Monday, April 21, 2008

Jordan Walden has been dominate at Cedar Rapids thus far

By David Saltzer - Columnist

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

Question #1: Does Walden really throw triple digits?
Sometimes, when you are blessed, you really are blessed. Saying Walden is blessed with a cannon for an arm—one that can touch triple digits late in a game and late in a season—is an understatement. Last year, on more than one occasion, Walden registered triple digits on the radar gun, and was regularly clocked in the 97-98 mph range late in the game. With stuff like that, it’s easy to understand why Baseball America says he has our organization’s best fastball

Walden has drawn some lofty comparisons. Sports Illustrated has compared him to Josh Beckett and other analysts have compared him to Roger Clemens. And, so far, he’s dominated like pitchers of that caliber. At age 19, he has a 1-1 record with a 1.02 ERA and 12 Ks in 17.2 innings. His WHIP is a microscopic 0.96 (Beckett right now has a 1.02 WHIP and Clemens had a career 1.17 WHIP) He could rise quickly and become a #1 or #2 pitcher for us by 2010.

So, what’s to watch with Walden besides the high heat? As Eddie Bane told us in his March interview “In Cedar Rapids you look for the young guys and how they adjust to playing every single day.” Last year Walden only threw 64.1 innings. This year, he should come closer to 150 innings. And, watch to see how his secondary pitches develop. At the low levels, it’s easy to get players out with high heat. At the higher levels, a pitcher will need a full assortment of pitches to keep a hitter off balanced—especially for when he can’t always bring the triple digits.

Question #2: How good is that outfield?
During the draft the fans often debate: should we draft the best talent available or to fill a specific need. Under Bill Stoneman, the Angels switched to drafting the most talented players available rather than for a specific need. That led to some logjams, especially for MIFers, and some shortcomings, particularly in the OF. Invariably many frustrated fans would criticize Stoneman for not drafting a highly-touted OF prospect over a pitcher of MIFer.

Well, it seems that the Angels may finally have an entire OF in development. While not as well known as Bourjos, Pettite and Norman at Rancho, the trio of Jeremy Moore, Tyler Johnson and Clayton Fuller may prove to be almost as good. Moore is a 4-tool player who so far is showing an improvement in his BA (298 in 47 ABs). Johnson, in a repeat at Cedar Rapids, has shown some power, but needs to work on his plate discipline. So far he is off to an OPS of 899 compared to 758 last year. And Fuller, a switch hitter, is a top of the order player who needs to work on getting on base more to take advantage of his speed. Last year, Fuller had a 398 OB%, and hopefully he will return to that form as the season continues (he’s at 220 right now in 56 AB's).

While these players are still a few years away, they have helped to propel Cedar Rapids to a 9-7 start and should continue to develop as they rise up the organizational charts.

Question #3: What about Tobin?
I have to ask Eddie why we all shouldn’t feel giddy about Mason Tobin. While not as hard throwing as teammate Walden, Mason Tobin has a bulldog mentality that is helping him to dominate Cedar Rapids. And what’s not to be giddy about? So far, Tobin is 3-0 with a 1.00 ERA, a minuscule 0.83 WHIP and 10:4 K:BB ratio. Mason is showing why last year was no fluke as hitters are only hitting 169 off of him.

As for his pitching, Mason throws in the low 90s and a curveball. He is developing a slider and changeup that should help him keep batters off balanced. He pounds both sides of the strike zone and has a bit of deception to his delivery.

With numbers like these, this should be a breakout year for Tobin. While currently ranked as our 15th best prospect, he could crack the top 10 as our upper level talent graduates to the majors and he continues to dominate.

Question #4: Who the heck is Anel De Los Santos?
Throughout Spring Training, Mike Scioscia worked our catching prospects hard. And, quietly, working out with them was a player named Anel De Los Santos—a catcher that Baseball America ranked as our best defensive catcher and as our #10 overall prospect. That’s high praise for a 19 year old that seemingly came out of nowhere.

But, saying Anel came out of nowhere isn’t exactly an accurate description. When the Angels invested in opening an academy in the Dominican Republic, players like Anel were exactly who the Angels were hoping to get—young, raw players that could be shaped into solid major league players.

Anel first came to the Angels Domican academy in 2005—at the young age of 16. The next year he played for our rookie team in Arizona. He is a gifted defensive catcher who needs to work on his offense. He seems to fit the old saying that “one does not walk off the island” (he had all of 4 walks last year in 188 ABs). However, Anel already has some power (he slugged 436 last year in Orem), and should develop more as matures and fills out.

Baseball America states that it’s rankings are based on “projections of a player's long-term worth after discussions with scouting and player-development personnel.” Of all positions, catchers are notoriously difficult to develop, especially defensively solid catchers. Defensive catchers are worth a lot, especially, if they have the ability to block the plate at a young age. Anel seems to have the defensive end down. As he continues to develop offensively, he will rise throughout our organization.

Question #5: Were some pitchers Left out of the discussion?
There’s an old adage that a team can never have too many lefties in development. And, the Kernels don’t disappoint in that category. Their rotation features 3 lefties that remind me of the Angels rotation in the early 90s when we sported Abbott, Finley and Langston—except their rotation consists of Fish, Reckling and Anton. Together, they are our #17, #19 and #23 prospects.

Certain trends appear to be common to our lefties at Cedar Rapids: They all got roughed up in their first starts and all have rebounded nicely. Fish and Anton both got roughed up by Clinton and Reckling got roughed up by Quad City.

But, since then, all 3 have been on a tear. In 2 subsequent starts, Fish has only allowed 2 earned runs while striking out 10 in 9.2 innings. Reckling has only allowed 2 earned runs in 10 innings while striking out 9. And Anton has only allowed 2 earned runs in 13.1 innings, while striking out 6.

Overall, this trio of lefties could climb very quickly through our organization. At no other level do we have 2 left-handed starters, and Salt Lake doesn’t have any lefties at all! While the righties such as Walden and Tobin have been getting a lot of press, don’t overlook this trio of lefties. All of them could easily climb up into the upper teens on our prospect rankings by next year.

Sleepers to Keep an Eye On

Andrew Romine (SS): This switch-hitting shortstop is still struggling at the plate. Although he has speed (8 SBs so far) he’s also hitting 154. And, his defense has been off a bit this year with 7 errors so far in 16 games. Hopefully he will adjust to playing everyday his hitting will improve. So far he has 10 walks to go with 10 Ks, so, he has been showing good plate discipline.

Ivan Contreras (2B): Another product of our Dominican Academy (he played with Anel de los Santos in 2005 in the DSL), this switch hitting MIFer is another work in progress. In limited action (only 4 games played over the last 2 weeks), Ivan has only posted a 143 average. This is a big drop from last year where he hit 311 in the Arizona league.
Love to hear what you think!


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