Monday, July 21, 2014

By David Saltzer, Senior Writer

Before you all start worrying, no, I didn’t just forget basic math. And, unlike some of my students, I can solve that problem without using a calculator (the answer is 3988, not 2014). But that’s not the point of this title and article. Sometimes things don’t just add up to the numbers. That’s especially true in baseball. As Yogi Berra once said “90% of the game is half mental.”

In the history of the Angels organization, two teams have really stood out more than the rest (aside from the original Angels): the 1986 team and the 2002 team. Both had different qualities that made them great. Both are cemented in Angels’ history.

The 1986 team will forever be known as the “Comeback Kids”. Throughout the summer, they seemed to be able to overcome any deficit. Nothing seemed out of their ability. Baseball history will forever record the Angels comeback against Detroit, down 12-5 going into the 9th inning on August 29th. With maybe 500 fans left in the stadium, Dick Shofield—a lifetime .230 batter with all of 56 career HRs—hit a grand slam, on an 0-2 count, to win the game. That was an incredible moment—one of the greatest that I have ever witnessed in baseball. The 1986 team could overcome any obstacle, and had the special character of grit and passion to make it to the post season.

The 2002 team had a different style of play. They weren’t expected to win it all. They weren’t supposed to be that good. And yet, on any given night, someone on the team stepped up to win the game and propel the team forward. They had the unlikeliest of heroes, like David Eckstein, and the power hitters, like Salmon, Glaus, and Anderson, who all gelled together to make a special team. When Oakland went on a massive win-streak, taking 20 games in a row, the Angels mostly kept pace by going 17-3. We all know how the 2002 season finished, and that’s something we’d all like to see happen again in Anaheim.

So, here are two quick questions for you to help you understand this article’s title. First, what’s so special about the number “30” to the Angels? Second, what do Hank Conger, Chris Iannetta, Mike Trout, Collin Cowgill, Howie Kendrick, Efren Navarro and Grant Green all have in common?

Now if you said number 30 means Nolan Ryan, well, I won’t be upset. Give yourself a gold star for being an Angels fan. But, that wasn’t the answer I was going for with my question.

In 2014, as of the time of this writing, the number 30 represents how many comeback victories the Angels have had this season. They are tops in the Majors in comeback victories. Over half their victories have been come-from-behind. They’ve had dramatic ones too, such as Mike Trout’s grand slam off Chris Sale, or yesterday’s arrow-pointing win off of Fernando Rodney. The 2014 Angels are playing with all the best qualities of the 1986 team.

As for the second question, what all those players have in common is that in 2014, they have all had at least one walk-off at-bat to win a game for the team. Of the 8 walk-off at-bats, 7 of them have come from different players (Mike Trout has 2 walk-offs). Nearly a third of the 2014 Angels comeback victories have come in their last AB and almost all of them have come from a different player. That’s just like the best of the 2002 team where on any given night anyone could be a hero. Everyone on the 2014 is stepping up: veterans, rookies, utility players—they are all playing to the best of their abilities to get each and every win.

I love watching the 2014 Angels team play. They are playing with heart, passion and grit. I love their little routines after victories, such as showering a teammate with Gatorade and tearing a special player’s jersey after a dramatic win. They are having fun on the field and have gelled as a team. Nothing is more fun than to see this team win and enjoy it the way we all wish we could. It brings back the best in baseball—that connection to our youth and belief that anything is possible.

The 2014 team has power, average, starting pitching and a bullpen. They have all the pieces to make it to the post season and beyond. They are combining the best of my two favorite Angels teams, and are quickly becoming a third favorite. I believe that we have yet to see all that this Angels team can accomplish, and I’m excited for the rest of the summer.

By David Saltzer and Rick Dykhuizen

Let’s say you’ve just been drafted by the Angels. You may be a bit nervous. You may not know what you’re really getting yourself into with professional baseball. You may not be sure how your “stuff” stacks up with other kids who just turned pro.

There is one thing that is certain: One of the first people in the organization who will help shape your future is Dave Stapleton, the manager for the Orem Owlz. Working with many of the newly drafted players, Stapleton’s job is to take them from wherever they were and turn them into professional baseball players. It’s his job to teach them Angels baseball and get them ready for a career in the Major Leagues.

Stapleton joined the Owlz this year after pitching for the Brewers organization and coaching at Grand Canyon College, his alma mater (the same college as Tim Salmon—although they were not teammates). The field at Grand Canyon College is partially named in his honor (Stapleton-Pierson Stadium).

In speaking with Stapleton, we got a strong sense that he has the skills to turn these players into professional athletes. He spoke with us about his main goals for the players, how he works with them, and those people who influenced his managerial style. 

The biggest proof of Stapleton’s success so far can be found on the field. The Owlz are playing great baseball. Whenever the Angels aren’t playing, fans should tune into to the Owlz ( game to learn about the future of the organization. 

Over the next few weeks, we will be sharing interviews that we did with many of the Owlz players. Please click below for our interview with the Owlz Manager, Dave Stapleton. 

By Adrian Noche, Staff Reporter - 

1. Bo Way, Outfielder, Orem Owlz
Past 10 games: .432 AVG  19 H  5 Doubles  1 Triple  2 HR  1 SB
Overall: .357/.396/.551

Bo Way refused to cool down as he was able to maintain his batting average at a high .348 on the season. Way has collected a 3-hit game in 4 of his last 10 games, bringing his season average to .357. Way also hit 2 home runs, 5 doubles and one triple for a slugging percentage of .727 in his past 10 games and a season slugging percentage of .551. Bo also chipped in 2 stolen bases (2 attempts) and drove in 10 RBI’s for the Owlz while patrolling an error-free center field.

2. Michael Strentz, Catcher, Orem Owlz
Past 10 games: .409 AVG  18 H  5 Doubles  0 Triple  2 HR  0 SB
Overall: .348/.377/.545

Michael Strentz appeared out of nowhere and bursted onto the scene after being signed as an undrafted free agent from Louisiana-Lafayette on June 21st. Strentz now joins Austin Robichaux and Caleb Adams as Ragin’ Cajun representatives on the Orem Owlz. Strentz has been a hitting machine since being signed. Now a staple in the Owlz’s heart of the lineup, Strentz has been batting a slash line of .418/.456/.674 in his last 10 games to go along with 5 doubles, 2 home runs and 11 RBIs. After failing to sign 2014 catching draft picks John Bormann (19th round) and Khloeton Sanchez (32nd round), Strentz’s emergence could be huge for an Angels’ farm system that is greatly lacking in catching prospects.

3. Zachary Houchins, Third Baseman, Orem Owlz
Past 10 games: .342 AVG  13 H  3 Doubles  0 Triple  1 HR  0 SB
Overall: .370/.426/.614

Houchins has been one of the Pioneer League’s finest this season, being among the league leaders in numerous offensive categories: Runs - 33 (1st), Hits - 47 (2nd), Doubles - 11 (1st), Home Runs - 6 (T-5th), RBIs - 34 (1st), Total Bases - 78 (2nd), SLG - .614 (3rd), AVG - .370 (5th), OPS - 1.040 (3rd). Houchins capped off the week with a 4-hit day on Sunday with 2 doubles, a home run, 3 RBIs and 3 runs scored to lead the Owlz to a Pioneer League leading 22 wins.

4. Andrew Daniel, Second Baseman, Orem Owlz
Past 10 games: .381 AVG  16 H  3 Doubles  1 Triple  1 HR  2 SB
Overall: .359/.442/.563

Daniel has succeeded this season as the Owlz’s leadoff hitter due to an advance approach at the plate. The second baseman has walked (13) more times than he has struck out (11). Daniel has been a catalyst in his last 10 games, batting .381 with 3 doubles, 1 triple and a home run while scoring 9 runs, along with a strikeout-walk ratio of 6:6. Daniel has also found a nice power stroke since returning to the lineup on July 5th after missing a week. Slugging .607 so far this month after a .500 SLG with 4 doubles, 2 triples and 2 home runs in June.

5. Jonah Wesely, Pitcher, Orem Owlz
Overall (7 appearances): 0-0  1.80 ERA  15.0 IP  8 H  3 BB  16 SO  0.73 WHIP  .154 BAA

Wesely was arguable the steal of the draft for the Angels’ in 2013, being picked 11th round out of Tracy High School in Calfornia. Scouting director, Ric Wilson, described Wesely as a pitcher who pitches like his "hair is on fire" and he has done just that so far this season. Wesely has made 7 appearances this season and has allowed at least 1 run to score in just one of those appearances. The southpaw has shown excellent rates, striking out batters at 28% while only walking batters at 3% and getting them to ground out at 52%. Wesely’s stock as a prospect would likely be higher if they eventually decide to try him as a starter but will be a fast riser through the system in the pen.

Minor League Afiiliate Report

Triple-A Salt Lake Bees

The Bees’ All-Star Break was this week and sent two players to the All-Star Game, Brennan Boesch and Shawn O’Malley. O’Malley was hitless in one at-bat as a pinch-hitter while Brennan Boesch did not receive an at-bat. The Bees went 2-2 this week, bringing them 16.0 games behind first place with an overall record of 42-60. Luis Jimenez launched his 16th home run on the season while Brennan Boesch hit home runs in back-to-back games on the 18th-19th. Tony Compana led the Bees with 7 hits this week. Caleb Clay pitched a complete game shutout on Sunday, allowing 3 hits and 1 walk while striking out 6.

Double-A Arkansas Travelers

The Travelers had themselves a nice week, going 5-2 and bringing their overall 2nd-half record to 16-14 (1st place in Texas League North). 1st baseman, Brian Hernandez, continues to be the model of consistency as he batted .320 this week as his average floats around the .290’s - .300’s all season. Alex Yarbrough batted .296 with 2 doubles and 1 home run, bringing his season average to .290. Michael Roth hasn’t missed a beat in the rotation despite his short stint the Majors, pitching 7.0 complete on July 16th while only allowing 1 earned run on 4 hits and 2 walks.  Danny Reynolds pitched his 5th consecutive game without allowing a run, lowering his ERA to 2.81 ERA this season. Cam Bedrosian saved 2 games for the Travs this week, striking out 8 in a combined 3.0 innings pitched.

High-A Inland Empire 66ers

The 66ers were perfect this week, winning all 6 of their games but still find themselves in the cellar of the California League South division with a 13-17 overall record (5.0 games back). 1st baseman Dennis Raben has been red-hot, batting .372 in his past 10 games to go along with 3 home runs and 2 doubles. Starting pitching was the difference for the 66ers this week. Recently traded Elliot Morris started things off on Monday and pitched 5.0 shutout innings with 5 strikeouts, 2 hits and 2 walks. On Wednesday, Dan Tobik hurled 7.0 innings of one-run ball in a pitchers duel that resulted in a 2-1 66ers victory. Tyler DeLoach followed Tobik’s effort and pitched 5.0 shutout innings of baseball on the 17th, allowing 3 hits and 3 walks while striking out 6. Raymond Hanson then pitched 6.0 innings Friday and only surrendered 1 run on 3 hits, 3 walks and 4 strikeouts. Michael Clevinger nearly got a quality start on Saturday but ended his line at 4.2 innings pitched (2 ER, 3 H, 3 BB, 4 K). To end the week, Trevor Foss pitched 5.0 shutout innings while only allowing 2 hits, 1 walk and 4 strikeouts.

Low-A Burlington Bees 

Burlington won 4 of their 6 games this week and now sit in 3rd place (3.0 GB) with a second half record of 16-13. 1st baseman, Eric Aguilera, cranked his 12th home run of the year to go along with a .280 average this week. 2nd baseman, Kody Eaves, hit .285 this week and raised his average to .273 for the season. Futures Game participant, Victor Alcantatra, pitched 7.0 innings on Sunday and struck out 7 batters, while allowing just 4 hits and 3 walks. Daniel Hurtado has done a fine job bouncing in and out of the rotation for the Bees this year. He pitched a combined 6.0 innings (2 appearances) while not allowing an earned run with 6 strikeouts to 1 walk.

Class-A Short Season Orem Owlz

The Owlz kept on rolling this week, going 4-2 to lead the Pioneer League with an overall record of 22-11. Other than the aforementioned standouts, Natanael Delgado has been impressive in the Pioneer league, batting .347 for the week (.309/.340/.526 for the season). 

AZL Angels

The AZL Angels went 4-1 this week (14-10; 1.0 GB). Alex Abbott struggled this week and was just 2-14 in 4 games played. Austin Wood made his return from injury on the 17th, pitching 2.0 shutout innings while allowing 0 hits, 1 walk and 2 strikeouts. 2nd round draft pick Joe Gatto followed Wood with 2 more innings of shutout baseball, allowing 3 hits, no walks and 3 strikeouts. 5th round draft pick, Jake Jewell, pitched 3.0 innings without allowing an earned run with 2 strikeouts, hits and no walks (0.82 season ERA). Ricardo Sanchez only allowed 1 earned run on Sunday, striking out 4 in 4.0 innings pitched with just 3 hits and 1 walk allowed.

By Glen McKee & Nate Trop, Columnist & Satirist

As we write this, the “Angels Acquire Huston Street” thread is at 48 pages and it’s only been a little over a day since the news was breaking.  That may be more than even the Pujols signing generated in such a short time.  It’s a combination of the scope of the trade and having nothing else to bitch about at the moment that is making that thread grow like Hamilton’s strikeout total.  So, you’d think there would be nothing else to say about the trade.  48 pages, plus a handful of related threads.  Yep, that’s enough.
You’re not new here, right?  If not, you know that’s nowhere near enough repeating of the same points, just in different ways.  If there’s one thing we’re good at here at the P/CP headquarters, it’s talking about a subject after its relevance has faded.  The other thing we’re kinda good at is beating a dead horse.  We wouldn’t post here if we weren’t.  Without further padding, here is the ultimate P/CP for the Huston Street trade.

Good trade – by Glen McKee

First, let me pick a bone with Huston Street and Anjelica Huston – your name is Huston, not Houston.  It should be pronounced to rhyme with bustin’ or dustin’, not Houston.  Get it right!
That aside, I like this trade.  I don’t love it, but I like it.  If it was a car, it would be a Tesla.  Too expensive but a helluva ride.  Immediately before the trade our bullpen was performing well.  Did we really need another front-end reliever?  Yes, abso-damn-lutely.  The bullpen is one of those areas where you can’t have enough top-shelf arms because you never know when you’re gonna burn through them.  Jeppy is great right now, but he could revert.  Smith is aces as the closer but he was the same as the setup guy.  Getting Street moves everybody down a notch in the pen and that’s a good thing.  At the start of the year our bullpen was a question mark, and it showed.  Dipoto took action and now it’s an exclamation point.  This is especially important with the abundance of unproven starters the team has.  Now they only have to get through five innings before the pen can safely take over.
Think about it: a bullpen pecking order now looks like Street, Smith, Jepsen, Grilli, Salas, and other dudes.  That will be extremely helpful as the season drags on.  We also now have a closing duo of Street & Smith.  It’s like a guide to how to end games.  That’s what’s called kismet.  
My esteemed counterpart will surely point out the cost of acquiring Street.  Whatever.  A few things to consider: first, we were probably the only team that was talking to the Padres about Street.  Even if that isn’t true, it really is.  It was a seller’s market for the Padres and we paid the price.  It may seem like a steep price but it was a price that had to be paid.  
Second, you have to consider the volatility of prospects.  The names of the failed can’t-miss Angels prospects are legion, say them with me: Jason Dickson…Brandon Wood…Dallas McPherson…Ryan Leaf.  Well, not the last but it seems like he could have been on the Angels.  Sure, we got that Trout kid and he’s working out okay so far, but prospects are always a crapshoot.  I will confess that I think that Rondon plus one should have done the deal, but I’m not a major league GM.  What do I know?
Yes, this trade may kick us in the ass later.  All trades are like that.  In the old animated “Robin Hood” movie by Disney, Little John gives Robin some sage advice: “a faint heart never won a fair maiden.”  Street is our fair maiden.  He alone won’t guarantee us anything (you fool, there are no guarantees in baseball!) but he sure makes us a lot better right now, and that’s what we need.  To end with another quote, “right now is your tomorrow.  Right now is everything.”  
Let’s worry about next year, next year.

Absurd Price to Pay for a Closer! By Nathan Trop

Glen, you ignorant slut.

Full disclosure, I have the luxury of writing this after seeing Street’s first performance as an Angel while my counterpart was not able to.  Some more boring details; the Angels traded their top RP prospect, and two of the top 3 position players and some dude I never heard of for Street and a guy named Gott, who immediately opened up our esteemed forum to a cavalcade of “You have Gott to be kidding me” puns.  This alone should have been enough to turn everyone against this trade.

The reason for my disclosure above is I saw Street pitch in his Angels debut last night.  He pitched a scoreless inning giving up one hit and struck out one.  He mostly threw strikes and got his strikeout on a high fastball, but the thing that stood out to me is he only throws 91.  He didn’t look like a dominant closer to me.  Dominant closers have to throw mid to upper 90s and have an electric breaking ball.  A dominant closer must be fearless with the ability to overpower any hitter.  You know who else threw in the low 90s and was an esteemed closer before he came to the Angels?  Brian Fuentes.  We know how that ended up.  At least we only gave up money for him.

For Street we gave up Rondon, a SS that hits the crap outta the ball and plays amazing defence.  SS is the most important and hardest IF position to fill behind only third base.  Let’s face it, Aybar might be having a nice season, a resurgent season but he isn’t getting any younger.  He is signed through the 2016 season and considering that he sucks on a bear turd sized wad of chew every game you have to wonder how healthy he is.  Imagine not having to dip into FA to look for a SS, Rondon would have been ready to take over for him.  We also gave up RJ Alvarez, an electric reliever that is absolutely dominating AA.  You can’t have enough of these in the system.  The Angels now don’t have any in their system, which means several more years of over paying for washed up relievers on the FA market.

Take a look at the teams that have had great postseason runs lately.  Texas, Boston, StL and Detroit have all done it with many home grown players.  They develop pitchers, they develop position players and they have minor league depth.  The Angels have struggled with all of that.  The reason why, aside from years of poor drafting is that they keep overpaying on the trade market for pitchers and this trade is the worst.  It smacks of desperation.  If the Angels win the World Series in the next two seasons then sure, this trade is ok, but how likely is that?  If they don’t everyone that has been screaming about “win now mode” better be ready for four more years of garbage because that is what we get for dumping the farm yet again.

Every team, it doesn’t matter if they are the Yankees, Red Sox, Dodgers, etc, has to develop talent from the farm in order to be successful.  Money does not buy wins, it just fills gaps.  By trading away the farm yet again, the Angels will have too many holes to fill.  Look no further than the Angels playoffs runs from 2002-2009.  They certainly didn’t do that with Stoneman trading away the farm every year.  It is hard for me to admit but, I miss Stoneman, he did a darn good job.

Friday, July 18, 2014

By David Saltzer, Senior Writer

By day, I’m a teacher. Teachers assign grades; Students earn them. At 57 and 37, the Angels have the second best record in all of baseball. According to ESPN, they have a 91.6% chance of making the playoffs. Still, there are areas where they can improve. Even A students have areas where they can improve. 

Below are my grades for the various aspects of the team. 

Offense: A-

The Angels have scored 478 runs—the most in all of baseball. They are on pace to score 824 runs, which would be the most they’ve scored since 2007 and 7th highest total in franchise history. That’s an impressive number, but there have been some signs of concern. Two key injuries at the start of the season hampered the offense (Calhoun and Hamilton). Two big slumps similarly slowed the offense (Trout and Pujols). Hamilton has returned to form in terms of batting average, but his tremendous power potential has not fully been realized this year. The biggest drag on the offense, Raul Ibanez is no longer with the team and has been replaced by C.J. Cron. 

Watching Angels ballgames this year is definitely fun especially for the last month. This team has spirit and fight. They’ve had plenty of comeback victories. The offense keeps them in just about every game. Pujols is returning to form, and well, Trout is just Troutstanding. Hamilton still has room to add power and Aybar is having a great offensive year. Calhoun has been spectacular in the leadoff role. If this offense stays healthy, it has the potential to beat its current pace for runs scored, and might finish closer to 850 runs for the year. That would be an A+ offense, which is well within this team’s potential.

Starting Pitching: B+

At 41 and 27, the Angels starters have a 3.81 ERA, which places them at 11th best overall in the Majors. There are signs that the starters could be better and some signs that are of concern. The Angels starters have the 4th highest total of strikeouts (512) and BAA (.239), and the 8th fewest number of HRs (52), but they have allowed the 10th most BBs (190). C.J. Wilson is out on with an injury and Tyler Skaggs has already had a stint on the DL. Hector Santiago, has been inconsistent: struggling at first, but coming back strong since returning from the Minor Leagues. Two bright spots have emerged in the rotation: Garrett Richards (who deserved to be in the All-Star Game) and Matt Shoemaker who has matched up against some of the league’s best and come out victorious.

If the Angels are going to go deep into the post season, they will need the continued success of the starting pitching. That may be a substantial concern depending on C.J. Wilson’s health. His return to form will be very important for any deep playoff run, and may become a driving force behind a trade to shore up the rotation. The key to the second half will be how well the starting rotation holds up. With Richards, Weaver, a healthy Wilson, Skaggs, and an improved Santiago and Shoemaker, the Angels have the pieces. But, any major stumbles from the rotation could make overtaking the A’s nearly impossible. No team wants to play a whole season for a 1-game playoff, so, winning the division is of paramount importance. And that means the Angels need to do everything they can to have a dominant rotation on the field.

Bullpen: D

If the Angels have had one weakness in the first half, it has clearly been the bullpen. No other aspect of the team has cost the team more victories or more frustration. With a 16-10 record and a 3.89 ERA, the Angels bullpen ranks 24th overall in the Major Leagues. By comparison, the Angels two biggest rivals in the A. L. West, Seattle and Oakland, have bullpens ranked 1st and 5th respectively. While the recent success in the bullpen has been refreshing, the potential to revert back to the first half remains present. In that case, the bullpen will be cause of the team’s failure.

Already Angels GM Jerry Dipoto has taken steps to improve the bullpen. Frieri is no longer with the team and Mike Scioscia has installed Joe Smith as the closer. Mike Morin has developed better than expected, and Jepsen has stabilized from his early struggles. 

Still, the Angels could benefit substantially by adding another reliever, especially one who can close. As the season progresses, and the post season begins, a strong bullpen will help the Angels win more games and more series. Getting back to the bullpen of the early 2000s, which operated like a conveyor belt would be a dramatic improvement to this team—especially if the Angels are unable to improve the rotation. Shortening starts and picking up the pieces when the starters falter will give the Angels offense more time to make a comeback.

Fielding: A-

Last year, the Angels committed 112 errors, making them the 4th worst fielding team in all of baseball. More than just all the errors, what really stood out last year were all the times players seemed out of position to make plays. This was uncharacteristic for a team under Mike Scioscia, who stresses playing fundamental baseball.

This year, the Angels have reverted back to form. They have only committed 49 errors in 94 games, and have a .986 Fielding Percentage, ranking them as the 8th best fielding team in all of baseball. They are making all the plays, and still some of the Troutstanding ones. This has resulted in only 36 unearned runs so far this year and are on pace to only give up 62 unearned runs. Knowing that the team on the field can make all the plays helps both the starting rotation and the bullpen perform better. And that means more games won.

Overall: A

As a teacher, sometimes we have to recognize that a student’s performance exceeds the sum of his or her component grades. Teaching is an art, not a science, and sometimes that translates into grading. Or, in the case of baseball, sometimes the team exceeds the overall individual performances on the field. That’s why team chemistry is so important—it allows the group to perform better than the individuals from whom it is composed.

This year’s Angels have the second best record in all of baseball. They appear to be on track to make the post season for the first time since 2009. That alone should bring plenty of joy to all Angels fans.

At the start of the season, I predicted that the Angels would score 820 runs and win 92 games. They are on pace to exceed both of my predictions. That alone deserves a solid A in terms of grading.

However, after watching how this team has come together, the way all the cylinders are firing, I believe that this team is capable of doing so much more. Looking towards the second half, I believe that the best is yet to come. This team has the capability to be an A+ team, and, if they make a key move or two before the deadline, could overtake the A’s to win the A. L. West. 

Individual Grades:

1st Half Angels MVP: Mike Trout
1st Half Angels Cy Young Award: Garrett Richards
1st Half Angels Most Improved Player: Erick Aybar
1st Half Angels Rookie of the Year: Matt Shoemaker

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