October 2006

Kernels to Announce New “Identity”

Cedar Rapids Kernels logo
The classic Kernels logo may be no more after Wednesday’s press conference.

The Cedar Rapids Kernels announced they’re holding a press conference tomorrow to reveal “the new Kernels identity.” The team’s name won’t be changed, but apparently the logo and other team graphics will be.

As, um, “corny” as some might find it, I’ve always loved the classic Kernels logo of a baseball atop a corn cob. Mr. Shucks, the team’s mascot, is designed after the logo. In my opinion, it’s perfect for a minor league team located in the heartland of Iowa.

But let’s withhold judgment until we see what’s up.

Game of the Week for October 29, 2006

Casey Kotchman with Rancho Cucamonga in 2003
Casey Kotchman hit two of the longest home runs in the history of The Epicenter on April 16, 2003.

Long-time visitors of FutureAngels.com know that every winter I post a “Minor League Game of the Week” each Sunday. The idea is to give you a baseball fix until the teams start playing again in April.

In 2003, I began recording as many webcasts as I could of the Angels minor league affiliates. The main reason was to archive some history. How cool would it be if you could listen to Tim Salmon with Edmonton in 1992 when he was named the Minor League Player of the Year, or Garret Anderson when he broke in with Boise in 1990, or Darin Erstad’s professional debut with Lake Elsinore in 1995?

No one keeps that stuff, so with the permission of the affiliates I began archiving with the use of a program called Total Recorder from High Criteria. Basically it captures anything coming over a computer’s sound card. At season’s end, I send the MP3 files on CD-ROM to each affiliate’s broadcaster to do with as he wishes, and they let me post the recordings on this site.

Webcasts are still in their infancy, suffering problems like Internet congestion, disrupted signals, power failures and whatnot. So if the original source has a problem, the recording has a problem.

Typically I’ve posted games from the season just completed, but with four years now in the archives I’m going to mix in some games from earlier seasons that have historical interest.

This week’s game is High Desert at Rancho Cucamonga, April 16, 2003. Casey Kotchman hit two of the longest home runs in the history of The Epicenter on back-to-back pitches in his first two at-bats. The game is also notable for a rehab start by Aaron Sele. There’s also a pre-game interview with Tommy Murphy, who made his major league debut this year as an outfielder; Murphy was a shortstop with the Quakes.

Click here to listen to the recording. You need Windows Media Player to play the download.

UPDATE 8:30 AM PDT — Just dug up out of the FutureAngels.com archives the video clip I shot that night of Casey’s two homers. Overlaid on the audio is Rob Brender’s calls of the homers. Click the Play button below; you need to have Windows Media Player installed on your computer to watch.

April 16, 2003: Casey Kotchman hits back-to-back homers for Rancho Cucamonga, two of the longest homers in the history of The Epicenter.

New Basic Agreement Affects Minors

Major League Baseball and the Players Assocation announced yesterday a new labor agreement through 2011.

Included in the agreement are some major changes to how the amateur draft and player development will work.

Alan Schwarz of Baseball America provides an in-depth analysis of the changes. Among the provisions:

  • Teams that fail to sign a first-round pick no longer receive an extra pick after the first round as compensation, but instead a virtually identical pick the following year; for example, a team that fails to sign the No. 5 pick one year will receive the No. 6 pick the next, rather than one in the 30s or 40s.
  • A uniform signing date of Aug. 15 for all players (other than college seniors), replacing the deadline of the moment a player literally attends his first four-year college class. This also eliminates the junior-college, draft-and-follow rule in which players who attended two-year schools could sign with their drafting club until one week before the following draft.
  • The major league portion of the Rule 5 draft will be affected by giving teams one extra year to protect players from it. Rather than teams being allowed three years (for players signed at age 19 or older) or four years (for players 18 and younger) before leaving them off the 40-man roster subjects them to the Rule 5 draft, those periods have been lengthened to four and five.

Read the Baseball America article for details.

Angels Take Minor League Free Agency

Joe Torres with Rancho Cucamonga in 2005
Joe Torres, the Angels’ first-round draft pick in June 2000, took his minor league free agency.

Baseball America lists the below Angels as taking their six-year minor league free agency:

C Corey Myers
OF Jason Aspito
OF Darren Blakely
RHP Richard Fischer
RHP Jeff Heaverlo
RHP Matt Hensley
RHP Alex Serrano
LHP Nathan Bland
LHP Joe Torres

Among the former Angels properties who took their minor league free agency:

2B Trent Durrington (Red Sox)
RHP Brandon Emanuel (Cubs)
LHP Tim Bittner (White Sox)
LHP Andrew Lorraine (White Sox)
RHP Bret Prinz (Rockies)
RHP Steve Green (Tigers)
C Jason Hill (Marlins)
OF Mike Colangelo (Marlins)
RHP Bart Miadich (Marlins)
OF Barry Wesson (Astros)
C Tommy Duenas (Royals)
RHP Esteban Yan (Royals)
C Shawn Wooten (Twins)
3B Edgardo Alfonzo (Mets)
C Brian Esposito (Cardinals)
LHP Matt Perisho (Cardnials)
SS David Matranga (Padres)
OF Luke Allen (Padres)
RHP Stephen Andrade (Padres)
RHP Brian Cooper (Giants)
LHP Dusty Bergman (Giants)
SS Johnny Raburn (Devil Rays)
C Jared Abruzzo (Rangers)
C Jamie Burke (Rangers)
RHP Lou Pote (Rangers)
LHP Brian Anderson (Rangers)

The Ones That Got Away … Or Did They?

A frequent refrain on Angels chat boards is that GM Bill Stoneman let a cornucopia of pitching prospects “get away for nothing.”

Or did he?

Like most rants on these boards, a look at the facts shows that the accusations are baseless.

At the top of the list is Bobby Jenks, the enfant terrible who currently toils in the Chicago White Sox bullpen.

A common falsehood is that Stoneman “released” Jenks.  Wrong.

Bobby Jenks with Salt Lake in 2004
Bobby Jenks’ career with the Angels was marked by physical injury and disciplinary problems.

What really happened was that the Angels were moving Jenks off the 40-man roster in December 2004 so they could make room for pending free agent signings.  Jenks was destined for the Triple-A roster, but to do so he had to pass through waivers.  The White Sox claimed Jenks, paying the Angels $25,000.

Jenks had possessed a high-90s fastball, but was never able to harness his potential.  His personal demons were well-chronicled by the media, as this October 2005 article in the San Diego Union-Tribune reported:

There were reports from the farm of Jenks getting into it with a Double-A coach who refused to let him bring beers onto the team bus, and not just once. A national magazine in 2003 portrayed Jenks, in stark detail, as a binge drinker without much of an "off" switch.

The self-destructive right-hander was further noted in an ESPN the Magazine story to have gotten so drunk that he intentionally “torched his left hand” and both forearms with a lighter before passing out.

Scouts saw this coming years before. Word traveled fast about this teenager near the Idaho-Washington border with the incredible arm, but also the lack of discipline that kept him academically ineligible for three of his four high school years, not to mention the time he simply stopped going to school altogether.

He impressed the heck out of radar gun-toting scouts. He also scared the **** out of them.

Indeed, he scattered a few with a wild pitch in one of the tryouts staged by Jenks’ baseball-academy coach.

“He had the stuff, no doubt about it,” one scout said, “but there was all that other stuff.”

One of the agents Jenks fired, Matt Soshnick, alleged that Jenks used a derogatory reference to his Jewishness. Making the majors, Soshnick was quoted as saying, would be something Jenks could never handle.

Then again, even with a fastball clocked at an astounding 102 mph, Jenks wasn’t exactly on the fast track to The Show. In addition to the bad behavior and unavailability due to elbow injuries, he was frequently overweight.

For half a decade, Jenks was the Angels’ problem, the kind most any organization would put up with as long as he controls his pitches better than everything else in his life. Having dug his own hole, he was buried in one of the majors’ best minor league systems.

FutureAngels.com was in Fresno on April 19, 2004 when Jenks took the mound for Salt Lake against Fresno.  Jenks struggled in the first inning, his velocity down to the high 80s.  In the second inning, as he continued to struggle, he was removed from the game.

Click the Play button below to watch (Windows Media Player required):

April 19, 2004: Bobby Jenks is injured while pitching for Salt Lake at Fresno. Jenks suffered a stress fracture in his elbow and to this day still has pins in his elbow holding it together.

Jenks had suffered a stress fracture in his right elbow, and underwent surgery to have pins placed in the elbow to hold it together. Assigned on rehab to the Angels’ minor league camp in Mesa, he got into a fight with a teammate (according to media reports).

With no indication that his high-90s fastball would return, with pins in his elbow, and with no sign that he was outgrowing his personal problems, the Angels tried to move him to the Triple-A roster. The White Sox claimed him on waivers, choosing to take a risk on a damaged pitcher with a career minor league record of 18-29, a 4.97 ERA, and a WHIP of 1.57.

The rest is, if not history, at least a current event of note.

The Sox sent him to Birmingham to begin 2005, his fourth season of Double-A ball. Jenks was now a reliever, where the demands on his physical and mental limits would be less, and he responded. Bobby posted a 2.85 ERA in 35 relief appearances, and was promoted to the parent club where he had a 2.75 ERA in 32 relief games. He was the pitcher on the mound when the White Sox won the 2005 World Series.

At that point, Bobby had all of 39 major league innings on his log, but some fans were demanding Stoneman be fired for not keeping Jenks forever in the hope he might grow up one day.

Of course, 39 innings is hardly a satisfactory statistical sample, and as 2006 came to a close it was a different story.

Bobby finished this season with a 4.00 ERA, but if you dig deeper you find more revealing numbers.

Pre-All Star Game, Jenks had a 2.83 ERA in 41 1/3 IP, a 1.11 WHIP, and opponents’ AVG/OBP/SLG of .221/.282/.309.

Post-All Star Game, Jenks had a 5.72 ERA in 28 1/3 IP, a 1.80 WHIP, and opponents’ AVG/OBP/SLG of .295/.398/.438.

Look at Bobby’s home/away splits for 2006, and you find that his performance was largely a figment of playing in pitcher-friendly U.S. Cellular Field. At home, Jenks had a 3.00 ERA, a 1.31 WHIP, and opponents’ AVG/OBP/SLG of .247/.305/.320. On the road, he had a 5.53 ERA, a 1.52 WHIP, and opponents’ AVG/OBP/SLG of .262/.355/.449. All five of the homers he surrendered were away from Chicago.

We still don’t have a large enough statistical sample to project his major league career, but when you look at his home/away splits for this season it suggests that Jenks still hasn’t fulfilled his potential, at least to the point where it can be declared that Stoneman let him “get away.”

Another supposed top prospect that Stoneman let go was Derrick Turnbow.

As with Jenks, Turnbow wasn’t released. The Angels were moving off the 40-man roster in October 2004 when he was claimed by the Milwaukee Brewers.

Derrick Turnbow with Salt Lake in 2004
Injuries and wildness kept Derrick Turnbow from realizing his potential with the Angels.

Turnbow was originally signed by the Phillies, drafted in the fifth round of the June 1997 draft. In December 1999, after spending the entire year in Low-A, the Angels picked him in the Rule 5 Draft. The Angels had to keep him on the major league roster for all of 2000, or offer him back to Philadelphia. Limited to largely mopup situations, Turnbow appeared in 24 games (38 IP) and posted a 4.74 ERA before he returned to the minors.

The 2001 and 2002 seasons were largely washouts for Turnbow, as he suffered a stress fracture in his forearm. Like Jenks, Turnbow had metal placed in the arm to hold it together.

His first meaningful action was in 2003 with Triple-A Salt Lake. In 35 relief appearances, Turnbow posted a 5.73 ERA. In 2004, he returned to Salt Lake and posted a 5.06 ERA.

As with Jenks, the Angels didn’t release Turnbow. They tried instead to sneak him through waivers, off the 40-man roster to the Triple-A roster, but the Brewers took a risk.

Derrick posted a remarkable 2005 season, finally fulfilling the promise Stoneman saw in him after the 1999 season but had never been fulfilled. Turnbow posted a 1.74 ERA in 69 relief appearances, saving 39 games for the Brewers.

Once again, some fans demanded Stoneman’s head.

But 2006 was a different story.

In 64 relief appearances, Turnbow had a 6.87 ERA with a 1.69 WHIP and opponents’ AVG/OBP/SLG of .255/.375/.445. The control problems that always haunted his career had returned. In 2005, he gave up only 3.2 walks per 9 IP. In 2006, it was 6.23.

Suddenly, those who claimed to know better than Stoneman seemed to have forgotten all about Turnbow.

Other names have moved on in recent years.

Joel Peralta was a one-time shortstop in the Oakland A’s system that the Angels signed at age 23 in 1999 hoping to convert him into a reliever. Peralta developed a mid-90s fastball and decent slider, but at higher levels often found himself pitching behind in counts. Joel posted a 4.98 ERA with Triple-A Salt Lake in 2004, then spent 2005 shuttling between Utah and Anaheim. He had a 2.70 ERA in 19 relief appearances for the Stingers, and a 3.89 ERA in 28 games for the Angels. But he was claimed on waivers by the Kansas City Royals in October 2005 when the Angels tried to move him off the 40-man roster.

“Fire Stoneman!!!” was the knee-jerk refrain by some, but in 2006 Joel had a 4.40 ERA wwith Kansas City in 64 relief appearances. He had a WHIP of 1.24, and AVG/OBP/SLG of .263/.307/.463. Fairly decent numbers, but if you look at his splits you find he’s vulnerable to left-handed batters. His ERA against lefties was 6.52 with an AVG/OBP/SLG of .338/.400/.613. Ouch. And at age 30+, it’s unlikely there’s much more upside left in him.

Stephen Andrade was claimed on waivers by the Blue Jays in December 2004. He began a journeyman odyssey, as many teams were intrigued by his repertoire but no one seemed interested in giving him an extended audition. In December 2005, Tampa Bay selected him from Toronto in the Rule 5 draft — and promptly traded him to the Padres. San Diego placed him on waivers at the end of spring training. He was claimed by Kansas City, who kept him in Triple-A for most of 2006 although he did get into four games in May, allowing five runs in 4 2/3 innings.

Dusty Bergman, a southpaw reliever selected in the 6th round of the June 1999 draft, was sent to San Francisco on August 30, 2005 in a trade for veteran Jason Christiansen. The latter did little to help the Angels in the pennant chase, so some fans immediately declared that Stoneman had made another mistake.

If he did, the Giants didn’t share that sentiment, because they released him at season’s end.

In December 2005, the Yankees signed Bergman to a minor league contract. Dusty was with Triple-A Columbus through early July, posting a 3.79 ERA, but was released. The Giants re-signed Bergman and sent him to Triple-A Fresno, where he had a 13.09 ERA in 11 relief appearances.

Bottom line?

None of these players has demonstrated any extended success at the major league level. The jury is still out on Jenks. Turnbow’s 2005 may have been an aberration. Peralta’s numbers are somewhat decent and might improve on a better ballclub, but he’s on the wrong side of 30. Andrade still awaits an extended major-league audition. Bergman seems unlikely to ever see the big leagues.

Some have claimed the Angels got “nothing” for these players. That claim is demonstrably false. None were released. In each case, it was a transaction that brought the Angels cash — except for Bergman, who was traded.

For those who were claimed off waivers, it’s important to remember that a 40-man roster means just that. A team can only protect forty players. When a season ends, the disabled list goes away. During the season, disabled players don’t count towards the total. After the season, they do, which means something has to give.

Teams also have to protect certain minor league players from the pending Rule 5 Draft in December, which means that inevitably general managers must weigh protecting top prospects now eligible for Rule 5 versus protecting an older prospect who might have a higher ceiling but also carries more risk due to injury or other factors. That’s how the Angels got Derrick Turnbow in 1999.

Major League Baseball has rules like waivers and Rule 5 specifically to keep an organization from stockpiling talent forever. It’s not fair for the player to keep him buried in the minors, especially when there are other organizations out there in need of their talent. Another example is that players with six years of service in the minor leagues can take their free agency at season’s end if they’re not on the 40-man roster.

Sooner or later, every GM has players who “get away.” It’s not a sign of a GM’s alleged incompetence. It’s simply the checks and balances within professional baseball at work to maintain some competitive balance and give players an opportunity to blossom elsewhere.

Cory and Kevin Lidle

Kevin Lidle with Salt Lake in 2001
Cory Lidle with Tampa Bay in 2000
Kevin Lidle’s baseball career was in the shadow of his brother, but Cory’s tragic death placed Kevin on a national stage.

Kevin Lidle was virtually indistinguishable from his twin brother Cory, but until a tragic plane crash yesterday few people outside of professional baseball had ever heard of him.

It fell to Kevin to represent the Lidle family last night on CNN’s Larry King Live. Kevin, who is now a baseball instructor in Lakeland, Florida, heard of Cory’s death when a friend called him after seeing the news on television.

Kevin was a journeyman player like his brother, only his career odyssey was at the minor league level. In the early years, neither looked like he’d ever see the big leagues.

After attending South Hills High School in West Covina and Mt. San Antonio College in nearby Walnut, both towns in east Los Angeles County, Kevin was drafted in the 24th round of the June 1992 draft by the Detroit Tigers.

Cory had become a pro ballplayer two years before, but wasn’t even drafted. He signed out of South Hills with the Twins as an undrafted free agent, but was released in April 1993. After a stint in independent ball, Cory was signed in September 1993 by the Brewers. He was traded in January 1996 to the Mets and reached the majors with them in 1997, posting a 3.53 ERA in 54 games, mostly as a reliever.

Arizona selected Cory in the November 1997 expansion draft, but he suffered an elbow injury and underwent “Tommy John” surgery that scuttled most of the 1998 and 1999 seasons for him. In October 1998, still recovering from the operation, Cory was claimed on waivers by Tampa Bay, where he returned to the majors for parts of 1999 and 2000.

Kevin, meanwhile, spent six seasons in the Tigers’ system before the Rockies selected him in the minor league phase of the Rule 5 draft. Granted free agency next fall, Kevin went on to work for the Padres and Indians before he was released in April 2000. Kevin signed with Somerset of the independent Atlantic League, which was where the Angels found him in June 2000.

Kevin was signed to replace his high school teammate, Shawn Wooten, who’d been promoted from Double-A Erie to Triple-A Edmonton. Shawn was a journeyman story in his own right, having played for the Tigers in the minors and for independent Moose Jaw in the Prairie League before the Angels signed him in February 1997. “Woot” eventually reached the major leagues, and was part of the Anaheim Angels’ world championship ballclub in 2002.

In 2001, Kevin began the year with Triple-A Salt Lake but was released in July. He was signed by the Cardinals, who released him at season’s end. His original team, the Detroit Tigers, called and asked if he might want to pitch. Kevin had appeared in emergency relief several times over his career, including ten games in 1998. This would prolong his career, so Kevin said yes. But after posting a 5.84 ERA in 23 games (including 13 starts) for Erie (now a Tigers affiliate), he was released at season’s end.

Kevin briefly found himself back in independent ball with Somerset in 2005 — 23 games as a catcher, three games as a pitcher — before calling it a career.

Cory was traded in January 2001 to Oakland, where he blossomed. He was 13-6 with a 3.59 ERA in 2001, and 8-10 with a 3.89 ERA in 2002. But he was traded to Toronto, where he toiled for a year, granted free agency, signed with Cincinnati, eventually was picked up on waivers by Philadelphia, and there he remained until he was traded in late July to the Yankees.

The Lidles and Wooten were part of a remarkable baseball program at South Hills. Jason and Jeremy Giambi were their teammates, as was pitcher Aaron Small. Cory and Jason were reunited with the Yankees. He just missed Aaron, who’d been demoted by the Yankees to Triple-A Columbus in late June.

Jeremy Giambi’s last season was 2004, a minor league stint with the Dodgers. He was in camp with the Chicago White Sox in March 2005 when his name was linked to the breaking steroid abuse scandal. His brother Jason admitted using steroids too.

Shawn Wooten continues to toil in the minors. Granted free agency in December 2003, Woot signed with the Phillies but was granted free agency a year later. He signed with the Red Sox in January 2005, but they let him go in October. The Twins picked him up for 2006 and assigned him to Triple-A Rochester, where he hit. 253 this year in 104 games with six homers. He caught and DH’d for the Red Wings.

Cory’s death became a nationwide news story, and shone a spotlight on the unique relationship between the Lidles, the Giambis, and Wooten. Their local paper, the Inland Valley Daily Bulletin, has a story about the reaction at South Hills and how their alumni had played such a prominent role in one of the more successful baseball programs in Southern California at that time.

For me personally, it recalled the brief time I got to know Kevin, his friendship with Shawn, and how they were just regular guys living the life of baseball journeymen hoping they’d one day get a break.

As much as we focus on top prospects, the reality is that the journeymen really are the life and blood of the profession. The prospects need teammates, and in particular pitchers need experienced catchers who can call their games, study their mechanics, minimize defensive mistakes and groom them for the next step on the ladder to the majors. Bull Durham was entertainment, but the relationship between journeyman Crash Davis and prospect Nook LaLoosh was all too real.

Kevin and Woot were the Crash Davis for many pitching prospects over the years. It’s a shame that it takes a tragedy to bring them to light.

A-Rod in Fantasyland

Alex Rodriguez with the Texas Rangers
The contract Alex Rodriguez signed with Texas in 2001 included a no-trade clause — that he waived only for the opportunity to play with the Yankees.

With nothing better to write about, some sportswriters and Internet posters are beating their drums for the Angels to acquire maligned Yankee Alex Rodriguez.

Steve Bisheff of the Orange County Register writes in today’s edition that the Angels should send the Yankees Ervin Santana, Chone Figgins and Nick Adenhart. Fans on Angels boards are posting their own ideas, convinced they know more than Angels GM Bill Stoneman does.

One thing Stoneman does know is … A-Rod’s not available.

It’s been reported many times in recent years that Rodriguez has a no-trade clause. He’s told the press he won’t waive the clause and intends to retire as a Yankee.

Sports Illustrated reported last July:

Rodriguez’s camp is annoyed about the media speculation and debate about whether the Yankees and A-Rod might be better off if they traded the 2005 American League MVP out of town following his spate of fielding faux pas. Furthermore, they want it known that Rodriguez wouldn’t accept a trade, in any case. Rodriguez’s 10-year, $252 million contract contains a blanket no-trade clause.

“Alex chose New York, and after 2½ years of playing in New York, he has nothing but the greatest respect for New York Yankee fans and the Yankee organization,” Rodriguez’s agent Scott Boras said. “He has a no-trade clause in his contract and he does not intend to play anywhere else in the near future.”

SI‘s Jon Heyman wrote on September 27, “One Yankees person insisted ‘A-Rod isn’t going anywhere,’ and Rodriguez has continued to say he loves New York and wouldn’t even consider waiving his no-trade clause.” But Heyman goes on to play what-if, since acknowledging reality pretty much kills his column at that point.

About the only factor working in the Angels’ favor is that Boras, a Newport Beach resident, has a good working relationship with Stoneman and Angels owner Arte Moreno. But such a conversation can’t happen unless the Yankees grant permission.

Some on the Internet may post clueless demands like “GET IT DONE, STONEMAN!!!” and claim that A-Rod is available for “cheap” but in the real world it’s not going to happen unless Rodriguez changes his mind — and the Yankees decide to consider a trade.

The Associated Press reports
yet again that Alex Rodriguez won’t waive his no-trade clause and the Yankees
have no intention of trading him.

Angels in B.A. Top 10 Prospects

Brandon Wood and Howie Kendrick
Brandon Wood (left) and Howie Kendrick are considered two of the top prospects in all the minor leagues.

The October 9, 2006 issue of Baseball America lists their annual post-season lists of Top 10 Prospects for each minor league. As they’ve always been in recent years, the Angels are amply represented.

Salt Lake (Triple-A)
#2 Jered Weaver RHP
#3 Howie Kendrick 2B

Arkansas (Double-A)
#2 Brandon Wood SS

Rancho Cucamonga (High-A)
#4 Nick Adenhart RHP
#7 Jose Arredondo RHP

Cedar Rapids (Low-A)
#5 Nick Adenhart RHP

Orem (Advanced Rookie-A)
#4 Sean O’Sullivan RHP
#6 Peter Bourjos OF
#9 Jeremy Haynes RHP
#10 Ryan Mount SS

Tempe (Rookie-A)
#1 Hank Conger C
#6 Matt Sweeney 3B
#10 Vladimir Veras RHP

Some observations …

  • LHP Joe Saunders didn’t make the PCL Top 10, nor did he make the Second Ten. All he did was go 10-4 with a 2.67 ERA for Salt Lake in 21 starts. Opponents batted only .234 against him; his SO:BB ratio in 135.0 IP was 97:38. Called up to replace the injured Bartolo Colon, Saunders in 13 starts was 7-3 with a 4.71 ERA in 70.2 IP, a 51:29 SO:BB ratio, and .264 opponents’ average.
  • SS Erick Aybar finished #15 in the PCL listing.
  • OF Terry Evans, acquired from the Cardinals mid-season for RHP Jeff Weaver, was ranked #18 in the Texas League but nonetheless was named by BA to the Double-A All-Star team which includes all three Double-A leagues, suggesting he’s one of the three top outfielders in Double-A. Go figure.
  • Former Angels minor league manager Todd Claus was named the Double-A Manager of the Year. Claus was a one-time protege of scout/manager Tom Kotchman; like “Kotch,” Claus managed during the summer and scouted during the off-season. Claus was fired after the 2003 season when a voice mail intended for outgoing scouting director Donny Rowland was accidentally sent to the entire front office staff. Rowland had just been let go by Angels GM Bill Stoneman; Claus’ message was critical of Stoneman.
  • SS Sean Rodriguez finished #12 on the Cal League prospects list, but made the High Class-A All-Star Team as the DH. BA feels that Sean’s defense will eventually force him into a utility role.
  • FutureAngels.com has talked about Jose Arredondo ever since he was converted from a light-hitting infielder in the summer of 2004. I was there in Mesa during the summer league right after the Angels had experimented with his taking the mound for an inning in one game and found he could throw in the mid-90s. So we’ve tracked his progress since then; in last November’s annual FutureAngels.com Top 10 Prospects review, I wrote: “RHP Jose Arredondo, a 21-year old converted infielder, blazed his fastball in the high 90s during his first full season as a pitcher. Arredondo in his last five regular season starts posted a 1.53 ERA in 29.1 IP with a 28:7 K:BB ratio and .183 AVG. Like any convert project, he’ll need innings and a lot more experience; interestingly, he had more trouble with right-handed batters (.336 AVG) than left-handed batters (.235 AVG) during the 2005 Orem season. Arredondo’s secondary pitches are a slider and splitter, both of which need more work.” Arredondo finished 2006 in Double-A with the Travelers.
  • RHP Stephen Marek just missed the Midwest League Top 10 cut, finishing #11.
  • 2005 1st round draft pick RHP Trevor Bell missed the Pioneer League Top 10 list, finishing #16. Teammate RHP Kenneth Herndon finished #12.
  • Warner Madrigal, once considered a top power-hitting outfield prospect, finished #19 on the Arizona League list. Madrigal was converted this summer into a relief pitcher and allowed five runs in 12 innings with 13 strikeouts and three walks. Warner suffered a series of hand injuries over the last couple years; although he had power at the plate, his pitch selection and plate discipline was almost non-existent. So the Angels decided to convert him to the mound to take advantage of his power arm.

In closing, let’s note the passing of Buck O’Neil, a treasure not only of the national pastime but the nation itself.

2006 Angels Season Post-Mortem

This is a reprint of an analysis originally posted on FutureAngels.com on October 2, 2006.

Bill Stoneman
Angels General Manager Bill Stoneman needs to tweak the Angels’ roster over the winter, not blow it up.

The Angels finished 2006 with an 89-73 record, four games behind the 93-69 Oakland A’s.

Mike DiGiovanna of the Los Angeles Times summed it up best:

The Angels closed the 2006 season Sunday with baseball’s best record (54-29) since July 1 and an overall mark (89-73) that is better than three of the four National League playoff teams, including the Dodgers.

But when the playoffs begin Tuesday, the Angels will be spectators with the rest of baseball’s also-rans, the disappointment of their second-place finish in the American League West overshadowing any sense of second-half achievement …

A shocker, this wasn’t. Despite a $104-million payroll, this was a flawed team that was a big bat or two away from being dangerous on offense, that leaned too heavily on too many untested rookies and got only one win from injured ace Bartolo Colon, the 2005 AL Cy Young Award winner.

What was surprising, though, was the depth and duration of their early struggles on offense and long season-long ineptitude on defense that left them dumbfounded at times.

The Angels hit .245 and had a sub-.300 on-base percentage for the first seven weeks, leaving them with a 17-28 record and 6 1/2 -game division deficit May 22.

One of baseball’s best defensive teams in 2005, the Angels made a league-high 124 errors — 35 more than last season — and gave up 80 unearned runs, second most in the major leagues, after giving up 45 in 2005.

Left unsaid was that the Angels didn’t set out to “lean too heavily on too many untested rookies.”

Casey Kotchman earned the first base job after a strong audition in late 2005 and a solid spring training. But no one foresaw the effects of the mononucleosis robbing him of his strength.

Casey’s absence forced the Angels to promote Kendry Morales before he was ready, less than one year after his first professional game at Rancho Cucamonga.

Dallas McPherson’s back remained problematic. Surgery one year ago removed a bone spur from his hip, leaving him in a wheelchair for a month and a long winter of rehab. But the procedure didn’t help his herniated disk, which continues to be capricious.

Dallas’ injury forced the Angels to start Chone Figgins at third base, a loss of both power and defense.

Figgins shifted to center field when Darin Erstad was disabled by bone chips in his right knee. Although Figgins had shown promise in recent years as a center fielder, this year he seemed lost at times. Chone committed 16 errors this year — ten at third base, five in the outfield, and one at second base.

The Angels relied upon Figgins to be the offensive catalyst at the top of the lineup, but his numbers were career lows, posting an AVG/OBP/SLG of .267/.336/.376 in 2006 compared to .290/.352/.397 in 2005. Chone actually improved his walk rate slightly, from one pass every 10.5 plate appearances compared to 11.2 in 2005, but his overall drop in productivity both offensively and defensively suggests he’s better suited to a “super-sub” role than that of an every day player.

Figgins wasn’t the only disappointment defensively. The defensive meltdown was a team effort.

The total number of errors by position, with 2005 in parentheses:

Catcher: 19 (7)
First Base: 10 (4)
Second Base: 10 (10)
Shortstop: 21 (9)
Third Base: 27 (23)
Outfield: 23 (16)
Pitcher: 14 (15)

The losses of Kotchman and Erstad were key to the defensive collapse, but often overlooked is the departure of Bengie Molina via free agency. Bengie’s brother Jose stepped up to a full-time role when Jeff Mathis failed his first audition in April; Mike Napoli came up and hit well enough to keep the job for a couple months, but collectively the defense suffered from Bengie’s absence.

More glaring, though, were the occasional vapor locks by Orlando Cabrera and Vlad Guerrero, normally two of the more reliable defenders on the field. Cabrera committed 16 errors, and Guerrero 11.

Due to injuries, by season’s end the Angels had two young players out of position — Howie Kendrick platooning at first base, and Maicer Izturis playing every day at third base.

The free agent route didn’t help much. Last winter, the Angels signed Hector Carrasco and Jeff Weaver. Signed to a one-year $8 million deal, Jeff turned out to be a bust and was traded mid-season to St. Louis for minor league outfielder Terry Evans. Originally promised a shot at the starting rotation, Carrasco did a better job in relief (3.02 ERA, 1.16 WHIP) than as a spot starter (5.79 ERA, 1.43 WHIP in three starts) and was better in the second half (2.93 ERA post-All Star Game, 1.17 WHIP) than the first (3.81 ERA pre-All Star, 1.21 WHIP).

Of course, the one that got away was Paul Konerko, who chose to return to Chicago although he got a better offer from the Angels last winter. Had Konerko signed, it probably would have resulted in Casey Kotchman being traded — perhaps for a starting pitcher. The Angels wouldn’t have signed Jeff Weaver and he would have flopped for someone else.

So now the pundits begin to tell GM Bill Stoneman what he should do this winter. We might as well join in.

The offense will probably see a significant overhaul. Erstad and Adam Kennedy are free agents. Erstad may return in spring training with a minor-league contract to show whether off-season surgery repairs his knee; if so, he could be the feel-good story of 2007, a sequel to Tim Salmon’s victory lap in 2006.

But the Angels can’t count on Erstad, nor can they count on Figgins in center field.

So the main pursuit this winter should be a full-time center fielder. Among the names frequently mentioned are the Twins’ Torii Hunter, and the Blue Jays’ Vernon Wells. The Rangers’ Gary Matthews Jr. had a career year (.313/.371/.495) and is a free agent if he doesn’t re-sign, but at age 32 those numbers have to be considered an anomaly. Another possibility is potential free agent Juan Pierre, who is a full-time experienced CF although offensively he’s a Figgins clone.

Some fans want to see Jim Edmonds, another free agent, return but he’ll be 37 in June and saw a significant decline in his numbers this year due to injury. One possible option might be to sign Edmonds to a one-year deal while Erick Aybar plays CF full-time in Triple-A next year to learn the position.

Whatever the fix, should the Angels go the trade route they’ll have to cough up top prospects, something they’ve never done under Stoneman. To give up someone the caliber of Joe Saunders, Nick Adenhart or Brandon Wood, the Angels will have to get a player in his prime who has three years left on his contract. Stoneman has never believed in “rent-a-vet” and shouldn’t start now.

The Angels should be patient with Casey Kotchman. Although his career to date has been frequently marred by freak injuries and the mononucleosis, the fact of the matter is none of those incidents can be blamed on anything basically wrong with his physique. He remains one of the top young hitting prospects in the game.

The same can’t be said of Dallas McPherson. The herniated disk will always be a problem, and if press reports are accurate there’s no medical consensus how to fix it. The Angels need a reliable full-time third baseman; Dallas has loads of power and potential, but the Angels have waited two years now and still can’t rely on Dallas to give them 150 games in 2007. With his health uncertain, the Angels won’t get much in trade either. The Angels let Troy Glaus leave via free agency in favor of Dallas, but they can’t wait any longer. Brandon Wood may be the eventual solution, but he’s probably two years away from a full-time job in Anaheim.

Howie Kendrick will succeed Kennedy at second base. That’s all but given. He struggled at times in his first big-league season. As we’ve talked about here in the past, Howie never drew many walks in the minors. He didn’t have to, because he could hit pretty much everything he saw. That’s no longer true in the big leagues, because he’s seeing for the first time pitching he can’t hit. Major league pitchers quickly found his limitations, pounding him with breaking stuff away and off-speed pitches that disrupted his timing. His main challenge in 2007 is to be more selective. He can still be aggressive at the plate, but he has to work counts so that pitchers are forced into throwing pitches he can drive.

The Angels can probably get away with returning the same catching corps for 2007. Jose Molina has one year left on his contract, and is one of the best defensive catchers in baseball when it comes to throwing out runners. Mathis still has the potential to exceed Napoli, but so far it’s still just potential. The Angels can accept mediocre offense from the catching position if the defensive side can return to the standard set by Bengie Molina.

The health of two veteran outfielders should be a concern. Vlad Guerrero’s knees bothered him so much at season’s end that he finished the year on the bench, once the Angels were eliminated. He’ll turn 31 next February, a bit young for the DH role, but all those years on the Montreal carpet have taken their toll. Garret Anderson suffered all year from plantar fascitis, a problem correctable by surgery, but he’ll be 35 next June and it’s logical for him to ease into the DH role, especially with the emergence of Juan Rivera. Garret’s a 10-5 man, so for the knee-jerk crowd who want him traded, it’s not going to happen as he can reject a trade.

We haven’t talked much about the pitching. Even with Jeff Weaver’s failure and Bartolo Colon’s injury, the starting rotation remains one of the best in the majors. Jeff’s brother Jered and lefty Joe Saunders stepped out mid-season and did great. Assuming Colon is healthy, the Angels may dangle a starting pitcher in trade talks. Weaver, Saunders and Ervin Santana will be the names other teams bring up, along with top minor-league prospect Nick Adenhart.

For the first time in several years, the Angels will need to give more attention to the bullpen. They traded minor league infielder Alexi Casilla to the Twins for J.C. Romero, who was generally a flop when facing anyone batting from the right side. His left-right splits in 2006 are shocking: 2.49 ERA and 1.22 WHIP against lefties, 11.35 ERA and 2.35 WHIP against righties. Either way, his control was abysmal, with a 13:13 SO:BB ratio against lefties, and a 18:15 ratio against righties. When critics complained in past years that the Angels didn’t have a southpaw in the bullpen, Stoneman and Scioscia pointed out it didn’t matter which arm you throw with if you get them out, and that’s what their bullpen did. Stoneman finally got a lefty last winter, but Romero was awful. So let’s not worry so much about what arm a guy throws with, and look more at results.

The back end of the bullpen needs more help than just replacing Romero. Brendan Donnelly struggled at times, saw a chiropractor, and had a better second half (3.52 ERA post-All Star) but still isn’t as dominant as he once was. Donnelly turns 36 next July. Kevin Gregg inherited the Esteban Yan mopup role but was mediocre at best.

The Angels traded infield prospect Alberto Callaspo in spring training to Arizona for relief prospect Jason Bulger, but he wound up with significant shoulder problems that shelved him for much of 2006.

So in addition to the center fielder and third baseman, add a bullpen guy to the shopping list.

The Angels still aren’t that far away from a World Series. Pitching dominates playoffs, so barring catastrophic injuries (which no one can control) they’re still poised to challenge in 2007. Some of the offense solutions could still come internally, if Casey Kotchman and Dallas McPherson return healthy, but at this point the Angels can’t continue to wait for both of them. A full-time center fielder will help settle down the defense, and will be all the more important with the corner outfielders’ range declining due to age and injury.

Whatever the combination, it’s important to remember that the Angels’ failure in 2006 wasn’t because of the supposedly impotent offense. It was the team collapse in the first two months of the season, and in particular the failure of the defense to support the pitching staff. Injuries contributed, as they always do with the Angels, and their incredible depth in the farm system helped to survive that. But this is not a team that needs to be blown up. It just needs a couple of tweaks.

Welcome to the FutureAngels.com Blog

Welcome to the FutureAngels.com blog.

FutureAngels.com is one of the oldest and most respected of the web sites covering Angels baseball.  Opened in 1999, the site is a noted resource for Angels fans, the fans in the towns of Angels minor league affiliates, beat writers covering the Angels and their minor leagues, and even the parents and loved ones of Angels minor leaguers.

When FutureAngels.com began in 1999, Baseball America ranked the Angels the worst minor league organization in baseball.  The Angels replaced their front office and field management, hiring Bill Stoneman and Mike Scioscia, and the rest is history.  Five years later, the Angels are now considered to have one of the best management teams in baseball, and have been ranked one of the best farm systems with some of the most exciting prospects in the minor leagues.

Through it all, FutureAngels.com was there to document it.

The FutureAngels.com web site features photos, audio interviews, and video highlight clips you won’t find anywhere else.  Among the site’s achievements: same-night video highlights of the 2004 Provo Angels winning the Pioneer League pennant; the home run Dallas McPherson hit off a rehabbing Randy Johnson at Rancho Cucamonga on July 15, 2003; and video documentaries of the minor league affiliates’ ballparks.

It’s been copied, it’s been emulated, and it’s even been ripped off a few times.  But no
one has ever done a better job of covering Angels minor league baseball.  FutureAngels.com has
established working relationships with all the Angels affiliates, and as the season unfolds you’ll
find news as it breaks.  FutureAngels.com was the only web site, and in fact the only media outlet, to videotape the press conference held at Rancho Cucamonga the night Kendry Morales made his professional debut.  And it’s the only site to have video of the home run he hit in his first pro at-bat.  You’ll also see
FutureAngels.com cited in news stories as an authoritative source for opinion and insight into
Angels minor league baseball.

FutureAngels.com will return better than ever in 2007, with more features and insight into the Angels minor leagues.  This blog is one of them.

So stay tuned this winter, both to the web site and to the blog.  There’s much more to come.

Stephen C. Smith