By Robert Cunningham - AngelsWin.com Columnist
As the 2012 MLB Amateur Draft has unfolded I have followed the AngelsWin.com thread, “The Official 2012 Amateur Draft Thread”, and have seen several comments expressing some surprise at the type of choices that our front office has made and continues to make. However these draft choices don’t particularly surprise me and seemingly fit in with the short and long term plans of the Angels franchise.
Although the Angels have been significant players in free agency and previous drafts over the last decade, this current philosophy on how to build a franchise began with the hiring of a not-quite-as-well-known General Manager named Jerry Dipoto in October of last year. Jerry brought a very specific vision on how the Angels should build to win today and well into the future and he is executing on that plan as we speak and it appears to be unfolding in the way that Arte Moreno, Mike Scioscia, and Jerry Dipoto hoped.
Back in early November, after we had signed Dipoto, I posted a thread, Go Big or Go Home?, that asked the question about whether we should try to sign a big bat for the 2012 season or should we make minor complimentary signings and withhold from spending and potentially losing draft picks in the 2012 Amateur Draft.
My thought process, along with several others on AngelsWin.com, was that the 2012 Amateur Draft was widely believed to be one of the weakest drafts, in terms of overall talent, in recent memory and that the Angels would best be served by acquiring a feared, middle-of-the-order, bat (and I advocated Fielder because Pujols seemed very likely to re-sign with the Cardinals, the only team he had ever played for), thereby sacrificing their 2012 early round Amateur Draft picks, and making a push to win the AL West over the next couple of years, mainly because the AL West only seems to have two horses at the head of the race (Texas and Anaheim) to compete against.
Jerry Dipoto apparently agreed with the AngelsWin.com members (because we all know he follows us religiously right? Damn Microsoft for not having a ‘Sarcasm On’ emoticon!)! Through his offseason maneuvers, free agent signings, and, now, his selections in the 2012 Amateur Draft, Jerry is giving us a glimpse into the future and time horizon of the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim and what we can and should expect both in the short term and the long term for this team.
First of all this team is definitely built to win over the next 4 years. Jerry Dipoto through free agent signings, player extensions, and arbitration-controlled players has the following group of core players locked up through 2015:
· Albert Pujols
· Jered Weaver
· C.J. Wilson
· Mike Trout
· Mark Trumbo
· Howie Kendrick
· Erick Aybar
· Peter Bourjos
· Ernesto Frieri
· Jordan Walden
· Garrett Richards
· Hank Conger
That is a strong core of players to retain control of for such an extended period of time! It is the type of group that you can build around each year and can add or supplement with additional free agent signings, extensions to current players, or trades with other teams. Additionally you can also supplement this core with prospects from the annual Amateur Drafts, which segue’s into the Angels 2012 Amateur Draft strategy.
Because of the decision to purposely sacrifice our early round draft picks to sign Pujols and Wilson the Angels have taken this opportunity to draft prospects that are near-MLB ready (college level) and will mainly supplement the main core of players over the current 4 year time horizon. As of this writing over half of the 2012 selections have been pitchers (and most of those are projected as relief pitchers) along with a splash of position players who either have some potential upside or fit the mold of utility back-up type players.
The Angels have a reputation of developing above average pitchers, relievers, middle infielders, and utility type players and I think that not only will some of these current draftees help us win games over the next 4 years but they will become useful trade chips in obtaining players in other areas of need or as trade opportunities arise. This is an area of Comparative Advantage, where a team uses its expertise in developing certain types of players (in the Angels recent history that would be pitching and middle infielders) and either uses them to help the team or as trade chips to obtain players that they do not develop well (in this case the Angels have had trouble over the last few years developing impact bats at the corner positions and the outfield, although Trout, Trumbo, and Morales are the more recent exceptions) or turn out to be areas of deficiency (see Ernesto Freiri).
As an ancillary benefit a lot of these mid-to-late round pitchers and position players won’t cost the Angels a lot of money to draft, particularly since the Angels are the most cash-strapped team in terms of slot money for the 2012 Amateur Draft (just under $1.7 million). Additionally, because so many teams were a little bit more focused on their top picks the Angels might have gained a very slight advantage by greater scouting of the rank 100+ picks (I’m sure most teams do their due diligence however but the Angels scouting resources were pointed at the mid and lower rounds).
This 2012 approach to drafting, I believe, is only for this year and should be looked at as a “bye” year of sorts considering the purposeful way we gave up our draft picks for free agent acquisition. I don’t think you are going to hear about a bunch of great prospects that the Angels missed out on and, in fact, I think we will be satisfied with our results even though they probably won’t be as good as some other teams.
Moving forward the Angels should be able to retain early round draft picks under the new Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) rules. Also we should have more slot money to spend next year which will help in our draft strategies. Actually it may have been to the Angels benefit to use this poor draft class to see how the new CBA rules affect the drafting process and its impact on other baseball teams. The Pirates, for instance, picked up Mark Appel, unexpectedly, but that decision impacted the rest of their draft and who they can sign for slot. Letting other teams make potential mistakes, under the new CBA, in the Amateur draft while we secured two major free agents will probably, in hindsight, have been a smart move.
So what happens in the 2013 Amateur Draft and beyond? The Angels will probably develop a more balanced approach, picking both high school and college players depending upon the organizations needs. I’m sure they will use any 1st or 2nd round picks on the best overall players that they can draft and then use the additional rounds to fill in holes based on the myriad of projections on the current prospects in the farm system. This year and next year seem to be focused on players who can replace Kendrick, Aybar, et. al. that may or may not be here after this current 4-year time horizon expires. After 2015, the makeup of this ballclub will change with some core players staying (Pujols and Trout for instance) and some going (Aybar and Kendrick perhaps). Prospect development of 2012 and 2013 draft choices will help drive decisions 4+ years from now.
No matter what happens I sincerely believe that Jerry Dipoto will aggressively pursue opportunities to make the team better whether it is through free agency, the farm system, or through trades. In fact it is these latter two tools that I think Dipoto will use more often as we move forward. He seems to be a vocal advocate of trades as a means to improve a team and running a good scouting and farm system is always a cheap way to build a contending ballclub. Free agency has its uses as it did in the offseason after last year but it is not the ideal tool for maintaining the long-term health of an organization.
Rest a little easier Halo Fans, the Angels ballclub is in pretty good hands with Dipoto at the helm and I think we will be able to contend not only now but for the foreseeable future, as well.