Notes from Tempe, Day 3

Jarrett Parker, the San Francisco Giants’ 2010 2nd-round draft pick, has a close encounter with the chain-link in the right-field corner of Tempe Diablo’s Field #3.

 

It was Wham-O Day at Tempe Diablo.

Today was a “light” day, so to speak. Most of the players were allowed to report a couple hours later. Some players spent part of the morning playing a Frisbee game on Field #3.

On Field #6, players learned the proper way to slide using a mat that’s basically a dry version of a Slip ‘n Slide.

Remember those hideous periwinkle-tinged Angels uniforms from the late 1990s? They rose from the grave, at least from the waist down, for the sliding drill. The players took off their shoes, then donned the old 1990s striped road pants.

Here are photos of some of the players who participated in the drill:


Carlos Ramirez

Taylor Lindsey

Chevy Clarke

Gabe Jacobo

 

The San Francisco Giants were the afternoon’s opponents. The Angels’ starting lineup:

1. Andrew Heid RF
2. Jean Segura DH
3. Eric Oliver LF
4. Casey Haerther 1B
5. Jeremy Cruz 3B
6. Taylor Lindsey 2B
7. Carlos Ramirez C
8. Rolando Gomez SS
9. Chevy Clarke CF
P. Ariel Pena

Pena was followed by Alex Burkard, David Carpenter and Erik Gregersen.

The Giants won, 4-2. Austin Fleet, their 16th round pick last June, pitched the first two innings. He was followed by Zack Wheeler, the Giants’ 1st round pick in the June 2009 draft (#6 overall).

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Ariel Pena was the starting pitcher for the Angels. Zack Wheeler pitched the 3rd and 4th innings for the Giants.

 

The Angels are at Fitch Park tomorrow to play the Mesa Cubs, then are back at Tempe Diablo on Friday to host the Cubs.

Here are other photos from today’s game.


Second baseman Taylor Lindsey tags out Giants runner Gary Brown.

 


Left fielder Eric Oliver makes a running catch of a fly ball to end the 1st inning.

 


Giants shortstop Carter Jurica turns a double play.

 


Alex Burkard was the Angels’ second pitcher.

 


David Carpenter was the Angels’ third pitcher.

 


Erik Gregersen was the Angels’ fourth pitcher.

 

Notes from Tempe, Day 2


Meanwhile, in a parallel universe … Former Angels minor league coach Eric Owens and field coordinator Bruce Hines are now in Dodgers uniforms, coaching at their fall instructional league.

 

Eric Owens began fall instructional league as the Angels’ minor league outfield, baserunning and bunting coordinator.

He’ll end it as a Dodgers’ minor league instructor.

I’ve no idea how it happened, but E.O. got off the bus today with the rest of the Dodgers minor leagues for today’s instructional league game at Tempe Diablo.

With him was Bruce Hines, the longtime Angels minor league field coordinator. Hines left after the 2008 season to join the Seattle Mariners as their third base coach. A year later, he joined the Dodgers as Joe Torre’s third base coach.

Hines and Owens were warmly greeted by their former comrades, and it seemed a little weird to see them in Dodgers uniforms, especially at the Angels’ minor league complex. I’ve got think this is the first time a coach began the instructs with one team and ended it with another.

I filmed lots more video and shot lots more photos, but most of it will have to wait until I return home. I’ve had a problem all summer with elbow tendonitis, and it’s flaring up again, so any work at the computer is painful. Some photos from today are below, and you can click here to watch Andrew Heid’s homer.

The Angels won 4-1. Jeremy Cruz hit a solo homer to lead off the bottom of the 2nd, and scored three more in the bottom of the 8th, two on Heid’s dinger.

Today’s starting lineup:

1. Jean Segura SS
2. Travis Witherspoon CF
3. Jose Jimenez C
4. Jeremy Cruz RF
5. Roberto Lopez LF
6. Kaleb Cowart 3B
7. Kole Calhoun 1B
8. Carlos Ramirez DH
9. Wes Hatton 2B
P. Ryan Chaffee

Chaffee pitched four innings, allowing only one run in the 4th. I filmed the first three innings. Chaffee was followed by Brian Diemer, Max Russell and Loek Van Mil. Loek is the 7’1″ reliever acquired from the Minnesota Twins for Brian Fuentes.

Below are some photos from today’s instruction and game action. Tomorrow the Angels host the Giants.


Loek Van Mil is 7’1″ tall. Can you find him in this group photo? I thought you could.

 


Infielders practice a rundown drill.

 


Ryan Chaffee was the starting pitcher.

 


Jeremy Cruz homers to lead off the bottom of the 2nd.

 


Cruz rounds second as he circles the bases.

 


Cruz is congratulated by third base coach Brent Del Chiaro as he heads for home.

 


Third baseman Caleb Cowart was the Angels’ first pick in the June 2010 draft, and #18 overall.

 


Travis Witherspoon throws in the ball from center field.

 


Brian Diemer pitched the fifth and sixth innings.

 


Max Russell pitched the seventh and eighth innings.

 


Loek Van Mil pitched the ninth inning.

 

Notes from Tempe, Day 1


Angels Director of Player Development Abe Flores and minor league Field Coordinator Todd Takayoshi talk about … your guess is as good as mine.

 

If Forrest Gump had played minor league baseball, his mother might have said that life is like fall instructional league. You never know what you’re gonna get.

The instructs are in the final week, and the Tempe Diablo minor league complex has several scouts, both Angels employees and others, roaming the grounds. Apparently the Angels and other organizations are holding a tryout combine for independent players, evaluating them to see if they might sign someone for next year.

National crosschecker Ric Wilson and Western Supervisor Bo Hughes are here. Their names have appeared in media rumors as possible candidates for the Angels’ vacant scouting director job.

Five more games, and everyone goes home for the winter. Many of the players were drafted in June, but for others they’ve been playing ball since minor league spring training in March.

Also here is Loek Van Mil, acquired from the Minnesota Twins in the Brian Fuentes trade. Van Mil is very tall. 7’1″ and looks it. Also in camp are 6’7″ Johnny Hellweg and 6’7″ Alex Burkard. As one observer noted, it’s a good start for one heck of a basketball team.

I’m shooting a lot of photos and video, but much of it will have to wait until I return home to Florida this weekend. I’ve posted some photos below as a gesture of good faith. Hopefully I’ll see everyone before I leave.

Today’s starting lineup against the Oakland A’s:

1. Andrew Heid CF
2. Taylor Lindsey 2B
3. Eric Oliver 1B
4. Gabe Jacobo LF
5. Jose Jimenez DH
6. Kole Calhoun RF
7. Jeremy Cruz 3B
8. Carlos Ramirez C
9. Wendell Soto SS
P. Heath Nichols

Nichols was scheduled to pitch the first three. He was followed by A.J. Schugel, Kevin Johnson and Daniel Tillman.

Instructional league games don’t work like regular season games. Teams have the option to field 10-man lineups with two DHs, which the A’s did. A manager may call an end to an inning if his pitcher is struggling, which happened several times today. Even if the home team has won, the bottom of the 9th might be played to get in some extra work. That happened today too; the Angels had won 6-2 but Oakland wanted to play the bottom of the 9th. Okay. The Angels scored another run to make it 7-2, and their manager promptly called an end to the game. Take that.

Ryan Chaffee is the scheduled starter for tomorrow’s game against the Dodgers.

Here are the promised photos. Lots more, I assure you. They’ll show up eventually in the FutureAngels.com web site’s Digital Photo Gallery.


Starting pitcher Heath Nichols walks in from his bullpen warmup. Catcher Carlos Ramirez is on the left, and roving pitching coordinator Kernan Ronan is on the right.

 


Heath Nichols on the mound.

 


Gabe Jacobo makes a throw from left field. He was a first baseman for the Rancho Cucamonga Quakes during the regular season.

 


Kole Calhoun hits a double.

 


A.J. Schugel relieved Heath Nichols with two outs in the top of the third.

 


Andrew Heid triples to drive in Carlos Ramirez.

 


Carlos Ramirez scores on the triple by Andrew Heid.

 


Carlos Ramirez is greeted by his teammates after scoring on the triple.

 


Kevin Johnson was the third Angels pitcher in the game.

 


Daniel Tillman pitched the final two innings to close the game.

 

Anger Management

Anger is a completely normal, usually healthy, human emotion. But when it gets out of control and turns destructive, it can lead to problems — problems at work, in your personal relationships, and in the overall quality of your life. And it can make you feel as though you’re at the mercy of an unpredictable and powerful emotion.

American Psychological Association web site on controlling anger

Los Angeles Times columnist Bill Plaschke published an article Tuesday in which he quotes Angels owner Arte Moreno as saying he was “angry” and “disappointed” by the Angels’ 2010 season:

The tone was strange. The words were foreign. The call to action was almost unrecognizable.

Did I really just hear what I thought I heard?

Did the owner of an underachieving Los Angeles major league baseball team just tell me that he was angry, disappointed, and would spend whatever it took to return his team to the playoffs?

“Yes,” Arte Moreno said Tuesday. “That’s how I feel. That’s what I’ll do.”

This came on the same day it was announced the Angels had fired yet another long-time employee. This time it was head athletic trainer Ned Bergert, who’d been with the organization 36 years, the last twenty as Head Certified Athletic Trainer. Bergert began his career as the trainer for the Quad Cities Angels in the Midwest League in 1975.

That’s a lot of institutional knowledge to flush just because you’re mad.

In recent days, they’ve also flushed scouting director Eddie Bane; scouts Bart Braun, Jim Bryant and Jeff Scholzen; and major league scout Dale Sutherland.

No statement has been made as to why any of these people are responsible for the Angels’ 80-82 record.

None of them traded for Scott Kazmir, gave fat free agent contracts to aging outfielders Bobby Abreu and Hideki Matsui, or signed relievers Brian Fuentes and Fernando Rodney.

Jeff Scholzen signed Brandon Wood in 2003, but if you’re unhappy with Woody his name was called in that draft by Donny Rowland, not Eddie Bane, and Rowland was dismissed two months after that draft. The scouts simply report what they find. They don’t tell the scouting director who to pick.

I wrote on September 30 that Bane was handicapped by losing high-round draft picks most years as compensation for free agents signed by the general manager. Not his fault.

Arte Moreno is a billionaire and I’m not, so when it comes to life success he wins that contest, no contest.

But I’m really concerned by the actions taken in recent days, which suggest decisions are being made out of anger and not logic.

The people who made many of the critical decisions that led to this year’s downfall were actually chosen by Moreno.

It was Moreno who extended Scioscia’s contract after the 2008 season through 2018. So no matter how badly the team screws up, Scioscia is secure.

It was Moreno who replaced the retiring general manager Bill Stoneman with Tony Reagins. Stoneman was a “baseball man,” a phrase in the industry that refers to someone who’s spent his entire life in the game. He was a long-time major league pitcher, he was a banking executive, then went into the Expos’ front office before joining the Angels as GM in October 1999. Stoneman laid the foundation for the Angels’ most successful decade in their history.

Reagins obtained a marketing degree from Cal State Fullerton in 1991. He joined the Angels as a marketing/advertising intern and worked primarily in Marketing until transferring over to Baseball Operations in 1998. He succeeded Darrell Miller as player development director after the 2001 season.

Tony was in charge of the farm system for six years, the 2002 through 2007 seasons, developmental years for many players that critics claim turned out to be a “bust.” I don’t think Tony was responsible for any perceived failures during that period. Quite the contrary. He let the “baseball men” do their thing, stabilized affiliations that lasted an entire decade, and helped implement a consistent developmental philosophy. Perhaps most importantly, he established a high standard for player conduct on and off the field. You may not like the quality of talent emerging from the system, but the Angels don’t produce slackers or malcontents.

I’ve known Tony almost ten years, and this is absolutely not intended as a knock on him, but the consensus among most observers is that Scioscia is the one who runs the baseball side of the business, not Tony. I personally think the relationship is collaborative, but in any case Moreno created a situation where Scioscia was given a long-term contract and more power than most managers have. If Tony were to decide that Scioscia needs to go, that one of Mike’s coaches needs to be replaced, most people would probably agree that Tony couldn’t do it unless Moreno blessed it.

I don’t think Scioscia is a terrible manager. I think he’s a terrific manager. The Angels are lucky to have him. But when one person is given far too much power in an organization, there is no check or balance, and that can lead to problems.

Media reports suggested Bane was fired because a conflict of personalities with Reagins. Tony denied it. But there’s no denying it’s an authoritarian structure, and the authority is Mike Scioscia.

He was given that authority by Arte Moreno.

Power games are endemic to human nature. They happen in all organizations, large and small. But there needs to be a check on power, because we’re all fallible and therefore we all need to be open to other opinions.

Yankees owner George Steinbrenner hired Billy Martin to manage five times. He also fired Billy Martin five times.

A terrible mix, to be sure, but they won because both were strong authoritarian personalities and both pushed back against the other’s excesses.

The APA site quoted above has this statement:

Unexpressed anger can create other problems. It can lead to pathological expressions of anger, such as passive-aggressive behavior (getting back at people indirectly, without telling them why, rather than confronting them head-on) or a personality that seems perpetually cynical and hostile. People who are constantly putting others down, criticizing everything, and making cynical comments haven’t learned how to constructively express their anger. Not surprisingly, they aren’t likely to have many successful relationships.

None of us are privy to the reasons given for firing Bane, Bergert and Sutherland. Maybe they were caught stealing pencils from the office supply cabinet. But it does seem so far that there’s no rhyme or reason to the dismissals other than rolling heads to show the paying public that we’re angry.

The APA comments:

Expressing your angry feelings in an assertive — not aggressive — manner is the healthiest way to express anger. To do this, you have to learn how to make clear what your needs are, and how to get them met, without hurting others. Being assertive doesn’t mean being pushy or demanding; it means being respectful of yourself and others.

I fear the purge isn’t over. We’ve yet to see any heads roll in Player Development. October is the month when minor league managers and coaches are let go, or have their contracts renewed. Instructional league runs through October 16, so perhaps they’re waiting for that program to end before making more changes.

If the terminations were justified, great. But I’m of the philosophy that institutional memory is a value that can’t be quantified on paper, and when you throw out that knowledge without good reason you’re just making another mistake.

From my outsider perspective, my opinion is they need to calm down, stop firing people, figure out where they went wrong and fix it. The Angels have good, experienced, smart people in their organization. They didn’t all suddenly turn stupid.

Whither Bobby Jenks


Bobby Jenks pitching for Arkansas in May 2002.

 

Long-time visitors of the FutureAngels.com web site know that each winter I post recordings of Angels minor leagues to help us through the off-season. My personal Methadone for our baseball addiction.

These go back to 2003, so I’m rummaging through some of the earliest games for “classics” I can post starting this Friday.

Right now I’m listening to an August 14, 2003 game in which Bobby Jenks started for the Double-A Arkansas Travelers against the now-defunct El Paso Diablos. After all the early setbacks in his career — injuries, immaturity, an infamous profile in ESPN: The Magazine — Jenks appeared to be turning a corner in his second stint with the Travs.

But such hopes were optimistic.

Bobby injured his elbow while pitching for the Triple-A Salt Lake Stingers at Fresno on April 19, 2004. (Click here to watch the video; Windows Media Player and a broadband Internet connection required.) Later that year, he would be suspended after getting into a fight with a teammate while on rehab at the Angels’ minor league complex in Mesa, Arizona.

That winter, the Angels tried to pass Jenks through waivers from the major league 40-man roster onto the Triple-A roster so they could sign free agents. They hoped Jenks’ injuries, diminished velocity and immature reputation might discourage other teams from claiming him.

The White Sox took a chance, paid the Angels the waiver fee, and Jenks became their headache.

Chicago sent him down to Double-A to start 2005, and moved him into the bullpen. Perhaps more mature, or simply viewing the waiver deal as a wakeup call, Jenks pitched his way into the White Sox bullpen and was on the mound when they won the World Series over the Houston Astros.

Bobby has been a decent, but not spectacular, reliever. Over six seasons, he’s averaged a little over an inning an appearance, averaging 59 appearances per season over the last five years.

For those into WHIP — (Walks + Hits) / (Innings Pitched) — that number has crept up the last four years:

2007 – 0.892
2008 – 1.103
2009 – 1.275
2010 – 1.367

Those aren’t bad numbers, but as Bobby passes through the prime years of his career (he’ll be 30 in March) they’re trending in the wrong direction.

Bobby’s physical conditioning and periodic injuries remain a concern in Chicago, and an October 3 article on WhiteSox.com suggests he may have worn out his welcome.

As an arbitration-eligible closer, the White Sox have control over Bobby Jenks going into the 2011 season.

General manager Ken Williams’ comments on Sunday, though, made Jenks’ return seem less likely and put the right-hander on the list of possible non-tender candidates.

“That’s something we have to evaluate strongly because I’ve been disappointed on a number of levels,” Williams said. “And there are certain things that I’m not going to talk about right now.”

Which got me to thinking …

When Bobby began his professional career in 2000, he was assigned to the Rookie-A Butte CopperKings. His pitching coach that first summer was Mike Butcher, who himself was starting a new career as an instructor. Butch was the minor league roving pitching instructor during Jenks’ last two seasons with the Angels, so he knows Bobby as well as anyone does. Angels general manager Tony Reagins was the farm director during Bobby’s last three seasons.

If the White Sox let go Jenks, and with the shaky condition of the Angels’ bullpen, would it make sense to bring him home?

Do Tony Reagins, manager Mike Scioscia and Mike Butcher want to introduce an unpredictable element to the bullpen, having rid themselves of headcase Francisco Rodriguez two years ago?

It’s a thought to ponder.

As for that August 14, 2003 Travs game, look for it on FutureAngels.com in a couple weeks.

Reagins: “No Personality Conflict” in Bane Dismissal

The Orange County Register quotes Angels general manager Tony Reagins as saying there was “no personality conflict” that led to scouting director Eddie Bane’s dismissal.

Angels GM Tony Reagins denied Wednesday’s dismissal of scouting director Eddie Bane was the result of a rift among the Angels’ decision-makers or the sign of a philosophical shift in the way the Angels will approach scouting and drafting players in the future.

“That’s not accurate,” Reagins said. “There was definitely no personality conflict. I have great respect for Eddie and what he’s done in this organization. But you have to make difficult decisions in this business sometimes.”

Reagins did indicate there is dissatisfaction within the organization over what recent drafts had produced. “We have good players. It’s more about the process,” Reagins said, denying that Bane’s firing was a direct referendum on his draft strategy. “In order to be successful, you have to have talented players in your system and we feel we do. But some of the players that we have that are very talented have not materialized with that talent within the system.”

Personal comment … If a “very talented” player does not materialize from “within the system,” that’s the player development department, not scouting.

But I don’t think there’s anything wrong with the Angels’ player development program. It’s one of the most respected in baseball.

As I wrote yesterday, the perceived lack of talent at upper levels might have more to do with the Angels losing high-round draft picks for several years earlier in the decade due to signing free agents.

Register columnist Mark Whicker comments:

Ah, philosophical differences.

Apparently the Angels fired scouting director Eddie Bane because they liked John Stuart Mill and Bane was partial to John Locke.

Or maybe they mean differences in the ways to assemble baseball talent. Since Bane’s philosophy was to draft and sign really talented guys, it is left to the reader to determine the Angels’ philosophy.

What we do know is that Bane was not fired for lack of performance.

Whicker talked to Bane briefly, who didn’t comment at length, but notes that “one of the few bright spots Wednesday was the supportive call Bane got from [Nick] Adenhart’s father, Jim.” Eddie was the one who negotiated the deal for Nick to sign despite his recent “Tommy John” surgery. The Angels offered to supervise his rehab at their minor league complex in Mesa, and Eddie arranged for Nick to attend nearby Arizona State, Bane’s alma mater, to begin his college education.

Whicker quotes long-time Angels scouts Tom Kotchman and Chris McAlpin as saying of Bane, “”He let you do your job.” Whicker wrote, “That was at least a majority opinion,” suggesting that Bane trusted his people and gave them the freedom to succeed without interference.

Angels, Inland Empire Agree to Two-Year Affiliation

The Inland Empire 66ers issued a press release today announcing a two-year affiliation with the Angels.

That means the Cincinnati Reds are doomed, er, bound for Bakersfield.

According to the release:

A formal press conference will be announced in the coming weeks where fans and members of the media can come meet and greet the new partners at the new home of the Angels High-A affiliate in the Inland Empire.

No Gain, No Bane


Eddie Bane visits Rookie-A Provo in July 2004, one month after his first Angels draft.

 

The Angels announced Wednesday that scouting director Eddie Bane’s contract would not be renewed, and also that three scouts had been let go.

The scouts were Jim Bryant (Alabama-Mississippi), Bart Braun (south Florida), and Jeff Scholzen (Utah-Colorado-South Nevada).

Fan sites are rampant with rumor and speculation, much of it baseless.

I’ve read plenty people claim Bane was fired because Brandon Wood and Howie Kendrick failed to live up to early hype, but neither was drafted by Bane. They were drafted by his predecessor, Donny Rowland.

Others have claimed that Bane was fired because his “high risk, high reward” philosophy has supposedly failed to deliver top prospects.

But “high risk, high reward” didn’t begin with Eddie Bane. It didn’t begin with Donny Rowland, either. It began with then-general manager Bill Stoneman.

In an August 26, 2003 Los Angeles Times article about the firing of Rowland, Bill Shaikin wrote:

Stoneman said the Angels have not wavered from the philosophy he directed Rowland to follow, that of drafting high-risk, high-reward prospects, particularly high school players.

Under the previous management of general manager Bill Bavasi and his scouting director, Bob Fontaine, the Angels emphasized the selection of college players who might sign more cheaply and reach the majors more quickly, even if their potential might not be as great.

But Bavasi and Fontaine tabbed the majority of Angel players who appeared in Game 7 of the World Series — outfielders Garret Anderson, Darin Erstad and Tim Salmon, pitchers John Lackey, Troy Percival and Francisco Rodriguez, catcher Bengie Molina and third baseman Troy Glaus, the World Series MVP.

Media reports claimed that Rowland was let go because of “a behind the scenes rift” with Stoneman that “led to his downfall,” according to Baseball America in February 2004.


Bill Stoneman, Dominican academy manager Charlie Romero, and Kendry Morales
at Kendry’s first game press conference in Rancho Cucamonga, May 21, 2005. Morales was one example of Stoneman’s “high risk, high reward” philosophy.

 

Now media reports are suggesting the same between Bane and current general manager Tony Reagins. According to Baseball America, “Sources inside and outside the organization, speaking on condition of anonymity, indicated tensions between the two had increased over the last year or two.”

Tensions between a general manager and scouting director are nothing new. The book Moneyball alleged a rift between Oakland Athletics general manager Billy Beane and his scouting department, although Beane told Baseball America the claim was false.

Only two weeks ago, it was reported that Bane was one of five candidates for the Arizona Diamondbacks’ general manager job. Logan White, the Dodgers’ assistant GM in charge of amateur and international scouting, was another candidate. Former Padres GM Kevin Towers got the job.

I was a bit surprised to hear Eddie was a candidate — not because I thought he wasn’t qualified, but I wondered how the Angels would react to it. The Diamondbacks needed the Angels’ permission to talk to Bane, and presumably received it, but I wondered how the Angels’ front office would react if he didn’t get the job. Would he be perceived as a threat? As someone whose loyalty should be questioned?

Others have applied for jobs elsewhere. Joe Maddon was the bench coach when he was hired to manage Tampa Bay. Bud Black was the pitching coach when he was hired to manage San Diego.

But they left. They didn’t stay, which would have meant someone marked as a prime managerial candidate elsewhere would be in the Angels dugout, where some might perceive him as a threat, if not disloyal.

I’ve worked at companies that fired you if they got wind of you interviewing, or even just applying, for a job elsewhere.

The Angels are a highly disciplined organization, and that discipline starts with manager Mike Scioscia. No slight intended against Tony Reagins, but the common perception among many observers is that Scioscia calls the shots, and it’s Tony’s job to administratively implement Scioscia’s program. Whether it’s true or not, I can’t say, but I do think it’s fair to describe the arrangement as collaborative.

I’m pretty certain Bane’s drafts had nothing to do with his termination. At least, they shouldn’t have.

As noted above, high risk/high reward originated with Bill Stoneman. If Reagins wanted to veer away from that philosophy, he could have, and there’s no evidence to suggest he did.

Most people tend to focus on the June amateur draft as the sole measurement of a scouting director’s success, but that’s wrong. The draft only applies to amateurs in North America. It doesn’t apply in the rest of the world, where almost anything goes. And many players have gone on to big league careers who were not drafted — they were overlooked and signed as undrafted free agents.

If a scouting director wants to make himself look good, he calls a safe projectable name in the first round, an amateur likely to have a decent but not spectacular career in the majors, and soon has a success story he can claim as his own.

In my opinion, the real test of a scouting director is how he does in the later rounds, how he does in international scouting, and how he does with undrafted free agents.

Baseball America in May 2003 analyzed the first ten rounds of the 1990 through 1997 drafts to measure the success of players by round, and also by high school versus college players. I doubt it’s changed much since then, but in any case it’s quite revealing in helping to predict what we should expect out of a draft.

The article found that 34.9% of first rounders were “flops,” meaning that one-third of them never made it to the big leagues. 20.3% got there for “a cup of coffee,” meaning a token appearance. 18.3% were “fringe” players, e.g. utility players, backup catchers, long relief men, etc.

That leaves only 26.6% — roughly one in four — who were “regulars” (14.0%), “good” (8.3%) or “star” (4.3%).

I’ve read posts on fan sites where people complain that the Angels haven’t produced their own Albert Pujols. Well, it’s really hard to produce an Albert Pujols. Only 4.3% of first-round draft picks become “stars,” and overall only 0.9% of draftees in the first ten rounds become “stars”. That’s 1 out of 100.

And that doesn’t take into consideration whether the drafting team had a higher position in the draft order because it stank the year before. Teams draft in reverse order of winning percentage in the prior season. Persistently competitive teams, such as the Angels in the 2000s, will draft lower. And if the general manager signs a star free agent, his team might have to cough up a first-round pick in compensation, which means the scouting director doesn’t even get a shot.

Bane had seven drafts during his Angels tenure, so that’s about 70 names in those ten rounds he called. Generically speaking, his odds of finding a “star” were less than one percent, considering the Angels were usually one of the last teams in each round to draft.

Due to signing free agents, the Angels lost high-round picks in many years:

2004 — Lost their second (for Bartolo Colon) and third round (for Kelvim Escobar) picks.

2005 — Lost their first round pick (for Orlando Cabrera) but got a supplemental pick between the first and second rounds (Trevor Bell at #37 overall).

2006 — Lost their first round (for Jeff Weaver) and second round (for Hector Carrasco) picks but got a first-round (Hank Conger) pick for losing Paul Byrd.

2007 — Lost their first round (for Gary Matthews, Jr.) and second round (for Justin Speier) picks but got a supplemental first-round (Jon Bachanov) pick for losing Adam Kennedy.

2008 — Lost their first round pick (for Torii Hunter).

Should Eddie be blamed because Bill Stoneman gave up high-round draft picks for Jeff Weaver and Gary Matthews, Jr.? Of course not.

Let’s be clear how important those first-round picks are.

Using the BA analysis, by round here’s the statistical probability of a player being a “regular” or better:

1st 26.5%
2nd 9.4%
3rd 6.2%
4th 3.9%
5th 5.4%
6th 5.0%
7th 4.0%
8th 4.6%
9th 2.1%
10th 3.2%

So if you’re unhappy with the talent depth in the Angels’ farm system today, you can point the finger at that feel-good instant gratification some fans felt when the Angels coughed up first- and second-round draft picks to sign veterans.

I’ve preached for years that instant gratification has consequence. We see that today.

So what’s a scouting director to do when he’s robbed of a sure thing?

High risk. High reward.

That’s where Eddie Bane shined.

Let’s look at his first draft, in June 2004.

With his first-round pick, #12 overall, Bane selected Jered Weaver. Although Weaver was the consensus best college pitching prospect in the nation, the eleven teams ahead of the Angels passed because Weaver’s advisor was Scott Boras and therefore considered unsignable.

But the Angels took the risk.

A year went by, and it went down to the final minutes the Angels had his rights before Weaver signed. A few minutes more, and he would have gone back into the pool. It was this year-long waiting game that was partially responsible for Major League Baseball moving up the signing deadline from one year to mid-August, about two months after the draft.

Weaver might fall into that “star” category one day, as he’s pitched in 2010 like a Cy Young Award candidate.

Bane had no second or third round picks. In the fourth round, he selected Patrick White, a star Alabama high school football player whose raw tools projected to make him a star baseball player too. White didn’t sign.


Nick Adenhart was one of the first “high risk, high reward” players drafted by
Eddie Bane.

 

In the 14th round, Bane played high-risk high-reward again. He selected Nick Adenhart, who BA had profiled as the top high school pitching prospect in the nation before blowing out his elbow in his final start, requiring “Tommy John” surgery. The Angels signed Adenhart for a reported $710,000 signing bonus, about half what he would have received in the first round but much more than any other 14th rounder would ever receive. The Angels assumed the risk of damaged goods, overseeing his rehab and waiting a year until he could begin to pitch again. Nick might be on his way to “star” status too if not for the accident that took his life in April 2009.

In the 18th round, Bane selected Mark Trumbo, a Villa Park high school graduate already committed to USC. Trumbo received a reported $1.4 million bonus to lure him away from college. Six years later, Trumbo hit 36 homers this year for Triple-A Salt Lake, but it remains to be seen what he’ll do when he’s given a full-time job in the majors.

The high school players from Bane’s earliest drafts — Trumbo, Hank Conger, Peter Bourjos and more — are just now starting to arrive in the majors, so it’s too early to judge their long-term success.

Of course, there’s also his pick of Mike Trout at #25 overall in the June 2009 draft. Plenty of teams passed over him, yet he’s already one of the consensus top prospects in all the minors.

As for international scouting, Bane signed Cuban defector Kendry Morales at age 21½ in December 2004. Morales received a six-year major league contract and a reported $3 million signing bonus. When he arrived in Anaheim in 2006, he appeared in 57 games and posted an AVG/OBP/SLG of .234/.293/.371. In 2008, his numbers were .213/.273/.393 in 61 at-bats as he spent most of the year at Triple-A. Impatient people declared him a “bust.” But in 2009 Morales posted a line of .306/.355/.569, well on his way to “star” status.

But not many top prospects from Latin countries have emerged from the Angels’ system since Kendry, and I think this is one category where maybe the scouting department didn’t produce as well. Current prospects Alexi Amarista, Luis Jimenez, Fabio Martinez-Mesa and Jean Segura might change that trend; left-handed pitching prospect Alex Torres was sent to Tampa Bay in July 2009 in the Scott Kazmir trade.

Bane can’t held to blame for Kazmir, or for the signings of Bobby Abreu and Hideki Matsui who have entered their declining years. He can’t be held responsible for the disappointing performance in the bullpen by Brian Fuentes and Fernando Rodney. Those were decisions made by others, and it should be noted that according to the Angels’ 2010 Media Guide professional scouting is overseen by Gary Sutherland, the Special Assistant to the General Manager, not Eddie Bane.

I’ve no doubt Eddie will find another job, and soon. He’s too talented a baseball man to be on the open market for long.

By the way, one final note about Albert Pujols … He’s a first-round talent, but he was selected by the Cardinals in the 13th round of the June 1999 draft and given a $60,000 signing bonus. As I wrote upstream, the best scouts shine in the later rounds.

No More Earthquake Jokes

When the Angels affiliated with the Rancho Cucamonga Quakes on September 15, 2000, it was inevitable that we’d hear all sorts of earthquake-inspired jokes, such as the marketing slogan “Shake, Rattle and Roll.”

So when it was announced by the Quakes yesterday that they had dumped the Angels for a two-year affiliation with the Los Angeles Dodgers, the first temptation of course was to write something like, “Angels Rocked by Rancho Cucamonga Temblor.”

The rumors began circulating on September 15 when the Inland Valley Daily Bulletin reported the Quakes might leave the Angels for the Dodgers. The Angels and Quakes had been partners for ten years, but at times it was a rocky relationship, with Rancho Cucamonga filing to terminate after the 2002 season, but the teams eventually reconciled.

It’s hard to say what goes through the mind of a minor league team’s ownership when they file to terminate. Winning sometimes is a factor, although most casual minor league fans haven’t a clue how the team is doing. A desire to partner with a locally popular major league team such as the Angels or Dodgers, or a nationally popular organization such as the Cubs or Yankees, also sometimes plays a factor.

According to today’s Daily Bulletin, Quakes managing partner Bobby Brett cited “the mutual interest in the Dodgers purchasing a minority share in the Quakes.”

It seems an odd reason to terminate a successful ten-year affiliation, especially for one of the most dysfunctional organizations in major league baseball. Dodgers owners Frank and Jamie McCourt are going through an ugly divorce, and one of the major issues of contention is who actually owns the team. There’s been much speculation in the papers about the McCourts’ value on paper, and how much that affects the Dodgers.

The Dodgers and Angels have had disappointing seasons, but both have fruitful farm systems that produced several post-season contenders. In the Midwest League, one level below the California League, both the Angels’ Cedar Rapids Kernels (82-56) and the Dodgers’ Great Lakes Loons (90-49) went to the post-season, suggesting that the 2011 teams in the Cal will be very competitive.

Brett claimed, “When you’re partners with a major league team, you get more of an effort to win. You get more cross-marketing and promotion in your own backyard.” But there’s a difference between the interests of a minority owner and a majority owner. The parent club won’t be calling the shots in Rancho Cucamonga. Brett will.

And according to the Daily Bulletin article, the Dodgers’ expressed earlier interest in a financial partnership seems to have waned. Brett rationalized that by saying, “When you become partners, you have to know each other a little bit better,” which in my opinion sounds like a bit of spin now that the original scheme seems to have misfired.

In a column published before yesterday’s breaking news, Baseball America columnist Will Lingo wrote about the lack of sentimentality in affiliation switches:

… What the process reinforces is that very American desire to be on the lookout for a better deal. Sure you may be happy with your current situation, but you could probably do better if you could just get to that hot new market with the shiny new ballpark . . .

Times like this remind us that professional baseball is a business. Sentimentality is a gimmick owners use to separate you from your money.

Brett says he’s not concerned about losing Angels fans. “There may be some people (who leave as Quakes fans),” he told the Daily Bulletin. “It’s hard for me to believe people come to Quakes games solely because the players on the field get their paychecks from the Angels. If people decide to watch future Angels elsewhere, we understand. We believe there are diehard Dodger fans to offset that.”

I’ve heard anecdotally from several Quakes season ticket holders and host parents that they will have nothing to do with the team now that it’s affiliated with the Dodgers, and certainly we’ll see far less red in the stands next year. Brett seems to think he’ll see more blue. That’s his choice.

As for the Angels, the breakup ends a ten-year streak of stability. Starting with the 2001 season, the Angels did not change any affiliations, a record very few other teams (if any) can claim. Stability comes from good relationships with the affiliates, but sometimes the affiliates have a different agenda and that’s their privilege.

So the Angels move on.

To where?

Their choices are limited. At the Advanced Class-A level, only two openings remain and they’re both in the Cal League. Inland Empire (AKA San Bernardino) was the Dodgers’ home, and Bakersfield just lost the Rangers to the Carolina League.

Inland Empire would obviously be preferable, not just geographically but also because Sam Lynn Ballpark in Bakersfield is decrepit. Built in 1941, it hasn’t been renovated, it’s 354 feet to center field, and the field faces into the setting sun. Bakersfield usually gets whatever major league club loses the game of affiliation musical chairs every two years, and will wind up with whatever team doesn’t go to San Bernardino.

The Inland Empire 66ers can choose between the Angels and Cincinnati Reds. The Angels would seem the obvious choice, but 66ers management might think the Angels are so desperate not to go to Bakersfield that they can issue their own demands.

David Elmore’s Elmore Sports Group owns the 66ers, and his son D.G. Elmore individually owns the Blaze. It doesn’t take much imagination to suspect a little collusion might happen out of mutual interest.

Whether it’s Inland Empire or Bakersfield, we should know soon enough where the halo will shine in the Cal League the next two years. But Angels fans are considered expendable in Rancho Cucamonga.

A Teachable Moment


Angels minor league catching coordinator Tom Gregorio works with Roberto Lopez during the 2009 fall instructional league.

 

‘Tis the season for fall instructional league, one of the most overlooked and least understood annual rituals of the baseball calendar.

Instructional league is often confused with the Arizona Fall League, but one has nothing to do with the other. The instructs end around the time the AFL starts. The instructs are held at a major league organization’s minor league training complex, while AFL is played in major league spring training stadia. And while the AFL usually has many of the top prospects in the upper levels of minor league baseball, instructional league rosters feature mostly players who were drafted or signed last June.

The AFL was created as a finishing school of sorts for top prospects, an opportunity to showcase them and accelerate their progress to a major league roster the next year. The instructs are more like extra homework for selected students.

Official stats are kept by the AFL, although how much they mean is debatable. The AFL is a part-time job as everyone plays a couple times a week, but few play every day. The dry desert air turns these games into high-scoring affairs — Coors Field with cactii. Some players try harder than others, and quietly everyone hopes they don’t get hurt. Although the original concept was to feature top prospects, in reality many organizations send players who project as setup relievers, utility infielders, or backup catchers. Each team has players from five teams, so to field a normal lineup a team needs “niche” players.

No official stats are kept or reported at the instructional league. The reason is the games are more like a glorified practice. Rules are loosely enforced. If a young pitcher falls behind in pitch count, his manager can simply call an end to the inning and the other team takes the field. It’s not uncommon to see ten-man lineups with two designated hitters. The DHs might take the field mid-game, with two position players becoming the DHs. Although the home team has won, the bottom of the 9th might be played anyway to get extra practice.

Yesterday I was at the Washington Nationals’ complex in Viera, Florida for their first instructional league game against the Atlanta Braves. Major league catcher Jesus Flores underwent shoulder surgery last fall and missed all of 2010. He was in the lineup yesterday but was scheduled to play only three innings. He homered in his first at-bat, but going into the bottom of the 3rd it appeared unlikely his slot in the lineup would bat in the inning. So the Nats simply sent him to the plate again with two outs, to get him an extra plate appearance.

This year, the Oakland A’s are fielding two teams in the Arizona instructional league, the first time I’ve seen an organization field two squads. That’s another reason not to put any value in statistics. What happens when they play each other? Certainly players can move back and forth between the two rosters.

Stats are kept internally, of course, but under the above circumstances you can understand why they wouldn’t be “official.” Another reason is more basic — no official scorer is present at these games. There’s no neutral party to keep score and report it to Major League Baseball Advanced Media, which now keeps official stats for MLB and the minors.

The emphasis is on instruction, as the name implies. For many of the players, this is their first opportunity for intense instruction in the ways of professional baseball. Most organizations have their own unique style of baseball. Angels manager Mike Scioscia has implemented a regimented developmental philosophy and process throughout the organization. It begins with instructional league.

I’ll be at the Angels’ camp for the October 11-15 games. October 11 is against “A’s #1″, October 12 is the Dodgers (the first time I’ll see them since they moved to Glendale from Vero Beach), and October 13 is the Giants. October 14 and 15 are home-and-away games against the Cubs in Mesa.

As always, I’ll bring back plenty of photos and video, not just of the games but also of instruction. Click here for the roster; it will be my first opportunity to see 2010 draft picks such as Kaleb Cowart, Chevy Clarke, Taylor Lindsey, Ryan Bolden and more.

But older players are there too, for one reason or another. Some are making up for lost time due to injury. Others are learning a new position, a new pitch, or trying to fix bad mechanics.

The experience is fascinating for a baseball fan, because a player’s day isn’t focused on winning the game that afternoon. It’s about teaching how to win. And it’s here on the minor league fields of an organization’s complex that the teaching begins.

For a fan, you can walk in for free and watch the training up close. Nearly every Angels player currently on the parent club roster spent at least one fall at instructional league. You can learn as they do.

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