After a quick glance at the Top 15 list it should be fairly clear that this is one of the weakest minor league systems in Major League Baseball. Poor drafts (mainly due to lost draft picks from free agent acquisitions) and trades have decimated the system, which has almost no starting pitcher depth to speak of.
#1 Kaleb Cowart (3B)
The 18th overall selection of the 2010 amateur draft, Cowart has moved methodically through the Angels system. The third baseman split 2012 between two A-ball levels with modest results. Cowart, 20, has shown the ability to do a little bit of everything – flashing five tools. He currently has good gap power that is transitioning into more over-the-fence pop and he’s not afraid to take a walk. He swings and misses a fair amount but he’s young and still improving his pitch recognition. A switch-hitter, he tends to hit for better average from the right side of the plate but flashes solid power from the left side. When I saw him in April, Cowart was swinging around the ball and showed a need to get quicker to the ball.
At the hot corner, Cowart shows a strong arm –although it’s inaccurate at times –and sure hands. The athletic fielder has average range.The Georgia native was a two-way player in high school so his slower development is not a surprise — or a red flag. He has the potential to develop into an above-average third baseman, both on offense and defense. After struggling in the Arizona Fall League at the conclusion of the regular season, Cowart could return to the high-A level to open 2013 with an eye on reaching double-A in the second half of the season.
#2 Nick Maronde (P)
The Kentucky native reached the majors in his first full season of professional ball even though he battled through injuries. A starter in the minors, he made 10 MLB appearances out of the bullpen and was very effective pounding the lower half of the strike zone with his low-three-quarter arm slot. The University of Florida alum has a big strong frame and his fastball ranges from 88-94 mph and he also shows a slider that could develop into a plus pitch. The third pitch, a changeup, needs a lot of work to become an average offering.
The Angels made a number of changes to the starting rotation — including Jason Vargas, Tommy Hanson, and Joe Blanton — likely pushing Maronde out of contention for a starting gig but he could open the 2013 season in the bullpen. He has the ceiling of a mid-rotation starter if he can develop a more reliable third pitch. If he doesn’t break camp with the Angels, though, he’ll head to triple-A for some additional seasoning in the starting rotation.
#3 C.J. Cron (1B/DH)
Cron, the club’s first round selection from 2011, was expected to mash last season when he was assigned to the California League. He did just that and the Arizona native slugged 27 home runs in 129 games. Unfortunately,he walked just 17 times all year. Cron makes good contact for a slugger (12.9 K%) but his over-aggressive nature keeps him from getting into hitter’s counts on a consistent basis and he needs to learn to wait for better pitches. Like many young hitters, he also struggles with breaking balls.
Cron is going to have to absolutely crush the ball to be an everyday big leaguer hitter. His defensive projection is below average — thanks in part to his large frame — so he could very well be a designated-hitter-in-the-making. With Albert Pujols manning first base and Mark Trumbo earmarked for the designated hitter role, there is no reason to rush Cron. He’ll likely open 2013 in double-A but could struggle early unless he learns to be more patient with more advanced pitchers.
#4 Austin Wood (P)
Wood has an impressive pitcher’s frame and the stuff to match, but his results — both in college and pro ball — have not lived up to his potential. The right-handed starter has mid-to-high-90s velocity on his heater and a power slider but he struggles with both his command and control. Add in the fact that his changeup is well below average and you have a future high-leverage reliever in the making.
When I saw him pitch, Wood showed a stiff delivery with little use of his lower half. He altered his arm slot when he threw his breaking ball but he showed impressive late life on his heater. Wood, 22, provided modest results in A-ball in 2012 but, nonetheless, should move up to high-A ball in ’13. He’ll likely continue to gain experience and innings by working out of the starting rotation but it will slow down his timetable. He could be ready for the majors around 2015 if he permanently remains in the starting rotation.
#5 Taylor Lindsey (2B)
Lindsey is a left-handed-hitting, offensive-minded second baseman. He has a knack for barrelling the ball and has always hit for a high average — even after skipping a level to open 2012 in high-A ball. Unfortunately, he’s too aggressive for his own good and needs to get into better counts. He could stand to use his lower half more in his swing and that could help him show a little more pop, although he’ll never be a home-run hitter.
On defense, Lindsey shows fringe-average potential at second base and may not have the necessary skills to play everyday. His range is modest and his actions need cleaning up. It’s quite possible that the Arizona native will end up as a utility player. He’ll move up to double-A in 2013 and is about a year away from being considered for a bench role on the big league club.
#6 R.J. Alvarez (P)
Alvarez was the Angels’ top pick of the 2012 amateur draft, but they didn’t choose until the third round. The 21-year-old hurler has a chance to move quickly through the minors as a reliever. He should open 2013 in high-A ball but could reach double-A or triple-A by the end of the year, and the majors at some point in 2014.
Alvarez, a Florida native, has a live fastball that can touch 96-97 mph but he needs to show better consistency. His power slider has plus potential. The right-hander could use a weapon against tough left-handed hitters. He has a max-effort delivery that adds deception but hurts his command. I watched Alvarez and \said “Wow” out loud at one point when a slider that looked headed for a batter’s head dropped as it passed over the plate for a strike. Unfortunately, he began to favor the pitch too much and it lost some of its effectiveness.
#7 Mike Clevinger (P)
Another gem uncovered by scouting machine Tom Kotchman, Clevinger was a steal in the fourth round of the 2011 draft. Unfortunately, his ascent through the Angels system was halted when he blew out his elbow and underwent Tommy John surgery. He has very long legs and a quick arm that creates good movement to his offerings.
When he’s healthy, Clevinger shows an 88-93 mph fastball, promising slider, and two other potentially-average pitches in a curveball and changeup. He has a strong body but the elbow injury will raise concerns about his durability moving forward, especially given his delivery which has some effort to it and can hamper his command. If he comes back at full strength, Clevinger has the ceiling of a No. 3 or 4 starter but his delivery screams “reliever” to me.
#8 Alex Yarbrough (2B)
A 2012 fourth round draft pick — the Angels’ second pick overall — Yarbrough reached double-A in his first taste of pro ball. He showed a solid approach with his initial assignment to A-ball where he displayed an uncanny ability to make contact, as evidenced by his 20 strikeouts in 58 games. The second baseman also showed average speed and solid base running with nine doubles and nine steals (11 tries). His ability to switch-hit gives him added value.
Yarbrough will probably never be more than average at second base but he could develop into a steady fielder who handles everything he gets to. His future may include a utility role as a part-time player who hits for a decent — albeit empty — batting average. The organization may want to explore if he can handle the outfield as well, since shortstop is probably out of the question. Yarbrough could return to double-A to open 2013 and could be challenging for a bench role by the end of 2014.
#9 Randal Grichuk (OF)
It’s bad enough to have to deal with the fallout of being selected one spot ahead of a player like Mike Trout but it’s a whole other thing to be in the same organization as that once-in-a-generation star. Grichuk, drafted out of a Texas high school, was the 24th selection of the 2009 draft while Trout went 25th overall. The latter player went on to win the American League Rookie of the Year award in 2012 (and almost the MVP) while Grichuk was riding the buses in the California League.
Grichuk just missed hitting .300 in 2012 while enjoying the added offensive boost that comes from playing in the California League. He showed solid pop with 18 home runs and 30 doubles, but it remains to be seen how much of that was a product of his environment. His overly-aggressive approach led to just 23 walks in 135 games. He finished up the year with a stint in the Arizona Fall League and struggled. He’s a steady, but unspectacular, fielder and has a strong enough arm for right field. Grichuk, 21, will likely move up to double-A in 2013 and try to prove that his ’12 season was not a mirage.
#10 Daniel Tillman (P)
Tillman had a rough year in 2012. He was given an opening-day assignment to double-A after appearing in just seven high-A ball games the year before. He posted a 12.10 ERA in 20 games before getting sent back down to the California League where he was dominant with just 10 hits allowed in 24.1 innings.
Tillman, 23, is not the tallest of pitchers but he can fire his heater up into the mid-90s while also featuring a promising slider. Unfortunately, he struggles with both his command and his control. Double-A hitters were able to wait him out and pounce on his inconsistent offerings once he fell behind in the count. The right-hander will give double-A another shot in 2013 and he’ll look to get off to a quick start in an effort to build up his confidence. He has the ceiling of an eighth-inning reliever.
#11 Mark Sappington (P)
A big, strong right-hander, Sappington can dial his fastball up into the mid-90s. He also features two potentially-average pitches in a slider and changeup. Add in the fact that he has a unique delivery that features effort to it and you have a pitcher that’s likely headed to the bullpen.
Sappington, 22, struggled with both his command and control in his debut, although he worked out of the starting rotation and will most likely get another shot at that role in 2013. He’ll open the year in full-season ball but it will likely be in the lower of two A-ball leagues. He has the ceiling of a set-up man if he can improve his command/control and also show a better breaking ball.
#12 Kole Calhoun (OF)
A stint in the California League in 2011 did wonders for Calhoun’s prospect status but it may have also caused some people to over-estimate his ceiling. The left-handed hitter has the potential to be a very useful big league outfielder but he’s more of an above-average back-up than a starter on a first-division club.
Calhoun hustles his butt off and has hit everywhere that he’s played — outside of a brief 21-game sampling with the big league club in 2012. He does a little bit of everything but none of his tools stand out. He has a little pop, he can steal a few bases and he goes all out in the outfield while backing up all three positions. Solid depth in the outfield at the big league level means that Calhoun should open the year in triple-A but he could be the first outfielder recalled in the event of an injury.
#13 Andrew Romine (SS)
Romine doesn’t have a huge ceiling but he has a chance at opening 2013 as the Angels’ main backup infielder. He’s capable of filling in at second base, third base and shortstop. He also offers a left-handed bat with good contact skills and some speed on the base paths. Romine has almost no power to speak of.
Romine, 27, has already had stints with the big league club in each of the past three seasons and two full triple-A seasons under his belt so he has nothing left to prove in the minors. His ability to play a solid shortstop gives him a decent shot at beating out the likes of Tommy Field, or Brendan Harris and Luis Rodriguez (both non-roster invitees this spring) for a spot on the 25-man roster.
#14 AJ Schugel (P)
A two-way player prior to turning pro, Schugel is still playing catch-up on the mound. He shows an average fastball but his secondary stuff is still rounding into form. Despite that fact, he spent all of 2012 in double-A and held his own, although his fly-ball ways and low strikeout rate could become an issue if he stays in the starting rotation. Schugel slings ball and could stand to use his lower half better to take some of the stress off of his shoulder. Hitters seem to get a good look at his pitches but all three of his offerings showed solid movement when I watched him pitch.
Schugel, 23, is poised for an assignment to triple-A and could see some big league action in 2013 if he can continue to retire hitters while also making further adjustments. Because his secondary stuff projects as average, or a little above, his future role may come out of the bullpen or perhaps as a swing man.
#15 Cam Bedrosian (P)
It was an ugly season for Bedrosian but it was also a learning opportunity for the young right-hander who was returning from missing all of 2011 due to Tommy John surgery. The son of former big league closer Steve Bedrosian posted a 6.31 ERA with more walks than strikeouts in 21 A-ball starts. It was essentially his pro debut with just five pro games under his belt (from 2010) prior to the start of 2012. Bedrosian has flashed potentially-plus stuff in the past — both with his fastball and his slider.
The organization will look for big improvements in 2013 when he returns to A-ball. His smallish frame has led people to project a future bullpen role for the Georgia native and that could come sooner than expected due to the injuries. Still just 21, though, he’ll likely be given another shot at starting. When I watched him play the right-hander had a fairly easy delivery but his fastball was straight. His curveball’s break varied and was much better with a tighter break to it. He was leaving his shoulder open at times, which caused the ball to elevate.