Sunday, December 4, 2016


By Robert Cunningham, AngelsWin.com Senior Columnist - 

Author’s Note: If you missed the first four installments you can find Part I here, Part II here, Part III here, and Part IV here.

In a season where the starting rotation was decimated, the Angels bullpen did not fare much better, ranking 26th in K%-BB% among all Major League teams.

Part of this issue was the fact that Angels relievers were dead last out of all 30 teams with a 7.23 K/9 rate. Basically the bullpen lacks some hard throwers and the group as a whole simply had a hard time putting hitters away.

The reality is that this, for the most part, is what the fans will continue to see to start the 2017 season as Billy Eppler slowly and surely builds a pitch-to-contact rotation and, to a lesser degree, bullpen. In 2016 Angels relievers were 2nd in O-Contact% (Out of zone contact) at 65.8% and 3rd in Z-Contact% (In the zone contact) at 86.5%.

When you combine those numbers with a 27th ranked SwStr% (Swinging Strike percentage) and an elevated home run rate of 1.14 HR/9 (Home runs per 9 innings, ranked 10th worst in the Majors) you can see why their actual results were poor overall in 2016. The K/9 rate should improve over time but the Angels will probably never lead the League in strikeouts in part because of this pitch-to-contact approach.

Billy will continue to overhaul the roster to improve the numbers. Finding a good defensive second baseman (and third baseman) and continuing to find the right mix of starters and relievers that can put the ball on the ground, particularly to the left side of the infield where Simmons is at, is assuredly a priority.

Speaking of the right mix Cam Bedrosian certainly dominated the competition this season. Most of you would be quick to say he is our future closer (and that is not an incorrect statement) but the author would like to refer to Cam as our future high leverage reliever.

The reason that term is used is because the game of baseball is slowly evolving before our eyes. Throughout the year and in the playoffs the Indians have utilized their best reliever, Andrew Miller, more in the 8th inning than they have the 9th. They have even used him in the 7th inning as well.

High leverage situations, where the opposition is close to scoring runs against your team, are slowly becoming the new normal for when you bring in your best relief pitcher(s). This of course makes perfect sense to bring in your best reliever when your opponent has a high probability of scoring.

As much as Angels fans complain about Mike Scioscia’s bullpen utilization it does not seem above his ability to use high leverage reliever types like Cam in the right situation. The main problem is that the Angels have lacked good options for that role over the last couple of years.

Billy Eppler will try to give Mike more choices in 2017. Bedrosian will certainly be a part of that total solution but the team will need more relievers to step up and fulfill their promise and so, over the last year, Eppler has been adding choices.

Deolis Guerra

Deolis Guerra, a 27 year old Rule V pick from the Pirates in the 2015-2016 offseason, has shown a pleasantly surprising ability to limit free passes (1.18 BB/9 in 2016) and create poor contact (.246 Batting Average Against).

Guerra primarily lives on his 90 mph fastball and 80 mph changeup which makes him effective against both left and right-handed hitters. His one weakness to date has been the long ball against right-handed hitters so if he can mix in an effective curveball he could become one of those “go-to” guys for Scioscia.

Deolis has two more years of pre-arbitration control and then the standard three arbitration years thereafter through 2021. He should be a nice addition to the 2017 bullpen as a middle reliever.

J.C. Ramirez

In late June, the Angels claimed 28 year old, hard throwing right-hander J.C. Ramirez off of waivers from the Reds.

Ramirez offers a mid-90’s fastball and a really nice mid to upper 80’s slider while occasionally tossing in a two-seam fastball. Ramirez would benefit from further improvement and use of his two-seam fastball or the addition of a changeup for instance.

In addition to the heat J.C. gets the ball on the ground a lot with a nearly 50% career GB% which is one definitive reason Eppler had interest in the first place. Ramirez has a live arm for sure but he will have to earn a spot during Spring Training. Also, just like Guerra, J.C. needs to reign in the home runs given up to right-handed hitters.

Ramirez has two more years of pre-arbitration and three years of arbitration for a total of five years of team control.

Ashur Tolliver

In early September the Angels made another waiver claim on 28 year old left-hander Ashur Tolliver. Unlike the DFA’d Ege who was a pure LOOGY type, Tolliver has shown a propensity and ability to get both left-handers and right-handers out in his Minor League career.

Ashur offers a low to mid-90’s fastball combined with a very good changeup but his breaking ball is hit or miss at times. Just like some of the others above Tolliver will have to earn a spot in the bullpen but his chances are slightly enhanced due to his moderate platoon splits. Ashur is also quick to the plate and quite athletic so those are also pluses to his skillset.

Tolliver would benefit most by simply staying healthy as he has had labrum surgery in the past. If he can improve and establish his breaking ball he will become a serious threat in middle relief so Angels fans should keep an eye on his progress. Ashur still has his rookie status intact so once his service clock starts the Angels will control him for six years.

Jose Valdez

Author’s Note – After this write up Valdez was Designated for Assignment and sent to AAA where he will likely start in 2017.

Back in early June the Angels also acquired 26 year old, hard throwing right-hander Jose Valdez for cash considerations from the Detroit Tigers.

Valdez is similar in profile to J.C. Ramirez in that he throws a mid-90’s four-seam fastball combined with a really nice mid to upper 80’s slider. Jose can dial up the fastball even higher but he is plagued by control issues and is hurt often by the free pass.

Unlike Ramirez though Valdez puts the ball in the air more and he too suffers from elevated home run rates versus right-handed hitters. What Jose does do a bit better than J.C. is limit hard contact resulting in a low .227 Batting Average Against compared to J.C.’s .262 BAA.

Valdez needs to develop a third offering and reduce the number of walks he creates. He exceeded his rookie limits in 2016 but still has three years of pre-arbitration and three years of arbitration for a total of six years of team control.

Kirby Yates

Yates, who was claimed along with Parker in early October, is a 29 year old right-handed reliever with a little more Major League experience than the rest of the group above.

Kirby primarily utilizes a four-seam fastball and slider but he also throws a knuckle-curve and a changeup on occasion. Yates fastball lives in the low-to-mid 90’s and he has a strong history of strikeout ability that, when combined with his journeyman experience, gives him a small edge in the upcoming Spring Training battle for roster spots.

Because of his previous experience Yates only has one more year of pre-arbitration control. Of course he has an additional three years of arbitration control after that for a total of four years of team control.

Ultimately Eppler will put the best 25-man team out on the field to start 2017 so Kirby, like everyone else, will have to earn a roster spot in a Mike Scioscia led bullpen.

Abel De Los Santos

Author’s Note – After this write up De Los Santos was Designated for Assignment and sent to AAA where he will almost certainly start the year.

The last of Eppler’s waiver claims before the World Series ended, right-hander De Los Santos is another high ceiling, upside acquisition.

Abel is a flyball pitcher and features a four-seam fastball and curveball as his primary pitches complimented by a slider and changeup.

De Los Santos has a live arm and that is where the upside lies. He can dial it up to the mid-90’s and it has been noted that he has some deception to his delivery. The good news is that he can deliver strikeouts as he has consistently averaged about a 10.0 K/9 in the Minors as a reliever.

Like a lot of young relievers Abel has control issues, gives up a lot of free passes, and is homer prone. If he can iron out the walks a bit and keep the ball in the park more he will be an effective middle reliever.

De Los Santos retained his rookie eligibility through 2016 so he seems destined to start the 2017 season in the Minors unless he really wows Scioscia and Eppler in Spring Training. Once his service clock starts he will be under team control for six seasons.

Alex Meyer

Meyer, who was the second piece sent to the Halos in the Hector Santiago for Ricky Nolasco trade, was acquired shortly before the trade deadline near the end of July.

The Angels have stated that Meyer will get a look in the rotation during Spring Training but it is hard to shake the nagging feeling that Eppler really believes in Alex’s potential to be a nice back-end bullpen piece.

Certainly the best outcome would be success in the rotation but the first thing you have to consider is that he only threw about 50 innings in 2016 and he likely will not break more than 100 IP or so in 2017.

This of course means that he may start the year in the Minors as a starter in order to get acclimated to the role and stretch his arm out or, alternatively, they could reverse in anticipation of Alex starting later in the season. If he pans out in the rotation then look for him to make no more than about 10 starts and then move him to a relief role or up to the Major League bullpen (or vice-versa).

As a starter Meyer has a nice mid-90’s fastball that he pairs with a mid-80’s curveball and an emerging high-80’s, low-90’s changeup. If he moves to the bullpen expect a corresponding 1-2 mph uptick in his velocity.

Unless he just explodes onto the scene in the rotation he seems destined for relief and certainly the Angels, after 2017, could use another high octane piece to compliment Bedrosian.

In the very near future you could see an Angels relief staff led by Bedrosian, Meyer, and Middleton, a trio of hard throwing fireballers which would not make most fans sad at all.

Alex is still a rookie so he is controlled through the 2022 season. He will almost certainly start in the Minors to stall his service clock but look for a mid-year call up at the latest unless the Angels fall out of the race really early.

Brooks Pounders

On the eve of this part of the Primer being published, the Angels made a nifty trade sending RHP Jared Ruxer to the Royals for RHP Brooks Pounders.

Brooks features a low-to-mid 90’s fastball, low-to-mid 80’s slider, a mid-80’s changeup, and, when he starts games, a low 80’s curveball.

Pounders missed most of 2014 recovering from Tommy John Surgery and has looked really good in the Minors the last two years. He is primarily a starter but was also utilized as a reliever in AAA and the Majors last season probably as a tool to manage his innings pitched totals as part of a TJS recovery regimen.

As Jeff Fletcher reported, Billy Eppler plans to bring him into camp as a starter to compete in Spring Training. However it is quite unlikely that Brooks will start the season in the Majors as he still has his rookie status intact and the Angels probably do not want to start his service time clock.

Look for Brooks to show up in the middle of the year, particularly if the Angels fall out of the pennant race. Pounders will probably end up filling a role similar to Jesse Chavez where he will split time starting and relieving in 2017.

Brooks, based on his four-pitch repertoire and above average control, does not seem to have a really high ceiling, perhaps a #3 or #4 starter at best, but he also does not have a really low floor, likely turning into a solid back-end starter. If the Angels decide to keep him in the bullpen long term he could become a good back-end reliever but this might be a waste of his talents.

Pounders was listed here because he will very likely pitch some innings in relief this season in combination with his rotation starts. Due to his rookie status Pounders will be under team control for six seasons based on when his service clock begins.

Core Relievers

Beyond the waiver claim pickups the Angels made some free agent signings and do have a few options to carry over from 2016.

Some of these relievers, like Huston Street, Cam Bedrosian, and Andrew Bailey, will definitely start 2017 in the Major League bullpen or, in the case of Chavez, the rotation assuming the Angels do not acquire another veteran starter. There is also an outside possibility that Huston Street gets traded but the chances of that seem low.

Others like Jose Alvarez, Mike Morin, Austin Adams, Keynan Middleton, Eduardo Paredes, and Greg Mahle will still have to fight for their spots as not much is ever guaranteed to a reliever in the Major Leagues unless it is in their contract.

Huston Street

Huston Street had a disappointing 2016 season driven by a career low 5.64 K/9 rate and a career high 4.84 BB/9 rate. Additionally Huston has always been more of a flyball pitcher and the long ball hit him particularly hard as he ran a 2.01 HR/9 rate which is significantly higher than his career rate of 0.93.

The little bit of good news is that Street had some really bad luck in 2016 as he ran a .351 BABIP which is .087 points higher than his career rate of .264. In particular Huston had more trouble against right-handed hitters with a .378 BABIP versus a career .262 mark.

When you combine this bad luck with balls in play with the fact that Street ran a 46.3% GB% rate versus right-handed hitters with 50% Pull% and 23.8% Cent% rates as well as an absurdly high HR/FB ratio of 38.5% it becomes clear that Huston’s numbers should regress to the mean (improve) in 2017 with Andrelton Simmons playing behind him.

Also these performance issues could have easily been related to an oblique injury Street was dealing with in the middle of the season and then a right knee inflammation issue that ended up requiring surgery to repair.

Huston will undoubtedly be given every opportunity to start the year as the Angels closer. If he had not performed so poorly last year it seems likely he would have been moved at the trade deadline but, like everything else that went wrong with the Angels 2016 season, it was not meant to be.

Street is under team control in the last guaranteed year of his contract in 2017 for $9MM ($8.5MM AAV). Huston has a team option year for $10MM in 2018 with a meager $1MM buyout. Eppler might trade him preseason but it would be better to let him rebuild his value by starting the year as the closer.

Cam Bedrosian

The reason that Street could have been moved in trade last year is that young Cam Bedrosian appears ready to take over as the Angels high leverage reliever.

Cam had a truly exquisite year in 2016 to the tune of an 11.38 K/9 and 3.12 BB/9 rate. He suppressed the long ball with an excellent 0.22 HR/9 rate and kept the ball on the ground with a 49.5% GB%.

Bedrosian primarily features a mid-to-high 90’s four-seam fastball with a low-to-mid 80’s wipeout slider. He has toyed with some other offerings but these two have served him well.

After this season it would not be a total surprise to see the Angels offer Bedrosian a contract extension to buy out his arbitration years and perhaps one or more of his free agent seasons.

The primary reason, beyond Bedrosian’s actual and projected performance, is that if Cam continues to pitch full seasons moving forward (i.e. on the 25-man roster) he will likely become a Super Two player (identical to Calhoun and Shoemaker) which will send him through arbitration four times not three which will significantly increase his earnings.

Cam is under team control through 2021 and currently has one year of pre-arbitration control and four years of arbitration control. If Bedrosian were demoted to the Minors, for instance, he would stop accumulating service time, perhaps enough for him to miss the Super Two cutoff next season but it does not seem like a smart idea for the team to do this if they really want to compete.

Jose Alvarez

When you perform a Google search and type in the keywords “Jose Alvarez”, “Angelswin.com”, and “negative remarks” you get 729 distinct returns (just kidding).

Jose has somehow received the Fernando Salas negative branding where people perceive him to be less than what he actually is. Looking at the numbers however disproves this image and does not reflect his advanced peripherals that point to a breakout 2016 season.

Alvarez, a former starter, is a left-handed reliever and features a low-90’s four-seam and two-seam fastball, a good mid-80’s slider, a high quality high-70’s changeup, and an occasional high-70’s curveball.

In previous seasons Jose was very effective against left-handed hitters but Scioscia kept running him out against right-handed hitters to the chagrin of the fans. This is probably a contributor to the reputation Alvarez has developed through 2016.

However, Jose has been utilizing his two-seam fastball and changeup a bit more over the last two seasons and this year he really began to see the results of that labor.

In 2016, against right-handed hitters, Alvarez ran a nifty 15.6% K-BB% with 9.42 K/9 and 2.83 BB/9 rates. When you combine those numbers with a 51.1% GB% and a 39% Pull% and 41.1% Cent% and Simmons on defense behind you, it becomes clear that these numbers are sustainable.

Oh and did I mention he was also sitting on a .398 BABIP versus right-handers this year? If that number regresses to his career .323 BABIP watch out because Jose will become a real two-way threat on the mound.

It appears that Jose Alvarez, barring injury or a really poor showing in Spring Training, will start the year as the Halos primary left-handed reliever and deservedly so. Someone like Ashur Tolliver could possibly challenge him for the spot but it will be Alvarez’s to lose.

Jose has one more year of pre-arbitration and three years of arbitration control for a total of four years of team control.

Mike Morin

Another likely staple in the 2017 bullpen, 25 year old, right-hander Mike Morin had a decent peripherals, bad results year in 2016.

First of all Morin did very well against right-handed hitters this year to the tune of excellent 8.10 K/9 and 0.98 BB/9 rates, good for a 20.6% K-BB% and a 1.01 WHIP. He was really able to limit hard (31.1% Soft%) and solid (20% IFFB%) contact against them.

Unfortunately Mike did not fare as well against left-handed hitters. Here his primary problem was that he issued too many walks (5.21 BB/9 rate) and he had a lousy 55.2% LOB% which simply means more of those walks turned into runs.

Interestingly League average LOB% for relievers is 74% and Morin, so far in his career, has a 62.5% average over three seasons. To date Mike has not performed well in higher leverage situations but this might simply be sample size smoke.

Mike features a low-90’s four-seam fastball, a good low-80’s slider, and a nice low-70’s changeup. The former and the latter actually create one of the largest fastball-changeup velocity differentials in all of baseball.

Additionally, as Alden Gonzalez reported in 2014, Morin actually has two different changeups he can use by switching grips. This makes his struggles against left-handed hitters even more baffling because the changeup is a traditional weapon to get opposite-side hitters out and it just has not worked for him in the Majors so far.

Mike is in his last year of pre-arbitration control with three years of arbitration to follow for a total of four years of team control. Just like the recently released Cory Rasmus, Morin will need to continue to prove he belongs here or he could find himself traded or released in the near future.

Austin Adams

Adams, a 25 year old right-handed reliever, has toiled in the Minors and was recently added to the 40-man roster in advance of the Rule 5 Draft.

Austin has a live arm and features a four-seam fastball with a plus, wipeout slider to boot. His kryptonite appears to be command issues as he has never had a BB/9 rate below 4.30 in any full season in the Minors to date. That aside, he does create a lot of poor contact as he has consistently ran sub-.200 batting averages against over the last three seasons.

Look for Adams to start the season in the Minors to help preserve his Rookie eligibility and not start his service clock too soon. However his arm could be a difference maker in the bullpen so do not be surprised if he arrives sooner rather than later. He is under the standard six years of team control once he exceeds his rookie status.

Keynan Middleton

Speaking of fireballers what a nice surprise Middleton was during the 2016 season!

Originally drafted as a starter, Keynan struggled in his first three seasons never posting an actual ERA less than 5.30! Yikes!

However a decision was made prior to the 2016 season to convert him to a reliever and lo and behold Keynan started spitting hot fire touching as high as 102 mph in a recent late season game in Salt Lake.

The Angels, prior to the Rule 5 Draft, added Middleton to the 40-man roster to protect their emerging prospect. Just like Meyer it is quite likely that Middleton will start the year down in the Minors but the cream will rise to the top eventually so do not be surprised if you see him sooner rather than later as well.

Across three levels (A+, AA, and AAA) in 2016, Keynan held right-handed hitters to a .197/.279/.354/.633 slash line and left-handed hitters to a .194/.276/.398/.674 slash line showing no discernible platoon split.

There is a lot to be excited about for the future of the Angels relief staff with the trio of Cam, Alex, and Keynan holding down late innings. It could be the West Coast version of the Yankees 2016 ‘No-Run DMC’ bullpen trio of Chapman, Betances, and Miller except Angels fans would tell opposing hitters to watch out for the MAC-K Truck or something equally absurd but entertaining.

Keynan is still a rookie so once he starts his service clock he will be under team control for the standard six seasons.

Eduardo Paredes

Also added to the 40-man roster in advance of the Rule 5 Draft, Paredes features a mid-90’s four-seam fastball, a low-90’s two-seam fastball, and what Scout.com’s Taylor Blake Ward describes as a slurvy high-80’s, low-90’s curveball.

Just like Joe Smith, Eduardo is a sidearm thrower and can create a lot of deception particularly to right-handed hitters whom he has dominated at nearly every level. In the Minors to date Paredes hasn’t fared well against left-handed hitters but if he can further develop that curveball or integrate a changeup into his arsenal he could be a really solid back-end reliever.

Eduardo’s ability to adjust arm angle combined with the different look he provides to batters makes him a likely keeper for the Angels long term but, just like any reliever, nothing is promised if you are not performing.

Paredes still has rookie eligibility giving the Halos the standard six years of control once his MLB time clock starts. Unless he absolutely wows in Spring Training look for him to start 2017 in the Minors as bullpen depth.

Greg Mahle

If a player could receive a “bye” on any year of their choosing left-hander Greg Mahle would probably select 2016 to throw in the trash.

Mahle had a tough time in his brief stint in the Majors giving up a lot of free passes and getting torched by the long ball. Part of his problem was BABIP related but there were a couple of additional issues that point to room for improvement for him.

One big reason is the fact that he is running absurdly high HR/FB ratios. Against left-handers he ran 28.6% and versus right-handers he ran 20%. Both of those numbers seem ripe for regression to the mean (improvement) especially when you consider that the League average reliever HR/FB ratio is 12%.

Also Mahle is a groundball pitcher and in a very limited sample size in the Majors he ran a nearly 52% GB% against right-handed hitters with a 48.2% Pull% and a 33.3% Cent%. This of course puts the ball in play a lot in the general vicinity of Andrelton Simmons and you have to think that his BABIP will improve based on that limited analysis.

Greg features a high-80’s four-seam fastball, an above average mid-80’s two-seam fastball, a low-80’s slider, and a low 80’s changeup. He throws from a variety of arm slots including a submarine delivery. His youth, ability, and “different look to the hitters” could help him grab a roster spot out of Spring Training with a really strong showing in camp.

Mahle’s rookie status is still intact so he is under team control for a full six seasons. This likely means that if he does not wow Scioscia and Eppler in March he is destined to start the season in the Minors to control his MLB service time and could be called up later in the year.

Projected Bullpen

So based on the players available, including considerations of Major League service time, repertoire maturity, and experience, this is, barring injury or trades, the projected bullpen to start 2017:

Closer Huston Street (R)
Set Up Cam Bedrosian (R)
Set Up Jose Alvarez (L)
Middle Mike Morin (R)
Middle Deolis Guerra (R)
Middle Andrew Bailey (R)
Middle Ashur Tolliver (L)
Long Jesse Chavez (R)

This projected bullpen assumes, of course, that the Angels do not go out and acquire one or more relievers via free agency or trade. In principle it is a group of relievers with the potential to be good but Billy Eppler may not want to enter 2017 without adding one more experienced veteran reliever to provide more stability and consistency.

Top relievers like Aroldis Chapman, Kenley Jansen, and Mark Melancon will not only be in high demand but will also command a very high price. As much as the Angels could use an elite reliever, like one of the above, the team may simply be priced out of the top tier market in both free agency and trade (Wade Davis for example).

Below the top tier, particularly in the right-handed relief market, there are some interesting names that the Angels might be able to pick up at a more reasonable price including Brad Ziegler, Addison Reed, Nate Jones, Juan Nicasio, Sergio Romo, Luke Hochevar, Anthony Swarzak, Luke Gregerson, Santiago Casilla, Jhoulys Chacin, Mychal Givens, Chris Smith, and Drew Storen among others.

The left-handed market is not as deep and that is probably why Eppler claimed Ashur Tolliver from waivers in 2016 to compete against Jose Alvarez, Chris O’Grady, and Greg Mahle in Spring Training in anticipation of the short supply. Some names the Angels might have interest in include Sean Doolittle, Boone Logan, Matthew Strahm, Javier Lopez, Mike Dunn, and J.P. Howell among others.

If the Angels do grow a set of balls and go big in the free agent relief market we could potentially see fireworks on one of Chapman or Jansen. Acquiring Aroldis would pair him with Bedrosian as a power one-two punch in the back-end of the bullpen. The same would be true of Jansen, minus the 2nd round draft pick loss and, perhaps, a little less money.

If Eppler is not willing or is unable to invest heavily in a top tier closer type in free agency he may be able to find one with one year of control left on the trade market that would not break the prospect bank.

Wade Davis will have so much interest the Angels may not even be invited to the party. However someone like Addison Reed who will make a projected $13MM in arbitration might be obtainable because the Mets could simply turn around and use that money saved towards acquiring Chapman or Jansen themselves.

Perhaps Billy can acquire a depressed asset with upside like Trevor Rosenthal (unlikely but it is an example) or Jake McGee for instance. Even an injury return candidate like Greg Holland or Carter Capps might be within the fringe realm of doable in Eppler’s world but the bullpen, especially after the Bailey signing, increasingly appears to be an area of investment where the Angels are done spending money.

Realistically Eppler will have to step back into the “desert of the real” in order to search for the “One” if he decides to reinforce the bullpen. If the Angels are able to fill their other needs and still have money left over there is a possibility they could trade Street or another reliever to grab a preferred free agent or trade target to supplement the relief staff.

Ultimately adding another reliever seems more like a tertiary goal and luxury that team payroll will probably not be able to accommodate in 2017.

Author’s Choice – The Angels may have made their most significant bullpen addition after signing Andrew Bailey. Further expenditures for relief pitchers seem unlikely unless Eppler manages to trade Street and reallocate his salary to a younger arm.

Alvarez and Tolliver seem likely to be our left-handed options in 2017 from my point of view so if the Angels do decide to add one more arm it seems like they will bargain hunt in the right-handed side of the market where there are a substantial number of options in both free agency and trade.

The likeliest targets would be Brad Ziegler, Anthony Swarzak, Luke Hochevar, Drew Storen, or maybe a reunion with our old friend Jhoulys Chacin.

In the next section we will discuss our first base situation.

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Jahmai-Jones-2016-bm.jpg

By Scotty Allen, AngelsWin.com Staff Writer -  

Following Angels prospects requires an unhealthy obsession with uncertain possibilities, an unjustifiable optimism in a brighter future, a unnatural curiosity and an eye to see things that may or may not be there.  And so of course, only a few Angel fans are actually crazy enough to undertake this mission.  From myself (going on seven years in a row), DocHalo's memory of obscure details, Inside Pitch's calculations, Dave's traveling to different minor league parks and interviewing guys other people never heard of, and finally Chuck for organizing all of it, this year's Top 30 is a conglomeration of countless man hours and different areas of expertise.  There's no "one" person that can take credit for making this list, which offers readers a different perspective.  This isn't one knowledgeable person's perspective, this is AngelsWin, and this is a list of men we've debated over and assigned a value to.  Without any further ado, here are your AngelsWin Top 30 Prospects!

1. 1B Matt Thaiss
2. OF Jahmai Jones 
3. RHP Alex Meyer 
4. C Taylor Ward
5. OF Brandon Marsh
6. RHP Keynan Middleton
7. IF Nonie Williams 
8. OF Michael Hermosillo
9. RHP Chris Rodriguez
10. LHP Nate Smith
11. RHP Grayson Long
12. LHP Manny Banuelos
13. IF David Fletcher
14. RHP Jaime Barria
15. RHP Jesus Castillo
16. RHP Vicente Campos
17. RHP Cole Duensing
18. OF Troy Montgomery
19. RHP Eduardo Paredes
20. IF Hutton Moyer
21. OF Brennon Lund
22. RHP Kyle McGowin
23. RHP Joe Gatto
24. LHP Chris O'Grady
25. LHP Jonah Wesely
26. OF Jared Foster
27. OF Zach Gibbons
28. RHP Jordan Kipper
29. IF Leonardo Rivas
30. RHP Austin Adams

Scouting Reports as well as analysis on each of these prospects will be published every Monday, Wednesday and Friday from now until February, getting you your Angels fix through the cold winter months.  I'd like to personally encourage readers to compare our list with any others.  

And now, our Honorable Mentions.

SS Connor Justus - A fine defensive shortstop with the tools to stay there permanently.  A refined approach at the plate.  The only question is, will he hit enough to make it to the majors?

LHP Kevin Grendell - A left handed reliever that can touch the mid-90’s and the mentality to attack hitters.

OF Johan Sala - 18 year old outfielder from the Dominican Republic that just oozes upside.  He should come stateside next year.

RHP Jose Rodriguez - Soft tossing righty with a solid curve and change up.  Spots his pitches well.  An efficient pitcher, gets the easy outs.

IF Sherman Johnson - Athletic infielder, can do just about everything on the diamond except hit for average.  Makes up for it with great plate discipline.

RHP Jared Ruxer - Would have been a first or second round pick out of Louisville, but needed TJ surgery.  Back in action now.  Sits 92+ with a good breaking ball and advanced feel for a change up. Dominant in A Ball, roughed up in Cal League, though still logged strikeouts.

2B Jordan Zimmerman - 7th round pick from Michigan State.  A middle infielder with considerable power.

3B/LF Cal Towey - This guy (entering age 27 season) will not stop hitting. Solid gap power, some over-the-wall power, advanced approach at the plate, great pitch recognition.  Solid athlete, smart base runner.  An improbable story but he might end up being a very useful major leaguer.

2B Alex Yarbrough - Once seen as the heir to Howie Kendrick’s second base position, Yarbrough stumbled in AAA last year and spent the rest of the year in AA, where he was again solid.  There’s still some hope that his development hasn’t stalled and that he will be a starting second baseman in the major leagues.  He's also added third base to his resume.

RHP Troy Scribner - Soft tossing righty with a chip on his shoulder.  Upper 80’s fastball, good change up and good curve ball.  Has succeeded at every level despite mediocre arsenal.  Buried on the depth chart, but if he continues to out-pitch his competition, he’ll make it to the majors. Good trade for the Angels. 

Remember to tune in every Monday, Wednesday and Friday at AngelsWin for in-depth details and analysis regarding prospects.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016



By Robert Cunningham, AngelsWin.com Senior Columnist - 

Author’s Note: If you missed the first three installments you can find Part I here, Part II here, and Part III here.

A major component of the Angels failure in 2016 was the starting rotation and it is here that we start our examination of the 40-man roster because it will be the crux of their success or failure in 2017.

In order to comprehend the issue we first need to discuss who is available and who is not and the potential problem involving innings limits for some of those pitchers.

Below is a current list of starting pitchers that project to be available to start in 2017:

Garrett Richards
Matt Shoemaker
Tyler Skaggs
Alex Meyer
Ricky Nolasco
Jesse Chavez 
Daniel Wright

Also, the Angels have the following Minor League farm system pitchers that could potentially be called upon to start the season, fill in as depth or provide emergency backup if needed:

Nate Smith
Troy Scribner
Christopher O’Grady
Chris Jones
Blayne Weller
Manny Banuelos
Alex Blackford
Tyler Carpenter
Jose Molina
Jordan Kipper
Kyle Mcgowin
Vicente Campos

To be clear many of these names are at the bottom of the Major League depth chart, such as Carpenter and Molina for instance. They will only be called up if the team suffers significant multiple injuries at one time.

Eppler recognized the depth problem when he first came aboard and several players, including relievers, were tried out as starters or were given aggressive assignments in 2016. If even one of these converted guy’s pans out in the role it will be a plus for the team next year.

Finally the following pitchers could hypothetically be converted back to starters if Billy Eppler and Mike Scioscia believe that they can legitimately make the change and contribute in 2017:

Jose Alvarez
J.C. Ramirez
Deolis Guerra

Alvarez, Ramirez, and Guerra have previous experience starting games and Jeff Fletcher recently reported that Ramirez will be tried out as a starter in Spring Training.

In theory the three lists above comprise a reasonable depth chart for the Halos. There is enough upside in that group that it could break the Top 10 in total overall performance but there is also enough downside risk to make a repeat of 2016 a possibility.

Part of that potential large variability in performance will be whether or not the Angels pitching staff can soak up enough quality innings over the course of the season.

Garrett Richards pitched a mere 34.2 innings in 2016 whereas the year before he pitched 212.1 innings. Can he realistically pitch a full season especially when you consider his UCL injury? It seems likely that if the team is doing well they might have to give him some rest down the stretch to mitigate the possibility of reinjuring his UCL. It is a legitimate concern.

Tyler Skaggs, who missed all of 2015 recovering from Tommy John Surgery, only pitched a total of 89 innings in 2016. In practice most teams impose an innings limit, year to year, of no more than a 30%-50% over the previous year. Skaggs’ situation might be an exception because he took the full recovery time recommended for TJS patients so this may or may not be an issue.

Alex Meyer pitched 94.2 innings in 2015 and, because of his shoulder injury, 54.1 innings in 2016. The maximum he ever reached was 130.1 in 2014. Truthfully this brings into question whether or not he could pitch a full season if he were to make the team out of Spring Training.

This fact alone may push him into a bullpen role but the team’s medical staff and trainers know more than a layperson does. There is a possibility that he begins the season as a starter in the Majors or the Minors and then moves to a bullpen role to manage his total innings pitched.

When you look at the rest of the potential starters it seems clear that Shoemaker, Nolasco, Chavez, and Wright could shoulder significant innings. On the farm Smith, Scribner and Jones seem like the most likely trio to be called up in the unlikely event a starter goes down long term.

Billy Eppler very likely wants to keep Nate Smith, Alex Meyer, Vicente Campos, and Daniel Wright’s rookie eligibility intact to start 2017. Starting their MLB time clocks would be less than ideal but based on how the offseason goes and what happens in Spring Training he may have to make a tough decision to put the best 25-man team on the field.

Assuming they do keep their rookie eligibility intact and all four of them start the season in AA or AAA it appears, at first glance, that the 2017 starting rotation would look like this:

1 Garrett Richards
2 Tyler Skaggs
3 Matt Shoemaker
4 ?
5 Ricky Nolasco

The question mark is there because the Angels will likely want to run another left-handed pitcher as their #4 starter. This is primarily due to the idea of giving the opposing team a “different look” in the batter’s box, from start to start, which makes sense.

If Billy Eppler wants to save money, here, the team will, if they really want a lefty there, run out Nate Smith or Manny Banuelos, or, if they don’t want a lefty, Jesse Chavez or one of Vicente Campos, Alex Meyer or Daniel Wright. Chavez is the clear choice since he is signed on a Major League deal but Eppler and Scioscia need to settle on the optimal group and pattern to run out against opposing teams.

Alternatively, if they want a more experienced veteran pitcher, they could start Chavez in the bullpen and go out on the free agent or trade markets and acquire a left-handed starter of which there are some reasonable options in both free agency and potential trade including:

Drew Smyly
C.C. Sabathia
Jaime Garcia
Brett Anderson
Derek Holland
Jorge De La Rosa
Felix Doubront
Gio Gonzalez
Rich Hill
Scott Kazmir
Jon Niese
Patrick Corbin
C.J. Wilson
Ross Detwiler
Tommy Milone
Francisco Liriano
Wade Miley
Jason Vargas
Scott Diamond
Danny Duffy
Hector Santiago
Chris Sale
Jose Quintana
Hyun-Jin Ryu

Now of course some of these options are better than others.

For instance Sabathia will be making $25MM ($23MM in AAV) in 2017 so unless the Yankees are kicking in a lot of money he makes no sense for the Angels. Additionally it seems unlikely that the Halos would want to reunite with Kazmir, Santiago, and perhaps Wilson again.

The remainder contains a mix of high quality (Smyly, Gonzalez, Hill, Sale, Duffy and Quintana), mid-tier quality (Sabathia, Garcia, Wilson, Liriano, and Corbin) and low quality options (Holland, De La Rosa, Doubront, Niese, Milone, Detwiler, Miley, Vargas, and Diamond) that Eppler could potentially acquire via free agency or trade based on what the team needs.

Realistically the Angels only need a veteran on a one year deal. Eppler knows that Andrew Heaney will more than likely return in 2018 and it does not make a lot of sense to invest long term in a starter this offseason unless Billy plans to trade another rotation piece this year or next year which seems unlikely although not implausible.

Probably, if the Angels do go this route, they will target a left-handed starter like Jaime Garcia who only has one year remaining on his contract (an option the Cardinals exercised for 2017) and would not cost us one of our best prospects if the Angels take on most or all of his salary.

He fits the likely profile in that he runs a high groundball rate (59% GB% with a 48.1% Pull% vs. RHH’s and a 47% GB% with a 30.1% Oppo% vs. LHH’s), has one year of control left for the 2017 season, and has a fairly reasonable Average Annual Value on his contract of $12MM. 

Garcia is not the only option of course. If the Angels stick to the one year time horizon Liriano would also fit the GB% profile. Duffy also fits the time horizon but he is coming off an excellent 2016 campaign and will cost more. Wilson might take a one-year pillow contract to rebuild his value.

Tommy Milone could soak up innings and would only cost a small amount of cash. Miley has an AAV of $6.25MM (actual 2017 salary of $8.917MM) and a 2018 team option with a measly $500K buyout. Diamond and Anderson have their warts but fit the GB% profile well and both could likely be had on an inexpensive one year deal.

Another reason it seems more likely the Angels will grab a left-handed starter is that the supply of right-handed starters that fit the one year of control profile seem slim.

Names in free agency like Nova, Alvarez, and Fister, all seem primed to get multi-year deals although the Angels certainly have the available payroll to make one of those names happen. Beyond them you have aging veterans like Peavy, Simon, and Weaver who could all be had on short term contracts. Chacin and Lincecum would be available again too.

The trade market is a little better than free agency, in terms of quality, with names like John Lackey, Marco Estrada, Ubaldo Jimenez, Matt Garza, Yu Darvish, Mike Pelfrey, Lance Lynn, and Clay Buchholz potentially available among others. It is still not an awe-inspiring group to select from however.

If the Angels do pick up an established starter it will allow the team to use left-hander’s Manny Banuelos and Nate Smith and right-hander’s Jesse Chavez, Alex Meyer, and Daniel Wright as rotation depth.

This would establish a depth chart of ten starters to begin the season and this is not counting pitchers like Scribner, Jones, O’Grady, or Alvarez who could potentially spot start as needed during the year.

Signing or acquiring one more veteran starter is not a sure thing for the Angels but when you look at the current projected rotation, combined with potential concern regarding innings pitched limits, a rotation that can provide length, and the supply that is available, acquiring one veteran starter will go a long way towards building depth for the 2017 campaign.

There will be a similar problem next season as the Angels hopefully welcome back left-hander Andrew Heaney and right-hander Nick Tropeano from Tommy John Surgery. Both will likely face innings pitched limits which will require additional creativity by Billy Eppler to supplement the length of the rotation.

In the event that Nick Tropeano does have a delay in his recovery, Billy smartly grabbed Ricky Nolasco in the Santiago trade as Nolasco has a 2018 team option with a total innings pitched condition that might turn it into a player option. Ricky is rotation insurance if Tropeano has a setback and could even start while Nick begins the year in the bullpen. It would be just as smart for Eppler to find a left-handed starter with a 2018 option in case Heaney does not start the season as well, although Billy may go with Nate Smith in that scenario.

Finally we need to briefly discuss what happens if Garrett Richards experiences a setback in his recovery.

In that event it would not be at all surprising to see the Angels sign a veteran right-handed starter like Jered Weaver on an inexpensive deal to help soak up innings. If this unfortunate scenario does play out it will likely have a significant impact on the Angels ability to compete in 2017.

Author’s Choice – If the Angels decide they need one more starter, beginning the season with Banuelos or Smith is an internal option if the Angels allocate money and trade chips at 2B. If having a left-handed starter is not that important then Jesse Chavez or Daniel Wright makes a lot of sense.

The trade market seems to hold the best options and I would expect that Wade Miley would be the best fit for the 25-man roster in terms of price and contract length followed distantly by Jaime Garcia, Danny Duffy, and Francisco Liriano mainly due to AAV concerns. Garcia and Miley have both been mentioned as trade candidates in recent MLBTradeRumors.com articles.

Finally if the asking price is too high in the trade market Eppler can probably pick up a reasonably priced lefty in free agency. In this case Brett Anderson or, to a lesser extent, Scott Diamond strike me as very affordable short term options with high groundball rates that fit our emerging team defensive profile.

In the next section we will discuss our bullpen options.

Saturday, November 26, 2016

By Robert Cunningham, AngelsWin.com Staff Writer - 

Author’s Note: If you missed the first two installments you can find Part I here and Part II, here.

Before we begin delving into the roster on a position by position basis it would be good to identify which players on the team Billy Eppler most likely plans to build around in 2017 and beyond.

The following players appear to be clear cut building blocks that will not be traded in the foreseeable future:

Mike Trout                                         Andrew Heaney
Kole Calhoun                                     Matt Shoemaker
Andrelton Simmons                           Tyler Skaggs
Albert Pujols                                      Cam Bedrosian
Garrett Richards                            Alex Meyer

Of course the Angels universe revolves around superstar MVP Mike Trout. You cannot ask for a better centerpiece (or if you prefer ‘centerfieldpiece’) to place in your dining room so the Angels special ordered a $150MM Shaq-sized table to set it on for a few years.

To help set that table further, Kole Calhoun provides high quality defense and above average offense making him a very valuable part of this current squad. He really flies under the radar but he is one of the few guys in baseball that is average or above across the standard 5 tools (average, power, base running, throwing arm, and defense). Calhoun is a potential extension candidate to buy out his remaining arbitration years.

Andrelton Simmons brings a fantastic throwing arm and is arguably the best defensive player in all of baseball. Billy Eppler brought Andrelton in with the specific purpose of building a pitching staff that will put the ball in play to him as often as humanly possible, maximizing the value of his glove.

Albert Pujols became a building block the moment he signed a 10 year, $240MM contract. Certainly that type of contract is very difficult to trade particularly when he doesn’t quite perform like a $24MM player should. All that being said Pujols did have a solid year in 2016 and he still has thump in his bat making him a mainstay in the middle of the order for the next couple of years.

The feel good story of the year goes to Garrett Richards who appears to have recovered from his UCL tear and is currently on track to start next season. When Richards is healthy he is the ace of a staff and the Angels hope to maximize that ability over his remaining two years of control. If things go well in 2017 it would not be surprising to see the front office offer Garrett an extension contract.

Although Andrew Heaney is out next season recovering from Tommy John Surgery the Angels very likely look at him as a core player in 2018 and beyond. Heaney has solid upside (#2/#3) if he returns healthy and effective and the Angels very likely want to pair him with Skaggs as the team’s two primary left-handed starters after next season.

Shoemaker’s turnaround this year is nothing short of incredible. After his one-game demotion to AAA on May 6th, 2016, Matt returned to the Majors and over the next 22 games he ran a 18.9% K%-BB% and .255 BAA, good for a 3.10 ERA and a 1.13 WHIP. That is ace level behavior and if Shoemaker can replicate that in 2017 and beyond it will bode very well for the Angels future playoff hopes. If Matt does perform well next year he could be an extension candidate as well.

Tyler Skaggs is another wild card for the Halos but he certainly has the prospect pedigree to be an impact starter and he is likely viewed as a core player for next year and beyond. Tyler can be that second quality lefty in the rotation and is controlled through 2020. He has serious upside if he is healthy and effective and if the trio of Richards, Shoemaker, and Skaggs perform like they are capable; the 2017 rotation will look markedly different from the 2016 version. If Tyler performs well next year he too could be offered an extension contract.

It seems like only yesterday that the author interviewed Cam Bedrosian (May 2014) in the home clubhouse hallway at Dickey-Stephens Park, the former AA Angels affiliate, but boy has he come a long way, especially in 2016. Clearly Cam is finding his rhythm and it would not be surprising to see him take over the closer role sooner rather than later. Bedrosian will likely be our best reliever entering 2017 and quite frankly it couldn’t have come at a better time.

Finally Alex Meyer, the recent Eppler acquisition in the Hector Santiago trade, seems primed for an opportunity to join the rotation or bullpen. Billy specifically targeted Meyer for his power arm and excellent Minor League history of putting the ball on the ground which will only play in to Eppler’s emerging strategic foundation of quality infield defense led by his captain, Simmons. Alex is under team control through 2022 and the Angels are hoping he can make a serious impact in the rotation or as high leverage relief (probably the latter).

Although any player can be traded these ten core players are the most likely to stay over the next 2-4 years. Some might disagree with this list or feel that someone was left out but this group represents the probable foundation that Eppler will build upon.

In the next section we will discuss the starting pitching rotation.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016


By Robert Cunningham, AngelsWin.com Staff Writer - 

There are a handful of prospective paths that Billy Eppler and the Angels can take during the offseason as they prepare for 2017.

The first is the minimalist route where the team makes small, affordable value moves in free agency or trade that enhance the team and conserves payroll but may not move the needle excessively in terms of impacting their odds of winning the Division.

A case could be made that if the Angels keep most of their offense intact next year combined with elevated performances from Richards, Shoemaker, Skaggs, and the rest of the rotation along with certain bullpen pieces making advanced strides that the Angels might have a chance of effectively competing. Might being the key word here.

If the Angels do decide to go that route expect them to make moves not dissimilar from last year where they sign one or more lower tier free agents or execute one or more moderate trades to fill out the 40-man roster.

Players like Geovany Soto, C.J. Wilson, Wade Miley, Brett Anderson, Santiago Casilla, Brandon Guyer, Brad Ziegler, Tony Watson, Eric O’Flaherty, or Chase Utley could be signed to short one or two year deals or, in the case of the Angels targeting a player in trade, have only one or two years remaining on their existing contracts. These possible additions could help bridge the gap to some of the prospects coming up in the Angels Minor League farm system or simply provide a temporary solution to a roster problem.

This certainly isn’t the sexiest option but it is the one with the least amount of financial and asset risk. The signings of Andrew Bailey (1 year, $1MM) and Jesse Chavez (1 year, $5.75MM plus $2.5M in potential incentives) are examples of this strategic approach.

The advantage to this is that you do not tie up a lot of long-term payroll, giving the Angels the freedom to approach the 2017-2018 and 2018-2019 free agent classes with more aggression or even try to extend Mike Trout and Kole Calhoun for instance. Also the Angels will be able to enter the Minor League draft with all of their draft rounds intact which helps build for the future.

The disadvantage to this minimalist course of action is that you improve the team marginally, making a repeat of 2016 more probable if key members of the team don’t step up or develop as expected. It will require a lot of things to go “just right” and that, as Angels fans witnessed in 2016, seems dicey.

Alternatively, the second route the Halos can take is one where they spend some money on free agents but not those that have a draft pick loss attached due to a Qualifying Offer. This route could, of course, also include one or more mid-level trades where we take on cash for a higher quality player with one or two years left on their contract or even a long-term asset with a more payroll friendly deal.

Free agents that do not have a Qualifying Offer attached include names like Aroldis Chapman, Mark Melancon, Rich Hill, Ivan Nova, Carlos Beltran, Steve Pearce, and a host of other minor role players in free agency.

Here the Angels could potentially improve the rotation depth and length by going after Hill or Nova, overall bullpen quality by going after Chapman or Melancon, and the power of the offense by going after Pearce for instance.

There are a wide variety of rumored trade candidates on the market as well including names like Tyson Ross, Wade Davis, Drew Smyly, Jaime Garcia, Derek Dietrich, Kolten Wong, Jhonny Peralta, Brian Dozier, Jarrod Dyson, Cesar Hernandez, Todd Frazier, Adam Eaton, Brett Gardner, Clay Buchholz, and Gio Gonzalez among others.

Most of those names, above, have only one more year of team control whether it is through a team option or arbitration control. Others like Smyly, Gardner, Dietrich, Wong, and Eaton are under longer team control and have had their names floated out as trade candidates over the last year.

This strategic option is a little more palatable as it does improve the team significantly in one or more areas and can provide depth at certain positions that need it. It could also enable Eppler to make a trade, say if, for instance, he signed Chapman and traded Street, to reduce payroll, and fill another area of need or add to the farm system. The Cameron Maybin trade (1 year, $9MM) falls under the umbrella of this middle-of-the-road strategic approach.

The advantage here is that you potentially improve the 2017 squad and their chances of contention without compromising next year’s Minor League draft allowing the Angels to retain all of their picks.

Of course the disadvantage is that you will be spending more money because someone like Chapman will command $15MM-20MM per year in free agency and/or you continue to deplete an already barren farm system to make one or more trades.

Eppler, if he signs or trades for one or more middle-tier players will move the needle further towards contention but potentially at a pretty steep price if the Angels target a big-ticket name.

Finally the third option revolves around the Angels spending money to sign free agents including ones that have a Qualifying Offer and draft pick loss attached or they make a major trade for an impact player utilizing what is left of their financial muscle (which could require them to breach the CBT) and any expendable assets at both the Major League and Minor League levels.

The Angels secured the 10th round protected draft pick for next year’s Minor League draft which might make signing a free agent with a Qualifying Offer attached a bit more palatable as the Angels would only lose their 2nd round pick (and 3rd and 4th, etc. for each subsequent free agent signed that has a Qualifying Offer attached).

Here the Angels could sign one or more of the free agents with a draft pick loss attached which include Jose Bautista, Yoenis Cespedes, Ian Desmond, Kenley Jansen, Edwin Encarnacion, and Dexter Fowler. Based on Eppler’s quick moves to start the offseason, the only likely players, above, that the Angels would have any remaining interest in would be Ian Desmond and Kenley Jansen.

The continuing disadvantage here is that signing free agents costs money. Players like Cespedes, Desmond, Jansen, and Encarnacion will not come cheap especially if there is a high market demand for a particular player. In all likelihood the Angels can probably, at best, only afford to purchase one of them with the approximately $21.1MM currently available in free payroll (more if the CBT threshold rises beyond the current $189MM). That $21MM is probably not enough for one of the big bats.

Of course the advantage is that the Angels fill one or more areas of need by spending cash without having to sacrifice farm assets other than a 2017 2nd round draft pick (and perhaps a 3rd, etc.). Certainly giving up one or more picks is painful but the Angels have to weigh that versus the ability to potentially improve the team.

Additionally if the Angels manage to pull off a major trade for a big name player it would almost certainly eat up most if not all of our remaining payroll space plus it would very likely cost us Major League players and the remaining vestiges of our farm system. The advantage here is that we do not sacrifice a draft pick but we do sacrifice team cash and more established, well-known, assets.

This scenario really only makes sense if the Angels feel that one or more of the free agents with Qualifying Offers is more desirable than our internal options and other less expensive targets or the assets we are giving up in a trade are non-critical to our long term farm system recovery.

Taking this, or the middle-of-the-road route, might allow Eppler greater luxury to take advantage of the free agent and trade markets at specific positions by signing one or more free agents where the Angels do have depth, or at least a tradable asset, and then move that depth/asset for help in another area of need or for prospects.

Additionally “going big” must be viewed through the lens of improving the team short term versus long term. Can the team afford to lose one or more of their best prospects like Taylor Ward, Grayson Long, or Jahmai Jones in order to strengthen the team now or in the near future? This is a problematic question when you are facing the next four years of Mike Trout’s control.

Clearly the Angels will have to weigh the potential changes of the new Collective Bargaining Agreement combined with the fact they have a protected 10th round draft pick, and where they sit in relation to their AL West competition in order to determine the best course of action.

If the Qualifying Offer is eliminated entirely, under the new CBA, it may push some of the free agents with Qualifying Offers attached to accept the offer in order to sign long-term deals next offseason where they could potentially earn more money in free agency.

Alternatively the Qualifying Offer might be modified in other ways that could impact the free agent market in an unforeseen manner so this offseason could prove to be an interesting one, from a procedural standpoint, despite the lack of high-end talent.

Ultimately Billy Eppler has clearly stated that the team will be competitive in 2017 and there is no reason to doubt him.

However in order to really do that the Angels will, realistically, have to spend some money because the projected roster of players, while above average, will probably not get the team to the Promised Land.

Additionally the farm system is pretty bare making trades more difficult to execute and there are simply too many significant holes in the rotation, bullpen, at 2B, and overall team depth is still weak.

Team depth is, in part, why the Angels failed to make the postseason in 2016. If you do not have capable reserves, when a player gets injured, you cannot maintain and sustain continued success on the field.

The Angels did take steps over this last year to acquire and build depth particularly in the bullpen. A lot of these waiver claims will not pan out but if one or two of them stick they could become valuable role players moving forward.

Billy Eppler has a goal and plan for this team. Building team depth is just one aspect. He has crafted a strategy and is attempting to execute on it but that takes time to come to fruition and can take years to accomplish in full.

This strategy appears to be based on the long revered adage of pitching and defense.

If you look at the eight teams that made the playoffs this year nearly all of them had strong starting rotations (and bullpens) backed up by an above average defensive unit.

Acquiring Andrelton Simmons was not an accident. It was a premeditated trade towards the strategic goal of building a ground ball oriented pitching staff because the way you maximize defensive assets is by making sure you get the ball hit to them as much as possible.

This is why Eppler targeted Alex Meyer in the Hector Santiago trade. He not only brought in a back-end starter in Nolasco, he acquired Meyer who has a long Minor League history as a ground ball artist who has a heavy fastball with downward plane and a wipeout slider that not only misses bats but creates poor contact. Whether he starts is a different matter but the principle is the same in the rotation and in the bullpen.

It is also why Eppler took fliers on Lincecum and Chacin, in 2016, because they have average or above career ground ball rates against right-handed hitters (both 46%). Garrett Richards also has a high career ground ball rate (nearly 50% overall). Skaggs is at a career 46% GB% versus right-handed hitters. Even Nolasco over the last two seasons has run an approximate 46% GB% versus right-handed hitters.

This strategy is a departure from Dipoto who attempted to build a fly ball heavy staff to utilize the excellent outfield defense led by Trout and the large confines of Angels stadium. In principle it wasn’t a bad idea because fly ball pitchers were in greater supply at that time but the execution fell short at times (i.e. the Blanton era).

Realistically Eppler’s approach seems more fundamentally sound as ground balls lead to more singles and doubles but balls in the air lead to more home runs. Ground ball heavy pitching staff’s help to limit big innings but they do give up incrementally more runs if an opposing team can string together hits.

In actual practice it is the pitchers that can balance both that tend to do the best. Notably ground ball pitchers do tend to have higher HR/FB% primarily because they don’t induce many infield pop ups so when a ground ball pitcher does miss they tend to miss big.

Billy’s addition of an elite defensive player like Simmons actually makes this ground ball strategy a lot more valuable. It would not be surprising to see Eppler add a good defensive second baseman this season and then a good defensive third baseman now or next season to continue building upon his pitching and defense-oriented vision for the team.

In terms of starting pitching Billy is limited in 2017 by injuries to Heaney and Tropeano but there is also hope that Richards will be healthy and effective, Shoemaker will continue his excellence from last year, and Skaggs will rise up to his former prospect pedigree.

Adding one more veteran starter makes a lot of sense to add length and depth to the starting staff. After next year, the 2018 rotation should be, in theory, quite strong and deep with the return of Andrew and Nick along with the continued development of our Minor League farm system so if Billy does add another starter for 2017, beyond the Chavez deal, it should be on a short one year deal barring a trade of one of our current starters.

The bullpen is another area of concern as Huston Street struggled in the second half of 2016. However the bright spot was young Cam Bedrosian who looks primed to be the team’s go-to high leverage reliever in the very near future.

There are other names like Guerra, Alvarez, Morin, Ege, Mahle, Parker, Ramirez, Tolliver, Paredes, Middleton, Valdez, and Yates that could take a step forward which would go a long way towards shutting down opposing lineups. Also, recently, the Angels signed Andrew Bailey after seeing him in action near the end of the season. He will provide a veteran presence and has potential upside for the team.

Ultimately it may be best for Eppler to acquire another quality reliever in free agency or trade because there appears to be too much potential variability in performance with the current crop of pitchers. A more established veteran, just like with the rotation, could help provide greater stability in the mid and late innings.

Offensively Billy needs to make sure that the team maintains or improves on its 9th ranked wRC+ of 100 in 2016. It seems possible that Eppler can do that because the entire first half of his lineup can return in 2017. The recent addition of Maybin only enhances that effort providing another leadoff type of hitter with some speed on the bases.

It really boils down to mitigating the loss of Soto’s bat and finding a competent league average offensive, and above average defensive, answer at 2B, so this does not appear to be a monumental task in principle but market availability will dictate how difficult it will be to execute.

This offseason, based on the moves executed so far, will likely be one where Eppler uses some ingenuity to bring in one or two long term solutions combined with a variety of medium to high risk, short term, upside signings or trades that will temporarily fill holes, make the team competitive, and provide greater depth.

Notably by bringing in short term contracts Eppler can, if the team is out of contention next year, trade some or all of them at the deadline for players or prospects with long term control and value.

It seems unlikely that the Angels will splurge on a big name acquisition unless management can really monitor the budget and/or find the right deal or trade partner. This makes the middle-of-the-road and minimalist approaches discussed above the far more likely routes the team will take to preserve their draft picks and minimize the damage any trades have on what is left of their farm system.

Using the “two birds, one stone” approach as he did in the Santiago for Nolasco/Meyer trade is one way to accumulate serviceable players for the 2017 team while simultaneously building for the future. He will need to continue thinking “outside the box” to improve the team. 

In the meantime he is left with the budget and players that are available to him as he tries to build his image to surround the Millville Meteor with a core group of players that can pitch, field, and hit their way to victory.

By simply having Mike Trout the Angels have the foundation to win the Division in any season but there are 39 additional 40-man roster spots that need to compliment and support his Hall of Fame ability if the Angels want to go all the way.

In the next few sections we will examine the core of the team, each position, and any likely internal, trade, and free agent opportunities that we have or the market might present.

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Click on the picture above to pick up a copy of Rob Goldman's latest on Angels' great, Nolan Ryan. A Must Read for every fan of the Angels!

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