Feature Photo: Jahmai Jones, OF, Angels
Ed. Note: Click here to listen to Defreitas and Faleris discuss the Angels’ rebuild on Episode 8 of Defensive Indifference, the official Podcast of 2080 Baseball! You can also follow along as we publish reviews of all 30 teams this offseason by clicking here. And as always, follow us on Twitter and Facebook!
By Dave DeFreitas and Nick J.Faleris
One of the thinnest systems in the game, the Angels are relying on a handful of recent draftees to shoulder the load in the minors while general manager Billy Eppler and the rest of the front office work to revamp the organization from top to bottom.
CREAM OF THE CROP
The Tools: 60 hit; 55 power; 50 arm; 50 field – With a projected plus hit tool carrying the profile, Thaiss’s advanced approach at the plate should also make him a plus on-base guy. His command of the zone coupled with his feel for the barrel will ultimately translate to above-average power once he settles in. With the move to first base looking like it will be permanent, Thaiss should settle in as a solid-average defender, showing adequate footwork and strong hands. He runs a bit better than he often gets credit for, and while he won’t be a threat to steal he won’t be a baseclogger either, with a chance to stretch for an extra base on occasion.
The Profile: The latest first-rounder out of a tremendous UVA program, Thaiss’s plus hit tool will drive the profile. He has a tendency to see a lot of pitches, and his command of the strike zone makes it easy to see him working himself into a lot of good hitters’ counts and getting pitches to drive. He is very spread out at the plate and has significant pre-pitch movement with his hands, but the head stays relatively still and the swing plane works to keep the barrel in the zone for an extended period.
Thaiss manages to generate plus bat speed without max-effort actions, helping him to drive the ball with authority, including the oppo gap, and it projects to be an above-average pop at maturity. The majority of his damage may be to the gaps, but that is more a product of his willingness to take what is given to him as opposed to trying to lift everything. He still stands to be a run-producing bat in the middle of the order.
He doesn’t have a ton of projection with the body, but there is some baby fat still on the frame, so it is reasonable to expect him to continue to get stronger. Though first base bats don’t generally generate tons of excitement in prospecting circles, this former Wahoo shows enough potential and a high enough floor to warrant some excitement. Expect Thaiss to start 2017 at High A with the front office not hesitating to move him to Double-A as soon as he proves he’s ready.
Jahmai Jones, OF, Class A Burlington | Ceiling/Realistic Role: 55/50
Ht/Wt: 6’0”/215 B/T: R/R Age (as of December 1st 2016): 19y 4m
The Tools: 60 hit; 50 power; 60 arm; 60 run; 55 field – Jones shows a clean, contact-friendly swing that should play well as he climbs through the minors. Though not a big over-the-fence threat, he should drive the ball consistently and could reach average power at maturity. On the grass he’s a quality glove with good physical tools and could develop into a solid above-average defender in time. He rounds out the five-tool profile with plus speed that plays on the bases and in the field.
He doesn’t project to ever be a big home run guy despite his strength, but that is more a product of his approach and him looking to use his plus run tool.
The Profile: Upon returning to the AZL in 2016, Jones displayed his ability to learn and make adjustments after a good, but not great post-draft debut in 2015. Not only did his extra-base damage numbers stay strong, but the plate discipline and contact rates took a large step forward, including a drop in his strikeout rate from 18% in 2015 to 12.8% in 2016.
With plus bat speed and very simple, compact swing mechanics, Jones looks primed to continue the hard contact he has shown through his first season and change as a pro. He has a nice, level plane that keeps the barrel in the zone, and shows the ability to get good barrel exit and carry on his line drives. He will hit his share of doubles and could get to average power eventually, but his impact will be going gap-to-gap and pressuring the defense on the bases. Jones struggled a bit upon getting the call up to Class A Burlington at the end of 2016, but with his quick hands and his propensity for contact, expect him to make similar adjustments upon returning to the level this season.
His instincts and aptitude suggest that he will see gains as a defender in center field – he already has a quick first step and as he improves his reads should see the run tool play very well going into the gaps and closing on balls in front of him. Overall, the ability to get on base at a consistent clip will be huge for him as it solidifies his top-of-the-order profile. Should he develop to his potential, that leadoff projection combined with his ability to drive the ball could draw comparisons to fellow center fielder A.J. Pollock (Diamondbacks).
ON THE HORIZON
Keynan Middleton, RHP, Triple-A Salt Lake City | Ceiling/Realistic Role: 55/45
Ht/Wt: 6’2”/185 B/T: R/R Age (as of December 1st 2016): 23y 3m
Quick Hit: After making the move from the rotation full time in 2016, Middleton found significant success in the bullpen and after stops at High A, Double-A, and Triple-A was added to the Angels’ 40-man roster in November. Middleton has a double-plus fastball that sits 94-to-96 mph and will get into the upper 90s. The 3/4s slider is short with average depth, but it comes out the same as the fastball, so he can generate some swing and miss when he is able to locate. It does tend to back up on him and the rotation will get loose and hittable, however. The changeup will get hard fade and good separation off of the fastball, but he lacks feel with it right now and the good downward action is inconsistent.
Keynan’s mechanics have some effort to them, but he stays compact and has a quick arm. He gets a small turn over the rubber that adds to the deception in the arm action and plays up the secondary stuff when he is able to locate. The fastball has some life in the zone and will get ride up, but it is fairly straight, and his below-average command will make him hittable at times. The move the bullpen full time was obviously the right choice, as Middleton shot through the system in 2016. If he can find consistency with the secondary stuff, he could be looking at an elite fastball with two above-average or better secondary offerings. He will get a real look in big league camp this March, but ultimately will have to show at least average control to hit his ceiling. If it all clicks, the Angels could be looking at a Shawn Kelley (RHP, Nationals) type of late-inning arm.
Quick Hit: The former sixth-round pick out of Loyola Marymount in 2015 has impressed with his high contact rates and plus run tool, while playing above-average defense up the middle. Fletcher’s small frame packs a bit more explosiveness than you might first imagine, and while the actions do have some effort to them, he has feel for the barrel and doesn’t expand the zone too often. He doesn’t see as many pitches or draw walks as much as you’d like to see with his speed/glove/contact profile, but he’s a pesky hitter who will give you good at-bats and understands the situation.
Fletcher brings some defensive versatility to the table as well, with above average to plus glove work at both shortstop and second base – attributes that make him a prime candidate to one day fill that INF-5 role. So while he isn’t going to blow anyone away with his tools, he has a high baseball IQ, and he can still bring plenty to a big league roster. He may surprise for stretches with the bat, but ultimately he is likely to settle in the Role 40 range along the lines of a Chris Woodward (INF, MLB 1999-2011, multiple teams).
Sherman Johnson, 2B, Triple-A Salt Lake City | Ceiling/Realistic Role: 45/40
Ht/Wt: 5’10”/190 B/T: L/R Age (as of December 1st 2016): 26y 5m
Quick Hit: A 14th-round pick out of Florida State in 2012, Johnson’s development has been a slow burn for the Angels. The lefty hitting two-bagger has just average bat speed, but has shown a consistent feel for the strike zone and good bat control at each stop since his first full season at Class A ball in 2013. The mechanics are compact without much pre-pitch movement, and he has good balance throughout the stroke, which allows him to keep his hands back when he’s fooled.
At age 26 and four-plus years in pro ball, there isn’t much projection to speak of – he isn’t a guy who is going to hit for a ton of power, but he will make contact and has enough juice to drive the gaps and do some extra-base-hit damage. He has some over-the-fence pop to the pull side, but his game is going to be lacing line drives back through the middle and taking his walks. He has his struggles making good contact versus lefties with a .210 average over 141 at-bats at Triple-A in 2016, but he still managed to get on base at a .331 clip over that same stretch. Those types of numbers are likely to limit him to a platoon situation at the big league level, but the .332 OBP overall in 2016 and the .364 career mark are encouraging.
On the dirt he will bring average defense at both second and third base – couple that with his above-average run tool and you have a guy who could bridge a gap in the Role 40 Utility Infielder slot. He isn’t a true INF-5 because he can’t play shortstop, but for a club that has been looking for answers at second base, this is a kid who could show up and impress for stretches, and compares well to former big leaguer Marlon Anderson (UTIL, MLB 1998-2009, multiple teams).
Nate Smith, LHP, Triple-A Salt Lake City | Ceiling/Realistic Role: 45/40
Ht/Wt: 6’3”/210 B/T: L/L Age (as of December 1st 2016): 25y 4m
Quick Hit: A touch and feel lefty, Smith has fringe average stuff across the board, but does have some crossfire deception and creates pretty good angle coming almost straight over the top. The fastball is straight with occasional cut action that he will use in on righties. He tends to be loose in the zone with it, however, and will miss up and out over the plate which contributes to the less than satisfactory fly ball rates. He has variations on the breaking ball, working between a round, overhand curveball and slurvy slider. He will add and subtract with both and has some feel to use both in the zone and will back door the shorter version to righties. He will mix in a changeup as well, but it is his fourth pitch and lacks any real bottom.
Smith works quickly and isn’t afraid of contact, but his below average command in the zone leads to some good swings against him. He doesn’t walk many, but he gave up a whopping 9.9 H/9 in 2016 while only striking out 7.3 per 9. If he’s not getting ground balls that’s pretty consistent traffic on the bases, and it puts him at increased risk for big innings at the major league level. He has put up even splits over his minor league career, so he has some value in that number five spot in the rotation. However, given the high contact rates and lack of matchup stuff, he seems a likely candidate for the role of a swingman/second lefty out of the pen..
Vicente Campos, RHP, Diamondbacks | Ceiling/Realistic Role: 45/40
Ht/Wt: 6’3”/220 B/T: R/R Age (as of December 1st 2016): 24y 4m
Quick Hit: Claimed off waivers this past November from Arizona, Campos boasts a low-90s fastball that can touch the middle 90s from time to time and mixes in a solid-average curveball and changeup. The breaker generally works in the upper 70s, flashing quality bite and good shape, while the changeup can show to firm at times but will flash above average to plus with diving action.
A starter throughout his minor league career, Campos has the size and repertoire to stick in the rotation, but there’s effort in the arm and he has already undergone Tommy John surgery, costing him his 2014 season. There’s potential for back-end stuff provided he stays healthy and is able to avoid too many mistakes in the zone with his secondaries. At minimum, he should provide some value as a swingman or middle-relief arm, depending on the team’s needs. He’ll compete for a spot on the 25-man this spring.
Eduardo Paredes, RHP, Double-A Arkansas | Ceiling/Realistic Role: 45/40
Ht/Wt: 6’1”/170 B/T: R/R Age (as of December 1st 2016): 21y 9m
Quick Hit: A reliever for the entirety of his professional career, the 21-year-old Paredes combines athletic effort and some funk in the arm action with a plus fastball, and a slider and changeup that are both above-average offerings. Paredes operates solely from the stretch and has pronounced drop-and-drive in the delivery. The low-3/4s arm slot works to add some deception and helps to produce good turnover sink on the fastball. He sits in the low-to-mid 90’s and does a good job getting the pitch glove side. The slider is inconsistent, but will show 3/4s depth with occasional back foot bite to lefties. The changeup gets average fade and his feel with the pitch is below average, but the arm action really sells it, giving him some margin for error and a weapon versus lefties.
He generally has done a good job keeping the ball on the ground, and while he does have some swing-and-miss capabilities, the name of the game for him is going to be weak contact and ground balls. He posted a very good 1.20 GO:AO ratio for High A Inland Empire in 2016, but the 0.71 GO:AO ratio and six home runs allowed through 48 1/3 innings after his promotion to Double-A is troubling. He tends to be around the zone, so look for him to give up some contact, but he will need to be far more difficult to get into the air to have success in a sixth- to seventh-inning role at the big league level. Expect Paredes to get some time in big league camp in March, but is likely to start the season at Triple-A with a mid-summer call-up a possibility if he has some early success.
Alex Meyer, RHP, Angels | Ceiling/Realistic Role: 45/40
Ht/Wt: 6’9”/225 B/T: R/R Age (as of December 1st 2016): 26y 11m
Quick Hit: Meyer will be pitching at the age of 27 this upcoming season, so the sun might finally be setting on his mid-rotation potential. Restricted by injuries in 2016, Meyer still managed to log innings with two organizations over four minor league levels and a limited major league stint. The lanky University of Kentucky product continued his struggles with finding the strike zone, limiting the utility of a plus to double-plus fastball that works in the mid- to upper-90s with life, and while his mid- to upper-80s slider can still flash plus, Meyer has difficulty maintaining consistency with the offering from start to start.
The Angels have every reason to let Meyer make a run at a rotation spot this spring, but it might finally be time to shift the power arm to the pen in hopes he can hold together his stuff for effectiveness in shorter bursts.
Nolan Fontana, SS, Triple-A Salt Lake City | Ceiling/Realistic Role: 45/35
Ht/Wt: 5’11”/195 B/T: L/R Age (as of December 1st 2016): 25y 6m
Quick Hit: With his very good glove work in the middle of the infield, the light-hitting Fontana still has an outside shot at the INF-5 role should he be able to rebound from a very bad offensive 2016 season. He hit .262 with just a .114 ISO for Double-A Corpus Christie in 2014 and followed that up with a .241 average and .116 ISO for Triple-A Fresno in 2015, but his 20% and 16.2% walk rates in those years, and his plus glove at shortstop showed that there might be enough stick for him to get to a legit Role 40 role. He took a pretty significant step backwards in all areas with the bat in 2016, however, posting only a .067 ISO and a 26.5% strikeout rate in his return to Triple-A.
Fontana’s stroke is short without a lot of moving parts and he consistently looks to shoot the ball the left field and back up the middle. He has just average bat speed though, and will tend to push the barrel through the zone a bit which makes him susceptible to velocity inside. So while the approach is nice, he is still a limited threat to do damage and has little to discourage pitchers from pounding him inside with fastballs. All in, Fontana’s glove is going to be what gives him value at the major league level. The arm is average – maybe a tick above – and the foot speed is average, but he has a good game clock, and his ability to get his throws off quickly and with accuracy plays up the profile.
It will be a struggle for him to stick on a 25-man roster all season even if the walks and OBP numbers come back up in 2017, but with the Angels’ second base and utility roles wide open heading into spring training, Fontana should get a look. He will never be an offensive force, but he is likely a better hitter than what he showed in 2016. Expect him to show up in Anaheim at some point in 2017 and be a decent taxi-squad option while GM Billy Eppler and the Angels continue to look for infield depth. Dean Anna (2B, Cardinals) is a good comparison at the major league level.
Kevin Grendell, LHP, Double-A Arkansas | Ceiling/Realistic Role: 45/40
Ht/Wt: 6’2”/210 B/T: L/L Age (as of December 1st 2016): 22y 4m
Quick Hit: Grendell was released by the Orioles at the end of spring training in 2016, but immediately signed with the Angels, where he threw 61 1/3 innings across three levels, finishing up with 19 2/3 innings at Double-A Arkansas. He has a short arm in back that hides the ball a bit to go with very good angle down through the zone. The fastball is an above-average pitch, sitting in the low 90s, but it’s fairly straight. He has a big, slurvy breaking ball that he shows some feel with, and that the deception in the arm action plays it up enough to be an average pitch. He will use it back door to righties early in the count and will use it out of the zone for putaway versus lefties.
He lacks a real weapon to consistently battle righties, and the fly ball rates and walks are definite concerns for a bullpen arm, but he does get some swing and miss (13.5 SO/9 across three levels in 2016), and he could have value in short stints as a lefty specialist. The fastball command is inconsistent, but he is able to get it glove side and isn’t afraid to challenge in the zone. The front side gets a little soft and the arm will drag at times, leading to a lot of his command issues. However, he is a good athlete and the effort is smooth, making it conceivable that the command could tick up. If he can drive down in the zone and utilize his angle on a more consistent basis, he should see the stuff play up and get him to that Role 40, slot as a second left-hander out of the pen.
Abel De Los Santos, RHP, Reds | Ceiling/Realistic Role: 40/40
Ht/Wt: 6’2”/195 B/T: R/R Age (as of December 1st 2016): 24y 0m
Quick Hit: Claimed off waivers from Cincinnati this past October, De Los Santos will compete in camp for a bullpen spot in Los Angeles. The righty wields a low-90s heater with some arm-side life and can dial up to the middle 90s from time to time. He compliments the heater with a solid-average upper-70s curveball with good depth and will also flash a firm changeup and occasional slider. While De Los Santos has succeeded in missing bats through his climb through the minors, the in-zone command is below average and he struggles to consistently work within the zone. There’s room in the Angels pen for De Los Santos to carve out a role and the stuff works well enough that he should be able to stick in a middle-relief role.
Brandon Marsh, OF, Rookie AZL Angels | Ceiling/Realistic Role: 55/40
Ht/Wt: 6’2”/190 B/T: L/R Age (as of December 1st 2016): 18y 11m
Quick Hit: An impressive athlete, the Georgia prep product represents an upside play for the Angels, coming off the board in the second round of the 2016 MLB Draft. Marsh has plus speed with a chance to profile long term in center field and a strong enough arm to make right field a firm backup plan should he struggle with his reads off the bat at the pro ranks.
At the plate Marsh shows solid bat speed and natural loft in the swing, he can already flash quality power from the left side in batting practice. There’s physical projection remaining in the frame and it isn’t a stretch to think he could reach above-average power at maturity, provided he can make enough contact for his raw pop to play in game.
A two-sport standout in high school, Marsh is behind the developmental curve at present when compared to other high-round prep selections, and some missed time post-draft due to back issues last summer further limited his opportunities to get his professional developmental started in earnest. The Angels are hopeful he will be healthy and ready to hit the ground running in 2017, with a likely stint in extended spring training probable before eventually making his way to Rookie Orem. The hit tool is the big question mark, as Marsh was limited in showcase action pre-draft and has yet to tackle pro competition. The upside is that of a true first-division center fielder with an impact bat, but he is worlds’ away from that today.
Chris Rodriguez, RHP, Rookie AZL Angels | Ceiling/Realistic Role: 50/40
Ht/Wt: 6’2”/185 B/T: R/R Age (as of December 1st 2016): 18y 4m
Quick Hit: The high-waisted Rodriguez was popped in the fourth round last June and showed well in a very brief, 11 1/3 inning stint in the Rookie Arizona League post-draft. Rodriguez has a good deal of effort in the delivery, but he is a very good athlete and creates excellent angle with his lanky, 6’2” frame. He has a chance for three above-average to plus pitches, all of which play up due to the fairly compact arm action and quickness through the slot. Nothing he throws is straight, and the heavy fastball sits 91-to-94 mph has some late life in the zone, allowing him to show hitters the top half of the ball and keep things on the ground. The 3/4s slider comes out the same as the fastball and while it will get big and loose at times, it should get to above average and be a weapon vs. righties. The Changeup, however, is his best secondary with some feel for the late, hard bottom, and the arm action really sells the change of pace. He throws strikes with all of his pitches and isn’t afraid to challenge in the zone.
Rodriguez is a very good athlete and has some room to get stronger and add to the quality of the stuff, but the effort level and herky-jerky nature of his mechanics point to him being a bullpen arm by the time he gets to the big leagues. He does have some present body control and shows ability to throttle up and back, so he is not just a max-effort kid who doesn’t know where it’s going.
If he continues to pound the zone and get ground balls, the quality of the stuff will produce enough swing and miss to make him a viable late-inning relief option in the big leagues. He will likely continue to pitch out of the rotation as he advances to allow him to build arm strength and develop his secondary stuff, but like Scott Shields (MLB 2001-2010, Angels) he has a chance to see his stuff and deception really play up in shorter stints.
Nonie Williams, SS, Rookie AZL Angels | Ceiling/Realistic Role: 50/40
Ht/Wt: 6’2”/200 B/T: S/R Age (as of December 1st 2016): 18y 7m
Quick Hit: With an above-average glove and plus arm, Williams projects to stay up the middle as a glove-first player. He is an above-average to plus runner, with 4.19-4.26 second home-to-first times, and he is a good athlete with some present strength to his medium frame. He has average bat speed and produces a level plane from both sides of the dish, but can be a bit deliberate and opens his front side early which adds a good deal of length to the stroke. He has some pull-side pop from both sides of the plate, but shows more loft and carry from the left side.
The athleticism really shows through on the dirt, where he doesn’t necessarily have a lot of quick-twitch actions, but he does have excellent body control and efficiency with his movements. The plus arm works well with the strength and accuracy remaining when he throws on the move. He has the ability to handle shortstop on a regular basis, but the bat will likely limit him to that Role 40, INF-5 position. He will continue to get stronger and likely settles with a fringe-average hit tool and fringe-average game power. Look for Williams to return to the Arizona League in 2017 and could move to short-season ball if he shows any advancement with the bat.
Jaime Barria, RHP, Class A Burlington | Ceiling/Realistic Role: 50/40
Ht/Wt: 6’1”/210 B/T: R/R Age (as of December 1st 2016): 20y 5m
Quick Hit: Since being signed in 2013 out of Panama, Barria has done nothing but throw strikes. He has a big, thick build with broad shoulders and significant present strength, but may have already maxed out his 6’1” frame. The mechanics are mildly deliberate, but he creates very good angle and generates some arm speed. He does a good job driving the ball down in the zone and has put up good ground ball numbers thus far in his pro career (1.14 GO:AO ratio since 2013). The fastball has some life in the zone with occasional hard sink to the arm side. He sits in the low 90s right now, but he can be inconsistent using his lower half and doesn’t always get good push off the rubber so there could be more to come. The 12-to-6 curveball is his best secondary with some occasional hard snap – he has feel to use it in the zone now and it should get to above average. The changeup isn’t far behind, and the arm action does a lot to sell it. He gets hard, late fade and shows feel with that offering as well, giving him a weapon versus lefties.
His swing-and-miss numbers fell off a bit in 2016 upon his move to full-season ball, but he continued to pound the zone and eclipsed 100 innings while making 25 starts. That’s a big workload for a 20-year-old kid, so it says something that he was able to effectively pitch to contact. Ultimately, he will have to miss more bats in order to turn over lineups and hit his ceiling of a number four starter, but he shows an early feel for the zone and could see a spike in the strikeout rates as the secondary stuff continues to develop.
Quick Hit: Another cold-weather kid taken late in the 2013 draft out of Ottawa, Ill., Hermosillo is an extremely athletic outfielder who has a chance to get to an above-average hit tool and to slot in nicely in an extra-outfielder role down the line. He has average bat speed, maybe a tick above, but the actions are compact and quick, and he does a good job keeping the barrel in the zone. He has feel for the strike zone, and while the majority of his pop is to the pull side, he will use the whole field while keeping the ball on the ground, allowing him to get the most out of his above-average run tool. He has a medium build, but he also was a standout football player in high school and is significantly stronger than the body lets on.
Given the limited opportunity to face advanced pitching as a high schooler coming out of Wisconsin, not to mention the time split between sports, Hermosillo’s development is likely a little bit behind. But he already makes consistent hard contact, and power is often the last thing to come for young hitters, so it is not a stretch to think he will get to fringe average there and show power to the gaps. He has above-average range to go with an average arm in the outfield, but the run is best underway and his reads are not great so he is not a true center field prospect.
All in, Hermosillo is going to get challenged as he advances, and he’ll have to continue to see gains in the power department to keep pitchers honest. He falls short of an impact, everyday profile, but the pure athleticism makes him an asset in the outfield and he should hit enough to be at least a Role 40, OF-5 contributor.
Quick Hit: Long came off the board to Los Angeles in the third round of the 2015 MLB Draft after three solid seasons as a starter for Texas A&M. Long relies on low-maintenance mechanics to keep his release consistent and hit his spots with regularity. The fastball is an average offering that will flash a tick above, coming with solid life and regularly working from the upper 80s to the low 90s.
The secondaries – a short slider and straight changeup – are average offerings that lack impact in implementation, carrying utility primarily as different looks to help set up his well-placed fastballs. When Long is working down in his zone and hitting his spots, he shows an ability to sequence well and draw some empty swings. He can get in trouble up in the zone, however, and the lack of a true putaway pitch means he works with a very small margin for error.
Long has the upside of a back-end arm provided he can keep upper-level bats at bay with his average arsenal and solid command. He could ship back to High A to start 2017 with an eye towards a mid-season promotion if all goes well. The most likely outcome here is for Long to settle in as a spot starter/swing-man.
Cole Duensing, RHP, Rookie AZL Angels | Ceiling/Realistic Role: 50/40
Ht/Wt: 6’4”/175 B/T: L/R Age (as of December 1st 2016): 18y 5m
Quick Hit: The former Kansas State commit inked with the Angels for an over-slot deal totaling around $500,000 after being selected by the Halos in the sixth round of the 2016 MLB Draft. At his best last spring, Duensing was flashing low- to mid-90s heat on the fastball, but he quickly saw the stuff regress to its pre-winter mid- to upper-80s velocity band as the spring wore on.
A cold-weather arm out of the Kansas prep ranks, there is room for Duensing to take quick developmental steps forward once fully integrated into the pro developmental system, and the projectable righty has the athleticism to incorporate instruction quickly. His breaking ball and changeup are in the nascent stages, and those will be a developmental focus on the complex this spring as he prepares to for his first affiliate assignment.
Though there remains much work to be done on the developmental side, Duensing has the potential to mature into a solid back-end option, and is one of the more interesting arms to keep tabs on in 2017.
Taylor Ward, C, High A Inland Empire | Ceiling/Realistic Role: 45/40
Ht/Wt: 6’1”/195 B/T: R/R Age (as of December 1st 2016): 22y 11m
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Quick Hit: The Angels’ first-round pick in the 2015 draft, Ward has flashed some defensive ability behind the plate, but has yet to really break out with the bat. Ward has a short stroke with an exaggerated inside-out approach, however the bat speed is just average, maybe even a tick below. He put up good contact rates in 2015 post-draft (14.6% K rate for Class-A) and again in his first full season at High A in 2016 (15.3% K rate). However, being a college player and playing 2016 at age 23, he was a bit old for the level and didn’t see the requisite bump in ISO for an older kid playing in the offense-heavy Cal League (.065 ISO in 2015, .088 ISO in 2016). He has some pop to the pull side, but tends to punch the ball to the right side and has yet to show consistent ability to really drive the ball that way.
Defensively, he has the tools to stick behind the plate and both his 55-grade arm and accuracy resulted in him throwing out 38% of potential basestealers. His hands are strong and he stays quiet in his setup, but the 19 passed balls he has this past year are a concern. He is in an organization that highly values pitch framing and defense from the position, so if he is going to post sub-.100 ISO marks, the glove will have to carry the profile.
He is a slender, athletic kid and has some room to fill out – with a stronger frame and his feel for the barrel it isn’t a stretch to think that he could get to the .125 ISO range and have more consistent gap production. Even with that however, he still has the ceiling of a second-division regular with the more likely outcome of a backup.
Samuel Holland, RHP, High A Inland Empire | Ceiling/Realistic Role: 45/40
Ht/Wt: 6’4”/200 B/T: R/R Age (as of December 1st 2016): 22y 10m
Quick Hit: Holland impressed over two levels in 2016, working 43 1/3 innings in relief for Class A Burlington and High A Inland Empire while allowing just four earned runs and seven walks to go along with 22 hits. The native Australian relies on drawing soft contact with his heavy fastball and can show an average breaking ball and changeup, as well. It’s a limited ceiling due to the pure relief profile and pedestrian swing-and-miss stuff, but there’s a path for Holland to emerge as a middle-relief arm, provided he can keep the ball down and continue to miss barrels. He’s ready for Double-A and the challenge of more advanced bats.
Luis Pena, RHP, Class A Burlington | Ceiling/Realistic Role: 45/40
Ht/Wt: 5’11”/190 B/T: R/R Age (as of December 1st 2016): 21y 3m
Quick Hit: An undersized righty with a lively low-90s fastball, Pena piggy-backed his way through the early portion of his full-season debut in Burlington before graduating to full starts in the second half of the season. His final nine outings to close out the year totaled 93 2/3 innings of work with Pena working into the fifth inning in each.
The stuff isn’t overpowering, and Pena can have trouble keeping the ball on the ground when put in play, but he showed bat-missing ability over his 100 innings of work, averaging 10.5 SO/9. He has trouble at times keeping the fastball in the zone, and the best fit long term may in relief, where his below-average command would be less of an issue. He’ll bump up to High A in 2017 where his fly ball rates will be tested by the hitter-friendly Cal League.
Leonardo Rivas, SS, Rookie AZL Angels | Ceiling/Realistic Role: 45/40
Ht/Wt: 5’10”/150 B/T: S/R Age (as of December 1st 2016): 19y 3m
Quick Hit: A 2015 J2 signing, Rivas made his way stateside towards the end of last season, logging 26 games on the complex while showing well with the glove and demonstrating a solid approach at the plate to go with some feel for the barrel. The young middle infielder can struggle some to identify spin and needs to get stronger so as not to get the bat knocked out of his hand as he climbs the ranks and tackles more advanced arms, but he has a game plan at the plate and has handled himself well in limited state-side action.
A quality glove and a plus runner, Rivas could provide value as a utility option if the bat doesn’t fully develop, though the hope is that as the body matures he will ultimately be able to do enough damage with the bat to stick in an everyday capacity at either shortstop or second base. Rivas won’t turn 20 until later this year, so an extended stay on the complex before a rookie debut at Orem seems likely.
Connor Justus, SS, Class A Burlington | Ceiling/Realistic Role: 45/35
Ht/Wt: 6’0”/190 B/T: R/R Age (as of December 1st 2016): 22y 1m
Quick Hit: The Georgia Tech product was popped by Los Angeles in the sixth round of the 2016 MLB Draft thanks to his solid actions at shortstop and a surprisingly productive season at the plate for the Yellow Jackets. The bat speed is average and the swing comes with a hitch that can complicate contact, putting a lot of pressure on the glove to carry the profile.
Justus floundered some in limited pro action last summer and will start his first full-season run this spring. The upside is more of a below-average regular or utility glove, but he’ll need to prove his bat is up to snuff before the Angels pencil him in as part of their future plans.
Julio Garcia, SS, Rookie AZL Angels | Ceiling/Realistic Role: 45/35
Ht/Wt: 6’0”/175 B/T: R/R Age (as of December 1st 2016): 19y 4m
Quick Hit: An international signee that came in to the Angels’ system in the winter of 2014, Garcia is a glove-first shortstop who lacks impact with the bat at present. He struggles to command the strike zone and has difficulty picking up quality off-speed stuff, often working behind in the count and making primarily soft contact thus far. The glove is legit, however, and the value he can bring on the dirt is enough to warrant mention here, and attention next season.
While Garcia is a better hitter than his woeful .149/.216/.213 slash line on the complex shows (he was limited in action by injuries throughout the summer), the bat is a large enough question mark to cast a shadow on the overall profile. He’ll work to stay healthy in 2017 and hopefully reach Orem, setting up for a 2018 run at full-season ball.
Troy Montgomery, OF, Class A Burlington | Ceiling/Realistic Role: 45/35
Ht/Wt: 5’10”/185 B/T: L/L Age (as of December 1st 2016): 22y 3m
Quick Hit: An eighth-rounder out of Ohio State this past June, Montgomery has a center field tool set, including plus speed and an ability to go and get it on the grass, but questions as to his ultimate offensive upside. The swing comes with a bit of leverage but can get long, and there are questions as to whether he’ll be able to make enough contact against upper-level arms. If things break right he could develop into a solid fourth outfielder with additional value as a defensive replacement and pinch runner, but he’ll need to prove the stick can play. Montgomery should ship out to High A for his first full season of pro ball.
Jose D. Rodriguez, RHP, Class A Burlington | Ceiling/Realistic Role: 45/40
Ht/Wt: 6’2”/175 B/T: R/R Age (as of December 1st 2016): 21y 3m
Quick Hit: Rodriguez put together a solid season for Class A Burlington in 2016, racking-up 131 2/3 innings over 27 starts, all at the age of 20. He works with average stuff, including an upper-80s- to low-90s fastball and solid-if-unspectacular breaking ball and changeup, but he shows feel for each of his offerings, and works well in and out of the zone.
There’s limited ceiling here, but Rodriguez’s overall feel for the craft and easy arm action make him a potential back-end arm provided the stuff continues to play in the upper levels. There isn’t tons of physical projection remaining, but the door is still open for a little more strength to come and perhaps an slight up-tick in the arsenal. If that happens, he could bump his ceiling a half grade or so. Rodriguez is ready for High A in 2017.
Joe Gatto, RHP, Class A Burlington | Ceiling/Realistic Role: 45/35
Ht/Wt: 6’3”/185 B/T: R/R Age (as of December 1st 2016): 21y 5m
Quick Hit: Things couldn’t have gone much worse in 2016 for the former second rounder, as Gatto saw his control evaporate and arsenal abandon him in his first run at the Midwest League. After returning to the complex to overhaul his mechanics and finding a bit more consistency in his low-90s fastball and big-breaking, slow curveball, Gatto will look to hit the reset button in 2017, likely with another run with Class A Burlington. There’s juice in the arm, but 2016 was such an unmitigated disaster it’s tough to project higher than a back-end ceiling until Gatto proves capable of taking the ball every five days and executing with some consistency. The pedigree and raw stuff keeps him on the list of names to keep an eye on, but he’ll need a solid showing in 2017 to start winning back the confidence of evaluators.
|1. Matt Thaiss, 1B, A||6. Jaime Barria, RHP, A||11. Vicente Campos, RHP, AA|
|2. Jahmai Jones, OF, Rk.||7. Chris Rodriguez, RHP, Rk.||12. Grayson Long, RHP, High A|
|3. Brandon Marsh, OF, Rk.||8. Nonie Williams, SS, Rk.||13. Nate Smith, LHP, AAA|
|4. Keynan Middleton, RHP, AAA||9. Michael Hermosillo, OF, High A||14. Taylor Ward, C, High A|
|5. David Fletcher, SS, AA||10. Cole Duensing, RHP, Rk.||15. Eduardo Paredes, RHP, AA|
The cupboard is relatively bare in the Angels’ farm system, heavily limiting any trade utility for the organization. Matt Thaiss and Jahmai Jones could each likely serve as a quality piece in bringing back some MLB-ready talent, but considering there is limited upside on the farm it seems unlikely the Angels would look to move either of top two assets anytime soon.
There isn’t tons to work with on the big league roster, either, though the impossible-to-trade-for-value Mike Trout could obviously rebuild the system in a hurry. Outfielder Kole Calhoun is under control and affordable for three seasons plus a reasonable team option, making him a candidate for trade consideration should the Angels decide it’s time to formally hit the rebuild button. Names like Yunel Escobar, Ricky Nolasco, and Jhoulys Chacin could be of interest at the trade deadline depending on how the first half of the season unfolds, giving some ammo to a front office focused on improving quality and quantity in the minors.
It will be slow work for Los Angeles, but it appears there is a plan taking shape within the new front office to place an emphasis on stocking the farm with a diversified group of players blending both upside and lower-risk profiles. While there isn’t impact at the upper levels right now, the Angels should see contributions from the likes of Keynan Middleton, David Fletcher, Vicente Campos, Nate Smith, and perhaps Alex Meyer and Sherman Johnson over the course of the next season and a half.
Looking ahead, the Angels are locked in to around $80 million in guaranteed dollars from 2018-2020, which could limit their flexibility in filling holes via free agency. The organization will undoubtedly focus on building up the amateur acquisition and development pipelines while trying to identify worthy lotto tickets (such as Alex Meyer) in an attempt to accelerate the rebuild as much as possible. This is a difficult task for several reasons, but GM Billy Eppler and assistant GM Steve Martone are familiar with rebuilding a beleaguered farm system quickly while still getting the most out of their veterans at the big league level. The June draft will be huge for them, as will their accuracy on the international market. This is a club that has significant financial backing, but we likely won’t see them wield that sword like they have in the past. The more likely path will be for them to sell high on some big league assets for prospect value and then make some strategic free agent signings next winter. If all goes well and their current top crop graduates as expected, this is a club that could be in a good position for sustainable success come 2019.
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