Mailbag: 9/24/2021

I’m not one for extended introductions. You asked, I answered. Let’s go.

Let’s start with the obvious…

“Any sense you’re getting from Angels management as to what the plan is with Stefanic? Given all the players getting called up, it seems they’ve gotta have a reason to not have. Also, why do you think so many pitchers got called up so fast? It seems many of them just aren’t ready.” – @CDuran55

Hello. In short, yes, there is a plan – it seems. I am as shocked as everyone that he hasn’t been called up already and kind of expected it at the end of August or start of September. Michael Stefanic has been on an offensive tear, even for the hitter friendly Triple-A West League (I hate that it’s not Pacific Coast League). I’ve asked Joe Maddon during the Zoom conference calls about him, and the answer essentially is that he is still earning the opportunity and development is still vital to his game. Perry Minasian said on the Salt Lake Bees broadcast that Stefanic was working on specific assets of his game still – particularly defense. He does need work defensively, mostly the glove work, but he’s shown glimpses of more than serviceable defense. One thing that’s interesting is that he’s played four different positions over his last eight games (this was written on Wednesday morning), three of which are totally new positions for him. It seems they’re attempting to make him a versatile utility player who has a strong chance of putting the ball in play as a pinch hitter if he’s called upon during the 2022 campaign. That said, I strongly believe he should have been given a small chance this year at the Major League level, even for a week and at the cost of a 40-man spot. If you’re going to do some pitching tryouts like they have been, why not do one for an infielder that the organization has openly noted that they like? As for your pitching question, it’ll be answered below.

“Stefanic, Stefanic, Stefanic. Why no love for the plumber? Do you think the Angels will protect him for the Rule-5 Draft?” – @Cp3Chuck

Greetings, Chuck. Yeah. Stefanic, Stefanic, Stefanic. It’s the talk of the town and rightly deserved. I answered your initial question above but as for the Rule-5 Draft, I am not sure. I’m about to jump down a rabbit hole to make a long answer out of this and give you all a Rule-5 preview for the Angels, but in short: it would seem if there is an open 40-man spot, he would make sense to fill it.

The Angels currently have 43 Rule-5 eligible players in the organization by my count. Eight of those are minor league free agent signings who will need to re-sign with the organization. Nine more have reached their six-year service mark as a minor leaguer and can opt for free agency, and will have knowledge of their future as pertains to their Rule-5 potential selection giving the player options as opposed to the team. Another 10 have not played above Single-A and unless a team is willing to sneak D’Shawn Knowles on their roster for a full season, there’s little threat any are taken. That leaves you with 16 Rule-5 eligible players. Of that group, I’m confident in eliminating 11 based on injuries, scarce long or short-term performance, or lack of multiple Major League tools. That leaves me with a quintet of potential Rule-5 selection (I’ll note these five in a second).

With all of that, keep in mind the Angels 40-man roster currently sits at 48 due to injuries. There will be an immediate eight spots open up as players hit free agency (Bundy, Cishek, Cobb, Guerra, Iglesias, Suzuki, Fowler, Lagares) putting you back at 40. However, six players must be added back when Luke Bard, Patrick Sandoval, Franklin Barreto, Anthony Rendon, Justin Upton, and Mike Trout are activated from the 60-day IL. To make room, the Angels will have outright or DFA six players out of the gate.

The aforementioned five I had remaining with a chance of being taken in the Rule-5 are as listed: Aaron Hernandez, Connor Higgins, Orlando Martinez, Elvis Peguero, and Michael Stefanic. You can already see where the roster crunch is going to be challenging for the Angels to fit any of these five on their 40-man protecting them from the Draft. Let’s finish this breakdown.

Hernandez has been better of late, but unless a pitch-data driven team foresees him skyrocketing into Major League success, I don’t think he’ll be protected or taken. Orlando Martinez is a bench/platoon projection prospect, and has been his regular average performer in 2021, but that’s not enough for a team to stow him on a bench, so same fate as Hernandez. Higgins has the velocity and swing-and-miss breaker that you see in a lot of Rule-5 selections and also, a lot of what you see in players that are returned quickly. He’d be my best guess as an unprotected player being taken from the Angels in the Rule-5, but with some lower risk to not having him returned at some point.

That leaves you with Elvis Peguero and Michael Stefanic. Peguero is obviously someone the Angels like and if there’s an obvious player to protect, it’s probably him. As for Stefanic, it’s all based on how the Angels view him moving forward and if they feel a team would select him in the Rule-5. He can clearly hit, whether it be performance based on by the eye test. Teams will check with their pro staff and who has seen him to confirm, have their analytics staff check the numbers, and in reality, he has a 50/50 chance of being taken if not protected. That is where the next question leads us…

“Thoughts on Stefanic/Brendon Davis filling utility spots for the following season? Or do the current options of Rengifo/Rojas/Mayfield/Gosselin/Barreto delay their call-up?” – @buckybucky21

G’day, Bucky. Great question that can help answer the last one a bit. Stefanic can hit, and there’s not a ton of development remaining about his hit tool. The best part of his game is that he rarely strikes out and has an absurd sub five percent SwSt%. He’s going to put the ball in play for you, which only adds to his bench role potential. So… if the Angels believe Stefanic can handle himself in the field at multiple positions and at the plate, it seems he could be one of the multiple utility options for the Angels in 2022, joining the group you mentioned.

As for Brendon Davis, which we will touch more on in the next question, look at my answer for Stefanic and do a bit of a reverse. Davis has had a great year offensively from a performance standpoint with a rough OPS of .900 (I’m writing this on Wednesday and it could change so it’s a generalization). Power has showed up, but something that hasn’t changed is his strikeout rate which is hovering around 25%. He’s a gifted defender who can play the left side of the infield for you, which is a plus. It’s kind of a flip-flop here on whether you want the better defender or the better hitter and the better power potential or the better chance at putting the ball in play. I think Stefanic has the edge, but I also think both fall behind Rengifo, Mayfield, and Gosselin on the depth chart.

“What is up with Brendon Davis? No hit tool per scouting reports until he gets into LAA organizations and now has a year of .900 OPS in 448 AB at three levels.” – @mikeyAngelfan

Howdy, Mikey. Yeah, how about that? Davis has always been seen as a superb athlete and it’s kind of the reason you constantly hear about not giving up on athletes. He was a minor league Rule-5 pick who jumped three levels this season. He’s seen increases in all of his offensive statistics with sustainability in his BABIP. The power has shown up that was never really there. I mean, based on the performance test, he passes and it all looks good outside of the strikeout percentage. It’s still around 25% which is fairly on par with his career average, but you’d really like to see that come down to foresee future Major League success.

I saw Davis for one game in high school and missed his quick trip to Rancho Cucamonga while he was in the Dodgers system. That led me to watch some tape on him during his time with the Dodgers and Rangers, and I noticed something pretty quick. His hands are much quieter than before, and I love the change he made with his lower half to become more balanced in his swing. I’ve spoken to scouts about him, and perception hasn’t changed a ton but leaves me lingering and monitoring. He seems like the kind of guy who becomes a better hitter with more reps, and if the Angels can retain him for 2022, I’d definitely keep tabs. He’s young. He’s strong. He’s athletic. There might be something there.

“Seems like the arms we’ve seen come up recently are just arms that would be in any organization but because the Angels are starved for pitching, they get called up. Outside of Detmers/C-Rod, where are the high-upside guys?” – @ChewingCast

Hey, Chewing Cast. I agree. A lot of the arms the Angels have brought up late this year are standard organization pitchers that every team has. I like that the Angels are rewarding guys for performance though. There was always some intrigue on my end for guys like Cooper Criswell, Jhonathan Diaz, Olli Ortega, Kyle Tyler, Andrew Wantz, and Austin Warren. Most of that intrigue is that they throw a lot of strikes with a decent enough breaking ball, or in the case of Olli Ortega, has legit swing-and-miss stuff with inconsistencies. To kind of go back to @CDuran55’s question, I think they brought these guys up for multiple reasons. First off, they’ve earned it on performance. Secondly, all of them are Rule-5 eligible and getting Major League data on them is vital on future decisions for each young man. It’s almost like a tryout basis, which is cool because it only occurred after the Angels were essentially eliminated from playoff contention and gave the team a look at guys who may not have had the chance otherwise.

Getting to your actual question about the high upside guys, well, there just aren’t a ton in this organization. Sam Bachman is clearly the first that comes to mind and his upside is massive – front line starter kind of massive. I’m not sure he’ll ever hit that ceiling, but even at half the ceiling he is a high end reliever or middle rotation arm who should help the Angels for a long time. After that, you’re talking about Ky Bush and Jack Kochanowicz. The Angels haven’t selected pitchers early often enough in recent years to possess these high upside arms, but the ones they have taken higher in the draft (Detmers, Bachman, Bush, Kochanowicz) all offer some upside. Bush and Kochanowicz both have serious physicality to them and possess a fine arsenal that give them mid-rotation upside. Bush’s success is relatively new and comes as an amateur so plenty of time before figuring out how he’ll develop. Kochanowicz struggled to find consistency and actually threw a few too many strikes this year, but he’s only 20 years old. There’s upside coming, but it’s going to take time and more amateur acquisitions to build an impressive pitching staff.

“Any thoughts on how pitching development has been under Perry? i.e. are guys like Kyle Tyler/Davis Daniel signs of better things to come for Angels pitching?” – @JohnPaulson29

Bonjour, Jean (John). I’m going to use an old cop out and say it’s too small a sample to see drastic changes within a single season. The two things I did notice were the improved strike-throwing across the system which was huge for the performance of guys because hitters have not adjusted well post-COVID. The other thing is I really like that pitchers are permitted to go beyond their allotted pitch or inning count to finish an inning or overall outing. I don’t have a problem with capping innings or what not, but allowing guys to go beyond their threshold is great for their development when controlled properly.

“How about a Kevin Maitan update. And thoughts on him.” – @Chapdaddy76; “Do you think Maitan continues to be a prospect with potential or does it look more like the ceiling is low with a low floor as well?” – @BoondckSnt

Hola, Chap and Saint. Kevin Maitan, man, I wish I had something good to say. He’s a good kid who has struggled to adapt to American life. He added serious weight (the bad kind) while with the Braves and showed up to camp this year noticeably slimmer but still not in a great physique. He hadn’t played under the lights under any setting until coming stateside. He missed the early part of the 2021 season with a nasty cut to his finger that got a tendon. And what he did in Tri-City is forgettable. In the Low-A West League alone, he was the second worst offensive performer (41 wRC+) among players with the same amount of plate appearances (Angels players had four of the six worst by wRC+). When you look across all of High-A, he is in the bottom 1% of offensive output. He’s hitting the ball on the ground over half the time – when he is putting the ball in play. There just aren’t any progressive indicators. He’s still young, but that’s a common term used when someone just isn’t turning the corner. I’d give it a non-zero chance of him reaching 5% of the expected ceiling he had (i.e., org player).

“With Thaiss switching back to catcher this year, is that to increase trade value or back up low cost for Halos?” – @NCAngelsfan

Buenas Dias (or noches), Steve. For those that don’t know, Steve is a long time supporter and I greatly appreciate that. Matt Thaiss catching was definitely not something I envisioned coming into 2021. I actually thought he was a fine defender at third. Regardless, Thaiss got more time behind the plate than anyone in Salt Lake. I thought it would be to make him more versatile but with the amount of time he got back there, it seems like a permanent move which could be beneficial for the Angels. I don’t think he has trade value though. Catching does add to the trade value, but he’s going to have to prove a better hitter at the highest level to show any trade value. As for organization value, it does increase his stock. One thing I really focus on is when a player goes through a position change, other facets of their game falter, which was not the case for Thaiss. He has been better offensively (metrics steadily improving as well) than his previous trips to Salt Lake and doing it while changing positions is a positive note. As for his catching, I’ve heard mixed reports with none of them really all that great. I’ve heard his arm is anywhere from below-average to 30-grade. He just doesn’t look natural back there and I have no idea if that will ever come, but it’s still cool that he jumped into doing it and it likely helps his career once he gets back into the swing of things (not swing, that’s offense, uhh… the block of things?). Either way, if Thaiss can be a below-average defender and we move to automated umpires, he could probably hit enough to be a serviceable backup catcher.

“Where do we stand with Adams and Thaiss?” – @goated_kobe

Shalom, Kobe. I touched on Thaiss above. When it comes to Jordyn Adams, I think you have to toss this season out. He tweaked his hamstring the first week of the year and that can really mess with you. He was also going through a swing change and just never seemed to find a groove with it getting erratic. I mentioned above that you never give up on athletes and I feel confident saying Adams is the best one in the organization. He’s still learning baseball, and between the injury and tweaks to his swing, I just don’t see value in assessing the current player as opposed to the future player. He’s a smart kid who understands the process and I think that’s going to help him throw the year aside and regroup for the winter and 2022. I’m still buying in even if the path got longer.

“Adell has a full year of service time, what does that mean for him next year and when will the Angels have to go through arbitration?” – @NightBullpen

Hi, Night Bullpen. I’m not gonna lie, I had to check Baseball-Reference for this one. Adell is arbitration eligible in 2023. As for what it means for him next year – I think the Angels had a lot of their questions answered. He improved in every facet of the game and is starting to show consistent glimpses of the star studded player he has the potential to become. He was still a bit aggressive at the plate, but he chopped his strikeout percentage in half and looked legit in doing so. Full buy-in on my end.

“If the Angels stand firm on keeping Marsh and Adell, who then would be the most likely prospects to be dealt for quality pitching this off-season?” – @claythesecond

Namaste, Clay. Yeah, I don’t see Marsh or Adell moved anytime soon. Problem with that is you don’t really have the prospect capital to make a large trade for pitching, because I don’t see the Angels moving Reid Detmers soon either. That kind of makes it a “who isn’t available” as opposed to “who is?” I think the Angels are open to moving anyone outside of Adell, Marsh, and Detmers with Sam Bachman and Arol Vera maybe being the other exceptions. Outside of that, Perry will be opportunistic.

“In the race for the bottom, where do the Angels project to draft in 2022? And is it too soon to return to drafting best available?” – @brainfadetoday; “If the season were to end today, what draft number selection would the Angels have?” – @AAAMinorLeaguer

Konnichiwa, Brian and Minor Leaguer. As it sits today – Wednesday, September 22, 2021, 3:43pm PT – the Angels would hold the 11th pick in the 2022 MLB Draft. If they lose every game the rest of the year, they could move all the way up to the fifth pick. That won’t happen. They’re going to win some games, and lose some others. At best (or worst pending your view), the Angels could win some games and move down the draft order by four or five spots roughly. At worst (or best, whatever), they could lose some games and move up two or three spots. So their general range by end of season will be anywhere from picks 8-16 with the likelihood it’ll be 10-14. As for best player available, I think they’ve been doing that mostly under Matt Swanson and did so with Perry Minasian with some open debate. I know Sam Bachman wasn’t Kumar Rocker, but when you look at the big picture and see Rocker’s bonus demands, it all made sense. Same goes for the year prior.

“Coleman Crow’s upside?” – @jobalexang

Hujambo, Job Alex Ang. Another note: Job Alex Ang (or at least I think it’s a full name, I haven’t asked out) is another long-time supporter who I appreciate. If you’ve followed my work like Job has, you understand that I have a friend in the business who also tends to cover Angels prospects by the name of Jared Tims who I met through a mutual friend by the name of Brent Maguire who I hand-picked to replace me at Locked On Angels. Jared reached out to me sometime around – oh, July or so – and asked what I knew about Coleman Crow. I said I knew that he signed for fifth-round money in a late round and that he was a project arm and that was about it. Jared told me to go see him and I did. The athleticism and movement profile alone left me wanting more. I wasn’t as high on him as Jared was, but I saw what Jared was talking about and I do like Coleman Crow. I think his size limits him and I don’t think he’ll be able to go four-or-five innings in a single outing once he gets deeper into development, but I could see him popping up as a middle reliever down the road. He has some velocity and good movement on the fastball, the slider flashes average, and his changeup has good fade even with it being so firm. There’s a lot of work left with command as he’s in the zone often but it’s up in the zone too much making him hittable. I think his biggest problem will be size (out of his control) and improvement of the breaking ball because right-handed relievers with a changeup don’t always blend well at the Majors, even if you can locate a righty-righty changeup in which is one of the best pitches you can throw. He’s young and I think there’s time for him to be something, so realistic upside is probably middle relief with some high-leverage potential.

“Thoughts on Jose Bonilla? Saw him play third base at a 66ers game and he looked real good at the hot corner.” – @painfulhalo

Guten tag! First off, I’m stoked you went to go see the 66ers in person and came away with an opinion of your own on a player. I think if someone has interest in prospects, it’s a million – no, billion times better to go see the players in person as opposed to reading a box score (I know that’s not something everyone can do because of home destination, but you get what I’m saying). Jose Bonilla had kind of been on my radar for awhile because his initial signing was delayed a year and it gave more time to study him through video outlets (right after I said go see the kid in person, ha!). I saw him opening weekend for the 66ers and I think there’s a solid foundation with the swing he has but it was evident he was overmatched by the opposing talent. It was an aggressive assignment to start the year and I think it kind of burned his entire season which will happen on occasion with each organization and a handful of players. He struggled the whole year offensively and it knocked him down a bit but there’s still some corner infield bench upside there. I think he’ll be able to hit though I question how much power is there. I wasn’t a fan of where he is physically and my times for him going to first were not pretty (I have him as a 30-runner at best). At third though, I think he fits. He’s mobile enough and he trims down I think he’ll get some of his athleticism back, and that arm – my goodness. That’s a plus arm at third for sure. He’s still a project but one worth monitoring.

“What can we expect from Ky Bush? And when?” – @PerryMinasian

Ahoy, Perry. I feel like I should be asking you instead of you asking me since you’re the GM. Also, Ky Bush is a NASCAR champion and future Hall of Famer, so where have you been? Ok, the bit is starting to get old. Ky Bush, the Angels second-round pick this year, is one of my favorite guys in the system. I love how he has learned to use his physique to better suit his pitching style. He improved across the board year round. As for what you can expect, he’s going to have to continue development before reaching any near final verdict but based what he is now and could project to be, I think you either have a mid-rotation arm who can miss bats and keep the ball on the ground, or a serious power arm out of the bullpen. I like that he has four distinct pitches and that he knows how to use them. I like that he has command of all of those pitches. I like that he throws strikes. I like that he has trimmed down and become a better athlete on the mound. Simply, I like Ky Bush.

“Will we be in the market for a long term shortstop, or is Arol Vera considered our shortstop of the future in a couple years?” – @ESabro3

Yo yo, E-Sabro. I honestly think you could do both. Arol Vera is probably going to be a top-three prospect for the Angels for every major publication this winter. He can hit, he can field, he has the makings of a future impact middle infielder. That said, he’s like a week past his 19th birthday and only has 19 games in Low-A. There is still a lot of time before Vera becomes the shortstop (or different positioned infielder) of the future for the Angels, which by my assessment, would probably be around 2024/2025 before even making the Majors and another year or two out from being tagged “the future.” That gives you four-to-six years roughly before getting there, and you could give a shortstop a long-term deal, in the range of four to five years. Whether that be Carlos Correa or Corey Seager or Trevor Story or Javy Baez or whoever this winter, I don’t know. I would imagine the Angels will target a shortstop though because that’s an important hole to fill in your defense for 2022 and beyond.      

“Have the Angels monitored Braden Olthoff’s progress yet in Double-A? I hope they fix his mechanics so he could throw with better velo and command of the strikezone.” – @uravgangelsfan

What’s kickin’, uravangelsfan? So I’m a bit perplexed by your question because I don’t see many issues with Olthoff’s current mechanics or command. You could definitely tap into some more velocity by having him throw less simplistically, but that’s what kind of makes him what he is. His low-effort delivery helps the command and he has an understanding of his body. So, yeah, the Angels could make some changes and apparently velocity is the easiest thing to teach these days (look at Reid Detmers this year), but I don’t think they need to. As for if they’re monitoring him, yes they are. Perry Minasian was on location for his first start in Low-A to my understanding, which is about the biggest person in the organization you could have come see you. Other than that, I know the Angels like him and are definitely monitoring him as a potential prospect despite his lower than expected draft status. (Of note: You said his progress in Double-A which he has not been assigned to yet so I adjusted question to Low-A.)

“Thoughts on Perry and his staff so far? Will Sam Bachman start the season in Double-A or Triple-A next season?” – @uhangelsfan

Marhaba, Brad. Thanks for the two parter. I’ll start with Perry and his staff. Let me first say that I don’t think one year is enough to assess a General Manager or his staff. It’s too small a sample and there’s a lot of moving pieces that are out of their control from prior regimes, or as Ian Malcolm would call it: “Chaos Theory.” That said, I like that they are rewarding performance and challenging kids early and often. He really focused on bringing in players who threw strikes and walks are pretty much the most boring part of the game so I really dig that. I think he’s communicated to the younger players that they will be given the opportunity when they earn it which is important for the entire organization to understand they all have an opportunity. I, like many, would have liked to have seen him do more at the trade deadline to potentially build the organization, but as I said, one year isn’t enough sample to dictate a strong opinion.

As for Bachman. I’ve heard outstanding things. The Angels were aggressive with his assignment to Double-A, but I think that’s more based on the situation of baseball not having advanced Rookie Ball and teams across the board altering/improving prospect models (Eric Longenhagen of FanGraphs hit on this well) which is good for the player and organization, so if he’d have pitched it would have beneficial but even having the roster spot helps his stock. As for next season, I think instructional league and Spring Training will dictate that. The Angels will have a clearer path as to what they want to do make of Bachman (i.e., starter/reliever/swing) and when his timeline of Major League impact will be begin. If I had to guess, I’d say Double-A, but I wouldn’t be shocked if it was anything from High-A to Majors which is a very broad answer based on a challenging question.

“The Angels top four minor league teams had losing records this year. I know winning isn’t the top priority in the minors but what importance do you place on these young players coming through in winning environments? Also, who would you give awards to for best hitter/starter/etc.?” – @nzlaa_affiliate

Kia ora, Harry! I was traveling last week to come see you but for some odd reason my plane landed a quarter of the way there in Kauai and never left, so sorry I couldn’t make it to Kiwi Land. Thanks for asking my opinion on this because I feel strongly that you need a winning culture in your farm system. It’d be one thing if it was an odd year or if one affiliate didn’t win or what not, but for all four to combine for a .443 winning percentage, I don’t like that. The biggest problem is that it’s become a common problem. Neither of the Single-A affiliates have had a winning record since 2010, and Double-A hasn’t been above .500 since 2015. Obviously, development is the focus and winning comes second to that, but you need to preach winning as well and it puts your players and coaches in a scenario that they will be in once they get to the Majors, so you need to really address a winning culture and that losing is not alright.

As for player and pitcher of the year… I’ve thought about it. I think there’s different ways to assess this because you could focus on performance or on development progress, or other things, but I’m gonna just try and collectively do everything and pick a player and pitcher. On the player front I narrowed it down to three: Braxton Martinez, Brendon Davis, and Michael Stefanic. I’m going to give it to Stefanic because of what he did and how it compares to the rest of Minor League Baseball, but let’s not ignore Davis’ progress across three levels and Martinez’s jump into professional baseball this year. Pitchers: Fernando Guanare, Davis Daniel, and Cristopher Molina. I love that Guanare faced 196 dudes and walked just one. I think Daniel’s transcended himself back into a legit prospect and is now on the depth chart jumping levels and performing at each step. But… Cristopher Molina, man. He was a long man out of the bullpen for Tri-City and did nothing short of keeping the Dust Devils in each game. As a starter, he went out and did his job of limiting runs. Two of his three losses came in relief, while his 10 wins were scattered around (which also included a save at one point). His team went 6-2 in games he started. Give me Cristopher Molina for pitcher of the year for the Angels farm system.

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