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.
B.J. Weed with the Rancho Cucamonga Quakes in 2005.
His was a name not easily forgotten.
Someone on the Angels fan message board recently asked me the whereabouts of B.J. Weed, a utility infielder in the Angels’ minor leagues in the mid-2000s.
Weed was released during his 2005 season with Rancho Cucamonga. He went on to play in independent ball through 2008, never playing above Advanced Class-A.
A quick Google search revealed that B.J. has capitalized on his unusual name.
Click here to check out BJWeed.com, a web site where he’s selling T-shirts that bear his unusual name.
On the home page, it states:
Who is BJ Weed?
You may be thinking to yourself, “Where did this name come from and is this a real name?” This name is actually real. After being abused and recognized for having such a standout name, I decided to start a clothing company based upon my name. I was born and raised in New York and have traveled ever since due to a minor league career in baseball. Since my career has ended, I have decided to travel down a different road and into the business world. So check out the various items and styles throughout the site and grab yourself a quality product with a unique design.
The site has T-shirts for both men and women.
It’s a living.
Tim Wallach managed the Rancho Cucamonga Quakes in 2001.
The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel reported on October 25 that Dodgers’ Triple-A manager Tim Wallach had been eliminated as a candidate to manage the Milwaukee Brewers.
Wallach began his managing career with the Angels. In 2001, he ran the Rancho Cucamonga Quakes in their first season as an Angels affiliate. The Quakes finished 63-77 with a roster largely devoid of talent. Wallach was very frustrated with the players’ inability to grasp what he was teaching, although I think it was more that he couldn’t accept they didn’t have the talent to execute what he wanted.
I remember Wallach being tossed from a game, then sitting up the runway in a folding chair. The camera well is at the bottom of the runway where it connects to the dugout. I was in the well shooting photography; Wallach would call down to me when he wanted to relay a message to the bench.
On another occasion, Wallach made a pitching change and while the pitcher warmed up the umpire approached Tim and gestured in my direction. Whatever it was, it was quite the animated discussion. What had I done?! Tim approached me and said:
“The umpire wants to know if you’ll take pictures of him.”
Only in the minors …
Doug Sisson, another former Angels minor league manager, recently landed the first base coaching job with the Kansas City Royals. He managed the Arkansas Travelers in 2002, finishing with a 51-89 record. That would have been largely the talent pool Wallach had in 2001.
Former Yankee Bobby Meacham managed the Quakes in 2002-2004. He began a major league coaching career in 2006, when he was the third base coach for the Florida Marlins. He was the Padres’ first base coach in 2007, then the Yankees’ third base coach in 2008. This year, he was the first base coach for the Astros.
And although he never coached in our system, the Nationals’ general manager Mike Rizzo played in the Angels’ minors from 1982 through 1984. (The 1984 Redwood Pioneers were Tom Kotchman’s first Angels team.) Rizzo just added the title Vice-President of Baseball Operations to his business card, giving him the authority to report directly to ownership.
When the Angels affiliated with the Rancho Cucamonga Quakes on September 15, 2000, it was inevitable that we’d hear all sorts of earthquake-inspired jokes, such as the marketing slogan “Shake, Rattle and Roll.”
So when it was announced by the Quakes yesterday that they had dumped the Angels for a two-year affiliation with the Los Angeles Dodgers, the first temptation of course was to write something like, “Angels Rocked by Rancho Cucamonga Temblor.”
The rumors began circulating on September 15 when the Inland Valley Daily Bulletin reported the Quakes might leave the Angels for the Dodgers. The Angels and Quakes had been partners for ten years, but at times it was a rocky relationship, with Rancho Cucamonga filing to terminate after the 2002 season, but the teams eventually reconciled.
It’s hard to say what goes through the mind of a minor league team’s ownership when they file to terminate. Winning sometimes is a factor, although most casual minor league fans haven’t a clue how the team is doing. A desire to partner with a locally popular major league team such as the Angels or Dodgers, or a nationally popular organization such as the Cubs or Yankees, also sometimes plays a factor.
According to today’s Daily Bulletin, Quakes managing partner Bobby Brett cited “the mutual interest in the Dodgers purchasing a minority share in the Quakes.”
It seems an odd reason to terminate a successful ten-year affiliation, especially for one of the most dysfunctional organizations in major league baseball. Dodgers owners Frank and Jamie McCourt are going through an ugly divorce, and one of the major issues of contention is who actually owns the team. There’s been much speculation in the papers about the McCourts’ value on paper, and how much that affects the Dodgers.
The Dodgers and Angels have had disappointing seasons, but both have fruitful farm systems that produced several post-season contenders. In the Midwest League, one level below the California League, both the Angels’ Cedar Rapids Kernels (82-56) and the Dodgers’ Great Lakes Loons (90-49) went to the post-season, suggesting that the 2011 teams in the Cal will be very competitive.
Brett claimed, “When you’re partners with a major league team, you get more of an effort to win. You get more cross-marketing and promotion in your own backyard.” But there’s a difference between the interests of a minority owner and a majority owner. The parent club won’t be calling the shots in Rancho Cucamonga. Brett will.
And according to the Daily Bulletin article, the Dodgers’ expressed earlier interest in a financial partnership seems to have waned. Brett rationalized that by saying, “When you become partners, you have to know each other a little bit better,” which in my opinion sounds like a bit of spin now that the original scheme seems to have misfired.
In a column published before yesterday’s breaking news, Baseball America columnist Will Lingo wrote about the lack of sentimentality in affiliation switches:
… What the process reinforces is that very American desire to be on the lookout for a better deal. Sure you may be happy with your current situation, but you could probably do better if you could just get to that hot new market with the shiny new ballpark . . .
Times like this remind us that professional baseball is a business. Sentimentality is a gimmick owners use to separate you from your money.
Brett says he’s not concerned about losing Angels fans. “There may be some people (who leave as Quakes fans),” he told the Daily Bulletin. “It’s hard for me to believe people come to Quakes games solely because the players on the field get their paychecks from the Angels. If people decide to watch future Angels elsewhere, we understand. We believe there are diehard Dodger fans to offset that.”
I’ve heard anecdotally from several Quakes season ticket holders and host parents that they will have nothing to do with the team now that it’s affiliated with the Dodgers, and certainly we’ll see far less red in the stands next year. Brett seems to think he’ll see more blue. That’s his choice.
As for the Angels, the breakup ends a ten-year streak of stability. Starting with the 2001 season, the Angels did not change any affiliations, a record very few other teams (if any) can claim. Stability comes from good relationships with the affiliates, but sometimes the affiliates have a different agenda and that’s their privilege.
So the Angels move on.
Their choices are limited. At the Advanced Class-A level, only two openings remain and they’re both in the Cal League. Inland Empire (AKA San Bernardino) was the Dodgers’ home, and Bakersfield just lost the Rangers to the Carolina League.
Inland Empire would obviously be preferable, not just geographically but also because Sam Lynn Ballpark in Bakersfield is decrepit. Built in 1941, it hasn’t been renovated, it’s 354 feet to center field, and the field faces into the setting sun. Bakersfield usually gets whatever major league club loses the game of affiliation musical chairs every two years, and will wind up with whatever team doesn’t go to San Bernardino.
The Inland Empire 66ers can choose between the Angels and Cincinnati Reds. The Angels would seem the obvious choice, but 66ers management might think the Angels are so desperate not to go to Bakersfield that they can issue their own demands.
David Elmore’s Elmore Sports Group owns the 66ers, and his son D.G. Elmore individually owns the Blaze. It doesn’t take much imagination to suspect a little collusion might happen out of mutual interest.
Whether it’s Inland Empire or Bakersfield, we should know soon enough where the halo will shine in the Cal League the next two years. But Angels fans are considered expendable in Rancho Cucamonga.
Aaron Peel with the Tempe Angels in July 2008.
Former Angels minor leaguer Aaron Peel passed away. I was forwarded the below obituary. As soon as I find out anything more, I’ll post it.
SAN ANGELO Aaron Isaac Bradley Peel, 27, on Tuesday, Sept. 21, 2010, our loving son and brother passed away into the Lord’s hands. Aaron was born on Feb. 8, 1983, in Brownfield, Texas, to Ken and Renee Peel. He graduated from Seminole High School in Seminole, Texas. Aaron loved to play sports, especially baseball and basketball. He played so much baseball he earned a full scholarship to Texas A&M and later was drafted by the Anaheim Angels in 2002. Visitation will be held from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 23, 2010, in Johnson’s Funeral Home chapel. Funeral service will be at 2 p.m. Friday, Sept. 24, 2010, at Johnson Street Church of Christ with Dr. Tommy King and Bryan Elliott officiating. Arrangements are under the direction of Johnson’s Funeral Home. Aaron was preceded in death by his grandfather, Jack Peel; and a cousin, Shannon Peel. He is survived by his parents, Ken and Renee Peel; a sister, Amye Cobb and husband Michael of Eldorado, Texas, and their children, Lucy, Jacob and Jace; grandparents Kenneth and JoVeta Hayes of Water Valley, Texas, and Sandra Peel of Sterling City, Texas. He also leaves behind numerous aunts, uncles, cousins and the loves of his life, Marina, and her daughter, Lexi. Pallbearers are Matt Brown, Kevin Jepsen, Rob Guerra, Alex Ramos, Levi Hasty, Ross Whitfield, LJ Glass and Eric Sheets. Honorary pallbearers are Scott Peel, Michael Collins and Greg Porter. Our dear Aaron will be missed by all and his beautiful heart and soul will never be forgotten. Family and friends are invited to sign an online guest book at www.johnsons-funeralhome.com.
After nine innings of the deciding game in a best-of-five series, the Rancho Cucamonga Quakes and San Jose Giants were tied 6-6. In a way, it would have been fitting to call the series at that point and award co-championships, declaring the teams had fought to a draw.
But as we know, there are no ties in baseball, a champion must be declared, and so on they went to extra innings.
Quakes closer Eddie McKiernan took the mound, his third appearance in four days, and gave up a triple that scored on a sacrifice fly. To the bottom of the 10th, the Giants led 7-6.
In the bottom of the 10th, Mike Trout was hit by a pitch with two outs. He stole second and advanced to third on a bad throw. But Darwin Perez struck out, and San Jose captured the flag.
Thus ended what might have been the last game played by Rancho Cucamonga as an Angels affiliate. The Inland Valley Daily Bulletin reported on September 15 that Brett Sports & Entertainment, the Quakes’ owners, may terminate the affiliation to sign with the Dodgers, who are currently at San Bernardino (called Inland Empire). The Angels would probably replace the Dodgers in San Bernardino, and if so it would be the first affiliation change for the Angels since after the 2000 season.
Some Quakes players continue on to the Angels’ fall instructional league in Tempe. Current Quakes going to “fall ball” include pitchers Orangel Arenas, Ryan Chaffee, Matt Oye, Dillon Baird, Luis Jimenez, Eric Oliver, and Mike Trout.
Seven Angels properties will play in the Arizona Fall League — Ryan Brasier, Robert Fish, Steven Geltz, Eddie McKiernan, Andre Romine, Brandon Wood and Jeremy Moore.
As for FutureAngels.com, I’ll be going to the instructional league for the October 11-15 games.
Once the major league season ends, we’ll start posting the Minor League Game of the Week, which are rebroadcasts of Angels minor league games I’ve archived over the years. These webcasts help with Angels withdrawals over the winter, but they’re also a way to listen to Angels minor league history.
Is it spring yet?