Mailbag: 3/26/2021

I asked for questions, and you asked back. I won’t waste any time with excess. Here are your questions, and we’ll begin with all the draft ones:

“What position do you see the Angels drafting at the (#9) spot? I’ve seen pitchers and 3B the most I believe in mock drafts.” – JDB2412 (@JGB2412)

Hey. Let’s start with the mock drafts. They’re fun and can be informational, but if you’re reading a mock draft prior to… let’s say two months before the draft itself, it will be highly speculative based on track record and will not have any valuable information. I have done mock drafts in February, and March, and April, and I can openly admit that only once did I have actual information that pertained to a team and player specifically which led to me being the only accurate mock (to my knowledge) in regard to that player and team by the final mocks (it was the worst kept secret in Southern California, and somehow national writers never got wind of it.)

If you’re investing in reading mock drafts, wait until May at the least. Mocks are pointless until that point, and this is coming from someone who lived on clickbait mocks from early Spring in the past (I’ve deleted my current mock draft for the time being). Wait until there is valid information and writers are getting that information, while you are also relying on reliable outlets such as Baseball America, MLB Pipeline, ESPN, The Athletic, and FanGraphs (I’ll toss my name in the hat as well as my former colleague Jeff Ellis, as we busted our butts for years working trusted connections – but trust me, my connections draft wise are not as large scale as those aforementioned outlets).

Back to the position I believe the Angels will take: You never draft for positional necessity, but it can be a separator when picking between multiple players the war room is split on. Looking back at some of past drafts where Perry Minasian was an executive, the team he worked for selected a pitcher in the first round 11 of 12 times. This spans two different teams, and multiple working positions for Minasian, so we don’t know whether he was involved with the draft directly or indirectly, but solely on track record, it looks like he has worked with teams who focus on acquiring amateur pitching talent early. We will find out a little bit from this year’s draft as it will be Perry’s first directly as General Manager, and we’ll see if the Angels stay on par with drafting physical and athletic kids ala Matt Swanson (Amateur Scouting Director).

“Thoughts on Henry Davis at 9?” – Garrett Toon (@garrettToon)

Howdy, Garrett. Watching Henry Davis this season from afar has been a treat. He’s shown that his bat isn’t to be taken lightly, his arm behind the plate is ridiculous, and his defense seems to be steadily improving. If I were to take a wild guess at this very moment, I would question whether Davis even makes it the ninth pick.

Catchers can be a risky demographic (more so on the prep front), but teams do love athletic catchers who have some track record of offensive success. We’ve seen teams Minasian has worked for go to draft models in the past and take a catcher at the ninth pick in recent past (Shea Langeliers, 2019). I really wouldn’t rule it out. There’s a lot of season left, but Davis looks the part of a top 10 pick.

“I know you’re a big prospects person, how likely is it that the Angels draft a college catcher in the first five rounds? This seems like our weakest position in the farm.” – zack (@angelsfan1522)

Hola, Zack. I think a lot of your question is answered above, and projecting anything past the first two rounds (or even first for that matter) is pretty darn hard so I won’t even pretend to assume the first five rounds. Catcher and positional needs are mentioned above, but you do note something of interest in the lack of catching depth in the Angels farm system.

It really is bad. The catching position is so important as it can help in developing your pitchers and can provide a quarterback for the rest of the team as your catcher will be the one conversing with the umpires and are normally the leaders in the clubhouse (and tend to become coaches more often than other positions). Looking at the Angels, you have Anthony Bemboom and Juan Graterol headed for Triple-A which gives a nice veteran presence, but as you work your way down the order, it gets rough.

Jack Kruger is arguably the best catching prospect the Angels have, which isn’t much because any conversation about him being a “prospect” has parted over the years, and he is likely a depth backup. Your next best, arguably, are Franklin Torres and Keinner Pina. Torres was a second baseman who was moved behind the plate and showed some athleticism and quiet receiving skills. An opposing scout told me once that Keinner Pina was the best defensive catcher he had seen in two years (kid had some serious game behind the plate) but has a .558 OPS between both Single-A affiliates (both OBP and SLG are sub .300). That doesn’t cut it for any catching prospect depth. The Angels did sign a young man by the name of Edgar Quero, but he is years away from any impact at mid-development affiliates. There is need, and the draft could be an outlet to fix some of that need.

“It might still be early, but do you think the Angels will concentrate on college players in the earlier rounds of this draft since they have such a young farm?” – Not Neil (@CantHitWRISP)

Tricky question, Not Neil. As noted, it is the first draft for Minasian as GM. Once again looking at track record, Minasian’s past employers have gone with college players nine time with 10 first-round picks since 2014 (Toronto had 17 first-round picks from 2009-2013 leaving more room for error, and 12 high schoolers) while Swanson’s track record with the Angels shows about even since 2017.

I think it’s a cop out but a fair one: We have to wait and see what happens on July 11, and then the next year as well before making any potential conclusions about how the Angels will acquire amateur talent.

“Hey TBW – I know all of the draft hype has been surrounding the Vandy boys, but I’m wondering what the rest of the talent pool looks like (are there more appealing bats or arms), especially players that could end up with the Angels? – Harry G (@hgonzalez_55)

Ciao, Harry. Vanderbilt has two of the best amateur arms in the nation in Kumar Rocker and Jack Leiter, who will likely both go in the top five picks of the draft, and maybe even top two. I think most would argue they are the two best draft prospects this year, and I’m not totally certain I would disagree with that notion. They’re pretty incredible pitchers but do have questions in regard to their future as Major Leaguers. Rocker is a bit violent, and his command leaves a lot to be desired, but it’s premium stuff which could make him an elite reliever. Leiter is six-foot, and draws fair comparisons to Sonny Gray, but there aren’t many six-foot starters in the Majors today, and his off-speed command can be inconsistent.

As for the rest of the class, there are definitely some talents that would grade out well with Rocker and Leiter, but likely fall behind them as the third best prospect and down. Marcelo Mayer, a shortstop from Eastlake (San Diego), is probably the third best talent in my opinion. He draws some unfair comparisons to Francisco Lindor because he’s a switch hitter who plays stellar defense, but I think he could tap into near Lindor potential and be an absolute stud. Everyone will have some questions at the top of the draft as you get more nitpicky, but I’d say there are about 20 kids who should grade out as 50-grade prospects right out of the draft (you’ll see more from other outlets which is fine, but just based on my conversations, it’s about 20 on my end). Of those 20, I think 11 could be above-average regulars right out of the gate which should give the Angels a chance at one. I already mentioned Henry Davis (Louisville), who I am immensely high on, and I’d like to add Ty Madden (Texas) and Gunnar Hoglund (Ole Miss) to that list who are pitchers with loud arsenals, and the ability to remain starters long term.

Let’s move on to some prospect chat:

“What’s the general feel about how quickly (Jack) Kochanowicz will progress?” – Brain (@brian_slosh)

Salut, Brian. Jack Kochanowicz received an invitation to the alternate site last summer, and then went on to instructs where I rapidly got texts from scouts from multiple organizations either saying I needed to direct my focus to this kid or asking for more information about him. He saw a nice velocity pickup reaching upwards of 97, flashed a plus curveball, and obviously turned some heads following time at the alternate site.

However, keep in mind this kid has yet to pitch in an organized affiliated game or in a real game setting. Pitching at the alternate site in 2020 gives him a bit of advancement in development, but he’s still only 20-years-old. I would imagine he will be sent out to an affiliate in 2021, and most likely here in San Bernardino (Inland Empire) with plans of seeing him getting a bulk of innings. That would place him on a slightly advanced development pattern, maybe a few months ahead of where he would have been (most high school pitchers see full season ball about two years after they were drafted). I’ll have a tick more information on Kochanowicz and others when my Top 30 Prospects list drops… I believe… after Opening weekend?

“Have there been any noticeable changes to the Angels on the player development side, since Perry Minasian has taken over?” – A.J. Street (@AJStreet77)

Yo, A.J. Good to hear from you again, and miss your weekly questions from when I was host of Locked On Angels (shoutout to Brent Maguire for killing it with the podcast). It’s a great question that does not have an answer just yet. Honestly, we may have to wait a year to see any obvious changes to changes on the development side. There have been some out-of-house hires to the development staff, but that’s the extent of what we can see. Players need to play in the minors to see any changes, and we have to speak to coaches and development staff to get any little remarks we can about development changes. Right now, it’s standing pat. One thing I will say is based on comments I’ve heard, it does sound like pitchers may be able to work deeper into outings, and the swing changes I’ve seen from players via video or Instagram, or Spring Training have continued but with lesser alterations from their previous swings.

“Why does it seem LAA are determined to make relief pitchers out of their most viable future rotation pieces (Rodriguez, Detmers)? It seems the organization is locking itself into “cast-off FAs of the year” for its 3-4-5 rotation spots in perpetuity if it doesn’t develop its own.” – Terry West (@broadwayterry)

Nǐn hǎo, Terry. Things have changed since you first asked on Wednesday, so I had to go back and alter my answer a bit. Chris Rodriguez has been one of the most impressive arms for the Angels during the spring, and the Angels are in need of relief help, somewhat badly. He has only pitched so many whatever innings over the last three years and hasn’t been above High-A, but his arsenal and command are so advanced, it could play in the Majors today. I think out of necessity more than anything, Rodriguez is one of the final cuts for spring and may even make the Opening Day roster, and reasoning could be detailed here…

A few weeks ago, I asked Perry Minasian about Rodriguez specifically and how his development could differ from the standard path. I mentioned Corbin Burnes of Milwaukee directly as an outlier, he seemed intrigued, and then two days later, Joe Maddon mentioned Burnes as a similar kind of deal when it comes to Rodriguez. Maybe I struck a chord? It’s not an exact to Burnes, but teams have brought up starters during development in the past before to turn them into starters while getting Major League reps (Garrett Richards and Chuck Finley if we’re being Angels specific). With the minor league starting late and players headed for the alternate site, this could be a case where the Angels feel Rodriguez will be an asset in the bullpen and he’d be better suited for development at the Major League level as opposed to an alternate site facing competition that was similar to what he faced last year in Long Beach. Just a hunch, but it could be the case, and that also all falls on whether Rodriguez is on the Opening Day roster or not.

As for Reid Detmers, he isn’t coming up as a reliever. He’ll be sent to an affiliate out of the alternate site (probably Tri-City) where he’ll get innings and just work on getting deeper into games and refining his already advanced command. If he comes up this season, the Angels may have a problem out of necessity and injuries to the depth of the Angels rotation. I said he wouldn’t come up as a reliever, but I guess I should say as a long-term item. Come September, if the Angels are in need of pitching and Detmers has shown he’s the best option (or the need is there) I could see him pitching in the bullpen to close out his development season and coming into low-leverage situations until he can prove pitching above that, and then join the Angels in spring of 2022 fighting for a spot in the back of the rotation.

“What’s up with Torii Hunter Jr.? Was in Spring camp last year if I remember correctly. Slide backwards?” – James H Kell Jr. (@JkdaAngelsFan)

Goddag, James. Torii has always kind of been an interesting conversation when it comes to scouts, fans, executives, coaches – really just about anyone. This kid is an explosive athlete, and it’s obvious why he was such a talented football player and was so quick to blossom as a baseball player. He put up good numbers at the lower levels, which is mightily impressive for someone who played something like 10 games of college baseball. That said, I think that was kind of the peak when it comes to Torii Jr.

I’m sure everyone would love to see Torii’s kid, Torii Jr., be a success on the baseball field, and there’s still plenty of time for him to tap into any and all baseball skill as he is very green as a ballplayer. He was able to compete at the High-A level which is even more astonishing as that tends to be the level that separates the organization players from prospects. That said, it’s a long swing that probably never works long term and getting him even more unnatural, I just don’t see the bat playing. He’s one of the best runners in the system and is perfectly equitable as a defender. In reality, he’s just a football player trying to play baseball, which is cool, but I don’t see it working. Most scouts tend to agree that he’s an interesting athlete but not really a prospect or long-term baseball player. I hope I’m wrong and the Angels give him a long leash, but I kind of see another Trevor Gretzky (Wayne’s kid) in the works here where if his last name wasn’t Hunter, he’d likely get less attention. Not a knock though, as he has done wonders coming from such a raw baseball background.

“Yesterday, Adam Jones threw his name in the hat for the Olympics. Do you see any Angels players getting the invite and being allowed to participate? Personally, I could see Detmers, Adell, and Marsh. – Chris Chapman (@Chapdaddy76)

Guten Tag, Chris. Glad to hear from another follower who was a regular during the Locked On Angels Mailbag sessions. I’m still finding out more when it comes to the rules about how Olympic rosters will be constructed. To my belief – and mostly based on how the U.S. and Canadian hockey teams were constructed – all players on the roster had to be away from a Major League contract. Whether that strictly means 40-man or not under any professional contract (minor leaguers not on 40-man) is up in the air. I probably need to do more research.

If players not on the 40-man are eligible, I could definitely see someone like Reid Detmers being on the Olympic roster. Adell and Marsh would be void because they are on the 40-man. If non-40-man players apply, I believe it would mostly be players similar to Adam Jones (partially retired or playing in international leagues) or upper-level prospects and veterans. This would mean guys like Jake Faria, Dillon Peters, Phil Gosselin, Brennon Lund, etc. As cool as it would be to cover some of the Olympic players directly who are under contract with the Angels at the minor-league level, you’re talking about 25 roster spots for 30 teams. I have a feeling if the Angels permit a player to play in the Olympics, it would be isolated to just one.

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