Tuesday, September 14, 2010

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PART TWO: The Kids
(Part one of a three part series)

By Brent Hubbard - Angelswin.com Senior Columnist

As I detailed yesterday in part one of my off-season preview, the offense has clear problems that need to be addressed this off-season. Yet the talent in the minors is clear on both sides of the ball. Before getting into the offensive prospects, I want to mention a few of the Angels pitching farmhands, and recognize them for their excellent seasons.

Those starting pitchers who have had good seasons include Trevor Bell, who has split the season between the Angels and AAA-Salt Lake. A 4.34 ERA in 5 games as a starter in Anaheim, though he has worked mostly out of the pen while there, he also started 6 games for SLC with a 3.00 ERA. Just 23, figure Bell to be around for a while either in the pen or as a fill-in starter.

Most of the Angels top starting pitching prospects are in AA or below, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, as their current rotation is pretty well stocked and making pretty decent money as well. Weaver is due a huge raise in arbitration for 2011 and 2012 before he is due to be a free agent, Haren is locked in at around $12 Million per year each for the next two years, and an option for a third at $15.5. Kazmir is due $12.75 Million next year and has a club option for $13 Million the year after that. Pineiro and Santana are both locked in for $8 Million next season while Santana is under control for two seasons after that, at just over $11 Million and a club option for $13 M in 2013.

Basically there is no one pushing for a spot in the rotation next year, and no room for anyone to push. Bell could realistically take the spot occupied by Pineiro or Kazmir in 2012, but there will be a few youngsters fighting for that job as well by then.

Heading the class is Class A Righthander Garrett Richards. Richards spent most of the season in Cedar Rapids, but also made 7 starts at Rancho. He doesn't allow HR, getting nearly twice as many ground ball outs as fly ball outs. He has four plus pitches according to our own Prospect Hotlist. It’s conceivable that he may start the season in Arkansas, but more likely he starts in Rancho again, with a quick promotion possible. He might be in the mix for a 2012 opening in the rotation.

Poll Angelswin.com readers about who is the highest rated pitcher on the Angels’ farm, and Tyler Chatwood may top the list if Richards doesn’t. Chatwood has taken a step forward this season in Arkansas, by using fewer pitches to get players out, which has resulted in less strikeouts but also the ability to go deeper into games.

That same poll would have listed young AA lefty Trevor Reckling at the top if conducted at the beginning of the season, but he hasn't dominated AA or AAA the way he did High-A in 2009. Still, he is young for the league, and he should bounce back in 2011.

On the relief front, Jordan Walden has made his presence known again by avoiding injury and has been great in his limited work with the Angels this season. Rich Thompson and Michael Kohn have also been quite good this year. All three have a shot at the pen in 2011.

Moving on to the offensive side of the ball, the first four names on any Angels’ top prospect list should be Peter Bourjos, Hank Conger, Mike Trout and Mark Trumbo. Bourjos has already earned a spot in the 2011 lineup in CF, and his bat should improve enough to keep his defense in the lineup. He had an outstanding 2010 in AAA, so the skills are there offensively.

Hank Conger was the 2010 Futures Game MVP and his offensive game was excellent in AAA in 2010. Yet Scioscia in a recent interview thinks he needs more seasoning behind the dish. Could he learn to be a capable catcher in the majors by spending time as the backup or even third catcher and part time DH? It’s possible, but more likely that he’ll spend the entire 2011 season at AAA Salt Lake. Injuries have held him back, and with the catching logjam in Anaheim not going to be completely broken up in 2011, we’ll likely see Conger in the plans in 2012 rather than 2011.

Mike Trout is a superstar in waiting. But how long will he wait? That is the question. Trout dominated Cedar Rapids as a 19-year old, playing against players mostly all older than him. He did well in Rancho too, and it’s not inconceivable for the Angels to start him in Arkansas next season, with an eye on a September 2011 call up.

Mark Trumbo had an excellent offensive season at 23 in AAA, leading the minors in HR. However, he remains a man without a clear position. He hit well enough that an impressive winter ball campaign and impressive spring training could lead to a job in The Show in 2011. But the Angels Outfield / DH / 1B positions are all filled, blocking him from time, unless a trade is made or a player is released. If that happens and he works on his defense, he could conceivably win a starting job in RF or LF for 2011.

Other players of note include Class A Third basemen Luis Jimenez and Dillon Baird, one of which is probably in for a position switch in 2011. According to our Prospect Hot List, Jimenez has the better defensive ability, but Baird is no slouch.

Randall Grichuk is another big bat, selected one name in front of Mike Trout in the 2009 draft, he hasn’t jumped to High A yet, but that park is built for a big season from the Angels first round pick in 2011.

2B Alexi Amarista may force his was into the crowded middle infield after a great year in Salt Lake, but may also need another year of seasoning. Cedar Rapids 2B Jean Segura may make a position switch to SS, and he is certainly an offensive machine, having stolen 50 bases and hit 10 HR for the Kernels.

Finally we should mention Jeremy Moore, who had a breakout season at AA Arkansas. He’ll start the season in AAA for 2011, but is a candidate for a bench role with the Angels late in the season.

The Angels also have a ton more prospects with potential, but mostly at the lower levels. Clearly the under-performing Angels veterans need to watch out for the kids on the farm.
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