Wednesday, February 14, 2007

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By Chuck Richter - Executive Editor

The Angels have one of the best organizations in baseball when it comes to developing its own stars (Garret Anderson, Jim Edmonds, Tim Salmon, Jarrod Washburn, Francisco Rodriguez, Troy Glaus, Troy Percival and Darin Erstad). Eddie Bane (the Angels scouting director) took some chances in the 2004 amateur draft and while he didn’t have a 2nd or 3rd round pick and lost Patrick White in the 4th round he picked up Mike Trumbo and Nick Adenhart who were equivalent to 1st round picks along with the best player in the draft; Jered Weaver. The scouting department under the new direction of Bill Stoneman and Eddie Bane seem to go after toolsy, athletic type contact-power hitters rather than the Moneyball approach. The Angels believe that McPherson, Kotchman, Mathis, Santana, Weaver, Shell and Aybar (to name a few) will be future stars in the big leagues much like the homegrown talent we’ve already seen blossom above. I agree with them and below you’ll see why….

1. Dallas McPherson 3B, (DOB: 7/23/80; Drafted 2001 2nd round - #57 overall)

Dallas McPherson has all but established himself as one of the best power hitting prospects in baseball and #1 in an organization stacked with talent. D-Mac not only hit 40 Home Runs, but he also smashed 36 doubles and 14 triples. McPherson hit a combined batting average of .317 between both AA & AAA; he was not intimidated by either level of pitching. Dallas has a natural loft to his swing much like Jason Giambi and he hits the ball with authority to the opposite field. McPherson runs well for a big guy and is aggressive on the base paths (12 stolen bases in ’04). I could see him stealing 15-20 bases under Mike Scioscia’s regime with no problem.

Like most power hitters McPherson whiffed a bit too much. A grand total of 169 times between both levels in fact. McPherson is an average third baseman as of now but I feel he’s athletic enough and determined to become an outstanding defender at the hot corner. I’d like to see him cut down on his strikeouts and improve his footwork a bit at third base but he’s made strides to improving that towards the end of the season at Salt Lake and his time with the Angels in Sept-Oct. He’s got a canon for an arm and the accuracy of his throws have improved with more experience.

The Future: McPherson's bat will carry him in the big leagues and his defense will only get better. In fact his D looked significantly better after spending some time with Alfredo Griffin and Troy Glaus after his Sept. call up. His brief stint in September and appearance in the ALDS suggest he’ll struggle initially against pitchers that can throw off-speed stuff in a hitters count. With that said, he’s been getting rave reviews from the coaching staff about his ability to adjust, being teachable and his work ethic is simply off the charts. I can see McPherson putting up .305/.350/.530 #’s while crushing 35-45+ home runs annually. ETA 2005

2. Kendry Morales 1B/OF, (DOB: 06/20/1983;) Signed by Eddie Bane in 2005

Morales built his legacy as a teenager on Cuba's 16-and-under youth national team and 18-and-under junior national team, where Angel’s international scouting supervisor Clay Daniel first scouted him. In 2003, Morales batted cleanup for the Cuban national team in the World Cup in Havana. His grand slam helped secure Cuba's 6-3 victory over Taiwan in the finals, and he also homered versus Brazil to give Cuba a dramatic comeback win during the medal round. He batted .391-9-42 that year for Industrialists in Cuba's Series Nacional (national league). In 2002, at the age of 19, he was the first teenager to star for Cuba's national team since Omar Linares.

Morales, 6-foot-1, 225 pounds, has power from both sides of the plate, is an above-average defender with solid-average arm strength and fringe-average speed. He has advanced instincts and a good feel for the game. He profiles as a corner outfielder, but has also played first and third base.

The Future: Morales, 21, is a switch-hitting outfielder who has been considered the best post-revolution Cuban position prospect to defect. "He's a middle-of-the-order hitter that's getting ready to play in the big leagues," Angels scouting director Eddie Bane said. "He's on the big league roster going into (spring) camp with a chance to win (an Opening Day) job." Morales has been considered the best post-revolution Cuban position prospect to defect.

3. Casey Kotchman 1B, (DOB: 2/22/83; Drafted 2001 1st round - #13 overall)

Casey Kotchman is the quintessential hitter that most teams covet. Like McPherson Kotchman wasn’t fazed by either AA or AAA pitching. In AA he went .368/.438/.544 and in AAA Salt Lake .372/.423/.558 while slugging 31 doubles and 7 home runs combined. In his brief stint with the Halos when Erstad went down, he showed early on that he can hit ML pitching. It took him 48 plate appearances before even striking out and his classic 17 pitch duel with Pedro Martinez showed many that he isn’t far off. Kotchman showed flashes of defensive brilliance that lead the Angels to believe the 21-year-old will eventually be a perennial Gold Glove award candidate.

Growing up around pro clubhouses with his father, Kotchman was well prepared for pro ball so there isn’t much to add in this section for Casey. With that said, Casey does have below average speed and his power potential at this point seems to determine whether he’ll be a Mark Grace, Will Clark type first baseman or Rafael Palmeiro/Todd Helton type. He had only 8 home runs in 429 total at bats.

The Future: Whatever the Angels decide what to do with Darin Erstad will determine when Kotchman will be given the first base job. Kotchman has all the makings of becoming a perennial all star and golden glove winner. ETA: 2005

4. Erick Aybar SS, (DOB: 1/14/84; Signed in 2002)

While his older brother Willy was playing in the AA Southern League putting up decent stats Erick wowed scouts with talents in the California League. Erick makes hard consistent contact and has the ability to put the ball in play and utilize his well above average speed. Though he’s small in stature Aybar has enough strength to hit the ball into the gaps and out of ballparks. His knack for making contact (only struck out only 66 times in nearly 600 at bats) suggests he’d be a great #2 hit and run hitter. He’s one of the Angels fastest runners in the system and once he learns to get better reads on the pitchers and tones down his aggressiveness on the bases a bit he’ll be an elite base stealer in the major leagues (51 SB’s, 36 CS). Aybar is a flashy SS with range, soft hands and a strong arm. He’s a true shortstop and his upside is huge!

Erick Aybar reminds me of Joe Morgan. 5’11 but strong frame, excellent defensively, makes hard consistent contact and has some pop in his bat. With Orlando Cabrera in the fold for the next 4 years Aybar will be giving significant amount of time in the minors to work off any deficiencies. ETA: 2007-2008

5. Jered Weaver RHP, (DOB: 10/4/82; Drafted 2004 1st round - #12 overall)

The Angels were excited when they found out Weaver was falling to them and then selected Jered with the 12th pick overall. Weaver matched the sixth highest strikeout total in NCAA history, fanning 213 batters in 2004. He finished the year 15-1 with a 1.62 ERA in 19 starts this season. He walked just 21 in 144 innings of work while leading Long Beach to the Super Regional round of the NCAA playoffs. Twice in the season, he fanned the first 10 batters he faced in a game. He fanned 16 of 18 batters he faced in a start vs. Wichita State. An intense competitor with an excellent feel for his craft, he can throw strikes with Prior-like precision--in, out, up, down. Weaver pitches off his fastball, which he normally throws at 91-92, touching 95. His curve is just an average offering. He also throws two kinds of sliders, one with greater depth that he added just this year. His changeup is good but he doesn't use it much.

Weaver is a future #1 type pitcher in the big leagues and he’s so advanced in all areas of pitching that he could hold his own in the big leagues right now. It’s too bad the notorious Scott Boras is his agent because he still isn’t signed but most including myself feel Weaver will sign on the dotted line by spring training. If Jered Weaver for whatever reason doesn’t sign, move everyone up one and Abel Moreno will claim the #20 spot.

6. Ervin Santana RHP, (DOB: 1/10/83)

I was disappointed that I couldn’t see Santana pitch in a full season this year because he’s truly magical on the hill. He was bothered by a sore shoulder in the spring and then again after just 8 starts in Arkansas. His slight build worries some scouts for durability and injuries but make no mistake about it though; Ervin (Magic) Santana is one of the best young right-handers in the game and has a chance to be a top of the rotation starter. He can dial it upwards to 98 on the radar gun when healthy and shows a nasty K-Rod like slider. His changeup is still a work in progress but he showed vast improvement with it towards the end of the 2003 season and in limited action in 2004.

7. Steven Shell RHP, (DOB: 3/10/83; Drafted 2001 3rd round - #81 overall)

Though he is ranked behind Weaver and Santana for the organization’s best starting pitchers Shell has the repertoire to be a good #2 starter in the big leagues. He made significant progress after being shutdown in ’03 with tender elbow. In ’04 he led the California league in strikeouts (190) while showing a low 90’s fastball (occasionally mid 90’s), spike curve and a devastating splitter-change. Shell knows how to work the corners and can pretty much put it anywhere. Shell will start in AA Arkansas along with Santana and possibly Jered Weaver. Steven Shell is my sleeper in the organization.

8. Jeff Mathis C, (DOB: 3/31/83; Drafted 2001 1st round - #33 overall)

While Jeff Mathis took a step back in 2004 hitting just .227 most feel that this was caused by Kotchman and McPherson being promoted leaving Mathis with no protection in the lineup (hit just .167 the rest of the way). Mathis got off to a hot start with the bat but then got pull happy. He showed excellent game calling skills behind the plate, a strong arm, blocked almost everything throw in the dirt and quick on his feet. But his defense also slipped after D-Mac and Kotch left as he threw out just 21 percent of base runners. Mathis still profiles as a future all star type catcher that will hit with Mike Lieberthal type power and rack up a ton of doubles. He showed flashes of gold glove ability behind the plate but still has some refining to do. If Mathis has a good first half in AA Arkansas look for him to get a mid season promotion to AAA Salt Lake and possibly take the starting C job in 2006 from Bengie Molina.

9. Alberto Callaspo SS (DOB: 4/19/83)

Callaspo was one of the hardest players to strikeout in the minors (only striking out 25 times in 550 at bats). He also walked more then he struck out (47 times). Callaspo he a hitter with excellent bat control from both sides of the plate. He doesn’t have the potential power of Kendrick, Wood or Aybar but he’ll get his share of doubles. Callaspo runs well but isn’t a burner (stole 15 bases, but was caught 14 times). Though Alberto played an exceptional shortstop in 2004 the Angels are said to be moving him back to 2B where both Callaspo and his buddy Aybar will once again flash one of the best double play duos in the minors. Look for Callaspo to spend another season in Arkansas. Callaspo profiles as a above average table setter in the major leagues.

10. Howie Kendrick 2B, (DOB: 7/12/83; Drafted 2002 10th round - #294 overall)

Though a groin injury interrupted Howie’s fine start to the season Kendrick didn’t miss a beat when he came off the DL in August. Kendrick who owns a career minor league average of .357 won the Midwest league batting title in 2004 hitting .367. Howie’s bat control much like Callaspo’s is exceptional. He puts the ball in play, has extra base power and profiles as a really good #2 hitter in the future. Kendrick has average speed but can steal a base. He’s a smart player that gets good reads off the pitchers and studies the opposing pitchers tendencies.

Kendrick’s defensive abilities are a work in progress as he grades out as average in all categories but he showed tremendous improvements as the season went on. I see Kendrick and Callaspo challenging each other for the future 2B position in Anaheim. Kendrick reminds me a lot of Ray Durham.

11. Brandon Wood SS, (DOB: 3/2/85; Drafted 2003 1st round - #23 overall)

Wood showed us all in 2004 that he can hit for the projected power most scouts thought he would. With a tall, lean muscular build and room for a lot of growth Wood’s ceiling is off the charts. Brandon hit 11 hr’s, 30 doubles and 5 triples in 2004. He has a natural loft to his swing, extremely strong wrists and strong baseball instincts. Wood reminds me a lot of a young Cal Ripken (though I am not predicting he’ll have even remotely the kind of career Cal did). His defense at SS is above average as he’s quick to the ball, shows excellent positioning and has an above average arm.

Wood should start the season off in High Class A Rancho Cucamonga with Kendrick as his double play partner.

12. Kevin Jepsen RHP, (DOB: 7/26/84; Drafted 2002 2nd round - #53 overall)

Kevin Jepsen possesses one of the best fastballs in the system ranking just behind Jenks but ahead of Zimmermann. Jepsen consistently hits mid 90’s on the radar gun and he threatens triple digits at times. Jepsen’s slider can be un-hittable when he has control of it. His changeup is coming around. Jepsen has as much upside as any starter in the organization and has #1 starter stuff. The problem is he has trouble controlling his pitches (77 walks). If Jepsen gets command of his 3 quality pitches he can be a future Roger Clemens or Curt Schilling type in the big leagues.

13. Abel Moreno RHP, (DOB: 6/15/83)

Armed with the best changeup in the organization Abel Moreno combines that with a low 90’s fastball and average curve to shut down the opposition. Moreno who was the 2003 Pioneer League pitcher of the year had a good year in Cedar Rapids posting a 3.41 era, 33/120 walk to strikeout ratio. He did give up 141 hits however in 142 2/3 innings due in part to hanging his curve that lacks the downward spike we like and at times left his change in the middle of the zone. Moreno should head to Rancho along with Jepsen and will look to miss a few more bats like he did in 2003. Abel has significant upside and could be as high as a good #2 or a back of the rotation starter in the big leagues.

14. Sean Rodriguez SS (DOB: 4/26/85; Drafted 2003 3rd round - #90 overall)

While Shell was my sleeper pitcher in the organization S-Rod is my hitting prospect that you should be keeping a close eye on. Their has been talk about Sean moving from SS to catcher but for now the Angels plan to keep him at SS and start the season off in Cedar Rapids. S-Rod is a quality 4 tool prospect (lacking the speed to be a true 5 tool type). His arm rates only 2nd to Madrigal in the organization and the Angels believe he has the makings of becoming a future vacuum at any position. Sean who flirted with .400 in Provo saw his average slip to .338 when the season concluded.

Rodriguez has some pop in his bat, hit 14 hr’s total, 22 doubles, 8 triples and drove in 77 runs. While he isn’t a speedster he managed to steal 23 bases which brings me to this: Sean Rodriguez has the best baseball instincts of anyone on this list. I think you can attribute that to being raised in a baseball home (dad manages in the Marlins system and brother is a catcher in the Nationals system.) and his off the charts work ethic.

15. Joe Saunders LHP, (DOB: 6/16/81; Drafted 2002 1st round - #12 overall)

Joe Saunders regained some velocity back in 2004 and is poised for a better campaign in 2005. Saunders who reached 91-92 MPH (but was usually in the high 80’s) flashed an above average change and curve in the Cal League and showed excellent command. Joe keeps hitters on their toes with a good tempo, shows tremendous confidence on the hill and looks like he’s big league ready once he gets more innings in after missing the entire 2003 season with a torn rotator cuff and bad labrum. Saunders was promoted to AA Arkansas and got banged around a bit (5.77 era and 51 hits in 39 innings). Some scouts believe Saunders is a back of the rotation starter while others say he’s a good #3 type starter that will eat some innings. 2005 is pivotal for Saunders and could determine what his ceiling is.

16. Michael Napoli C, (DOB: 10/31/81; Drafted 2000 17th round - #500 overall)

Napoli who missed most of 2003 with surgery to repair a torn right labrum came on strong in 2004 crushing 29 home runs, 29 doubles and drove in a league’s leading 118 Rbi’s. Strong and can crush fastballs out of the park. His swing is awfully long however as he swings over the top of good breaking pitches and chases low and away sliders/curves (resulting in 166 K’s) though he did walk 88 times. While not a polished defender behind the plate Napoli showed significant improvement with his hands, feet work and game calling abilities as the season went on. The Angels will continue to shuffle Napoli between C and 1B in Arkansas and will try and find a position for him before season end. He could get picked in the rule 5 draft since he was left unprotected.

17. Dustin Moseley RHP, (DOB: 12/26/81; Drafted 2000 1st round - #34 overall)

Traded to the Angels for Ramon Ortiz in December, ’04 Moseley looks to replace Jenks after his removal from the 40 man roster. Developed a back injury that caused him some DL time in AAA and didn't pitch as well there, but I think it was the injury that was holding him back. He's pretty much conquered AAA.

Normally sits in the 90-93 range but is young enough to add velocity still, and he has the frame to do so. Has a plus plus curve, his change has improved and he’s throwing it more down in the count. Since he missed time this year, the Reds sent him to the AFL where he posted a 4.30 ERA in 18+ innings. The Angels will give him a shot in ST as a reliever but will most likely send him to AAA Salt Lake and he’ll be the first starter to come up if there’s a need in the rotation.

18. Maicer Izturis SS (DOB: 9/12/80)

Acquired from the Nationals in the Jose Guillen trade Izturis will backup Orlando Cabrera in ‘05. Izturis really improved his stock by hitting .338 in AAA and posting a .428 OBP (51 walks and only 30 strikeouts in 376 ab’s). Maicer has excellent range, soft hands and an average SS arm. Good speed but not as fast as his brother in LA, I can see him stealing 15-25 bases however in Anaheim’s aggressive style on the bases. Maicer who got a look in Montreal after the Expos traded Alex Gonzales showed some defensive jitters (7 errors in 111 chances) and didn’t hit much but Bill Stoneman really likes this kid’s future as a top of the order table setter.

19. Baltazar Lopez 1B (DOB: 11/22/83)

Lopez has a sweet swing from the left side of the plate and looks a lot like a young Rafael Palmeiro. Hit .314, with 9 Hr’s, 14 doubles in 236 at bats after joining the Cedar Rapids lineup in mid-June. He’s slick around the bag at first and gobbles up potential extra base hits. Baltazar should open up the season in Rancho (High-A ball) and could see his #’s jump through the roof in the California League.

20. Warner Madrigal OF (DOB: 3/21/84)

Warner missed the first few months of the season with a stress fracture in his left wrist. Upon his return late in the summer he hit (.275/.330/.396) with 2 hr’s in 91 at bats. Warner has some strong quick wrists and the ball really fly’s off his bat to all fields. He needs to cut down on his strikeouts as he has trouble recognizing breaking stuff, swinging at balls out of the zone. He’s a prototypical right fielder and tops all the outfielders in the organization for arm strength. Warner doesn’t move that well or get good reads on balls in the gaps but he’s still young and should get better. Madrigal puts on a show in BP and with his arm and power potential he could be a future replacement for Vladimir Guerrero in 4-5 years. The Angels are going to let him come along slowly.

Keep an eye on: rhp Chris Bootcheck, rhp Robert Zimmermann, rhp Nick Adenhart, 3b Matt Brown, lhp Michel Simard, lhp Nic Touchstone,of Reggie Willits, of Quan Crosby, of Nick Gorneault, 3b/1b Mike Trumbo, 3b Andrew Toussaint, 1b Nate Sutton, lhp Jake Woods, lhp Eric Cyr, c Bobby Wilson, lhp Tim Bittner, rhp Rafael Rodriguez and rhp Chris Hunter.
Love to hear what you think!


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