February 2007

Gary Matthews Jr. Named in Enhancement Drug Scandal

The Albany Times Union reports that Gary Matthews Jr. has been named as one customer of a ring that furnished performance-enhancing drugs to athletes.

Reporter Brendan J. Lyons wrote:

The Times Union has learned that investigators in the year-old case, which has been kept quiet until now, uncovered evidence that testosterone and other performance-enhancing drugs may have been fraudulently prescribed over the Internet to current and former Major League Baseball players, National Football League players, college athletes, high school coaches, a former Mr. Olympia champion and another leading contender in the bodybuilding competition.

The customers include Los Angeles Angels center fielder Gary Matthews Jr., according to sources with knowledge of the investigation.

A tip of the cap to Matt Hurst at the Riverside Press-Enterprise for reporting the Albany story on the PE.com Baseball Blog.

UPDATE February 28 6:00 AM PSTAn update of the story in the Albany Times-Union suggests that the lynchpin may be former major league pitcher Jason Grimsley, who was reportedly naming fellow ballplayers to federal agents after admitting past drug use. Grimsley named former Orioles first baseman David Segui was his contact. Matthews played with Segui in Baltimore in 2002-2003.

The Los Angeles Times reports that Bill Stoneman and Mike Scioscia met with Matthews yesterday after the story broke. Matthews then left Tempe Diablo, no doubt to avoid reporters hot on the story.

UPDATE February 28, 2007 5:15 PM PST — Mike DiGiovanna of the Los Angeles Times reports that Gary Matthews won’t comment on his name being linked to the breaking performance enhancement drug scandal.

UPDATE February 28, 2007 6:15 PM PSTSports Illustrated reports that Matthews allegedly ordered a human growth hormone in 2004 through “a former minor league teammate” who lives in Mansfield, Texas.

Just a suggestion … Quakes fans from the mid- through late-1990s might want to check their Rancho Cucamonga rosters to see if they can find a player from Mansfield. If you do, please post the name here.

UPDATE February 28, 2007 8:45 PM PST — MLB.com finally weighs in with a piece that seems written mostly to avoid controversy.

According to the article, Matthews read a statement in response to the article but didn’t take any questions. Owner Arte Moreno then said, “I like the way he responded,” which has to be one of the lamer spins on a story spinning out of control. “He came in as a gentleman and apologized immediately for any kind of distraction. He said he would try to get it resolved as quickly as possible.”

As you might suspect, the crackpots are already falling all over each other on various boards calling for Bill Stoneman to be fired, as if Stoneman somehow held down Matthews and forced the needle into his arm. These cranks have bashed Stoneman all along for signing Matthews, but that has no relation to this incident, which occurred 2 1/2 years ago.

One of the few facts to emerge in the MLB.com article not seen elsewhere is how much research the Angels were able to do on Matthews prior to signing him, and that there was no evidence he’d been involved in HGH use.

Moreno said the organization relied on extensive scouting reports and statistical data before pursuing Matthews in free agency.

"He’s been tested," Moreno said."We have history within reason. You know all the way through the Minor League system if they’ve been in trouble. You can get any stats you want now, [including] the meals they ate yesterday."

Scioscia conceded that he was caught by surprise.

"I’ve never heard Gary’s name along those lines at all," Scioscia said. "I’ve heard very few names, actually. The media speculates on those lines. I haven’t heard Gary’s name at all.

What action the Angels can take is also limited by MLB’s labor agreement with the players union.

"We really don’t have a lot of information, obviously," [Moreno said]. "You’re dealing with the Players Association. The Players Association, they really want to get more information. We had a meeting really just to basically tell him how we felt — that, one, we’re not going to ask you any questions until you’re able to tell us. But we’d like you to be straight up with us. I felt it was important for him to know he has our support.

… Moreno said Matthews was not asked directly if he’d taken performance-enhancing drugs.

"I don’t think it’s our position to do that right now," the owner said. "We did not address it that way. I let Mike take the lead on it.

"I think that bridge is going to come eventually but I think as a whole it’s more important for him to come to us and explain to us what’s going on."

So the facts as we have them now are that Matthews may have used a surrogate friend to order body-altering substances in August 2004 which were legal at the time and not banned by the labor agreement in place at the time. The new drug testing policy became effective in 2005 and, since he was never suspended, one can presume that Matthews tested clean. Whether the drug in question would have shown up in the tests administered by MLB can only be answered by a knowledgeable chemist.

Internet cranks aside, the reasonable question is whether Matthews’ fluke 2006 season was due to human growth hormone use or another substance that went undetected. Most people agree that 2006 was an anomaly, and those complaining about Matthews’ contract don’t live in the real world where plenty of free agents got much fatter contracts in an off-season where demand exceeded supply; in that context, Matthews’ contract wasn’t all that unreasonable.

But the real question now is whether that contract might be voided down the line should Matthews be convicted of a crime, which so far seems unlikely since no crime has been alleged. Worst case scenario, he continues to play his career under a cloud. But that certainly hasn’t seemed to have bothered Barry Bonds’ conscience. And I suspect that should Matthews be leading the Angels into the post-season, the memories of Internet cranks will suddenly go blank so long as Matthews is productive.

UPDATE March 1, 2007 7:00 AM PST — Today’s Los Angeles Times reports that Matthews could face criminal charges under certain scenarios. “Baseball bans human growth hormone now but didn’t then, although the substance is illegal to possess without legitimate medical supervision. Even if prosecutors can prove Matthews received the shipment and can persuade him to testify against distributors in exchange for immunity, major league officials might not be able to suspend him.”

So far, though, “the documents cannot establish whether Matthews used — or even received — the shipment, according to the report.”

The article also states that it’s possible to test for human growth hormone (HGH) but that MLB currently doesn’t do so.

Baseball now forbids the use of human growth hormone but does not test for the substance. Commissioner Bud Selig and union chief Donald Fehr each have said there is no reliable test available, and owners have funded laboratory studies to develop a urine test.

Gary Wadler, a New York physician and advisor to the World Anti-Doping Agency, said no urine test would be available for "at least five years, if ever" but said a blood test has been developed and would be widely available by the end of this year. If MLB chose to do so, he said, it could take blood samples now and freeze them for testing later this year.

"The assertion that there is no test is wrong," Wadler said.

In that sense, he said, baseball’s claims of tough drug testing ring hollow.

"Without detection — or the potential of detection — there is no deterrence," he said. "Without deterrence, there’s no reason for not using human growth hormone. The only way to get caught now is these kinds of stings, which is not the way to do it."

Matt Hurst at the Riverside Press-Enterprise notes some interesting geographic coincidences in Matthews’ career.

Mansfield is less than 15 miles from Arlington, where the Texas Rangers play. Matthews played for Texas from 2004 to 2006.

SI.com reported that he allegedly received a prescription for the hormone at a now-defunct anti-aging clinic in south Florida but the drugs came from the Mobile pharmacy. Matthews played in Mobile between 1997 and 1998 while with San Diego’s organization.

Matthews went to spring training with Atlanta in 2004, and the Braves train near Orlando, Fla., where a pharmacy was raided Tuesday.

UPDATE March 1, 2007 7:00 PM PST — The Mobile Press-Register reports that the local lab where Matthews allegedly ordered HGH is unaware of the details of the accusations.

Two owners of Mobile-based Applied Pharmacy Services have been indicted by an Albany, N.Y., grand jury in connection with an illicit steroid distribution network with high-profile customers, according to media reports …

Arthur Madden, a Mobile lawyer who has represented Applied Pharmacy for six months, said Wednesday he had not seen any warrants or documents concerning an investigation into the Mobile-based business.

"The whole thing is a mystery," Madden said.

Madden said that Applied Pharmacy is licensed and regulated by the federal Drug Enforcement Administration. "You have to have a prescription to place an order," Madden said.

Madden said he had not been able to reach anyone in the Albany County District Attorney’s office to obtain more information. A spokeswoman for the District Attorney’s office did not respond to a Press-Register reporter’s telephone calls Wednesday.

Madden said he represents the pharmacy itself not the owners individually. According to business records, Jason Kelley and Sam Kelley own Applied Pharmacy, located on International Drive near Colonial Mall Bel Air.

On Wednesday, a reporter who went to the Applied Pharmacy office spoke to an employee who said the Kelleys were unavailable. Inside the office there were numerous framed pharmacy certifications, as well as a door bearing a "registered pharmacist" nameplate.

Mobile County District Attorney John Tyson Jr. and Mobile Police Chief Phillip Garrett said they were unaware of the investigation. Special Agent Tim White, a spokesman for the FBI in Mobile, said his agency was not involved in the investigation.

Tom Wade, the DEA’s resident agent in charge in Mobile, said he had read the Times Union article, but did not know of the investigation otherwise.

Wade said that if Albany officials called him and asked for his help in arresting anyone, he would advise them to contact the Mobile police since the case would involve state indictments.

Meanwhile, Matt Hurst at the Riverside Press-Enterprise got two minutes of time today with Matthews, which is transcribed on the paper’s Baseball Blog. Perhaps the most interesting Q&A was this exchange:

Q: The longer you go without addressing this issue, do you feel you’re bringing about more suspicions?

A: When I get more information from my people, then I can go from there. If I don’t have all the information, it puts me in a bad situation to say one thing or another.

If there were nothing to all this, Matthews would just say so, so obviously there is something to it.

Based on what I’ve seen so far, it seems that: (1) Matthews had a prescription for the drug, (2) he obtained it through the Mobile lab, (3) it was sent to a friend in Mansfield TX, (4) the HGH wasn’t banned in MLB at the time, (5) MLB doesn’t test for it now, and (6) a blood test may be available later this year but there’s no indication whether MLB will successfully negotiate with the MLBPA to start doing the blood test.

One story said that HGH would be used by an athlete more to heal quickly from an injury than to gain bulk, which to me makes sense. Baseball players wear down by late season, and that was around the time Matthews allegedly placed the order in August 2004. So far I haven’t seen anything to suggest that HGH use could somehow miraculously morph him into the player he was in 2006.

If Matthews did indeed have a prescription, then the question becomes whether the prescription was issued under fraudulent circumstances, and by whom. But for now, the Albany D.A. has made it clear he’s only going after the labs, not the customers.

UPDATE March 2 6:45 AM PST — Doug Padilla of the Los Angeles Newspaper Group suggests that Matthews could be suspended even if he doesn’t test positive or if he’s not indicted:

At the rate that new information is released, the Angels are headed toward the possibility that Matthews could face a 50-game suspension for a first-time violation for performance enhancers.

The Arizona Diamondbacks’ Jason Grimsley received such a suspension last year even though he did not test positive for performance enhancers.

Grimsley was caught receiving a home delivery of performance-enhancing substances.

As of now, the Angels are not planning on making any roster contingencies, in anticipation of a possible suspension for Matthews.

This article is copyright © 2007 Wordsmith Resources and FutureAngels.com. It may not be used elsewhere without the prior expressed written permission of the author.

FutureAngels.com Radio – Episode 4

FutureAngels.com Radio Episode 4 is now on-line. You can access all podcast episodes through the link on the home page at www.futureangels.com.

In this episode:

  • Look back at the original “future Angels,” the 1961 Statesville Owls, with baseball historian Bill Moose
  • Listen to a memorable moment in the career of third baseman Matt Brown
  • Review the Angels top prospects with analyst John Sickels of MinorLeagueBall.com
  • Learn how to run the bases with Orem Owlz manager Tom Kotchman
  • Please feel free to post your comments here.

This article is copyright © 2007 Wordsmith Resources and FutureAngels.com. It may not be used elsewhere without the prior expressed written permission of the author.

Where the Top 30 Prospects Might Go

I’m not a fan of articles and columns that predict what will happen in a season. Right now, you’ll find self-appointed experts both in print and on the Internet declaring that the Angels will finish with a record of xx-yy, they’ll tell you exactly what the lineup will be, who will be on the pitching staff, etc. Never mind that Opening Night is more than five weeks away, and for all we know a meteor could fall on Tempe Diablo Stadium tomorrow and wipe out everyone.

This rampant certitude extends to the top prospects. So what if some of them have yet to see a single legitimate major-league pitch?! Or pitch to a legitimate major-league batter?! Some people seem incapable of grasping the notion that Double-A isn’t the big leagues.

In any case, I’m going to take the more modest route and just give you where I think the top prospects will start the season. By no means is this an “expert” prediction, nor is based on any insider access to the Angels’ front office. It’s just my personal opinion.

Let’s go down the list of the Angels’ Top 30 prospects as published in the Baseball America 2007 Prospect Handbook and have a chat about each one.

Brandon Wood may move to third base to hasten his arrival in the majors.

1. Brandon Wood SS-3B — That “3B” appellation finally arrived this week when the Angels announced they would have Brandon take ground balls at third base during spring training. Some are interpreting this as the long-anticipated move of Wood to the Hot Corner, but it’s not. What the Angels are doing is providing Wood with another means of reaching the majors. We saw last year how the Angels moved Howie Kendrick to first base because they were so desperate to get his bat in the lineup, even though he’d never played the position in the minors. The Angels don’t want a repetition of that with Wood, so they’ll let him get some experience at 3B which right now might be the faster route to Anaheim. Should something happen to Orlando Cabrera, the Angels have both Maicer Izturis and Erick Aybar on the depth chart. Third base isn’t as deep, with no true third basemen on the parent club roster (Chone Figgins, Robb Quinlan, Izturis and Aybar are all converts from other positions) other than Shea Hillenbrand who’s mediocre defensively. So it’s likely Wood will play 3B at Triple-A Salt Lake to open the year, although he’ll probably see time at shortstop as well.

2. Nick Adenhart RHP — I’ve seen some analysts suggest Adenhart will return to High-A Rancho Cucamonga. My reaction is, “Huh?!” Nick is one of the top pitching prospects in the minors, was named to the Futures Game, and finished 2006 with Team USA in the Olympic qualifiers. His only problem in 2006 was stamina, because it was his first full season since recovering from “Tommy John” surgery. Short of a total breakdown in spring training, he should start 2006 with Double-A Arkansas.

3. Erick Aybar SS — Aybar will get a long look in spring training as a possible utility player with the parent club, but unless something happens to Maicer Izturis (or one of the other middle infielders gets hurt) it makes more sense for him to return to Triple-A Salt Lake where he can play full time. Aybar needs another year of Triple-A to polish his game. It’s possible the Angels may give him some time in center field, maybe when Wood plays shortstop.

4. Young-Il Jung RHP — The 18-year old Korean hasn’t pitched in a regular season game, and I don’t think that will happen until mid-season. Most likely he’ll remain in Tempe at extended spring training; although it’s possible he might go to Low-A Cedar Rapids to replace an injured pitcher, I think you’ll see him at Rookie-A Orem come mid-June, or Rookie-A Tempe in the summer Arizona League if he still needs fundamental work. Tempe is a low-pressure environment for the foreign players, where they can take language lessons in their off-hours.

5. Stephen Marek RHP — I think he projects eventually as a reliever, but the Angels often like those guys to get more innings by starting until they reach Double-A or even Triple-A. It’s possible he could return to High-A Rancho Cuamonga, where he left off, although a good spring training could get him to Double-A Arkansas. Right now, I think it’s 50-50; whenever he reaches Salt Lake, that’ll probably be where he moves to the bullpen.

6. Hank Conger C — Unless his hand is still bothering him from his hamate bone injury, he’ll probably start 2007 at Cedar Rapids.

7. Jeff Mathis — Jose Molina is a given in Anaheim, so it comes down to Napoli vs. Mathis for the second catcher slot. I’m more bullish on Mathis than most people are; he might start 2007 at Salt Lake but I think he’ll be in Anaheim by mid-season.

8. Sean Rodriguez SS — His power stroke arrived in 2006, with a .545 SLG at Rancho Cucamonga and a .662 SLG in 18 games for Arkansas. I think he’ll pick up on Opening Night where he left off, in the lineup for the Travelers at shortstop.

9. Sean O’Sullivan RHP — Cedar Rapids unless a knockout spring gets him to Rancho.

10. Tommy Mendoza RHP — Rancho Cucamonga.

11. Kenneth Herndon RHP — Cedar Rapids.

12. Peter Bourjos OF — Cedar Rapids

Jose Arredondo may be destined for the bullpen should he reach the majors.

13. Jose Arredondo RHP — Scuttlebutt is he’ll be converted eventually into a reliever, although he has much more work to do on his mechanics and secondary stuff. A poor spring could land him back at Rancho Cucamonga, although more likely the Angels will give him every opportunity to return to Arkansas.

14. P.J. Phillips 3B/SS — Didn’t impress in his 2006 assignment at Orem. He could be held over in extended spring training, but has a decent chance to start 2007 at Cedar Rapids.

15. Hainley Statia SS — Should be the starting shortstop for Rancho Cucamonga.

16. Matt Sweeney 1B — Could see Cedar Rapids although it’s likely he could return to Orem at mid-season if he struggles in Low-A.

17. Jeremy Haynes RHP — Cedar Rapids.

18. Terry Evans OF — Currently in major league camp, but destined for Triple-A Salt Lake. Unlikely to repeat his anomalous 2006 numbers but the hitter-friendly PCL should boost his stats. If Aybar moves to CF, Evans will go to RF.

19. Bobby Wilson C — Had a good year for Double-A Arkansas in 2006, but the loser of the Mathis/Napoli derby will catch every day at Salt Lake. The Angels won’t want Wilson to sit as a Triple-A backup, so most likely he returns to Arkansas unless there’s an injury or trade upstream.

20. Ryan Mount 2B — Don’t know why BA lists him as a second baseman when he played shortstop in 2006. Anyway, he should be at Cedar Rapids to start the year.

21. Trevor Bell RHP — Cedar Rapids.

22. Rafael Rodriguez RHP — Could regress to Rancho Cucamonga with a poor spring, otherwise Arkansas.

23. Nick Green RHP — Arkansas.

24. Chris Resop RHP — In the mix for the Anaheim bullpen, otherwise Salt Lake. A converted outfielder, a little more Triple-A experience couldn’t hurt.

25. Ryan Aldridge RHP — Rancho Cucamonga bullpen.

26. Tommy Murphy OF — Dueling with Reggie Willits for a utility outfielder slot in Anaheim. Otherwise Salt Lake. His edge over Willits is the versatility to play the infield and more power.

Reggie Willits may find his name on the Angels roster come April.

27. Reggie Willits OF — Dueling with Tommy Murphy for a utility outfielder slot in Anaheim. Otherwise Salt Lake. His edge over Murphy is his superior on-base percentage and makes better contact.

28. Barret Browning LHP — Outside shot at Rancho Cucamonga due to his age, otherwise Cedar Rapids.

29. Mark Trumbo 1B — Has to show improvement in spring training to earn a shot at Rancho Cucamonga, otherwise returns to Cedar Rapids.

30. Phil Seibel LHP — Dark horse for the Anaheim bullpen, probably goes to Salt Lake unless Darren Oliver can’t cut it in spring training.

This article is copyright © 2007 Wordsmith Resources and FutureAngels.com. It may not be used elsewhere without the prior expressed written permission of the author.

This ‘N That

It’s been a while since I posted, but then there really hasn’t been much to say that hasn’t been said in pretty much every newspaper covering the Angels’ opening of spring training. If you visit FutureAngels.com, I update that site every day with links to all the latest news stories about the Angels prospects in camp.

One thing you won’t find anywhere but FutureAngels.com is the schedule for the Angels’ minor league spring training camp. I posted it earlier this week.

If you’re going to spring training, you really owe it to yourself to visit the minor league side of the Tempe Diablo complex.

From 1984 through 2005, the minor leaguers frolicked at Gene Autry Park, a facility twelve miles to the east in Mesa. Relatively primitive by today’s professional baseball standards, many fans and Angels minor league coaches loved “The GAP” because it had a certain intimacy lacking at more sprawling facilities. Where else could you walk freely amongst over 100 ballplayers?! So long as you didn’t disrupt their work, you could observe pitching, hitting and infield drills. In the afternoons, you could watch two games side-by-side, separated by about 50 feet.

The logistics made it difficult for Angels minor leaguers to appear in major league spring training games. Someone would have to load them into a van and drive them over.

Now that everyone is at the same complex, it’s pretty easy to get a body to play the late innings should a major league veteran want to take off the rest of a game.

On the flip side, if a big leaguer needs some extra work, all he has to do is walk over to the minor league camp, where the game rules are quite loose. Because official stats aren’t kept, a big leaguer can be inserted into a game at any opportunity, regardless of where the Angels squad is in its lineup. After he makes out, he can go over to the other game and bat there. The big leaguer goes back and forth, winding up with about 15-20 at-bats. It’s a sight to see.

Other weird things happen in minor league camp games.

For openers, a pitcher doesn’t have to retire three outs. If a manager feels his pitcher has exhausted his pitch count for the inning, he can simply call “switch sides” and the inning comes to an end. That can be rather frustrating when your team has the bases loaded and your heavy hitter at the plate, but it protects very young arms from injury during a meaningless practice game.

Camp games might also have two DH’s. And those guys may take the field mid-game, replacing two other players who become the DH’s.

I’ve had perplexed fans ask me how to keep score under those conditions. The answer is simple — you don’t.

Even if the home team is winning, they might still bat in the bottom of the 9th if the opposing team’s manager has a pitcher who needs some work and the home team manager agrees. They might even go an extra inning if someone needs the work.

It’s baseball at its most pure. The score doesn’t matter, the lineup really doesn’t matter much, and sometimes you don’t even need three outs to retire the side. You’re just watching young men play ball.

At The GAP, there weren’t even scoreboards, which heightened the illusion.

I’m tentatively scheduled to be at Tempe Diablo for the games on March 18, 19 and 20. According to the schedule, I should see Rancho Cucamonga and Cedar Rapids at home the first two dates, Salt Lake and Arkansas on the third date. As always, I’ll be shooting photos and video, some of which will eventually wind up on FutureAngels.com.

Meanwhile … I’ve been working on the next podcast. If you read FutureAngels.com last year while the site was in hibernation, you know I was working on the early days of Angels minor league history.

In 1961, the Angels’ first year of existence, they had only two minor league teams — the Triple-A Dallas-Ft. Worth Rangers, and the Class-D Statesville Owls in North Carolina. (Class D is the rough equivalent of today’s Low-A, e.g. Cedar Rapids.)

Earlier this week, I interviewed Bill Moose, a history professor at Mitchell Community College in Statesville, and a baseball historian. He helped with last year’s research. In the interview, you’ll hear us delve into that one modest year. One thing I learned about the 1961 Owls was that they were one of only four teams in minor league baseball still playing on an all-dirt surface. Imagine what that would do to your fielding stats!

For the next show, I hope to interview a baseball historian in Dallas-Ft. Worth to learn about the Rangers, who were an Angels affiliate in 1961-62. Among the players with the Rangers that first year were Jim Fregosi, Dean Chance and Bob Rodgers. Not bad.

Next week, my day job employer has me on the road all week attending a training seminar, so I may be a bit scarce. I’ll blog in if I have the chance.

This article is copyright © 2007 Wordsmith Resources and FutureAngels.com. It may not be used elsewhere without the prior expressed written permission of the author.

FutureAngels.com Radio Episode 3

The latest episode of FutureAngels.com Radio is now on-line.

In this show:

  • Arkansas Travelers Executive Vice-President/General Manager Bill Valentine talks about their new stadium, Dickey-Stephens Park
  • Baseball America Associate Editor Alan Matthews reviews his Angels Top 30 Prospects
  • Angels Manager Mike Scioscia addresses the Cedar Rapids Kernels Hot Stove Banquet

You can get to the podcast through the home page at www.futureangels.com.

This article is copyright © 2007 Wordsmith Resources and FutureAngels.com. It may not be used elsewhere without the prior expressed written permission of the author.

Kevin Kennedy on Casey Kotchman

Casey Kotchman was the Angels’ first-round pick in the June 2001 draft.

In his latest column, former major league manager and current Fox Sports analyst Kevin Kennedy has some interesting observations about Angels first baseman Casey Kotchman. In particular, he compares Casey’s stroke to no less than Barry Bonds, as well as Don Mattingly and Mark Grace.

I’ve always felt that Kotchman has more power potential than many people seem to think. The back-to-back homers he hit at Rancho Cucamonga on April 16, 2003 were judged by longtime fans as the two of the longest in the history of The Epicenter.

Power often doesn’t arrive until a player reaches his mid-20s. Ignore his mononucleosis year in 2006 and you’ll see he was a doubles machine in the minors, combined with an excellent strikeout-to-walk ratio. Those doubles often turn into home runs as a player matures.

I don’t expect a monster year from Kotchman in 2007, but if he can stay healthy for a change here’s what I think you’ll see. Typically he’s a bit of a slow starter, and having not faced major league pitching in a while you’ll see a tepid April. He’ll adjust in May, and by June will be an important part of the offense. His second half should be much stronger than his first half. Overall, I think his AVG/OBP/SLG will be something like .290/.350/.500 (.850 OPS*). In 2008, his OPS will go over .900 and the sky’s the limit after that.

Many analysts — and fans — seem to think he’ll never hit more than 20-25 HR a year. I disagree. I think you’ll see him reach 30 HR in a season before 2010, he’ll be consistently at 30-35 HR each year in his prime, and will touch 40 once or twice before he’s done.

He just needs to shake that curse someone seems to have put on him …

* OPS = OBP + SLG, and is a common shorthand used in the sabermetric world to judge the statistical worth of hitters. I tend to pay more attention to SLG for a power hitter, although for a fast singles hitter OBP would be more important.

This article is copyright © 2007 Wordsmith Resources and FutureAngels.com. It may not be used elsewhere without the prior expressed written permission of the author.

Ryan Leahy Diagnosed with Thyroid Cancer

Ryan Leahy has played for Provo, Cedar Rapids, Rancho Cucamonga and Arkansas in his three years with the Angels.

The Rancho Cucamonga Quakes reported Monday on their web site that Angels minor league infielder Ryan Leahy has been diagnosed with thyroid cancer.

The Quakes cited a January 23 article in the Salem News reporting the illness. According to the Quakes, Leahy’s surgery will be soon so he can report to spring training if there are no complications.

The story on the Quakes site states that fans can send well wishes to Ryan at the e-mail address getwellryan@hotmail.com.

This article is copyright © 2007 Wordsmith Resources and FutureAngels.com. It may not be used elsewhere without the prior expressed written permission of the author.

Mike Scioscia in Cedar Rapids

Angels Manager Mike Scioscia was the featured speaker January 18 at the Cedar Rapids Kernels Hot Stove Banquet. Thanks to Andy Pantini, the Kernels’ Director of Communications, we now have on-line a recording of Scioscia’s presentation. You need Windows Media Player to listen.

This article is copyright © 2007 Wordsmith Resources and FutureAngels.com. It may not be used elsewhere without the prior expressed written permission of the author.

The Best Talent, on the Average

Baseball America recently published its 2007 Prospect Handbook. The Angels were ranked #4 in the annual Talent Rankings.

BA analyst Alan Matthews wrote, “For the better part of the new millennium, the Angels have accrued talent as effectively as any organization in baseball.”

I did a little number-crunching to test that statement.

Over the last five years of rankings (2003-2007), the Angels’ average ranking was 3.4, the best of any of the thirty major league organizations. The top five rankings were:

  1. Angels 3.4
  2. Dodgers 5.2
  3. Twins 5.4
  4. Brewers 6.0
  5. Indians 6.6

Within the Angels’ division:

  1. Angels 3.4
  2. Mariners 16.6
  3. Rangers 19.0
  4. Athletics 20.0

While it’s great to be recognized as one of the consistently better farm systems, if you look at recent World Series participants you don’t necessarily see a link between minor league talent (as ranked by BA) and championships.

The World Series champion Cardinals, who were also in the 2004 Series, were #28 at 26.0. The Tigers, whom they faced in 2006, were #19 at 18.0. Their 2004 opponents, the Red Sox, were #17 at 17.6.

The two 2005 World Series participants? The champion Astros were #27 at 23.2. The White Sox were #16 at 17.4.

Part of the problem, in my opinion, is how BA ranks minor league prospects. They tend to look at a player’s ceiling, that is his tools and how successful he’ll be if he maximizes his potential sometime, somewhere in the major leagues. The result is that many times the top prospects in organizations are those in the lower minors who are “toolsy” but haven’t actually maximized their potential.

Using the Angels’ 2007 Top 30 Prospects list as an example, only three of the Top 10 spent a substantive part of 2006 in Double-A (Brandon Wood) or Triple-A (Erick Aybar, Jeff Mathis). One player, Young-Il Jung, hasn’t even played in a regular season game. Three of the ten (Hank Conger, Sean O’Sullivan and Tommy Mendoza) spent 2006 at Low-A or Rookie-A.

This is one reason why, as I’ve written my annual Top 10 reports over the years, I’ve tended to skew away from “toolsiness” and started to weigh a bit more towards proximity to the major leagues. Given two players with equivalent talent, I’ll go more with the one closer to the majors. It also allows for weeding out players whose careers might have been sidetracked due to injury.

I’ve no data to prove my system is better or worse than anyone else’s. But then neither is there any proof that the statistically-obsessed people at Baseball Prospectus get it right more often either. (Not that it stops them from claiming they do, while they try to sell you more of their merchandise, but that’s a different subject.)

Despite what some in the sabermetric world might claim, the fact of the matter is that there’s simply no reliable way to project the future when it comes to prospects. No one could foresee Casey Kotchman’s mononucleosis or Dallas McPherson’s lower back injuries. No one foresaw Mike Napoli going from second-string catcher at Rancho Cucamonga in 2003 to 29 HR at Rancho in 2004 to 31 HR at Arkansas in 2005 to the majors in 2006.

And the final judgment on whether a prospect lived up to expectations may not come for many years. The Angels selected Jim Edmonds in the seventh round of the 1988 draft, at age 18. In his first season at Short-A Bend, he hit an AVG/OBP/SLG of .221/.329/.254 in 122 AB. In his first full year, 1989, he hit .261/.313/.337 in 92 AB for Low-A Quad City. Let’s see a show of hands how many people honestly think the statheads would have projected Edmonds at that point to hit 350 HR (and counting) in the majors?

Anyway, after crunching the last five years, I looked at BA Talent Rankings going back to its inception in 1999.

The Top Ten were:

  1. Braves 5.67
  2. Twins 7.56
  3. Marlins 8.56
  4. Cubs 10.89
  5. Devil Rays 11.33
  6. Indians 11.33
  7. Yankees 12.00
  8. White Sox 12.78
  9. Angels 13.11
  10. Blue Jays 13.44

The bottom five were:

  1. Red Sox 19.78
  2. Reds 20.00
  3. Orioles 21.78
  4. Nationals/Expos 22.00
  5. Cardinals 24.33

Wow, there are those pesky Cardinals again at the bottom, even though they went to the World Series in 2004 and 2006. The Red Sox have been competitive as well. And although they’re ranked highly, the Cubs, Devil Rays and Indians aren’t exactly the elite of their leagues.

There are three ways to build a competitive major league team — scouting and player development, free agent signings and trades.

One can’t help but be impressed by the consistently high rankings posted by the Twins over the years. Even though they operate in a small market, they’ve used their farm system to remain competitive most years in the AL Central.

The Braves have been consistently competitive over the last two decades, going to the World Series in 1991, 1992, 1995, 1996, and 1999. They won the NL East every year from 1995 through 2005. Clearly that track record of success can be linked to the fertility of their farm system.

The Angels are fairly close to the Braves’ model, but it was only in recent years that they’ve been consistent competitors. They won the World Series in 2002, and went to the post-season in 2004 and 2005. In 2003 and 2006, injuries were the main problem, although in 2006 a fertile farm helped them remain competitive into the final weekend.

In an era of three-tier playoffs that allow for mediocre teams and wild cards to enter the post-season, perhaps the lesson to draw from all this is that a farm system deep in prospects gives an organization the ability to absorb more mistakes and unforeseen developments. It won’t excuse poor decision-making (e.g. the Devil Rays and Cubs), but it does allow an organization to swap away talent for a quick-fix (e.g. the Cardinals) that might be enough to get over the hump in one year.

Beyond that, nothing is guaranteed. And that includes Talent Rankings.

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