Wednesday, March 17, 2004

The Angels have assembled a formidable set of prospects, which has been recognized by most observers (including Baseball Prospectus, which counts five Angels amongst its top 50, and Aaron Gleeman at the Hardball Times, who includes four in his top 25.

Three of these universally acclaimed prospects are hitters: catcher Jeff Mathis, 3B Dallas McPherson, and 1B Casey Kotchman. This is easily the most promising triplet produced by the Angels system since Tim Salmon, Jim Edmonds, and Garret Anderson.

Mathis and McPherson both ripped through A and AA last year, and both should start the season at AAA Salt Lake. If their progress continues, either one could see some action at the Big A this summer. Mathis is on course to push Bengie Molina out of a job come 2005; McPherson's situation is more complicated. He may be able to push Troy Glaus, whose contract also expires at the end of this season, but his third base glove is suspect. There has been talk of moving McPherson to an outfield corner; right field is obviously taken. Jose Guillen has a two-year deal to play left, but it's not unimaginable that he could be dispatched fairly easily.

McPherson could also find a temporary home at first (or push Glaus to first), but Kotchman is only a year behind him. Further complicating the situation is that Garret Anderson's contract runs out at the end of 2004. Do the Angels expect to keep Garret in center? Would the emergence of Kotchman move Erstad back to center and Anderson to left? If so, that keeps McPherson out of left, so what do you do with him (assuming you still have Glaus)? The Angels may be hesitant to DH a rookie, but that may be the only spot for him; besides, Tim Salmon may still be able to DH, though he may very well retire when his contract is up after 2005 (he has said he wants to retire an Angel, and will not pursue other employment if there is no spot for him).

Here's how I imagine the 2005 lineup shaping up:

C--Jeff Mathis
1B--Dallas McPherson
2B--Adam Kennedy
3B--Troy Glaus
SS--David Eckstein
LF--Garret Anderson
CF--Darin Erstad
RF--Vladimir Guerrero
DH--Tim Salmon

And in 2006:
C--Jeff Mathis
1B--Casey Kotchman
2B--Adam Kennedy
3B--Dallas McPherson
SS--David Eckstein (?)
LF--Garret Anderson
CF--Darin Erstad
RF--Vladimir Guerrero
DH--Troy Glaus

Other Angel position player prospects include Brandon Wood, a shortstop and first-round pick last season. He's at least three years away, at best, so we shouldn't get too far ahead of ourselves. More temporally proximate help could come from Nick Gorneault, who has been old for his leagues, but demonstrates the Garret Anderson skill set of high average, low walks, and some power (321/363/540 at A last season, 345/395/527 in 29 games at AA).

One possible source of concern for the Angels, though they have time before Erstad's contract expires (at the end of 2006), is the lack of a viable center field prospect. Aside from a dalliance with Junior Felix in the early 90s, the Angels have enjoyed superlative defense from that position for 20 years. That time has seen Gary Pettis, Devon White, Jim Edmonds, and Darin Erstad roam the expansive green. That's eight Gold Gloves in 20 years (each won two apiece in an Angel uniform). There is no one in the system poised to take that mantle.

Ervin Santana will likely start the season at AA, as he only notched 29 2/3 inning there last season. He racked up great ratios in the low minors -- but so did Ramon Ortiz (225:53 K:BB in A Cedar Rapids in in 181 IP 1997, compared to Santana's 146:48 in 147 IP in 2002), so let's see him perform at AA and AAA before we get too excited. Santana is listed at 6'2'', 160 pounds, which would make him even taller and skinnier than Ortiz. Of course, AgeGate means that Santana was 19 that year, while Ortiz was 24. That's a tremendous difference, and speaks well to Santana's promise; his upside should far exceed Ortiz's.

The biggest upside of any Angel minor league starter belongs to Bobby Jenks. Comparisons to Nuke LaLoosh are often made, but Jenks finally got it together last season at AA at age 22: 83 IP, 103 K, 51 BB, only 2 HR allowed. Still more walks than you would like, but it's the first time he had a 2:1 K:BB ratio. He'll start the season at AAA to prove he's turned that corner, and could see big league action this summer.

Bonus prospect you've never heard of: reliever Steve Andrade. Here are Andrade's totals for the last two seasons, split between A and AA:

IP: 105 1/3
K: 174
BB: 38
HR: 3

That's just decadent. Andrade is 26 right now, so it's not like he has the kind of upside the starter prospects have. But here's Andrade at AA Arkansas last season, at age 25:

IP: 51
K: 74
BB: 19
HR: 2

Here's what someone else did at AA Arkansas, but at the age of 30:

IP: 29
K: 37
BB: 13
HR: 2

That man was Brendan Donnelly.

You heard it here first: Steve Andrade will be K-Rod's set-up man, possibly as soon as next year.

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