Once strong, Halos' system now needs restocking
This is the first of a two-part series looking at an Angels farm system that has gone from first to last in eight years, per Baseball America's organizational talent rankings. Part 1 investigates the cause of that slippage. Part 2, which runs Friday, looks at how the system can be turned around.
ANAHEIM -- On a Major League club with a high payroll and World Series expectations, it's only natural for a farm system's ranking to descend over time.
But you don't expect a flat-out free fall.
That, essentially, is what has happened to the Angels over the last eight years. In 2005, Baseball America awarded the Halos' Minor League talent with the No. 1 ranking in all of baseball. Now, thanks partly to that, the club's Major League roster is once again a championship contender -- but the organization's farm system is expected to finish dead last when the publication releases its 2013 list this March.
Second-year general manager Jerry Dipoto, who mostly inherited the downtrodden farm system he now strives to turn around, quickly points to the subjectivity of those rankings. But he admits the Angels' organization has "a lot of room to improve," even though he doesn't really have to -- the lack of trade chips at his disposal and the relative absence of top-tier Minor League talent says it for him.
"Even if you're always going to be a team that's going to use your farm system more for trading chips than not, you still need to have those chips, so you do have to replenish the stock, even for those purposes," said MLB.com Draft and prospect expert Jonathan Mayo, whose top 100 prospects will be unveiled on MLB Network on Tuesday night at 6 p.m. PT.
"Some of it is cyclical, in general," said Mayo. "A lot of teams, outside of the ones who just really are good at continually replenishing their system, there's going to be ups and downs."
Attrition through graduation
As one executive said, "Six to eight years is basically the lifespan of a prospect, from getting drafted to coming up through the system, hitting the Major Leagues and playing in his pre-arbitration years."
And for the Angels, the upward movement of those prospects is the most glaring reason why their organization is currently thin.
Baseball America's 2005 list had Major Leaguers Casey Kotchman, Erick Aybar, Jeff Mathis, Kendrys Morales, Ervin Santana, Howie Kendrick and Alberto Callaspo all in the top 10. Mark Trumbo ranked 11th; Joe Saunders was 13th; Sean Rodriguez, Dustin Moseley and Maicer Izturis were 14th through 16th, respectively; the late Nick Adenhart was 20th; and Mike Napoli came in at 29th.
They also graduated 21-year-old Mike Trout, the reigning American League Rookie of the Year Award winner and a once-in-a-generation talent. The Angels ranked 19th in 2011 and, as Baseball America editor-in-chief John Manuel said, "Trout was responsible for last year's ranking mostly by himself."
This April, the Angels could have up to 12 homegrown players on their Opening Day roster: Callaspo, Aybar, Trumbo, Trout, Kendrick, Peter Bourjos, Jered Weaver, Kevin Jepsen, Garrett Richards, Hank Conger, Andrew Romine and Kole Calhoun. Five of them (Trout, Bourjos, Richards, Conger and Calhoun) are 25 or younger, even though only one of those (Calhoun) meets the service-time requirement to still be tabbed a "prospect."
That can only be looked at as a scouting-and-development success by the Angels, regardless of where their organization may currently rank.
"If you look at a system as just the 26-and-under players and think about that as your core," the executive said, "I think [the Angels] are in much better shape."
The price for contention
It's not just money you spend on big-name players; sometimes it's prospects and picks in the First-Year Player Draft, too.
For the Angels, who will have a payroll of about $160 million in 2013, that has especially been the case these last few years.
They dealt Sean O'Sullivan and Will Smith to the Royals to get Callaspo on July 22, 2010. Three days later, top prospects Patrick Corbin and Tyler Skaggs were sent to the D-backs to help nab Dan Haren, with Dipoto serving as Arizona's interim GM at the time.
Then Dipoto orchestrated some trades of his own. He sent Tyler Chatwood to the Rockies for Chris Iannetta in November 2011, Alexi Amarista and Donn Roach for Ernesto Frieri in May 2012, and three solid prospects -- Jean Segura, John Hellweg and Ariel Pena -- for two months of Zack Greinke this past July.
Add that, and the loss of early Draft picks due to compensation tied to several high-profile free agents, and that's reason enough for a farm system to erode.
The Angels didn't have a pick in the second round in 2006 (due to the signing of Jeff Weaver), either of the first two rounds in '07 (Gary Matthews Jr. and Justin Speier), the first round of '08 (Torii Hunter), the second round in '11 (Scott Downs) and the first two rounds of '12 (Albert Pujols and C.J. Wilson). Then there was the December signing of Josh Hamilton, which eliminated their first-round choice in this June's Draft.
Those were the trade-offs.
But there were also slipups.
The 2010 Draft
The loss of franchise favorites John Lackey and Chone Figgins presented the Angels with a rare opportunity heading into the 2010 Draft.
They had three picks in the first round and two compensation choices right after that, totaling five selections among the top 40. This was their chance -- yet another one, after a nice haul in '09 -- to restock a thinning farm system and make up for an absence in Latin America.
Problem: "They picked a wrong time to have all those picks," one executive said. "It was just a weird Draft class."
The pool wasn't rich on high school talent with great upside, a preferred target under scouting director Eddie Bane, and even the usually safer college arms -- guys like Chris Sale, Drew Pomeranz, Matt Harvey and Barret Loux -- perceivably had their individual warts.
The Angels, thusly, flopped.
They took Kaleb Cowart, Cam Bedrosian, Chevy Clarke, Taylor Lindsey and Ryan Bolden, respectively, with their first five selections. Of the 55 players they chose in that Draft, only Cowart (ranked first in the Angels' system by MLB.com), Lindsey (third) and Calhoun (fifth) are what you'd call "on schedule."
Bedrosian struggled mightily in his return from Tommy John surgery in Class A last year, Clarke was still playing rookie ball midway through and Bolden has hit below .200 in three seasons with the Arizona League team.
"The 2010 Draft," one writer said, "could wind up as a disaster."
Latin American non-existence
For a while, under former international supervisor of scouting Clay Daniel, the Angels were a force in Latin America, an avenue which brought in the likes of Aybar, Santana and Morales.
But in June 2009, Daniel was dismissed by former GM Tony Reagins over reported concerns that his scouts were skimming bonuses. And with that, the Angels essentially went dark in Latin America for a couple of years, until Marc Russo was able to start rebuilding in November 2010.
"You don't have to hand out seven-figure bonuses to find quality prospects in Latin America, but you need to have a strong scouting presence there and a budget that at least allows you to be competitive, and the Angels had neither for a couple of years," Baseball America national writer Ben Badler wrote in an email. "That's why you see a lack of quality international players on their teams in the lower levels of the system, like the Pioneer League and the Midwest League."
When Dipoto arrived in November 2011, the Angels had just two full-time scouts in Latin America -- one each in the two most critical nations, Venezuela and the Dominican Republic -- with a few part-time area scouts scattered throughout. Some teams have up to five full-time evaluators in each of the two nations.
As a result, they ranked 28th in estimated international amateur spending in 2010 ($617,000) and 24th in 2011 ($1.35 million), then allocated about the same in 2012.
"Getting the scouts in place, giving those guys the proper direction and the resources to go sign players -- that's what it's going to take," said Angels assistant GM Scott Servais, who was brought in by Dipoto to oversee scouting and player development. "We've made a few changes. We're not at the level that we need to be, but I think we're headed in the right direction."