Los Angeles Angels Top 20 Prospects for 2014
The list and grades are a blending of present performance and long-term potential. Comments are welcome, but in the end all analysis and responsibility is mine. Full reports on all of players can be found in the 2014 Baseball Prospect Book. We are now taking pre-orders for the book, so order early and order often!
All of these grades are preliminary and subject to change.
QUICK PRIMER ON GRADE MEANINGS:
Grade A prospects are the elite. They have a reasonable chance of becoming stars or superstars. In theory, most Grade A prospects develop into major league regulars, if injuries or unanticipated problems don't intervene. Note that is a major "if" in some cases.
Grade B prospects have a good chance to enjoy successful careers. Some will develop into stars, some will not. Most end up spending several years in the majors, at the very least in a marginal role.
Grade C prospects are the most common type. These are guys who have something positive going for them, but who may have a question mark or three, or who are just too far away from the majors to get an accurate feel for. A few Grade C guys, especially at the lower levels, do develop into stars. Some end up as role players or bench guys. Many don't make it at all.
Also note that there is diversity within each category. I'm a tough grader; Grade C+ is actually good praise, and some C+ prospects (especially at lower levels) turn out very well indeed.
Finally, keep in mind that all grades are shorthand. You have to read the full comment in the book for my full opinion about a player, the letter grade only tells you so much. A Grade C prospect in rookie ball could end up being very impressive, while a Grade C prospect in Triple-A is likely just a future role player.
1) Taylor Lindsey, 2B, Grade B: Borderline B-. Appears to be emphasizing power over batting average, but he also drew more walks in ’13 and his overall rate of production was improved compared to 2012. Still looks like an Adam Kennedy/Todd Walker type second baseman, can be a regular but not a star.
2) Hunter Green, LHP, Grade B-: Borderline C+: The B- is probably generous and I may go down to C+. I like his arm strength and projectability, and the 2013 second-rounder has the highest upside arm in the system. He also had command problems in rookie ball, so don’t expect a rapid advancement.
3) C.J. Cron, 1B, Grade C+: Tough call between Cron and Cowart here. Cowart has better tools and is younger, but Cron’s bat looks safer. I said safer, not "great." Cron’s Double-A numbers aren’t much different than his High-A numbers once you adjust for context, but his defense remains limited and he may not hit quite enough to be a regular first baseman for a good team.
4) Kaleb Cowart, 3B, Grade C+: As stated, he has better tools than Cron and you can make a case to rank him ahead. But his performance collapse in Double-A was so profound I’m starting to wonder if he needs to move back to the mound.
5) Nick Maronde, LHP, Grade C+: Pitched much better in the second half with better control for Arkansas. Should be a solid relief pitcher who doesn’t have to be confined to LOOGY work.
6) Mark Sappington, RHP, Grade C+: Most Angels pitching prospects look like future relievers but Sappington has a chance to start. He’s got plenty of stuff with a lively fastball, slider, and changeup, but command issues need to be addressed before he’s ready for a big league trial. You can make a case to rank him ahead of Cron and Cowart.
7) R.J. Alvarez, RHP, Grade C+: Excellent K/IP ratio in High-A (70 whiffs in 49 innings) was no fluke, with mid-90s fastball, slider, and changeup. Command needs work but this is another bullpen arm with potential.
8) Jose Rondon, SS, Grade C+: Venezuelan infielder is renowned for his excellent defense, and he showed some solid contact hitting skills in the Pioneer League. Doesn’t have any power yet, but has improved his plate discipline and doesn’t turn 20 until March. There’s some chance he can exceed expectations offensively.
9) Alex Yarbrough, 2B, Grade C+: University of Mississippi product hits for average and provides steady defense at second base. Knocked 32 doubles, 10 triples, and 11 homers in the California League, although power increase came as a result of a more aggressive approach than he showed in college. We need to see if the power holds outside the Cal League.
10) Zach Borenstein, OF, Grade C+: Former 23rd round pick from Eastern Illinois had a terrific campaign for Inland Empire, hitting .337/.403/.631 with 28 homers. His defensive tools aren’t outstanding and he’s limited to left field, but he has always hit well, including in the Midwest League in ’12 (wRC+ 129) and dating back to his college days. Cold-weather college guys often don’t get their due and sometimes it takes time for the scouting reports to catch up with the reality. If Borenstein were a Cardinals prospect, people would be comparing him to Allen Craig and Matt Carpenter as a guy exceeding his scouting reports.
That said, it IS wise to be suspicious of California League "breakouts," as the entire league context introduces distortions that are difficult to compensate for, even when you think you have compensated enough. However, given the entirety of his track record, I would not write Borenstein off as a fluke yet. I don’t think he will hit .337 in the Texas League, but he is a prospect, and an interesting one. Tracking him in Double-A will be fun. Even if he develops into a platoon bat or a role player, that’s still a good thing to find in the 23rd round. If he hits in Double-A, he could shoot past Cron and Cowart.
11) Luis Jimenez, 3B, Grade C+: I still think he’s interesting despite his age (26) and poorly-timed injuries last year. His glove is much better than the scouting reports said it was, but in contrast his bat has stagnated. I still think that he can have a "surprise" season this year or next. He’s in the right age window.
12) Mike Morin, RHP, Grade C+: Here’s another promising bullpen arm, a 13th round pick from North Carolina in 2012 who levered his fastball and changeup into a 1.93 ERA, 76/10 K/BB in 70 innings, and 23 saves between High-A and Double-A. We could see him in 2014.
13) Eric Stamets, SS, Grade C+: Very impressive defensive shortstop with speed, contact hitting ability, projects as a utility guy due to lack of power. Could be similar to Andrew Romine but there’s still a chance he could be better, maybe.
14) Nataniel Delgado, OF, Grade C: Signed out of Dominican in 2012, hit .271/.311/.422 in the Arizona Rookie League but was just 17 years old. Very raw, particularly on defense, but has the tools to improve. Wouldn’t rank on a top 20 list in most organizations.
15) Reid Scoggins, RHP, Grade C: Clocked as high as 101 in junior college, works in the mid-90s, struck out 76 in 65 innings in Low-A (with 3.46 ERA) but is still working on command and secondary pitches. Another potential relief arm with a good ceiling.
16) Cam Bedrosian, RHP, Grade C: Seems forgotten after difficult Tommy John recovery and awful ’12 season, but he got his velocity back pitching in relief and pitched much better than his 5.30 ERA at Burlington implies (FIP was 3.11). He pitched well in Arizona Fall League and could still have a bullpen future.
17) Ryan Chaffee, RHP, Grade C: Another guy who can be a solid reliever if the command is there, 2.92 ERA with 73/35 K/BB in 62 innings, just 41 hits in Double-A. Low-to-mid-90s fastball.
18) Mike Clevinger, RHP, Grade C: Tommy John recovery guy, has full arsenal including low-90s fastball, curve, and changeup giving him a starting array if his arm bounces back.
19) Matt Long, OF, Grade C: Older prospect at age 26, tools are limited but he does a lot of things well, hit .293/.371/.471 with 14 homers, 20 steals, 63 walks in Double-A/Triple-A. Platoon/role player type but could prove useful if he gets hot at the right time.
20) Matt Shoemaker, RHP, Grade C: Sort of the Matt Long of pitchers: Shoemaker doesn’t get much press and is old for a prospect at age 27, but he can eat innings, throws strikes, has survived pitching in Salt Lake, and made a point by throwing five shutout innings in his big league debut last September. Would be in the mix as a fifth starter for many teams, which is not bad for a guy who was an undrafted free agent.
OTHERS: Ryan Brasier, RHP; Tyler DeLoach, LHP; Mike Fish, OF; Sherman Johnson, INF; Kyle McGowin, RHP; Keynan Middleton, RHP; Brian Moran, LHP; Elliot Morris, RHP; Michael Roth, LHP; Ricardo Sanchez, LHP; Nate Smith, LHP; Michael Snyder, 1B; Cal Towey, 3B; Jonah Wesely, LHP; Austin Wood, RHP.
This is a very difficult organization to rank players. There are a LOT of Grade C prospects, and literally every guy in the "others" section has a case to be ranked in the 11-20 range. I ended up picking the guys that I thought were most interesting for one reason or another, but don’t get bent out of shape about the exact rankings.
Obviously this is a farm system with a lot of problems. There is almost a complete lack of impact prospects. Lindsey is the only guy I see with a definite case to be a major league regular and even he is more solid than star. Everyone else has at least one significant question they need to answer. I think Cron is a decent hitter, but decent isn’t good enough to cut it as a first-division first baseman. Cowart has the tools but every part of his game fell apart last year. There are some good gloves up the middle with Stamets, Rondon, and Yarbrough, but we need to see how their bats look outside the Pioneer and California Leagues.
As noted above, Borenstein is quite interesting and his reputation will rise quickly if he hits in Double-A. Michael Snyder in the "others" section also has a great deal of power, but strikes out enough to be worrisome and may face a more difficult time in Double-A. Jimenez and Long are older prospects but could be useful role players and both are entering the "surprise! I’m 27!" area of their careers.
Although they have not gotten much attention for it, the Angels have made an effort to find polished college hitters with good plate discipline in their last few drafts, perhaps adopting a Cardinals/Astros-type philosophy and looking for Carpenter/Craig like surprises. Kole Calhoun (who has too much big league playing time to rank on this list) is a product of that approach.
On the pitching side, other than Green who is just getting started, there isn’t anyone here who looks like an impact rotation pitcher. There is some depth in bullpen/middle relief arms/possible fifth starters and there are some lives arms available who just haven’t developed yet, including Alfonso Alcantara and Yency Almonte, who got killed in the Pioneer League but at least have some stuff.
The impression I get is that the Angels are able to identify some players with big league potential in the middle and later rounds and have found some bargain role players that way. That’s a nice skill to have and necessary condition for a healthy farm system. The problem is that it is not a sufficient condition: they have no star-caliber talent to go with role guys. You can only ride your Mike Trout laurels for so long.
This is a reflection of ownership/front office priorities, as trades and free agent signees in recent years depleted the talent pool while costing draft picks and bonus slots. No matter how good your scouts may be in finding Calhouns and Borensteins, eventually the lack of investment bites you in the ass, especially under the current draft and international signee rules.
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