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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, 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, 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, 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, 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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AngelsWin Top 30 Prospects: #25 OF Torii Hunter Jr.

Prospect: Torii Hunter Jr. Rank: 25 2016: UR Position(s): OF Level: Rookie Ball Age: Entering Age 23 season in 2018. Height: 6’2” – Weight: 180 lb. ____________________________________________________________________ Floor: Minor League Depth Ceiling: All-star caliber starting OF in the major leagues Likely Outcome: “Third tier” starting OF or 4th OF in the major leagues Summary: Torii Hunter Jr. is such a unique case among prospects that it’s no use trying to find any sort of a precedent.  Torii isn’t the first ball player to leave the gridiron in favor of the diamond.  In fact that’s becoming more and more common.  He is the first that I’ve known about with the inherent advantage of growing up in a major league clubhouse.  While these things don’t show up on a scouting report, the intangibles that come with it are invaluable.  Watching the way dad and his teammates prepare for a game everyday.  Watching the motion, seeing the workouts, being there for the long days, seeing the behavior in the clubhouse, noticing the subtle nuances of fielding or hitting, and watching how a team reacts to a loss or a win.  In every sense of the word, Torii Hunter Jr. is as experienced as any veteran major leaguer in how to be a teammate. It’s intangibles like this that made Hunter Jr. captain of the most prestigious college football team in America, the University of Notre Dame.  It’s intangibles like this that will allow Torii Hunter Jr. to assimilate and to adapt to fit the needs of a prospect trying to make it to the majors. But those aren’t the only reasons Hunter Jr. is unique.  With Torii, you really have to throw out any age-development curve you’d expect to have  for a prospect.  Torii played wide receiver at Notre Dame for three years before deciding to give professional baseball a try.  Sure, he picked up a bat and ran around the field a couple times playing baseball at Notre Dame, but it clearly wasn’t his focus.  However, the Angels drafted him in the 23rd round, and because of injuries sustained on the gridiron, Torii decided to give baseball a try.  He signed an overslept bonus of $100,000 to play for the Angels, and the Angels themselves thought this was a very worthy investment, given Hunter Jr’s tremendous upside. And make no mistake, that is why Hunter Jr. is one of our top prospects.  Upside.  Many prospects are near finished developing age 23, or at least half way there.  But not Hunter, he’s more in line with a high school junior or senior in terms of his playing experience and rawness. Torii Jr. is more athletic than his father, which says something.  He covers more ground in the outfield and is faster around the bases.  But Hunter Sr. was a stronger prospect, more refined, with those his own set of intangibles (willing to do whatever it took to succeed). Hunter Jr. in his first season of professional ball showed a ton of ability to make contact with the ball, but still wasn’t quite so comfortable in the box to take advantage of his strength.  But he did show a very advanced feel for the strike zone given the lengthy layoff since high school.  Tori did struggle with recognizing breaking pitches, which is normal at this stage of development.  On the base paths, Hunter Jr. could absolutely fly, but wasn’t as aggressive at stealing bases as he could be.  In the beginning, he had a hard time reading pitchers, but as the season wore on Hunter Jr. looked very comfortable.  In the outfield, he covers as much ground as Trout or Bourjos did as prospects, which is to say he covers a HUGE amount of acreage.  He’s got a quick first step and a solid average arm. The most promising thing about Hunter Jr. has to be the adjustments he made as the season progressed.  In the first half of the season in Orem, he hit a solid .310 and wasn’t walking nearly as often as he could be.  The second half of the year he hit nearly .380 and more than doubled his walk rate.  This suggests that Torii’s athleticism will allow him to make the adjustments and succeed in minor league baseball, if he wants it as much as his father did. But again, with Hunter I won’t focus on if he makes it to the majors by the time he’s 24 as most solid prospects should, more that he’s ready to succeed at the major league level when he’s in his physical prime (age 26-32). What to expect next season: This is a difficult one to write.  The Angels may see that he’s embarking on his age 23 season and aggressively promote him to a more age-appropriate level and get him to Advanced A Ball and AA by  the end of the season, or they may throw the age-development curve out the window and just go as quickly as Hunter Jr. is prepared for (the second one is much more likely).  I’d expect to see Hunter Jr. likely split the season next year between A Ball and Advanced A Ball.  As the pitching continues to get better and better, Hunter will likely need to make adjustments, so for me, I won’t be looking at the overall line as much as I’ll be comparing how he looked at the beginning, middle and end. I know it isn’t saber-friendly, but it is scouting friendly.  I’ll also be looking for Hutner Jr. to begin feeling comfortable enough to put a charge into the ball more frequently and record more doubles and triples.  Home runs may come later. Estimated Time of Arrival: 2021, Torii’s age 26 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.  A 92 mph fastball generally would be a 50.  A 97 mph fastball is a 65.  A .260 hitter is a 50.  A .300 hitter is a 70. 

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Thoughts on Signing Ohtani

ANAHEIM, CA – DECEMBER 09: Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim owner Arte Moreno introduces Shohei Ohtani to the team at Angel Stadium of Anaheim on December 9, 2017 in Anaheim, California. (Photo by Joe Scarnici/Getty Images)By David Saltzer, Senior Writer   I’m still a bit giddy about the Angels signing Shohei Ohtani. Attending the press conference was an incredible experience, and I was thrilled to get to ask a question on behalf of the fans.   As I’m processing all the information that came out, I had some thoughts on the signing and the implications going forward. Rather than write a series of long columns, I’m just going to get the thoughts out in bullet form. These are all just opinions, but, they have been the ones that have been dominating my thoughts since the press conference.   *  Watching Ohtani in the press conference, he has a lot of poise. I, like many others, was surprised at his sense of humor and his humility. Having interviewed many of our prospects, it’s often hard for younger players to be able to handle the pressure of interviews. They often struggle giving answers to open-ended questions. For a long time, the Angels haven’t had a player who could give great post-game quotes. Ohtani looks like he will make for some great lines which will make reading about the Angels a lot more fun.   *  Physically, I was surprised by how big he was. Prior to the press conference, I only had pictures and video to go off of, which often doesn’t give an accurate size comparison. Sometimes, when I meet players for the first time, especially prospects, I have one impression going in and come away with an entirely different impression. In the case of Ohtani, he really did impress as someone with a power arm and a power bat potential.   *  About nicknames, I directly asked Ohtani if he had any nicknames to date or if he had any good luck items that he liked to see on signs. He said “I saw some guys out there with Ohtani jerseys already, so that made me very happy. But, I don’t really have a nickname, so hopefully they [the fans] will come up with one.” Right now, I’m partial to Sho-Time, especially on games that he pitches. But I also know that there are plenty of fans with better ideas out there. I encourage you to do so!   *  As much as fans like to worry about Mike Trout, and whether he’d stay long-term as an Angel, I think we have a good answer to that question. Clearly, talking with Mike Trout made an incredible impression on Shohei. Whatever Mike Trout said or did during the meeting was pivotal in the decision-making process. I can’t imagine Mike Trout playing that instrumental a role for an organization that he didn’t like long-term. And, I know the Angels will do everything to keep Mike Trout as an Angel. So, I’m even more excited about watching these two phenomenal players spend many years together in Anaheim.   *  If you’ve been on the fence about buying Angels season ticket plans, you really should do so now. The excitement is palpable. It hasn’t felt like that since the Angels signed Pujols. There is definitely something in the air, and I expect Angels tickets will be selling at a premium, especially on games when he pitches. I remember going to watch Nolan Ryan pitch, but wasn’t old enough to buy the tickets. But, in talking with those who did, they’d always talk about the crowds swelling on days he pitched. With Ohtani, I fully expect the same thing. And, in talking with Scioscia, he’s not ready to commit to any Opening Day starter at this point, so trying to calculate what days Ohtani will pitch will be nearly impossible. At the very least, I’d strongly encourage people to buy at least a 20-game mini plan.   *  More on the schedule: I have no doubt that the Angels will add more promotional items next season related to Ohtani. From what I was told, the Angels sold out of Ohtani jerseys prior to the press conference. With the way that Ohtani spoke, and connected with the fans, I can easily see him becoming highly marketed. You will want those items, so again, I’d consider getting a 20-game mini plan at the least.   *  I asked Billy Eppler about the dueling trades for international money with Minnesota. He didn’t want to get into the fan narrative that trade was made solely for Ohtani or that it was a dueling trade with the Mariners. He said that the Angels have some “agreements in principle” in reference to the Braves prospects, but that they hadn’t been finalized before the Ohtani signing. He said that the Angels weren’t sure about the timing of the deals with the prospects and Ohtani, and that the Pearson deal was made with overall strategy to maximize the Angels’ flexibility. With extra international money that they received in the trade, the Angels could switch the pool of money used for the Braves prospects in the event they lost out on Ohtani. As much as fans wanted to make more of it as a competing deal with the Mariners, I think that is more of a fan narrative. As confirmed, though, Ohtani will get the entire amount of the Angels’ remaining international money.   *  The Angels are going to be busy at the Winter Meetings. They may or may not make any trades or signings during this week specifically, but from all appearances, they expect a long and busy week in Florida. They are definitely less interested in upgrading 1B, but, I don’t think they’d pass up a good deal to improve the position. Albert will hopefully cover the position for about 50 games a season. I expect him to get more rest this year–maybe resting on day games after night games, especially if he starts the night game. So, I can’t entirely rule out an upgrade to 1B, but definitely see 2B as an absolute priority, followed by adding to the rotation, and upgrading 3B. Anything beyond that, such as a bullpen arm, would be gravy.   *  Why the concern about upgrading the rotation? The Angels really seem open to the idea of a 6-man rotation. That would keep Ohtani on his usual schedule, and might cut down on the wear-and-tear on the rest of our starters. Don’t be surprised if we are connected with several (or every) mid-tier pitching FAs or possible trades.   *  If we go to a 6-man rotation, we will be down to a slim bench. I can see the need for adding a defensive SS/2B utility player to provide backup. David Fletcher, one of our Minor League prospects who can play both positions will become more important next year for depth. I think he will stay in AAA next year to keep developing his bat, but, I do think that he will get a long look in Spring Training.   *  Scioscia really will be flexible with how he develops Ohtani in Spring Training. There really isn’t a rule book on this. And, as Scioscia pointed out, Spring Training will be shorter this year than in years past. So, he and the Angels will be working closely with Ohtani and his people to develop a plan to get him ready for the season as both a pitcher and a hitter. There will be some experimentation, but Ohtani will be in the driver’s seat on the whole process.   *  As fans, we all need to remember that Ohtani is still just 23. Most players that age are still in the Minor Leagues. As much as Scioscia and Eppler raved about Ohtani’s pitching and hitting, and talked about his potential, they also wanted us to know that Ohtani is still developing. Regardless of what happens, we, as fans, need to take it in stride. If Ohtani struggles with one aspect of his game, we need to have patience. Let’s resist the urge to overreact to every little detail of the season. There’s no doubt that Ohtani is a special talent, but everyone struggles at some point. Let’s not let our passions overcome our reason, and let’s remember, he is a 23 year old player trying to do something at the Major League level that hasn’t been done in a long time. There may be some growing pains, but that’s okay.   *  The Angels are going to need another press box. The amount of coverage that Ohtani will generate will be staggering. The current press box holds very few people, and in no way could accommodate all the media that will be in attendance. I could easily see the Angels taking one seldom used section, maybe way out in the 400s/500s and turning it into another press box. One or two advertisements in the stadium could easily pay for that improvement.   *  In trying to figure out how important this deal was for the Angels, I tried to estimate how much of an increase signing Ohtani would make to the Angels value as a franchise. With this move, the Angels became a global brand, and I can easily see this adding up to $500 million in value to the franchise, and possibly more, depending on how well Ohtani does as a player. With the potential for international marketing, broadcasting rights, etc., it will be interesting to see how Forbes ranks the value of the franchise in the future.   I’m sure there are a lot more thoughts and opinions that will come up in the ensuing days. But, these are the ones that I’ve been thinking about the most so far.        

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Roster Building in the New Age of Shohei Ohtani

By Robert Cunningham, Senior Writer Last week, in a move that shocked many baseball fans, the Los Angeles Angels signed Japanese superstar Shohei Ohtani to a Minor League contract via the MLB-Japanese international posting system. This means that the Angels, despite the very real odds they will give Shohei an extension contract in the next 1-3 years, control him for six full seasons, three at pre-arbitration prices (i.e. league minimum) and three via the standard arbitration process. Ohtani selected the Angels, in-part, because of the promise by the club to utilize him as a two-way player just like his old team, the Nippon-Ham Fighters, did in Japan. Shohei features a fastball that can regularly hit triple digits and averages 97 mph over the course of a season. He has at least three other off-speed pitches that evaluators consider plus weapons so the Angels have to feel very lucky to have found such a key piece to their off-season puzzle on the mound. However there have been a lot of questions regarding Ohtani’s potential contributions on the position player side of the ball. Based on the following three facts we can better define Shohei’s likely impact when he is not pitching out of the rotation: In Japan, Ohtani pitched every 6th day and on the days before and after he did not hit or play in the field so the Angels will almost certainly stick to that routine Billy Eppler clearly stated that Shohei will not play in the outfield in 2018 Ohtani will likely be limited to designated hitter or, maybe, first base duty So if Billy Eppler and Mike Scioscia follow 1., above, we can infer the following about his maximum games started on the offensive/defensive side of the ball: In a 162 game season, if the Angels utilize a 6-man rotation, Shohei will start 27 games If he is starting 27 games that means Ohtani will not be hitting/playing in the game before and after the game he starts, resulting in an approximate, additional 54 games he does not participate in Those 27 games he starts plus the 54 games he does not participate in as part of his routine results in 81 games, or half the season, that he can potentially hit in or play the field if that is what the Angels and Shohei agree too Now to be clear 81 games is the absolute maximum the Angels will allow Ohtani to participate in and, in reality, the number will probably be lower at least in his first season in the Majors. You have to remember that despite his youthfulness and special talent he is coming to a new country, trying to speak a language he has not yet mastered, is assimilating with a new team, and is playing at the highest level of professional baseball while trying to be a two-way player in an increasingly specialized game. For the Angels, the signing of Shohei actually changes the dynamic a bit of how they approach the rest of their off-season acquisitions. Although it improves the team immensely in the rotation it could change how the Angels were going to approach a potential upgrade at 1B and 3B now that Ohtani will fill DH/1B duty on a part-time basis. To get a better picture we will create a partially filled matrix of projected games that our current position player roster will start in 2018. This matrix makes the following reasonable assumptions: Each player’s projection will be relatively close to last season’s actual number of games started C.J. Cron will be traded for a prospect or reliever either singularly or in a package deal In the case of Albert Pujols, the team has suggested he might get more recovery days so we have reduced his projection by 10 games and will assume that he starts no more than 50 games at 1B Although Shohei Ohtani could potentially play 81 games maximum, we will make a more cautious estimate of 60 games started at DH in 2018 We will make an assumption that the Angels acquire a full-time 2B to start the bulk of games at the keystone Luis Valbuena will likely only start games against RHP so we have estimated 110 GS for him in 2018 no matter if he plays at 3B or 1B So as you can see the primary need is at 1B and platoon partners at 3B and C. The rest of the positions only need a part-time backup. In fact you can make an additional set of reasonable assumptions based on recent acquisitions and the sparse number of starts likely available in the middle infield and outfield: Based on the strong starting trio in the outfield, the backup 4th outfielder is unlikely to start too many games (21 games based on the estimates above), making this backup outfielder position a lower priority than we thought (also as evidenced by the Minor League signing of Rymer Liriano) In the Primer Series Backstop Edition we spoke of the need for a left-handed hitting catcher to backup Martin Maldonado and, as you can see, that backup projects for approximately 27 GS behind the oft-used Machete, making this a probable lower priority as well, perhaps even unnecessary with backups like Perez, Briceno, and Casali as options Our backup middle infielder will also see very few games if the Angels do acquire a full-time 2B to pair with Simmons at SS (9 games only) making this, too, a very low priority this off-season Finally the extra duty potentially needed at 1B and 3B will require the Angels to get creative in filling those spots Based on the notes from above let us fill in the matrix further to get a better picture of where the Angels are potentially at in their roster building process: So if Luis Valbuena really is the 3B starter in 2018, the Angels clearly need to have a backup behind him that hits LHP’s well to pick up those approximate 52 games based on a typical 70/30 split (RHP/LHP) on the diamond for any particular day. This leaves 112 games at 1B and 12 games at DH open. As I see it the Angels have a few different routes they can go: Keep some combination of Luis Valbuena and another corner infielder, such as Mike Moustakas, mixing up time between 3B and 1B to soak up most of the 52 GS against LHP’s plus the 112 GS remaining at 1B and the 12 GS remaining at DH (the remaining surplus can be filled from other backups) The Angels could, alternatively, add a left-handed hitting backup catcher like Alex Avila and allow him to play 1B, too, against RHP which could allow Eppler to consolidate the MIF and CIF roles to one player and go out and acquire a multi-position player to eat up the approximate 100 GS at 1B (29), 2B (7), SS (2), 3B (52), and DH (12) that would remain (maybe, as Jeff Fletcher suggested, Eduardo Nunez or, perhaps, Martin Prado) Finally the Angels could target a corner outfielder that can also play 1B, like Jose Bautista for example, or even a full Swiss army knife-type guy like Ben Zobrist or Javier Baez that can play all over the map which could free up a 25-man roster spot for another reliever if the Angels go with a 6-man rotation The advantage of option 1., above, is that you obtain a real full-time corner infielder like Mike Moustakas, Jake Lamb, or even a prospect like Ryan McMahon. It leaves the Angels with a very standard four-man bench with the backup catcher and utility outfielder and middle infielders all struggling for playing time. Option 2., might be the least expensive route to go but it relies more on the health of the left-handed hitting catcher acquired because if he goes on the DL, the Angels will have to fill the vacancy off their bench or from the Minors. The advantage though is that the Angels can acquire a player like Nunez or Prado that can play approximately 100 games around the diamond and free up an extra roster spot for a reliever. The last option, 3., is similar to option 2 except you are going after either an outfielder that can play 1B, primarily, while soaking up time in the corner outfield and DH spots or you are going after a true multi-positional guy who can play anywhere. This too would have the advantage of freeing up a roster spot for a reliever. In the end the Angels will probably best be served by ensuring that their new 2B and new 1B/3B/DH/OF guys can hit from both sides of the plate as the Angels really need competent hitters that do not need to be platooned. Expect the Angels to be tied to several solid hitters that can play 2B, 1B, and 3B in the coming days. Names like Cesar Hernandez, Jason Kipnis, Ian Kinsler, Mike Moustakas, Jake Lamb, Eugenio Suarez, Neil Walker, Zack Cozart, Yandy Diaz, Brad Miller, Martin Prado, Javier Baez, Ben Zobrist, Brandon Belt, Freddie Freeman, Matt Carpenter, Jose Abreu, Carlos Santana, Chase Headley, Ryan McMahon, Logan Morrison, Lucas Duda, Lonnie Chisenhall, Kyle Schwarber, Jose Bautista, J.D. Martinez, and Jay Bruce may be players the Angels are targeting, possibly, among others.

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AngelsWin Top 30 Prospects: #26 OF Troy Montgomery

Prospect: Troy Montgomery Rank: 26 2016: 18 Position(s): OF Level: AA Age: Entering Age 23 season in 2018. Height: 5’10” – Weight: 190 lb. ____________________________________________________________________ Floor: Minor League Depth Ceiling: Starting OF in the major leagues Likely Outcome: 4th OF or AAA OF in the majors and minors Summary: Montgomery is just one of those dependable, solid players that you wish you had more of on the farm.  He hustles between the foul lines, doesn’t throw a fit when his screws up or doesn’t get his way, hassles pitchers on the base paths and forces pitchers to work to get him out.  This isn’t to say Montgomery is a future star, but it is to say you’ll rarely see him not working to better himself, and you’ll rarely ever find yourself saying, “if he had just done this….”  Montgomery does everything within his power to succeed on the diamond.  Hardworking grinders such as this tend to make the most out of their skill sets and that’s precisely what Montgomery is. If he does make it to the major leagues, Montgomery is immediately one of those players that would endear himself to fans with his all out style of play, hustle and game IQ.  From a physical standpoint, I don’t believe he’ll ever be better than an average major league hitter that lacks power but gets on base and can run a little bit.  But I do think he’d profile well as a 4th outfielder because of his defensive acumen and the aforementioned ability to work a count and reach base.  If not, as I said before, he’s the type of player you wish you had more of in your organization.  It wouldn’t be surprising to see Troy cut a niche for himself as one of those OF that plays for several teams and start the season in AAA but ends up turning in a few solid major league campaigns as a reserve. What to expect next season: It was great to see Montgomery work his way up to AA in his first full season of professional ball.  While Montgomery struggled there, I do not believe the talent level exceeds his own, and I certainly don’t believe he won’t succeed due to a lack of work ethic.  I expect Troy will spend the year in AA and I expect his numbers will be drastically improved a season before. Estimated Time of Arrival: 2020, Troy’s age 25 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.  A 92 mph fastball generally would be a 50.  A 97 mph fastball is a 65.  A .260 hitter is a 50.  A .300 hitter is a 70. 

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Thank You Arte

By David Saltzer, Senior Writer Angels fans, what a day! We just pulled off the best signing of the offseason. From the 30-team derby, we emerged as the finalist and signed Shohei Ohtani. If you don’t know who that is by now, check your internet connection. Every baseball team wanted him. Every baseball team could use him. We needed him. And we got him. It’s hard to imagine for younger fans, but there was a long period of time when the Angels didn’t get players of this caliber. There was a time when we were an after thought for a player or agent. When all else had been exhausted, or a star wanted to extend his career by a year or two, maybe he’d come to the Angels. We didn’t get young, in their prime players, especially international players. We didn’t beat out the likes of the Yankees, Dodgers, or Red Sox when it came to signing talent. Sure, we had some splashes. When Gene Autry ran the team, especially in the late ’70s and early ’80s, he made some splashes. And, we made it to the playoffs three times from ’79-’86. But, we never seemed to sustain it. And, after the ’86 season, Gene’s interest and commitment seemed to taper off. By the ’90s, when Jackie Autry was running the team, we had shrunk to a “small market” team. We were on a downhill trajectory, and at one point, were in danger of contraction. When Disney bought the team, they didn’t seem to know what to do with it. They tried to make it more “Disneyish” with periwinkle uniforms and cheerleaders. But, they also wanted to run it as a stand-alone enterprise, capped their spending, and never really integrated it into their overall corporate enterprise. The one time they made a big splash, Mo Vaughn, he fell on his first play of his first game in the visitor’s dugout. Needless to say, it didn’t work out well for us, or him, and we were still an afterthought until 2002. When Arte Moreno came along, he had a plan of what he wanted to do with the Angels organization. As he told us at our Spring Training Fanfest, he wanted raise the overall trajectory of the Angels. He wanted to raise our overall profile and our floor so that we would be a West Coast championship team now and forever. He didn’t see us as a small market team–he saw us as a large market, and then took steps to achieve that. He didn’t want to win just one World Series, he wanted us to compete for the World Series every year. For younger Angels fans, it’s hard to imagine what it was like before. While there are many similarities between Arte and Gene (both strike/struck me as handshake individuals where their word was their bond, and both struck me as guys who really care about the fans and want to win), Arte has done what Gene never did–he raised the franchise’s profile and made us a large market team.  He’s raised our budget year after year, raised our brand, and made us a series player in overall scheme of baseball. He didn’t just do splashes, he committed to the team for the long haul. And today, Mr. Moreno did it again. He took us from a large market team to a global market team. It is truly hard to put an estimate on how much signing Shohei Ohtani raises our global recognition, but needless to say, besides having the best player in the game with Mike Trout, we just signed the premiere player from Japan, who may just become one of the best players in the game. And, we didn’t do it after he reached his prime–we got Ohtani for the prime of his career! The Los Angeles Angels will be known and seen worldwide, and we will have fans everywhere. While we will never know all the details that led to us signing Shohei Ohtani, there’s one thing that I do know–Arte Moreno was involved in this. When we signed Albert Pujols, one of the comments that Albert made was that he liked his meeting with the Morenos (both Arte and his wife) and how comfortable the Morenos made them feel. At the press conference for Josh Hamilton, he too made the same comment. The only time I ever heard players talk about the owner liked that was when I talked with old-time Angels players who would reminisce about playing for the Cowboy, and how much they enjoyed his passion. As much as Billy Eppler, our GM, deserves credit for making this deal happen, and many other anonymous people in the front office, I firmly believe that having Arte as our owner made a big difference. It was his salesmanship, his vision for the franchise, his passion for the team that gave us our best shot at landing Ohtani. He combined the best of Autry with his own long-term desire for a championship organization to put us in a position to make this signing ahppen. Think about it: if you were a player like Ohtani, would you want to do with a corporate front office or a passionate owner? If you could pick from any Major League team, wouldn’t you want an owner who is as much a fan of the team as the people in the stands? I know I would. And I know Arte Moreno is that kind of owner. Angels fans, today was a great signing. With one move, Arte just raised our franchise’s trajectory again, and in a very positive way. The offseason isn’t even over, and we have infinitely improved our team for now and forever. No matter what happens on the field, we are very lucky that we have him as our owner. And, thanks to him, we now have Ohtani on our team. It’s a great time to be an Angels fan.

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The Los Angeles Angels Sign Shohei Ohtani

By Robert Cunningham, Senior Writer What seemed impossible at the beginning of the off-season has now turned into a very sharp reality as the Los Angeles Angels signed Japanese superstar Shohei Ohtani per Joel Sherman on Twitter. In one fell swoop Billy Eppler, as we discussed at the end of our Eppler Strategy section in the 2018 Primer Series, has smeared his fingerprints all over the 2017-2018 off-season, setting a course, full-speed ahead, toward a much stronger future for the Angels franchise. Not only is Shohei Ohtani going to lead the Angels rotation with an average 97 mile per hour fastball he is going to hit out of the designated hitter spot on a regular basis adding a nice left-handed bat with power to our lineup. Ohtani not only lengthens and strengthens our starting pitching staff he can combine with current team ace Garrett Richards for a 1-2 punch in the playoffs creating a dynamic duo that will give the Halos a real fighting chance to make a deep push toward another World Series Championship. Beyond his actual ability, Shohei will have a significant impact to team payroll and to overall team finances. Ticket sales should hit an all-time high as the excitement for the 2018 season crests and overflows the dam. Ohtani’s popularity will bleed over into Anaheim and almost certainly drive up merchandise sales and interest in the “Babe Ruth of Japan”. Most importantly though, the Angels will control Shohei for at least the next six seasons and maybe longer if Eppler winds up extending him at some point down the road. Per the International signing rules, Ohtani must be treated like a normal drafted prospect meaning he is controlled for three years of pre-arbitration, making the League minimum salary, and then three years of arbitration control. Of course it is likely that the Angels will give him an extension contract in the next 1-3 years before he hits arbitration. Major League Baseball will be watching this situation closely as they are prepared to punish the Angels if they see any improper conduct in the way Eppler and company handle their new found prospect. The important thing to understand is this: Shohei will, at least for 2018, only add $545,000 to team payroll! This means the Angels still have a lot of payroll flexibility this year and possibly longer (perhaps for 2019 and 2020 as well) so Eppler’s ability to continue improving the team will go unhindered across the remainder of the off-season. Here at we believed that this off-season could provide a dramatic turn for the Angels fortunes and, with the signing of Shohei Ohtani today, Billy Eppler will continue to make a full-court press to help the Los Angeles Angels return to dominance in the American League West. Tip of the hat to Arte Moreno, Billy Eppler, and the entire front office staff!

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AngelsWin Top 30 Prospects: #26 RHP Luis Pena

Prospect: Luis Pena Rank: 26 2016: UR Position(s): RightHanded Pitcher Level: Rookie Ball Age: Entering Age 19 season in 2018. Height: 5’11” – Weight: 190 lb. ____________________________________________________________________         Present        Future Fastball          60                     65 Slider              60                     65 Change           55                     55 Mechanics    40                     50 Command     40                     50 Control          40                     45 Overall           45                     55 Floor: Extended reliever in AA/AAA.   Ceiling: Mid-Rotation fireballer. Likely Outcome: Set up man/middle reliever. Summary: With players like Pena in your system, there will always come the age old question, “starter or reliever?” The Angels to their credit, have no problem developing a pitcher as a starter until it becomes more than obvious that continuing to do so would be a detriment to the player.  And believe it or not, logic stands with them.  Take J.C. Ramirez and Parker Bridwell for example.  Both starters in the low minors and both struggled in that role, both transitioned to relief in the upper minors, both weren’t entirely successful pitching in relief, both were acquired by the Angels for cheap, and both turned into very serviceable starters. And so we have Luis Pena.  In any other system, he’d never had toed the rubber in a starting role.  He isn’t built like a starter, he’s built like a Fernando Rodney type of reliever.  His delivery is not that of a starters, too much effort, throws across his body.  His control is not that of a starter, but that of a reliever that throws in the mid to high 90’s.  His breaking ball is too good to be a starter’s too.  It’s too sharp, thrown too violently.  No way his elbow could take that sort of stress.  Then there’s the change up to consider.  It’s a really good change up, except he can’t throw it for a strike, or even dictate where it will end up. And yet he remains a starter. When Pena was starting in A Ball, it was an understandable function of an A Ball roster.  It’s normal to have a reliever or starter piggyback and go three innings at a time.  But when we entered the 2017 season with Pena still listed as a starter, and not the piggyback type in the Cal League, that was a head scratcher.  What could the Angels be thinking? Half way through he year, such critical thinking was more than warranted.  Pena had an ERA over 5.00 and a BB/9 over 5.0.  Yeah, he was striking out a lot of hitters, but he was also putting a ton on base. Then something magical happened.  The calendar turned from June to July, and it began.  9 IP 1 ER 0 BB 12 K’s.  8 IP 2 ER 0 BB 10 K’s  Before Pena had been walking 5 batters a game.  Now he couldn’t miss.  Such a streak wouldn’t last of course.  Pena began walking two or three batters a start, but nowhere near where he was before.  In fact, in his last five outings in the Cal League, Pena never allowed more than three runs in a game, which is a great result in a hitter friendly environment like the Cal League.  What’s more, he never walked more than three batters in a game, which says a lot for him. Once promoted to AA, across four starts Pena walked 0, 2, 2 and 5.  The game where he walked five batters was by far his worst and speaks to Pena’s ability as a whole.  If he can throw strikes, he’ll be successful, in any role the Angels have planned for him. What to expect next season: Pena pitched very well in AA to finish the year, but it was only four starts.  We can expect the Angels to have Pena return to Mobile as a starter and see if he can find consistency in his delivery and release point.  If he can, Pena will throw strikes and succeed.  If he can’t, he may find his way into a bullpen role sooner rather than later.  But when you have three very good pitches like he has, it’s easy to see Pena being a successful major leaguer in the near future.    Estimated Time of Arrival: 2020, Pena’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.  A 92 mph fastball generally would be a 50.  A 97 mph fastball is a 65.  A .260 hitter is a 50.  A .300 hitter is a 70. 

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The Unofficial Angels Offseason Predictions Blog

By Glen McKee, Prognosticator I know, it’s December and that means it’s late to be making an offseason prediction thread.  That’s OK though because not much has happened yet.  I still have time.  Without further ado, here is what will happen over the next three-plus months.  Bookmark this page and come back to it on March 1, and be amazed at how accurate these predictions are. Justin Upton will avoid opting out and sign a new contract with the Angels, giving him an extra year. It just makes too much sense.  It should have already happened. Yusmeiro Petit will sign with the Athletics. Again, it seems like it should already have happened.  He’ll be their closer and dominate us.  But don’t worry, if the Angels need a closer in June they can trade with the As to get him back.  Beane is a genius! Albert Pujols will show up for spring training in the best shape of his month. He will even have a decent spring, giving us false hope. The Angels will trade for a 2B. Who will it be?  Hernandez or Gordon?  Prying Cesar Hernandez from the Phillies would give me a stiffie so hard that Wolverine’s claws couldn’t cut it, so that won’t happen.  It’s gonna be Gordon.  Oh, and don’t get your hopes up because… The Angels will not trade for Mikecarlos Stanton. It’s the Dodgers or bust for Stanton.  You know it, I know it, Stanton knows it, even that moron you work with (you know who I’m talking about) knows it.  Oh yeah, and while we’re riding the train of bad news… The Angels will not sign Shohei Ohtani. I know the odds are slim, but really, they’re not slim.  They’re none.  There are tiers for teams in the major league. The top tier has the destination teams: the Yankees, Red Sox, Dodgers, and Cubs.  They get first dibs at the international dinner table.  The Angels are in the second tier: they get to root around through the leftovers and hope they find something tasty.  Editorial note: When I started writing this the Angels weren’t in the Ohtani discussion.  You’re welcome. Mike Scioscia will return as manager, and during the spring he’ll sign a three – year extension. I’ve come to peace with this even though I disagree with it.  It will be great for board traffic, though.  Guaranteed 15 pages in the first day after the extension is announced. Luis Valbuena will be the opening day 3B. If the Angels upgrade at 2B (they will, sorta, with Gordon) and 1B (wait for it…) then having Valbuena at 3B won’t be too bad.  It will be like the doctor saying you have a hernia, but it’s just a small one so there’s not much you can do about it except wait for it to pop.  That’s Valbuena, our little hernia. The Angels opening day 1B will be…Logan Morrison.   GMs are getting smarterer about contracts.  I know that’s true because I read it somewhere on the internet.  Anyhoo…that means that they’ll look beyond Morrison’s anomaly of a year in 2017 and realize he isn’t worth the megabucks.  That’s will Eppler will swoop in and sign him for a three-year deal.  And ya know what?  That sucks because it will mean CJ Cron is gonna be traded for a spare part.  Why does it suck?  Simple math, my friend.  LoMo has produced 5.2 WAR over 2953 AB (I’m using Baseball Reference, nerds), or 1 WAR for every 568 AB (roughly every year).  CJ has produced 2.8 WAR over 1366 AB, or 1 WAR for every 488 AB.  Cron will be cheaper and let’s face it, Cron is more fun to look at.  Based on this simple math and five minutes of agonizing research, I’d like to plead with Eppler to stick with CJ and also submit it as my resume to be an assistant assistant GM.  Billy, if you’re reading this, I’m trying to save the team millions of dollars.  You can use those savings to hire me, I’ll start in the mid three-figure range.  Call me. Using the above math, how about some Trout porn? 2018 will be Mike Trout’s seventh full season.  Man, where did all that time go?  Trout has produced 55.2 WAR over 3399 AB.  That’s 1 WAR for every…wait for it…60 AB.  Damn, son.  For comparison, Bryce Harper produces 1 WAR for every 106 AB.  Giancarlo Stanton, every 102 AB.  Jose Altuve, every 133 AB (that indicates the weakness of the basis for statistical argument but I’m sticking with it).  For giggles, I checked out Barry Bonds.  1 WAR for every 61 AB.  Trout>Bonds, if only just barely. What about the pitching staff? Eppler has already said he’s not going to acquire a starting pitcher, so I fully expect Eppler will acquire a starting pitcher.  John Lackey and Joe Blanton are available!  Seriously, though, the Angels will add a starting pitcher.  Not an ace, not even a sub-ace, but another Parker Bridwell type that nobody will see coming.  Eppler is crafty like that with pitchers; he’s the anti-Dipoto. There will be two equally obscure relievers signed. Who are they?  I don’t know, they’re obscure.  Are you even reading this?  Check out Ettin’s excellently researched article to get a few names.  Editorial note: shortly after I wrote this, Eppler traded for Jim Johnson.  I’m sticking by this. Kaleb Cowart will be a bench guy, again. I love the trochaic meter of his name (That’s a stressed syllable followed by an unstressed syllable, you troglodytes.  Yes, I had to look it up).  Kaleb Cowart.  Maybe his name is why he has some of us, myself included, hypnotized.  Name aside, he’s a solid late-inning defensive replacement.  If LOOGY is a thing, then Cowart is a LIDR.  Dibs on that term.  Note: I googled it and there was no notation of it being used before.  LIDR is my “fetch.”  You could even combine LIDR with another acronym, Helping Offense Score Ein ruN, or LIDR-HOSEN. That’s all for now, folks.  These are all guaranteed to happen or your money back.  Feel free to post your own predictions or foolishly tell me how wrong I am.  You’ll regret it.

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AngelsWin Top 30 Prospects: #27 INF Julio Garcia

Prospect: Julio Garcia Rank: 27 2016: UR Position(s): INF Level: Rookie Ball Age: Entering Age 20 season in 2018. Height: 6’0” – Weight: 180 lb. ____________________________________________________________________ Present                Future Hitting Ability            40                                           45 Power                            30                                          30 Base Running            55                                          55 Patience                      45                                           55 Fielding                      60                                           70 Range                          55                                           60 Arm                             65                                           70 Overall                      45                                           50 Floor: Minor League Depth Ceiling: Defensively gifted starting shortstop in MLB with plate discipline and speed. Likely Outcome: Utility Infielder Summary:(Warning, lengthy back story is necessary to explain the significance of the Angels signing Julio Garcia in 2014).  Garcia was one of the bigger international signings that took place during what I like to call “the dark period” of Angels international prospects.  Rather than allowing MLB to find out about some wrongdoings committed down in Latin America, owner Arte Moreno took swift action and fired every scout and director he had in the Dominican Republic.  This was in 2008. While it may seem noble right now, particularly when we see what has happened with the Braves recently (lifetime bans, loss of prospects and international money, firing of scouts, blacklisting agents), this was seen as more of a drastic step taken by the Angels.  They were no more guilty of doing the same things every single team in major league baseball was guilty of committing. The only difference here is the Angels decided to act upon it. This eventually led to a slow rebuilding of that scouting network, and in an area where it’s all about who you know, the Angels didn’t know anyone, and so the Angels were out of play on all impactful international talent.  The “dark period” lasted for a solid seven years.  The Angels were forced to take everyone else’s leftovers, and those players they did land played at a dilapidated academy on the wrong side of the island.  In 2014/2015, the Angels broke ground on a new international academy where it would be easier to commute and play other teams in the Dominican Summer League.  They had found themselves a small but “better than nothing” foothold in scouting circles and actually started investing money back into acquiring Latin American prospects. Sure, it isn’t as if Roberto Baldoquin was the big splash signing they were hoping for, but at the very least it made it clear to the rest of baseball that the Angels can and would spend money going forward.  The shadow that the Roberto Baldoquin signing cast made the Angels signing Julio Garcia go largely unnoticed, though he was believed to be an “impactful” prospect. Blessed with great instincts, great glove, a good arm and range, Garcia caught the attention of scouts early on.  It was widely known that while Garcia was one of the marquee defensive prospects in the world, his bat needed a lot of work.  What the rest of the world saw as a long swing and lack of pitch recognition, the Angels saw as a smooth, fluid stroke with the chance for gap to gap power. This would of course come with a caveat.  Garcia was basically a high school sophomore when signing with he Angels.  It would take years before anyone actually knew if the bat would ever properly develop. In 2014, it didn’t look good.  Even competing against other teenagers in the Dominican Summer League, Garcia’s bat was middling at best.  And all that defensive prowess he reportedly possessed must have taken a giant step backward.  Garcia could make the spectacular play.  It was the routine plays that he struggled with.   Still, he was only 16 and was given a pass.  At a 17 year old in 2015 however, we saw many of the same results.  While Garcia showed a greater ability to make contact through a reworked swing, he still lacked pitch recognition or consistency in the field, especially after coming stateside. In 2016 as an 18 year old, Garcia had put on some muscle and looked very smooth in the field during instructs, but various injuries kept him from making all but a handful of appearances.  Finally, as a 19 year old in 2017, Julio Garcia started to show small glimpses of progression on the field.  At the plate, he showed surprising power and exceptional plate discipline considering where he was only a year ago.  In the field, Garcia looked like a future Gold Glover at shortstop. It didn’t matter if it was in Arizona or Orem, Garcia finally showed that he can hit and field, and do so as good if not better than his peers.  This is why scouts and prospect analysts alike are beginning to take more notice of Garcia.  It isn’t as if he’s new to this game, Julio Garcia has been around for a few years now at the lower levels.  It also isn’t as if he has hype or is a commonly uttered name on blogs. No, Garcia is one of those players that has endeared himself to scouts, front offices and a few select prospect bloggers.  It’s a quiet ability, not a superstar but one that you can watch and envision playing at the very top level. He has the offensive and defensive chops for it, and he’s still only 20 years old. What to expect next season: The nature of minor league baseball: you work for years just to master one level, only to be faced with another daunting challenge the very next season.  That’s what Julio will face in 2018 as he heads to full season ball in Burlington.  It’s a big step, and it could take some adjustments, but Garcia has the talent to handle it. Estimated Time of Arrival: 2022, Julio’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.  A 92 mph fastball generally would be a 50.  A 97 mph fastball is a 65.  A .260 hitter is a 50.  A .300 hitter is a 70.   

View the full article 2018 Primer Series: Final Thoughts

By Robert Cunningham, Senior Writer Edited by Chance Hevia (Inside Pitch) and Jason Sinner (Dochalo) As I said in the final installment of the Trade Deadline Series, the only substantive path moving forward from the 2017 Trade Deadline through the end of 2020 is contending over the next 3 1/2 seasons of Mike Trout’s current contractual control. Nothing else matters. This does not mean that we do not plan beyond 2020 or that we sacrifice everything now for this 3-year period but it does mean a laser-like focus on winning in that time frame. It is my belief that Billy and Arte fully understand this. That is why, near the end of August, Eppler invested in the team by acquiring Justin Upton and Brandon Phillips at a pretty reasonable cost. It was a calculated gamble to win now, with Mike Trout, that did not work out. The move even had a hint of brinkmanship and shrewdness to it, on Eppler’s part, because if Upton leaves we only paid a small pittance for a 1-month rental but if he stays the Angels have finally filled the gaping hole in left field, long-term, and, guess what, Justin signed a new 5-year deal at a fair market rate. Winning in the Mike Trout window while re-positioning and re-tooling the team around him will take some crafty maneuvering, bold moves, and a commitment by Moreno to open the pocketbook when the time is right to ensure that the extra money he dolls out will be minimized and applied intelligently, not wasted. As I outlined in the Finances section, the Angels have a lot of free payroll space this off-season. In fact they have enough space this year to afford to not exceed the Competitive Balance Tax (CBT) threshold. It is unnecessary, this year, even if they take on a big contract. However if the Angels do want to dole out some extensions to specific key players while demonstrating to Mike Trout that they can and will compete in the future, in order to sway him to sign a mega-extension, they will need to de-conflict their strong desire to compete over the next three years with the reality that payroll will rise in 2019 and 2020, primarily due to rising arbitration costs. The only probable way to mitigate that conflict, barring a series of brilliant moves by Billy Eppler, will be for Arte Moreno to authorize a brief increase in team payroll that takes us over the CBT threshold in 2019 and 2020 or 2020 and 2021 to help acquire the assets the Angels will need to make a strong run over the next three seasons. In fact this year or next may be that moment where Arte allows Billy Eppler to exceed the Luxury Tax for that “right player” Moreno has spoken about in the past. Based on the new CBT thresholds and rules and the fact that the Angels would be a “first-time offender” if they eclipse the Luxury Tax, Eppler could trade for a big name player, with 3 or more years of control, this off-season or sign one to a long-term, front-loaded deal, with one or more opt-out’s after 2020, next off-season (i.e. likely controlling them for no more than 2-3 years). This type of move would unlikely hurt team payroll in the long-term and would increase the odds of winning in the Mike Trout window of contention. In either scenario, striking this off-season or next, the Angels could exceed the CBT threshold in 2019 ($206M) by up to, likely, $40M which would incur a first-year penalty of up to $10.4M if they hit the, plausible, maximum ceiling of $246M in AAV. A second year would incur upwards of a $14.4M penalty for the 2020 season as long as they do not exceed the Luxury Tax threshold by more than, the aforementioned, $40M. After that it would be probable that the big-name trade target or free agent in question would opt-out and the Angels would be out of the penalty box. To be clear it is probable that Arte Moreno has never contemplated a payroll penalty of this magnitude since he bought the team. In fact he has consistently kept payroll in a fairly tight range from season to season even as the total expenditures rose without ever going over the CBT threshold except for that one time, for a minuscule amount, over a decade ago. However when you consider the debt-free status of the team, the large television contract that was signed years ago worth $150M per season ($3B total over 20 years), and the partial controlling share they have in the network, there is certainly some reason for optimism, based on Moreno’s own words, that if the stars align, the Los Angeles Angels will take that calculated risk and leap into budget-busting territory for a short spell. That decision to push all-in on a top-tier player will certainly require the right confluence of circumstances to even happen and it is very unlikely the Angels will stay above the CBT threshold for longer than a 2-year period, maximum, to avoid serious penalties under the new CBA. If the Angels exceed the Luxury Tax threshold of $206M in 2019 they will either do it by no more than $20M or no more than $40M because the new CBA extracts additional surcharge penalties at those two separate tiers. For reference here is the relevant section from the new CBA: So it seems realistic that Arte could authorize an increase in the 2018-2019 or 2019-2020 off-season for a two-year span covering the 2019 and 2020 or 2020 and 2021 seasons. For instance if they go over less than $20M in 2019 they will pay 20% and if they continue to go over in 2020 they pay 30% whereas if they go up to $40M over they will pay 32% and 42%, respectively, for the difference in how much they exceed the $20M threshold mark. The real danger with the Luxury Tax is when you become a third-time offender or exceed the CBT threshold by more than $40M. The taxes increase significantly and the club can have its Rule IV draft position impacted too. It seems very likely that the Angels would avoid becoming a third-time offender, at all costs. Also, to be clear, the Angels do not have to exceed the CBT threshold by a lot to achieve their goals. For instance the Angels could, this off-season, execute the following transactions: Trade Kole Calhoun, Jahmai Jones, Matt Thaiss, Kaleb Cowart, Wade Wass, and Jonah Wesley for Giancarlo Stanton, Dee Gordon, Jose Urena, and $24M in cash Trade C.J. Cron, Chris Rodriguez, and Taylor Ward for Brandon Belt Extend Garrett Richards (6 years, $90M), Martin Maldonado (5 years, $35M), and Tyler Skaggs (5 years, $35M) The team would still have top prospects like Jordon Adell, Brandon Marsh, Jaime Barria, Jose Suarez, Griffin Canning, and Jerryell Rivera, as well as potential solid role players like Michael Hermosillo, Leonardo Rivas, and Jake Jewell among others Actual payroll would be approximately $192M and AAV would be approximately $188M ($9M under the CBT threshold) In the following 2018-2019 off-season the Angels could also do the following: Extend Mike Trout (12 years, $500M) and Andrelton Simmons (7 years, $119M) Trade Matt Shoemaker and J.C. Ramirez for prospects (one likely being a MLB ready 3B prospect) Decline Valbuena’s option year Actual payroll would still be about $192M and AAV would be right at the threshold of $206M If the Angels needed more payroll room at the Trade Deadline in 2019 Moreno could authorize an increase over the CBT threshold as needed and the penalty would be, at most, $4M as long as the team does not go over the CBT threshold by more than $20M This is just an example of the types of moves the Angels can make with their newfound payroll space. It also relies on paying the extension candidates a little less money in 2018, 2019, and 2020 and moving some of that salary out to the 2021+ time frame. However after 2021 Pujols comes off the books and essentially cancels the impact of this salary distribution. As we said in the Strategy sections (Part I and II) there are so many permutations and paths for how the season can unfold that it is difficult to guess the particulars. Here is a more generic template (you can fill in your own guesses as you prefer) that the Angels may be operating on: In the end it is my personal belief Eppler and Moreno are gearing up for a big run over the next three years as they should be doing. No prospect is safe and some of our low and mid-end regulars could be on the block too. Imagine and prepare for the Angels to part ways with at least one or more of their top prospects to acquire the high-end regulars they need to start the season or to upgrade for at the trade deadline to make a strong run at the playoffs over the next 2-3 years. Why keep Adell if you can package him up with other players and prospects to get a front-line starter like Archer? Pairing Chris with a newly extended Richards over at least the next four years would give the Angels strong production and a 1-2 punch in the playoffs without seriously damaging team payroll. Alternatively, why keep Jones if you can package him with Calhoun and potentially nab a really top-flight outfielder like Stanton? The Angels would wind up with perhaps the greatest outfield trio to ever play the game for the next three seasons and we would still have prospects like Jordon Adell and Brandon Marsh that could fill a potential void after 2020. If the Angels extend Maldonado is Ward really that important to keep if you can package him up with C.J. Cron and Chris Rodriguez for four years of a solid hitting 1B like Belt? Brandon would be a great lead-off or two-hole hitter in front of Mike Trout and the Angels would still have other reasonable back-up catching options behind the dish moving forward. Of course the Angels can avoid parting with any prospects and go after superstar Japanese player Shohei Ohtani as we discussed in Eppler’s Strategy section (Part II) of the Primer Series (note just as this went to publication the O.C. Register’s Jeff Fletcher reported that the Angels do have interest in signing him). Certainly depth is very important, so I am not advocating laying waste to our Minor League assets, but certainly there are areas of strength in our farm system such as outfield and pitching of which Eppler can draw upon to execute some needed trades to improve the team today, not tomorrow. Adding a big name like Giancarlo Stanton (high salary, medium prospect cost), Chris Archer (very low salary, high prospect cost), or Shohei Ohtani ($20M posting fee plus a couple of normal pre-arbitration salaries with a probable long-term, high salary extension contract) would probably have the greatest immediate impact. Alternatively signing or trading for more than one above-average player like Zack Cozart and Trevor Bauer could provide a similar but more dispersed value to the team. Moves like these would allow the Angels to start off the season from a great base and move toward the Trade Deadline with a likely, stronger posture. Once they hit the deadline there is a reasonably good chance the Angels can upgrade at 3B, SP, or RP, as needed, with names like Machado, Donaldson, Happ, Gonzalez, Harvey, Britton, Kimbrel, Miller, and Allen potentially available. On the off-chance Eppler is priced out of the trade and free agent markets for his preferred choices, this off-season, he can still upgrade at 2B and/or 1B to compete effectively in 2018 and wait for the 2018-2019 off-season to make a run at some of the bigger names that will be available next year at this time. A simple example might be acquiring Ian Kinsler to play 2B and signing Logan Morrison to man 1B. Both would be short-term commitments that could bridge the gap to 2019 where the Angels could find reduced asking prices on players at those positions or focus on one of the marquee names like Machado. It is not completely unreasonable to believe that the Angels could sign a guy like Manny to a mega-deal but front-load the contract heavily in the first two years (2019 and 2020) and then give him an opt-out after 2020 (or even two opt-outs, one after 2020, the other after 2021). By putting a lot of salary in those first two seasons you make it a near certainty that he would opt-out after 2020 and would pull the team back below the Luxury Tax threshold. This type of contract is increasingly more common in baseball. Ultimately, if you are a fan of rebuilding farm systems, this may, in my humble opinion, be a potentially painful two years for you. The good news is that although we are about to expend at least some of our prospect capital we will also be restocking some of it over the same time frame, via the Rule IV draft, and when we finally do need it in the 2020-2021 range some of them should be ready to step into the fold. Also one final detail. Many of these bigger names we could potentially pick up can also be traded in their last year of control, likely netting a reasonably healthy return in prospects. So for instance if Upton stays for the next four years we could always move him in trade in the 2020-2021 off-season or at the deadline in 2021 for a decent return that will help restock our system. Losing a good prospect now could, in part, be made up for at a later date. The final caveat to the entire Primer Series is that I once wrote, two years ago, that Moreno would and should open his wallet to pick up a big name outfielder and I was proven wrong. I could easily be proven wrong here, as well, but the timeline makes too much sense with the Angels staying below the Luxury Tax threshold this year then potentially exceeding it, even if only by a mild amount, for a 2-year window through the end of Mike Trout’s current contract. This time I really hope that I am right.

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AngelsWin Top 30 Prospects: #28 LHP Jerryell Rivera

Prospect: Jerryell Rivera           Rank: 28 2016: UR                                         Position(s): Left Handed Pitcher Level: Rookie Ball                          Age: Entering Age 19 season in 2018. Height: 6’3”                       Weight: 180 lb. ____________________________________________________________________ Present                    Future Fastball          50                     60 Curve             40                     60 Change          45                     65 Mechanics     60                     70 Command     40                      60 Control         45                     60 Overall         40                      65 Floor: Left-handed specialist reliever in AAA or the major leagues.   Ceiling: A front of the rotation lefty.  Future all-star. Likely Outcome: Too early to tell. Summary: Everyone that follows prospects has an idea prospect they like to target in drafts and international signings.  Some go for youth and upside, some chase a higher floor and more certainty.  Some prefer to scour the international market and some prefer the draft.  Some fans prefer players that are in AA or AAA and ready to contribute immediately.  Some like to dream on prospects that are in rookie ball.  The trick of many teams is to find a balance. From a very personal standpoint, I’m a big fan of drafting upside prep athletes stateside, and projectable pitchers internationally.  For me, the Angels selection of Jerryell Rivera in the 11th round of this past draft was a move of brilliance and fits with what I would look to do if drafting.  Rivera was one of the bright spots available in the draft from Puerto Rico this past season. Watching Rivera pitch, I can envision Cole Hamels down the road.  Tall, strong, left handed, mid-90’s fastball and front of the rotation starter.  You don’t even need to squint to see that.  At age 18, Rivera is already tall, lean, broad shouldered and has a very comfortable arm slot.  While his fastball currently hangs 89-90, it comes from a very easy arm angle.  With more effort he’s been clocked at 92-93.  While his early motion is stiff, the act of throwing the baseball itself is very natural looking.  This is the lowest impact left-handed delivery I’ve seen since Andrew Heaney.  Rivera just looks like he’s playing catch.  For all you’d know regarding the delivery, he could be throwing BP. But as Rivera grows and becomes more comfortable with he pre-throwing motion, a higher effort delivery and physical progression could have him throwing an easy 95.  But the big thing with Jerryell will be the development of his off-speed pitches.  His curveball has a little late break to it, but he doesn’t seem to be able to command it, and the change up has a nice speed differential and late fade to it, but he looks quite unsure throwing it.  But being able to work with professional coaches and being on a training regimen could have Rivera snapping off breaking balls and change ups to his hearts desire. In a word, Rivera is the type of prospect you draft and dream on. And this is all scouting, we haven’t even touched on the fact that Rivera was likely the best pitcher for the Angels Arizona Rookie League squad this year.  They limited his innings, but Rivera showed not only the ability to miss bats, but throw strikes, which is huge for a first taste of professional ball. What to expect next season: Rivera will likely remain in Arizona for extended Spring Training until short season ball comes along.  I expect to see Jerryell as the staff ace of the Orem Owlz in the Pioneer League, though given his talent, it would be possible for Rivera to be in A Ball next year.  I don’t think the Angels will want to rush him though. Rivera is going to go through a muscular growth spurt in the next couple years and he’s going to be able to comfortably deploy all the coaching advice the Angels are feeding him.  When that time comes, he’ll shoot through the system and likely even skip a level or two on the ladder on his way to the major leagues.  But until that time comes, it would benefit Rivera, the Angels and the fans to just remain patient and take it slow and easy with Jerryell.  When he’s ready, everyone and their grandma will know it. Estimated Time of Arrival: 2022, Rivera’s age 23 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.  A 92 mph fastball generally would be a 50.  A 97 mph fastball is a 65.  A .260 hitter is a 50.  A .300 hitter is a 70. 

View the full article 2018 Primer Series: Backstops and Bench Players

By Robert Cunningham, Senior Writer Edited by Chance Hevia (Inside Pitch) and Jason Sinner (Dochalo) Every team has injuries throughout the year and maintaining the ability to swap them, hopefully on a temporary basis only, with a player or prospect that can provide production above replacement level (i.e. greater than 0 WAR) is quite valuable. Over the last two years, Billy Eppler made it a point to improve catcher defense and build depth on the 40-man roster. Although he has had some success, this is still, just like the rest of the roster, a work in-progress heading into the 2018 season. The good news is that Eppler now has more payroll to work with and this should allow him to build sufficient, competent depth at every position. Interestingly the Angels have some quality reserve players, in the Minor Leagues, that can play all around the diamond. To be clear a lot of these guys are strictly utility types but they bring some upside that could provide the team with higher-caliber, temporary relief of our regular position players in 2018. Catcher Half of the teams that qualified for the playoffs, including both Wild Cards in each League, were ranked in the Top 10 catcher corps in baseball according to FanGraphs ‘Defense’ statistic. Every one of those teams except the 2017 World Champion Astros, who finished dead last, were in the Top 20. In spite of Houston’s success, it is no coincidence that pitching and defense wins championships and the Angels GM knew this, prior to entering 2017, which is why he took action to improve the team behind the dish by trading for Martin Maldonado from the Brewers. Perhaps one of Eppler’s most important acquisitions to-date, Maldonado was fantastic defensively for the Angels, this past season, posting a career high FanGraphs ‘DEF’ score of 12.5, throwing out 38.6% of base stealers, while calling great games day-to-day over a career record 138 games started. In pitch framing he ranked 5th overall for 2017, per Maldonado is simply one aspect of Eppler’s larger vision of up-the-middle run prevention but the visceral, significant impact of “Machete’s” work on the field was not only seen but felt on a daily basis. The pitchers have reportedly raved about his ability to work with them in and out of the game. Martin’s great ability as a backstop will be the likely motivator for the Angels to offer him an extension contract this off-season, particularly when you consider how much they relied on him in 2017. The Angels would probably find a lot of value in buying out Machete’s last year of arbitration and tacking on another 3-4 years of contractual control. Perhaps something like a 4-5 year, $24M-40M (AAV of $6M-8M) deal would satisfy both sides, giving the Angels long-term stability behind the dish and allowing Martin and his family to achieve lifetime financial security. If an extension does occur it would not be surprising to see the Angels go out and sign a free agent left-handed hitting catcher with pitch-framing skills like Miguel Montero or even just a pure hitter like Alex Avila on a short-term deal. Alternatively the Halos could trade for a short-term guy like Tyler Flowers, who led all of baseball in pitch framing this season, or perhaps Stephen Vogt (if the Brewers do not non-tender him due to his projected 2018 arbitration salary), who is not nearly as good as Flowers defensively but could provide reasonable offensive value. In contrast the Angels could look for a long-term piece to compliment Maldonado like one of Sandy Leon, Blake Swihart, Rob Brantly, Francisco Mejia, or Chance Sisco, for example. The important qualities for a backup catcher behind Maldonado would reside more on the game calling, pitch framing, and hitting aspects, primarily because Martin would likely be utilized for a majority of the games in 2018 and the backup would have more value if they can hit or get on-base against right-handed pitching (which Martin is poor at) while providing a modicum of pitch-sequence calling and framing, and pinch-hitter opportunities in the later innings of games. If the Angels decide not to extend Martin, then he will likely spend his final season of team control partnered with either Juan Graterol (as he did in 2017) or Carlos Perez, one of which the Angels can continue to groom for the starting role in 2019 and beyond if that is Eppler’s goal. Also the lack of a Maldonado extension would, obviously, mean the Angels want to go in an entirely different direction with their tandem behind the plate after 2018. The only two catchers that would be likely upgrades over Maldonado, that might actually be available this off-season or next, are Jonathan Lucroy and Yasmani Grandal so, if the Angels do not extend Martin, these two are the likely targets now or next year. Here are the resource expenditure tiers if Eppler decides to trade Maldonado, reduce his total games next season, or acquire an external backup catcher: High Price to Pay – Francisco Mejia Austin Barnes J.T. Realmuto Jonathan Lucroy Chance Sisco Middle of the Road – Sandy Leon Yasmani Grandal Tyler Flowers Blake Swihart Rob Brantly Bargain Basement – Rene Rivera Alex Avila Stephen Vogt Miguel Montero Default Solution(s) – Carlos Perez Juan Graterol Jose Briceno Wade Wass Author’s Choice – Martin Maldonado was a revelation behind the plate in almost as similar a manner that Andrelton Simmons dominates at shortstop. His ability to frame pitches, call a fantastic game (particularly in pitch sequencing), and cut down runners really provides deep value to the entire Angels team. The mere fact that Scioscia thinks Maldonado is the biggest reason for the success of the Angels pitching staff speaks volumes about his ability. On the backup side it appears likely the Angels will run out one of Graterol or Perez, probably the latter. If Eppler decided to splurge, acquiring one year of Flowers would give us perhaps the best framing duo in all of MLB (but Tyler would cost us at least a quality mid-tier prospect). Finally, if the Angels were to pick up a veteran backup hitter who can handle RHP, one of Miguel Montero or Stephen Vogt makes a lot of sense (which would result in Perez, who is out of options, being traded) but resources will have to be allocated carefully this off-season and this is more of a position of want, not need. Bench Players In the section above we discussed the possibilities for backup catcher, which is really just a bench position, and in doing so we established the likelihood that Billy Eppler will probably go with an internal solution, such as Carlos Perez, Juan Graterol, or perhaps Jose Briceno, for that spot. Beyond the reserve catcher position Eppler will have to fill the infield and outfield utility spots for 2018. Last year Billy utilized Ben Revere primarily for the latter while the former was filled, mostly, by veteran Cliff Pennington and Jefry Marte. Both Revere and Pennington saw their contracts expire at the end of this season creating two utility voids. Fortunately there are some internal options, however nearly all of them have little to no experience at the MLB level. On that infield utility side you have names like Jefry Marte (1B and 3B), Kaleb Cowart (2B, 3B, 1B, and in a pinch SS), Nolan Fontana (all infield positions), Sherman Johnson (same as Cowart plus LF), and David Fletcher (2B and SS) as possible choices. In the outfield, the Angels are only sporting one real option, Michael Hermosillo, now that Eric Young Jr. and Shane Robinson have elected free agency. Hermosillo is quite young (22 currently) and has no MLB experience but has a lot of upside and could prove valuable later in the season. This lack of experienced choices will probably lead Billy Eppler to consider bringing in one or two veteran stop-gap players on a short-term deal, particularly in the outfield, out of free agency. Ben Revere, who is preparing to walk out the door himself, could probably be re-signed on a 1-year deal. Additionally the market has names like Jarrod Dyson, Rajai Davis, Jon Jay, Colby Rasmus, and our old fan favorite and friend Peter Bourjos who could potentially fill the 4th outfielder role. Dyson is probably going to get more regular playing time than the other four so he may be off the table but it is worth inquiring about because his outfield defense is fantastic and he would be a solid bench bat and pinch runner. The other four have varying degrees of talent and skill sets but any of them would be able to provide reasonable production in a backup role. On the infield side you find some of the usual suspects such as Stephen Drew, Eduardo Nunez, Alexei Amarista, Josh Rutledge, and Adam Rosales and some new names like J.J. Hardy, Jose Reyes, Trevor Plouffe, and Dusty Coleman. It seems, based on Eppler’s desire to add more primary left-handed infielders, that the Angels would best be served bringing in a right-handed utility bat. Out of this group, Adam Rosales, Josh Rutledge, J.J. Hardy, and Jose Reyes strike me as reasonable possibilities for Eppler to acquire on a one-year deal. Finally the Halos could look to the trade market to pick up a reserve outfielder or infielder more to Eppler’s fancy. Perhaps someone like Brandon Guyer, Mark Zagunis, or Juan Lagares might be preferred over one of our internal solutions. The latter, in particular, brings excellent outfield defense while the other two could provide some serious on-base skills. On the infield side perhaps someone like Jose Iglesias, Brad Miller (prefer him as an everyday guy), or Dean Anna might have appeal to the Angels front office. Here are the resource expenditure tiers for the reserve infield and outfield utility roles. Please note that this is just a sample of players/prospects that may or may not be available in free agency and/or trade: High Price to Pay – Tony Kemp Middle of the Road – Mallex Smith Jarrod Dyson Juan Lagares Mark Zagunis Ben Zobrist Bargain Basement – Lonnie Chisenhall Brandon Guyer J.T. Riddle Alexei Amarista Jose Iglesias J.J. Hardy Jon Jay Adam Rosales Pedro Florimon Colby Rasmus Josh Rutledge Erick Aybar Stephen Drew Ruben Tejada Craig Gentry Nick Franklin Arismendy Alcantara Peter Bourjos Rajai Davis Aaron Hill Ryan Raburn Eric Young Jr. Shane Robinson Default Solution(s) – Kaleb Cowart Nolan Fontana Sherman Johnson Michael Hermosillo Jefry Marte Author’s Choice – First of all it seems likely, barring a trade, that Kaleb Cowart will be our 2018 Opening Day utility middle infielder and Jefry Marte our utility corner infielder. On the chance Cowart is traded this off-season (decent chance in my opinion) then Nolan Fontana appears to be the next in line of succession based on his defensive capabilities and on-base skills. Sherman Johnson, unfortunately, also appears to be trade bait, if not a likely Rule V pick-up by another team in early December. If Billy decides that he does not want to start Hermosillo’s clock and looks to free agency, someone like the experienced veteran Rajai Davis strikes me as reasonable free agent choice as a 4th outfielder on an inexpensive, say $4M-5M, deal. As a possibly less desirable alternative, Eppler could dip into the Minor League free agency pool to find one or more defensively capable players and have them all compete for the 4th outfielder role as well. No matter whom they go after, obtaining a veteran or a dirt cheap, diamond-in-the-rough, Minor League player will allow the Angels to bring up Hermosillo in the Summer/Fall to prepare him for the 4th outfielder role in 2019 (if he, too, is not traded). In the next section I will share some of my Final Thoughts to wrap up the Primer Series.

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