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Top prospects in Halos' pipeline making waves

Though the Angels didn't have many high-round picks in the 2012 First-Year Player Draft, two of their high-round selections from 2011 are already making impressions at the pro level.

The Angels' first-round player taken in the 2011 Draft, first baseman C.J. Cron, is the third-ranked player in the Angels' system and the third-ranked first-base prospect in the Major Leagues.

In 58 games with High-A Inland Empire, Cron is batting .286 with 13 doubles, two triples, eight home runs and 42 RBIs. His .799 OPS is second on the team among hitters with at least 100 at-bats.

Cron was originally a catcher, but a torn labrum and subsequent knee surgery forced him to first base.

"He's starting to hit big time now," Angels scouting director Ric Wilson said.

"He's starting to hit with power and he's starting to drive the ball. It gets a little better every day. The adjustment was just a matter of timing and getting out there and seeing pitches, I think."

Cron is projected to be in the Majors by 2014, but after Albert Pujols signed a 10-year, $240 million contract through 2021 last offseason, where Cron might land is still an unknown.

The Angels' following Draft pick last year, third-round selection Nick Maronde, is a teammate of Cron at Inland Empire and the sixth-rated prospect in the organization.

The left-hander was a reliever at Florida, but the Angels have him starting in High A.

In six starts this season, Marone is 0-1 with a 2.83 ERA in 35 innings. He has 35 strikeouts and just nine walks, but like Cron, he's not expected to see the big leagues for another two years.

The only other 2011 Draft pick ranked in the team's Top 20 prospects is right-handed relief pitcher Nick Muntz, considered a steal in the ninth round and 285th pick.

Muntz has some time before he might pitch with the Angels, but with the Orem Owls in the Rookie Pioneer League, he's 2-3 with two saves and a 2.31 ERA. The 6-foot-1, 190-pounder is a power pitcher like Marone. Both have strikeout-per-nine rates higher than nine and strikeout-to-walk ratios higher than 3.5.

In between Marone and Muntz's selection, however, draftees aren't progressing as quickly.

Aside from fourth-round pick Michael Clevinger, who has a 3.73 ERA in eight starts at Class A Cedar Rapids, no pitcher selected through the 15th round has an ERA below 5.50, and only two batters are hitting above .200.

But it's difficult to judge players this early, Wilson said. They've still got some developing to do.

"But you learn, they don't all pan out like you think they're going to," Wilson said. "It's early in their careers, and they'll make the adjustments and do what I think they're supposed to do. Nothing really disappointed me, because I thought we were really prepared."

Though the 2011 draftees still have some time before they reach the Majors, 2009 Draft pick Garrett Richards and 2010 pick Kole Calhoun are much closer to becoming constants on the Angels' roster.

Calhoun, who was taken in the eighth round of the '10 Draft, played six games with the Angels in May 2011, posting three hits, including a double, in 11 at-bats.

In 43 games with Triple-A Salt Lake this season, Calhoun is batting .296 with five home runs and 31 RBIs.

Richards, who was taken 42nd overall in the '09 Draft, was the Angels emergency callup earlier this season after ace Jered Weaver went to the disabled list with a lower back strain.

Richards pitched in seven games with the Angels last year, going 0-2 with a 5.79 ERA. In his first start of the 2012 season Tuesday night, he earned the win, going seven innings, surrendering one run on four hits, while striking out eight.

Richards is considered the No. 2 prospect in the Angels' organization, and the 68th-best prospect in the Majors. In 10 starts in the hitter-friendly Pacific Coast League this season, Richards is 5-2 with a 4.31 ERA.

Even though the Angels signed free agents Pujols and C.J. Wilson in the offseason, much of the core of the team has come from its own system.

Seven of the Angels' 10 starters in Monday's series opener against the Mariners were either drafted by the club or signed from other countries and came up through its system.

Wilson takes pride in the fact that the Angels have been able to draft and develop players in their own system. And judging by the lineup manager Mike Scioscia submits every day, Wilson's staff is doing what they're supposed to do.

"It's always a good feeling when they can come from your own system," Wilson said.

"I think that's what it's all about. It's also just creating some options for [general manager Jerry Dipoto] and letting him do whatever he needs to do, but you have to have the bullets to do it."

Los Angeles Angels