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.
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.
Roberto Lopez homered in his second Double-A at-bat Sunday to help the Arkansas Travelers to a 2-1 win over Corpus Christi.
Top to bottom, the Angels’ organization had late-game rallies — and won most of them.
The Mariners had a 7-2 lead after 4 1/2 innings but the Angels chipped away to trail 7-6 going into the bottom of the 9th. Howie Kendrick hit a three-run homer with one out and the Halos won 9-7. It was Kendrick’s second homer of the game.
The Salt Lake Bees were down 5-0 to Fresno (Giants affiliate) after 4 1/2 innings but posted three in the 6th, one in the 8th, and one in the 9th to send the game to extra innings. Ryan Budde walked to lead off the bottom of the 10th. Gary Patchett bunted him to second. Peter Bourjos was intentionally walked, then Nate Sutton singled in Budde to give the Bees a 6-5 win.
Corpus Christi (Astros affiliate) scored in the top of the 2nd but Arkansas Travelers’ starter Jeremy Thorne drew the line there. Roberto Lopez hit a solo homer in the 4th on his second Double-A at-bat to tie the game, then Ryan Mount hit a solo shot in the 7th to give the Travs the lead. Jordan Walden pitched 1 1/3 innings of shutout relief to get the save.
The Rancho Cucamonga Quakes almost pulled off a miracle rally in San Jose (Giants affiliate). Down 6-1 after four innings, they scored one in the top of the 6th and four more in the top of the 9th to tie the game at 6-6. But San Jose scored in the bottom of the 10th to win 7-6. Adam Younger hit his second homer with Rancho, and Luis “Lucho” Jimenez homered in his first Quakes game.
Wisconsin (Brewers affiliate) scored four runs in the top of the 4th to take a 4-0 lead over the Cedar Rapids Kernels. No problem. The Men of the Corn scored one in the 4th, one in the 6th, then three more in the bottom of the 7th, with Mike Trout’s 2-RBI single driving in the tying and leading runs. Manaurys Correa got the win in relief, with the save to John Hellweg.
Mike Napoli played 68 games in the minors at first base, including 36 with Rancho Cucamonga in 2004.
Tom Kotchman warned this would happen.
A few years ago, I listened as the Orem Owlz’ manager warned his young players never to jump on home plate to celebrate a dinger. Kotch told of an opposing team’s batter who did just that, slipped and broke his leg, ending his season.
Kendry Morales wasn’t there for the lecture (he began his career at Rancho Cucamonga), but it certainly came to mind when I heard that Morales broke his lower left leg celebrating a walk-off grand slam to give the Angels a 5-1 10-inning win over the Seattle Mariners.
You can see video of the injury on the MLB.com web page reporting the game.
Media reports suggest Morales is probably done for the season, so the question now is one posed decades ago by Lou Costello — who’s on first?
The initial answer is probably Robb Quinlan.
The veteran left as a free agent last winter, found no takers, returned to the Angels in spring training on a minor league contract and is currently at Triple-A Salt Lake. With prospect Mark Trumbo getting most of the playing time at first base, Robb has seen action at third base, designated hitter and a little left field in addition to first. His AVG/OBP/SLG are currently .253/.323/.322, not particularly inspiring numbers but he’s a known quantity.
Quinlan is on the 40-man roster, as is Trumbo. I want to see Mark in Anaheim as much as he does, but it’s probably not his time yet. His AVG/OBP/SLG are .275/.320/.522, but as I demonstrated in Friday’s blog on Salt Lake offense numbers his performance in PCL super-hitter friendly parks somewhat distorts his numbers this year, as usually happens with Bees hitters. In neutral or pitcher-friendly parks, Mark’s numbers are .227/.237/.493 in 75 at-bats.
One option out there might be Jeff Mathis, once he heals from his broken right wrist. No, Matty wouldn’t play first base, but Mike Napoli would. Nap had occasional time in the minors at first base, most significantly in 2004 with Rancho Cucamonga. Napoli missed much of 2003 after surgery to repair a tear in his right labrum. He played 36 games at first base for the Quakes in 2004, and was at first for 68 games overall in his minor league career. Mike underwent surgery again on his right shoulder in late October 2008, suggesting that he might not hold up over the long haul to catching every day.
MLB.com reported on May 26 that Mathis took test swings with a bat on Wednesday, suggesting a rehab assignment might be on the horizon. That might put him about a month away from returning, near the end of June.
At that point, if the Angels haven’t made another move, Mathis could assume most of the catching time with Bobby Wilson as the backup, and Napoli at first base.
The Angels could pursue a trade, of course, but they’re not likely to cough up top talent for what would amount to a short-term rental.
Former Angels minor leaguer Azarias Corbeil now coaches third base for the Florida Southern College Moccasins. The “Mocs” are ranked #1 nationally in NCAA Division II baseball.
“Now batting for the Quakes, Number 19, the Real Deal, Azarias Corbeil!”
That was my fantasy introduction for Azarias Corbeil, a catcher-first baseman in the Angels’ minor league system from 2001 through 2003.
Azarias — who went by “Al” although he was also called “Az” — finished second in the Pioneer League batting average race in 2001, hitting .359 with an on-base percentage of .463 and a .525 slugging percentage. He was playing for the inaugural Provo Angels, managed by Tom Kotchman, who as a scout signed Al out of Florida Southern.
Al advanced to High-A Rancho Cucamonga in 2002 and hit .252. He returned to the Quakes in 2003 and hit .254.
With two catchers named Jeff Mathis and Mike Napoli ahead of him on the depth chart, Corbeil was released in spring training 2004. Except for two games in the Cubs’ system in 2005, he spent the rest of his career in independent ball, retiring after the 2007 season.
What’s with the “Real Deal”?
When Al got to Rancho, and couldn’t repeat his hitting success with Provo, he seemed a bit forlorn.
Corbeil with the Quakes in 2003.
To hopefully build his spirits, I jokingly suggested that what Al needed was a marketing campaign.
A friend and I came up with the slogan, “The Real Deal!”
Whenever we saw him, we called him “Real Deal.”
I tried to talk the Quakes’ front office into having the P.A. announce him as “The Real Deal, Azarias Corbeil!” but got no takers.
But one night when the Quakes were playing in San Bernardino, Al was at-bat and I heard a fan yell, “It’s the Real Deal!”
I’d hear from Al in e-mail over the years, but as usually happens with pro ball everyone drifts off to their own lives.
As most of you know, I moved to Florida last June, where I started a second web site SpaceCoastBaseball.com. This last weekend, I was over in Lakeland to cover a three-game series between two nationally-ranked NCAA Division II teams, #1 Florida Southern and #15 Florida Tech.
As Florida Southern’s starting lineup was being announced, the P.A. concluded with “… and assistant coach Al Corbeil.”
The “Real Deal”?! Could it be true?!
I headed over to the Southern dugout to take photos, and sure enough the third base coach was Azarias Corbeil.
After the inning was over, I called out “Azarias Corbeil!” He looked at me, a bit puzzled at first, then recognized me. We shook hands and agreed to talk after the game.
Click here to see Al’s current bio on the Florida Southern web site. It mentions that he was drafted by the Angels.
He stays in touch with Kotch, as do many of Tom’s draft picks.
My next close encounter with an Angels minor league alumnus will be March 26, when Florida Tech hosts the University of Tampa. The Spartans’ head coach is Joe Urso, a popular infielder for Lake Elsinore in the mid-1990s who went on to coach and manage in the Angels’ system before returning to Tampa to manage his alma mater. Lake Elsinore was an Angels affiliate from 1994 through 2000, when it switched to the Padres.
Urso was so popular with the Storm, he was called “the Mayor of Lake Elsinore.” His #7 is one of only two numbers retired by the Storm. The other is Jake Peavy.
This article is copyright © 2010 Stephen C. Smith. It may not be reprinted elsewhere without prior expressed written permission. Permission is explicitly denied to AngelsInsider.com, which has been copying articles in their entirety from this blog and reposting them without permission or disclosing their true author.
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
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