Ranking the Angels' Top 10 Prospects After the 2013 Minor League Season
And that's no minor matter, my friends.
In what can only be labeled as a bizarre continuation to the 2013 escapades of the Angels, the dynamic job by the organization's minor league system this season is overwhelmingly intriguing—with the Triple-A Salt Lake Bees, the Double-A Arkansas Travelers and the Single-A (Advanced) Inland Empire 66ers all making their championship series, respectively.
Sure, I realize that a title in the minor leagues doesn't always equate to a successful crop of major league players. But so what? With a system that has been pegged as the worst in the minor leagues, the Angels should take pride in the accomplishment.
Who knows if it will ultimately lead to a less headache-filled future for the Halos; I certainly don't.
However, I do know this:
- Some of these players I have been following this season aren't as yawn-filled as originally labeled.
- The top 10 Angels' prospects, though not the most stable crop, all have possible upside that will work in the MLB.
- While players like Travis Witherspoon, Daniel Tillman and Luis Jimenez bounced out of the top 10, names like Stamets, Morin and Yarbrough replaced them with impressive ability that should progress.
- For the naysayers, I would direct them to a great Casey Stengel quote:
"There are three things you can do in a baseball game. You can win, or you can lose, or it can rain."
- I'm no weatherman, but the Angels farm system seems to be producing more than a few wins.
With that in mind, here is my ranking of their top 10 minor leaguers this year.
1: No. 6 Prospect: RHP Mark Sappington
27 GS, 12-5, 156.1 IP, 3.45 ERA, 136 K, 82 BB
Major League ETA: 2015
It shouldn't be a surprise that Sappington, a tall right-hander with a ton of talent, moved up the ladder from the No. 10 prospect at the beginning of the season to No. 6 by the end of it. He is a legit pitcher.
More importantly he is a legit starting pitcher, making Sappington, to me, the most intriguing Angels prospect.
He still has issue controlling the sinking action on his fastball as well as throwing his above-average slider for a strike—which shows in his BB/K ratio—but his upside and maturation thus far have been too great for concern.
Following the promotion to Double-A Arkansas—a progression that young pitchers can have trouble adjusting to because of the upgraded timing of the hitters—Sappington performed well, posting a 3.86 ERA in 25.2 innings of work.
Scouts have predicted his major league debut for the Angels to be in 2015, which gives the team a front-end rotation guy within the current system. No free agency. No questionable trades.
Take note: That's great news for not-too-distant future of the Angels.
2: No. 3 Prospect: IF Grant Green
.326/.380/.429, 11 HR, 53 RBI, 68 R
Major League ETA: 2013 (.258/.312/.352, 1 HR, 14 RBI, 15 R)
Green is currently one of the few trades by the Angels that is actually looking like a good deal.
Acquired in the Alberto Callaspo trade with the Oakland Athletics, Green has filled in at second base for the recently injured Howie Kendrick admirably, hitting .292 in 36 games while gaining rhythm with the double-play ball.
Quick note: The fact he looks and bats like Ryne Sandberg somehow makes me think this guy has a real shot at remaining at the big league level, regardless of the position.
He possesses a quick bat and good eye at the plate—which we have already seen—and though he doesn't have the strongest of arms—currently peaking at about a "4" for arm strength—there has been some discussion about him playing third base as well.
That would be another quality option while Cowart matures.
Along with Taylor Lindsey, Green will be an interesting component to the Angels' infield competition during spring training. If Kendrick does in fact get traded, the competition will really get interesting.
3: No. 2 Prospect: 1B C.J. Cron
.274/.319/.428, 14 HR, 83 RBI, 56 R
Major League ETA: 2014
C.J. Cron's season was a tale of two halves—a la Mark Trumbo.
When we first checked in on him back in June, Cron was hitting close to .300 and on his way to representing the U.S in the Futures Games in New York—where he was equally impressive, singling twice and scoring once.
His stock was on the constant rise. Reports even started filtering around that Cron might get a crack at catcher for the Angels in order to avoid a possible logjam at first base (Albert Pujols, Trumbo, Calhoun).
But his .253 second-half average, combined with an uncharacteristically high number of strikeouts (50), didn't meet the expectations from his nationally televised Futures Game debut. It did not completely curve his progression, but the consistency definitely dropped as he attempted to regain some of the power numbers from 2012, leaving him at .274 for the year.
So, who is the real C.J. Cron?
Labeled as a power guy, Cron's 14 home runs this season—though nothing compared to the 27 he cranked out in Single-A (Inland Empire)—were impressive, especially when considering the move up from the hitter-friendly confines of the California League. But he will need to continue to show the patience at the plate—which I think he has the talent to do—in order to make a true impact next season in the major leagues.
As scouts noted, it won't be his legs or defense that keeps Cron at the big league level.
4: No. 10 Prospect: RHP Mike Morin
56 G, 70 IP, 1.93 ERA, 76 K, 10 BB
Major League ETA: 2014
How impressive is Mike Morin?
Put it this way: Back in June, he was not rated. Now, in September, Morin is the No. 10 prospect on the Angels' list, moving over highly touted arms like Cam Bedrosian and Daniel Tillman.
He is the scouts' version of my Daniel Grichuk debacle.
The guy can pitch...and if it wasn't for the invention of the left-handed hitter, Morin's stats would be ridiculous. (His ERA against right-handers was 0.49 this year.)
He features a decent fastball in the low-90s—occasionally mid-90s—with an outstanding changeup. Most importantly, his control is impeccable, totaling 76 strikeouts to only 10 walks during the 2013 season.
I would be amazed if we don't see this guy make an impact as a setup man in the major leagues, starting early in 2014. No kidding.
He would be the perfect example of a wrongfully ranked Angels minor leaguer—one that actually helps the club move forward, even though he didn't make some ESPN list.
5: No. 4 Prospect: 2B Taylor Lindsey
.274/.339/.441, 17 HR, 56 RBI, 68 R
Major League ETA: 2014
I'm still on the Taylor Lindsey bandwagon, and the skill set of Grant Green has not changed my mind about the future of the Angels' second base situation.
Lindsey is a gap-hitter—who just happened to hit 17 home runs for the Double-A Arkansas Travelers (scouts?)—with a good hustle-first mentality in the field. Though his arm will never get on any "wow look at that arm," YouTube videos, his aggressiveness will make him a solid infield player at the big league level.
He still needs to work on hitting left-handed pitching more consistently, a feat not too easy for a left-handed hitter, but his .313 average this season with runners on base shows he can put the ball in play when it matters most. You can't always teach that.
What happens to Howie Kendrick this offseason should give us a better idea of what the infield competition will look like heading into spring training, but regardless of that, I think we will see Lindsey in the mix during the 2014 season.
6: No. 5 Prospect: LF/RF Randal Grichuk
.256/.306/.474, 22 HR, 64 RBI, 85 R
Major League ETA: 2014
Nothing pleases me more than being wrong about prospects. Seriously. I live for it.
At the end of all the educated and non-educated guesses, scouts, writers or anyone for that matter don't really have a clear idea about which players will make some form of an impact in the MLB. Surprise and dedication are too big of scenarios for any set-in-stone predictions.
Randal Grichuck is proof of that.
In the last two stock up/stock down columns that I did, Grichuck was rated as nothing more than a player that happened to be drafted ahead of Mike Trout. Though he had displayed power, the Angels outfield, in my mind, was too crowded for him to ever be considered a factor in the future.
His past injuries, moreover, left him in too big of a hole to rebound from (on this team).
Done and done.
Well...now I'm not so sure.
Grichuck has steadily improved this season—free of injury—with an impressive display of power and incredible arm strength. In his last 10 games, he hit .341 with eight RBI while holding his own as a corner outfielder—the kind that got him drafted in the first round to begin with.
Sure, the strikeouts were still there and need to be lessened, but I like the fight in this guy. The Angels need that kind of "for my critics" player.
I think his former draft mate, Mike Trout, said it best, telling MLB.com's Tracy Ringolsby, ""He'll be there. The name of the game is staying healthy. You can't do anything in the trainer's room. He's had to deal with that, but he fought through it."
Trout is a player...I think I will take his opinion over mine.
7: No. 1 Prospect: 3B Kaleb Cowart
.221/.279/.301, 6 HR, 42 RBI, 48 R
Major League ETA: 2014
Cowart, despite a forgettable season in 2013, is still rated as the Angels' top prospect. At only 21, scouts think highly of the third baseman, predicting his MLB debut to still be 2014.
However, I think that ETA is off by a year. And with Chris Nelson, Luis Jimenez and Grant Green all around to battle for third base next season, I don't think the delay will cause too much concern.
It will give Cowart time to develop his swing, cutting down on the massive amount of strikeouts he had this season (124) while gaining confidence as he matures.
He is still the top chip—ranked No. 86 in the MLB's top 100 prospects—so I can't drop him much more than seventh on my list. But he will need to show some improvement in the spring and the beginning of the season next year in order to regain the elite status he was progressing towards in 2012.
8: No. 7 Prospect: LHP Nick Maronde
41 games, 56.1 IP, 3.51 ERA, 63 K, 37 BB
Major League ETA: 2013 (10 Games, 5.1 IP, 6.75 ERA, 5 K, 8 BB)
It's hard to imagine how a player can drop from the No. 2 prospect at the beginning of the year down to the No. 7 prospect after getting in 10 games at the major league level, but that is exactly what Nick Maronde did.
The left-hander struggled to find his arm slot at times this season—at both levels—and his control suffered because of it.
However, I don't look at him like some and assume he is a 35-year-old has-been with zero shot of improving. His mechanics are his mechanics, no question there, but I am not ready to believe his changeup can't improve—or any other of his pitches for that matter.
He did manage a reasonable ERA (2.97) in his last 10 outings with the Double-A Arkansas Travelers, adding to his impressive second-half, where he drastically cut down on the walks.
Sure, 2013 seemed like a missed opportunity for Maronde when considering the state of the pitching staff, but the guy is only 24. There is time.
And that means developing as more than just a lefty specialist. Spot starter could be a possibility, too.
With a rotation as up in the air as the Angels staff, I am not willing to push Maronde aside and rule out anything heading into spring training.
9: No. 8 Prospect: 2B Alex Yarbrough
.313/.341/.459, 11 HR, 80 RBI, 31 R
Major League ETA: 2015
The switch-hitting second baseman was ranked No. 18 on the prospect list at the beginning of the season, but his consistency at the plate moved him all the way to No. 8.
Even after a rough finish to the season with the Inland Empire 66ers—where he hit .195 in the final weeks—Yarbrough still ended at an impressive .313 average for the year. He hit above .300 against both right-handers and left-handers, and he produced with runners in scoring position (.299 average).
He has decent range in the infield, though his arm is not great. The power is non-existent, not as plus-sided as Lindsey's.
But Yarbrough has that tight swing, even at a novice part of his professional career, that makes him beneficial at different spots in the lineup.
I'm not certain there will be a ton of room for him by the time his 2015 MLB ETA rolls around, but there is nothing wrong with having options in the farm system, at every position.
10: No. 9 Prospect: SS Eric Stamets
.281/.335/.375, 4 HR, 53 RBI, 80 R
Major League ETA: 2015
Stamets is new to the list, moving up from the No. 17 spot at the beginning of the season to the No. 9 spot at the end of the year.
His impressive rise is worth noting—especially if you believe Erick Aybar could be a trade chip in 2015.
Stamets spent his year with the Inland Empire 66ers, where he hit an impressive .281 (.318 in the final 10 games), while gaining attention with the scouts because of his speed on the bases and his glove at shortstop—both attributes are rated as above average.
He still needs to work on his hands at the plate, mainly against the right-handed pitchers (he struck out 49 times against righties with only 22 walks and 12 steals), and the slap-happy approach might not provide enough offense to complement his glove.
But his aggressiveness highlights the first-to-thrid style of play the Angels used when they were making the playoffs in the late 2000s. The same style of play that Jered Weaver had mentioned was a working force behind their success.
Would that style work again?
Having a player like Stamets would certainly help.