Baseball America Downgrades Angels

Luis Jimenez
Baseball America’s presumption that draft picks mirror organizational depth ignores international amateurs such as 20-year old Luis Jimenez, who led the Pioneer League in homers last year with 15.

 

Once upon a time, in the last year of the Bill Bavasi/Terry Collins regime, Baseball America ranked the Angels as having the worst farm system in baseball.

From the March 29, 1999 issue:


30. Anaheim Angels
1998 Rank: 26. Strengths: Identifying singular big league talents. Weaknesses: Depth, high-ceiling pitching prospects.

The Angels get their due for identifying premium players and plugging them into their lineup, with Troy Glaus as their latest example. They’ve drafted more players (45) who played in the big leagues in 1998 than anyone. Their inability to bring in pitching or develop depth, however, has created an organization on a fine and expensive line. There are no surefire big league starters left in the system.


At year’s end, Bavasi and Collins left, along with farm director Jeff Parker, scouting director Bob Fontaine, and several longtime members of the scouting staff.

Three years later, the Angels won the World Series, led in part by youngsters John Lackey and Francisco Rodriguez — both signed by the Bavasi regime.

Slowly, and perhaps begrudgingly, BA raised the Angels’ organizational talent ranking given each March. The rankings through 2008:

  • 1999: 30
  • 2000: 29
  • 2001: 25
  • 2002: 17
  • 2003: 5
  • 2004: 3
  • 2005: 1
  • 2006: 4
  • 2007: 4
  • 2008: 10

Interesting how the Angels jumped from #17 to #5 after winning the World Series, perhaps a belated acknowledgement that BA underrated the quality of the farm system.

Now BA has made that mistake again.

In their latest issue (April 6), BA ranks the Angels #25.

Huh?!

No real reason is given for ranking the Angels so low, other than this one sentence: “The current farm system has suffered from picks lost to free-agent signings and several unsigned single-digit picks.”

Oh, really?!

Let’s test the assertion that the system “suffered” last year.

If you count Rancho Cucamonga — which lost a sudden-death playoff game to determine which California League South Division team qualified for the post-season — all seven Angels minor league operations were in the playoffs. So far as I know, they’re the only organization in baseball that can make that claim.

Double-A Arkansas, Rookie-A Orem and Rookie-A Tempe all went to the championship round in their leagues. Arkansas won the Texas League pennant.

Back on March 27, I published an article about the best teams in Angels minor league history, based on winning percentage.

Over that 48-year span, out of 253 teams, the 2008 Tempe Angels rank #4 with a .696 winning percentage. The 2008 Orem Owlz rank #5 at .693.

(The Dominican academy teams are not included in the 253.)

The two Rookie-A teams reflect young talent largely from the 2007 and 2008 drafts, as well as players not subject to the draft who are from countries outside of North America.

Tempe had young pitchers such as Manaurys Correa from the Dominican Republic and Alexander Torres from Venezuela. Correa reported to Orem for the playoffs, and Torres quickly moved up to help out Rancho Cucamonga in the second-half stretch drive, striking out 62 in 53 innings while posting a 3.91 ERA.

At Orem, Venezuelan third baseman Luis Jimenez led the Pioneer League in homers with 15, and Dominican teammate Angel Castillo was tied for second with 14.

Although we really shouldn’t read much into Dominican Summer League teams, I’ll note that the DSL Angels were 47-22.

So where are the Angels “suffering”?

Certainly not at the Triple-A level. Salt Lake began 2008 with a 21-1 streak, finishing 84-60 overall, and probably would have done better if they hadn’t lost key players to the big league club for extended periods to cover for injuries.

Although final cuts have yet to be announced, it appears that Brandon Wood, Matt Brown, Sean Rodriguez, and Reggie Willits will be heading for Salt Lake in a few days. All of them would make the major league roster on most clubs. Nick Adenhart would be Salt Lake bound too, if not for the current injuries in the starting rotation.

Are they “suffering” at Double-A? Doesn’t seem likely either. Top prospects Hank Conger, Mark Trumbo, Ryan Mount, Jordan Walden and Sean O’Sullivan should all see significant playing time this year at Arkansas.

So BA, where’s the “suffering”?

BA also cites the failure to sign “single-digit picks.”

Well, first off, BA needs to revisit its May 26, 2003 article that reviewed the 1990-1997 drafts. Looking at each of the first ten rounds, it identified percentages for how many players in each round made it to the majors, and ranked them in six categories, from flops-coffee-fringe to regular-good-star.

Over those eight years, here are the percentages of drafted players in each round who ranked “regular” or higher:

  • 1st round 26.6%
  • 2nd round 9.4%
  • 3rd round 6.2%
  • 4th round 3.9%
  • 5th round 5.4%
  • 6th round 5.0%
  • 7th round 4.0%
  • 8th round 4.6%
  • 9th round 2.1%
  • 10th round 3.2%

With such slim odds after the first round, are we really supposed to wring our hands over not signing some fourth or fifth round draft pick?!

The poster child, I suppose, is Matt Harvey, who was selected by the Angels in the third round of the June 2007 draft. Harvey was considered first-round material coming out of high school but other organizations passed because his bonus demands were so high. (Yes, his “advisor” was Scott Boras.) The Angels took a risk by selecting him in the third round, but reportedly he wouldn’t sign for $1.5 million, which is mid-first round bonus money.

BA fails to give the Angels credit for being creative when it comes to selecting “high-risk, high-reward” players in lower rounds.

Harvey might be the example of when high-risk, high-reward went wrong. But the example of when it went right is Nick Adenhart.

Nick was ranked the top high school pitching prospect in the nation until he blew out his elbow just before the June 2004 draft. Other teams passed on the risk. But the Angels selected him in the 14th round, offered him $750,000 (which is a lot more than any other 14th rounder would get), and signed him. The Angels supervised his rehab, were patient and now have one of the best young pitching prospects in the minors.

The Angels selected Mark Trumbo in the 18th round of the same draft. Trumbo was already committed to USC, but the Angels gave him first-round bonus money to sign. Mark hit 32 homers in 2008 between Rancho and Arkansas.

In 2005, the Angels drafted outfielder Peter Bourjos in the 10th round. Pete appears on most Top 10 Angels prospect lists.

In 2006, the Angels selected pitcher Jordan Walden in the 12th round, another example of “high risk, high reward.” Selected as a “draft-and-follow” out of Grayson Community College, Walden signed in May 2007. Either Walden or Adenhart rank as the Angels’ top pitching prospect on most lists.

An Angels scout found left-hander Trevor Reckling at a small prep school in Newark, New Jersey. The Angels selected him in the eighth round of the June 2007 draft. Reckling ranks near the top of most Angels prospects lists.

And as I wrote in last November’s annual Top 10 Prospects report, I think a lot of people are seriously underestimating the bounty from the Angels’ 2008 draft. The Angels selected Ryan Chaffee in the third round, even though he was pitching injured all year with a broken foot. Chaffee underwent surgery last fall and should be ready to go in 2009. Will Smith, selected in the seventh round, had an insanely successful debut in 2008, posting a 76:6 (that’s no typo) strikeout-to-walk ratio in 73 innings to go along with his 3.08 ERA in a hitter-friendly league.

If you need further evidence that draft round isn’t all that important, look at the parent club’s roster. Mike Napoli was selected in the 17th round of the June 2000 draft; no one (including me) saw him as more than an organizational player, but he worked hard and overcame a labrum injury to become a power-hitting major league catcher. Tom Kotchman found Howie Kendrick in a small Florida junior college; the Angels selected him in the 10th round of the June 2002 draft. Kotchman also found Scot Shields at tiny Lincoln Memorial University in Tennessee; selected in the 38th round of the June 1997 draft, Scot has become one of the best setup relievers in the game.

Ervin Santana, Kendry Morales and Erick Aybar, all of whom should play key roles in 2009, were foreign undrafted free agents.

It seems to me that BA has once again slighted the Angels when it comes to ranking their organizational talent. But then, the last time that happened, the Angels won the World Series, so maybe it’s a good thing.

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