Saturday, June 28, 2008

OF, Peter Bourjos rises to the #1 spot with a solid 1st half

By Chuck Richter, David Saltzer & Jason Sinner

So the time has come to evaluate the top prospects in the Angels organization at the midway point of the minor league season. When looking at where we ranked these youngsters in November of 2007 in our Top-50 Angels Prospects List, there have been some that have moved up quite a bit due to performance and some who have moved down--whether it was based on the lack of development due to injury or because of performance at a higher level. David, Jason and I agree on where we felt these guys are at now in late June, but realize that a 2nd half push in performance to cap off their 2008 minor league season will weigh heavily on where these kids will be ranked in our winter's Top-50 2009 Prospect List.

So, without further adieu we're proud to announce a new selection for the Top spot in our Prospect Rankings, at the midway point of the season . . .

1. Peter Bourjos, Centerfield, High-A Ball - Rancho Cucamonga Quakes
The fastest man in spring camp according to Mike Scioscia was also the fastest to rise to the top in just a half of a minor league season. Bourjos, who we rated as the #7 prospect in our Top-50 Prospect Report back in December, has always shown the ability to run, track down balls in the outfield, flash an above average arm, and hit-- and boy has he hit this season to the tune of a .344 batting average! What is more impressive is that Bourjos, who is one of the youngest offensive performers in the league, has hit well against a strong class of starting pitchers in the California League. This was taken into account when we decided to move Peter to #1 at the midway point of the season.

Bourjos has a chance to be a future gold glove centerfielder and prolific base stealer. With his speed, he can track down would-be extra base hits and change the outcome of games. Scouts say he has "game changing speed". Bourjos, after tonight's game, has more stolen bases (39) than strike outs (38) and he has only been caught stealing three times. Impressive ratio and stolen base totals, especially since Bourjos missed about 2 and a half weeks of action this season with injuries.

The only knocks on Bourjos are that he doesn't walk a lot (13 walks) and that he hasn't shown a lot of power (knocking out just 3 HR's thus far in 245 at bats). The Angels emphasize on their minor leaguers the importance of making good hard contact however, so this is no knock on Peter and with regards to the power. The fact that he can club extra base hits (17 doubles, 5 triples) tells the scouts that he'll add more power totals down the road once he adds more physical strength. The ball sounds different coming off Bourjos’ bat and that is a telling sign about his power potential

2. Jose Arredondo, Reliever, Los Angeles Angels
What a great calendar year it’s been for Jose Arredondo. From demoted a level to promoted to the majors, he’s been both insolent and impressive on the mound. Last year, on June 6, 2007, Jose was demoted from Double-A to Single-A for personal reasons. That cost him his appearance in the Texas League All-Star game. But, on June 6, 2008, Jose was in the majors, earning a Hold in a close game win over Oakland.

With the potential departure of Frankie Rodriguez, the comparisons between Rodriguez and Arredondo are already being made. Both throw hard (Jose has been clocked at 96 on the stadium gun—just as Frankie did when first called up). Both throw sliders (Frankie’s slider breaks more than Jose’s right now). Both needed to learn a changeup in order to continue to fool batters (Frankie will now throw one or two changeups in a game—we have yet to see Jose throw one). Both are closers. However, Jose’s mechanics are cleaner and less violent than Frankie’s.

Jose’s future in the majors is not entirely in his hands at the moment. It’s hard to walk away from a guy who is on pace to have 64 saves in a year—smashing the ML record. If the Angels do resign K-Rod, then Jose will move into the setup role for him in the 8th inning. That would give the Angels a very deep pen for the future with Shields and Speier moving into the 6th and 7th innings. But, if the Angels are unable to resign Frankie, they may have his replacement already in place in Jose Arredondo. Either way, it’s hard to see Jose returning to the minors. He’s earned a roster spot—Congrats!

3. Jordan Walden, Starting Pitcher, Low-A Ball - Cedar Rapids Kernels
Talk about hard luck. Jordan made 15 starts last year for the Owls posting a 3.08 era and 63 strikeout in 64 innings. So far this year, he has made 15 starts (one of which is happening as this is being typed) and has a 2.57era in 80.2 innings while fanning 64. His overall record is 4-6. Hard luck or not, the kid can bring it. His fastball routinely sits at 95-97mph and he has hit 100mph on occasion.

The Halos made him a draft and follow out of high school in 2006 after taking him in the 12th round. You may wonder how a guy that can hit triple digits on the gun can drop so far in the draft. Strangely enough, his velocity dropped into the high eighties just before the draft yet a short stint in JC ball and he was back to throwing bb's. He also features a good yet inconsistent slider and a changeup that needs work. He's got decent control and gets grounders at a rate of about 2:1 over fly balls. He will have to develop his secondary offerings but overall he has massive upside and projects as a #1 or #2 starter.

4. Nick Adenhart, Starting Pitcher, Triple-A - Salt Lake Bees
Before Nick was promoted to the Angels, he held opponents to a low .200 batting average and had an ERA under 2 in a very difficult league and home park in which to pitch. This is indicative of what Adenhart can do when his command is on and he's mixing up 3 of his quality pitches. After struggling in his 3 major league starts, posting a 9.00 ERA, giving up 18 hits in 12 innings, walking 18 and striking out just 4 batters, Adenhart has fallen completely on his face in the PCL.

Right now, at the midway point of the season, Adenhart has a 4.73 ERA with the Salt Lake Bees, and opposing hitters are hitting .289 off him. Nick has had trouble commanding his pitches, in what is becoming a mirror of his season last year with the Travelers when he was solid for the first 5 weeks only to hit a bump in the road with his command from that point on while he dealt with an injury. The good news is that Adenhart is still awfully young, especially considering he's in Triple-A. That, and he still possesses good stuff--stuff and poise that has made him one of the best pitching prospects coming into this season. With more experience, improved fastball command, and a sense of pride to put away hitters with knee buckling curve or changeup, Adenhart will fulfill his potential and pitch in the front of the rotation someday.

5. Trevor Reckling, Starting Pitcher, Low-A Ball - Cedar Rapids Kernels
Question: What lasted 32+ innings and scored no runs? If you answered the Angels offense in the mid 90s, you’d be wrong. The real answer is the streak of innings pitched by Trevor Reckling without a giving up a run this season.

At 19, this lefty has a knee-buckling curve. Like most lefties, he throws in the high 80s to low 90s, but, could add some velocity as he develops. Trevor is one of the youngest pitchers in his league and has already drawn comparisons to Barry Zito (when he pitched for Oakland, not in the current form).

At this point there is no need to rush Reckling through the system. The tools are there as is the potential. But, as a rare lefty in our system, he has a high ceiling with the potential to make the rotation around 2011.

6. Hank Conger, Catcher, High-A Ball - Rancho Cucamonga Quakes
Hank was the 25th overall pick in the 2006 draft and has put up very solid numbers to start his career. The problem is that his career keeps getting put on pause. A wrist injury limited him last year, and a shoulder malady delayed the start of his season at Rancho this year. He's come back with little ill effect at the plate getting a good portion of his 73 at bats as a DH (.301 avg, 7 doubles, 1 hr, 16 RBI).

The real question for Hank is how his defense will develop. To be a backstop for a Mike Scioscia run club, handling pitchers and playing defense is priority number one. Regardless, it appears the kid can hit for average and power and there is always a place in the lineup for a good bat.

7. Steve Marek, Reliever, Double-A - Arkansas Travelers
As a starting pitcher Steve Marek ranked in the 30-40 range of our Top-50 Prospect Report. But, as I said in an edition of our "Ask" segment, he's easily ranked a lot higher as a reliever with two plus pitches. Marek pitches in the low to mid 90's, touching 97 MPH, and has a hammer curve. When the Angels converted him back into a reliever it was the right move as his lack of a consistent changeup was hurting his value as a starting pitcher. The results of the move have spoken for themselves so far this year in Arkansas.

Marek has a 3.00 ERA, but has held opposing hitters to a .218 batting average while fanning 46 hitters in 36 innings as the Travelers setup man. He has a good chance to be a part of what looks to be a dynamite bullpen for the Angels in the future.

8. Brandon Wood, Shortstop, Triple-A, Salt Lake Bees
If we told you that we had a minor league player who has slugged 12 HRs in 45 games while at AAA, posting a 535 SLG%, and was only 23 years old, most of you would be salivating over the chances of seeing him play in the majors. Well, those are the numbers for Brandon Wood as of June 24, 2008.

Yes, he strikes out too much and needs to walk more. Yes, he needs to cut down on his swing and stand deeper in the box. Yes, he was working on that while readjusting to 3B at the major league level. Sure, Brandon Wood was overmatched this year—that’s to be expected. He wasn’t supposed to be a full-time starter this year and was supposed to be working on his swing at AAA where it is a lot easier to make adjustments. But, if the past week is any indication, he’s made some serious progress, raising his average up to 278.

What we liked most about Brandon Wood this year is that he is making much better pitch selection this year compared to last year. He’s swung at more fastballs than he did in the past. Unlike the past, he hasn’t been fooled as much when swinging and instead has just been missing at fastballs—an indication that he’s still struggling to incorporate the changes that he’s needed to make. And, in spite of it all, he’s handled playing both SS and 3B without showing much of a drop in defense at either position.

Brandon Wood is going to need to win a spot next year in Spring Training. If he does, he needs to be handed the keys to the spot and the locker for half a season to see if he can make the adjustment to the majors. He will most likely struggle, but we are going to have to stick with him through the struggles because when he figures it out, he has the potential to change games with one of his swings.

9. Mark Trumbo, First Baseman, High-A Ball - Rancho Cucamonga Quakes
You know how we know that Mark is a very smart guy? He turned down a scholarship to USC to sign with the Halos. After getting his $1.425 million as an 18th round pick in 2004, baseball folk have been wondering when he was going to start living up to his potential. Well, we can wonder no more.

Tabbed by Eddie Bane as having the most raw power in the Angels minor league system, Mark is breaking out in 2008. Halfway through the year at Rancho, he is hitting .289 with 23 doubles, 49 RBI, and an organization leading 19 home runs. If he keeps this up, Casey Kotchman is going to be looking over his shoulder.

10. Anthony Norman, Left Fielder, High-A Ball - Rancho Cucamonga Quakes
Anthony Norman, who was undrafted out of UCLA last year and signed by the Angels as a free agent, led the Arizona League in batting in 2007 with a .362 average, finished fifth in hits (63), fifth in runs scored (40), sixth in RBIs (33), third in on-base percentage (.440), fifth in slugging percentage (.500) and first in triples (10). Norman was also an AZL Postseason All-Star, the AZL Most Valuable Player and the Topps AZL Player of the Year.

Penciled in the Cedar Rapids lineup to start the season, Norman got a bump up to High-A Ball after an injury opened the door for him-- and he has taken the promotion with flying colors. Norman, who has the best plate discipline in the organization, has 46 walks to match his 46 strikeouts. Norman has taken advantage of his on base skills and speed, swiping 30 bases at the midway point, while only being caught twice.

Anthony, has also shown the ability to drive the ball, as he has knocked 12 HR's while knocking 12 doubles and 6 triples batting .274 on the season and a solid .923 OPS. Norman's arm is average which will relegate him to left field, but that is OK considering his offensive potential. The only knock on Norman is that he's considered old for his league. , But considering Norman was drafted out of college and got a late start in his Baseball career, that is no knock on him. It'll be interesting to see how Norman does against higher levels of competition.

11. Ryan Aldridge, Reliever, Double-A - Arkansas Travelers
After losing a year to shoulder injuries, Ryan is back on track. In what is becoming a deep battle for bullpen spots, Aldridge has a live arm and the ability to get guys out. In 15.1 innings, he’s only allowed 3 walks and 9 hits while striking out 20. Three of those hits came in one inning, so, when isolated, he’s been dominating.

At 24 and in Double-A, Aldridge is not too far off track to still make it—especially when considering he lost a year to injury. In May, Eddie Bane said that Ryan is “getting healthy enough to start showing how special he could be.” If there’s a chance that Aldridge could improve on a 0.59 ERA and a .164 BAA, then he truly is something special.

Look for Aldridge to most likely finish the season at AA with a potential late season callup to Salt Lake City. There’s no reason to rush him, especially coming off of an injury season. But, he could get a long look in Spring Training next year and could be on the shuttle to the majors, so definitely keep an eye on him.

12. Sean Rodriguez, Second Baseman, Triple-A - Salt Lake Bees
Sean got a cup of coffee earlier this year and, as we all know, he struggled at the plate. One thing that became readily apparent regarding Sean's game is that he can pick it defensively. He was very impressive with the glove and it appears that he will able to handle either middle infield position with relative ease.

The question for Sean is will his offense be there to match his defense. So far things are looking up for him at the plate. After a breakout year in 2006, when he hit .307 with 29 hrs and 86 RBI with time spent at Rancho and Arkansas, Sean struggled a bit in 2007 with a .254avg, 17hrs, and 73 RBI in a full season with the Travs. He was off to a very solid start this year to warrant his callup, and it appears that he doesn't like spending any more time in the minors as he is doing all he can to get called back up with 13 hits in 38 abs (.342avg), 4 hrs, and 8 RBI since his demotion. A big clue to his progress as a hitter has been his 20:17 BB:K ratio with the Bees this year which is a drastic improvement over the 1:2 rate he had posted in his minor league career prior to this season.

13. Michael Anton, Starting Pitcher, High-A Ball - Rancho Cucamonga Quakes
Anton dominated the Midwest League, posting a 2.40 ERA, while notching two 9 inning complete game shutouts with the Kernels, which earned him a promotion to High-A Ball with the Quakes 2 weeks ago. Anton, a southpaw, has a fastball in the 88-92 MPH range, a solid average breaking ball, and a changeup that is one of the best in the minors.

Though his first two games with the Quakes have been rough, Anton has the makeup and assortment of pitches to become a solid pitcher in the big leagues in the mold of Joe Saunders if he continues to keep the ball down. The true test for Anton will be how he fares against tougher competition at higher levels, so how he finishes with the Quakes will determine where we rank him in our end of the season, '09 Top-50 Prospects List in December.

14. Tyler Chatwood, Starting Pitcher, Arizona Rookie League - AZL Angels
The kid we just drafted (and signed). Ranking him here before he’s thrown a professional pitch says 3 things about him and the organization. First, it says that Tyler has the potential to be a top-end pitcher. With comparisons to Roy Oswalt, he could be a steal in the draft, having slipped a bit due to his height (5’11”).

Second, it says that as an organization, we’re willing to buck the norm and look at Chatwood’s potential regardless of whether or not he meets the magical 6’ mark for pitchers. Chatwood works in the low 90s, but has reached the mid to upper 90's with his fastball and he has a plus pitch curveball. His changeup is developing, and, in our organization it will be developed.

Third, it says that our organization is deep, especially in pitching. In many organizations, their top pick immediately becomes one of their top 5 prospects the moment he signs. In our organization, Chatwood will still have to prove himself and work his way up the ladder. We have pitchers at all levels with potential. Chatwood will have to earn each promotion, but, with his stuff, he should be able to do so. Definitely keep an eye on him.

15. Kevin Jepsen, Reliever, Triple-A - Salt Lake Bees
Congratulations to Kevin for being selected to the Futures squad. It appears that he's now healthy after having various arm issues that started in 2005. He's a fireballer that gets plenty of strikeouts but allows his fair share of walks. The Angel's organization appears confident that he has figured things out as he is now in AAA after finishing last year in High-A ball. After racking up 35 K in 31.2 IP and a 1.42 ERA for the Travelers, Kevin has been solid for the Bees in his first 10.2 IP with a 3.38 ERA and 12 K.

No doubt he will be on the bubble to fill out the pen in 2009, and could end up playing a big role as a late innings guy or perhaps as a closer (31 saves over the last 2 1/2 seasons).

Disappointing 1st half

• Sean O'Sullivan - After winning back to back league ERA titles and being named the 2007 Angels Minor League Pitcher of the Year, Sean has struggled in the high octane California League. His ERA has ballooned up to 6.35! At 19, he still has plenty of time to turn it around.

• Trevor Bell - Recently demoted from Rancho Cucamonga (High Single-A) to Cedar Rapids (Low Single-A), this former first round draft pick also struggled against the stiff competition and the explosive parks in the California League. So far, things are going better for Bell back in Cedar Rapids, and, throughout the whole situation his BB:K ratio has remained relatively good.

• P.J. Phillips - With a 12:74 BB:K ratio, he’s not helping himself to take advantage of his speed (21 SBs so far). And, with only 3 HRs in 270 ABs, and a 367 SLG, he’s not showing the power potential he should be posting in a hitter’s league. If PJ wants to continue to climb towards the majors, he’s going to need to demonstrate better plate discipline which will help him achieve more power.

• Anel De Los Santos - While catching may be viewed primarily as a defensive position within the organization, a catcher still needs to hit above the Mendoza line. Unfortunately, Anel is not, posting a 187 average in 203 ABS. With a 5:60 BB:K ratio, it’s a felony that he’s murdered so much empty air instead of so many baseballs.

• Rich Thompson - With a 4.38 ERA this year in Salt Lake City (Triple-A), this Aussie is not building on last year’s surge through minors that saw him get a cup of coffee in the majors. With surprises in O’Day and Arredondo, the rising competition from Marek, Jepsen and Aldridge, and the present competition from Bulger, Thompson may be sinking fast on the depth chart.

• Others to mention: Jeremy Moore, Brok Butcher, Hainley Statia and Robert Fish.

Season Impacting Injuries

• Matt Sweeney - Matt, still considered a top prospect within the Angels organization, badly damaged his ankle in spring training before he could even get into spring minor league games, and it cost him the entire minor league season. We anticipated a big season from Sweeney this year with the Quakes, but he'll have to wait until next year to show the organization and fans that he is a legit run producer from the hot corner.

• Young-Il Jung - After seeing him pitch in spring camp, popping the catcher's glove with his fastball, we thought that this was the season for Jung to come upon the scene and show the type of stuff that he did while in Korea. Instead, he's still having throwing arm issues and rehabbing in Arizona, and we're not sure he'll pitch in minor league games this season. Note to all of the Korean Baseball coaches and managers: 190 pitch games from your starters every 5th day IS NOT ACCEPTABLE!!

• Chris Pettit - Pettit who had an incredible season combined between Low-A and High-A Ball last season and was up for a big test this season with the Travelers in Double-A. Just a couple weeks into the season, Pettit broke his foot and has missed more than 2 months of action The good news is that he's back with the Travs, so monitor his progress with Arkansas from here on out. Chris got off to a slow start initially before the injury, so let's see if he can turn it up a few notches to finish out the season so he could jump to Triple-A in 2009.

• Jon Bachanov - The Angels 2007 1st pick in the draft, never got a chance to pitch in pro ball last season and has since had Tommy John surgery. He most likely won't make his debut with the Angels until May or June of 2009. Bummer!

• Miguel Gonzalez - After posting a solid campaign with the Travelers (3.37 ERA in 19 starts) and being named a post-season All Star in the Texas League last season, the right-handed strike thrower suffered an arm injury in winter ball pitching in the Mexican League. Miguel is rehabbing in Arizona, but there is no timetable for his return at this point.

• Others nicked up: Tim Schoeninger, Terry Evans, Hank Conger, Jeremy Haynes, Ryan Mount, Rich Thompson, Kendry Morales, and Seth Loman are others that have either missed significant action of the '09 season or in fact the entire season.

2008 Surprises

• Jose Arredondo - From demoted to promoted within 1 year, this setup man/potential closer has done it all this year. He’s sporting a 1.56 ERA in 17.1 innings and is striking 8.31 batters per 9 innings.

• Darren O'Day - Who says you can’t win a job in Spring Training for the Halos? That’s what O’Day did with an impressive spring and is still doing it in the majors sporting a 3.91 ERA. He’s making a case that he should be a mainstay in the pen.

• Matt Brown - Matt Brown has already been a bit overshadowed while posting solid numbers, but this season he just blossomed. For a while he was dominating AAA pitching hitting around 380 with power. He’s still posting a 330 average and a 996 OPS and should earn a corner infield backup spot with us or another team.

• Kevin Jepsen - After spending the entire season last year in Rancho Cucamonga (High Single-A) and posting solid numbers, Jepsen has just blown through AA and has already been promoted to Salt Lake City (Triple-A). He could see some time in the majors in September with a chance to earn a spot next spring.

• Anthony Norman - The counterpart to Bourjos at Rancho, Anthony Norman is a 5-Tools corner OFer in development. While a bit old for the league (23), he is only in his second professional season. He is definitely a sleeper well worth keeping an eye on.

• Honorable Mention: Jason Bulger, Anthony Ortega, Francisco Rodriguez (AA), Dan Denham, Brad Coon, Giancarlo Alvarado and Shane Loux.

Five Prospects to keep an eye on

• Angel Castillo - Kicked off the 2008 season with a bang with the Owlz, clubbing two HR's and going 4-5 against Ogden. Keep an eye on Castillo as the outfielder has tremendous power. He's currently hitting .392 and has 4 HR's already!

• Gabe Jacobo - Drafted in the 10th round by the Angels, Jacobo ranked second in the Western Athletic Conference in home runs as a sophomore with 14 and had 13 this season. He has strength in his short swing, enough bat speed to catch up to velocity, and a high finish that gives him loft power. He's currently hitting .342, with 5 doubles, 1 triple and 1 HR in just 9 games playing 1B and some 3B.

• Ryan Chaffee - Chaffee should be reporting soon to the Orem club soon as he has already signed for $338,000. Ryan pitches in the low 90s and throws a plus changeup. When healthy and commanding all his pitches, Chaffee can be dominant.

• Ben Johnson - Catcher's that hit for power always draw attention and Ben Johnson has shown that he can catch and club HR's as he's 2nd to Trumbo in the organization with 18 dingers so far.. Mathis & Napoli aren't exactly productive on the offensive side, so Johnson could see some time if he continues to punish opposing pitchers and look good behind the dish.

• Ryan Mount - Debuted with Hank Conger for the Quakes 3 weeks ago after rehabbing in Arizona with a leg injury all spring. Ryan Mount has the ability to put up some solid numbers across the board in Rancho for the remainder of the season. Ryan has seemed to have found the plate discipline he had before last season, as he's walked 10 times against 14 strikeouts, and has already paid dividends with his stick with a walk off HR. A left-handed hitter with some pop that plays 2nd base always intrigues us.

• Keep an eye on these prospects as well: Ivan Contreras, Mason Tobin, Clay Fuller, Freddie Sandoval (Fantastic utility player), Nick Green (has done well in the PCL considering he's a fly ball pitcher), Andrew Romine (has gotten hot of late), Nicholas Farnsworth, Tyler Mann, Alexander Torres, Josh Blanco, Manuarys Correa, Daniel Davidson, Jayson Miller, William Smith, Ryan Braiser, Jose Perez, Chris Scholl and Andrew Taylor.

Best Tools

Best Hitter for Average - Peter Bourjos
Best Power Hitter - Mark Trumbo
Best Strike-Zone Discipline - Anthony Norman
Fastest Baserunner - Peter Bourjos
Best Athlete - Peter Bourjos, Tyler Johnson, PJ Phillips
Best Fastball - Jordan Walden
Best Curveball - Trevor Reckling, Steve Marek, Nick Adenhart
Best Slider - Jose Arredondo, Jason Bulger
Best Changeup - Michael Anton & Nick Green
Best Control - Sean O'Sullivan
Best Defensive Catcher - Anel de los Santos
Best Defensive Infielder - Andrew Romine
Best Infield Arm - Sean Rodriguez
Best Defensive Outfielder - Peter Bourjos
Best Outfield Arm - Julio Perez
Love to hear what you think!

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