Mailbag: 11/22/2021

Lots of questions in this one so I won’t waste time with an intro. Let’s go…

“Could the Angels have better success next year building a dominant offensive team signing and trading for major superstars, while having similar pitching they had last year? Is the formula for their success having a balanced team or can they win in a non-traditional way?” – @JCano89

Hello James. This is a pretty loaded question and I could go deep into some details but I’ll try to keep it somewhat simple. First, if the pitching production is the exact same as last season for 2022, that means the Angels are surrendering 4.96 runs per game. Simply, to be a playoff team, they would have to score five runs per game on average. In 2021, only five teams did that (Houston, Tampa, Toronto, Boston, Los Angeles), and of those five teams, the team who made the playoffs with the most runs allowed was Boston who allowed 55 less runs than the Angels in 2021. It could be done in theory, but the Angels are going to need better pitching to compete.

“The off-season focus seems to be clearly on pitching but the offense is decidedly subpar outside Trout/Ohtani/Rendon/Walsh. Do you think it’s a mistake to only try and improve the pitching? – @JDApsley

Hi, JD. Interesting question you have there. I think it’s pretty clear the Angels have to improve their pitching staff no matter what, but I could see where holes in the offense could use some help. Quickly breaking down the guys you didn’t mention, there’s some point to be had about improving at specific spots and one glaring hole that I don’t think can go ignored. Maybe it’s a just a firm belief engrained in me, but I don’t need a catcher to hit a lick – literally, Mendoza line is fine by me – and Max Stassi is around league-average so you don’t sweat that too much. You’re clearly still learning what you have in Jo Adell and Brandon Marsh for 2022 and where they are at competitively at this level but I doubt they’ll both be problematic as hitters so not as much stress there, especially if you can rotate Phil Gosselin, Justin Upton (who could go hot or cold any given second) or Taylor Ward (steadily becoming a more established hitter or at least not an offensive risk). David Fletcher is a tricky one because the shift (not horizontal alignment but vertical) is kind of messing with his game and outfielders are drawing in on those bloop hits so his offense will kind of always fluctuate and you can’t have him at leadoff. The biggest issue, and it’s massive, is shortstop. You don’t have one. I’m sure Fletcher could play there in a pinch, but you need an established everyday shortstop to contend and I don’t see one – let alone, one that can hit. That would be my big trade target is any shortstop, a position you need to improve because right now I feel like there’s a vacancy sign attached to it. So to go from long answer to short, yes, the Angels need to improve more than just pitching.

“When does (Mike) Trout get bumped to a corner? Any chance (Brandon) Marsh does that this year?” – @holden_cave

Howdy, Holden. I think that’s really up to Mike. He’s a superstar and you keep those guys happy, so if Mike wants to play center it’s probably likely he does. Now with that in mind, Mike is also humble enough to know when that move needs to happen. It may take a month or two, but if he knows that Brandon Marsh or whoever is going to give the club a better chance at winning by playing center field over him, I have little doubt he would move to a corner humbly.

“Why do the Angels have so many injuries? Some I know are fluke, but the pitching staff seems to be decimated every year.” – @SQLKid62

Sup, Carl? I wish I had an answer to this question. After high school I went to college with medical aspirations (I really just wanted to fight fires) but never became a doctor, so I don’t think it’d be proper for me to answer anything out of pure speculation. That said, the Angels have made a pretty big change with their internal medical staff hiring Mike Frostad as Director of Sports Medicine and Head Athletic Trainer. I don’t think anyone in baseball is safe from being injured as it’s a physical sport and the human body wasn’t really created to throw an object at the highest possible human force 100-150 times in a few hours, but hey, maybe a new training staff and regimen can prevent those random or not-so-random injuries from occurring. Like I said, I’m no doctor.

“A lot of fans have given up on (Griffin) Canning but he is young and barely has 200 Major League innings. Seems to me he can still very much be a big contributor in the future but with a season (or two) back in the minors. Is he really a bust?” – @MopFoxy

Yo, David. Yeah, I agree whole heartedly with your comment. He has just over 200 innings at the Major League level, and just as importantly for context: he has 340 innings total as a professional pitcher and had less than 300 while at UCLA. Griffin Canning is an extremely green arm who has shown plenty of signs of potential future success and he’s only 25-years-old. This season, I’m curious to see if we ever find out when Griffin started dealing with his lower back strain that ended up being a stress fracture. Back injuries can be as problematic as arm injuries for pitchers because with a weak or sore back you cannot finish your pitches leading to inability to locate and muscle memory can cause that to be a constant issue. There’s going to be growing pains for a kid who hasn’t thrown much professionally, and I think he was a tick rushed to the Majors, but let’s hold tight on any “bust” conversation (honestly, I hate that word beyond explanation) until we can see him fully healthy and fully developed. I think the kid has a bright future in Anaheim. Of note, take a look at some of his pitch data from last season – there are some highly encouraging signs despite a poor performance.

“Do you think we can extend (Shohei) Ohtani? Does it happen this year? I’d cry seeing Ohtani in a non-Angels uniform.” – @danskelton1

What’s up, Dan? I would imagine the Angels have at least had this conversation internally a few hundred times. They know the value of Ohtani on the field, and ownership is beyond well aware of his value off the field. The Angels would seemingly do whatever possible to retain Shohei Ohtani for the foreseeable future and likely what they hope is the rest of his career. However, what does that value really equate to in terms of money and contract length? We don’t know what the internal or external projections on Shohei are because no one has ever done what he’s done before and you can’t project that. If I’m being honest, there is little chance I see Shohei being a two-way player after he hits 30. I hope I’m wrong, but just based on a natural human athleticism and sustainability, it would seem in time he will have to stop pitching or hitting at some point. If you give him a decade-long extension, what do you project his pitching value to be, and what do you project his offensive value to be? Do you access him as an outfielder? Do you access him as a reliever? There are so many questions about how you go about this because if you look at 2021 as an outlier for value and can project that for the next five years, his on field value would be worth about $325 million over the next half decade, which he will not get. It’s impossible to project a figure for a Shohei extension, so to answer your question: I have no idea.

“Pitching… Pitching… Pitching… Outside of the few guys who made the MLB debuts, who increased their stock this past year and who is poised to make a jump this coming year?” – @jdick67

Hola, James. First name that popped in my head and has kind of been in my head since about, oh, June or so, is Davis Daniel. He was taken in the seventh-round in 2019 but didn’t make his competitive debut until this season (he did fine at instructs in 2020) due to arm injuries. I think if you polled most in the industry, they’d have said he was a third or fourth-round talent prior to injuries but the Angels seventh-round gamble has played out. The improved command has changed his profile to make him a potential backend rotation option, as opposed to a breaking ball heavy reliever upside. Coleman Crow had himself a breakout season due to some prospect-centric writers but they kind of hit it on the head well with him, as his name was pretty popular in the Arizona Fall League. He has two good breaking balls and has a athleticism/movement profile you like from youngsters. His ability to keep the ball on the dirt is impressive so he’s a breakout candidate if you don’t consider 2021 his initial breakout. I think up next you have to look at Connor Van Scoyoc and Daniel Nunan as potential guys, as well as some of the new draftees, and a guy I’ve been for awhile… (see next question)

“Did (Jack) Kochanowicz lower his stock after the season he had? Or was he better than the stats suggested?” – @jobalexang

Guten Tag, Job! Good to hear from you. I’m definitely high on Jack Kochanowicz. The body, the delivery, the stuff. I think it all plays long term. That said, his 2021 wasn’t pretty and my initial look was probably the worst outing he had all season. His stock lowered because of the performance, but there’s still a lot of excitement when it comes to Jack. There’s plenty of refinement left in his fastball command and ability to sell his breaking ball as it was too easy to identify. When and if he puts it all together though, his upside is definitely mid-rotation and I’m still a buyer. So his stock did drop in prospect circles, but for me, it didn’t change a lot.

“Is Matt Thaiss going to be the backup catcher going into next season? How was his defense behind the dish? Will the Angels pursue Seiya Suzuki? They need a corner outfielder and he’s projected at 10-14 AAV and they’ve already found how luxurious the Japanese media market can be for them.” – @Krossiant

Bonjour, Kristian. Let’s start with Thaiss. I have heard conflicting reports, both internally and externally. Joe Maddon had some positives to say about his catching based on team reports and I think that will merit something. I have also heard negatives, but I think for him to stay on par offensively while re-learning a position in the second most competitive league in the world was pretty impressive. I’m not sure if it’s enough to keep the Angels from exploring alternative routes for a backup catcher, but it seems he is an easy internal fallback option who the team hopes will continue progressing defensively. As for Seiya Suzuki; I’m a fan, but I think expectation is well above reality. He’ll hit and show some power and his arm is a howitzer from the corners, but he’s going to strikeout more than a fair share and will be exposed by velocity in the early parts of his career. I don’t think the Angels need a corner outfielder at this time and have other glaring holes (see above) so I don’t see where he fits with this club. Also, calling it now that headline writers and broadcasters will immediately jump to “Seiya-Nara” whenever he hits a home run, and we’ll grow tired of that by May.

“Have you seen (Alejandro) Hidalgo or (Edgar) Quero in person? Their write ups on various sites are positive.” – @AaronTheLess

Shalom, Aaron! Always appreciate hearing from a long-time follower. I’m working with the assumption that you mean Alejandro Hidalgo, the pitcher, and not Edwin Hidalgo, the catcher. It doesn’t really matter because I have not seen either of the Hidalgo’s in person, but that said, I have heard rave reviews on Alejandro. I wrote him up in my Top 30 Prospects and has him ranked fairly high. I was able to catch a short glimpse of Edgar Quero this year and was impressed. He’s a quiet receiver, and may have enough athleticism to stick behind the plate. I liked what he showed at the plate, but it was clear he was a younger hitter. He swings hard from the left side and has enough power to play. I’m a big fan so far and will likely move him up in my personal rankings. He’s probably a role player long-term but he left me wanting a second look that I’m hoping to get next year for a full series or two, or three, or more.

“Why does the MLB not allow teams to exchange draft capital in the way that the NFL and NBA do? That seems to be one of the primary vehicles for trade in those leagues.” – @holden_cave

I’ve run out of ways to say hello, so let’s just return to: Hi, Holden. It’s been talked about at length, but I think the ever changing value of draft picks makes it hard to identify a true trade value for a draft pick beyond the first or second round and with such a lengthy draft you would have to determine a lot of rules when it comes to trading picks. That said, a lot of owners don’t give a rip about the draft so it’s not a hot commodity when it comes to CBA negotiations. I’m sure we’ll see it change in time but I couldn’t tell you when that will happen. Most people I speak to say a middle first-round pick is worth about $20 million so whatever that value matches up with (I’d say high-end platoon hitter or mid-value pitcher).

“How did Brendon Davis turn it around? Long term upside/ceiling?” – @mikeyAngelfan

Hello, Mikey. Brendon Davis has been mentioned in prospect circles since he was in high school and I think part of his 2021 success was allowing him to match up favorably against talent in his age range. He quieted his load this year compared to what I have seen in video or based on memory of past viewings, so that definitely helped his offensive profile. He looks to be swinging with more intent as well, which is promising because the strikeout totals didn’t alter drastically in a negative sense while his power production did increase. He’s athletic and young which are positive signs, but based on conversations with scouts and executives, I don’t think the ceiling is massive. I would say he’s an up-down guy who fits into some platoon situations long-term but if I’m being honest, I just don’t know because I didn’t get a long enough look at him and 2021 is a weird year to assess performance over evaluation. I need to improve my evaluations before I could give you a hard answer on this, so for now I’ll rely on the scouts as I usually do, and say his ceiling is a versatile bench player.

“When do you think (Adley) Rutschman and (Bobby) Witt Jr. get called up?” – @Rymac87

Ryan! Thanks for asking about non-Angels stuff. It’s fun covering the Angels but I like broadening things to all of baseball. I can make this kind of short and just say I think both Rutschman and Witt are up early next year, and pending what happens with the CBA, that could be Opening Day. This is also where I want to insert that I think these are the two best prospects in baseball and will be cornerstones for their respective franchises. I had a long-time scout tell me Bobby Witt Jr. is going to be a five-tool superstar and I personally think Adley Rutschman will be a regular All-Star and potential MVP candidate. I love those two dudes and cannot wait for them to succeed in the Majors.

“What motivated you to write a book?” – @AJStreet77

Great to hear from you, A.J.! I’ll be honest, when Bob Fontaine Jr. approached me about writing his story, I didn’t expect to write a book at that time. I went into the meeting with an open mind, and after listening to him and hearing his stories I became ecstatic with the opportunity to document that. It was really Bobby and the way I came out of that meeting that drove my motivation. I always wanted to write a book but never knew what it would be about or anything like that so this was really awesome, and to document those parts of baseball history was an absolute blast. In reality, it brought enjoyment back to writing about the game because I had kind of grown tired of doing it so it was a massive motivator just to turn his stories into written stories. I hope it sells and I can make a few dollars but that was never the motivator which I think is cool because it really made me address what matters to me in life, and money wasn’t the drawing factor as it had been with other items prior.

“Forget who the team signs… I have some books to be signed… AHEM… [two laughing crying emojis] – @CollinTaylorInc

Okay. So Dave is a long-time follower and has become a friend over the years. One time, his son (Taylor) brought me a wireless mouse at Angel Stadium because I had forgotten mine at home, and it was purely out of good hearted nature since I had not met Dave by that time. I’m getting away from the question but I just wanted to note how I appreciate good people like the Holmes family. As for the signed books, I have taken in some request on this and am more than happy to sign some copies if anyone would like that. Email me (taylorblakeward@yahoo.com) and we will find a time and place to make it happen, which includes the same sentiment from Bobby. I hope you all enjoy the book!

That’s all for this mailbag, folks. Thanks for checking in. We’ll do this again after the start of the new year.

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