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.”
Kernels second baseman Alexi Amarista will play in Tuesday’s Midwest League All-Star Game. He’s batting .310 and has 22 stolen bases.
The first half for most full-season minor leagues ends this weekend. I’ll wait until then to take a mid-season look at the players listed last November in my 2008 Top 10 Prospects report.
Let’s take a look at guys who might have made my list had I possessed a working crystal ball:
RHP Matt Palmer was a journeyman pitcher signed by the Angels over the winter as a six-year minor league free agent from the Giants’ system. Palmer found himself in the big leagues only because of a rash of injuries to the Angels’ starting rotation. The Angels lost John Lackey, Ervin Santana, Kelvim Escobar, Dustin Moseley and Shane Loux, and worst of all the death of Nick Adenhart. At age 30, Palmer is no one’s idea of a future Hall of Famer, but he provided quality innings at the back of the rotation when it was desperately needed. As of this writing, he has a 6-0 record and a 4.13 ERA in 56.2 innings.
LHP Trevor Reckling appeared on many Top 10 lists. He almost made mine — if there’d been a #11, it would have been him — but I wanted to see how his mechanics held up over another full season before I gave him Top 10 status. Trevor began 2009 at age 19 with High-A Rancho Cucamonga. He made only three starts before Nick Adenhart’s death rippled through the organization. Sean O’Sullivan moved up from Double-A Arkansas to Triple-A Salt Lake, and Reck moved up to fill Sully’s spot. He’s responded beyond all expectations, becoming one of six Travelers named to the Texas League All-Star Game. He turned 20 on May 22, one of the youngest pitchers in the league. Reckling has been shaky in his last three starts, walking 15 in 17.1 innings, which could be mechanical issues, fatigue or just the league catching up with him. It’s also important to note that Dickey-Stephens Park is very pitcher-friendly; it you look at his home/road splits, his home ERA is 1.72 (36.2 IP) but his road ERA is 4.57 (21.2 IP). The second half will be key, to see if fatigue catches up to him and if the extreme home/road split continues.
RHP Trevor Bell, a supplemental draft pick after the first round in June 2005, was generally considered to be a disappointment coming into 2009. Last season found him demoted from Rancho Cucamonga to Cedar Rapids as a disciplinary action, and when he returned to the Quakes he was in the bullpen. There was little reason to think he’d step it up in 2009, join Double-A Arkansas in the starting rotation, be named to the Texas League All-Star Game and be promoted to Triple-A Salt Lake before mid-season. Bell posted a 2.23 ERA in 11 starts (68.2 IP) with 51 strikeouts and 20 walks. But how’s about that home/away split we talked about? Good news. His home ERA was 2.25 (44.0 IP), his road ERA was 2.19 (24.2 IP). He gave up only one homer in the first half, and that was at home. In his first Triple-A start on June 16, Bell went the distance at home against Colorado Springs, pitching a two-hit shutout in hitter-friendly Spring Mobile Ballpark.
2B Alexi Amarista is charitably listed at 5’8″ 150 lbs., but the 20-year old Venezuelan has hit his way into the Midwest League All-Star Game for the Kernels. His glove got him named the Angels’ defensive player of the month for April, committing no errors in 77 chances (although he’s committed nine since then). Amarista has fallen back to earth in June, batting .261 to date. A left-handed batter, he generally lacks power with no homers and a .424 SLG, but he makes up for it with speed, notching 22 stolen bases to date in 32 attempts. His SO:BB ratio is nearly 1:1 (33:27 in 245 AB) and fits well into the Angels’ “Contactball” style of play, striking out once every 7.4 at-bats.
OF Chris Pettit roared out of the gate with an AVG/OBP/SLG of .424/.451/.636 in April for the Salt Lake Bees. The 24-year old outfielder was an unknown when he was selected as a college senior in the 19th round of the 2006 draft, but he’s hit well at each level and was well on his way to establishing himself as a legit prospect when he broke the hamate bone in his left hand on June 4 and may be out for the year. Although he’s seen action at all three outfield positions in his career, he’s best suited for the corners and played mostly LF for the Bees. I’ve written many times here about the importance of splitting out the PCL’s five hitter-friendly parks (Salt Lake, Colorado Springs, Albuquerque, Las Vegas and Reno) from the rest to get an accurate picture of a hitter’s performance; when we do that with Chris, his AVG/OBP/SLG in hitter-friendly parks were .393/.442/.580 (150 AB) and in the rest were .283/.306/.478 (46 AB). Those numbers suggest his offense was largely due to the parks, but we’ll have to wait and see after he returns from the injury if he can retain his prospect status.
OF Jeremy Moore is the quintessential “project,” a potential five-tool player if he can ever harness his raw talents. Last year at Cedar Rapids, his AVG/OBP/SLG were .240/.284/.478, the latter number reflecting an explosion of power (11 doubles, 12 triples, 17 homers). He stole 28 bases in 38 attempts, but his frightening 125:21 SO:BB (5.9:1) ratio suggested problems at higher levels. This year at Rancho Cucamonga, Moore has improved his AVG and OBP; his numbers are now .309/.352/.458. His SO:BB ratio of 70:14 (5.0:1) is better than 2008, but his strikeouts have increased with his walks. The Cal League is a notorious hitter’s league, so that should also be taken into consideration. His stolen bases are down too, with only seven in 18 attempts. The left-handed hitting Moore is batting .384 against southpaw pitchers (73 AB), .276 against righties (163 AB). He turns 22 on June 29 (Happy Birthday, J-Mo).
The Cedar Rapids Kernels bullpen deserves a lot of credit for the team qualifying for the post-season by finishing first or second in the first half (that’ll be decided this weekend). ERA isn’t always the best number to measure a relief pitcher’s success, so let’s go with WHIP (Walks + Hits)/(Innings Pitched). LHP Drew Taylor has a WHIP of 0.93 and AVG against of .132, RHP Michael Kohn has 0.89 and .165, RHP Jeremy Thorne has 1.12 and .226, and RHP Vladimir Veras has 0.96 and .163. Kohn and Veras close most of the time; Kohn has 11 saves and Veras has 10. Taylor is averaging 15.5 strikeouts per nine innings, Kohn 14.2 and Veras 10.5. Taylor, a 34th round pick, might move up fastest due to his age (23 in August) and the fact that he’s left-handed, but he struggled with Rancho in April when he had a 2.82 WHIP in five relief appearances before returning to C.R. Orem manager Tom Kotchman told me last year that Taylor was a great scouting job by Chris McAlpin, and may project as a situation lefty with 87-91 MPH velocity and a slider.
It’s no surprise that an organization that values pitching so highly should be so deep in pitching. Yes, there’s a lack of power hitters, but if the parent club ever sees the need to make a trade they certainly have a lot of pitching to offer in return, and baseball professionals will tell you that pitching is the coin of the realm.
UPDATE 2:30 PM PDT — I wanted to add a comment about Salt Lake outfielder Terry Evans. Terry made the 2007 FutureAngels.com Top 10 Prospects list after making his major league debut that year, but he missed most of 2008 after suffering a torn right labrum in a slide at home plate on May 6. Evans fell off the prospect radar but is trying to play his way back into the Angels’ plans. His overall AVG/OBP/SLG are .284/.330/.521, but as with Pettit we need to split his numbers into hitter-friendly and other parks. His hitter-friendly numbers are .292/.344/.536 (192 AB), and in other parks .261/.288/.478 (69 AB). This mirrored what I saw in 2007; Terry was never one to take many walks, but almost all of them were in hitter-friendly parks. Why he takes almost no walks in neutral/pitcher-friendly parks, I can’t explain. In any case, the “neutral” numbers along with his high strikeout rate (once every 3.4 AB) suggest he’s not quite ready for prime time prospect status just yet, and at age 27 he may be about out of time.
Fan sites and media outlets have been fairly uniform this year in blasting the Angels for not calling up Brandon Wood. I’d love to see Brandon in the big leagues too, but some quick number crunching I did today suggests that the Angels might actually know what they’re doing (something certain people on those sites will never admit).
I’ve written many times over the years about how Salt Lake numbers need to be taken in context. You can’t go with simple home/road splits, because other PCL parks are super hitter-friendly. Salt Lake, Albquerque, Las Vegas, Colorado Springs and Reno all distort a batter’s true performance. So when I write the FutureAngels.com Top 10 Prospects report each November, you’ll see me do a split analysis on Salt Lake batters you don’t see anywhere else — those five ballparks versus the rest of the league. It usually turns out to be an accurate assessment.
I did that analysis today on Wood’s numbers this year at Salt Lake. Here are his AVG/OBP/SLG:
Hitter-Friendly: .338/.415/.669 (147 TPA)
Other: .178/.255/.400 (51 TPA)
Hmmm … Seems the Angels maybe knew something after all.
Sam Miller at the Orange County Register suggests the “Other” sample may be too small. That’s true, but as I pointed out over there the Bees play a disproportionate number of their games in those five super hitter-friendly parks, so you’re never going to get a big enough “Other” sample to satisfy your desire for more data.
Extra for experts … I did the same for recently promoted Sean Rodriguez. Here are the results:
Hitter-Friendly: .276/.345/.645 (171 TPA)
Other: .264/.381/.604 (63 TPA)
Some dropoff is naturally to be expected, but this analysis shows far more consistency from Sean regardless of ballpark.
It’s endlessly astonishing how some people have the capacity to make something out of nothing.
In yesterday’s Bees game at Fresno, manager Bobby Mitchell started Brandon Wood at first base and Sean Rodriguez at center field.
And hilarity has ensued.
Several fan sites have concluded that these changes must be of cosmic significance. And Los Angeles Times sportswriter Steve Bisheff has chosen to fuel the supernova.
Something is stirring in the Angels’ front office.
How else do you explain the startling news that in Salt Lake City’s game last night, Brandon Wood started at first base and Sean Rodriguez in center field?
Wood is a shortstop/third baseman by trade, and never had made a professional start at first base. Rodriguez is a versatile sort who has played some outfield, but he is projected as a second baseman.
You don’t experiment like this for no reason. Clearly, the Angels are thinking about making a move, maybe for the second half of this season.
It’s very common for the Angels to have their Triple-A players enhance their résumés by playing occasionally at other positions. It gives the player a little more experience at a position he might have to play should he be called up to the majors.
One recent example is Howard Kendrick. When he was called up in 2006, it was as an emergency to play first base. Howie had been a second baseman his entire career, but the Angels gave him a little time at first base in Salt Lake anticipating a need for him to play first in Anaheim. It got his bat in the lineup while keeping Adam Kennedy at second base.
Sean Rodriguez has played center field before, with Double-A Arkansas in 2007. The Angels have always envisioned him as a utility player — there was a time when some wanted to convert him into a catcher — so time in CF is entirely normal. With the recent injury to Chris Pettit, it makes sense that Sean would see more time in the outfield.
The bottom line is not to read anything into last night’s box score. It’s routine for Triple-A.
Click Here for the Salt Lake Bees press release announcing their 2009 Opening Day roster.
First base is Kendry Morales’ job to lose this year, so sabermetricians are spinning their statistical heads trying to prove he’s the next big bust.
Sam Miller at the Orange County Register, who’s doing quite a nice job breathing fresh air into the paper’s Angels coverage, posted a blog entry on February 25 reporting that a formula concocted by Baseball Prospectus writer Nate Silver called PECOTA predicts that in 2009 Morales will post an AVG/OBP/SLG of .253/.295/.389.
Part of the denigration, Sam writes, is due to PECOTA trying to adjust for Triple-A Salt Lake’s hitting friendly environment.
What PECOTA knows is that Morales has spent most of his minor league career in extreme hitting environments. It adjusts his minor league numbers to Major League Equivalent numbers. Going from Salt Lake City (elevation: 4226), in the Pacific Coast League, to the majors strips Morales’ numbers of most of their shine.
For instance, his .341/.376/.543 Salt Lake line of 2008 translates to .262/.297/.422 in the majors. The first line looks like a star; the second line doesn’t deserve a starting job in the majors. Giving credibility to PECOTA’s translations, Morales has hit a very similar .249/.302/.408 in 307 real major league at bats, which gives us more reason to be suspicious.
To quote Shakespeare, “Ay, there’s the rub.”
If you’re a regular reader of my blogs, you know I’m hard on statheads, and this is one reason why. They look for macro-trends and then apply them in individual examples, which is the lazy way out. What they should be doing is analysis of the individual player.
I’ve written many articles in the last couple years about how to properly analyze Salt Lake players. You don’t just look at home/road split, or the nonsensical Major League Equivalent formula.
In the PCL, there are five hitter-friendly parks — Salt Lake, Albuquerque, Colorado Springs, Las Vegas, and Tucson. So what you do is look at a player’s performance in those five parks versus the rest of the league.
It requires a little bit of effort, namely collecting the game-by-game data in a year for a player, then sorting them into “hitter-friendly” versus the rest.
I spent a half-hour last night looking at Kendry’s splits for 2007 and 2008. Here’s what I found (AVG/OBP/SLG):
2007 (Age 24):
OVERALL: .341/.385/.486 (255 AB)
HITTER-FRIENDLY: .359/.406/.503 (181 AB)
THE REST: .297/.342/.446 (74 AB)
2008 (Age 25):
OVERALL: .341/.376/.543 (317 AB)
HITTER-FRIENDLY: .323/.362/.494 (164 AB)
THE REST: .359/.404/.595 (153 AB)
2007 is what you’d expect, better numbers in the hitter-friendly parks. But in 2008, Morales had much better numbers in the neutral/pitcher-friendly parks!
I checked those 2008 numbers looking for any mistake I may have made, but it looks legitimate. And the sample size is about the same for both groups (164 vs. 153 AB).
So does this mean that Morales is a future Hall of Famer?
Of course not.
But what it does show is that off-the-shelf statistical formulas designed for fantasy leagues are no substitute for context.
If Morales had posted that .359/.404/.595 line in a neutral park instead of Salt Lake, he might not have been dismissed so easily by the calculator crowd.
The Register‘s Angels blog is becoming quite the place to be. Sam and the paper’s other sports writers participate all day long, interacting with readers. Click Here to read the blog and join in the fun.
The Salt Lake Tribune reports that Salt Lake Bees owner Larry H. Miller died today at age 64. He was better known as the owner of the NBA’s Utah Jazz.