By David Saltzer, AngelsWin.com Senior Writer
Like the start of the season, there’s something quite exciting about watching the amateur draft. It’s full of hope and excitement. There’s a sense that with the right calls, the Angels could make a difference not just for the year, but for the decade.
Over the years, most fans have come to realize that the best way for the Angels to improve is by drafting the best player available at the time and not by drafting to fill a need. With the years between a player’s selection in the draft and his appearance in the Majors, it’s hard to predict what the needs will be in the future. One quick injury or one free agent signing can change everything. Focusing solely on their needs will blind the team to potentially greater talent playing at a perceived source of depth.
Because the Angels have been so successful, and, because the Angels have been willing to sign so many free agents, they have engaged in what is best known as a high risk/high reward strategy to maximize their chances of landing the best talent. That has led them to draft many high school “toolsy” players, especially early in the draft.
While this method has produced many players on the current roster, it hasn’t produced enough talent to allow the Angels to remain elite at enough positions so as to avoid the constant need to sign Type-A free agents—the same free agents who sap the team of their upper round draft picks.
So, under new Scouting Director Ric “Willy” Wilson, the Angels went in a slightly new direction. They chose someone that no one expected. They drafted a patient college slugger—someone not typically associated with “Angels Baseball”.
What I like most about the Angels picking Cron is that it shows that the Angels are looking at the draft in a whole new way—one that will make them more competitive and more efficient as a team.
When the news broke about Jayson Werth’s contract this offseason, a collective thud was heard around the league. That deal shattered all expectations (well, maybe not his agent’s). It wasn’t just the dollars per year—the baseball world was shocked by the number of years attached to the dollars. All of a sudden, contracts that had been considered horrendous, such as Vernon Wells’, became tolerable by comparison.
With Prince Fielder looking for $22 million+/year for 7-8 years, and Albert Pujols rumored to be able to command $30 million+/year for 8-10 years, the cost for elite run producers is exorbitant—to the point of being nearly prohibitive. Risking $200-$300 million on one player is incomprehensibly foolish. One freak injury to a player of that salary scale and the Angels would be sunk for a decade.
By comparison, it will only take $1.5-$2.0 million to sign and develop Cron. While he might not become as elite Pujols or Fielder, it’s a much safer gamble to spread the risk over 100 or more draft picks over the next 7-10 years than it is to concentrate all that money on just one elite player. The chances that one or more of those draft picks panning out and playing for 7-8 years far greater than the odds that an elite player will remain healthy and productive for the length of the contract (to date, Jayson Werth only has a .244/.345/.418 line—far beneath his career norms and hardly worthy of the deal he signed).
While the same argument could be made that elite pitching is becoming just as exorbitant, there is one key difference: The Angels are better at finding and drafting pitching talent later in the draft or internationally than they are at finding and drafting elite hitters. Tyler Chatwood was a 2nd round pick. Nick Adenhart was a 14th round pick. Ervin Santana was an international signing.
More importantly, elite pitching still seems to be more in demand than elite hitting. Of the 16 picks ahead of the Angels, 9 were pitchers. That suggests that hitting is undervalued a bit by the other organizations, and gives the Angels a competitive advantage to draft elite hitting earlier. With their ability to identify and develop pitching, they can take a chance that they can get valuable pitching later in the draft while still taking an elite hitter.
Finally, what I like about drafting Cron is that his arrival should coincide with the emerging wave of talent in the Angels organization. Over the next 2-3 years, the Angels should produce an entirely new team with talent at almost every position. By taking a college hitter in the first round, he should excel through the system faster than a high school prospect and should make it to the Majors by the time all the existing talent, such as Trout, Segura, Cowart, Richards, Tillman, etc. emerges.
Imagine this lineup in 2014 and beyond:
1. Segura SS
2. Trout LF
3. Morales DH
4. Trumbo RF
5. Conger C
6. Kendrick 2B
7. Cron 1B
8. Cowart 3B
9. Bourjos CF
That is a lineup that hits for power, average, and has some speed!
I’ll be the first to admit: I haven’t seen all the players who are or will be drafted this year. I am taking his scouting reports and projections on faith.
I’ll also admit that based on all the previous drafts, most likely someone who hasn’t yet been selected will prove to be a more valuable player than Cron. The Angels still have many more picks in the remaining rounds and hopefully will snag several more promising players.
Still, Cron was right from day one. Adding him to the organization will further bolster the roster and the organization. The more I read about him, the more excited I am to see him play and watch him develop as an Angel.