Thursday, April 10, 2008

The Travelers new closer - Stephen Marek pictured above

By David Saltzer - Columnist

After a close look at all of the Angels minor league affiliates, this week we'll focus on the Double-A club as I pose these 5 burning questions with regards to the prospects playing for the Salt Lake Bees, to start the 2008 season.

Question #1: Will this team be able to score runs?
Maybe I’m dating myself, but, looking at the lineup for Arkansas, I’m left to ask: Where’s the beef? With all due respect to the players on the team, this team will not be winning many slugfests.

This year appears to be a continuation of a trend that started 4 years ago in which Arkansas’s offense has seen a steady decline. In 2005, Arkansas ranked 2nd in its league with a combined 794 OPS. Through 5 games so far this year, the team is off to a horrid start ranking last with an 0-5 record, a combined OPS of 492, and only 11 runs scored. While the team, obviously, will not finish as badly as it has started, it does appear that it will be playing a lot of low scoring games.

But, before we write the team off, let’s remember what the main purpose is for the minor leagues: The minor leagues exist to develop players in the Angels mold to prepare for the majors or to be traded for talent that will fit into our mold. What we should expect to see with this team is a stressing of the fundamentals of the game: going from 1st to 3rd, executing sacrifices, hit-and-runs, making productive outs, etc. Arkansas will most likely see an infusion of talent promoted from Rancho and that should help the offense in the 2nd half.

Question #2: How will they replace Pettit?
In a shade reminiscent of Mo Vaughn’s first game in Anaheim, Chris Pettit, our #9 ranked prospect going into 2008, fractured his 5th metatarsal in his right foot while chasing down a fly ball during the season opener, most likely leaving him out for most—or all—of the season. This was a huge blow to the Travs as he was looking to build upon his numbers from last year when he posted a 327/411/538 across two levels to go along with 30 SB's and 95 RBI's and to form the heart of their order.

As of today, Chris is here in Anaheim being evaluated by specialists to determine if surgery is an option. Either way, Chris won’t be back in all likelihood for at least two months, if at all.

To replace him on the roster, the Angels promoted Jordan Renz from Rancho to take over the OF duties. Jordan carries a .230 BA since being signed by the Angels in 2002, but, has slugged 44 homeruns over the past 2 seasons.

You can read an interview we did with Chris Pettit by clicking here.

Question #3: Will Brok still blog to us from Oz?
In between dodging twisters, ditching lightning bolts, and writing about the “high heat” his dad can bring, Brok’s trying to push his way up the ladder by dominating AA hitters. After a very solid season last year in which he ranked 12th on our prospect list. Brok posted a quality start in his first outing (it’s a quality start even if he writes that he can do better) in which he only gave up 2 runs in 6 innings. He recorded 5 strikeouts and 1 walk, and a 3.67 GO to AO ratio.

One of Brok’s keys to success is his ability to induce the groundball. Last year, when Brok first reached AA, his ability to induce the groundball dropped quite a bit (from a 1.89 ratio at Rancho to a 1.12 ratio in Arkansas). As a result, his ERA jumped from 2.69 at Rancho to 5.90 in Arkansas). And, more importantly, the number of dingers he gave up went from 4 in 110.1 innings at Rancho to 5 in 29.0 innings in Arkansas). No doubt last year’s numbers were a result of tired arm, so, that will be a key stat to monitor for him.

We are all very lucky to have Brok blogging to us about his experiences throughout the minor league season. It’s clear that he is a great competitor and very driven to succeed. As long as Brok stays away from the category 5 twisters, he should continue to develop nicely. You can read Brok’s latest blog by clicking here.

Question #4: Can Statia move up the depth chart?
In Spring Training, some prospects get a quick introduction to the major leagues and then are reassigned to the minor league camp right away to solidify with their team and not return. Others, tend to linger and get longer and longer looks by the ML coaches and continue to get playing time in split-squad games. Statia is one of those who continued to play in the split-squads late into the spring and got a longer than normal look by the ML staff.

If defense were the only concern, Statia could start in the majors for several teams. He’s got a great arm, great range, great instincts and speed. His two biggest problems are that this switch hitting shortstop doesn’t hit as well as he fields and that he plays in an organization that is DEEP in MIF talent.

The good news is that Statia is still young (age 22), so he will most likely continue to fill out a bit. At 5’10” and 160, he could stand to add few pounds of muscle without losing much of his athleticism. If he does, and he improves his plate discipline, he will continue to force his way up the depth chart.

Question #5: Can Marek close?
With the potential departure of K-Rod, and with his recent ankle issues, a focus throughout our minor league system has been on finding and developing a replacement closer for the ML team. The Angels might not have to look past Arkansas to find their solution—it could be Stephen Marek.

Originally drafted as a closer out of San Jancinto Junior College in 2005, we converted him into the starting role over the past two years. However, this year, a decision was made to return him back to the bullpen where he thrived in Junior College.

So far, Stephen has had mixed results with one good and one bad session out of the pen. That is to be expected. But, he also could easily regain top form with his hard heat and curveball. If he does, he could move from flying under the radar to high up on the depth chart (we ranked him 35th last year in our prospect report) as he moves up the organizational chain.

Sleepers to Keep an Eye On

Kevin Jepsen (RP): Originally drafted out of high school in the 2nd round of the 2002 draft, Kevin has made steady progress as he developed. Clearly a sleeper, this could be the year in which he puts it all together and earns a spot in our bullpen.

Ryan Mosebach (SP): Another groundball pitcher, Ryan is right on track for his age at AA (he’s still 23). For the past 2 seasons, Ryan has started at one level and earned a promotion by the end of the season where he had mixed results. If the trend continues, this tall (6’4”) righty should be pitching in AAA by the end of the season.

Ben Johnson (C): Although at 26, he’s a bit old for the league, Johnson is a switch hitting catcher with some power and speed (he posted a 277/351/493 line with 19 dingers and 14 SBs across multiple levels last year).

Fernando Rodriguez (SP): In a repeat performance at Arkansas, Fernando is looking to build upon his work from last season. Fernando needs to keep the ball down more so as to avoid trouble. At age 23, he’s still on track to do that. If not, he will struggle in the high-octane parks at AAA.
Love to hear what you think!


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