Angels 1st round draft pick Randal Grichuk looks to provide pop for the AZL Angels
By David Saltzer - Angelswin.com Columnist
In our final episode of our ongoing series in which we look at each of the Angels’ minor league affiliates, today we turn our attention to the Single-A AZL Angels. Considered to be the “lower” of the two short season clubs, the AZL Angels tends to have more of the younger Angels prospects and recent draftees. Additionally, many major league and minor league players rehabbing injuries spend time with the AZL Angels, so the games are an assortment of opportunities for players of all levels.
Question #1: How Much Wood Can a Grichuk Chuck?
With 5 of the first 48 picks in the June draft, the Angels wasted no time addressing one of their most glaring needs: players who hit for power. With our first overall pick in the June 2009 draft, we selected high school outfielder Randal Grichuk.
Grichuk is a masher and has been for a while. He led the 2004 Little League World Series 4 long balls during the tournament and helped the US win the gold medal in the 2007 World Youth Championships by crushing 3 dingers. In January, at the International Power Showcase at Tropicana Field, Grichuk beat out the competition with 20 HRs.
Before we put too much pressure on him to succeed, it is important to note that Grichuck is still only 17, and one of the younger players in the Pioneer League. While he did crush one dinger 475 feet during the International Power Showcase, that was done with an aluminum bat—not the wood bats he’ll be using as a pro. There will be an adjustment period. Instead of facing the hodge-podge of high school pitchers, he’ll be facing pitchers all of whom were good enough to be drafted.
The good news is that Grichuk is signed and eager to play. And, by signing early, he’ll get to play the entire season. That should give him time to adjust to the better quality pitching while adjusting to the wood bats.
Update: After his first 5 games, Grichuk has posted a 143/217/360 line in 21 ABs.
Question #2: What About the Rest of the Offense?
As noted above the Angels as an organization have an extreme shortage of power hitters. But, all that could change with the AZL Angels and with this draft.
Aside from Grichuk, the Angels drafted Michael Trout with the 25th overall pick (1 pick behind Grichuk). Kidfish (Trout’s nickname so far from Angelswin.com) is a right-handed OFer with power, plate discipline, a strong work ethic and good mental makeup who is learning to switch hit. The rumor mill has it that Kidfish is due to sign this week, with an Angels press conference scheduled for Thursday. So, he could be making his AZL debut soon.
Other players on the AZL roster with power are James Mallard (18th round), who plays 1B. We drafted him last year and again this year. He’s drawn comparisons to both Prince and Cecil Fielder. With some minor adjustments to his mechanics, he has a huge offensive upside.
Another player to note on the AZL roster was our last pick and the last overall player taken in the draft at #1521: Alibay Barkley. He’s an interesting story of a slugger who helped take his Harlem team to the Little League World Series but struggled to overcome the many obstacles and challenges in his family life. He’s drawn comparisons to Ryan Howard, and has crushed baseballs from the left side, but will need to maintain the focus and dedication that major league baseball requires.
As more of the 2009 class signs, we expect that there will be some changes to the roster. And, as certain members of the class demonstrate higher level skills, we are certain that there will be promotions to Orem from the AZL. The roster we see today is most likely not going to be the roster we see at the end of the season.
With all of this power potential, former Angels SS Dick Schofield will have his work cut out for him as he returns for his 3rd year as the AZL Angels’ hitting coach.
Update: After their first game, both Mallard and Barkley are 0 for 1, although Barkley does have 1 walk. Overall the AZL Angels have posted a 276/398/386 line which puts them at 2nd in the league for OPS.
Question #3: What About the Pitching?
If you want a challenging job, try being Trevor Wilson. Not only does he have current Major League and Minor League players to rehab, he’s got quite an international mix of players to develop ranging in ages from 18 to 28. Welcome to your second year as the pitching coach for the AZL Angels!
The beauty of being the pitching coach for the AZL Angels is that Trevor Wilson gets to have a tremendous impact on players, especially the ones just recently signed. Some of the most interesting players for us as fans to follow this year include two Korean pitchers: Young-Il Jung and Pil Joon Jang. Both were high-profile international signings by Charlie Kim.
Young-Il Jung was our first foray into Korean pitching and signed for about $1 million 2006 out of high school. In 2007 he pitched briefly for the Orem Owlz (posting a 9.00 ERA in 9.0 IP with a 9:6 K:BB ratio). Unfortunately he missed all of last year after undergoing Tommy John surgery. Prior to the surgery, though, he through in the low 90s (topping out at about 93 mph) with a developing changeup and splitter.
Pil Joon Jang is 21 years old and was signed last December for a bonus of about $550,00. He has already served his compulsory 2 years in the Korean military. While in the military, he played on the baseball team against their minor league teams and apparently dominated the competition. Scouting reports have him throwing in the low to mid 90s, but this will be our first-hand chance to see him pitch.
Other notable pitchers include Jon Bachanov, out top pick in 2007 who also is recovering from Tommy John surgery. From our Dominican Academy we have Suammy Baez, Starlin Feliz, Baudilio Lopez, Fabio Mesa, and Ariel Pena.
As with the hitters, as more of our 2009 draftees sign, there could be some changes to the pitching. And, as other players become injured or need to work on a specific skill, they could fluctuate through the AZL Angels
Update: After their first 7 games, the AZL Angels are 5-2 with 3.25 ERA which is 1st in the Arizona Summer League. They’ve struck out 64 in 61.0 IP while only walking 13, which is 3rd and 1st respectively in the league.
Question #4: Who’s Rehabbing with the Club Right Now?
One of the many purposes for the AZL Angels is for current major and minor league players to have a place to rehab. While winning is always important, at this level, working through issues, developing new skills, and instilling the Angels’ philosophy in the youngest of our players is stressed in different ways. The coaches are there to see the players’ natural abilities and then instruct them in the Angels’ approaches to hitting, fielding and pitching.
Right now, there are several notable current major and minor league players rehabbing with the club. They include: Ryan Aldridge, Michael Davitt, Dustin Moseley, Anthony Ortega, Chris Pettit, Freddy Sandoval, Ervin Santana, and Mason Tobin. Not all of those who have been assigned to the AZL Angels will play. Some are there to do workouts and other things depending on their injuries. But, it is still important to note them as they provide experience and knowledge to the young draftees who are just getting acclimated to the major leagues and help develop the future of the farm.
Question #5: What Should We Really Be Looking For Here?
While winning for the Angels is always important, the AZL Angels play in a unique environment and a unique league. The games are held in the parent clubs’ spring training facilities and in much more controlled manners. Tickets are not sold for the games, and there are no major crowds watching. Coaches and managers may elect to setup situations and run plays in bazaar counts or settings just to work on a fundamental skill.
As fans, what we want to see in the players is a progression in their skills. For most, this will be their first experience facing a much higher level of competition. While they may have been big fish in a small pond, the pond just got much bigger and with many more big fish. As Grichuck recently said in an interview "You're seeing 90-plus with every pitcher . . . In this league, they're trying to throw their hardest to get to the next level. The catchers have guns. It's not like high school ball, where you see 70s-80s and catchers who can't throw."
In baseball, development isn’t a linear progression. Players develop skills at different rates and at different times. And, for most players, they are still physically developing—especially high school players. As they develop, they should rise to the new challenges.
The good news is that the Angels have many of their 2009 draft picks in camp. If Kidfish signs this week, that would only be a boost to our talent. Many clubs are projecting very late signings, meaning that their top picks may miss some valuable instructional time. As we continue to get our top picks in camp, they will be that much more advanced than their competition.