Thursday, February 22, 2007

By Chuck Richter - Executive Editor

The Angels have one of baseball's top 3 overall systems, highlighted by the dynamite potential future double-play combination of Brandon Wood and Howie Kendrick. Erick Aybar is no slouch either, and if the Angels decided to move Wood to 3B, how's this for an infield?: 1B - Kendry Morales, 2B - Howie Kendrick, SS - Erick Aybar, 3B - Brandon Wood. Not bad. The system is lacking in high-ceiling outfielders, so that will likely be the focus of any free agent signings in the future. Pitching-wise, the system graduated Ervin Santana to the majors this year and he's had a major impact already and should be in the 2006 rotation. There is still Jered Weaver though, who will debut for the Angels sometime in 2006. A little further down the list, C Michael Collins has made a major jump up the list while the 2004 and 2005 drafts have brought high-ceiling prospects Nick Adenhart, Mark Trumbo, and Trevor Bell into the fold. It's a great time to be an Angel fan with a winning team, an owner that spends money, and a well-stocked farm system. Now it's up to GM Bill Stoneman to know who to keep, who to trade, and how to continue winning. He has no excuses.

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

Wood has taken quite a jump up the prospect charts since being #11 on the Angels’ list last year for I suppose 101 extra-base hits will do that for a guy, especially a SS! Not only did he lead the entire minor leagues in XBH’s, but he also was tops in doubles, homeruns, and total bases. Not bad for a guy who hit .251 with 11 homeruns last year in Low A. Wood did add some muscle (10 lbs or so) in the offseason, but scouts say his power is legit (no BALCO jokes please). He’s tall and lanky, but has tremendous bat speed. Yes he did play in the thin desert air, but according to a scout we talked to, his power is 100% legit and most of his HR’s this year would have been out of any park. He’s a very good defensive SS, but should he grow much beyond his 6’3” 200 lb. frame, his range could be in question as a big league SS. No worries though, his bat will play anywhere. Look for him to start 2006 in AA with a call up to the big leagues not out of the question.

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

The kid can HIT, plain and simple. Kendrick is called the best contact hitter in the minors by multiple scouts and some think he is near big league ready now. AA is usually a big adjustment for most minor leaguers, but Kendrick didn’t seem to miss a beat after being promoted there. He’s a kid that can hit most any pitch to any part of the field, often going the other way on balls low and away and turning on inside fastballs quickly. The added power this year is nice and should allow him to be an above average 2B in the majors. Sure, you’d like to see more than 20 walks to 469 at-bats, but a .367 total average is tough to overlook. He’ll be out to take Adam Kennedy’s job sometime this year.

3. Kendry Morales, 1B (DOB: 6/20/83; Signed Cuba, 2004)

Kendry found the adjustment a bit tough after signing a $3 million contract after defecting from Cuba last year, but sure found his groove in the second half of the 2005 season and continued his success in the Arizona Fall League. The switch-hitter had his ups and downs, but finished the season absolutely on fire, going 21 for his last 34. I think he’ll be more consistent this year as he adjusts to full-season ball and perhaps more importantly, the American culture. Defensively, he’s improving and now is said to have okay range with a plus arm. I expect him to make his major league debut next year sometime (DH?), but look for Morales to start in AAA. I see him being Cuba’s best position player ever.

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

A team interested in playing small-ball would be wise to try and trade for Aybar. It’s a crowded middle infield situation in the Angels organization, but I could see Wood in the outfield and a double play combination of Kendrick and Aybar. More likely, one will be traded, but I’d love to see all these guys come up together over the next couple years. Aybar is an electrifying player capable of stealing 50+ in his prime. He still needs another year at least in the minors to work on his pitch recognition skills, and some tutoring on running the bases is in order, as he was caught stealing 23 times. He’ll never be a big power threat, but if you’re stealing 50 bags, 10 homeruns is fine. Could be the next Chone Figgins.

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

About as polished as they come. Most scouts think Weaver could step into a rotation today and be as good or better than most team’s 5th starters. Most thought he could step right off the Long Beach State diamond and into a rotation after going 15-1, 1.62 as a senior with 213 K’s and just 21 walks in 144 innings. Not so fast. There’s really nothing negative to say except that he may not ever be a #1 starter as he doesn’t dominate hitters the way someone like a Mark Prior can. Still, a guy with command of four pitches, a successful brother as a pitcher, and a great college career equals almost a sure thing in my book. Worst case, a #2 starter  in the bigs. Probably starts back in the minors, as it’s unlikely Mike Scioscia would go with both Santana and Weaver to start the year and Santana deserves the first chance at a permanent rotation spot. Someone will get hurt though and Weaver will get the call.

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

Star has fallen a bit this year to the point where some no longer attach the “future superstar” label to Mathis. Posted solid, but not spectacular AAA numbers considering it’s the PCL, but nevertheless, I have him as the likely #3 catching prospect in all the minors behind Saltalamacchia and Martin. Mathis still looks like a future regular to me and I think he’ll be a solid offensive catcher, perhaps along the lines of a Michael Barrett type. He’s solid behind the plate, only lacking a rifle arm. Not the type that’s going to be a masher, but I think he could hit .280+ with 15 homeruns minimum at his peak. He’ll more than hold his own in the majors, probably in the 8 hole. Could be the Angels catcher this year as Benji Molina is a free agent who is sure to attract a lot of interest and the Angels could choose to save their money to upgrade their lineup and add a starting pitcher.

7. Alberto Callaspo, 2B (DOB: 4/19/83; Signed 2002 - Venezuela)

Alberto who? With all the hype surrounding Wood, Kendrick, and Aybar, Callaspo gets a bit lost in the shuffle. He still projects as a solid utility man or perhaps a regular on a non-contending team. Callaspo is a true hacker, rarely striking out, but also not drawing enough walks considering he isn’t exactly a slugger. His base running instincts need work as well, as he was caught stealing more times than he was actually successful. His glove will get him to the majors as he has great range and a good arm, as well as the ability to play multiple positions. It’s the bat though that will determine what type of career he has in the majors.

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

Not exactly a soft-tosser, Saunders brings the heater up in the low 90s range, occasionally touching 93. He’s got a great change and a curve that functions as his third offering. Missed the 2003 season with shoulder problems but has rebounded rather nicely. I watched his major league debut vs. the Blue Jays and was really impressed with his composure after he went seven and 1/3 innings and allowed just two runs. Like any lefty who doesn’t blow hitters away, command is key with Saunders and he shows a decent walk rate. May get a chance to compete for a rotation spot this year with Paul Byrd and Jarrod Washburn both being free agents, but will have to pitch very well in spring to win a job. He doesn’t have the biggest ceiling, but if given a chance, I think he could be a solid #3 or a good #4 innings-eater type.

9. Michael Collins, C (DOB: 4/18/84; Signed 2001 - Australia)

A few things jump out when you look at Collins’ stat line: .412 OBP and 25 HBP’s! Sounds like the guy needs to perhaps back off the plate a little. Where did Collins come from to leap up into the top 10 of a very good farm system? I don’t know, but he did! After toiling in rookie ball for and hitting .207 in the Midwest League last year, Collins put up a very good season this year in Cedar Rapids. He’s still pretty raw defensively, but with the progress he’s shown offensively this year, the Angels will develop him as a catcher. He may not have hit a lot of Hr’s this year, but some of those 32 doubles will start going over the fence, particularly as he takes his game to the CAL league in 2006. Keep an eye on him.

10. Nick Adenhart, RHP (DOB: 8/24/86; Drafted 2004 14th round - #413 overall)

Has more upside than any pitcher on this list, including yes, Jered Weaver. He would have been a first rounder had he not got hurt prior to the draft and undergone Tommy John surgery. The Angels though have deep pockets and took a chance on Adenhart in the 14th round and gave him well above slot money to sign, rehab with them, and then return this year. It seems to be paying off so far, as he’s nearly back to 100%, flashing a mid 90s fastball, and solid secondary offerings including a plus change, curve, and slider. Control was an issue at times, but chalk that up to rust. 2006 will go a long way in determining how fast he’ll move. Not sure where he starts, but he has the talent to make the jump to the Midwest League to start 2006.

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

With his frame (Shell stands 6’5”) and stuff, he really should have had a better year than he did, but Shell still ranks as a solid pitching prospect and would be in many teams’ top 5 overall. He is consistently in the low 90s with room to add a little more velocity as he fills out. His curve is a plus pitch and devastating when it’s on. His change needs work (how often is that said?) and its development (he’s also got a splitter he’s working on) will only enhance his fastball and curve. What is maddening about Shell though is his inconsistency. One game he’s pitching like Felix Hernandez and the next he looks like Pat Mahomes. He did finish on a high note with a solid playoff performance and going into 2006, he is likely to be underrated on most prospect charts.

He’s ready for AAA and should see a spot start in the majors at some point.

12. Mark Trumbo, 3B/1B (DOB: 1/16/86; Drafted 2004 18th round - # 533 overall)

Scouts were mixed on Trumbo prior to the 2004 draft with some thinking he had first round ability as a pitcher and others (Angels) who saw more potential in his bat. Wasn’t considered signable, and as a result, fell to the 18th round where the Angels scooped him up and signed him for $1.425 million. So far, the results are mixed. He shows very good power potential, often connecting on McGwire-esque moon shots. However, he doesn’t have the greatest-looking swing, and his plate discipline so far is below average. His placement at #12 though is all about potential. He’s still a teenager, just getting used to playing full-time as a hitter. Defensively, he has a very good arm as an ex-pitcher, but lacks the proper instincts around the bag and is now being tried at 1B. He’s got a lot of work to do.

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

Sean is the son of a former Marlins hitting instructor and as a result is said to have an advanced feel for the game. He was the Pioneer League MVP last year after hitting .338/.486/.586 (wow!), but found full-season ball a bit more challenging in 2005. He was actually demoted last year from the Midwest League to the Pioneer League, so what he did this year is definitely progress. Sean has a strong arm at SS and very good range, although he could stand to take more time with his throws. The Angels have given some thought of converting him to catcher given his instincts, arm, and organizational middle-infield depth, but for now he’ll stay at SS. I really like the plate discipline he showed this year and he has more than enough power potential for a middle infielder. When/if he puts it all together, he could rocket up this chart.

14. Rafael Rodriguez, RHP (DOB: 9/24/84; Signed 2001 – Dominican Republic)

Coming off an injury-plagued (elbow) 2004, Rodriguez managed to stay healthy this year and make 27 starts. He earns comparisons to Angels closer Francisco Rodriguez (no relation) for his violent delivery, excellent slider, and 92-97 mph fastball. His stuff was sufficient to blow away Midwest League hitters, but when he advanced, he was exposed as a 2-pitch pitcher and hitters were better able to catch up to his stuff. Really needs a changeup if he’s going to stay as a starter and many scouts see him winding up in the pen as a result. He’ll get another crack at the CAL league in 2006.

15. P.J. Phillips, SS (DOB: 9/23/86; Drafted 2005 2nd round - #71 overall)

Brother of Indians SS Brandon Phillips, once a highly thought of prospect. Has a lot of power potential in his bat as a result of his 6’2 – 6’3” frame, but obviously the power isn’t there yet. A very good athlete, he doesn’t have blazing speed, but is aggressive on the basepaths and could steal 25-30 as a pro. May grow out of the SS position, but has a great arm and could handle a corner OF position defensively, as long as his bat develops. The potential is there, but he’s got a lot of work to do (plate discipline primarily) to reach his high ceiling. Probably not quite ready for the Midwest League, but as a high draft pick, he could be challenged.

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

Adam Dunn alert!! Low average, prodigious power, lots of whiffs, and lots of walks characterize Napoli in a nutshell. The primary knock on Napoli coming into 2005 though was his defense (or lack thereof) behind the plate. What does he do in response? Leads the Texas League with a CS rate of 47%. Not bad and it really highlights his hard-working attitude. He wants to succeed. He may never hit for a high average, but a catcher that can hit .250 with an OBP of .360 and 30 HR’s is easily a starter in the big leagues. He’ll move up to AAA and probably post very good numbers there in 2006. Some team should look to trade for this guy and consider making him their every day catcher at some point in 2006 or 2007 if the the ex catcher & manager Mike Scioscia doesn't think he can hang behind the dish with his high standards of defense.

17. Trevor Bell, RHP (DOB: 10/12/86; Drafted 2005 – Supplemental 1st - #37 overall)

He’s got a great story. Grew up an Angels fan and was born on the same day that Dave Henderson hit his famous homerun off the now-late Donnie Moore. Has a fastball that’s been clocked as high as 96 and a curveball that will be a plus pitch. Could either be a #1 starter or get hurt and flame out. I have no idea how to project these high school pitchers. The Angels can afford to bring him along slowly and it’s likely he’ll start in rookie ball again in 2006 with a possible late-season promotion to the Midwest League if he shows progress and stays healthy.

18. Tommy Mendoza, RHP (DOB: 8/18/87; Drafted 2005 5th round - #163 overall)

The Angels liked what they saw from Mendoza in Miami (Monsignor Pace HS) and he didn’t disappoint after signing a contract. Mendoza through 52 innings struck out 56 posting a 1.55 ERA and a 3-3 record. The Angels were so impressed with his performance in the AZL after he was named an All-Star that they promoted him to Rancho Cucamonga (High Class-A) where he threw three perfect innings which earned him a save and in his first and only start he whirled 7 shutout innings. Mendoza at the age of 18 throws 95 MPH with good life on his fastball. His Curveball looked solid after getting some instruction from the Angels coaching staff and it appears to be a plus out pitch. His secondary pitches include a slider, cutter and change-up which are now inconsistent but have the chance to be plus pitches in the future. Look for Mendoza to start the season off in Cedar Rapids but don’t be surprised if he moves quickly through the system.

19. Hainley Statia, SS (DOB: 1/19/86; Drafted 2004 9th round - #263 overall)

Yet another solid SS prospect for the Angels. At the plate, he’s more of a line drive hitter and shows the ability to hit the ball in the gaps from both sides of the plate. He’s just 5’10”, so it’s hard to project much power from him in the future. Doesn’t show the greatest of instincts on the base paths, but that can be something that is worked on as he works his way up the ladder. His makeup is said to be top-notch, so he’s got that working for him. I’d like to see him draw more walks, work on his base-stealing, and turn on the inside fastballs now and then. Defensively, he projects as above average and doesn’t make the mental mistakes typical of teenagers. Look for him in the Midwest League next year.

20. Reggie Willits (DOB: 5/30/81; Drafted 2003 7th round - #210 overall)

He’s fast (40 steals), he gets on base (.377 OBP), and he plays a solid CF. Sounds like a young Kenny Lofton. Comes from an athletic family as his sister won a ring as a member of the L.A. Sparks WNBA team. He’s a switch-hitter with little power, but you don’t need a lot of power to be a leadoff guy. He’s got a good makeup as well, as Angels Farm Director Tony Reagins had this to say about him before the season, “His package will play at higher levels. He has that David Eckstein-type mentality, where you grind it out every day. He can definitely be a top-of-the-order guy.” Did a good job cutting down on his strikeouts this year. He’ll play in AAA this year which will give us and the Angels a much better idea as to whether he has a future with the team and in what role.

Keep an eye on:

Jose Arredondo, RHP (DOB: 3/12/84; Signed 2001 – Dominican Republic)

Arredondo was going nowhere as a SS in the Angels system after hitting .191 in the Arizona League last year. So, they decided that his arm was too electric to waste and gave him a shot on the mound where in 12 IP, he struck out 14 while allowing four earned runs. This year he continued to show that promise despite being so raw and unrefined. In the Pioneer League playoffs, he allowed just one run in 15 impressive innings. His fastball gets up in the mid 90s consistently and his slider is already solid. He’s refining the change and is also working on a splitter. His taste of AA was just temporary last year, but I could see a jump to the High A (CAL league) to start 2006. He’s definitely one to watch with his arm. He could be a dynamic late inning reliever or if his secondary stuff improves, a good #2 starter.
Love to hear what you think!


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