Los Angeles Angels
Overview (Present Rank: 27th | Future Rank: 29th)
Since rebranding themselves as the Los Angeles Angels, the team has struggled to find the success they left behind in Anaheim. Winning the 2002 World Series in his third year as manager has given Mike Scioscia a long leash despite only taking this playoff-caliber team to the playoffs once (swept by Baltimore in the 2014 ALDS) in the last six years.
Not many people are expecting Los Angeles to make the playoffs this season with this declining roster. However, with the most talented baseball player of the 21st century intact, the Angels will be wasting the prime of Mike Trout’s career if they don’t surround him with the personnel capable of getting LA back to the World Series. The front office has their work cut out for them in accomplishing that feat with the weakest farm system in the league.
*Detailed analysis conducted April 2, 2016; rankings and charts updated throughout the season.
Quick, name the last Angels catcher to win any kind of award. If you’re completely drawing a blank on any recent Angels catcher, you’re not alone. Since Lance Parrish won the Silver Slugger in 1990 Bengie Molina has been the only one to do so by winning Gold Gloves in 2002 and 2003. To say the Angels haven’t found stability at the position might be an understatement. Despite the obvious need for a franchise catcher, LA hasn’t been able to develop or acquire one. Yet again, they’re prepared to give a replacement level catcher regular at-bats. This year, it’s Carlos Perez that gets the benefit of the Angels’ depressing catching situation.
Considering each of the last seven World Series champions had Buster Posey, Yadier Molina, Salvador Perez, or Jorge Posada (minus a career year from Jarrod Saltalamacchia in 2013), the importance of a stud catcher cannot be understated. Now that Chris Iannetta is wearing a Seattle Mariners jersey, Perez will receive the lionshare of catching duties this season. While Perez’ offense leaves much to be desired, he makes up for it slightly on the defensive end. His strong arm allows him to throw out at a high percentage of baserunners. That’s where his value lies: squatting behind home plate with his catching gear on.
After winning the Rookie of the Year award in 2008 with the Cubs, Geovany Soto looked to have a bright future ahead of him. However, his production has completely fallen off a cliff since then. He hasn’t been able to adapt to the adjustments made against him. Now he fills the role of backup catcher. Unless Perez gets injured for a significant amount of time, Soto is rather irrelevant.
It must be frustrating for any Angels fan to see Jeff Brandy’s name on the depth chart above. He would never profile as a starter, and not even as a backup on most teams. Because of the Angels’ aforementioned dreary catching depth, Bandy undeservedly makes the cut. Once the Angels find a more suitable backup once Soto’s contract expires at the end of the season, Brandy likely won’t be getting any opportunities at the Major League level.
One player that makes the Angels’ situation appear slightly promising is Taylor Ward. Drafted as an under-slot pick last year at 26th overall, Ward carries the most potential of all Angels catchers. His ceiling is possibly the lowest of all 2015 first round picks though, as Ward was being listed barely among the top-100 in most pre-draft rankings. Ward’s ability to hit for average will push him through the minors despite a lack of power. His performance behind the plate over the next couple years will be the deciding factor in staying at the position. He needs to refine his receiving, framing, and blocking abilities before he’s given playing time at the Major league level even if he does possess a strong arm.
Future Outlook: Waiting for Ward
Carlos Perez is a serviceable catcher at this stage in his career. Because he’s only 25 years old, it’s likely he improves as he gains more experience. After making Ward a first round pick, the Angels believe they have their future catcher already in-house. They will rely on Perez to fill the starting position until Ward is ready in 2019. The real question is if Perez is good enough to be relied upon. The Angels might be looking for an upgrade in the coming years to hold down the fort until Ward breaks onto the scene.
When the Angels committed $250MM (10yr/$240 playing contract + 10yr/$10MM personal service contract) to acquire the services of Albert Pujols, they were expecting their current first base ranking to be at least within the top-10 just four years after the signing. While ‘The Machine’ belted 40 homers last year, he owned career-lows in AVG (.244) as well as OBP (.307). He managed to play in 157 games, but he’s frequently on the injury report because of his continuous foot problems that reappeared during Spring Training. Most inside the Angels’ front office believes Pujols will become a full-time DH sooner rather than later. Right now with C.J. Cron’s inability to play quality defense at first base, Pujols will have to continue to be a two-way player.
The Angels selected Ji-Man Choi in this year’s Rule 5 draft. The 24 year-old switch-hitter has raked in Seattle’s minor league system for years. Now the Angels will give him a chance to face pitchers on the world’s biggest stage. Choi will never develop into a machine-like hitter, but he’s held his own at every minor league level he’s played at. He’ll sit comfortably on the bench with Pujols ahead of him, but if Pujols’ foot problems continue, Choi could get his time to shine.
Future Outlook: Pujols can’t play first base forever
It’s pretty clear Pujols is here to stay after inking a 10yr/$240MM contract. Regardless of if it’s at first base or designated hitter, Pujols will likely finish his career in Los Angeles. Since C.J. Cron has defensive insufficiencies of his own and Ji-Man Choi doesn’t seem like a player ready to carry the torch, the Angels will have to look into the future of the position. This isn’t the most pressing need, but the Angels would be wise to use a high draft pick or substantial international money on finding their 2020’s first baseman when Pujols will need to move over to DH.
Los Angeles acquired Johnny Giavotella practically for free last year. Now, he’s their starting second baseman. Even with low-end hitters like Carlos Perez, Andrelton Simmons, and Daniel Nava in the starting lineup, Giavotella is the likeliest to bat last. That just goes to show the value Giavotella brings when he steps inside the batter’s box. His fielding isn’t anything special either as he posted a negative UZR in 2015 (-8.6 UZR/150). Giavotella showed promise early in his professional career with the Royals, but then struggled against minor league pitching. He’s continued his struggles against Major League pitching, and it might be too late for the 28 year-old.
Future Outlook: Upgrade needed at second base
Unless Giavotella unpredictably breaks out in his age-28 season, the Angels will be looking for a replacement to bolster their second base production. With a lack of internal options in the farm system, the best way of doing that is in free agency or the trade market. With an already very limited farm system, free agency might be the best approach. Neil Walker, Justin Turner, Luis Valbuena, and Martin Prado are the cream of the crop in this upcoming year’s free agency at second base. All would be considered upgrades over their current personnel, and none should require that expensive of a commitment. It’s likely second base won’t be a position of strength on this team for a while.
The Angels’ biggest move of the offseason was acquiring Andrelton Simmons from the Braves for a package of talent including former shortstop Erick Aybar and No. 1 prospect Sean Newcomb. Not that Simmons isn’t a valuable player, but that’s certainly a hefty price to pay. Newcomb might develop into a future ace and Aybar still has plenty left in the tank. Unlike Aybar who’s a free agent at year’s end, Simmons is locked up until 2021 when he’ll be 31 years old. Simmons gets acclaim for his outstanding defense which has already rewarded him two Gold Gloves in his three full seasons. It’s his offense that keeps him out of the conversation of being a top-5 shortstop. He’s proven capable of hitting 15+ homers a year, but has seen his power evaporate in recent years. He’s great at getting contact when he swings, but he’ll have to improve on hitting 56.2% ground balls if he wants to do more damage at the plate.
Like Simmons, Cliff Pennington’s value comes from his glove. However, unlike Simmons, it’s Pennington’s versatility that’s the key to his employment on the 25-man roster. While Pennington played exclusively shortstop for a number of years, he’s moved all around the diamond in recent seasons. Pennington’s bat is about as average as it gets, and his baserunning isn’t a plus like it used to be. He’s your typical bench utility player at this stage in his career.
When the Angels dished out $8MM to sign Roberto Baldoquin out of Cuba in January last year, high expectations surrounded the 21 year-old. After a disappointing first-half of professional ball, Baldoquin started to put things together in the second half. He still has a lot of developing to do on both sides of the ball. Hitting-wise, he needs to improve his choppy swing, and improve the timing of his load so he can catch up to faster pitches. Defensively, his footwork has caused him to make numerous errors. After working with the coaching staff, he ended the season on a 40-game errorless streak showing immense improvement. If he can put those issues behind him, Baldoquin could take over for Simmons at shortstop when his contract expires.
Future Outlook: Simmons stabilizes the future of the position
The Angels had a gaping hole at shortstop after 2016 when Aybar was scheduled to hit the free agent market. After acquiring Simmons in the offseason, the shortstop position won’t be an issue for at least another five years now. The Angels invested $8MM in Simmons’ eventual replacement tabbing Baldoquin as that guy. After a rough start, the Angels might be rethinking that decision. If Baldoquin continues to struggle, the Angels will need to make another investment at the position long-term. Los Angeles’ 2015 sixth round pick, David Fletcher might be a guy to keep an eye out for as well once he moves up the ladder.
The acquisition of Yunel Escobar went much more under the radar than that of Andrelton Simmons. The two relievers Los Angeles dealt away in the trade will have to really improve to outweigh the value Yunel Escobar brings to the Angels. Playing on a seven-digit salary, Escobar is already producing above his pay-grade. He’s coming off a career year where he batted .314/.375/.415 for the Washington Nationals. Of course, that was fueled by a career-high and unsustainable .347 BABIP. As he comes back down to earth in 2016 as a 33 year-old, he’ll still be of value to Los Angeles.
Escobar’s ability to play second base might come in handy in 2017 when Kyle Kubitza and Kaleb Cowart will be ready for big league action. Both prospects struggled in their first taste of Major League action last year, but after some more seasoning could be more prepared in a year’s time. Each player comes their positives and negatives. For Cowart, he’s stellar with the glove, but contact issues and a lack of power could doom him in the majors. Kubitza has average tools all-around, but has some adjustments to make at the plate. He’s hit at every level in the minors making it more plausible he holds his own in the Majors. The Angels are hoping that at least one of them figures it out and becomes their future third baseman. If not, each of them has the versatility needed to become quality utility man.
Future Outlook: Finding someone to play third base after 2016
Yunel Escobar has a cheap $7MM option for 2017 that is likely to be exercised. While he can play the hot corner again in ‘17, the Angels best decision might be moving him to second replacing the mediocre Johnny Giavotella and giving Kaleb Cowart and/or Kyle Kubitza regular at-bats. Both prospects will be ready by then itching to make an impact at the Major League level.
The Angels will first see if Cowart and Kubitza make the right adjustments in Triple-A to prove worthy of big league at-bats. If both Cowart and Kubitza show a lack of improvement, Angels executives should know by the end of the 2017 season that they’ll need to go outside the organization for their future third baseman. If that’s the case, they’ll look toward free agency with names like Mike Moustakas, Todd Frazier, and Brett Lawrie on the market. All three could provide the Angels with solid production while they develop their next third baseman.
Taking the league by storm in the 2010’s, Steph Curry and J.J. Watt are becoming once in a generation superstars in their respective sports. While Bryce Harper might disagree, Mike Trout is evolving into baseball’s version of Steph Curry or J.J. Watt. He may not have a championship like Curry or three defensive player of the year awards like Watt, but like each of them, he’s the best overall player in his respective sport. What Trout has already accomplished in his career at a meager age-24 is incredibly rare. He has earned a Rookie of the Year award, four All-Star appearances, four Silver Sluggers, three MVP runner-up’s, and the 2014 AL MVP award all before turning 25. He’s sure to add to that collection as a few years still separate the 24 year-old from his prime. If he’s dropping 41 bombs at 23 years old, how many is he going to hit when he's 28? Trout’s ceiling appears to be undefined based on history books. Mike Trout's story has never been written before. Luckily for the Angels, he’ll be under contract until 2021 when he’ll be 29 years old looking to receive the biggest contract in sports history.
Kole Calhoun was finally able to stay away from injuries in 2015 playing in 159 games. Calhoun slugged 26 homers, but only got on-base at a concerning .308 clip. Calhoun offers great defense that netted him his first Gold Glove last season. Calhoun will likely bat ahead of Trout in the No. 2 spot for years to come. If he gets his OBP back to his normal .340 rate, he could score a lot of runs with Trout and Pujols batting behind him.
Los Angeles has a major hole in left field. It was reported both Dexter Fowler and Austin Jackson declined bigger offers from LA to sign with both teams located in Chicago. That leaves Mike Scioscia to platoon the best left fielders the front office is giving him in Daniel Nava and Craig Gentry. Both players have significant platoon splits in their careers. Nava is a career .281/.377/.409 hitter against righties while Gentry is a career .274/.354/.366 against southpaws. Each of them are below-average defensive outfielders, and are complete liabilities at the plate when facing same-sided pitchers thus limiting their overall value.
Rafael Ortega hit well enough for St. Louis’ Triple-A team that the Angels extended him a Major League contract for 2016. Ortega has the wheels and glove to play in an MLB outfield right now. However, it’s what he does at the plate that will prove to be the difference between becoming a MLB regular or an outfielder frequently getting demoted to Triple-A. Ortega will likely be a pinch-runner/late outfield substitution as it stands right now, but has the upside to be more. If one of the starting outfielders go down, Ortega could get his chance to prove he belongs.
The Angels are likely to go outside the organization to upgrade at left field if the Nava/Gentry platoon doesn’t start producing results quickly. Long term, they’ll be looking at Brendon Sanger or Chad Hinshaw to man the position. They snagged Sanger in the most recent draft in the fourth round, while Hinshaw came to them in the 15th round in 2013. Sanger has more potential, but Hinshaw is closer to reaching his ceiling. It’ll be interesting to see who becomes the starter, and who is the team’s fourth outfielder going forward. Right now the edge goes to Hinshaw until Sanger proves he can do some damage against higher-level pitching.
Caleb Adams and Kyle Survance each have value of their own. Adams originally came into the organization as a 10th round pick with plenty of work to do. So far, he’s made the right adjustments, and the results have been impressive. He still has a ways to go before executives view him as an everyday MLB outfielder. Survance Jr’s speed got him drafted in the 8th round last year. After dominating rookie-league pitching in his professional debut, Survance Jr. has carved out a higher ceiling for himself. With the speed, glove, and arm ready to play center field, he just has to keep hitting to make it to the show.
Jahmai Jones is the team’s current No. 2 prospect according to a number of publications. The 70th overall pick from 2015’s MLB draft is much younger than most professional players having not turned 18 until last August. Even at 17 years old, he held his own at the plate during his professional debut. His athleticism is off the charts making his ceiling rather high. He’ll need to improve his batting approach and stiff upper body at the plate to reach that lofty ceiling. He might be a late September call-up in 2019, but he won’t be ready for regular at-bats until at least the 2020 season. Jones is a project that will be perfect for evaluating the Angels’ player development department.
Future Outlook: Center and right are set, but left field needs to be addressed
Center Field and Right Field are pretty much set in stone for at least the next four years. Calhoun is eligible for free agency after 2019 while Trout will hit the market the year after that. Meanwhile, the Angels have no long-term solution at the other corner outfield spot. While Hinshaw and Sanger each have starting potential, neither has the look of a future all-star. Neither player will be ready for a starting role until at least 2018. Left Field is the team’s biggest weakness, and General Manager Billy Eppler would be wise to do something about it sooner rather than later. Look for this problem to get solved before the start of the 2017 season.
Albert Pujols is far from the Gold Glover that we witnessed in St. Louis. He’ll need days off frequently, and will soon be a complete liability defensively. With C.J. Cron currently on the team that makes things difficult. Crons’ defensive ineptitude has been well documented. His power is what keeps him in the everyday lineup. He knocked 16 balls over the park in 2015, but he has 20+ HR potential, and could possibly reach 30 once he hits his prime. At 26 years old, he still has room to grow and if he can get on base more often, he’ll be a valuable bat in the lineup.
Future Outlook: What to get for C.J. Cron
Albert Pujols is being paid $24MM a year. He won’t be getting dropped from the team anytime soon, but it’s inevitable that he’ll be dropped from first base and needing regular at-bats at DH. That makes things difficult considering that’s the only place C.J. Cron fits in the lineup as well. Something has to give. GM Billy Eppler’s best option might be to flip Cron for another asset opening up the DH role for Pujols. If Pujols is no longer playing first base, and Ji-Man Choi doesn’t unexpectedly fill the position, that would leave an opening at first. Trading C.J. Cron for a better defensive first baseman or filling the numerous other holes the Angels have long-term (second base, third base, left field) would give the Angels more flexibility down the road.
How former GM Jerry Dipoto turned one year of Howie Kendrick into six full years of Andrew Heaney before the 2015 season remains to be seen, but it’s definitely not the move that led to Dipoto’s resignation. While Kendrick reached free agency this past offseason after another solid, yet unspectacular season, Andrew Heaney is just beginning to deliver on the big hype surrounding him while he was a prospect. He’ll certainly go through some growing pains as a 24 year-old Major League pitcher like trying to master the command of his changeup, which righties have destroyed thus far in his professional career. Scouting reports state Heaney’s ceiling is as a No. 3 starter, but if he can improve that changeup, there’s no reason he can’t regularly post a sub-3.50 ERA with 180+ SO’s a year.
While Heaney’s future appears to be pretty straightforward, there are a lot more questions surrounding Tyler Skaggs. Another former top prospect, Skaggs underwent Tommy John surgery in August, 2014 causing him to miss the entire 2015 season as well. Before the surgery, Skaggs was just starting to get the feel for Major League hitters. He got his velocity back up to what it was when he was dealing in the minors (92 MPH). Now he’s been a year away from the game, and will have to prove everything all over again. If he can find his groove down the stretch of the season, he could profile as a No. 2/No. 3 starter that many analysts expected him to be.
Hector Santiago is the epitome of a mid-rotation starter. He has the potential to be much more if he could improve his command, but he’s yet to get his BB/9 below 3.5. Santiago isn’t one to blow hitters away as he only averaged 90.3 MPH with his fastball in 2015, but his offspeed stuff leaves hitters fooled. His extremely low ground ball percentage (30%) translated into the sixth most home runs allowed in 2015. When he can keep the ball in the yard, it’s going to be an out 75% of the time as he only allowed a .251 BABIP. Santiago loves having Trout and Calhoun out there shrinking the gaps, but a Nava/Gentry pairing could prove to be trouble in left field. Then again, Matt Joyce wasn’t anything special out there either.
(EDIT: With the team experiencing another losing season, they traded Hector Santiago to the Minnesota Twins for RHP Ricky Nolasco and RHP Alex Meyer. Click here to see how Santiago will fit in Minnesota's rotation going forward [8/1/16]).
In addition to signing Albert Pujols at the 2011 winter meetings, the Angels made another big splash by inking C.J. Wilson to a 5yr/$85MM contract. Wilson has been worth the contract in his four-year tenure with the team thus far. He’s sported a 43-27 record in 197 IP per year while striking out 512 batters (171 SO/year) in his three-year tenure as an Angel. As he approaches another contract year, Wilson will hope his shoulder problems are behind him. Injuries have slowed Wilson down to 175 innings in each of the last two years after four consecutive seasons of 200+. If healthy, Wilson can still be serviceable even as a 35 year-old.
The Angels also have Nate Smith and Jose Suarez down in their farm system. While the former is ready for big league action in 2016, the latter might not be ready until 2020. Smith doesn’t have a very high ceiling, but his four pitch mix gives him a high floor. He can throw all his pitches for strikes with his changeup already looking like a plus pitch. Smith should fit in nicely at the back of the rotation. Suarez abides by the same pitchability. Despite being only 18 years old, Suarez has already shown an advanced feel for pitching with amazing command. His stuff isn’t excellent, but his maturity and control should elevate him to the Majors eventually.
Future Outlook: Santiago or Wilson must be resigned if Smith/Skaggs struggle
C.J. Wilson reaches free agency at the end of the season with Santiago following him a year later. The Angels can pencil Andrew Heaney and Nate Smith into their rotation for at least the next four years. Tyler Skaggs could also prove worthy of a spot if he can rebound from Tommy John surgery. With three lefties already in the rotation, the Angels might shy away from committing to a fourth. If Smith struggles in the big leagues and/or Skaggs is a shadow of his former self post-surgery, resigning one of these veterans would be wise. Even as Wilson ages, he has proven to be a valuable commodity, while Santiago is a reliable albeit unflashy starter. The fates of Wilson and Santiago will rely heavily on the 2016 performances of Skaggs and Smith.
Garrett Richards was an exceptional pitcher in 2014. Attacking right-handed hitters on the inside of the plate fueled his 2014 dominance as he only allowed a league-leading four extra base hits to the opposite field (when facing righties). In 2015 though, a different Richards took the mound. One with less velocity and weakened command. He still has the stuff of a frontline starter, but it’ll be interesting to see if 2016 showcases the 2014 version of Richards or the 2015 one. He’ll still be the face of the Angels’ pitching staff until he’s eligible for free agency in 2019 regardless. That’s more due to Los Angeles’ lack of ace-caliber pitchers more than it is a tribute to Richards though.
The staff used to have an ace-caliber pitcher in Jered Weaver. The 6’7” hurler might resemble a flamethrower, but his 83.3 average fastball velocity in 2015 was the sixth lowest of all non-knuckleball pitchers over the past 15 seasons. Weaver has seen his velocity drop in each of the past five years. Weaver is only a shell of his former self nowadays. With a low strikeout rate, low ground ball percentage, and a deteriorating arm, it’s hard to see how Weaver can get back on track.
Nick Tropeano has ascended significantly since being drafted out of Stony Brook University in 2011. He has developed a slider that gives him a solid four pitch mix, but throws his two-seam fastball most often. The lack of command or serious movement on his offspeed pitches prevent him from projecting as a very quality starter. With enough experience, Tropeano can eventually fit in as a back end hurler.
The Angels have a lot of depth in the pitching department currently. Matt Shoemaker finds himself in the midst of the competition as an alternative for depth purposes. Unless a few pitchers ahead of him go down, Shoemaker won’t see many opportunities to step on the mound. While he had a fantastic 2014, he regressed severely in 2015. His minor league production indicates he’s much closer to the 2015 version of himself than the 2014 one. If he can find some middle ground between the two, he could be a viable option in the back-end of the rotation.
The only righty in the Angels’ farm system that projects to become an impact Major League starter is Grayson Long. His athleticism, competitiveness, and raw stuff give confidence to Angels executives thinking big things are on the horizon for the 21 year-old. If he can tweak his slider and throw his changeup for more strikes, he could reach his potential as a No. 3 starter.
(EDIT: As the Angels suffer through another losing season, LA traded for Ricky Nolasco (and the 2yrs/$25MM remaining on his contract to acquire former top prospect Alex Meyer. Nolasco will be a serviceable back-end starter until his contract expires after the 2017 season [8/1/16]).
Future Outlook: Stockpiling talent is a priority
The Angels have the worst long-term outlook of any Major League team when it comes to right-handed starting pitching, and they’re not even close to the 29th ranked Padres. Every single Major League franchise has an ace or future frontline starter in their organization except for the ball club in Anaheim. Heaney and Skaggs have the chance to be that from the left side but it’s unlikely they produce at that level. Richards is a frontline starter today, but his contract expires in three years, and he can’t be classified as an ace unless solely judged on his fluke 2014 campaign. His knee injuries will further prevent him from ever regaining those frontline qualities as well.
The Angels need to completely revamp their starting pitching unit in the farm system on both sides. The farm system is full of pitchers destined for the bullpen like Victor Alcantara, players with low ceilings like Nate Smith, or guys with bust written all over them like Joe Gatto or Austin Robichaux. They need to stockpile talent ASAP.
In the draft, they have three picks in the top-100 starting at 16th overall. Like in 2013, when they spent their first seven picks on pitchers, the Angels should spend all of them on high upside pitchers with potential of staying in the rotation.
They also have their international signing bonus pool in 2018 and beyond. They lost the right to spend more than $300,000 on any individual player the next two years for exceeding the max limit after signing Roberto Baldoquin for $8MM. As a team that will likely finish with a top-10 pick over the next few years will also benefit them in having a larger bonus pool as well. They must take advantage of that, and target players who can transform the pitching staff.
Free agency is the last avenue of acquiring talent while giving up no talent in return. In the next two years, quality pitchers like Jake Arrieta, Stephen Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez, Clay Buchholz, Tyson Ross, Jaime Garcia, and Michael Pineda will all be eligible for free agency in the next two years. Expect Los Angeles to sign at least one of them to place atop of their rotation right above Richards.
Huston Street has been a reliable closer since his rookie of the year days in 2005. His decade of production has benefited for a number of teams, but now he’s under LA’s control for the next three years. His peripherals have seen a steady decline once he reached his upper 20’s and has carried into his 30’s. The next three years might not be as successful as the previous 11 with the way he has been trending, but it’s likely his effectiveness completely falls off a cliff.
If Street does suddenly decline, the Angels have Joe Smith ready to take on the role if needed. Although, he’ll only be around for one more year, his ability to generate ground balls and limit home runs always comes in handy. Fernando Salas is another candidate to perform well in the back-end of the ‘pen. His peripherals point to a rebound season coming in 2016, and being in a contract year will provide him with the extra motivation if needed.
Jose Alvarez is the team’s top southpaw in the bullpen, but only by default. Alvarez is nothing more than a replacement-level pitcher. Possessing as much as five different pitches, Alvarez isn’t your average relief pitcher. His struggles against righties make him more of a one trick pony in the bullpen than a potential spot starter.
Al Alburquerque has all the stuff in the world to be a dominating threat in the back of a team's bullpen. He however, like most relievers, has struggled with command in his Major League career. He’s got the fastball velocity (95.0 in 2013, 93.7 in 2015) and a strikeout pitch (his devastating slider), but is way too inconsistent with his two-seam fastball and control of his other pitches. At 30 years-old, he still has time to figure it out, and if he can put it all together, Albuquerque could be giving Street a run for his money as the closer.
Mike Morin on the other hand doesn’t have the same electrifying stuff as Albuquerque. His 20 MPH difference between his low 90’s fastball and his swing-and-miss changeup make up for the lack of explosiveness. His slider generates whiffs half the time he throws it as well. Morin’s ERA may be very disappointing, but his peripherals point to a promising career for the young 24 year-old.
Cam Bedrosian has failed to build on his minor league success in two separate half seasons at the Major League level. Now that he’s ditched his changeup, it’s just a 95 MPH fastball and a 81 MPH slider that’s in arsenal now. If he can harness his command, Bedrosian could find a future in the back of the Angels bullpen.
Cory Rasmus and Deolis Guerra are both low-end options for long reliever. Both Rasmus and Guerra racked up high strikeout rates in the minors, but have failed to consistently deliver in the big leagues. Both of these players are the epitome of unpredictable relief pitchers.
Greg Mahle gives the Angels a southpaw with a future toward the back end of the bullpen. His multiple deliveries keep batters off balance. He comes over the top with a blistering 94 MPH fastball, and then pairs it with a deceptive changeup to leave batters fooled. Many evaluators don’t believe he’ll pitch past the seventh inning, but his 25 saves did lead all Angels minor leaguers in 2015.
The Angels have plenty of right-handed starting pitchers in their minor league system that profile better as relievers in the Majors. Jake Jewell, Victor Alcantara, Kyle McGowin, and Jeremy Rhoades all qualify under this distinction with blistering fastballs, below-average secondary offerings, and inconsistent command. McGowin projects to be a low-end long reliever, while Jeremy Rhoades and Jake Jewell both have the stuff to end up as middle relievers. Alcantara on the other hand is already touching 98 MPH at 22 years old, and is primed for a career as a set-up man or closer.
The hidden gem of the farm system is Eduardo Paredes. Paredes doesn’t get much praise or recognition around the nation, but make no mistake about it, Paredes is destined to become an MLB closer. Paredes has dominated opposing minor league hitters with an ERA that’s never been worse than 2.82 and a K/9 that consistently hits double digits. He’ll start the season in Double-A, and the Angels will likely give him time to get the kinks out in his delivery. He’ll make his impact at the big league level in 2018, and by 2019, he’ll get the opening he needs at taking over the closer role with Street’s contract set to expire.
Future Outlook: Quantity over quality
They say you can never have enough pitching, and the Angels have loads of it in their minor league system. Unfortunately for them, most of the more polished ones fit better in a bullpen role. With a lengthy list of relievers stocked in the farm system, Eppler will have the decision of trading some of them for other areas of need or stockpiling talent in hopes of forming a Royals-esque bullpen. A trio of Paredes, Alcantara, and Bedrosian could become a lethal trifecta in four/five years. It’s always likely the Angels will add proven Major League relievers to that list as time goes on. Eppler would be wise to trade some of his pitchers in order to improve in other areas with first base, second base, third base, left field, and right handed starters all needing upgrades down the line.
OVERALL OUTLOOK: Mike Trout needs some help
The roster Billy Eppler inherited lacked depth in the farm system, was full of holes, and had only one elite player in Mike Trout. At only 24 years old, Trout has become the face of the MLB and is cementing himself as one of this generation’s best players. Thanks to former GM Dipoto, Trout will be under team control for at least the next five years. However, the lack of superstar talent around Trout is concerning. Any injuries to Trout, Albert Pujols, Andrelton Simmons, Kole Calhoun, Garrett Richards, Hector Santiago, or Huston Street would instantly turn a 2016 playoff run from improbable to impossible.
Even if the team has a clean bill of health, things aren’t looking very promising. The Angels might need to think about cutting their losses, trade their Major League players for younger assets and start a rebuilding phase. Having Mike Trout is great, but going nowhere with him on the roster is essentially wasting an opportunity to build a World Series contender. Trading Trout might not be endearing to the fan base, but it would net the largest return in baseball history, and could rejuvenate Los Angeles’ farm system in hopes of becoming a legitimate contender a few years down the road.