Top 10 L.A. Angels Prospects To Watch For in 2010
The East Coast is frozen solid. The South has been hit with everything from floods to blizzards. The Pacific Northwest is soaked in torrential downpours.
Here in the Southwest, we call that baseball weather.
The weather outside might be frightful for the rest of the country, but down our way it just means Spring Training is right around the corner.
Out in sunny Arizona, pitchers and catchers have already arrived en masse to gear up for Cactus League play, and over the next couple of weeks, the slow trickle of position players will quickly become a steady stream into camp.
In fact, Spring Training is really a collusion of two different camps.
On the one hand, teams have their starters and veterans. Guys who sport guaranteed, multi-million dollar contracts and, barring serious injury, a spot on the Opening Day roster.
The only thing they need to worry about is getting in shape for the long season ahead.
Torii Hunter and Bobby Abreu will not be fighting for a job in Tempe this year.
On the other hand, Terry Evans, Ryan Budde, and Trevor Bell will.
This Spring, the only starting position battle yet to be locked up on the Angels roster is third base, and Brandon Wood has been all but handed the job.
Instead, managers and coaches will be using the time to anticipate which of their Minor League stars will make it in the Majors and when.
The Angels in the outfield are starting to show some age, the infield's future remains murky, and there is still no clear-cut No. 1 pitcher or catcher.
Now is the time for the Halo youth to shine.
Say what you want about the importance of Spring Training numbers. What matters is how these youngsters perform against big league talent in front of their big league managers.
Today's Spring standout could be next year's All-Star MVP.
Take a look at the top 10 Angels prospects to keep an eye on in 2010. First up, starting pitchers...
SP Trevor Reckling
The 6'1” lefty has been on the Angels' radar screen the past two seasons — and he's only 20.
Despite never appearing at any level higher than Double-A, Trevor Reckling is already considered the best starting pitcher in the Angels' organization and is on the fast track to make his big league debut sometime in the next two years.
He is said to feature a stellar curveball/changeup combination to go along with his firm fastball, all of which benefit from Reckling's unusual rocking motion in his delivery, giving him a high release point and a tough downward angle on his pitches.
Apparently, the motion works.
In 2008, he recorded 28 consecutive scoreless innings and has produced a sub-3.00 ERA in every year of his professional career but one.
Last season, Reckling posted a 2.93 ERA in just over 135 innings with the Arkansas Travelers.
The one knock against his game is that he can be wild at times, a bigger indication that he is young rather than unskilled.
Because of this, Reckling should be headed to Triple-A Salt Lake to start the season. His natural abilities aside, he needs the experience at a higher level before he joins the big club.
But that day is coming, and I believe sooner rather than later.
If the Angels' pitching staff has another year of injuries and poor play, look for Reckling to get an early call-up.
Otherwise, his best chance to make the squad might be in 2012, when the Joel Pineiro and Scott Kazmir deals expire.
SP Sean O'Sullivan
Sean O'Sullivan made his Major League debut in 2009 and not a moment too soon.
By mid-June, the Angels were well back of the Texas Rangers in the standings and playing like it. But a fiery speech by manager Mike Scioscia and an injection of young blood proved to be just what the doctor ordered.
The Angels came roaring back, in part because of the efforts of players like O'Sullivan, who helped round out a beleaguered starting rotation that had been physically beaten and emotionally drained.
O'Sullivan went 2-0 with a 3.00 ERA in his first three starts, including seven innings of one-run ball in his debut against the San Francisco Giants.
From there, the league seemed to figure him out, and he wound up with ERA just shy of 6.00, but by then the foundation had already been laid.
The 22-year-old righty gained a lifetime of experience last season when he helped his team bounce back from the dark days of Nick Adenhart's death and the mediocrity that followed to become champions of the AL West.
Despite coming in at 6'2”, 230 pounds, though, O'Sullivan still has some room to grow.
If he can learn to spot his pitches and use his size to generate more power on his fastball, we could be looking at the solid middle reliever of the future or perhaps even a No. 4 or 5 starter.
SP Anthony Ortega
Coming into last season, Anthony Ortega was said to be the next best pitching prospect for the Angels, after Adenhart and Reckling.
But in three games at the big league level, he never made it past the fifth inning and surrendered 13 runs in just 12 innings pitched.
Nerves were clearly an issue last season, and if he can overcome the mental block of failing in his first effort, Ortega may turn out to be a valuable piece in the Angels' rotation.
Since making his professional debut at the age of 20, Ortega has absolutely sprinted through the Minors, posting a 2.52 ERA in five starts after being promoted to Triple-A in 2008.
His path is reminiscent of Adenhart's just a year earlier. Adenhart had quickly earned the title of top Angels prospect and was given a shot at the Major League level in 2008.
He failed spectacularly and struggled throughout the rest of the season in the Minors.
The next year, however, he had a fabulous Spring Training and broke camp with the big club after injuries sidelined John Lackey and Ervin Santana.
Before the tragic accident that took his life, Adenhart tossed six shutout innings against the Oakland A's, showing the poise of a much older pitcher.
Now is the time for Ortega to follow in his footsteps and prove his worth to the Angels this spring. If he does, he will certainly be on the short list of starting pitching alternatives this season.
SP Trevor Bell
Much like Ortega, Trevor Bell had an unfortunate introduction to the Major Leagues.
He was unable to live up to the hype around him, and despite winning his second start, he finished the season with a 9.74 ERA, surrendering more runs than innings pitched.
But also like Ortega, and also O'Sullivan and Reckling, time is on Bell's side.
At just 23, Bell is well on his way to making the Angels' roster sometime in the near future.
Apart from his shaky debut, Bell dominated in the minors last season, posting a combined 2.70 ERA with 89 strikeouts in just 22 games in Double- and Triple-A.
At the big league level, Bell's breaking pitches seemed to flatten out, and his fastball, though stout, was often left over the heart of the plate.
Spring Training will be a huge test for the lanky right-hander.
Scioscia, pitching coach Mike Butcher, and the rest of the Angels' brain trust will be hoping that Bell can improve his stamina and maintain consistency over the next month of play.
With several young, strong pitchers ahead of him at both the Major and Minor Leagues, Bell may not have the opportunity to become the next big thing in the Angels' rotation.
However, a solid late-inning relief spot a la Scot Shields is not out of the question.
And now, from pitchers, we look at their battery mates...
C Ryan Budde
It's been three years since Ryan Budde impressed anyone offensively. Yet, he has earned Major League call-ups in each of those three seasons.
From 2008-09, he's had five at-bats against big league pitching and absolutely nothing to show for it, save for two strikeouts last year.
But then, offense has never been a priority for Scioscia, at least out of the catching position.
No, the most important attribute for a catcher in his eyes is defense. At Salt Lake last season, Budde threw out potential base-stealers at a phenomenal 42 percent clip and turned 10 double plays while making just eight errors.
If he wants to make the Major League roster, however, he'll have to show dramatic improvement at the plate this spring.
Budde is a career .234 hitter in the Minor Leagues and with very little power. With the Angels, he bats .130 and slugs just .174.
Yet as I said before, he continues to see time, however limited, at the big league level.
This spring, pay as close attention to his performance as the arbitration proceedings for Jeff Mathis.
If he and the Angels remain at odds, this season might be his last in Anaheim, opening the door for Budde to take over the backup duties.
All he has to do is be impressive in Spring Training.
C Bobby Wilson
Bobby Wilson is in much the same boat as Budde.
Both are more talented behind the plate than they are next to it, sporting a strong throwing arm, a decent glove, and a disappointing bat.
Unlike Budde, however, Wilson's disappointing offense does not extend into the Minor Leagues.
In 97 games at Triple-A last season, Wilson batted .271 with eight home runs and 55 RBI. Very impressive, especially considering he was called up to the Majors several times, throwing off his timing when he got sent back down.
Wilson also gunned 38 percent of would-be base-stealers at Salt Lake while committing two fewer errors than Budde.
Again, his potential shot at the big leagues may hinge on the outcome of Mathis' negotiations. Scioscia is certainly a fan of defense, but the Angels will not overpay for a one-dimensional backup.
If 2010 is indeed Mathis' last season in Anaheim, look for Wilson to be the man to take his place.
Until a better option comes along or is revealed in Spring Training, Mike Napoli looks to have the starting catcher's job fairly well locked up, giving Wilson a limited window to squeeze his rather bulky frame through.
As with every prospect, spring will be key for Wilson to finally secure a spot in the Majors.
(P.S. Sorry for the lack of a specific picture of Bobby)
C Hank Conger
At the tender age of 21, Hank Conger is easily the most interesting catching prospect to come along for the Angels in quite some time.
A former first round draft pick for the Angels back in 2006, Conger had a truly impressive season at Double-A last year when he batted .295, belted 11 homers, and drove in 68 RBI, all while playing in 123 games.
Durability is clearly no concern.
Neither are strikeouts, of which he only had 68. By comparison, Napoli fanned a total of 103 times in 114 games with the Angels.
Conger has yet to play at the Triple-A level, which is where he is likely headed when Spring Training ends.
If he maintains the high degree of performance he's shown throughout his professional career, he'll no doubt be given a shot as a call-up this season and could make the Major League roster out of camp by next year.
The only area of his game that could use improvement is his defense. Conger threw out 30 percent of runners on the base paths last year but made 14 errors behind the plate.
I sense that high number has a lot to do with Conger's low age, but it remains an area he'll have to work on this year.
And if he does, watch out, Nap.
Now, on to the infield...
INF Freddy Sandoval
Last year, this spot might have been occupied by Sean Rodriguez.
But after he was traded to the Tampa Bay Rays for pitcher Scott Kazmir and Brandon Wood was picked to take over third base for a departed Chone Figgins, Freddy Sandoval has risen to the top of the infield depth chart.
In five seasons at the Minor League level, Sandoval has spent the majority of his time at second and third base, not exactly the most vacant positions on the Angels' roster.
However, third base may be his position of the future.
Wood is going to be given every opportunity to secure the third base job long-term. From my vantage, that just means he has every opportunity to fail.
Wood looks like former Angels bust Dallas McPherson with half the power and twice the strikeouts. It shouldn't be long before he is removed from the hot corner in favor of a player with real talent as opposed to potential.
Right now, Sandoval is all potential, but this spring is his chance to show what kind of talent he really has.
He was a .300 hitter last season at Triple-A, mostly hitting singles and doubles. What he lacks in power, he makes up in speed, swiping 12 bags in just 67 games in Salt Lake.
In only 11 games with the Angels in 2009, Sandoval managed to smack a double and flash some leather with a couple of sparkling defensive plays.
At 27, Sandoval is nearing the now-or-never period in his career. Fortunately for him, the only man standing in his way is the most overrated prospect in club history.
When Wood is benched, listen for two in-house names to take his place: Maicer Izturis and Freddy Sandoval.
Finally, let's turn to the outfield...
OF Chris Pettit
As I alluded to early, the Angels in the outfield are starting to get up there in age.
Both Torii Hunter and Bobby Abreu are over the age of 35, and neither is guaranteed to be with the team after the 2012 season.
Juan Rivera, the youngest of the bunch, will be 31 this year and has already been dangled in numerous trade rumors to fill other holes on the team.
If there is an area to break through on this Angels squad, it is the outfield.
If there is a man to do it, it is Chris Pettit.
Pettit has been a force at the plate throughout his career in the Minor Leagues. He hit .321 at Triple-A last season, pounding 30 doubles and eight home runs while driving in 58 RBI.
He also threw in 18 steals for good measure.
In 2009, Pettit saw 10 games at the big league level and managed to stroke two singles.
This spring, he'll look to improve on that mark and prove to Scioscia that the Angels won't need to look for replacement outfielders any time soon.
Pettit won't make the big club when they break camp. Reggie Willits, who is out of options, and Robb Quinlan will almost certainly be warming the bench and spelling the outfielders when they need a break.
Look for Pettit to make an impact as a call-up later this season. That is, as long as his spring goes as planned.
OF Terry Evans
At 28, Terry Evans is out of options, meaning if he doesn't make the Angels' Opening Day roster, he'll be made available for other teams to claim.
This poses an interesting scenario for the Angels, who are likely all set in terms of outfield backups. Willits and Quinlan look to once again be the go-to guys whenever Abreu, Hunter, and Rivera need a rest.
If that is the case, Evans will have to outperform his big league counterparts this spring, a task he is more than capable of.
Evans hit .291 in Salt Lake last year with 26 homers and 90 RBI, earning himself a spot on the Minor League All-Star team. He also performed admirably at all three outfield positions.
In seven at-bats at the Major League level, he had two hits, including a solo big fly.
At 28 years of age and all out of options, Evans needs to break through now more than ever. Unfortunately, he has two stellar veterans and two capable backups to get past. And he only has a month to do it.
Like Evans, though, Willits is also out of options. And while he's been a fan-favorite since his ascension in 2007, he has failed to latch on as a consistent name on the Angels' roster.
Willits' game is simply too limited. He's a slap hitter who relies on speed but isn't on base enough to be effective with it.
Evans' job this spring will be to hurdle the diminutive Willits and claim a spot on the Opening Day roster.
Again, it's a tougher assignment than it sounds but one that Evans should be able to handle cleanly.