Which Top Angels Prospect Has the Best Shot of Making the Opening Day Roster?

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Which Top Angels Prospect Has the Best Shot of Making the Opening Day Roster?
Kaleb Cowart will enter his first big-league Spring Training next month. // Courtesy of MiLB.com

The Los Angeles Angels announced that they have invited 21 non-roster players to spring training this season. The organization’s pitchers and catchers are scheduled to report on Feb. 11, with position players arriving a few days later on Feb. 14.

In addition to the 10 veteran players that have already been signed to a minor league contract, the Angels have extended an invitation to 11 prospects, including three that rank within their top-10.

 

First-Timers

The organization’s top prospect, third baseman Kaleb Cowart, will receive his first taste of big-league spring training after a breakout 2012 campaign in his full-season debut. After batting .293/.348/.479 with 28 extra-base hits and 44/22 K/BB in 66 games for Low-A Cedar Rapids, the 20-year-old switch hitter received a mid-season promotion to High-A Inland Empire. Although he showed signs of fatigue down the stretch, Cowart still batted .259/.366/.426 with 26 extra-base hits and 67/45 K/BB in 69 games.

In addition to the improvements he made at the plate last season, Cowart also made strides in both his defense and overall consistency at the hot corner. His plus arm, which generated mid-90s fastballs off the mound in high school, continues to be an asset at the position.

Randal Grichuk: Will his success continue at Double-A Arkansas in 2013?

Randal Grichuk, the Angels’ No. 7 prospect, will also attend his first spring training next month. Selected in the first round of the 2009 draft, the 21-year-old has developed slowly and missed significant time due to injury. The outfielder enjoyed an under-the-radar, breakout season in 2012, batting .298/.335/.488 with 57 extra-base hits (18 home runs), 16 stolen bases and 92/23 K/BB in 135 games for High-A Inland Empire. Although his stats were inflated due to the hitter-friendly environment of the California League, Grichuk finally began to narrow the gap between the present and future.

An invitation was also extended to the team's fourth-round selection from the 2012 draft, second baseman Alex Yarbrough. Recently ranked as the organization’s No. 10 prospect, the 21-year-old switch hitter reached Double-A in his professional debut after batting .287/320/.410 in 58 games for Low-A Cedar Rapids. Although he lacks a single impact tool, Yarbrough is well-rounded player on both sides of the ball.

Outside of the team’s top-10 prospects, right-hander A.J. Schugel and shortstop Eric Stamets both have been invited to their first major-league spring training.

After spending a majority of the 2010 and 2011 seasons as a reliever, the Angels officially shifted Schugel, 23, into the starting rotation last season. Needless to say, the right-hander exceeded expectations by registering 2.89 ERA with 109/55 K/BB in 140.1 innings.

Stamets, the organization’s sixth-round pick in the 2012 draft, is a glove-first shortstop with the plus speed, consistent glove and arm strength to remain at the position. If he can improve his plate discipline and on-base skills, the 21-year-old has the potential to be a pesky, top-of-the-order hitter.

The Angels also invited a trio of defense-oriented catching prospects: Jett Bandy, Carlos Ramirez and Zach Wright.

Bandy, 22, is a solid-average defensive catcher who’s amassed only nine passed balls in 116 minor-league games and played the entire 2012 season at High-A Inland Empire.

Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports
Carlos Ramirez is hoping to bounce back from a dismal 2012 season.

Ramirez is an above-average defender with excellent secondary skills. However, he posted a career-worst .588 OPS last season as a 24-year-old at Double-A Arkansas.

A 12th-round draft pick in 2012 out of East Carolina University, Wright, 23, was assigned directly to Low-A Cedar Rapids after signing. At 6’2”, 210 pounds, he’s physical behind the plate and has the potential to be at least a solid-average defender. The right-handed hitter batted .268/.385/.419 with 14 extra-base hits and 38/28 K/BB in 52 games.

The only other notable prospect to receive an invitation is second baseman Taylor Lindsey, 21, who returns to big-league camp for the second-consecutive season. After batting .289/.328/.408 in 134 games at High-A Inland Empire last season, the left-handed hitter is ready for the jump to Double-A Arkansas.

 

The Year Ahead 

But are the Angels actually considering breaking camp with any of the aforementioned players?

Yes, potentially. But not any of their top prospects.

Cowart and Grichuk each received an invitation due to their respective breakout performances last season at High-A. Presuming that both players, as well as Taylor Lindsey, open the 2013 season at Double-A Arkansas, spring training should offer invaluable experience alongside many of their future teammates and coaches.

Which Non-Roster Invitee Has the Best Shot of Making the Opening Day Roster?

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With an eye-opening spring and strong performance at Double-A to begin the 2013 season, Cowart is the Angels’ only position prospect capable of reaching the major leagues this year. Not only is he the most advanced player in the organization, he also has the clearest path to playing time. The team’s current third baseman, Alberto Callaspo, 29, is arbitration-eligible for the third time this offseason, and will become a free agent after the upcoming season.

Grichuk and Lindsey, on the other hand, are likely to reach the major leagues in mid-to-late-2014 after some much-needed seasoning in the minors. It’s also worth noting that Grichuk will become Rule-5 draft-eligible after the 2013 season, and, as a result, be added to the Angels’ 40-man roster. Therefore, there’s no pressure to rush him up the ladder.

By extending invitations to Stamets, Schugel and Yarbrough, the organization is offering a vote of confidence in all three players. Each prospect should finish the 2013 season in the high minors with a chance for a big-league debut in 2014.

 

Roster Battle Brewing

The Angels' only position that’s seemingly unsolidified headed into spring training is that of backup, and possible third-string, catcher.

Chris Iannetta will obviously be the team’s Opening Day backstop, with Hank Conger and Jon Hester expected to compete for reserve duty. However, expect the other catching prospects invited to spring training to challenge them both for a roster spot.

Of the three, I wouldn’t sleep on Carlos Ramirez. Yes, he had a pretty terrible 2012 season at Double-A Arkansas. But the 24-year-old’s still only a year removed from posting an .848 OPS across three levels and offers nearly big-league-ready defense.

Considering that Hester’s bat has trailed off over the last two seasons and his defense is fringy (at best), he’s anything but a lock for the Opening Day roster. The same goes for Conger, who’s failed to produce in the major leagues in each of the last three seasons and owns a .201/.280/.330 career slash line in 79 games.

If Ramirez can rebound at the plate this spring, he could quickly emerge as the frontrunner for the backup catching position and receive significant playing time in the upcoming season.

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