The Top-Five Angels Prospects by Projected WAR

Earlier today, Kiley McDaniel published his consummately researched and demonstrably authoritative prospect list for the Los Angeles Angels. What follows is a different exercise than that, one much smaller in scope and designed to identify not L.A.’s top overall prospects but rather the rookie-eligible players in the Angels’ system who are most ready to produce wins at the major-league level in 2015 (regardless of whether they’re likely to receive the opportunity to do so). No attempt has been made, in other words, to account for future value.

Below are the top-five prospects in the Los Angeles system by projected WAR. To assemble this brief list, what I’ve done is to locate the Steamer 600 projections for all the prospects to whom McDaniel assessed a Future Value grade of 40 or greater. Hitters’ numbers are normalized to 550 plate appearances; starting pitchers’, to 150 innings — i.e. the playing-time thresholds at which a league-average player would produce a 2.0 WAR. Catcher projections are prorated to 415 plate appearances to account for their reduced playing time.

Note that, in many cases, defensive value has been calculated entirely by positional adjustment based on the relevant player’s minor-league defensive starts — which is to say, there has been no attempt to account for the runs a player is likely to save in the field. As a result, players with an impressive offensive profile relative to their position are sometimes perhaps overvalued — that is, in such cases where their actual defensive skills are sub-par.

t4. Taylor Featherston, 2B/SS (Profile)

550 .252 .293 .391 74 0.6

All three of the batter-type prospects who appear here were acquired by the Angels over the offseason: Featherston from the Rockies and Cubs by way of the Rule 5 draft and then a trade; Kubitza from a trade with Atlanta; Perez, in a different trade, with Houston. None profiles as even an average major leaguer according to Kiley McDaniel, but all three feature non-negligible present value per Steamer. Featherston, for his part, will compete this spring training with three other players — Johnny Giavotella, Grant Green, and Josh Rutledge — to fill the second-base vacancy created by the departure of Howie Kendrick to the Dodgers. None of that triumvirate is demonstrably better or worse than Featherston according to Steamer.

t4. Kyle Kubitza, 3B (Profile)

550 .220 .291 .345 79 0.6

Kubitza has played at five different levels as a professional and has never recorded a walk rate below 12.6%. He preserved that skill through this past season, too, spent exclusively at Double-A — at which level walk rate is predictive of walk rate at the major-league level. Kubitza has also posted a strikeout rate of about 25% in each of the past two seasons, however, though. That, in tandem with his modest home-run totals, conspires to produce a modest projection for 2015. Progress in one or the other area (i.e. either contact or power) would render him a candidate for an everyday role. For the time being, however, he profiles more as a bench type that allows his team to avoid the awful.

t4. Carlos Perez, C (Profile)

415 .221 .270 .317 65 0.6

Perez enters his age-24 season having already spent the majority of the last two years at the Triple-A level already. He was blocked in Houston by a probably superior talent in Jason Castro, however, and served as part of Houston’s package this offseason to acquire Hank Conger from the Angels. Like the two players, Perez doesn’t feature exceptional upside, but also appears capable of supplying some kind of positive contribution starting immediately. He’s a candidate to serve as Chris Iannetta’s backup in 2015.

3. Kyle McGowin, RHP (Profile)

150 6.3 2.9 1.1 4.31 0.7

McGowin is a product of Savannah State and, at such a time as he records his major-league debut, he’ll represent the first of that school’s former players to have done so. Both the projections and the scouting reports suggest that (barring injury) such a debut is likely to occur at some point. Despite having posted just a single start above the High-A level, McGowin is already forecast to prevent runs at a rate better than a replacement-level pitcher. Moreover, his repertoire — which includes at least an average fastball and occasionally plus slider, according to McDaniel — doesn’t appear to be the sort reliant merely on deception or polish.

2. Nate Smith, LHP (Profile)

150 7.1 3.6 1.0 4.21 0.8

Also a college product, the left-handed Smith features a profile more commonly associated with that sort of pitcher, exhibiting less velocity than McGowin (above) but benefiting from command and (according to McDaniel) an above-average changeup. Whatever deficiencies his repertoire might possess, they haven’t been revealed in the minors, where Smith has produced a strikeout- and walk-rate differential just above 15% since having been selected in the eighth round of the 2013 draft. His forecast indicates that he’s unlikely to reproduce that sort of performance right now at the major-league level. That said, he appears ready to serve as a competent short-term replacement in a major-league rotation.

1. Andrew Heaney, LHP (Profile)

150 7.3 2.7 1.0 3.90 1.3

The left-handed Heaney is both the top prospect in the Angels’ system and also the most ready to produce wins at the major-league level. He had trouble preventing runs in his debut last year, posting a 158 ERA- over seven appearances (five starts) with the Marlins, but both his fielding-independent numbers (he recorded a 113 xFIP-) and minor-league track record indicate that his brief major-league audition isn’t representative of his true talent. With both Garrett Richards and Tyler Skaggs injured, Heaney is a candidate to begin the season as a member of the Angels rotation — and a candidate to produce nearly average numbers while doing so.

Carson Cistulli has published a book of aphorisms called Spirited Ejaculations of a New Enthusiast.

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Bill but not Ted

Since the Internet seems like an ok place to provide unsolicited ideas. Here is one. As others may point out below, it’s probably foolish. But, I think you should create something that qualitatively categorizes prospects approach at the plate. Like “free swinger”, or “not free swinger” (ok, not free swinger is probably a bad example, Internet commenters are not paid for creativity.) Even better would be a player comp just for plate approach alone.

The first thing I try to figure out when presented a list of prospects and their stats or projected stats is their current plate approach. I do this because I like to and also I find it is not always destiny for a prospect to keep the same approach all the way to the big leagues. It could also easily tell me if a player going to come up and swing at everything (Jeff Francour) or not (Jason Heyward). Basically, I am too lazy to try look at the outcomes or rate stats myself, as I am likely spending the time necessary to do so on commenting.