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Beginning in 2001, I wrote annual post-season Angels Top 10 Prospects columns for this site. Last year, I wrote what I thought was going to be the final column, as it appeared that the site would no longer operate on a daily basis.
The main reason was the imminent elimination of my day job; contrary to what some think, this site is not my primary employment, and in fact costs me a couple thousand dollars annually in operating losses, primarily travel expenses to the Angels affiliates in places like Little Rock, Arkansas and Cedar Rapids, Iowa.
I started a new job last month, one that seems stable enough to allow me to resume operations for 2007.
So let’s begin by resurrecting the annual tradition of the Top 10 Prospects report.
Because I didn’t travel in 2006 to watch the players in person, I really can’t offer any gifted insight. Unlike Top 10 lists published by many sites, which are usually written by people who never saw the players they’re writing about, I want to back up what I write with personal observation. Many “statheads” believe they can outthink scouts and general managers with their calculator. I’d prefer to use my own two eyes, combined with the input of people whose opinion I trust — managers, coaches, scouts, beat writers who watch the players perform every day. Sure, I look at stats, but I look at them in context, which isn’t what usually happens on those “stathead” sites.
Without the travel this year, any so-called “insight” on my part will be limited to what I’ve read on-line, and heard by listening to the teams’ webcasts. So this year I’ll give full credit to Baseball America, the beat writers in the affiliates’ towns, the Angels correspondents at the Los Angeles Times, Orange County Register, the Riverside Press-Enterprise and other publications. Any personal insight will come from my knowledge of these players prior to 2006.
As we do every year, I follow Baseball America‘s rule of excluding from the list players who are no longer eligible for the Rookie of the Year award — more than 130 major league at-bats or 50 innings pitched during the regular season.
Many past top prospects are no longer eligible for the list — Casey Kotchman, Dallas McPherson, Kendry Morales, Mike Napoli, and Howie Kendrick among the position players, and Ervin Santana, Jered Weaver and Joe Saunders among the starting pitcher prospects.
With all these players graduated to the majors, the talent pool is thinner than the last couple years, so quite a few names show up on the list for the first time. Keep in mind that just because someone shows up on this list, it doesn’t mean he’s a sure-fire future major league star. It’s just a snapshot of the organization at one point in time.
Let’s also restate my definition of “Top 10”. The Top 10 What? The Top 10 talent? The first ten to make it to the big leagues? The ten players the Angels care about the most?
For me, it’s a combination of all those factors. Baseball America tends to look at a player’s “ceiling”, i.e. how much talent potential he has. I look at that but also take into consideration the parent club’s needs. For example, I might give slightly less weight to a starting pitcher prospect because the parent club is so deep in starters. This winter seems more likely to see the Angels trade some pitching for a bat, so I’ll consider that too. I give that more weight than would Baseball America, because I’m considering the likelihood of his being in the big leagues with the Angels in the near future. BA gives more weight to the player’s likelihood to star in the big leagues, somewhere, sometime. I also tend to give more weight to players higher in the farm system, because they’re closer to snatching that “brass ring”. You can project a Rookie-A player as the next Albert Pujols, but there are a lot more “if’s” in his way than a less capable player who’s moved quickly through the system and is in Triple-A with a decent chance of making the parent club roster next year.
If you’re a player or a loved one, don’t take it personally if you’re not on the list. In a typical season, the Angels will have around 200 minor leaguers under contract. That means 190 players don’t get mentioned.
So with all those qualifiers, let’s tick off 190 ballplayers and their families . . .
10. Terry Evans OF
Bats: Right Throws: Right 6’3" 200 lbs. DOB: 1/19/1982
Palm Beach (High-A) AVG/OBP/SLG: .311/.373/.550 (263 TPA)
Springfield (Double-A) AVG/OBP/SLG: .307/.369/.640 (84 TPA)
Arkansas (Double-A) AVG/OBP/SLG: .309/.385/.553 (213 TPA)
“Terry Who?!” would have been the reaction a year ago if you’d told anyone that Evans would be showing up on an Angels post-season Top 10 list. Evans was an underachieving outfielder in the St. Louis Cardinals’ system with a career minor league AVG/OBP/SLG of .239/.303/.394 over four unremarkable seasons. Out of nowhere, he caught fire in 2006, crediting his religious faith to help him relax in his approach to the game. Those who look for more earth-bound explanations will cite his age (24 to start the year) and level (High-A), a combination of an older player up against much younger and more inexperienced pitchers. Yet St. Louis moved him up to Double-A, where he continued to hit. The Angels took interest when Evans decimated the Arkansas Travelers in a five-game mid-June series at Little Rock, going 11-for-18 with five homers, two doubles and three stolen bases. Three weeks later, the Angels acquired him for major-league starting pitcher Jeff Weaver, who was a flop. (It was later learned that Weaver was suffering from Attention Deficit Disorder.) You can’t knock the numbers, but as I said upstream numbers have to be viewed in context. Given his age and his previous track record, Evans’ year should be viewed as an anomaly. I expect his 2007 numbers at Triple-A Salt Lake will be similarly impressive, if only because Franklin Covey Field is one of the most hitter-friendly ballparks in a hitter-friendly league. His strikeout- to-walk ratio (127:41 in 560 TPA) also suggest he might have problems adjusting to major league pitching. For now, label him a dark horse but his 2006 season certainly deserves recognition.
9. Chris Resop RHP
Bats: Right Throws: Right 6’3" 200 DOB: 11/4/1982)
Albuquerque (Triple-A): 4-0 3.81 ERA, 43:15 K:BB, AVG/OBP/SLG: .258/.316/.353 (49.2 IP)
Florida (NL): 1-2 3.38 ERA, 10:16 K:BB, .310/.416/.464 (21.1 IP)
Chris Resop was acquired on November 20 in a trade for reliever Kevin Gregg. His odyssey is about as implausible as Terry Evans’. Resop pitched at Barron Collier High School in Naples FL, but his bat impressed the Florida Marlins more so they selected him as an outfielder in the 4th round of the June 2001 draft. After hitting a miserable .196/.245/.277 over his first three seasons, Resop was converted to the bullpen in July 2003 when he was still just 20 years old. Since then he’s posted some impressive numbers at the minor league level. After posting a 2.57 ERA and 56:16 K:BB ratio in 49 IP for Double-A Carolina in 2005, the Marlins promoted him to the major leagues in late June, but they eventually returned him to Double-A. His 2006 numbers at Triple-A Albuquerque must be viewed in context as the city’s altitude is 5300 feet; his home ERA was 4.32 but his road ERA was 3.28, and three of his four dingers were surrendered at home. The 2006 Baseball America Prospect Handbook published last March ranked Resop #23 in the Marlins’ system. According to BA analyst Mike Berardino, Resop’s fastball “sits at 92-95 mph and tops out at 97,” although a recent article in his hometown paper states he reached “triple digits” in 2006. Berardino wrote that Resop “has the makings of a plus curveball but hasn’t used it enough.” He’s also working on a two-seamer, and undoubtedly the Angels will try to add a changeup to his repertoire. His limited major league numbers in 2005 and 2006 suggest he still has work to do, especially when it comes to locating his pitches, but with the recent addition of Justin Speier to the Angels bullpen Resop will report to Triple-A Salt Lake in 2007 for more experience. He might just be a sleeper with a bit more patience.
8. Jose Arredondo RHP
Bats: Right Throws: Right 6’0" 170 lbs. DOB: 3/30/1984)
Rancho Cucamonga (High-A): 5-6 2.30 ERA, 115:35 K:BB, AVG/OBP/SLG: .198/.286/.293 (90.0 IP)
Arkansas (Double-A): 2-3 6.53 ERA, 48:22 K:BB, .317/.371/.468 (60.2 IP)
This seems to be the year for converts. Jose Arredondo began his professional career as a shortstop in the Angels system, but couldn’t hit (career AVG/OBP/SLG of .250/.281/.311). On July 21, 2004, in a game at Mesa against the A’s Rookie-A team, Arredondo began the game at short but took the mound in the 9th. (He struck out one, threw a wild pitch, gave up a hit but no runs.) The Angels saw a mid-90s fastball and decided from that point on Jose was a pitcher. Arredondo posted stellar numbers this year at Rancho Cucamonga but was yanked from a game on May 16 because he “lost interest,” according to Quakes Manager Bobby Mitchell as quoted in Baseball America. Arredondo’s next start was skipped; when he returned on May 26, he struck out nine in eight innings, allowed only one hit and faced one over the minimum. Promoted in July to Double-A, a level where you’ll see a former major leaguer once in a while, it was a different story as hitters are more patient and selective. As the good pitching coaches preach, velocity isn’t as important as location and movement, so it’s clear Arredondo has more growing to do. The velocity makes him attractive, but effective secondary pitches along with mental maturation will be necessary before Arredondo moves up to Triple-A. Look for Jose to return to Arkansas, although a poor spring could find him back in Rancho Cucamonga.
7. Hyun Choi “Hank” Conger C
Bats: Both Throws: Right 6’0" 205 lbs. DOB: 1/29/1988
Tempe (Rookie-A) AVG/OBP/SLG: .319/.382/.522 (76 TPA)
An Orange County native, Hyun Choi Conger goes by “Hank” although he’s of Korean descent. Selected by the Angels in the first round of the June 2006 draft, he received numerous awards during his high school career, including the 2006 Gatorade California Player of the Year. Going into the draft, Baseball America ranked him the #1 high school power hitter prospect in the nation. Conger reported to the Rookie-A Arizona League and managed to appear in 19 games before breaking the hamate bone in his right wrist. It’s not an uncommon injury for hitters but can sometimes take up to a year for hand strength to return, so Conger’s 2007 season may be considered disappointing by some. BA ranked him the #1 prospect in the AZ League despite the brevity of his season. A switch-hitter, he hit .370 right-handed (46 AB) but only .217 left-handed (23 AB), although not much credence should be given to such limited stats in a rookie league. BA analyst Jim Callis wrote that Conger’s defense is adequate enough for him to remain behind the plate for now, although there’s some speculation he might wind up eventually at first base. If his hand is healthy, he could start 2007 as the starting catcher for Low-A Cedar Rapids.
6. Hainley Statia SS
Bats: Both Throws: Right 5’10" 160 lbs. DOB: 1/19/1986
Cedar Rapids (Low-A) AVG/OBP/SLG: .297/.379/.384 (480 TPA)
Rancho Cucamonga (High-A) AVG/OBP/SLG: .300/.386/.367 (70 TPA)
A native of Curacao in the Netherlands Antilles, Hainley Statia impresses for no other reason than he’s fluent in four languages — English, Dutch, Spanish and Papiamentu (his native tongue). He was playing for the Curacao national team when someone from a Christian academy in Florida arranged for him to attend school there. So far Statia has played mostly shortstop although he saw action at second base with Rancho Cucamonga in 2005. His defensive skills are superb enough to project him as a future big leaguer, at least as a utility infielder. The question is whether he’ll develop any power. His 31 doubles with Cedar Rapids suggest he’ll manifest some power as he matures physically. The Angels value contact hitters as part of their offense philosophy; Statia fits in nicely as his career K:BB ratio is 114:88 in 970 TPA. He stole 24 bases in 2006 (23 at Cedar Rapids) but he probably won’t evolve into a top-notch base stealer. A career similar to Orlando Cabrera might be a good analogy, although Cabrera bats right-handed while Statia is a switch-hitter. Hainley should be the regular shortstop in 2007 for High-A Rancho Cucamonga.
5. Erick Aybar SS
Bats: Both Throws: Right 5’11" 160 lbs. DOB: 1/14/1984
Salt Lake (Triple-A) AVG/OBP/SLG: .283/.327/.413 (368 TPA)
Los Angeles (AL) AVG/OBP/SLG: .250/.250/.325 (40 TPA)
Injuries at the parent club level forced Erick Aybar’s promotion to the majors a bit sooner than it should have been. But when Maicer Izturis became a regular, Aybar was promoted into a utility role which kept him from developing full-time at Triple-A. Nonetheless, the major league exposure can only be a plus, something to build on at Triple-A Salt Lake in 2007 — assuming Aybar is still Angels property. Aybar is a name frequently mentioned in possible trade talks, with Brandon Wood ready for Triple-A as well. The Angels asked Aybar to play some center field over the winter — a move I’ve advocated for a couple years — but with the recent signing of Gary Matthews, Jr. it’s unlikely Erick will be the Angels’ CF for the foreseeable future. As I’ve written in the past, Aybar has all the tools but can be extremely reckless in his play. He makes exuberant mistakes on the bases and in the field. His plate discipline is typical for many Dominicans, which is to say non-existent. Still, he rarely strikes out (once every 10.2 plate appearances at Salt Lake in 2006) and should produce more power in his second tour with the Bees — if he’s still an Angel come April.
4. Sean Rodriguez SS
Bats: Right Throws: Right 6’0" 180 lbs. DOB: 4/26/1985
Rancho Cucamonga (High-A) AVG/OBP/SLG: .301/.377/.545 (523 TPA)
Arkansas (Double-A) AVG/OBP/SLG: .354/.462/.662 (79 TPA)
Salt Lake (Triple-A) AVG/OBP/SLG: .000/.000/.000 (2 TPA)
Maybe there’s something in the water at The Epicenter in Rancho Cucamonga. For the third season in a row, a player suddenly blossomed into an impact hitter. In 2004, it was Mike Napoli who hit 29 HR to set the Quakes’ single-season mark. That lasted all of one year, as Brandon Wood hit 43 dingers to set an Angels minor league single-season record. Then in 2006, Sean Rodriguez went from a .793 OPS at Low-A Cedar Rapids to a .922 OPS with the Quakes and a 1.124 OPS with the Travelers. His father is Johnny Rodriguez, a hitting coach in the Marlins system, so he came into the game with professional knowledge. Sean had 144 strikeouts in 604 plate appearances this year, or about once every 4.2 times he went to the plate, while drawing 58 walks. That combination suggests he’ll have problems with pitch judgment when exposed to more experienced pitchers at Triple-A and above. Defensively, he committed 35 errors this year, but minor league infields are nowhere close to major-league standards so don’t rely much on minor league fielding statistics. There’s been some sentiment over the years that his plus arm will wind up in the outfield or even behind the plate; the consensus seems to be he’ll evolve into a utility player but could be more if the power continues to emerge. Look for him to open 2007 back in Double-A.
3. Jeff Mathis C
Bats: Right Throws: Right 6’0" 180 lbs. DOB: 3/31/83
Salt Lake (Triple-A) AVG/OBP/SLG: .289/.333/.430 (417 TPA)
Los Angeles (AL) AVG/OBP/SLG: .145/.238/.291 (63 TPA)
Well, that could have gone better … The Angels let go Bengie Molina to free agency last winter, confident that Jeff Mathis and Bengie’s brother Jose Molina could handle the catching duties. Jeff succumbed to the pressure, and found himself back in Triple-A by early May. Mathis went through a similar bout in late 2004, carrying the burdens of the world on his shoulders for Double-A Arkansas, and went into a spiral. Recalled in September, he made various token appearances and was only 1-for-11 in the month, although his defense was better. Mathis remains one of the better catching prospects in the minor leagues, and it should be remembered that he was only 23 this year. As I’ve pointed out before, compare Jeff to Boston Red Sox star catcher Jason Varitek — at the age Mathis debuted in the majors, Varitek was still in college. Varitek didn’t play regularly in the majors until he was 26. The Angels named Mathis their minor league defensive player of the year, a gesture of confidence in him. Still, Jeff needs to pick it up offensively; he batted .323 at hitter-friendly Salt Lake but only .255 on the road. Barring a trade, Mathis and Napoli should battle it out in spring training for the #2 job behind Jose Molina, with the loser returning to Triple-A.
2. Nick Adenhart RHP
Bats: Right Throws: Right 6’4" 190 lbs. DOB: 8/24/86)
Cedar Rapids (Low-A): 10-2 1.95 ERA, 99:26 K:BB, AVG/OBP/SLG: .215/.268/.284 (106.0 IP) Rancho Cucamonga (High-A): 5-2 3.78 ERA, 46:16 K:BB, AVG/OBP/SLG: .258/.321/.313 (52.1 IP)
In his first full season since recovering from “Tommy John” surgery, Nick Adenhart showed why Baseball America considered him the top high school pitching prospect in the nation in 2004 before damaging his elbow. Adenhart went from 1st-round potential to the junkpile, but Angels’ scouting director Eddie Bane took him in the 14th round of the June 2004 draft, offered him 50% of a first-round bonus, supervision of his surgery, and rehab at the Angels’ minor league complex in Mesa, Arizona. Bane’s gamble paid off, and now Adenhart is on a fast-track that saw him both at the Futures Game in July and pitching for Team USA’s Olympic qualifying team during the late summer. Aaron Fitt of Baseball America ranked Adenhart the #4 prospect in the California League this year. Fitt wrote: “Adenhart stands out most for his outstanding command of three plus pitches: a 90-95 mph, a tight downer curveball that can be inconsistent at times and a plus-plus changeup with good fade and deception. He spots his fastball wherever he wants, isn’t afraid to work inside and does a good job keeping the ball down.” Nick’s numbers slid a bit after his promotion to Rancho Cucamonga, but let’s not forget he was a 20-year old pitching his first full professional season after an extended layoff due to surgery. Adenhart should begin 2007 at Double-A Arkansas, although his name is often mentioned in trade rumors; it may take his arm to get the supposed “big bat” the Angels are stalking.
1. Brandon Wood SS
Bats: Right Throws: Right 6’3" 185 lbs. DOB: 3/2/1985
Arkansas (Double-A) AVG/OBP/SLG: .276/.355/.552 (522 TPA)
You have to wonder about people like Orange County Register scribe Steve Bisheff, who wrote on November 23 that Brandon Wood had a “somewhat disappointing season.” A 21-year old with a .907 OPS at Double-A is “disappointing”?! There are kids in Rookie-A ball who are older. Anyway, it wasn’t the monster season he posted in 2005 when he hit 43 homers for High-A Rancho Cucamonga, but it was still one of the better years for anyone in the Texas League — 5th in homers (25), 2nd in doubles (42), 3rd in slugging percentage (.552), and 1st in extra-base hits (71). And that’s before missing the last three weeks of the Travs’ season playing for Team USA in the Olympic qualifier. BA analyst Will Lingo ranked Wood the #2 prospect in the league this year, after the Royals’ Alex Gordon who’s thirteen months older. Brandon’s strikeouts went way up, from once every 4.6 plate appearances at Rancho in 2005 to 3.5 with Arkansas. Lingo wrote, “Teams attacked him by staying in on his hands and giving him a steady diet of breaking balls early, but by the end of the year it was harder to get him out that way.” Although some have believed that Wood’s stature would eventually force him to third base, a number of anecdotal reports suggest he’ll remain at shortstop for now, still drawing comparisons to Cal Ripken, Jr. “Wood also made strides on defense, showing improved range and good hands and footwork,” Lingo wrote. Brandon should open 2007 as the shortstop for Triple-A Salt Lake, and see Anaheim before season’s end. His numbers should hold up at high-altitude Franklin Covey Field, but both his strikeouts and walks should be watched closely as he faces more experienced pitching, some of whom are former major leaguers. Brandon is the #1 target on the radar for teams seeking a trade with the Angels, but GM Bill Stoneman tenaciously holds on to his top prospects. If he sticks around, he’s the eventual successor to Orlando Cabrera, although if the Angels don’t find a third base solution via trade or Dallas McPherson it’s possible Wood could still slide over to the hot corner. The Angels (and fans) need to be patient, and allow Wood to see a lot of Triple-A pitching before making him a major-league regular.
AB — At-Bats
AVG — Batting Average
BB — Walks
ERA — Earned Run Average
IP — Innings Pitched
K — Strikeouts
K:BB Ratio — Strikeouts to Walks
AVG — Opponents’ Batting Average
OBP — On-Base Percentage
OPS — OBP + SLG
RISP — Runners in Scoring Position
SLG — Slugging Percentage
TPA — Total Plate Appearances