enough to make him their second biggest international signee at an $850,000 bonus.  Knowles ranked among the top 40 international prospects his age, and the Angels made sure he joined with fellow countryman Trent Deveaux in the Angels system. Knowles is an athletic, energetic outfielder whose best skills currently are his speed and defense.  Because of a growth spurt in the last year (again, just 16 years old) that saw Knowles grow two inches and gain 10+ pounds of muscle, it is believed that Knowles could develop and grow into some power, but this is projection , and one that is at least a few years away. Really, all we can say with confidence right now is that this kid is supposed to be a pretty decent ball player, and the Angels believed it so much that they paid a lot of money for him. Oh and fun fact, his twin brother D’Vaughn just signed with the Texas Rangers. What to expect next season: As I understand, the Angels plan on keeping Deveaux stateside for his age 17 season, and because a great deal of what happens at the Dominican academy is culturally preparing children for the U.S., and Knowles already speaks English and have spent a considerable amount of time in his life stateside, going to the Dominican Sumer League will likely be fruitless.  So I expect Knowles to remain in extended Spring Training and break camp with the Angels Arizona League affiliate. Estimated Time of Arrival: Unknown. Grade as a prospect: C

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Where Baseballs Go to Die

Los Angeles Angels center fielder Mike Trout dives for a fly ball against the Seattle Mariners in a baseball game Thursday, May 29, 2014, in Seattle. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)By Robert Cunningham, Angelswin.com Senior Writer Today the Los Angeles Angels announced they have signed SS Zack Cozart to a 3 year, $38M contract. Now, of course, the Angels will not use Cozart at SS because they have an even better defensive player at the position in Andrelton Simmons (and this is saying a lot because Zack plays elite level defense at SS). Instead Zack will be taking his talents to the hot corner where he will join Andrelton and Ian in what can only be described as a defensive black hole where baseballs go to die. Eppler has certainly held true to his words about trying to fill every position around the diamond with above average defensive players. Barring Pujols he has essentially reached this goal with the additions of Upton, Kinsler, and now Cozart. If you are a casual fan you may not be seeing the full value in the acquisitions Billy has made this off-season and how it contributes to our increased odds of success in 2018. Pictures speak a thousand words and videos speak ten thousand so let us take a little walk down memory lane to better illustrate how truly sick the Los Angeles Angels defense will be next season (note there are offensive highlights mixed into some of these videos): Mike Trout Andrelton Simmons Martin Maldonado Ian Kinsler Zack Cozart Link to MLB highlights, here. Justin Upton Kole Calhoun It cannot be stressed enough how special team defense will be in 2018. Yes the Angels have improved their lineup as well and that should be a more productive unit, one through nine in the order, but this is perhaps the finest defensive team in baseball heading into 2018 and beyond. It will be a real treat to watch!

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