I’m not a fan of articles and columns that predict what will happen in a season. Right now, you’ll find self-appointed experts both in print and on the Internet declaring that the Angels will finish with a record of xx-yy, they’ll tell you exactly what the lineup will be, who will be on the pitching staff, etc. Never mind that Opening Night is more than five weeks away, and for all we know a meteor could fall on Tempe Diablo Stadium tomorrow and wipe out everyone.
This rampant certitude extends to the top prospects. So what if some of them have yet to see a single legitimate major-league pitch?! Or pitch to a legitimate major-league batter?! Some people seem incapable of grasping the notion that Double-A isn’t the big leagues.
In any case, I’m going to take the more modest route and just give you where I think the top prospects will start the season. By no means is this an “expert” prediction, nor is based on any insider access to the Angels’ front office. It’s just my personal opinion.
Let’s go down the list of the Angels’ Top 30 prospects as published in the Baseball America 2007 Prospect Handbook and have a chat about each one.
Brandon Wood may move to third base to hasten his arrival in the majors.
1. Brandon Wood SS-3B — That “3B” appellation finally arrived this week when the Angels announced they would have Brandon take ground balls at third base during spring training. Some are interpreting this as the long-anticipated move of Wood to the Hot Corner, but it’s not. What the Angels are doing is providing Wood with another means of reaching the majors. We saw last year how the Angels moved Howie Kendrick to first base because they were so desperate to get his bat in the lineup, even though he’d never played the position in the minors. The Angels don’t want a repetition of that with Wood, so they’ll let him get some experience at 3B which right now might be the faster route to Anaheim. Should something happen to Orlando Cabrera, the Angels have both Maicer Izturis and Erick Aybar on the depth chart. Third base isn’t as deep, with no true third basemen on the parent club roster (Chone Figgins, Robb Quinlan, Izturis and Aybar are all converts from other positions) other than Shea Hillenbrand who’s mediocre defensively. So it’s likely Wood will play 3B at Triple-A Salt Lake to open the year, although he’ll probably see time at shortstop as well.
2. Nick Adenhart RHP — I’ve seen some analysts suggest Adenhart will return to High-A Rancho Cucamonga. My reaction is, “Huh?!” Nick is one of the top pitching prospects in the minors, was named to the Futures Game, and finished 2006 with Team USA in the Olympic qualifiers. His only problem in 2006 was stamina, because it was his first full season since recovering from “Tommy John” surgery. Short of a total breakdown in spring training, he should start 2006 with Double-A Arkansas.
3. Erick Aybar SS — Aybar will get a long look in spring training as a possible utility player with the parent club, but unless something happens to Maicer Izturis (or one of the other middle infielders gets hurt) it makes more sense for him to return to Triple-A Salt Lake where he can play full time. Aybar needs another year of Triple-A to polish his game. It’s possible the Angels may give him some time in center field, maybe when Wood plays shortstop.
4. Young-Il Jung RHP — The 18-year old Korean hasn’t pitched in a regular season game, and I don’t think that will happen until mid-season. Most likely he’ll remain in Tempe at extended spring training; although it’s possible he might go to Low-A Cedar Rapids to replace an injured pitcher, I think you’ll see him at Rookie-A Orem come mid-June, or Rookie-A Tempe in the summer Arizona League if he still needs fundamental work. Tempe is a low-pressure environment for the foreign players, where they can take language lessons in their off-hours.
5. Stephen Marek RHP — I think he projects eventually as a reliever, but the Angels often like those guys to get more innings by starting until they reach Double-A or even Triple-A. It’s possible he could return to High-A Rancho Cuamonga, where he left off, although a good spring training could get him to Double-A Arkansas. Right now, I think it’s 50-50; whenever he reaches Salt Lake, that’ll probably be where he moves to the bullpen.
6. Hank Conger C — Unless his hand is still bothering him from his hamate bone injury, he’ll probably start 2007 at Cedar Rapids.
7. Jeff Mathis — Jose Molina is a given in Anaheim, so it comes down to Napoli vs. Mathis for the second catcher slot. I’m more bullish on Mathis than most people are; he might start 2007 at Salt Lake but I think he’ll be in Anaheim by mid-season.
8. Sean Rodriguez SS — His power stroke arrived in 2006, with a .545 SLG at Rancho Cucamonga and a .662 SLG in 18 games for Arkansas. I think he’ll pick up on Opening Night where he left off, in the lineup for the Travelers at shortstop.
9. Sean O’Sullivan RHP — Cedar Rapids unless a knockout spring gets him to Rancho.
10. Tommy Mendoza RHP — Rancho Cucamonga.
11. Kenneth Herndon RHP — Cedar Rapids.
12. Peter Bourjos OF — Cedar Rapids
Jose Arredondo may be destined for the bullpen should he reach the majors.
13. Jose Arredondo RHP — Scuttlebutt is he’ll be converted eventually into a reliever, although he has much more work to do on his mechanics and secondary stuff. A poor spring could land him back at Rancho Cucamonga, although more likely the Angels will give him every opportunity to return to Arkansas.
14. P.J. Phillips 3B/SS — Didn’t impress in his 2006 assignment at Orem. He could be held over in extended spring training, but has a decent chance to start 2007 at Cedar Rapids.
15. Hainley Statia SS — Should be the starting shortstop for Rancho Cucamonga.
16. Matt Sweeney 1B — Could see Cedar Rapids although it’s likely he could return to Orem at mid-season if he struggles in Low-A.
17. Jeremy Haynes RHP — Cedar Rapids.
18. Terry Evans OF — Currently in major league camp, but destined for Triple-A Salt Lake. Unlikely to repeat his anomalous 2006 numbers but the hitter-friendly PCL should boost his stats. If Aybar moves to CF, Evans will go to RF.
19. Bobby Wilson C — Had a good year for Double-A Arkansas in 2006, but the loser of the Mathis/Napoli derby will catch every day at Salt Lake. The Angels won’t want Wilson to sit as a Triple-A backup, so most likely he returns to Arkansas unless there’s an injury or trade upstream.
20. Ryan Mount 2B — Don’t know why BA lists him as a second baseman when he played shortstop in 2006. Anyway, he should be at Cedar Rapids to start the year.
21. Trevor Bell RHP — Cedar Rapids.
22. Rafael Rodriguez RHP — Could regress to Rancho Cucamonga with a poor spring, otherwise Arkansas.
23. Nick Green RHP — Arkansas.
24. Chris Resop RHP — In the mix for the Anaheim bullpen, otherwise Salt Lake. A converted outfielder, a little more Triple-A experience couldn’t hurt.
25. Ryan Aldridge RHP — Rancho Cucamonga bullpen.
26. Tommy Murphy OF — Dueling with Reggie Willits for a utility outfielder slot in Anaheim. Otherwise Salt Lake. His edge over Willits is the versatility to play the infield and more power.
Reggie Willits may find his name on the Angels roster come April.
27. Reggie Willits OF — Dueling with Tommy Murphy for a utility outfielder slot in Anaheim. Otherwise Salt Lake. His edge over Murphy is his superior on-base percentage and makes better contact.
28. Barret Browning LHP — Outside shot at Rancho Cucamonga due to his age, otherwise Cedar Rapids.
29. Mark Trumbo 1B — Has to show improvement in spring training to earn a shot at Rancho Cucamonga, otherwise returns to Cedar Rapids.
30. Phil Seibel LHP — Dark horse for the Anaheim bullpen, probably goes to Salt Lake unless Darren Oliver can’t cut it in spring training.
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