MLB Pipeline recently released its annual Top 30 International Prospects list for players eligible to sign in the 2020-21 signing period. These young players are the game’s international stars of tomorrow, and they are following in the footsteps of thousands of international players who laid the groundwork before them. One
MLB Pipeline recently released its annual Top 30 International Prospects list for players eligible to sign in the 2020-21 signing period. These young players are the game’s international stars of tomorrow, and they are following in the footsteps of thousands of international players who laid the groundwork before them. One day, these young men could be remembered among the best players in team history.
• 2020’s Top 30 international prospects
Here are the Angels’ top 5 international prospects of all time:
1) Shohei Ohtani
The Ohtani sweepstakes in 2017 were incredible, as every Major League team wanted him because of his two-way ability and because he was subject to international-signing rules, which capped his bonus at $3.57 million. Ohtani narrowed down his final list to the Angels, Dodgers, Giants, Padres, Mariners, Rangers and Cubs before ultimately deciding to sign with the Halos for a $2.315 million bonus.
Ohtani was the No. 1 overall prospect, per MLB Pipeline, heading into the 2018 season, and he proved that his success in Japan with the Nippon Ham Fighters would carry over into the Major Leagues. He batted .285/.361/.564 with 22 homers and 61 RBIs in 104 games at designated hitter while also posting a 3.31 ERA with 63 strikeouts in 51 2/3 innings as a pitcher. He became the first player since Babe Ruth to hit 20 homers and make at least 10 starts, and he won the American League Rookie of the Year Award. However, Ohtani underwent Tommy John surgery in 2018, which limited him only to DH in '19. He’s slated to return to two-way status once the '20 season begins, and he could pave the way for more two-way players in the Majors. He remains under team control through the '23 season.
2) Francisco Rodríguez
Rodríguez, or K-Rod as he was affectionately known, was a three-time All-Star with the club. At age 20, he burst onto the scene in 2002 as the youngest player in the AL after signing as an amateur free agent out of Venezuela in 1998. Rodríguez was called up on Sept. 18, and he was instrumental in helping lead the Angels to the '02 World Series title, as he tied a postseason record by picking up five wins. That October, he had a 1.93 ERA with 28 strikeouts and five walks in 18 2/3 innings, and his slider was nearly unhittable.
Rodríguez was a Top 10 prospect heading into the 2003 season, and he was a setup man to closer Troy Percival. He had an incredible '04 season, when he posted a 1.82 ERA and struck out 123 batters in 84 innings and finished fourth in AL Cy Young Award voting. Rodríguez became the Angels' full-time closer in '05 and led the AL in saves (45) that season. In '06, he led the Majors in saves (47) while again finishing fourth in AL Cy Young Award voting.
But Rodríguez's signature season came in 2008, when he set the Major League record with 62 saves while also posting a 2.24 ERA with 77 strikeouts in 68 1/3 innings. He finished third in AL Cy Young Award voting and sixth in the AL MVP Award voting that year. Rodríguez left Los Angeles after that season, signing a three-year, $37 million deal with the Mets. He had a 2.35 ERA with 587 strikeouts in 451 2/3 innings in his seven years with the Angels, and his 208 saves are the second-most in club history behind Percival's 316.
3) Erick Aybar
Aybar was an AL All-Star and an AL Gold Glove Award winner during his 10 seasons with the Angels after signing as an amateur free agent from the Dominican Republic in 2002. After appearing as a Top 100 prospect in three straight seasons, he made his debut in ’06 and saw action as a utility player until becoming the full-time shortstop in '09. Aybar hit .312/.353/.423 that year, establishing himself as a solid regular. He played at least 137 games in each of his next six seasons with the Angels, becoming a constant at shortstop during one of the best eras in Halos history.
Aybar played in five postseason series with the Angels, hitting .262 with three doubles and four RBIs in 17 games. He ranks among the Top 10 in Angels history in several categories, including fourth in triples (43), sixth in stolen bases (141), seventh in games played (1,220), seventh in hits (1,223), seventh in doubles (222) and ninth in runs (572). Aybar was traded to the Braves along with Sean Newcomb for fellow shortstop Andrelton Simmons before the 2016 season.
4) Ervin Santana
Santana signed with the Angels as an amateur free agent out of the Dominican Republic in 2000, was an All-Star in '08 and threw a no-hitter against the Indians in '11.
Santana made his debut at age 22 in 2005, and he remained a mainstay in Los Angeles' rotation through '12. His best season came in '08, when he posted a 3.49 ERA and struck out 214 batters in 219 innings. He finished sixth in AL Cy Young Award voting that year. In eight seasons with the Angels, he won 96 games and posted a 4.33 ERA. Santana was traded to the Royals for Minor Leaguer Brandon Sisk before the '13 season.
5) Kendrys Morales
Morales was signed as a free agent in 2004 after he defected from Cuba, inking a six-year deal worth $3 million. He would’ve ranked higher on this list if it weren’t for an unfortunate injury suffered while celebrating a walk-off grand slam on May 29, 2010.
Morales made his debut in 2006 at age 22, and he played parts of three seasons before a breakout year in '09. Morales hit .306/.355/.569 with 34 homers, 43 doubles and 108 RBIs in 152 games, finishing fifth in AL MVP Award voting. He appeared primed for another huge season in '10, but he fractured his lower left leg when he jumped on home plate to celebrate his game-winning slam. It ended Morales' season, and he didn't play again until '12. He was solid in that year, but it wasn't the same. Morales was traded after the season for lefty Jason Vargas.
Rhett Bollinger covers the Angels for MLB.com. He previously covered the Twins from 2011-18. Follow him on Twitter @RhettBollinger and Facebook.