Mike Trout will face high expectations in 2011.
After a somewhat somnambulant winter, the Angels enter 2011 with more questions than answers.
The bullpen was strengthened by the signing of free agent lefty relievers Scott Downs and Hisanori Takahashi, but didn’t flush hundreds of millions of dollars into a “name” like Carl Crawford or Adrian Beltre.
In 2009, the Angels led the American League in batting average (.285), were fourth in total bases (2,482), second in runs scored (883) and third in stolen bases (148).
In 2010, the Angels were 12th in average (.248), 11th in total bases (2,142), ninth in runs scored (681), and seventh in stolen bases (104).
What went wrong?
Many fingers are needed to point the blame, but in summary it boils down to several players had disappointing years. Their failure to produce anticipated offense was one major factor in the Angels’ decline from 97-65 in 2009 to 80-82 in 2010.
Brandon Wood, Erick Aybar, Howie Kendrick and Jeff Mathis failed to produce as projected. Kendry Morales broke his left ankle on May 29 when he leapt onto home plate to celebrate a home run. Juan Rivera had a down year.
If they all rebound in 2011, no one will care about Carl Crawford or Adrian Beltre. But that’s a big “if.”
On the mound, Jered Weaver delivered a Cy Young Award-caliber season, and Ervin Santana pitched to expectations, but after that the pitching staff was somewhat disappointing. 2009 free-agent signee Joel Piniero missed about ten starts due to injury. Joe Saunders had a 4.62 ERA in 20 starts, then was shipped to Arizona in the Dan Haren deal. Haren had a 2.87 ERA in 14 starts. Scott Kazmir, now the lone lefty in the rotation, had a nightmare year with a 5.94 ERA.
Loek Van Mil was acquired from the Twins in the trade for Brian Fuentes. Van Mil is listed as 7’1″ tall.
The bullpen was another disappointment. Brian Fuentes had a 3.52 ERA in 39 relief appearances before he was sent to Minnesota in a September 1 trade for minor league pitcher Loek Van Mil. Fernando Rodney appeared in 72 games but had a 4.24 ERA. Scot Shields was 5.28 in 43 appearances, unable to recover effectively from a 2009 injury. The rest of the bullpen was a mix of young relievers — Kevin Jepsen, Jordan Walden, Michael Kohn, Trevor Bell, Bobby Cassevah and Rich Thompson — who offered future promise.
Nothing is certain in life, nor in the baseball universe. Splashy free-agent signees don’t guarantee anything.
They also siphon off a lot of money that could be invested into player development.
Years ago, Baseball America did a study where they concluded it cost about a million dollars to develop a major leaguer. I’m sure that number is much higher today, but it illustrates the impact on the budget when signing a player for a mega-buck contract. Using as an example Beltre’s six-year $96 million deal with the Texas Rangers, that’s $16 million a year that could have been invested in future talent.
The flip side of that argument is that an established major leaguer is more of a “sure thing” than a prospect. The failure in the last decade of the Angels’ minor league system to produce a hitter that lived up to expectations underscores that reality.
So can the Angels rely someone in the mix of Wood, Aybar, Kendrick and Mathis to step it up?
If not, the focus will shift to the next generation of prospects. Peter Bourjos arrived in early August and showed off his plus-plus defense, but only hit .204 in 181 at-bats. Hank Conger and Mark Trumbo had token appearances, but will probably return to Salt Lake.
After them, everyone awaits the arrival of the savior, Mike Trout.
But fans need to temper their enthusiasm. Let’s not forget he’s only 19 and has only a half-year of experience at advanced Class-A. For every prospect, there comes a time where he experiences failure for the first time. Can he adjust? That’s the true test, because for every professional baseball player his career is a series of adjustments as opposing pitchers seek out flaws and weaknesses. So let’s give the kid some breathing room, okay?
I look forward to a full healthy season for Randal Grichuk. He injured both hands in 2010, but during his last month of play with Cedar Rapids after his return he hit .366/.385/.645. As with many Angels minor league batters, Randal didn’t take many walks, but in that month he showed an improved knowledge of the strike zone, which is a good first step.
Charitably listed as 5’8″, Alexi Amarista hit .400 in 70 plate appearances during his late-season audition with Triple-A Salt Lake.
Two middle infielders are on the prospect radar. Jean Segura may switch to shortstop or remain at second base. He reminds me of a cross between a young Alberto Callaspo and a young Erick Aybar, but neither of those has produced the stellar numbers hoped for earlier in their minor league years. Diminutive Alexi Amarista may be the “feel good” story of 2011. He’s likely to start the year at Salt Lake, and the PCL is always generous to hitters, but he too draws few walks and tends to chase bad pitches.
If Aybar and Kendrick have another disappointing year, I wouldn’t be surprised to see the Angels have Segura at shortstop with Triple-A Salt Lake by season’s end as half of a double-play tandem with Amarista at second base.
The pitching prospect depth shallowed significantly in the last year, due to the Alberto Callaspo and Dan Haren trades. The Angels sent Sean O’Sullivan and Will Smith to Kansas City for Callaspo. Joe Saunders, Tyler Skaggs, Pat Corbin and Rafael Rodriguez went to Arizona for Haren.
I’ll be watching closely the progress of three pitchers — Tyler Chatwood, Trevor Recking and Garrett Richards.
Chatwood was the Angels’ 2010 minor league pitcher of the year. With High-A Rancho Cucamonga, he had a 1.77 ERA in 14 starts (81.1 IP), averaged 7.7 strikeouts per 9 IP and had a SO:BB ratio of 1.91. Promoted mid-season to Double-A Arkansas, his ERA climbed to 3.82 (68.1 IP), his strikeout rate dropped to 4.7 per 9 IP, and had a SO:BB ratio of 1.3:1. At age 20, he would have been one of the youngest starters in the Texas League, where he should resume in 2011.
Reckling was the 2009 minor league pitcher of the year, but at age 21 couldn’t handle Triple-A Salt Lake (8.53 ERA in 69.2 IP) and at mid-season found himself back in Double-A with Arkansas (4.56 ERA in 79.0 IP). Trevor is pretty much the only significant left-handed starting pitcher prospect left in the system, so the Angels need him to mature past his growing pains.
Richards will be 23 on May 27, and will probably start the season with Double-A Arkansas. Between Low-A Cedar Rapids (19 starts) and High-A Rancho Cucamonga (7 starts), Richards averaged 9.4 strikeouts per 9 IP. He has a mid-90s fastball, slider, changeup and curve ball. The curve could be a “plus” pitch but he seems reluctant to use it.
It’s possible that the Travelers’ opening night roster could include Chatwood, Reckling and Richards in what might be the elite starting rotation in the Texas League. Of the three, I think Richards has a chance to move up the fastest due to his age and overall repertoire.
Will Smith pitching for Orem in the 2008 Pioneer League championship series.
Oh, one another pitcher I’ll be watching — from afar — is Will Smith. Traded to the Royals, I’ve always thought his ceiling is underestimated by many observers. Prior to the trade, he had a strange odyssey that saw him move up from Rancho to Salt Lake as an emergency after the Bees’ rotation was decimated by promotions. He’d been sent down to Arkansas when he was traded. He finished the regular season back in High-A with Wilmington in the Carolina League, where he had a 2.80 ERA in eight starts (54.2 IP). Always stingy with the base on balls, Will struck out 51 and walked four.
Those numbers are not a typo.
The Royals then assigned him to their Double-A team’s post-season roster. Smith started the Northwest Arkansas Naturals’ title game against Midland, pitching 6 2/3 shutout innings. I wasn’t surprised, because I saw him on the mound for Rookie-A Orem in the 2008 Pioneer League playoffs. In a pressure game, Will goes into a higher gear.
If Smith returns to Double-A for 2011, it’s likely he will face his former Angels teammates for the first time since the trade. In a year or two, it might happen again at the major league level.
Everyone loves Mike Trout, who ranked #1 on the FutureAngels.com 2010 Top 10 Prospects Report.
The FutureAngels.com Top 10 Prospects Report is now online. Click here to read the report.
The Top 10 are:
1. Mike Trout OF (no surprise)
2. Hank Conger C
3. Jean Segura 2B
4. Garrett Richards RHP
5. Randal Grichuk OF
6. Mark Trumbo 1B-OF
7. Fabio Martinez RHP
8. Alexi Amarista 2B
9. Trevor Reckling LHP
10. Jeremy Moore OF
I’m sure there will be a lot of debate about who’s NOT on the list, starting with Tyler Chatwood who was named the Angels’ minor league pitcher of the year.
Chatwood is probably #11. I debated in my mind back and forth about Chatwood versus Reckling. Two factors weighed in Reckling’s favor. One is that, if you read his review, Reckling’s problem is command of his fastball. Chatwood has a killer 12-6 curve, but still can’t consistently throw it where he wants. It seems to me it’s easier to solve the fastball problem than the curve problem. The second factor is that, after they traded Joe Saunders, Tyler Skaggs, Pat Corbin and Will Smith, the Angels are desperately thin on left-handed starting pitcher prospects. Reckling has more value in terms of organizational depth than Chatwood, but that’s not meant as an insult at all, just a reflection of their lack of LHP prospects.
Chatwood’s strikeout rate dropped from 7.7 per 9 IP at Rancho to just 4.7 with Arkansas. Reckling’s rate wasn’t all that great either, but he was asked to pitch at a much higher level. Both are very young pitchers and, as I said, a reasonable argument could be made for either one to make the Top 10.
No relievers made the Top 10 list, although the Angels have many relief prospects — Jordan Walden, Michael Kohn, Ysmael Carmona, Steven Geltz and more. As I discussed in the article, my thinking has evolved on relievers. They work a relatively small part of a game, so in my mind it’s hard to say a guy who throws one or two innings is more valuable than one who throws five to seven, or a position player who’s in the lineup regularly. If we had an absolute killer closer on the cusp, I’d certainly give him serious thought, but this year I couldn’t justify in my mind one over any of the others.
I really wanted to find a place for Luis “Lucho” Jimenez, who I think is a great hitting prospect, but again who would I drop? You may have your own choices; as always, it’s a matter of opinion. And I’m sure there are many more for whom an argument could be made.
Anyway, enjoy reading the report and posting your comments. This is the tenth year I’ve written a Top 10 report; click here for the index.
RANCHO CUCAMONGA — What goes around, comes around. On Saturday night, Lake Elsinore started rehabbing Padres’ pitcher Chris Young and shut out the Quakes, 5-0. Last night, it was Rancho’s turn to play the Rehab Card, as the Angels’ Joel Piniero delivered five innings of no-hit ball before giving up two runs on three hits in the sixth. The Quakes had a 4-2 lead going into the 9th, scored three in the top of the frame, then Allan Dykstra hit a three-run homer off Eddie McKiernan in the bottom of the inning to make it interesting, but Rancho won 7-5 to even the series. Darwin Perez was 3 for 4 with a homer, Mike Trout was 3 for 5 with a triple and stolen base, and Dillon Baird hit two doubles. The best-of-five series shifts to Rancho Cucamonga starting tonight for Games #3 and #4. Ryan Chaffee will start for the Quakes.
OREM — It was the one game to decide who would win the Pioneer League South Division and go on to the championship series. The Owlz scored seven runs in the top of the 1st, but no lead is safe in the Pioneer League. The Ogden Raptors scored three in the bottom of the 1st, and four in the bottom of the 4th to tie it at 7-7. In the end, Ogden outscored Orem 12-9 and that ended the 2010 season for the Owlz. Jake Rife was 3 for 5 with a homer and double. Although they won’t go on to the title series, this marks the tenth straight year that the Provo Angels/Orem Owlz franchise has gone to the post-season under Tom Kotchman since the franchise moved from Helena for the 2001 season.
A reminder that webcast links for the playoff games are on the FutureAngels.com web site home page.
RANCHO CUCAMONGA — The Quakes dropped Game #1 of their five-game series. Literally. They committed seven errors in their 5-0 loss at Lake Elsinore. Rancho had only four hits, with a double by Luis Jimenez the only extra-base hit. The Padres’ Chris Young started on rehab assignment with the Storm and pitched 5 2/3 innings, striking out seven while giving up only three hits and a walk. The Angels get their rehab revenge tonight as Joel Piniero takes the mound for the Quakes. Game time is 5:05 PM PDT.
OREM — They’re still alive. Down one game to none in their best-of-three series, and down 10-8 after seven innings, the Owlz scored three runs in the top of the 8th and six in the top of the 9th to win 17-10 at Ogden. (Typical high-scoring Pioneer League game …) Travis Witherspoon was 3-6 with a homer. Andrew Heid and Kole Calhoun also had three hits. Wes Hatton homered and doubled. Starter Donn Roach gave up four runs (two earned) on three hits in 5 1/3 innings with nine strikeouts and a walk. So it’s Game #3 for the South Division title. Ogden-Raptors.com reports Pil Joon Jang will start for the Owlz. Game time is 4:00 PM MDT / 3:00 PM PDT.
RANCHO CUCAMONGA — The Quakes begin tonight their five-game series with the Lake Elsinore Storm for the California League South Division title. Games #1 and #2 are in Lake Elsinore, Games #3 and (if necessary) #4 are in Rancho Cucamonga, and (if necessary) Game #5 is at Lake Elsinore. Garrett Richards will start tonight for the Quakes, with the Padres’ Chris Young making a rehab start for Lake Elsinore. The Angels announced last night that Joel Piniero will make a rehab start with the Quakes in Game #2 Sunday night. It doesn’t seem right that rehabbing major leaguers should be eligible for minor league playoff games.
CEDAR RAPIDS — The Kernels were eliminated last night, as they lost 6-2 to Clinton. The game was delayed nearly an hour due to rain, and announced starting pitcher Stephen Locke was scratched due to a bad back, so Tyler Kehrer took the start. Kehrer didn’t get out of the first inning, giving up three runs on two hits and three walks while recording only one out on a strikeout.
OREM — The Owlz lost Game #1 of their Pioneer League South Division playoff series, 2-1 to Ogden. Kole Calhoun hit a solo homer in the first inning to give the Owlz an early 1-0 lead. Heath Nichols pitched 5 2/3 shutout innings and A.J. Schugel tacked on another inning-and-a-third. In the top of the 9th, Justin La Tempa gave up a one-out two-RBI single that gave the Raptors the lead. The Owlz got the tying run to third in the bottom of the 9th, but pinch-hitter Kaleb Cowart grounded out to end the game.
I’m a bit surprised that Cowart, one of the Angels’ first-round picks last June (#18 overall), wasn’t in the starting lineup. Cowart was assigned to Orem on the last day of the regular season after playing with Tempe. The Angels did something similar last summer with Mike Trout, who joined Cedar Rapids at season’s end after playing with Tempe in his first pro year. Trout had only a token appearance in the Kernels’ 2009 post-season. I guess the feeling is that the players who earned the post-season should be the ones who take the field, but minor league rosters turn over so much that the post-season roster often has little in common with the roster on Opening Day. If it were me, I’d want Trout or Cowart in the lineup because he improves my chances to win.
So the Owlz are down 1-0 in their best-of-three series. They must win tonight and tomorrow at Ogden, or they’re eliminated. Donn Roach (4-1, 6.04 ERA) is the announced starter for Orem.
RANCHO CUCAMONGA — The Quakes won 7-1 over High Desert to take the mini-series 2-0. They go on to face Lake Elsinore, which had a bye due to their first-half title, in a best-of-five series for the South Division championship. The series starts Saturday night at Lake Elsinore; Garrett Richards is the reported starting pitcher. Games #1 and #2 are in Lake Elsinore, Games #3 and (if necessary) #4 are at Rancho, and Game #5 (if necessary) is at Lake Elsinore.
UPDATE 2:45 PM PDT — A Quakes press release reports the Storm starting pitcher for Game #1 will be Padres’ right-hander Chris Young, assigned to Lake Elsinore on rehab. Now that’s just cheatin’. 🙂
CEDAR RAPIDS — The Kernels lost 8-2 to Clinton to even their best-of-three series at one apiece. The deciding game is tonight at Cedar Rapids, with LHP Stephen Locke (8-7, 4.37 ERA) the announced starting pitcher. The winner goes on to face the winner of the Quad Cities – Kane County series, with Kane County the home team tonight.
OREM — The Owlz ended the regular season last night with a 14-12 win at Ogden in 10 innings. Kaleb Cowart, one of three Angels’ picks in the first-round of the June 2010 draft (#18 overall), was called up from Tempe and homered. His addition to the roster will be a big boost for the Orem offense. The Owlz finished the regular season 39-36, while the Raptors finished 44-31. The two teams play in a best-of-three series for the South Division title starting tonight at Orem, with Games #2 and (if necessary) #3 at Ogden. Although the Raptors have the better overall record, the Owlz were 11-5 this year against Ogden and just finished a four-game sweep — two in Orem, then two in Ogden. But in a short series, of course, anything goes. Heath Nichols (4-2, 3.57 ERA) is the announced starting pitcher for the Owlz.
RANCHO CUCAMONGA — The Quakes won Game #1 of their three-game series with the Mavericks, 12-5 at High Desert. Angel Castillo hit a grand-slam. Alberto Rosario, Mike Trout, Dillon Baird and Richard Cates also homered. Starter Manuel Flores gave up four runs on six hits in 3 1/3 innings with four strikeouts and three walks. Orangel Arenas starts for the Quakes tonight at Rancho Cucamonga. The winner of the series will face Lake Elsinore in a best-of-five series for the South Division title.
CEDAR RAPIDS — The Kernels won Game #1 of their three-game series with the LumberKings, 3-2 at Clinton. Starter Ariel Pena gave up one run on one hit in 5 1/3 innings with seven strikeouts and four walks. David Carpenter got the win in relief, striking out three in 1 2/3 innings. John Hellweg notched a save. Jose Jimenez was 2 for 3 with a homer. Buddy Boshers will start for the Kernels tonight at Cedar Rapids, according to LumberKings.com. The winner of the series will face the winner of the Quad Cities – Kane County series in a best-of-three matchup for the Western Division title.
OREM — The Owlz clinched the South Division wild-card with a 4-2 win over Ogden. The Raptors won both halves of the division race, so they will have the home field advantage in their best-of-three playoff series starting Friday night. Game #1 will be at Orem, while Games #2 and (if necessary) #3 will be in Ogden. The two teams finish the regular season tonight at Ogden; as of this morning, the Owlz have won 10 of 15 games this season between the two teams, although overall the Raptors (44-30) have a better record than Orem (38-36).
I’ll also note that Damon Berryhill, Ogden’s manager, was Rancho Cucamonga’s hitting coach in 2002.