Sunday, April 12, 2009

(Trevor Reckling hurled six scoreless innings in his High-A debut)

By David Saltzer - Columnist

The High-A Ball Rancho Cucamonga Quakes- 2009 Preview

Over the next few days, we’ll be taking a close look at each of our minor league affiliates to get to know the 5 big questions that each team needs to answer over the course of the season. Today we focus on our High Single-A team, the Rancho Cucamonga Quakes to see what key issues are affecting each team.

As a side note: if you are an Angels fan and live in the Southern California area, you really should take the time to go to a Quakes game. It’s a lot of fun and tickets are very affordable. As you walk around the stadium, you can’t help but realize how many of our current players in Anaheim played on that field. Go out to see a Quakes game to have a chance to see our future stars as many of them are playing on that field right now.

Question #1: How will Trevor Reckling adjust to a hitters’ league?
The California League is a well-known hitters’ league. There are several small ballparks and several that are launching pads. As a basis for comparison, Sean O’Sullivan, our #8 top prospect (who is presently playing for AA-Arkansas) saw his ERA jump from 2.22 in the Midwest League in his 2007 season to 4.73 in the California League last year. So, don’t be surprised or too judgmental if Trevor’s numbers, especially his ERA, rise a bit over last year’s marks—especially considering that Reckling will once again be one of the league’s youngest pitchers (he’s still just 19).

If Trevor can make the adjustments to pitching in the launching pads, he could accelerate very quickly through our system. He has 3 plus-pitches, with his curveball being rated as the best curve in the organization. He has the confidence to throw his changeup in any count, which is something rare for a pitcher his age. We ranked Trevor as our #6 overall prospect in our system—just outside the top-5. With a solid season at Rancho, Reckling could easily be ranked one of our top-5 pitchers and one of the best young left-handers in the minors.

Question #2: Can Matt Sweeney get back into the swing of things?
Matt Sweeney’s season last year never got underway as he broke his ankle in Spring Training last year. As a result, he dropped from out #6 prospect in 2008 to our #15 prospect this year. But, that could all change as he recovers his in-game skills both offensively and defensively.

As a player, Sweeney resembles former Angels’ prospect Dallas McPherson. Sweeney has a classic power-hitting swing that generates a lot of top-spin. He could really take advantage of the hitter-friendly parks in the California League to have a breakout season. If he does, he could accelerate up in the system as the only other 3B with as much power as him in the upper levels is Brandon Wood up at AAA.

Question #3: Can Mason Tobin close out some games?
Spring Training this year saw a new change for Mason Tobin. Our # 12 prospect this year went from being a starter to a closer. And, he took to the role very well. With his mechanics, he can whip the ball up to the upper 90s. But, that puts a lot of strain on his shoulder, which could create health and durability issues. Last year, the Angels shut him down after his June 6th start because of concerns about his shoulder.

As a pitcher, Tobin will still need to work on his offspeed pitches to be more effective—particularly his changeup. Hitters sit on his heat and hard slider, and he needs another offering to keep them off-balance. But, as a closer, Tobin could easily accelerate through our system, much like Jepsen did last year, if he figures out his offspeed pitches.

Question #4: What about Fish and Torres?
There is a lot of talent on this Quakes team. There are several players with the potential to play in the majors, so, singling out every one of them will be a near impossibility. Just in the pitchers we have our #6, # 12, #18, #21, and #47 prospects. That’s a lot of talent!

Coming in at #18, Robert Fish is a power pitching lefty who projects to be a mid to upper end of the rotation pitcher. His fastball touches the mid-90s, and his change and curve can be plus pitches when he controls them. As a result, his ERA last year jumped up to 4.85, mostly due to control issues. But, at the same time, he still struck out 138 in 143 innings and had a 10-4 record. A local kid (signed out of San Bernardino), hopefully Fish regains his control to become one of the many talented lefties in our organization.

Coming in at #21, Alexander Torres is another talented young lefty in our system signed out of our Dominican Academy. At 5’!0’, Torres doesn’t have the typical pitcher’s body that most scouts look for. But, what he does have is a talented offering, especially in offspeed pitches that generates a lot of ground outs and strikeouts. Last year, he held opponents to a 234 BA overall and generated a 2.50 GO/AO ratio. Torres saw time at Rancho last year (going 3-2 with a 3.91 ERA and 62 Ks in 53.0 innings), so a mid-season promotion could be in order with a solid first half.

Question #5: Which MIF will elevate his game?
The Quakes feature two talented MIF candidates, both of whom have a lot of raw talent that’s needs to be refined and elevated. We ranked both of them very closely on our top-prospect list with Andrew Romine coming in as our #25 prospect and P.J. Phillips coming in as our #26 prospect.

Eddie Bane said that Andrew Romine is our best defensive infielder and has our best infield arm. But, there is more to his game than just defense. Last year, Romine became much more patient at the plate 76:55 K:BB ratio which allowed him to steal 62 bases in 80 attempts. With more precision on the basepaths, Romine could be an excellent leadoff hitter in the future and a gold-glove infielder. As a local kid (he played for Trabuco Hills HS), hopefully he can shine in front of his friends and family.

As for P.J. Phillips, Eddie Bane has commented numerous times about his raw athleticism. The problem is that it is still very raw. Phillips is another example of a player in our system who needs to refine his plate discipline. Last year, Phillips had a 125:24 K:BB ratio which is not good—especially since it wasn’t much better than the numbers he posted the year before. Based on his athleticism, Phillips could profile as a 20/20 player in the majors. To do so, he’d need to refine his defense. A move from SS to 2B seems likely to address the defense, especially since Romine is more talented with the glove and arm. There are, however, some glimmers of hope for Phillips: Last year, after making some adjustments to at the plate, he did hit 315. If he can maintain the better pitch selection and adjusts to 2B, he could move up to AA-Arkansas by the end of the season.

Sleepers to Keep an Eye On

Clay Fuller (CF): A talented OFer, Fuller sometimes get lost behind Bourjos and Pettit. Ranked #38 on our list this year, Fuller is a switch-hitting OF with some pop and some speed. According to Eddie Bane, he is tied with Peter Bourjos as our best defensive outfielders. He could really take advantage of the hitter friendly confines of the California League and explode with some big numbers. 20/20 is not out of the question for him if he can hit the tougher pitching.

Eddie McKiernan (RP): Another young local right-handed pitcher, McKiernan is just a tad short of the typical pitcher’s profile (he’s only 5’11”). He still struck out 56 in 62.2 innings and converted 22 out of 24 save opportunities. Rancho could pose a bit of a challenge for Eddie as he is a flyball pitcher in a hitter’s league. However, he does have control, having walked only 16 in those 62.2 innings. If he can keep the ball in the yard, our #47 prospect could get some time in Arkansas by the end of the season.

Jeremy Moore (SP): A powerful LFer, his power isn’t as great as Trumbo’s or Castillo’s, but is still quite potent which is why we ranked him #36 on our prospect list. But, he does have more speed than either of them, and, like Fuller, if he can hit the tougher pitching, could be a 20/20 player. To do so, he’ll have to work on his plate discipline as he posted a 125:21 K:BB ratio.

Efren Navarro (1B): Navarro reminds me a bit of Quinlan: decent average but not much power. He plays 1B, and has already seen time in Rancho, so he should post solid numbers. Rancho shouldn’t be as much of a true test of his abilities as Arkansas will be. So, keep an eye on him.
Anthony Norman (CF): Our #28 prospect is a versatile OFer who is best suited for LF. He has some pop in his bat, having clubbed 15 HRs last year, and some speed, having swiped 36 bases last year. He is versatile in the lineup, and can bat in any of the top 3 slots in the lineup. Norman has a good eye at the plate (381 OB%), and with a solid first half could find himself in Arkansas.
Love to hear what you think!


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