Friday, December 9, 2016

Prospect: Jordan Kipper Rank: 28

2015/16: UR                 Position(s): Right Handed Pitcher

Level: AA                Age: Entering Age 24 season in 2017.

Height: 6’4”                        Weight: 185 lb.

Present - Future
Fastball         50 55
Slider 55 55
Change 40 50
Mechanics 65 65
Command    55 55
Control         55 55
Overall         40 50

Floor: AAA Depth or long reliever. Ceiling: #4 starting pitcher. 

Likely Outcome: A 5th starter or swing man in the majors.

Summary: Kipper is an easy pitcher to like from a scouting perspective.  He’s just solid across the board.  He doesn’t need any major tweaks to his delivery, he has a good head on his shoulders and is projectable.  After serving as a de facto ace for TCU, Kipper was drafted for the third time in four years back in 2014.  The Dodgers and Phillies didn’t have any luck singing him, but the Angels fared better after selecting him in the 9th round.  Kipper is a tall, lean (though not skinny) pitcher.  He has a very clean, fluid delivery without excess effort.  Jordan’s fastball is of the hard sinking variety, sitting 90-91.  As he fills out, some in the organization believe he could sit 93 regularly.  There’s also some question as to whether he’ll continue as a starter or move to relief.  But after last season, it appears the Angels best bet is to keep him in the rotation, despite a lack of a third pitch.  Kipper throws a decent slider.  It comes in around 83, with similar downward motion as his fastball, and he keeps it in the strike zone, which is particularly dangerous.  Kipper’s been messing with a change up or curve ball as a third pitch, but neither appear to be something he can use with any consistency at the top level yet.  Even if they develop into a “show me” pitch, Kipper could experience more success than he has so far.  The big thing for Jordan will be surviving AAA Salt Lake.  Kipper is a smart pitcher that pitches to contact, and generates a metric ton of weak grounders and pop ups in foul territory.  This works at the lower levels, and especially in AA. where hitters are more confident and will swing at a pitch, even if it results in a two-hopper to shortstop.  In the PCL, pitching to contact is a very dangerous game.  Those shallow flys turn into medium depth sac flys, and the medium depth flys will go into the gaps or over the fence.  The pop ups in foul territory will leave into the stands.  It’s pretty much the hardest place to succeed.  But because of Kipper’s heavy downward motion on both his fastball and slider, he shouldn’t be as affected by the environment. 

What to expect next season: Kipper should be in AAA.  Currently, the Angels have a lot of pitching depth on the back end with Jesse Chavez, Alex Meyer, Nate Smith, Manny Banuelos, Troy Scribner, Vicente Campos and Kyle McGowin.  This means there’s the off chance that Kipper could find himself repeating AA after so thoroughly succeeding at that level.  I still expect to see Kipper in Salt Lake though, and if he does succeed there, we could see him in Anaheim soon. 

Estimated Time of Arrival: Late 2018, Kipper’s age 25 season. 

Grade as a prospect: C: Projects to be a long reliever or back end starter. 

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.

Thursday, December 8, 2016

By Jonathan Northrop, Columnist -

A Road Forward
In other threads at many have been bemoaning the fact that Eppler isn't making a big—or even medium—splash during the Winter Meetings. I would offer a perspective that may explain what Eppler is doing, and how it might be in team's best interests.

This perspective is based upon the following idea: the Angels will try to be competitive over the next 2-3 years, but not at the expense of trading away the future 3+ years from now. Is is based on the recognition that the team, right now, projects to win maybe 82-85 games. Fangraphs has it at 85, but I think that's on the optimistic side and thus want to give a range. But an 82-85 team can catch fire and, with a bit of luck and a career year or two, could win 90 games and cruise into the playoffs. So Eppler recognizes that the team right now is not as bad as their 2016 record, but actually a bit better.

Eppler also realizes that it would be very expensive to put the team over the top to be a powerhouse in 2017. In fact, it isn't possible—not from the available free agents, and not without trading their limited farm resources. Sure, they could have tried to out-bid the Yankees and whomever signs Jepsen and get their top-flight closer; they could take a risk on Rich Hill; they could put together a package for a good second baseman. But all of that would have cost 40-60 million a year, and led to the loss of even more prospects, and still merely turned them from a projected 82-85 win team to a projected 87-90 win team, with an even grimmer future.

The (Shrinking) Trout Window
And of course there's Mike Trout. I have repeatedly advocated for the strategy that rather than focus on trying to win within the ever-shrinking Trout window (now just four years, 2017-20), the Angels should focus on working towards a healthy and vibrant team and organization so that, by the time Trout's contract is ending, he won't want to leave (that is assuming they can't extend him before the end of 2020, which would be greatly preferable). Or to put it another way, extend the Trout window rather than panic and try to win now, no matter the cost for the future.

So let's say that Eppler is in basic agreement with this approach: Make small to medium moves to increase the chances of the team winning in the near future, but focus on strengthening for the long-term. How to do this?

Well, he's already doing it, to some degree. Eppler is obviously combing the waiver wire and looking for players with good upside who haven't been able to actualize themselves in their organization. This, I have no doubt, will continue and—hopefully, eventually—bear fruit.

Filling Needs for 2017
In terms of 2017, we can ask: What do the Angels actually need? And what can they do that won't bankrupt the future and/or be terribly risky in terms of utilizing resources (money, prospects)? If we dial back to the beginning of the offseason, the needs are as follows:

A leftfielder
A second baseman
Strengthening the rotation
Strengthening the bullpen

These are actual needs: left field and second base have been massive holes the last couple years, and the entire pitching staff has struggled, largely due to injury (Richards, Heaney, Tropeano, Street, Shoemaker, etc). Beyond those four areas, some secondary moves could help but aren't absolutely necessary: possible improvement at catcher and depth on the bench.

Left Field
The first on this list is already taken care of with the acquisition of Cameron Maybin. Maybin is exactly the type of player Eppler seems to like: He was a top prospect (ranked in Baseball America's top ten three years in a row, 2007-09) who has struggled to actualize his potential. The best-case scenario is that Maybin comes close to reproducing his production last year and provides the Angels with solid defense and a .370 OBP as the leadoff man. But even if Maybin simply settles back into his career norms and is an adequate, if mediocre performer in left field—which would still be an improvement over the last couple years.

Second Base
Second base is a bit trickier. Neil Walker was the only plus free agent and he accepted his qualifying offer, perhaps largely because of questions surrounding his health. Beyond Walker are a bunch of platoon types, of which Stephen Drew seems the most likely candidate. There have also been rumblings that the Angels are working on a deal with the Padres to bring over Yangervis Solarte, which would be a nice pick-up, but again this only makes sense if it doesn't cost them more than someone like a Nate Smith and a fringe prospect.

The Rotation
As far as the pitching staff goes, the Angels are faced with the same problem in both the rotation and bullpen of having a lot of mediocre options, but few stand-outs. For instance, the rotation has a few strong pieces with Richards, Shoemaker and Skaggs as locks, and Nolasco as the workhorse 4th starter, and then the 5th spot is up for grabs among a large group of pitchers who could also fill in if one of the other starters goes down: Chavez, Smith, Meyer, Banuelos, Campos, and others.

In other words, the Angels don't really need anymore starters, unless they can pick up someone who will be significantly better than that group. The only pitchers on the free agent market that clearly fit that criteria are Rich Hill and perhaps Ivan Nova. Hill has questions due to age, but produced ace-caliber production in two-thirds of a year. But it is unlikely that Eppler will want to shell out the three-year $45-50 million contract that Hill will likely get. As for Nova, to me he looks like a slightly better Nolasco: in other words, a solid #4 starter. Do the Angels need another #4-5 starter? Probably not. The point being, unless they can get a #2-3 type, it seems unlikely that they'll sign another starter unless it is another Meyer/Banuelos type.

The Bullpen
Finally, the bullpen, which has only one real plus reliever in Bedrosian, unless Huston Street can recapture his 2015 form and Andrew Bailey does well. After those three, the rest of the bullpen is essentially replaceable. Clearly the Angels aren't getting one of the three premier closers: Chapman, Jensen, or Melancon. Holland is still an option, and he would be a nice bounce-back candidate, but it seems likely the Royals will re-sign him, after trading away Wade Davis. I could also see them going after a Neftali Feliz. But chances are they'll sign one or two plus relievers to strengthen the bullpen.

In Summary
Don't expect big moves going forward. Eppler will likely continue to make small and clever moves that cost the Angels very little, but could bear fruit down the line. The still need a second baseman, which will range from a one-year platoon type like Drew to a trade for someone like Solarte. They don't really need any more starters, but could very well sign another reliever or two.

The 2017-18 free agent class has more options, even more so in the 2018-19 class. It is wise for Eppler to save up his chips for a big push then which, with continued farm development, should hopefully see the Angels on an upward trajectory over the next few years. They've had the worst farm system in baseball for at least two years now, although there are glimmers with hope. They went 74-88 in 2016, their worst record since the 90s, so we can hope it is a bit of a rock-bottom moment. Perhaps they win 82-85 games in 2017, with meaningful games played into September, and the farm continues to improve. A year from now we could have an 85-win team with an improving farm system. A few years from now we could return to being a perennial 90+ win team with a solid, or even good, farm system. We can hope, at least.

By Robert Cunningham, Senior Writer - 

Author’s Note: If you missed the first five installments you can find Part I here, Part II here, Part III here, Part IV here, and Part V here.

For most of 2016, the best C.J. on the team continued to grow and develop on both sides of the ball, providing slightly improved offense and, surprisingly, defense.

To illustrate this, here is Cron’s offensive output for 2016 and over his career:

As you can see, C.J. has, over his three years in the Majors, performed admirably against same-side pitchers to the tune of a 119 wRC+. On the other hand he has continued to struggle versus left-handed pitching and his numbers in 2016 dipped below his career average resulting in a poor 79 wRC+.

On the defensive side FanGraphs Advanced Fielding statistics thinks Cron has improved over the last three years:

Or if you prefer, his Range Factor per Game is below:

Now let us be clear no one is going to mistake C.J. for a gold glove first baseman or even an above average one. However both sites show a bump in his overall range at the position bringing him close to League average defensively. This simply means he is capable of playing first base on a daily basis which raises him from a DH-only bat to a plausible regular everyday player on the field.

Cron is in his last year of pre-arbitration control in 2017. After that he will enter the arbitration process where he will likely receive significant raises year over year because that process favors power bats like C.J.’s and rewards them for it. Despite these future large raises he will likely be productive enough to make it worthwhile for the team to keep him on the roster through those three arbitration seasons.

So to summarize the Angels have an asset in Cron that is currently cheap and productive. They could easily play him at first base every day or even platoon him with someone like Jefry Marte, who could hit vs. LHP, to try and maximize offensive production. The Angels could simply stay put and leave first base alone, safe in the knowledge that the 26 year old will probably maintain his production and possibly even improve in 2017.

However there is also a potential opportunity for Billy Eppler to trade C.J. as the designated hitter market, in particular, appears to be very fluid in supply and demand this season.

The question that Eppler might face is whether he can upgrade or at least maintain production at first base and flip C.J. to another team in need of a 1B or DH bat?

It is a really legitimate question because essentially, at this point in time, Cron is a platoon bat at a non-critical defensive position with some good power who may or may not have reached his peak and, when you analyze individual American League team DH and 1B needs, there is a surprisingly strong potential demand for many teams this offseason.

Boston is losing David Ortiz. Cleveland is losing Mike Napoli and Carlos Santana is only controlled through 2017 making him a possible trade chip which could create another hole. The Blue Jays are losing all three of Encarnacion, Bautista, and Saunders to free agency (although they have acquired Morales and Pearce).

Baltimore is losing both Trumbo and Alvarez to free agency as well. Ditto for the Yankees with Beltran and Rodriguez gone. The Royals lost Morales. Chicago has been running Avisail Garcia out to no avail. Texas is losing Moreland (who signed with the Red Sox but is a platoon bat) and the recently rented Beltran (who signed with the Astros recently).

Additionally teams like the Rockies, Nationals, and Royals may need a first baseman. The latter in particular is rumored to be selling off parts and Hosmer is projected to make approximately $13.3MM in arbitration so if the Royals decide to trade him they might have a need not only at DH but 1B too.

That is 8 of the 15 American League teams and at least 1 National League team that will probably have a pretty strong need for a DH or 1B bat in the coming offseason. Now certainly some will dip into the free agent market and go after names like Encarnacion and Bautista for instance but there is definitely a market for a league-average DH/1B like C.J. Cron and you have to believe that Billy is at least listening to interested teams.

So if, hypothetically, the Angels trade Cron how would they replace his production?

It wouldn’t be a complete surprise to see Cron traded and Billy acquire a left-handed 1B type on a 2 year contract with an option such as Brandon Moss, Adam Lind, or Pedro Alvarez to bridge the gap to 1B prospect Matt Thaiss. This hitter would specifically be brought in to be a platoon bat only against right-handed pitching with Marte picking up the at-bats versus left-handed pitchers.

The Angels could probably afford to wait the market out and pick up one of these hitters on a fairly inexpensive contract to try and replicate Cron’s wRC+ of 126 versus RHP last year. Mitch Moreland just signed for $5.5MM and Moss, Lind, and Alvarez are equivalent offensive producers so that is the approximate asking price for any of these remaining free agents.

All three of them have warts but they all have career wRC+ against right-handed pitchers hovering, give or take, around the 120 range. Moss has outfield experience, Lind has the best career numbers versus RHP’s, and Alvarez has a bit of youth to go along with his horrid defense. Out of this group Moss and Lind seem the most likely candidates with Alvarez a distant third.

Other interesting alternatives could include non-traditional options such as Michael Saunders for instance. Someone like Alex Avila, who has a lifetime career wRC+ of 114 versus right-handed pitchers, could provide similar offensive production, in a platoon capacity, to Cron.

This may seem counterintuitive on some level but if you can flip Cron to help fill another area of need such as 2B you can go out and buy a replacement for C.J. in the $4MM-$7MM range on the free agent market. This may or may not be a better use of the team’s resources but with all of the various permutations and choices it could be one path that Eppler decides to travel.

Beyond this unlikely thought the Angels could of course have Albert Pujols or even Jefry Marte play first base. The former has lost a lot of range at the position and may not start the year while the latter can play good defense but may operate best in a platoon role whether it is with Cron or someone else.

No matter how this plays out Billy Eppler should do what is best for the team. To date Cron has produced but that production can be replicated via free agency or trade so if an opportunity to trade C.J. can bring in a 2B, high leverage reliever or even a 3B the Angels should move him given the right opportunity. Otherwise leave him be and see if he improves which will only build his value further.

Author’s Choice – The demand for DH and 1B sluggers this offseason will create a robust market that Eppler may be able to exploit to the Angels advantage as C.J. could upgrade about half the teams in the A.L. at DH and about half the teams in baseball at 1B.

Teams like the Royals, Indians, Twins, Rockies, and Blue Jays strike me as organizations that could possibly use a less expensive power bat with years of control whereas the Yankees and Red Sox can afford to pursue the Encarnacion’s and Bautista’s of the world.

To be clear again the Angels do not have to trade C.J. They should only do it if he brings back one or more players or prospects that can help fill current or long term needs for the team, i.e. 2B, 3B, LF, SP, or RP and the Angels can effectively replace his total production via free agency or trade.

Finally with Pujols recently announcing surgery for his planar fasciitis problem it may not be in the Angels best interest to move Cron at this time. Eppler will have to tread carefully around this situation to ensure the Angels start off on the best foot for the new season. No matter which direction the Angels go Jefry Marte is almost certainly going to be part of the equation at 1B as he provides pop and good defense at the corner.

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Prospect: Leo Rivas Rank: 29

2015/16 Rank: UR Position(s): Shortstop, Second Base and Third Base

Level: Rookie Ball Age: Entering Age 19 season in 2017.

Height: 5’10”                Weight: 150 lb.

   Present - Future

Hitting Ability         40    50
Power                    30    40
Base running         65    60
Patience                70    70
Fielding                  60    65
Range                     60    60
Arm                       45    50
Overall                   45    55

Floor: A defensive specialist and pinch runner.  Ceiling: Starting second baseman.

Likely Outcome: A utility infielder and pinch runner.

Summary: Rivas didn’t exactly come out of nowhere as much as he came from relative obscurity.  He wasn’t signed as a 16 year old the way most Latin American prospects are, instead Leonardo had to wait until age 17, and even then he signed with the Angels, a team that’s only signing the players that other teams don’t want.  That’s what happens when you repeatedly have to rebuild your scouting staff and have restrictions due to the Baldoquin signing.  Still Rivas made a nice first impression at age 17, but last year he really took off. Before coming stateside midway through the season (an uncommon practice), Rivas was among the best hitters in the DSL.  Upon reaching stateside, he played in the Arizona Summer League, and again was pretty solid there.  He’s shown a knack for getting on base, being put in motion and being a sure handed fielder.  While he doesn’t have the arm to remain at shortstop at the major league level, he offers more than enough to be a solid candidate for second base or a third baseman like Chone Figgins.  Rivas isn’t a slap hitter like Ayendy Perez is, but he is a light-hitter.  Leo has a solid line drive approach and is more of a ground ball hitter. 

What to expect next season: Coming into his age 19 season, I expect Rivas to play in the instructional leagues and at Orem.  If things go right, he may even make an appearance in Burlington.  So far, he’s proven capable at all three infield positions he plays, so I’d expect more of him moving around.  Inevitably, second base should be his home though. 

Estimated Time of Arrival: 2021 - Leo’s age 24 season.  

Grade as a prospect: C: Projects to be a utility infielder. 

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. 

Monday, December 5, 2016

Prospect: Austin Adams - Rank: 30

2015/16: UR            Position(s): Right Handed Pitcher

Level: AA                Age: Entering Age 26 season in 2017.

Height: 6’2”               Weight: 225 lb.

                    Present     Future 

Fastball: 55 55
Slider: 65 70
Change: 45 50
Mechanics: 50 50
Command: 40 50
Control: 40 55
Overall: 40 60

Floor: AAA Depth or long reliever. Ceiling: Very dynamic setup man. 

Likely Outcome: A solid middle reliever.

Summary: Adams story is one that’s been told a thousand times.  Great arm, great off-speed pitch, terrible control.  Adam’s fastball hovers between 92-96 on any given night, but will typically sit 93-94.  His slider is among the best in the system if not THE best in the Angels minor leagues.  There’s decent snap, fall off the table break, and enough velocity to keep them honest.  His change up is more of a show me pitch, but he does occasionally use it, and the change up does have some fade in on the hands of a lefty from what I can tell.  His mechanics are simple, no deception.  Here’s the ball, catch up with it if you can.  It led to a very successful season in AA Arkansas.  41 innings, 61 strikeouts, and a 3.05 ERA.  Had it not been for the unsightly 5.2 BB/9, it would have been a perfect season for Adams.

What to expect next season: Adams should be in AAA next year, after such a thoroughly dominant performance in AA.  I don’t expect the angels will promote him until he gets a handle of his free passes.  That sort of thing just does not fly in the majors.  There’s also his command of the zone that needs to improve.  A strike is a strike, but unless it’s well located, it will fly far away in the majors. 

Estimated Time of Arrival: Late 2017, Adams’s age 26 season

Grade as a prospect: C: Projects to be a middle reliever.

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.

Sunday, December 4, 2016

By Robert Cunningham, Senior Columnist - 

Author’s Note: If you missed the first four installments you can find Part I here, Part II here, Part III here, and Part IV here.

In a season where the starting rotation was decimated, the Angels bullpen did not fare much better, ranking 26th in K%-BB% among all Major League teams.

Part of this issue was the fact that Angels relievers were dead last out of all 30 teams with a 7.23 K/9 rate. Basically the bullpen lacks some hard throwers and the group as a whole simply had a hard time putting hitters away.

The reality is that this, for the most part, is what the fans will continue to see to start the 2017 season as Billy Eppler slowly and surely builds a pitch-to-contact rotation and, to a lesser degree, bullpen. In 2016 Angels relievers were 2nd in O-Contact% (Out of zone contact) at 65.8% and 3rd in Z-Contact% (In the zone contact) at 86.5%.

When you combine those numbers with a 27th ranked SwStr% (Swinging Strike percentage) and an elevated home run rate of 1.14 HR/9 (Home runs per 9 innings, ranked 10th worst in the Majors) you can see why their actual results were poor overall in 2016. The K/9 rate should improve over time but the Angels will probably never lead the League in strikeouts in part because of this pitch-to-contact approach.

Billy will continue to overhaul the roster to improve the numbers. Finding a good defensive second baseman (and third baseman) and continuing to find the right mix of starters and relievers that can put the ball on the ground, particularly to the left side of the infield where Simmons is at, is assuredly a priority.

Speaking of the right mix Cam Bedrosian certainly dominated the competition this season. Most of you would be quick to say he is our future closer (and that is not an incorrect statement) but the author would like to refer to Cam as our future high leverage reliever.

The reason that term is used is because the game of baseball is slowly evolving before our eyes. Throughout the year and in the playoffs the Indians have utilized their best reliever, Andrew Miller, more in the 8th inning than they have the 9th. They have even used him in the 7th inning as well.

High leverage situations, where the opposition is close to scoring runs against your team, are slowly becoming the new normal for when you bring in your best relief pitcher(s). This of course makes perfect sense to bring in your best reliever when your opponent has a high probability of scoring.

As much as Angels fans complain about Mike Scioscia’s bullpen utilization it does not seem above his ability to use high leverage reliever types like Cam in the right situation. The main problem is that the Angels have lacked good options for that role over the last couple of years.

Billy Eppler will try to give Mike more choices in 2017. Bedrosian will certainly be a part of that total solution but the team will need more relievers to step up and fulfill their promise and so, over the last year, Eppler has been adding choices.

Deolis Guerra

Deolis Guerra, a 27 year old Rule V pick from the Pirates in the 2015-2016 offseason, has shown a pleasantly surprising ability to limit free passes (1.18 BB/9 in 2016) and create poor contact (.246 Batting Average Against).

Guerra primarily lives on his 90 mph fastball and 80 mph changeup which makes him effective against both left and right-handed hitters. His one weakness to date has been the long ball against right-handed hitters so if he can mix in an effective curveball he could become one of those “go-to” guys for Scioscia.

Deolis has two more years of pre-arbitration control and then the standard three arbitration years thereafter through 2021. He should be a nice addition to the 2017 bullpen as a middle reliever.

J.C. Ramirez

In late June, the Angels claimed 28 year old, hard throwing right-hander J.C. Ramirez off of waivers from the Reds.

Ramirez offers a mid-90’s fastball and a really nice mid to upper 80’s slider while occasionally tossing in a two-seam fastball. Ramirez would benefit from further improvement and use of his two-seam fastball or the addition of a changeup for instance.

In addition to the heat J.C. gets the ball on the ground a lot with a nearly 50% career GB% which is one definitive reason Eppler had interest in the first place. Ramirez has a live arm for sure but he will have to earn a spot during Spring Training. Also, just like Guerra, J.C. needs to reign in the home runs given up to right-handed hitters.

Ramirez has two more years of pre-arbitration and three years of arbitration for a total of five years of team control.

Ashur Tolliver

In early September the Angels made another waiver claim on 28 year old left-hander Ashur Tolliver. Unlike the DFA’d Ege who was a pure LOOGY type, Tolliver has shown a propensity and ability to get both left-handers and right-handers out in his Minor League career.

Ashur offers a low to mid-90’s fastball combined with a very good changeup but his breaking ball is hit or miss at times. Just like some of the others above Tolliver will have to earn a spot in the bullpen but his chances are slightly enhanced due to his moderate platoon splits. Ashur is also quick to the plate and quite athletic so those are also pluses to his skillset.

Tolliver would benefit most by simply staying healthy as he has had labrum surgery in the past. If he can improve and establish his breaking ball he will become a serious threat in middle relief so Angels fans should keep an eye on his progress. Ashur still has his rookie status intact so once his service clock starts the Angels will control him for six years.

Jose Valdez

Author’s Note – After this write up Valdez was Designated for Assignment and sent to AAA where he will likely start in 2017.

Back in early June the Angels also acquired 26 year old, hard throwing right-hander Jose Valdez for cash considerations from the Detroit Tigers.

Valdez is similar in profile to J.C. Ramirez in that he throws a mid-90’s four-seam fastball combined with a really nice mid to upper 80’s slider. Jose can dial up the fastball even higher but he is plagued by control issues and is hurt often by the free pass.

Unlike Ramirez though Valdez puts the ball in the air more and he too suffers from elevated home run rates versus right-handed hitters. What Jose does do a bit better than J.C. is limit hard contact resulting in a low .227 Batting Average Against compared to J.C.’s .262 BAA.

Valdez needs to develop a third offering and reduce the number of walks he creates. He exceeded his rookie limits in 2016 but still has three years of pre-arbitration and three years of arbitration for a total of six years of team control.

Kirby Yates

Yates, who was claimed along with Parker in early October, is a 29 year old right-handed reliever with a little more Major League experience than the rest of the group above.

Kirby primarily utilizes a four-seam fastball and slider but he also throws a knuckle-curve and a changeup on occasion. Yates fastball lives in the low-to-mid 90’s and he has a strong history of strikeout ability that, when combined with his journeyman experience, gives him a small edge in the upcoming Spring Training battle for roster spots.

Because of his previous experience Yates only has one more year of pre-arbitration control. Of course he has an additional three years of arbitration control after that for a total of four years of team control.

Ultimately Eppler will put the best 25-man team out on the field to start 2017 so Kirby, like everyone else, will have to earn a roster spot in a Mike Scioscia led bullpen.

Abel De Los Santos

Author’s Note – After this write up De Los Santos was Designated for Assignment and sent to AAA where he will almost certainly start the year.

The last of Eppler’s waiver claims before the World Series ended, right-hander De Los Santos is another high ceiling, upside acquisition.

Abel is a flyball pitcher and features a four-seam fastball and curveball as his primary pitches complimented by a slider and changeup.

De Los Santos has a live arm and that is where the upside lies. He can dial it up to the mid-90’s and it has been noted that he has some deception to his delivery. The good news is that he can deliver strikeouts as he has consistently averaged about a 10.0 K/9 in the Minors as a reliever.

Like a lot of young relievers Abel has control issues, gives up a lot of free passes, and is homer prone. If he can iron out the walks a bit and keep the ball in the park more he will be an effective middle reliever.

De Los Santos retained his rookie eligibility through 2016 so he seems destined to start the 2017 season in the Minors unless he really wows Scioscia and Eppler in Spring Training. Once his service clock starts he will be under team control for six seasons.

Alex Meyer

Meyer, who was the second piece sent to the Halos in the Hector Santiago for Ricky Nolasco trade, was acquired shortly before the trade deadline near the end of July.

The Angels have stated that Meyer will get a look in the rotation during Spring Training but it is hard to shake the nagging feeling that Eppler really believes in Alex’s potential to be a nice back-end bullpen piece.

Certainly the best outcome would be success in the rotation but the first thing you have to consider is that he only threw about 50 innings in 2016 and he likely will not break more than 100 IP or so in 2017.

This of course means that he may start the year in the Minors as a starter in order to get acclimated to the role and stretch his arm out or, alternatively, they could reverse in anticipation of Alex starting later in the season. If he pans out in the rotation then look for him to make no more than about 10 starts and then move him to a relief role or up to the Major League bullpen (or vice-versa).

As a starter Meyer has a nice mid-90’s fastball that he pairs with a mid-80’s curveball and an emerging high-80’s, low-90’s changeup. If he moves to the bullpen expect a corresponding 1-2 mph uptick in his velocity.

Unless he just explodes onto the scene in the rotation he seems destined for relief and certainly the Angels, after 2017, could use another high octane piece to compliment Bedrosian.

In the very near future you could see an Angels relief staff led by Bedrosian, Meyer, and Middleton, a trio of hard throwing fireballers which would not make most fans sad at all.

Alex is still a rookie so he is controlled through the 2022 season. He will almost certainly start in the Minors to stall his service clock but look for a mid-year call up at the latest unless the Angels fall out of the race really early.

Brooks Pounders

On the eve of this part of the Primer being published, the Angels made a nifty trade sending RHP Jared Ruxer to the Royals for RHP Brooks Pounders.

Brooks features a low-to-mid 90’s fastball, low-to-mid 80’s slider, a mid-80’s changeup, and, when he starts games, a low 80’s curveball.

Pounders missed most of 2014 recovering from Tommy John Surgery and has looked really good in the Minors the last two years. He is primarily a starter but was also utilized as a reliever in AAA and the Majors last season probably as a tool to manage his innings pitched totals as part of a TJS recovery regimen.

As Jeff Fletcher reported, Billy Eppler plans to bring him into camp as a starter to compete in Spring Training. However it is quite unlikely that Brooks will start the season in the Majors as he still has his rookie status intact and the Angels probably do not want to start his service time clock.

Look for Brooks to show up in the middle of the year, particularly if the Angels fall out of the pennant race. Pounders will probably end up filling a role similar to Jesse Chavez where he will split time starting and relieving in 2017.

Brooks, based on his four-pitch repertoire and above average control, does not seem to have a really high ceiling, perhaps a #3 or #4 starter at best, but he also does not have a really low floor, likely turning into a solid back-end starter. If the Angels decide to keep him in the bullpen long term he could become a good back-end reliever but this might be a waste of his talents.

Pounders was listed here because he will very likely pitch some innings in relief this season in combination with his rotation starts. Due to his rookie status Pounders will be under team control for six seasons based on when his service clock begins.

Core Relievers

Beyond the waiver claim pickups the Angels made some free agent signings and do have a few options to carry over from 2016.

Some of these relievers, like Huston Street, Cam Bedrosian, and Andrew Bailey, will definitely start 2017 in the Major League bullpen or, in the case of Chavez, the rotation assuming the Angels do not acquire another veteran starter. There is also an outside possibility that Huston Street gets traded but the chances of that seem low.

Others like Jose Alvarez, Mike Morin, Austin Adams, Keynan Middleton, Eduardo Paredes, and Greg Mahle will still have to fight for their spots as not much is ever guaranteed to a reliever in the Major Leagues unless it is in their contract.

Huston Street

Huston Street had a disappointing 2016 season driven by a career low 5.64 K/9 rate and a career high 4.84 BB/9 rate. Additionally Huston has always been more of a flyball pitcher and the long ball hit him particularly hard as he ran a 2.01 HR/9 rate which is significantly higher than his career rate of 0.93.

The little bit of good news is that Street had some really bad luck in 2016 as he ran a .351 BABIP which is .087 points higher than his career rate of .264. In particular Huston had more trouble against right-handed hitters with a .378 BABIP versus a career .262 mark.

When you combine this bad luck with balls in play with the fact that Street ran a 46.3% GB% rate versus right-handed hitters with 50% Pull% and 23.8% Cent% rates as well as an absurdly high HR/FB ratio of 38.5% it becomes clear that Huston’s numbers should regress to the mean (improve) in 2017 with Andrelton Simmons playing behind him.

Also these performance issues could have easily been related to an oblique injury Street was dealing with in the middle of the season and then a right knee inflammation issue that ended up requiring surgery to repair.

Huston will undoubtedly be given every opportunity to start the year as the Angels closer. If he had not performed so poorly last year it seems likely he would have been moved at the trade deadline but, like everything else that went wrong with the Angels 2016 season, it was not meant to be.

Street is under team control in the last guaranteed year of his contract in 2017 for $9MM ($8.5MM AAV). Huston has a team option year for $10MM in 2018 with a meager $1MM buyout. Eppler might trade him preseason but it would be better to let him rebuild his value by starting the year as the closer.

Cam Bedrosian

The reason that Street could have been moved in trade last year is that young Cam Bedrosian appears ready to take over as the Angels high leverage reliever.

Cam had a truly exquisite year in 2016 to the tune of an 11.38 K/9 and 3.12 BB/9 rate. He suppressed the long ball with an excellent 0.22 HR/9 rate and kept the ball on the ground with a 49.5% GB%.

Bedrosian primarily features a mid-to-high 90’s four-seam fastball with a low-to-mid 80’s wipeout slider. He has toyed with some other offerings but these two have served him well.

After this season it would not be a total surprise to see the Angels offer Bedrosian a contract extension to buy out his arbitration years and perhaps one or more of his free agent seasons.

The primary reason, beyond Bedrosian’s actual and projected performance, is that if Cam continues to pitch full seasons moving forward (i.e. on the 25-man roster) he will likely become a Super Two player (identical to Calhoun and Shoemaker) which will send him through arbitration four times not three which will significantly increase his earnings.

Cam is under team control through 2021 and currently has one year of pre-arbitration control and four years of arbitration control. If Bedrosian were demoted to the Minors, for instance, he would stop accumulating service time, perhaps enough for him to miss the Super Two cutoff next season but it does not seem like a smart idea for the team to do this if they really want to compete.

Jose Alvarez

When you perform a Google search and type in the keywords “Jose Alvarez”, “”, and “negative remarks” you get 729 distinct returns (just kidding).

Jose has somehow received the Fernando Salas negative branding where people perceive him to be less than what he actually is. Looking at the numbers however disproves this image and does not reflect his advanced peripherals that point to a breakout 2016 season.

Alvarez, a former starter, is a left-handed reliever and features a low-90’s four-seam and two-seam fastball, a good mid-80’s slider, a high quality high-70’s changeup, and an occasional high-70’s curveball.

In previous seasons Jose was very effective against left-handed hitters but Scioscia kept running him out against right-handed hitters to the chagrin of the fans. This is probably a contributor to the reputation Alvarez has developed through 2016.

However, Jose has been utilizing his two-seam fastball and changeup a bit more over the last two seasons and this year he really began to see the results of that labor.

In 2016, against right-handed hitters, Alvarez ran a nifty 15.6% K-BB% with 9.42 K/9 and 2.83 BB/9 rates. When you combine those numbers with a 51.1% GB% and a 39% Pull% and 41.1% Cent% and Simmons on defense behind you, it becomes clear that these numbers are sustainable.

Oh and did I mention he was also sitting on a .398 BABIP versus right-handers this year? If that number regresses to his career .323 BABIP watch out because Jose will become a real two-way threat on the mound.

It appears that Jose Alvarez, barring injury or a really poor showing in Spring Training, will start the year as the Halos primary left-handed reliever and deservedly so. Someone like Ashur Tolliver could possibly challenge him for the spot but it will be Alvarez’s to lose.

Jose has one more year of pre-arbitration and three years of arbitration control for a total of four years of team control.

Mike Morin

Another likely staple in the 2017 bullpen, 25 year old, right-hander Mike Morin had a decent peripherals, bad results year in 2016.

First of all Morin did very well against right-handed hitters this year to the tune of excellent 8.10 K/9 and 0.98 BB/9 rates, good for a 20.6% K-BB% and a 1.01 WHIP. He was really able to limit hard (31.1% Soft%) and solid (20% IFFB%) contact against them.

Unfortunately Mike did not fare as well against left-handed hitters. Here his primary problem was that he issued too many walks (5.21 BB/9 rate) and he had a lousy 55.2% LOB% which simply means more of those walks turned into runs.

Interestingly League average LOB% for relievers is 74% and Morin, so far in his career, has a 62.5% average over three seasons. To date Mike has not performed well in higher leverage situations but this might simply be sample size smoke.

Mike features a low-90’s four-seam fastball, a good low-80’s slider, and a nice low-70’s changeup. The former and the latter actually create one of the largest fastball-changeup velocity differentials in all of baseball.

Additionally, as Alden Gonzalez reported in 2014, Morin actually has two different changeups he can use by switching grips. This makes his struggles against left-handed hitters even more baffling because the changeup is a traditional weapon to get opposite-side hitters out and it just has not worked for him in the Majors so far.

Mike is in his last year of pre-arbitration control with three years of arbitration to follow for a total of four years of team control. Just like the recently released Cory Rasmus, Morin will need to continue to prove he belongs here or he could find himself traded or released in the near future.

Andrew Bailey

Acquired in August of last year former top prospect and MLB reliever Andrew Bailey was brought on as a reclamation project to see if he had anything left in the tank.

Over a small sample size of 11.1 innings pitched beginning from September 2nd through season’s end, Andrew posted a tidy 13% K%-BB%, a .209 Batting Average Against, and a 0.97 WHIP. Bailey features a low to mid-90’s four-seam fastball, a mid-80’s cut fastball, and a mid to high-70’s curveball.

As a primarily flyball pitcher, Andrew tends to put the ball in the air more than some of his fellow relievers but the confines of Angels stadium should help alleviate potential home run issues.
Signed to a 1 year, $1MM deal, Bailey should provide quality innings as part of the middle relief corps to start the year. In the worst case scenario he can simply be cut as his salary is near League minimum anyway so this is a low risk signing that could produce big results if Andrew regains some of his former glory.

Austin Adams

Adams, a 25 year old right-handed reliever, has toiled in the Minors and was recently added to the 40-man roster in advance of the Rule 5 Draft.

Austin has a live arm and features a four-seam fastball with a plus, wipeout slider to boot. His kryptonite appears to be command issues as he has never had a BB/9 rate below 4.30 in any full season in the Minors to date. That aside, he does create a lot of poor contact as he has consistently ran sub-.200 batting averages against over the last three seasons.

Look for Adams to start the season in the Minors to help preserve his Rookie eligibility and not start his service clock too soon. However his arm could be a difference maker in the bullpen so do not be surprised if he arrives sooner rather than later. He is under the standard six years of team control once he exceeds his rookie status.

Keynan Middleton

Speaking of fireballers what a nice surprise Middleton was during the 2016 season!

Originally drafted as a starter, Keynan struggled in his first three seasons never posting an actual ERA less than 5.30! Yikes!

However a decision was made prior to the 2016 season to convert him to a reliever and lo and behold Keynan started spitting hot fire touching as high as 102 mph in a recent late season game in Salt Lake.

The Angels, prior to the Rule 5 Draft, added Middleton to the 40-man roster to protect their emerging prospect. Just like Meyer it is quite likely that Middleton will start the year down in the Minors but the cream will rise to the top eventually so do not be surprised if you see him sooner rather than later as well.

Across three levels (A+, AA, and AAA) in 2016, Keynan held right-handed hitters to a .197/.279/.354/.633 slash line and left-handed hitters to a .194/.276/.398/.674 slash line showing no discernible platoon split.

There is a lot to be excited about for the future of the Angels relief staff with the trio of Cam, Alex, and Keynan holding down late innings. It could be the West Coast version of the Yankees 2016 ‘No-Run DMC’ bullpen trio of Chapman, Betances, and Miller except Angels fans would tell opposing hitters to watch out for the MAC-K Truck or something equally absurd but entertaining.

Keynan is still a rookie so once he starts his service clock he will be under team control for the standard six seasons.

Eduardo Paredes

Also added to the 40-man roster in advance of the Rule 5 Draft, Paredes features a mid-90’s four-seam fastball, a low-90’s two-seam fastball, and what’s Taylor Blake Ward describes as a slurvy high-80’s, low-90’s curveball.

Just like Joe Smith, Eduardo is a sidearm thrower and can create a lot of deception particularly to right-handed hitters whom he has dominated at nearly every level. In the Minors to date Paredes hasn’t fared well against left-handed hitters but if he can further develop that curveball or integrate a changeup into his arsenal he could be a really solid back-end reliever.

Eduardo’s ability to adjust arm angle combined with the different look he provides to batters makes him a likely keeper for the Angels long term but, just like any reliever, nothing is promised if you are not performing.

Paredes still has rookie eligibility giving the Halos the standard six years of control once his MLB time clock starts. Unless he absolutely wows in Spring Training look for him to start 2017 in the Minors as bullpen depth.

Greg Mahle

If a player could receive a “bye” on any year of their choosing left-hander Greg Mahle would probably select 2016 to throw in the trash.

Mahle had a tough time in his brief stint in the Majors giving up a lot of free passes and getting torched by the long ball. Part of his problem was BABIP related but there were a couple of additional issues that point to room for improvement for him.

One big reason is the fact that he is running absurdly high HR/FB ratios. Against left-handers he ran 28.6% and versus right-handers he ran 20%. Both of those numbers seem ripe for regression to the mean (improvement) especially when you consider that the League average reliever HR/FB ratio is 12%.

Also Mahle is a groundball pitcher and in a very limited sample size in the Majors he ran a nearly 52% GB% against right-handed hitters with a 48.2% Pull% and a 33.3% Cent%. This of course puts the ball in play a lot in the general vicinity of Andrelton Simmons and you have to think that his BABIP will improve based on that limited analysis.

Greg features a high-80’s four-seam fastball, an above average mid-80’s two-seam fastball, a low-80’s slider, and a low 80’s changeup. He throws from a variety of arm slots including a submarine delivery. His youth, ability, and “different look to the hitters” could help him grab a roster spot out of Spring Training with a really strong showing in camp.

Mahle’s rookie status is still intact so he is under team control for a full six seasons. This likely means that if he does not wow Scioscia and Eppler in March he is destined to start the season in the Minors to control his MLB service time and could be called up later in the year.

Projected Bullpen

So based on the players available, including considerations of Major League service time, repertoire maturity, and experience, this is, barring injury or trades, the projected bullpen to start 2017:

Closer Huston Street (R)
Set Up Cam Bedrosian (R)
Set Up Jose Alvarez (L)
Middle Mike Morin (R)
Middle Deolis Guerra (R)
Middle Andrew Bailey (R)
Middle Ashur Tolliver (L)
Long Jesse Chavez (R)

This projected bullpen assumes, of course, that the Angels do not go out and acquire one or more relievers via free agency or trade. In principle it is a group of relievers with the potential to be good but Billy Eppler may not want to enter 2017 without adding one more experienced veteran reliever to provide more stability and consistency.

Top relievers like Aroldis Chapman, Kenley Jansen, and Mark Melancon will not only be in high demand but will also command a very high price. As much as the Angels could use an elite reliever, like one of the above, the team may simply be priced out of the top tier market in both free agency and trade (Wade Davis for example).

Below the top tier, particularly in the right-handed relief market, there are some interesting names that the Angels might be able to pick up at a more reasonable price including Brad Ziegler, Addison Reed, Nate Jones, Juan Nicasio, Sergio Romo, Luke Hochevar, Anthony Swarzak, Luke Gregerson, Santiago Casilla, Jhoulys Chacin, Mychal Givens, Chris Smith, and Drew Storen among others.

The left-handed market is not as deep and that is probably why Eppler claimed Ashur Tolliver from waivers in 2016 to compete against Jose Alvarez, Chris O’Grady, and Greg Mahle in Spring Training in anticipation of the short supply. Some names the Angels might have interest in include Sean Doolittle, Boone Logan, Matthew Strahm, Javier Lopez, Mike Dunn, and J.P. Howell among others.

If the Angels do grow a set of balls and go big in the free agent relief market we could potentially see fireworks on one of Chapman or Jansen. Acquiring Aroldis would pair him with Bedrosian as a power one-two punch in the back-end of the bullpen. The same would be true of Jansen, minus the 2nd round draft pick loss and, perhaps, a little less money.

If Eppler is not willing or is unable to invest heavily in a top tier closer type in free agency he may be able to find one with one year of control left on the trade market that would not break the prospect bank.

Wade Davis will have so much interest the Angels may not even be invited to the party. However someone like Addison Reed who will make a projected $13MM in arbitration might be obtainable because the Mets could simply turn around and use that money saved towards acquiring Chapman or Jansen themselves.

Perhaps Billy can acquire a depressed asset with upside like Trevor Rosenthal (unlikely but it is an example) or Jake McGee for instance. Even an injury return candidate like Greg Holland or Carter Capps might be within the fringe realm of doable in Eppler’s world but the bullpen, especially after the Bailey signing, increasingly appears to be an area of investment where the Angels are done spending money.

Realistically Eppler will have to step back into the “desert of the real” in order to search for the “One” if he decides to reinforce the bullpen. If the Angels are able to fill their other needs and still have money left over there is a possibility they could trade Street or another reliever to grab a preferred free agent or trade target to supplement the relief staff.

Ultimately adding another reliever seems more like a tertiary goal and luxury that team payroll will probably not be able to accommodate in 2017.

Author’s Choice – The Angels may have made their most significant bullpen addition after signing Andrew Bailey. Further expenditures for relief pitchers seem unlikely unless Eppler manages to trade Street and reallocate his salary to a younger arm.

Alvarez and Tolliver seem likely to be our left-handed options in 2017 from my point of view so if the Angels do decide to add one more arm it seems like they will bargain hunt in the right-handed side of the market where there are a substantial number of options in both free agency and trade.

The likeliest targets would be Brad Ziegler, Anthony Swarzak, Luke Hochevar, Drew Storen, or maybe a reunion with our old friend Jhoulys Chacin.

In the next section we will discuss our first base situation.

Thursday, December 1, 2016


By Scotty Allen, Staff Writer -  

Following Angels prospects requires an unhealthy obsession with uncertain possibilities, an unjustifiable optimism in a brighter future, a unnatural curiosity and an eye to see things that may or may not be there.  And so of course, only a few Angel fans are actually crazy enough to undertake this mission.  From myself (going on seven years in a row), DocHalo's memory of obscure details, Inside Pitch's calculations, Dave's traveling to different minor league parks and interviewing guys other people never heard of, and finally Chuck for organizing all of it, this year's Top 30 is a conglomeration of countless man hours and different areas of expertise.  There's no "one" person that can take credit for making this list, which offers readers a different perspective.  This isn't one knowledgeable person's perspective, this is AngelsWin, and this is a list of men we've debated over and assigned a value to.  Without any further ado, here are your AngelsWin Top 30 Prospects!

1. 1B Matt Thaiss
2. OF Jahmai Jones 
3. RHP Alex Meyer 
4. C Taylor Ward
5. OF Brandon Marsh
6. RHP Keynan Middleton
7. IF Nonie Williams 
8. OF Michael Hermosillo
9. RHP Chris Rodriguez
10. LHP Nate Smith
11. RHP Grayson Long
12. LHP Manny Banuelos
13. IF David Fletcher
14. RHP Jaime Barria
15. RHP Jesus Castillo
16. RHP Vicente Campos
17. RHP Cole Duensing
18. OF Troy Montgomery
19. RHP Eduardo Paredes
20. IF Hutton Moyer
21. OF Brennon Lund
22. RHP Kyle McGowin
23. RHP Joe Gatto
24. LHP Chris O'Grady
25. LHP Jonah Wesely
26. OF Jared Foster
27. OF Zach Gibbons
28. RHP Jordan Kipper
29. IF Leonardo Rivas
30. RHP Austin Adams

Scouting Reports as well as analysis on each of these prospects will be published every Monday, Wednesday and Friday from now until February, getting you your Angels fix through the cold winter months.  I'd like to personally encourage readers to compare our list with any others.  

And now, our Honorable Mentions.

SS Connor Justus - A fine defensive shortstop with the tools to stay there permanently.  A refined approach at the plate.  The only question is, will he hit enough to make it to the majors?

LHP Kevin Grendell - A left handed reliever that can touch the mid-90’s and the mentality to attack hitters.

OF Johan Sala - 18 year old outfielder from the Dominican Republic that just oozes upside.  He should come stateside next year.

RHP Jose Rodriguez - Soft tossing righty with a solid curve and change up.  Spots his pitches well.  An efficient pitcher, gets the easy outs.

IF Sherman Johnson - Athletic infielder, can do just about everything on the diamond except hit for average.  Makes up for it with great plate discipline.

RHP Jared Ruxer - Would have been a first or second round pick out of Louisville, but needed TJ surgery.  Back in action now.  Sits 92+ with a good breaking ball and advanced feel for a change up. Dominant in A Ball, roughed up in Cal League, though still logged strikeouts.

2B Jordan Zimmerman - 7th round pick from Michigan State.  A middle infielder with considerable power.

3B/LF Cal Towey - This guy (entering age 27 season) will not stop hitting. Solid gap power, some over-the-wall power, advanced approach at the plate, great pitch recognition.  Solid athlete, smart base runner.  An improbable story but he might end up being a very useful major leaguer.

2B Alex Yarbrough - Once seen as the heir to Howie Kendrick’s second base position, Yarbrough stumbled in AAA last year and spent the rest of the year in AA, where he was again solid.  There’s still some hope that his development hasn’t stalled and that he will be a starting second baseman in the major leagues.  He's also added third base to his resume.

RHP Troy Scribner - Soft tossing righty with a chip on his shoulder.  Upper 80’s fastball, good change up and good curve ball.  Has succeeded at every level despite mediocre arsenal.  Buried on the depth chart, but if he continues to out-pitch his competition, he’ll make it to the majors. Good trade for the Angels. 

Remember to tune in every Monday, Wednesday and Friday at AngelsWin for in-depth details and analysis regarding prospects.

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