Every Spring Training, prospects get a chance to show what they can do as they prepare for the upcoming season. Some compete for jobs in big league camp, while others vie for spots on Minor League affiliates. MLB Pipeline will visit all 30 camps this spring, and today we check
Every Spring Training, prospects get a chance to show what they can do as they prepare for the upcoming season. Some compete for jobs in big league camp, while others vie for spots on Minor League affiliates. MLB Pipeline will visit all 30 camps this spring, and today we check in on the Angels.
TEMPE, Ariz. -- Don't look now, but things are cooking down on the farm for the Angels.
• Angels' Top 30 Prospects list | Q&A with Chris Rodriguez
Over the past several years, the organization has had one of the weaker systems in baseball, one that didn't boast a single Top 100 prospect at the start of the 2016 or 2017 seasons. Now there are four, obviously starting with No. 1 overall prospect Shohei Ohtani. The other three -- Jo Adell (No. 62), Kevin Maitan (No. 87) and Jahmai Jones (No. 93) -- might be far away from the big leagues, but are a sign of a growing amount of high upside talent collecting in the lower levels of the Minors for the Angels.
:: MLB Pipeline Spring Training reports ::
"Down here on the back fields, there's a lot of excitement in this building," Angels director of minor league operations Mike LaCassa said from the club's Minor League facility. "Many of these players have been in Arizona for several weeks already in 2018. The depth beyond that, at pretty much every position across the system, there's excitement and potential future to help us in the big leagues."
Much of that depth, at least in terms of true impact talent, is a few years away. The summers toolsy outfielders Adell, the Angels' first-round pick in 2017, and Brandon Marsh, the 2016 second-rounder, had were outstanding, but it was in rookie ball. Their feel for the game might have been a pleasant surprise, but patience will be a tremendous virtue for them and others. LaCassa points out that it's not just about learning fundamentals, but things like mental development and strength conditioning also come into play,
"Whenever you take a high school player, and we have a lot of Latin American and other young players in camp today, for all of them there is a learning process," LaCassa said. "We have to hit on all those areas to help a player develop and maximize their skills."
This renaissance isn't coming during a true rebuilding process, which does make it a more difficult task. In order to do that, the recent Drafts that have added a ton of talent to the system have tried to find a mix of players.
"It's a challenging undertaking for [general manager] Billy Eppler and [owner] Arte Moreno," LaCassa said. "We want to win at the Major League level here. Some recent examples of franchises who built from player development and scouting didn't win at the big league level while they were doing that. And we're trying to do both.
"Looking at some of our recent Drafts, the last two years alone, our first-rounder last year was Jo Adell, a toolsy high school kid. Our second-rounder, Griffin Canning, is a polished college pitcher. The year before, Matt Thaiss, a polished college hitter went in the first round; in the second, we took Brandon Marsh. Just like every aspect of our baseball operations department, there has to be a balance. A balance of players you bring in, a balance of what information is weighted when making decisions, from our analytics department to our scouts to our coaches' evaluations. I think it all plays a big factor. You have to be patient if you want to sign and develop players and have them impact your big league team because that's how the game is."
New international signees impressing early
Ohtani wasn't the only free agent acquisition from the international pool the Angels are really seeing for the first time in Tempe. When the Braves were penalized for their violations of the international rules, that made a pair of shortstops, Maitan and Livan Soto, free agents. The Angels were happy to bring both into the fold for just over $3 million combined.
"We're very excited about both players," LaCassa said. "We were pretty ecstatic when we found out we were getting both of them. It happened on the same day."
Maitan's offensive upside has already stood out, but given reports about Maitan's future, or lack thereof, at shortstop, the Angels brass has been even more pleasantly surprised about his glove.
"Maitan, obviously there's thunder in the bat," LaCassa said. "When you watch him take BP, he's hitting in a group with guys who are seven years older than him, the most upper-level players in our system, and the ball just sounds different. Physically, he's done a great job since he got here, learning about our program and us personalizing a program for him. We couldn't be happier with the work he's put in off the field, in the weight room.
"Watching him at short, our director of baseball development, Mike Gallego, and our infield coordinator, David Newhan, they are thrilled with what they see in working with him at short."
Soto's work up the middle has never been in question and he's been flashing some serious leather in camp, though he has work to do on the other side of the ball.
"He has pretty unbelievable defensive tools," LaCassa said. "His hands, his feet, his range, his arm, they're all well above-average. He has a very projectable frame. There's room for him to add strength, which is definitely a goal for him in the coming years to be able to impact the ball more offensively. Both of them are great kids and fitting right in.
A group of starting pitching prospects, all in the top half of the Angels' Top 30, got to Tempe early and have already created some early buzz. Canning, last year's second rounder, has lived up to that billing as a polished college starter, while Jose Suarez and Jose Soriano have also looked sharp.
"Soriano is a guy who pitched in short-season ball last year and his stuff is even better than when we left instructional league," LaCassa said. "Physically, he's growing, he's strong, he's flexible, he's an athlete. He looks really good. Suarez is very polished beyond his years. He's a guy who could move quickly. His bullpens are as professional as they get. Griffin Canning, he and Suarez, it's like watching big league bullpens the way they command multiple pitches. Those guys definitely stand out."
Jonathan Mayo is a reporter for MLB Pipeline. Follow him on Twitter @JonathanMayo and Facebook, and listen to him on the weekly Pipeline Podcast.