Will Smith with the Orem Owlz in September 2008.
It wasn’t supposed to be this way.
The evolutionary path in the Angels’ minor league system starts in Tempe or Orem, then it’s up the ladder to Cedar Rapids, Rancho Cucamonga, Arkansas, Salt Lake, with the prize a trip to Anaheim.
Will Smith was the Angels’ seventh-round selection in the June 2008 draft. He reported that year to Tom Kotchman, the scout who signed him, and who manages Orem. The left-hander helped pitch the Owlz into the playoffs and the only game they won in the championship series against Great Falls.
Click here to watch Will pitch in Game #2 of the 2008 playoffs. Windows Media Player and a broadband (cable modem, DSL) Internet connection required.
I named Smith the Angels’ #1 prospect in my 2008 FutureAngels.com Top 10 Prospects report published in November 2008. It was a controversial selection that received a lot of criticism on fan boards.
Will fell to #3 on the 2009 FutureAngels.com Top 10 Prospects report — not because I got him wrong, but because Trevor Reckling pitched so well he deserved to be ranked #1. (Reckling is about six weeks older than Smith.) 2009 draftee Garrett Richards leapt to #2 based on his potential as a power starter in the big leagues one day. Smith had a couple injuries in 2009 with Cedar Rapids which were blamed on conditioning, but by season’s end he’d rounded into shape.
More criticism was written on fan boards, but internally within the Angels my sources were very high on Smith. I sought a second opinion from another organization’s manager I knew in the Midwest League whose team faced Will several times that year. He told me that Smith was “the one pitcher I didn’t want to face” on the Kernels staff. He’d filed a report on Smith with his front office, projecting Will as a major league #3 starter.
Smith began 2010 with the Advanced Class-A Rancho Cucamonga Quakes in the hitter-friendly California League. In six starts, he had a 4.58 ERA in 37 1/3 innings. At age 20, he was one of the younger starters in the league.
Upstream, injuries forced the Angels to promote several Triple-A Salt Lake pitchers to Anaheim. Unwilling to move up any pitchers from Double-A Arkansas, the Angels made the surprising move of sending Smith to Salt Lake. The transaction was said to be temporary, but it lasted longer than many of us expected. Will made nine starts for the Bees before he was finally reassigned yesterday to the Travelers.
Was Will in over his head? Undoubtedly. He doesn’t turn 21 until July 10. But I also know that Smith has one of those personalities where he rises to a challenge. He’s a pitcher I’d want on the mound in a must-win game.
So it didn’t figure that this temporary assignment would ruin his confidence. Quite the opposite. He’d have the chance to see where he needs to raise his personal bar to pitch in Triple-A, one step from the majors.
How did he do?
Better than the overall numbers suggest.
In his nine starts, Smith posted a 5.60 ERA in 53 innings. He struck out 40, walked 20, and opponents hit .305 against him.
But as I’ve preached many times over the years, especially in those annual Top 10 Prospects reports, Pacific Coast League numbers need to be analyzed in context.
The PCL has five hitter-friendly fields, including the Bees’ Spring Mobile Ballpark. The others are Las Vegas, Reno, Albuquerque and Colorado Springs.
Five of Smith’s starts were in Salt Lake. None of the four road starts were in the other hitter-happy parks. So we can use his straightforward home/road splits to get a more accurate picture of how he did in neutral/pitcher-friendly parks.
Home: 6.14 ERA, 29.1 IP, 17 K, 6 BB, 3 HR, .362 AVG
Road: 4.94 ERA, 23.2 IP, 23 K, 14 BB, 3 HR, .221 AVG
Smith has always been a pitcher with pinpoint control. It appears that at home he was giving up more hits and fewer walks, while it was the reverse on the road. It could be that hitters are more aggressive in hitter-happy parks, and more patient in neutral parks, trying to earn walks. Or it could just be small sample size.
In any case, in “normal” parks he averaged a strikeout an inning, his ERA was 1.2 runs lower, and opponents hit just .221 against him.
Will’s numbers should be much better with Arkansas, and not just because it’s one level lower. Dickey-Stephens Park may be the most pitcher-friendly field in the Texas League. The circuit once had a reputation as a hitter-friendly league but most of its older parks have been replaced by new stadia.
Looking beyond the home-field advantage, Smith should take the experience he had with Salt Lake and use it to dominate in the Texas League. That remains to be seen, of course, but when you look at his “neutral” numbers in the PCL they’re not that bad for a 20-year old who’d only pitched in six games in the Cal League and never in Double-A.
Reckling was just reassigned to Arkansas after posting an 8.53 ERA in 14 starts with the Bees. (9.55 ERA at home, 7.87 on the road.) Tyler Chatwood was just promoted to Arkansas from Rancho Cucamonga. Along with Smith, the three should form the core of a much improved Travelers starting rotation. Reckling and Smith will continue to duel for the title of top left-handed prospect in the system.
|Ty Boykin (left) manages the Tempe Angels. Tom Kotchman manages the Orem Owlz.|
It’s usually within a few days after the annual amateur draft ends that I receive an e-mail from a player’s parent asking why their son should sign with the Angels. Maybe he was selected in the draft, maybe he wasn’t drafted but he’s being offered a contract as a free agent. Either way, they want guidance and assurance that it’s the right career move for their son.
Let’s get the life-altering decision out of the way first.
I can’t tell you if your son should leave school or a full-time job opportunity to play pro ball. You need to be honest with yourselves about that.
Not every young man is ready for the pressures of pro ball. Minor league baseball is a business. It’s not like high school or college, where he played two or three times a week. In pro ball, he’ll be paid to produce results. He may work eight hours a day, but those hours could be 3 PM to 11 PM, 10 AM to 6 PM, or other bizarre hours. He may not get an off day for three weeks. He will be riding a bus much of his daily life, sometimes for 14 hours in a trip to the next stop.
He will no longer be a student. He will be an entertainer. That means he will be in the public spotlight. Immature behavior that might be charming as an amateur may get him suspended, fired or even worse embarrassed in the media. He will have to participate in random drug testing. Don’t think it can be beat. It can’t. And when he’s caught, his name will appear in media reports of ballplayers suspended for violating the drug rules.
Do you think your son is mature enough to handle all that? Good. Let’s move on to the main question — should your son sign with the Angels?
The good news is that the Angels are generally considered to be one of the class organizations in baseball. They set the gold standard when it comes to professional behavior. Players are expected to conduct themselves as responsible adults.
The minor league coaching staff is one of the best in the business. Most of them have been with the Angels for many years, some for decades.
Your son will probably be assigned to the minor league camp team in Tempe, Arizona or the advanced rookie team in Orem, Utah.
One of four playing fields at the Tempe Diablo complex.
Ty Boykin manages the Tempe Angels. “Bone” began his baseball career as your son will, as a minor league player. In 1996, Boykin was a player-coach and the next year began his coaching career within the Angels’ system. Ty was named the Arizona League Manager of the Year in 2008, and has taken Tempe into the playoffs the last two seasons. Bone was signed in May 1991 by Tom Kotchman, who’s now the Owlz manager.
“Kotch” has 1,583 wins. It’s believed he has the most career wins of any manager active in the minor leagues. His teams have gone to the post-season every year since 2000. He won the Pioneer League pennant in 2004, 2005, 2007 and 2009.
Each team has a manager, a pitching coach and a hitting coach. They’re backed up by an organizational staff of roving instructors, or “rovers.”
The rovers spend most of the season on the road, visiting each of the Angels’ six minor league affiliates. They see the “big picture” and report back to the field coordinator, Todd Takayoshi, who handles field operations for Director of Player Development Abe Flores.
The Angels’ manager Mike Scioscia and his coaches closely follow player development in the minors. After every minor league game, the manager and coaches call in game reports to a centralized phone system. All the coaches, including those at the major league level, can listen to those reports. The Angels also use Dartfish, a software application that lets authorized users view video of the players via a secure Internet connection.
Instruction is consistent within the organization. Much of it comes directly from Scioscia and his staff. They define the “Angel way” to play baseball. Should your son reach the majors one day, he’ll already know how to play Scioscia’s style of baseball.
You can find in the FutureAngels.com Video Gallery clips of instruction by Angels minor league coaches. Here are some examples (you need Windows Media Player and a broadband Internet connection to watch):
Tom Kotchman leads Owlz players through a baserunning lecture in June 2005. This was filmed the day the players took their first batting practice in Orem. You’ll hear Kotch tell them many times they’re being taught to run the bases the way Mike Scioscia wants.
Bruce Hines shows players how to properly run the bases. This was filmed in September 2008, just before Hines was hired by the Seattle Mariners to be their third base coach. He’s now the third base coach for the Los Angeles Dodgers.
Tom Gregorio leads catcher Anel de los Santos through a series of catching drills in September 2009. A one-time All-Star catcher for the Dodgers, Scioscia pays particular attention to catcher grooming in the minors. Gregorio, the minor league catching rover, reflects Scioscia’s philosophy in his training.
But there are limits to instruction. If your son can barely hit the ball out of the infield, they can’t turn him into the next Albert Pujols. If his fastball tops out at 85 MPH, they can’t make him the next Randy Johnson.
Let’s also be honest about the odds against your son. Baseball America determined a few years ago that only one in ten minor leaguers ever sets foot in a major league dugout. Of those who get there, only one in four will play five years in the majors.
Combine the numbers, and they tell you that only 1 of 40 minor leaguers will be a major league regular. The other 39 are fodder to get that 40th player to the majors.
Angels pitching coach Mike Butcher in 2000 as the pitching coach for Rookie-A Butte.
If your son has the ability to play major league baseball, he’ll be given the opportunity to prove it. If he doesn’t, no shame in that, but there are plenty of careers in professional baseball other than as a major league player. Several of the managers, coaches and rovers in the Angels’ system began their professional careers as minor league players with the Angels. When they retired as players, they were hired as coaches. Ty Boykin with Tempe and Keith Johnson at Rancho Cucamonga advanced to manage. Angels’ pitching coach Mike Butcher pitched for the Angels in the 1990s, then coached in the farm system, and was promoted to the pitching rover before becoming the major league pitching coach. So there’s more than one path to the big leagues.
If your son wants to play professional baseball, he’s lucky to have been drafted by the Angels. If he decides to sign, I’ll be there one day to photograph and film him for FutureAngels.com. If he doesn’t sign, and goes on to a life in the real world, good for him but this opportunity comes along only once for most players. The brass ring is there to be grabbed if he wants it.
Kaleb Cowart was the Angels’ first pick in the June 2010 draft. Photo credit: Perfect Game USA, Cedar Rapids.
The first round of the June 2010 amateur draft was held Monday, and for the second year it was telecast on MLB Network. This year, the supplemental picks between the first and second rounds were telecast along with the regular first round picks.
The Angels had picks #18 (from the Mariners as compensation for Chone Figgins), #29 (from the Red Sox for John Lackey), #30, #37 (compensation for Lackey), and #40 (compensation for Figgins).
#18 Kaleb Cowart 3B, Cook County High School (GA) — Baseball America and many analysts projected Cowart as a pitcher, but the Angels have never been afraid of taking a player projected for one position and converting him to another, such as Mark Trumbo. BA described Cowart as “a switch-hitting third baseman, and while some scouts consider his defense fringy at the hot corner, he has strength in his swing and some raw power.” In a post-game conference call, Cowart identified the Braves’ Chipper Jones as a role model. MLB’s scouting report thinks he doesn’t have the range for shortstop, and that he hits better from the right side. Some analysts believe Cowart might be unsignable as he was destined for Florida State, but that’s never stopped the Angels who’ve practiced their “high risk, high reward” draft philosophy since former GM Bill Stoneman’s first draft in June 2000.
#29 Cam Bedrosian RHP, East Coweta High School (GA) — Yes, he’s the son of former major league closer Steve Bedrosian. BA believes that Bedrosian could close but could also evolve into a starter. “Scouts have seen his fastball touch 96 mph, and Bedrosian sits in the 92-94 range all day. He repeats his delivery well enough to have fastball command at the amateur level, and with some smoothing out of his delivery he could have average pro command. He also throws a fringe-average curveball and changeup, as well as a power slider.” He’s destined for Louisiana State if he doesn’t sign. The MLB scouting report notes that at 6’0″ Bedrosian is “undersized” as the major league pitcher height chart goes, but makes up for it with pitching smarts and an improving changeup.
#30 Chevez “Chevy” Clarke OF, Marrieta High School (GA) — The Angels’ Georgia scout Chris McAlpin seems to have caught the ear of scouting director Eddie Bane this year, as the Halos’ first three picks were in the Peach State. BA wrote, “He has shown outstanding tools, from above-average speed (running the 60 consistently in 6.5 seconds) to hitting ability from both sides of the plate. He started switch-hitting at age 13 and has a smooth stroke as both a righthanded and lefthanded hitter, flashing average raw power. He has present strength and explosiveness, generating good bat speed.” But they also criticized, “he hasn’t dominated high school competition, and scouts question his instincts. He lacks pitch recognition skills and swings and misses too much for someone with his swing and ability.” BA believes he could be a tough sign as he’s committed to Georgia Tech. MLB believes “he has the potential to be a plus center fielder.”
On BA’s ranking of Georgia talent, Cowart was #2, Bedrosian was #4, and Clarke was #8.
#37 Taylor Lindsey SS, Desert Mountain HS (AZ) — Ranked #8 on BA’s Arizona prospects list, Lindsey can commute to work from Scottsdale to the Angels’ minor league complex in Tempe. BA commented that Lindsey “has been a hot name in Arizona, but the tools and profile haven’t matched the hype. He will not be a pro shortstop, as he has a thick lower half and is a below-average runner with a below-average arm. He might be able to move to second base or more likely left field. While he has a nice lefthanded swing, his power is average at best and one scout said it was a metal-bat swing that won’t translate to wood.” The Angels drafted another Scottsdale infielder, Brandon Wood, in the first round back in 2003 (different high school).
#40 Ryan Bolden OF, Madison Central HS (MS) — BA had Bolden the #2 prospect in Mississippi. They wrote that Bolden is “raw in all phases of the game,” questioned his pitch recognition and ability to hit breaking balls and described his arm as “fringe average.” But they noted he has above-average speed and power. BA recommended him as “a better risk for a club with multiple selections.”
The Angels chose high-schoolers with all five picks, which is not surprising as BA described this draft as not having many top college prospects as last year. Eight of the first thirteen picks were from a junior college or university, but after that only eight of the next twenty-seven.