|Original Published Date: Dec. 31, 2013|
For a team that developed one of the finest young baseball players to lace up cleats since maybe Mickey Mantle, the Los Angeles Angels minor league system is in a word – poor.
Their top prospect is second baseman Taylor Lindsey. While he is nearly big league ready and will likely be included in our Top 100 prospect list, his ceiling is only that of a solid regular. C.J. Cron ranks second in the system and has massive raw power in the mold of Mark Trumbo. However, he’s an extremely aggressive hitter and that might ultimately hurt his ability to reach his prodigious home run power.
Kaleb Cowart still has the highest ceiling in the organization but his 221/.278/.301 slash line in the Texas League clearly hurt his prospect status. The biggest culprit was his inability to hit from the left-side as he hit below the Mendoza line in a fairly large sample size of 376 at-bats. On the other hand, Zach Borenstein lit it up in the California League and while Double-A will surely be a big test for the 6-foot outfielder, the Angels might have something there.
Most of the other top prospects are hard throwing arms that project to be bullpen pieces at the highest level. The most intriguing of the arms is R.J. Alvarez who can light up the radar gun and Mike Morin who was drafted as a closer and has excelled in each assignment he has been given.
Even poor systems can produce major league ball players and the Angels will surely do that. However, with no impact players on the horizon and significant needs at the major league ball club, the Angels will likely have to spend in the free agent market to improve the parent club. Of course that could cost them high draft choices and continue what is becoming a very difficult organizational problem.
|2014 Age: 22||Ceiling: Role 5
|Ht:6-0 Weight: 195||Bats: Left Throws: Right||ETA: 2014|
Ranked as the number four player in our 2012 Angels Top 10, Taylor Lindsey rises to number one this year. While the system is down, Lindsey had a nice step-up year and has positioned himself to help the Angels as early as the 2014 season.
While not blessed with explosive tools, Lindsey has the tool that matters – he can hit. He makes very good contact as was evident by his 82% contact rate and also showed plate discipline by walking 9% of the time. What surprised me were the 17 home runs. In 2012, Lindsey did not use his lower half very well and instead used mostly a wrist-based swing. However, when I saw him during the Arizona Fall League (AFL), he was using more of his lower half and showing a lot more raw power. What was the most encouraging is that he didn’t sacrifice a lot of contact.
Clearly worn out, Lindsey did not put up great numbers in the AFL, but still should start 2014 in Salt Lake City. I fully expect him to make his major league debut in 2014 and that could come earlier than mid-season if the Angels decide to move Howard Kendrick during the off season for pitching. While not a star, Lindsey should be a solid regular at second base for many years.
Fantasy Impact: With the change in his swing that is clearly producing more power, Lindsey is a must own in fantasy leagues. He has the capacity to produce 15-20 home runs with a .280 batting average in the major leagues. However his RUN and RBI counting totals could be depressed as he’ll likely be hitting at the bottom of the order if he remains in Los Angeles.
|2014 Age: 24||Ceiling: Role 5
|Ht:6-4 Weight: 235||Bats: Right Throws: Right||ETA: 2014|
C.J. Cron had an eventful 2013 that included a trip to the Futures Game in July and an invitation to the Arizona Fall League (AFL) where he led the league with a .413 batting average. While he raked in the AFL, the regular season was a little down for the 6-foot-4 first baseman as he posted an underwhelming .274/.319/.428 slash line in 519 at-bats in Double-A.
I’ve had a chance to scout Cron multiple times during the year and the first thing you notice is the size. At 6-foot-4 and 235 pounds, he clearly stands out on the field. The raw power is also impressive. It’s a combination of strength and leverage that when he squares a pitch can deliver tape measured shots. This was evident during batting practice of the Futures Game as Cron pulled many moon shots to the left field seats.
While the power is there the hit-tool is the question. Statistically he makes excellent contact (84%) but his aggressive approach is causing him to make weak contact on pitches he would be better served to pass-on. While he has a 40-grade run-tool and that is a contributing factor to his low .298 BABIP, weak contact is also a contributing factor. Combine that with a 4% walk rate and his struggles against right-handed pitching and his hit tool profiles as below average.
You might be thinking…so what, a lot of big sluggers struggle to make contact. The big question is will he be able to hit enough to tap into his 25+ home run potential? I think he will. In fact, his profile reminds me a lot of Mark Trumbo. Similar in size, Trumbo has plus-plus raw power but also struggles against glove side pitching. However, Cron’s contact rate is far superior and even though it’s sometimes weak contact, I believe he’ll hit enough to tap into that prodigious power.
It appears that the Angels are accelerating Cron’s path through the minor league system. Soon after the AFL ended, he joined Leones del Escogido of the Dominican Winter League. Are the Angels looking to bring Cron to the majors in 2014? Maybe, but where will he play? He’s a first base only option and the Angels still have a century remaining on Albert Pujols contract. They could put him at DH but you don’t see many rookies relegated to DHing. It’s interesting to see what the Angels will do but clearly they believe that Cron is part of the future.
Fantasy Impact: Power is at a premium in fantasy baseball and Cron has a ton of it. While he could hit .230 with a .270 OBP, he could also hit 30 plus home runs. That would profile him with Chris Carter and Mark Trumbo but with likely a lower OBP. It’s a dicey profile unless you are playing in a points league.
|2014 Age: 21||Ceiling: Role 6
|Ht:6-3 Weight: 195||Bats: Both Throws: Right||ETA: 2015|
After splitting at-bats evenly between Low-A and High-A in 2012, the Angels believed that their top prospect was ready for the Texas League. In 498 at-bats, Cowart posted a .221/.278/.301 slash line and left the industry scratching their head as to what happened. Was he not ready for the jump or did the industry simply overrate his 2012 season?
The biggest culprit to his poor performance was his inability to hit from the left side. Last year we wrote: “Cowart demonstrates nice bat speed from both sides of the plate, although he looks more comfortable from his natural right side”. The swing from the left side deteriorated and he posted a .533 OPS with a 0.074 ISO. When he made contact, it was weak contact that resulted in a .254 BABIP. While you can argue this will normalize to league average, the scouting report doesn’t support that notion. His bat speed was noticeably slower and he struggled badly with breaking pitches.
While it’s easy to say…stop switch hitting, that’s easier said than done and Cowart is now at a cross roads. He’ll likely repeat Double-A and unless he can make some adjustments, he will continue to struggle. The BABIP should normalize some, but it’s hard to see him post more than .250/.310/.350 slash line without some major adjustments to the swing.
It’s not all bad for Cowart. His defense is still plus and he is athletic with above average speed. In fact he stole 14 out of 19 bases.
Fantasy Impact: There are many Dynasty owners who have Kaleb Cowart on their roster and given his poor 2013 season, you have to hold on to see if things correct. Will they? I honestly don’t know.
|2014 Age: 19||Ceiling: #4 starter|
|Ht: 6-5 Weight: 209||Bats: Right Throws: Right
Selected in the fifth round of the 2012 draft out of Division Two, Rockhurst Missouri, Mark Sappington is a big-bodied right-hander with arm speed that in short burst can play in the mid-90’s.
In 27 starts across High-A and Double-A, Sappington showed the ability to miss bats by striking out 7.8 per nine while giving up less hits than innings pitched. His fastball sits 92-93 MPH with a lot of arm-side run. He also uses his 6-foot-5 frame well to create excellent downward plane that is translating into a favorable groundball-to-fly-ball ratio. He also throws a slider that can flash plus but in general grades out as an average offering. The change-up continues to lag behind.
Sappington’s biggest problem is his ability to throw strikes as he was evidence by his 82 walks in 156.1 innings. You don’t have to look much further than his mechanics to see the problem. It’s one of max effort which causes him to lose his release point; and pretty consistently. He does get very good extension that does gives his fastball some additional life but also causes him to lose his balance on his landing.
Sappington should return to Double-A to start the 2014 season as a starter but ultimately, I believe his lack of control will move him to the bullpen. In this capacity, his fastball should play up and with more consistency from his slider, he could profile as a setup arm with a chance for save opportunities.
Fantasy Impact: While I like the arm, Sappington is probably destined for the bullpen. The stuff could profile as a closer one day, but he has a long way to go before that will happen. He can be ignored in most Dynasty League formats.
|2014 Age: 22||Ceiling: Closer|
|Ht: 6-1 Weight: 180||Bats: Right Throws: Right
I saw more games in 2013 than I care to admit, many of them in the heat of the early evening of the California League and many of them in the late freezing temperatures of the California League. When it got cold and I was watching the 66ers, I stuck it out in hopes of seeing one of my favorite pitchers – R.J. Alvarez.
Alvarez can really bring it with his fastball sitting in the upper 90’s. I never caught a triple-digit, but did catch plenty of 98’s and 99’s. While he struck out 79 in only 48.2 innings, he did it mostly with a fastball/slider combination. While the fastball is a plus-plus offering his slider is very inconsistent and he struggles to throw it for consistent strikes.
At 6-foot-1 and 180 pounds, Alvarez is not a big guy but gets his velocity through arm strength and a maximum delivery. That same maximum delivery causes him to lose his release point and control but when he’s on, he can strikeout anybody.
Alvarez should start 2014 in Double-A and while he needs a lot of refinement in his delivery and a grade improvement in his slider, he has big league potential as a bullpen arm. In fact, if he continues to strikeout batters at a 14.61 clip per nine, a promotion could occur in 2014.
Fantasy Impact: While the strikeout potential is alluring, Alvarez is only ownable in a Dynasty League that value Holds. In most leagues, you can ignore him.
|2014 Age: 22||Ceiling: Role 5
|Ht:6-0 Weight: 205||Bats: Left Throws: Right||ETA: 2015|
Statistically, nobody in the Los Angeles Angels system had a better year than 23-year-old Zach Borenstein. He posted a .337/.400/.631 with 28 home runs in 407 at-bats in the California League. Yes, he was old for the league and many of the ballparks in the Cali League, particularly in the southern circuit are extreme hitter’s ballparks. Nonetheless it was indeed an impressive season. The question is can he keep it up?
While there is bat speed, at 6-foot and 205 pounds, the physicality is not impressive and therefore I would put an average ceiling on his future power. However, his ability to make contact and his plate discipline are real and I believe he’ll be able to maintain an average to above-average hit tool in the upper minors.
The big test for Borenstein will come in 2014 as he should start the year in North Little Rock in the Texas League. While he does remind me of Oakland A’s farmhand Max Muncy, who tore up the California League before struggling upon his promotion to Double-A, I do like Borenstein’s ability to make contact more. Plus, he profiles in a corner outfield position and if he continues to hit, he could start to make some noise in prospect circles.
Fantasy Impact: Borenstein’s performance out-shined his scouting report and despite being old for the league, he’s clearly a prospect to monitor in a Dynasty League. I’m not suggesting he is an add at this point, but if he post something resembling a .280/.350/.480 slash line over the first 30-40 games of 2014, I would be buying.
|2014 Age: 20||Ceiling: Role 4-5
|Ht:6-1 Weight: 160||Bats: Right Throws: Right||ETA: 2017|
Jose Rondon was one of the better stories in the Angels minor league system as he showed the promise of having an above-average hit tool while playing a nifty shortstop in the Pioneer League.
The first thing that jumps out at you was Rondon’s 30 walks against 31 strikeouts in 276 at-bats. The scouting report supports the stat line as Rondon’s short compact swing is perfect for making contact. Sources used words like “pesky” when talking about his hit tool. Pesky does have a negative connotation as it denotes a lack of power and with a .399 slugging percentage, it seems to fit.
Rondon should start the 2014 season in full season ball in Burlington of the Midwest League. While he’s an above-average defender, his lack of offensive upside puts his ceiling as a utility player. However, at 6-foot-1, there is still room for physical projection and therefore room for his ceiling to increase.
Fantasy Impact: Jose Rondon can be ignored in all but the deepest of Dynasty Leagues.
8. Alex Yarbrough (2B)
Taken in the fourth round of the 2012 draft, Alex Yarbrough had a nice season in the California League in 2013 posting a .313/.341/.459 slash line in 582 at-bats. While he’s an aggressive hitter, he does make good contact (82%). Despite hitting 10 home runs, his swing is primarily a wrist-based swing and therefore projects to have below average future power. While good contact, gap power guys are plentiful in professional baseball, Yarbrough could eventually make the big leagues as an extra bat or second division middle infielder.
9. Mike Morin (RHP)
Mike Morin led the ACC in saves with 19 in his junior year at the University of North Carolina. With that success, the Angels decided to make him their 13th round selection in the 2012 draft in hopes that he could translate his collegian success to professional baseball. So far, so good. He saved 23 games across High-A and Double-A in 2013 while striking out over a batter an inning while walking only 10. He primarily throws a low 90’s fastball that has late glove-side movement and a change-up that he is able to throw with similar arm speed. I saw him throw a slider that also showed promise.
Morin could start 2014 in Triple-A and be a phone call away from being called up to Los Angeles. He has the stuff, attitude, and physicality to eventually be a closer at the highest level.
10. Natanael Delgado (OF)
Signed out of the Dominican Republic in 2012 for $280,000, the Angels aggressively put the 17-year-old in the Arizona League, skipping him over the Dominican Summer League. He more than held his own posting a .271/.311/.422 in 192 at-bats. He’s a free swinger as he only walked 11 times but did show decent contact. At 6-foot-1 and 170 pounds, he hasn’t grown into his man strength but has the bat speed and leverage to project future above-average power. The Angels could continue to be aggressive with Delgado and assign him to Burlington to start the 2014 season, but a year in the Pioneer League is more likely.
2014 Emerging Prospect:
Yency Almonte (RHP)
While the Angels system is down, every organization has young projectable arms and bats that give teams something to dream on. Yency Almonte is one of those arms. Drafted as a high school pitcher in 2012, Almonte has a big fastball that sits in the low-90’s with a chance to tick up a grade as he matures. He also throws a slider and change-up that show promise and could eventually be above average pitches. He’s a project for sure as he posted a 6.92 ERA while only striking out 35 in 53.1 innings in the Pioneer League. However, he does give the Angels something to dream on and candidly, they need it.