Built to win now, Halos also look toward future
This is the second 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, which ran Monday, investigated the cause of that slippage. Part 2 looks at how the system can turn around.
ANAHEIM -- The reality here is the trade-off.
Teams that annually spend and win will always have a hard time keeping their farm systems flush with top-tier Minor League talent. They lose picks by signing free agents tied to compensation, deal valuable prospects for established Major Leaguers and, frankly, don't finish with bad enough records to select early enough in the First-Year Player Draft.
From 2005 to '13, as their farm system has gone from first to 30th in the eyes of Baseball America, the Angels have been victims -- and beneficiaries -- of all that. And under former scouting director Eddie Bane, they produced a variety of players -- Mike Trout, Jered Weaver, Mark Trumbo and so on -- who are crucial contributors on the Major League side.
But now, the lower levels desperately need replenishing.
"We realize this is an area that requires improvement in both the short and long term," Angels second-year general manager Jerry Dipoto wrote in an e-mail. "Scott Servais came on board to oversee both departments [scouting and player development] back in November of 2011, and in the 15 months since, we have restructured in a variety of areas including our player development, international and professional scouting departments, while also refining our amateur scouting process. We've seen a good deal of change from a leadership/management and process perspective and feel that we're making great progress in all areas."
The system won't be restocked overnight -- especially with a new Collective Bargaining Agreement that limits what teams can spend on the Draft and the international market.
Some of it, however, could take care of itself.
Room to grow
This is the opposite of attrition through graduation -- more like restoration through stability.
All nine of the Angels' everyday players are now signed for at least the next two years -- once Alberto Callaspo's two-year contract gets finalized -- and eight of them are in the books through at least 2015. There's also the long-term deals for starters like Weaver and C.J. Wilson.
In short, it doesn't look like the Angels will need to rush prospects, make prospect-laden trades or sign high-profile players tied to Draft-pick compensation over the next few years. That, theoretically, will go a long way toward allowing their system to grow.
Signs of life in Latin America
The Angels' presence in Latin America is seemingly re-emerging, with the recently hired Carlos Gomez now set to run their international scouting.
Gomez, who knows Dipoto from his Arizona days, joined the D-backs organization as a pro scout following the 2007 season, has served as international scouting director the last two years and takes over for Marc Russo, who wasn't retained this offseason.
"[Gomez] helped add a solid group of pitching prospects to the [D-backs] organization on a limited budget, then brought in some of the top players from the Dominican Republic, Venezuela and Colombia last year when the Diamondbacks started to spend more heavily in Latin America," Baseball America national writer Ben Badler wrote in an e-mail. "Russo did a good job during his time with the organization, but the Angels are in good hands with Gomez."
When Russo took over in November 2010, the Angels had been dormant in Latin America for almost two years since dismissing Clay Daniel over alleged bonus skimming.
Russo had to start from scratch. Gomez now takes over with a stronger scouting presence and, pretty soon, a better facility in the Dominican Republic.
By March, the Angels will leave their old complex in San Pedro, where they've been stationed since the 1980s, and move on to a newer, more renovated one near the more prevalent Boca Chica Baseball City area, sources said.
The team is still in negotiations on a new location, but the move could be completed within the next two or three months -- in time for the Dominican Summer League and the international signing period -- and will go a long way toward legitimizing the Angels' presence in that baseball hotbed.
More conservative in Draft
This one is up for debate, but the front office is convinced it will help a club without many first-round Draft picks to begin with: The Angels are implementing a more conservative Draft strategy.
Under Bane from 2004 to '10, the Angels rolled the dice with high school players with a high upside but also plenty of risk. It led to the drafting and developing of several impact players (Trout) but also some early-round busts (Ryan Bolden in 2010) or unsigned Draft picks (Matt Harvey in '07).
Under Ric Wilson, who took over his first Draft in 2011, the Angels are in some ways trading upside for security. On a team with lots of star power on the Major League side and little depth in the farm system, the Angels want guys who will rise through the system quickly and who don't have the propensity to flop.
They're no longer shying away from college players; in some ways, they're seeking them out.
"We try to have a little bit more balance in our Draft, so it's not strike out or hit a ball out of the ballpark type philosophy," Servais said. "It's OK to take a single or a double."
The universal question
Heading into the '07 season, shortly after Texas general manager Jon Daniels made Servais his senior director of player development, the Rangers' farm system was ranked 28th by Baseball America. Two years later, it rose to No. 1. And the year after that, the Major League club began a run of back-to-back World Series appearances.
Servais, brought in by Dipoto to a position that didn't really exist under former Angels GM Tony Reagins, hopes to spark a similar turnaround.
But the circumstances, he believes, are vastly different.
"We have a very competitive, veteran big league club that's built to win right now -- that wasn't the case in Texas," Servais said. "We didn't have one of the top payroll clubs; we weren't playing in one of the bigger markets at that time, so the resources were going elsewhere."
And that prompts the question: Can you annually be a top-spending team while consistently sporting a top-ranked farm system?
That's a balance few clubs, if any, have been able to sustain for long periods of time. The Mets did it briefly in the mid-1980s, the Braves in the early 1990s and the Yankees in the latter part of the decade. But eventually, like with the Angels, one has to go.
"It sounds crazy," one executive said, "but it's almost like the two can't co-exist all the time."
"It's a very, very difficult balance to strike," MLB.com Draft and prospects expert Jonathan Mayo added. "Long-term, it may be nearly impossible to be top five or 10 in both for long periods of time. But I think you can be in that vicinity if you do it incredibly well. Few teams have done it, if any, and it does usually fluctuate up and down. But I think you can find some semblance of balance there."
That's the Angels' hope.