Brandon Wood turning a double play with Provo in 2003. That’s Howie Kendrick as his double-play partner.
(Windows Media Player and a broadband Internet connection required to watch the video clips in this article.)
I met Brandon Wood in July 2003.
I was in Provo to do a few days of photography and videography of the Provo Angels, the Rookie-A affiliate in the Pioneer League. (The franchise moved six miles west to Orem to start 2005.)
I was at the far end of the team dugout working on my equipment, when a reed-thin teenager sat down on the steps in front of me and said, “Hi, I’m Brandon Wood.”
Brandon was the Angels’ first round pick (#23 overall) in the June 2003 draft, taken out of Scottsdale High School in Phoenix. Everyone wants a piece of the #1 pick, so I try to give them their own space and don’t bother them until they’re used to my being around. But Woody took the initiative to come over, introduce himself, then sit down on the steps and ask about FutureAngels.com.
That was typical Woody. Polite, humble, unassuming.
Howie Kendrick and Brandon Wood at Rancho Cucamonga in 2005.
Wood was shortstop to Howie Kendrick’s second base at Provo that year. The duo were promoted together to Cedar Rapids in 2004, and then to Rancho Cucamonga in 2005. The two were close on and off the field, and in those days observers speculated which pair of “Siamese twins” would be the Angels’ future middle infield — Wood and Kendrick, or Erick Aybar and Alberto Callaspo who were a year ahead of them.
(It turned out to be Aybar and Kendrick.)
2005 was a magical season for Wood. He hit 43 homers for the Quakes that year, breaking the Angels’ minor league single-season record of 42 set by Dick Simpson with San Jose in 1962.
Woody’s home run record chase became a running joke between the two of us. It seemed that almost every time I showed up to film him at Rancho Cucamonga, he homered. After returning to the dugout and receiving high-fives from his teammates, he’d looked towards me, I’d shrug, and he’d smile.
I sprained my foot at Orem in July, and was unable to work games for about a month. Sure enough, Woody went cold. Between July 25 and August 17, he hit only one homer. I finally limped into The Epicenter on August 18 — and he homered. Click here to watch.
The Quakes were due to play at High Desert on Sunday, August 21. I told Woody I would be there to fix his slump — and swore he’d hit three homers.
I was close. He hit two homers and a double. Click here to watch.
“Told ya,” I said as we left the ballpark.
I was there, of course, on September 1, 2005 when Wood hit home run #43 in his final at-bat of the season to break Dick Simpson’s record. Click here to watch.
Brandon worked his way up through the system, considered the top power-hitting prospect in the organization.
In spring training 2008, he was playing in a Triple-A game at the Tempe minor league complex. This was the year he was expected to challenge for the Angels’ third base job, so I gave him his space and didn’t say a word.
Around the fifth inning, playing third base, Woody dove to his left for a ground ball. He skinned the palm of his bare hand as the ball got by.
At the end of the inning, I made my way through the dugout to reach the field so I could shoot photos. In jogged Woody. He saw me, came over and said, “Hi Steve.” Then he raised his hand. “I’d shake your hand but …” and showed me his dirty, bloodied palm.
I scowled and said, “Don’t worry about me! Go play!” But, of course, it was meant with affection.
Brandon was never able in the majors to replicate his minor league success. He’s certainly not the first prospect to fail reaching for the top rung on that ladder, and he won’t be the last.
On April 20, he was designated for assignment, which means his Angels career is probably over.
I consider Woody to be one of the two most humble, polite and professional prospects I’ve known in my thirteen seasons covering Angels minor league baseball.
The other? Nick Adenhart.
My heart aches for his failure, as I’m sure do all those who knew him in the minors. But baseball has no tolerance for failure, so now Brandon will ply his trade elsewhere.
Whereever he might be, I will root for him.
Brandon Wood’s banner hanging at The Epicenter in August 2007.
Owlz manager Tom Kotchman
For years, it’s been as guaranteed as Christmas arriving on December 25, Halloween on October 31 and your taxes due on April 15.
Angels minor league manager Tom Kotchman has gone to the post-season every year since arriving in Utah to manage the Rookie-A Provo Angels in 2001. The franchise moved six miles west to Orem for the 2005 season. In nine years, he’s gone to the championship round seven times, and won the pennant four times.
Each team’s personality was different, of course. Some teams started hot out the gate and clinched a post-season appearance by winning their division’s first-half title. The Pioneer League has a 76-game schedule, divided into two 38-game halves, so each title race is more of a sprint than a marathon. Other teams played poorly in the first half, then roared to life down the stretch in the second half.
Regardless of how they got to the post-season, Kotchman’s teams inevitably are an unstoppable force by season’s end. He evaluates the individual talents he receives in late June, breaks down their individuality and remolds them into a team that understands it can win only if everyone plays for the shared goal of a title. It doesn’t matter if it’s a prospect-laden team, or one whose names will be lost to the obscurity of minor league history. Kotch figures out who can do what, and puts them into a role where they have the best opportunity to succeed and contribute to the common goal of winning.
This year’s edition looked like it might break Kotchman’s post-season streak. They finished the first half at 19-19, four games behind rival Ogden in the South Division.
They started the second half by losing four of six, capped by a disheartening 8-6 loss in 12 innings at home to Idaho Falls after rallying from an early 5-0 deficit.
But after that, they won four in a row, and have now won seven of nine, to move within 1 1/2 games of Ogden for first place.
Should the Raptors win the second-half title too, the South Division team with the second-best overall record would go to the post-season. At 28-25, the Owlz have a four-game lead over Casper for that wild card.
The Owlz have 22 games left on the schedule, plus a rainout against Casper on August 4 that will probably be made up when the Ghosts return to Orem September 1-2.
Tom Kotchman doesn’t have his team at full-speed just yet, but given their recent performances it looks like they’re about to shift into high gear. Just as they always do.
Will Smith with the Orem Owlz in September 2008.
It wasn’t supposed to be this way.
The evolutionary path in the Angels’ minor league system starts in Tempe or Orem, then it’s up the ladder to Cedar Rapids, Rancho Cucamonga, Arkansas, Salt Lake, with the prize a trip to Anaheim.
Will Smith was the Angels’ seventh-round selection in the June 2008 draft. He reported that year to Tom Kotchman, the scout who signed him, and who manages Orem. The left-hander helped pitch the Owlz into the playoffs and the only game they won in the championship series against Great Falls.
Click here to watch Will pitch in Game #2 of the 2008 playoffs. Windows Media Player and a broadband (cable modem, DSL) Internet connection required.
I named Smith the Angels’ #1 prospect in my 2008 FutureAngels.com Top 10 Prospects report published in November 2008. It was a controversial selection that received a lot of criticism on fan boards.
Will fell to #3 on the 2009 FutureAngels.com Top 10 Prospects report — not because I got him wrong, but because Trevor Reckling pitched so well he deserved to be ranked #1. (Reckling is about six weeks older than Smith.) 2009 draftee Garrett Richards leapt to #2 based on his potential as a power starter in the big leagues one day. Smith had a couple injuries in 2009 with Cedar Rapids which were blamed on conditioning, but by season’s end he’d rounded into shape.
More criticism was written on fan boards, but internally within the Angels my sources were very high on Smith. I sought a second opinion from another organization’s manager I knew in the Midwest League whose team faced Will several times that year. He told me that Smith was “the one pitcher I didn’t want to face” on the Kernels staff. He’d filed a report on Smith with his front office, projecting Will as a major league #3 starter.
Smith began 2010 with the Advanced Class-A Rancho Cucamonga Quakes in the hitter-friendly California League. In six starts, he had a 4.58 ERA in 37 1/3 innings. At age 20, he was one of the younger starters in the league.
Upstream, injuries forced the Angels to promote several Triple-A Salt Lake pitchers to Anaheim. Unwilling to move up any pitchers from Double-A Arkansas, the Angels made the surprising move of sending Smith to Salt Lake. The transaction was said to be temporary, but it lasted longer than many of us expected. Will made nine starts for the Bees before he was finally reassigned yesterday to the Travelers.
Was Will in over his head? Undoubtedly. He doesn’t turn 21 until July 10. But I also know that Smith has one of those personalities where he rises to a challenge. He’s a pitcher I’d want on the mound in a must-win game.
So it didn’t figure that this temporary assignment would ruin his confidence. Quite the opposite. He’d have the chance to see where he needs to raise his personal bar to pitch in Triple-A, one step from the majors.
How did he do?
Better than the overall numbers suggest.
In his nine starts, Smith posted a 5.60 ERA in 53 innings. He struck out 40, walked 20, and opponents hit .305 against him.
But as I’ve preached many times over the years, especially in those annual Top 10 Prospects reports, Pacific Coast League numbers need to be analyzed in context.
The PCL has five hitter-friendly fields, including the Bees’ Spring Mobile Ballpark. The others are Las Vegas, Reno, Albuquerque and Colorado Springs.
Five of Smith’s starts were in Salt Lake. None of the four road starts were in the other hitter-happy parks. So we can use his straightforward home/road splits to get a more accurate picture of how he did in neutral/pitcher-friendly parks.
Home: 6.14 ERA, 29.1 IP, 17 K, 6 BB, 3 HR, .362 AVG
Road: 4.94 ERA, 23.2 IP, 23 K, 14 BB, 3 HR, .221 AVG
Smith has always been a pitcher with pinpoint control. It appears that at home he was giving up more hits and fewer walks, while it was the reverse on the road. It could be that hitters are more aggressive in hitter-happy parks, and more patient in neutral parks, trying to earn walks. Or it could just be small sample size.
In any case, in “normal” parks he averaged a strikeout an inning, his ERA was 1.2 runs lower, and opponents hit just .221 against him.
Will’s numbers should be much better with Arkansas, and not just because it’s one level lower. Dickey-Stephens Park may be the most pitcher-friendly field in the Texas League. The circuit once had a reputation as a hitter-friendly league but most of its older parks have been replaced by new stadia.
Looking beyond the home-field advantage, Smith should take the experience he had with Salt Lake and use it to dominate in the Texas League. That remains to be seen, of course, but when you look at his “neutral” numbers in the PCL they’re not that bad for a 20-year old who’d only pitched in six games in the Cal League and never in Double-A.
Reckling was just reassigned to Arkansas after posting an 8.53 ERA in 14 starts with the Bees. (9.55 ERA at home, 7.87 on the road.) Tyler Chatwood was just promoted to Arkansas from Rancho Cucamonga. Along with Smith, the three should form the core of a much improved Travelers starting rotation. Reckling and Smith will continue to duel for the title of top left-handed prospect in the system.
Left-handed pitcher Trevor Reckling is #1 on the FutureAngels.com 2009 Top 10 Prospects list.
The FutureAngels.com 2009 Top 10 Prospects report is now online. Click here to read the report on the FutureAngels.com web site.
The Top 10 are:
1. Trevor Reckling LHP
2. Garrett Richards RHP
3. Will Smith LHP
4. Hank Conger C
5. Mike Trout OF
6. Jordan Walden RHP
7. Mark Trumbo 1B-OF
8. Peter Bourjos OF
9. Randal Grichuk OF
10. Alexi Amarista 2B
Please feel free to post comments and feedback here.
Nick Adenhart made his Pioneer League debut on September 5, 2005, pitching for Orem against Ogden.
As I do every off-season, the Angels Minor League Game of the Week returns today on FutureAngels.com. It will run through the end of spring training, with a new game every Friday.
The idea is not only to get you through baseball withdrawal, but also to hopefully educate people more about the players in our minor league system. I archive the teams’ webcasts during the season and provide them with copies on CD-ROM, and in exchange I get to post them during the off-season.
This year, I’m going to start with a tribute to Nick Adenhart. The first four webcasts will be memorable games in Nick’s minor league career.
The first one is September 5, 2005. He’d just joined the Orem Owlz in Rookie-A, having completed his rehab from “Tommy John” surgery at our minor league complex in Arizona. Nick faced Orem’s rival, the Ogden Raptors.
Some other interesting tidbits from this game … Mark Trumbo hits two home runs. Marco Albano, who’s now a Double-A reliever pitching in the Arizona Fall League, was a utility player at the time and was in the lineup at second base.
The broadcasters … Um, I’m sorry.
The Owlz that year thought they would experiment by hiring two wanna-be stand-up comedians to be the broadcasters. They had no baseball broadcasting experience at all. The thinking was they would liven up the broadcasts by constantly making jokes.
In reality, not only did they know nothing about baseball, but also they were singularly unfunny.
Anyway, the link is on the FutureAngels.com home page at www.futureangels.com. You need Windows Media Player to listen.
In December, we’ll start with 2009 season webcasts.
Manager Tom Kotchman’s Orem Owlz won their ninth straight game last night,
6-2 at Helena.
It’s as inevitable as the sun rising in the east, taxes due on April 15 and the Yankees collecting future Hall of Famers.
Tom Kotchman’s Orem Owlz once again have injected themselves into the Pioneer League post-season hunt, having won nine straight to take a commanding lead in the South Division second half race.
Hand him lemons, and he’ll make lemonade. Talent-laden rosters or marginal prospects, every year he has his team molded into an unstoppable force as they approach the finish line.
Some years, it takes longer than others. This year’s Owlz were a bit of a disappointment in the first half, finishing 20-18, four games behind the rival Ogden Raptors (Dodgers affiliate). The first half winner is automatically seeded into the first round of the playoffs, facing either the second half division winner, or if Ogden wins again then they face the team with the second best overall record.
Having played eleven games so far in the second half, the Owlz are 11-1 with a four-game lead over Idaho Falls (Royals affiliate) and five over Ogden. In the overall season standings, Orem is 30-19 (.612) with a one-game lead over Ogden at 29-20 (.592). Orem and Ogden have the best overall records in the league.
With 26 games to go, obviously Orem could blow it, but Tom Kotchman history suggests that’s unlikely.
There’s also the possibility that the Owlz will receive reinforcements from the talent-laden Tempe Angels squad. Tempe finished one game behind the Scottsdale Giants in the first half, and currently trails Scottsdale by two games in the second half. In the overall records, the Giants are 32-12 (.727) and the Angels are 29-15 (.659). The Arizona League playoffs end August 31, while Orem’s regular season ends September 11, so it’s quite possible that top prospects like Randal Grichuk, Mike Trout, Fabio Martinez-Mesa and Jon Bachanov could be wearing Owlz uniforms in September.
Let’s also acknowledge the combined no-hitter three Tempe pitchers threw last night against the Phoenix A’s. Jose Perez struck out nine and walked one in the first five innings to get the win. Josh Blanco continued the no-no for three innings, and then former catcher C.J. Bressoud pitched a 1-2-3 9th to give the Arizona League team their first no-hitter … well, in my memory, and mine goes back eleven years.