Ryan Chaffee was ranked #6 last November on the FutureAngels.com Top 10 Prospects list. He’ll represent the Cedar Rapids Kernels in the Midwest League All-Star Game.
The 2008 FutureAngels.com Top 10 Prospects report was published last November. We’re now about halfway through the 2009 season, so let’s take a quick look at how they’re proceeding.
A disclaimer … Prospect rankings are always shifting, whether it’s a professional analysis by Baseball America, or semi-pro reporting by those such as Baseball Prospectus, John Sickels and myself. They’re simply a snapshot in time. Some may claim their expertise is infallible (those would be the amateur/fan sites), but the truth is we’re all guessing based on the facts as we have them at the time, and what’s most important to us for the future. I have the advantage of following the Angels full-time, while those others scatter their resources across thirty organizations.
Presented in reverse order, just as they were last November:
10. Luis Jimenez 3B — I wrote last November that “Lucho” had been relegated to DH duty since August 8 after injuring his throwing shoulder in a game. He wound up undergoing labrum surgery and is currently on rehab at the Angels’ minor league complex in Tempe. When I visited during extended spring training, the scuttlebutt was that he might DH the rest of the year, but so far he’s still disabled. How well he recovers may determine if he remains at the Hot Corner or moves to a corner outfield position.
9. Matt Brown 3B-1B — Brownie turned heads in spring training when he posted an AVG/OBP/SLG of .468/.527/.787 (47 AB), but he’s just another example of how much caution should be used when analyzing spring numbers. Matt hit just .189 in April with only one homer. He’s picked it up a bit since then, but overall his numbers are still just .223/.324/.429. Originally a third baseman, he’s played mostly first base to give him another position on the résumé. He turns 27 in August and can be a six-year minor league free agent this winter if the Angels don’t protect him on the 40-man roster.
8. Kevin Jepsen RHP — Jepsen injured his lower back early in the season and went on the disabled list April 21 with tightness and spasms. The Angels sent him to Salt Lake first as a rehab assignment and then outright when he came off the DL, but his 9.00 ERA and 2.56 WHIP (Hits + Walks)/(Innings Pitched) in 18 innings showed little to suggest progress. The Angels recalled him anyway on June 10 when they demoted Jose Arredondo; in five innings, he’s allowed four runs on eight hits, struck out four and walked none.
7. Peter Bourjos CF — Bourjos has fulfilled expectations with Double-A Arkansas, earning a spot on the Texas League North Division All-Star team. Due to a sprained left wrist suffered during batting practice on June 4, he won’t be able to participate, but up to that point his numbers were excellent for a 22-year old in Double-A. His AVG/OBP/SLG were .316/.366/.454; because his home park is so pitcher-friendly, it’s important to note that his home/away splits are very similar so there’s no reason for “adjustment” to his overall numbers. Pete could improve his OBP by taking more walks, and he could work at reducing his strikeout rate (once every 5.2 AB), but those are common nitpicks for young hitters at upper levels. In the stolen base department, he was 14 for 20, a bit of a slowdown in his usual theft rate. His defense in center field has been excellent, having not committed a single error and among the league leaders in outfield putouts when injured.
6. Ryan Chaffee RHP — I took a lot of grief from the amateur/fan sites for this one, but so far Chaffee has shown he deserved the recognition. Drafted in the third round of the June 2008 draft, Chaffee was unable to pitch professionally last year due to a broken foot that eventually required corrective surgery. His winter workouts in Tempe drew rave reviews. Although he was projected to report to Rookie-A Orem in June, he was assigned out of extended spring training to Class A Cedar Rapids in April 25 as pitching promotions cascaded throughout the organization in the wake of injuries at the parent club level. Chaffee didn’t disappoint. Despite his late arrival, he was voted by league managers onto the Midwest League West Division All-Star team. His overall numbers to date are a 2.83 ERA in 11 starts (60.1 IP) with a 66:29 SO:BB ratio. His groundouts to all other outs (GO/AO) ratio is an outstanding 3.38, and his AVG against is .176. Ryan turned 21 on May 18; I won’t be surprised if he gets a promotion to Rancho Cucamonga after the All-Star break, certainly before season’s end.
5. Nick Adenhart RHP — Despite a poor 2008, Nick made the parent club roster out of spring training after the Angels lost John Lackey and Ervin Santana. He made his first start on April 8 in Anaheim against Oakland, and pitched six shutout innings. Later that night, he was killed by an alleged drunk driver. The loss to baseball is insignificant compared to that suffered by his family, loved ones, and the many people whose lives he touched.
4. Hank Conger C — The first question to be answered was, “Will Hank Conger ever catch again?” The answer is yes. He’s caught in 40 of the 58 games in which he’s appeared this year, having twice caught in seven straight games when he was in the lineup, so no questions are left about his shoulder holding up. His defense has been acceptable too — a .980 fielding average, only six errors so far, and he’s thrown out 14 of 39 runners (35.9%), which ranks third among Texas League regular catchers, although the caught-runners stat is dependent upon the ability of a pitcher to hold a runner on base. So let’s talk about his offense. That aspect of his game has been disappointing, although it’s important to remember he’s a 21-year old only two steps from the majors; there will be guys younger than him starting their pro careers this week at Orem and Tempe. His overall AVG/OBP/SLG are .265/.318/.352. I’ve written many times that the Travelers play in perhaps the most pitcher-friendly park in the league, yet surprisingly his offense numbers are much better at home (.296/.346/.417) than on the road (.234/.282/.287). One good sign is that his strikeout rate is excellent for a power hitter, once every 5.8 AB. He may wind up repeating the Texas League in 2010 if the power numbers don’t pick up, but that was the one aspect of his game no one worried about until now. Everything else is looking good.
3. Mark Trumbo 1B — There was every reason to think Trumbo would have a good 2009 with the Travelers. In 132 AB at the end of 2008, Mark posted an AVG/OBP/SLG of .276/.311/.496; on the road, those numbers were .357/.410/.661 (61 AB). But so far, he’s failed to repeat that performance in his first full Double-A season. His overall numbers are .238/.288/.383 (240 AB), with his road numbers .242/.278/.371 (124 AB). He’s shown some life in his last ten games, batting .333/.350/.513 with five doubles and a triple. Defense is always hard to measure statistically, but if you compare his numbers to the league leaders they’re very competitive. Hopefully he builds on his recent streak into the second half.
2. Jordan Walden RHP — Walden missed a month (April 21 to May 19) due to an inflamed right elbow muscle, so it’s hard to get a read on how much that’s been affecting him. His overall numbers are a bit lackluster — 4.12 ERA, 1.63 WHIP, .298 AVG — but in June they’re much better — 1.90 ERA, 1.31 WHIP, .258 AVG. In his four June starts, he’s struck out 27 in 23.2 IP, suggesting the elbow problem may have passed. I like that he’s given up only three homers (one in June), which is a good sign as when he’s going well he rarely gives up dingers.
1. Will Smith LHP — Another controversial ranking for which I caught grief, but overall I’m still confident about his top ranking. (I will note, though, that last November I predicted Chaffee could be #1 for 2009.) Will’s numbers are a bit deceiving, because he got hurt early when he strained his left hamstring in his second start on April 18. Smith returned three weeks later on May 7 and got bombed, which I dismiss because he hadn’t pitched in a while. If you look at his numbers since then, he’s had eight starts, 54.1 IP, a 2.98 ERA, 1.05 WHIP, 48 strikeouts and 10 walks. Not quite the insane 76:6 SO:BB ratio in 73 IP last year at Orem, but still very impressive for a 19-year old in the Midwest League. (He turns 20 on July 10.) The injury probably cost him a nomination to the All-Star Game. A defensive note — six of nine runners against him have been caught stealing, but that could be credited to his catcher as well as Will. In any case, this 6’5″ southpaw (with room to grow) continues to look as if he may evolve into a dominant pitcher, with a late-season promotion to Advanced-A Rancho Cucamonga not out of the question.
UPDATE June 23, 2009 10:30 AM PDT — This morning’s Cedar Rapids Gazette had a lengthy article about Ryan Chaffee and the other Kernels chosen for tonight’s Midwest League All-Star Game. Kernels manager Bill Mosiello had this to say about Chaffee:
“He needs to make a lot of changes,” Kernels Manager Bill Mosiello said. “He needs to not try and trick every hitter and pitch around everybody. Like the other day, he gives up one run but throws 98 pitches in five innings. If he continues to do that, he’s not going to be able to pitch very long.
“But he’s been good since day one. Sometimes in their minds, they are developing. Maybe they’re not physically showing it, but I think he’s learning … He’s going through the process, still learning. It’s like I told him, it’s pretty neat to learn like that giving up only one run. Hopefully he’ll make the adjustments in his next start and as he gets older.”