Evaluating the 2016 Prospects: Los Angeles Angels

Other clubs: Astros, Braves, Cubs, Diamondbacks, Indians, OriolesRedsRed Sox, Rockies, Royals, Tigers, White Sox.

Let’s get this out of the way up front: this is not a high-potential system. Joe Gatto sits at the top of these rankings because someone had to. That’s not meant to demean Gatto’s abilities, or anyone else’s in the Angels’ minor league pool, but it’s just a product of owner Arte Moreno’s and upper management’s decisions the last five years. Most of the top talent has been included in trades to bring in less volatile assets at the big league level. A lot of early picks have been given up to sign present-value free agents, and the draft philosophy has been mostly focused on safety rather than upside.

That said, the system isn’t designed terribly to the end of supplementing their strategy for the parent club. They get their stars from outside the organization, and they will be able to fill in the gaps with a lot of role players, upside bench bats and decent pitching depth that this group should be able to provide. So while, in a vacuum, the system may seem like a disappointment, it just puts a little more pressure on the front office to make sound major league signings and hold them over for a few acquisition seasons. Management deserves credit for bringing in some projectable talent in the last couple drafts, with many of them figuring to restock the upper levels of the minor leagues in due time.

Here’s the primer for the series and my scouting thoughts in general. The grades I put on players heavily weight the functionality of each tool in game situations, rather than just pure tool grades. Here is a table to understand the position player grades:

Scouting Grades in Context: Hitters
Grade Tool Is Called Batting Average HR ISO Baserunning Runs Fielding Runs
80 80 0.320 40 0.300 12 30
75 0.310 35-40 0.275 10 25
70 Plus Plus 0.300 30-35 0.250 8 20
65 0.290 27-30 0.225 6 15
60 Plus 0.280 23-27 0.200 4 10
55 Above Average 0.270 19-22 0.175 2 5
50 Average 0.260 15-18 0.150 0 0
45 Below Average 0.250 12-15 0.125 -2 -5
40 0.240 8-12 0.100 -4 -10
35 0.230 5-8 0.075 -6 -15
30 0.220 3-5 0.050 -8 -20

As well as one to understand what the overall grades approximate:

Scouting Grades in Context: Overall
Grade Hitter Starting Pitcher Relief Pitcher WAR
80 Top 1-2 #1 Starter —- 7
75 Top 2-3 #1 —- 6
70 Top 5 #1/2 —- 5
65 All-Star #2/3 —- 4
60 Plus #3 High Closer 3
55 Above Avg #3/4 Mid Closer 2.5
50 Avg Regular #4 Low CL/High SU 2
45 Platoon/Util #5 Low Setup 1.5
40 Bench Swing/Spot SP Middle RP 1
35 Emergency Call-Up Emergency Call-Up Emergency Call-Up 0
30 *Organizational *Organizational *Organizational -1

One other difference in the way I’ll be communicating scouting grades to you is the presence of three numbers on each tool instead of just two. The first number is the current grade. The second number is the likely future grade; or, if you prefer percentiles, call this the 50th percentile projection. The third number is the ceiling grade, or 90th percentile projection, to help demonstrate the volatility and raw potential of a tool. I feel this gives readers a better sense of the possible outcomes a player could achieve, and more information to understand my thoughts on the likelihood of reaching those levels.

In the biographical information, level refers to where they finished the year, unless they were sent down for injury rehab or other extraneous reasons. Ages are listed as of April 1, 2016. You can also find each player’s previous rank from Kiley’s list last year. Below, Dave Cameron shares his thoughts on the general state of the organization. Returning for his popular cameo, Carson Cistulli picks his favorite fringe prospect toward the end of the list. Next up will be the Los Angeles Dodgers.

Organizational Overview
The Angels have the best player on the planet, a couple of good young supporting pieces, and not a lot else. It’s a challenging position to be in, as you don’t rebuild when you have an inner-circle Hall of Fame talent in his prime, and the team has enough aging veterans that they’re essentially committed to trying to contend. But with a barren farm system and a roster that looks like a middling Wild Card contender, even with a guy who is as valuable as three good outfielders, there’s probably a reckoning coming for the Angels in the not-too-distant future. If Mike Trout gets injured or suffers some kind of performance-destroying ailment, the team is essentially sunk, with no way to make up that lost value. If he keeps putting up +10 WAR seasons, and they can get a few guys to step up and fill some holes, they could make another run at a playoff push, but the moment Trout stops being this good, it will be time to think about rebuilding.

50+ FV Prospects

Video courtesy of Baseball America
1. Joe Gatto, RHP
Current Level/Age: R/20.8, 6’3/204, R/R
Acquired: Drafted 53rd overall (2nd round) in 2014 out of New Jersey HS by LAA for $1.2 million bonus
Previous Rank: 7

Gatto is an athletic pitcher with a solid, easygoing delivery and smooth arm action. At his best, he brings low- to mid-90s heat with good run and a big mid-70s curveball that flashes plus. His changeup is relatively poor in terms of both stuff and feel for the pitch, but the Angels are hoping his athleticism gives it a better outlook over the next few years.

He hasn’t lit the world on fire in his first two professional seasons, but it was to be expected coming from a cold weather state right out of high school. At draft time, I would have pegged him for an above-average or better command ceiling, but so far he hasn’t shown signs of taking that big of a step forward. He is around the strike zone and can spot his fastball reasonably well, though his location on his offspeed has to improve to profile as a mid-rotation starter.

I like Gatto’s potential enough to give him a likely 50 future grade, but his somewhat slow start for a guy I saw as fairly advanced keeps me from laying a higher ceiling grade on him for now. Look for how well his command develops over the course of this season for a better sign of what’s to come. The recipe is there, and he’s still young enough that there’s no rush, but his lack of an overpowering fastball or a viable third pitch make early progress somewhat necessary to stay on track.

Fastball: 50/55/60 Curveball: 45/55/65 Changeup: 35/40/45 Command: 40/45/50+
Overall: 35/50/55

45+ FV Prospects
2. Brendon Sanger, OF, VIDEO

Sanger shows some feel to hit, gap power and above-average base-running skills that give him a potential future as a fourth outfielder, but his ceiling is limited by the lack of impact tools. His superb approach and contact skills will carry him into the upper minors, where he will have to prove he can get on base at a high level to make up for a flat swing plane that saps his home run potential. His college track record is truly impressive, and his work in the Midwest League was a continuation of his demonstrated abilities at the plate.

Just an alright defender in the outfield, his future potential lies in how well his hit tool translates to the higher levels. A good performance in High-A and/or Double-A in 2016 would go a long way toward confirming his viability as a starter.

Hit: 50/55/60+ Power: 40/40/45 Run: 55/55/55 Field: 45/50/50 Throw: 45/45/50
Overall: 40/45-50/60

3. Grayson Long, RHP, VIDEO

Long doesn’t have any one pitch that blows you away, but his fastball, slider and changeup all show flashes of being above-average pitches. He throws strikes with all of them, but he only has real command of his fastball at present. His slider needs to be tightened up a bit, with his changeup likely to be the better pitch in the long run. Without much projection left in his frame, he’s going to need the command of his offspeed pitches to improve to project as a viable starter.

There are good reasons for optimism that Long will figure things out. He’s a competitive guy who the Angels really like from a makeup standpoint, and it’s feasible we will see his fastball command spilling over into his other pitches. He has an athletic, consistent delivery with a smooth arm action all the way through, both of which lend credibility to projecting his arsenal in the future. Worst case scenario, Long seems to have a safety net as a setup man where his slider and/or changeup can play up in short stints with higher effort.

Fastball: 50/55/55 Slider: 45/45-50/55 Changeup: 45/50/55+ Command: 45/50/55
Overall: 40/45-50/55

4. Taylor Ward, C, VIDEO

Ward was a below-slot pick in the first round last year that came as somewhat of a surprise to most experts. Though he is still very new to catching and the finer points of the position need work, the Angels may have found a solid backstop with some offensive upside if he can make progress the way they expect with the glove.

He should excel in controlling the running game, with plus-plus arm strength and enough athleticism to get rid of the ball quickly. It’s his receiving, blocking and the day-to-day responsibilities of being a professional catcher where he will have to focus. In fairness, that’s the bulk of a catcher’s defensive value, but I’m willing to give him the benefit of the doubt for now on account of his physical tools.

His bat seems to be undersold by most of the industry, since although he doesn’t project to hit for much power, he has shown an impressive ability to make contact and has a very advanced approach at the plate. His swing is a little clunky, starting with how he pushes his hands forward at the start. Normally that limits how well a hitter can match up with the plane of a pitch, but he makes up for it by collapsing his backside a bit to get into the zone deep, then stays on the ball for a long time with good extension. The artificial way in which he creates a decent path saps a lot of his power potential. Perhaps with some strengthening he can get to below-average grade eventually, but that’s as high as I would go.

In total, Ward should do enough with the bat by being a tough out and getting on base to carry the rest of his skill set. However, that is still predicated on his defense being at least serviceable behind the dish. How his defense looks with advanced pitching and in a full season of games will determine where on the spectrum he falls.

Hit: 45/55/60 Power: 30/35+/45 Run: 40/40/40 Field: 40/45/50 Throw: 60/65/70
Overall: 35/45+/60

5. Jahmai Jones, OF, VIDEO

Jones was the Angels’ second-round pick in last year’s draft, flashing plus athleticism and a quick bat that make him an interesting center-field prospect. Some evaluators hope his quick-twitch movements can turn into average power in the future, but a stiff upper body and a lack of good sequencing with his lower half limit what he’s going to be able to do in the power department. He shows some decent bat-to-ball ability and may be able to develop an average hit tool.

Defensively, he is likely to work in center field for the foreseeable future, though he had experience as an amateur playing corner outfield and second base, as well. He has the speed to handle center, though it will take a few years for him to develop the skill set to be an average center fielder. Overall, Jones’ potential rests almost entirely in his raw athleticism, with his contact skills giving him some intriguing upside.

Hit: 35/45/50 Power: 30/40/45 Run: 60/60/60 Field: 50/55/55+ Throw: 45/50/50
Overall: 30/45/55

6. Victor Alcantara, RHP, VIDEO

Alcantara is a hard-throwing future bullpen type with a good slider and spotty command. He continues to pitch out of the rotation in hopes that he can work out some delivery issues and develop a third pitch, but he’s unlikely to stay there. He has messy balance, a resulting inconsistent release point and little feel for his changeup or command of his slider. Still, there aren’t many guys who can reach into the upper-90s with their fastballs, so it doesn’t hurt to see if he can turn into a starting option for another year or so.

Both his fastball and slider project to be above-average pitches out of the bullpen, but as a starter they can get exposed too easily with his command. He may have a ceiling as late-inning setup or closer, but it again comes down to the question of how well he can throw strikes.

Fastball: 50/55/60 Slider: 45/50/55+ Changeup: 35/40/40 Command: 40/45/45
Overall: 40/45/50+

7. Kyle McGowin, RHP, VIDEO

McGowin pitched well in Double-A last season, maintaining a decent strikeout rate and very good walk rate. He was a bit too hittable and gave up too many long balls, but his low-90s fastball has good sink that should help him keep the ball on the ground if he can up his command a bit. The potential is there to be an average major league starter, and it says a lot for his future that he managed to throw over 150 innings without any serious time lost.

His slider should likely sit around average and his changeup ceiling is around the same level, so there isn’t a standout offering to make him project higher than a number-four starter. His control outpaces his command, which combined with his injury history, hints at a bullpen role being a higher impact role for him. However, being one of the few arms who could stick in the rotation, he’ll be given every opportunity to continue starting going forward.

Fastball: 50/50/55 Slider: 45/50/55 Changeup: 40/45/50 Command: 45/45/50
Overall: 40/45/50

8. Kyle Kubitza, 3B, VIDEO

Kubitza went back-to-back years in 2014-15 putting up solid averages with gap power, earning a promotion to the Angels big league team last year. He has overcome somewhat high strikeout rates with favorable batted-ball success that may not continue against big league defenses, but he has a solid low line-drive swing that could sustain higher than average BABIPs going forward. Though he has raw power, his swing path makes it unlikely he will grow into higher homer totals than he has shown so far in the minors. He could have a year or two where he hits for close to average power if he gets a few extra pitches up in the zone, but it’s more likely he settles in at the below-average range.

With a patient approach at the plate, he has subsidized his contact with solid walk rates, giving him some upside in the hit-tool department. He has a strong arm and good enough footwork at third to be at least an average defender, and the Angels have toyed with working him at second to increase his versatility.

Hit: 45/50/50+ Power: 40/45/50 Run: 45/45/45 Field: 50/50/55 Throw: 55/55/60
Overall: 40/45/50

9. Chad Hinshaw, CF, VIDEO

Hinshaw was a senior sign in the 15th round of the 2013 draft, and has produced at each level as he steadily climbs the Angels’ minor league ladder. He has been the benefactor of crazy high BABIPs in his young career, which is somewhat unsustainable. On the positive side, he pairs a great hand path with one of the best approaches in the minor leagues, which gives him some offensive potential as a major league outfielder even though he doesn’t project to hit for much power.

He projects well as a good fourth outfielder, with his uncertain power production and some swing-and-miss concerns keeping his bat from being a sure bet. I still think his on-base skills give him upside as an average outfield starter, but he has work to do to limit his strikeouts and continue developing his eye at the plate as the pitching competition gets better.

Hit: 45/50/55+ Power: 30/35/40 Run: 60/60/60 Field: 50/50/55 Throw: 60/60/60
Overall: 35/45/50

40+ FV Prospects
10. Jake Jewell, RHP, VIDEO

Jewell has sneaky upside if he can build on last year’s success, but he will have to prove his strike-throwing improvements are a stepping stone to truly harnessing his command. With a short arm circle and a high slot, there’s a bit of a muscled look to his arm when he reaches for his best stuff, though the simplicity also gives some cause for optimism that he can settle into a consistent delivery. He needs to improve his feel for both his slider and changeup, while his mid-90s fastball gives him some room for error as he progresses over the next year or two.

I’m interested to see how he looks in 2016 as he moves into High-A and beyond. The hope is he can get his slider to be a reliable strikeout pitch and his changeup more than just a show-me third offering. He seems like a reasonable bet to be a decent bullpen arm if nothing else, and a fourth- or fifth-starter role isn’t out of the realm of possibility.

Fastball: 50/55/60 Slider: 45/50/50+ Changeup: 35/40/40 Command: 40/45/50
Overall: 40/40-45/50+

11. Nate Smith, LHP, VIDEO

Smith doesn’t have the strongest stuff in the world, but he beats hitters with solid command and excellent feel for keeping them off balance with his four-pitch mix. Only his changeup projects to be better than average stuff-wise (shown in the linked video), but his command affords him the ability to work as a starter in some capacity at the big league level, even if it’s as a spot starter in the end.

I’d like to project him higher because of his pitchability, but I just don’t think his repertoire is strong enough to be a sure thing in the rotation. He should be making contributions to the big league team as this season, and could go on a run of good starts if his game is on point. Still, he’s more likely to be a swing man with a little bit of upside.

Fastball: 50/50/50 Slider: 45/50/50 Curveball: 40/45/45+ Changeup: 50/55/55+ Command: 50/55/55
Overall: 40/40-45/50

12. Jeremy Rhoades, RHP, VIDEO

Rhoades struggled in the High-A California League after cruising through A-ball. While his improved ability to throw strikes gives him some upside, his command still lags enough that he fits best in the bullpen, where he has late-inning potential. His fastball and slider are at least above-average offerings that far outpace his changeup, though his third pitch showed more promise at times in 2015 than previous seasons.

Fastball: 50/55/55+ Slider: 50/55/60 Changeup: 35/40/45 Command: 40/40/45
Overall: 40/40-45/50

13. Kaleb Cowart, 3B, VIDEO

Cowart’s minor league numbers last year look great, until you consider the context of the leagues in which he was playing. Both the California League and the Pacific Coast League are dreams when it comes to hitters, and his numbers were artificially inflated. The fact that he hit only eight homers in nearly 500 plate appearances while striking out higher than league average basically sums up Cowart’s issues. He has a nice line-drive stroke, but contact issues and a lack of power on anything belt level or lower limit his offense and his future role likely part-time duty.

Where he can make an impact is on defense. He is a true plus defender at third with a plus arm, great instincts and quick footwork. This spring, the Angels are having him work out at second base and left field to try to mold him into a utility player, which I think is very possible. The strikeouts and lack of power prevent him from sticking in a lineup for any long stretch of time, but he has a big league future in some capacity.

Hit: 40/40/45 Power: 35/35/40 Run: 50/50/50 Field: 60/60/60 Throw: 60/60/60
Overall: 40/40/45

14. Austin Robichaux, RHP, VIDEO

Robichaux is a pitchability prospect with three average-ish pitches that he can throw for strikes. He is rail-thin — listed at 6-foot-5 and 170 going into last year — and may not have the frame to support a lot more muscle. His delivery can get a little muscled with his arm, and he doesn’t get much use out of his core. His changeup may end up being an above-average pitch, but he will first have to be consistent with his arm speed so advanced hitters won’t be able to pick up on it out of his hand. There’s a chance he ends up at the back of a rotation, especially if he can add some weight to help with his durability, though a bullpen role is the most likely outcome.

Fastball: 45/50/50 Curveball: 45/50/50 Changeup: 45/50/55 Command: 45/50/50
Overall: 35/40/45

15. Greg Mahle, LHP, VIDEO

Mahle is fun to watch on the mound with a jerky, arm-heavy delivery that helps throw batters off in a relief role. His fastball works mostly around 90 mph, and his motion sets up his changeup well with great arm speed and decent sink. He has a slider and a curve, neither of which project to be better than average pitches. Mahle may work into a middle relief role if everything breaks right, where he can bring his assortment of speeds and arm angles to confuse hitters. Not much upside here, but he likely will contribute to the big league staff soon.

Fastball: 45/45/50 Curveball: 45/45/50 Slider: 40/40/45 Changeup: 45/50/55 Command: 45/45/50
Overall: 35/40/40

Cistulli’s Guy
Sherman Johnson, 2B/3B

Johnson received the distinction of Cistulli’s Guy as part of last year’s version of this same exercise, when human reggaeton horn Kiley McDaniel was authoring it. That version of Johnson merited attention most immediately for having produced nearly equivalent walk and strikeout rates (14.0% and 16.5%, respectively) at High-A Inland Empire while exhibiting a compelling power-speed combo package (17 homers, 26 stolen bases) and recording basically all his defensive starts at either second, third, and short.

By all those measures, Johnson’s 2015 campaign was almost identical to the year prior. He produced nearly equivalent walk and strikeout rates (15.1% and 17.3%, respectively) at Double-A Arkansas while exhibiting a reasonably compelling power-speed combo package (seven homers, 20 stolen bases) and recording absolutely all his defensive starts at either second, third, or short. The only difference appeared within his slash lines: .276/.382/.465 in the California League and .204/.325/.314 in the Texas League. The disparity between those lines, however, is almost entirely the product of BABIP, which was .314 in the former case and .240 in the latter — a disparity for which a combination of random variation and changes in run environment can wholly account.

In other words, the basic profile remains: Johnson controls the plate, runs well, and is likely to earn positive defensive numbers when (not if) he earns a chance in the majors. Below is footage of Johnson defending second base admirably.

Quick Hits
2B/SS Roberto Baldoquin (VIDEO) was an $8 million international sign out of Cuba, but showed up in 2015 with an ultra-aggressive approach and a choppy, low-contact swing. His defense is good enough to stick at short, but the bat needs to drastically improve. SS Julio Garcia has strong support within the organization, but there’s not a ton of upside in his bat beyond eventually developing an OK hit tool. He plays shortstop well and has some ability the utilize his above-average speed on the bases. LF Natanael Delgado (VIDEO) shows impressive raw power in batting practice, though his pitch recognition and approach limit him to defensive upper-body swings in games. He profiles as a left fielder and doesn’t have the speed to do much on the bases, so you’re really banking on his raw power shining through to see him put on a major league uniform.

2B Alex Yarbrough (VIDEO) saw his hitting take a big step back in Triple-A last season, with strikeouts and poor batted-ball quality masking the one part of his game that has a chance to play around average at the next level. OF Kyle Survance Jr. (VIDEO) had a nice professional debut as a 21-year-old in Rookie ball and has excellent speed, but an immature approach and a wristy, low-power swing leave him completely reliant on base-hitting his way through the minors. SS David Fletcher (VIDEO) had a nice first year last year, projecting as a ground-ball/low-line-drive hitter with no power. He likely fits better at second base long-term.

1B Eric Aguilera (VIDEO) has a decent swing and some pop, but questionable contact clouds his future at the higher levels. 3B Zach Houchins (VIDEO) is a solid defender with some raw power to dead left field. He has a choppy swing, but he made a lot of contact while still driving some balls, so he’s worth keeping an eye on.

RHP Jaime Barria has some ability to throw strikes and a decent changeup, but there may be limited physical projection and he’s still very far away. He put up a nice strikeout-to-walk ratio in two levels of Rookie ball last year, so he’s still an arm to watch. LHP Hunter Green missed all of 2014 with back issues and then the entire 2015 season due to a stress fracture in his elbow. There’s potential here, but he has to get healthy first. RHP Harrison Cooney (VIDEO) has a good fastball-slider combo, but he lacks balance in his delivery, and his stride direction dramatically changes the quality of his pitches. Could be a bullpen option if he can clean things up a little.

Dan is Fangraphs Lead Prospect Analyst, living in New York City. He played baseball for four years at Franklin & Marshall College before attending medical school. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter @DWFarnsworth.

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8 years ago

Mike Trout is going to be playing with some bad, bad players coming soon…