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The 2017 Los Angeles Angels Top 10 Prospects

Announcement: Described by Michael Salfino of The Wall Street Journal and Yahoo! Sports as “an insightful and often contrarian viewpoint to prospect rankings,” The 2017 Prospect Digest Handbook is now on sale! Check it out here! 

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1. Matt Thaiss, 1B                                        
Born: 05/06/95 Age: 22 Bats: L Top CALs: Josh Altmann,Michael Ford, Max Muncy, Josh Fellhauer, Stephen Piscotty
Height: 6-0 Weight: 195 Throws: R
 

Year Age Level PA 2B 3B HR AVG OBP SLG ISO BB% K% wRC+
2016 21 R 71 7 1 2 0.338 0.394 0.569 0.231 5.60% 5.60% 140
2016 21 A 226 12 3 4 0.276 0.351 0.427 0.151 9.70% 12.40% 129

Background: Owning a first round pick in three consecutive drafts for the first time since 2009-2011, the Angels set their sights on one of the top collegiate bats in the class. Thaiss, the eventual 16th overall pick last June, was an absolute mainstay in Virginia’s lineup over the past two seasons. The lefty-swinging collegiate backstop – who only played first base during his debut – broke out in a big way during his sophomore season, hitting an impressive .323/.413/.512 with 18 doubles and a team-leading 10 homeruns. Thaiss’ production earned him a spot on Team USA’s roster as well – though he managed to only record 24 at bats and batted a lowly .208/.296/.250. Heading into the year plenty of hype was surrounding one of the preeminent bats at one of the nation’s preeminent baseball schools. And Thais delivered – and more.

In 60 games for the Cavaliers last season, the 6-foot, 195-pound slugger turned in a career year, hitting .375/.473/.578 with 13 doubles, a pair of triples, and 10 homeruns.

After the Angels selected him in the middle of the first round, Thaiss made a quick 15-game detour through the Pioneer League before proving his worth in 52 contests in Low Class A. He finished his debut with a.292/.361/.462 triple-slash line with 19 doubles, four triples, and six homeruns.

Oh, and on a side note: Thaiss posted a 45-to-72 strikeout-to-walk ratio over his final two seasons in college.

Projection: Per the usual, here’s what I wrote about the former catcher-turned-first-baseman heading into the draft last season:

“So. Context. 

  • Between 2011 and 2015, no Division I catcher with at least 250 plate appearances posted a walk rate north of 13% and a strikeout rate below 5%.

Let’s take it another step, shall we? 

  • Between 2011 and 2015, no Division I position player with at least 250 plate appearances posted a walk rate north of 13% and a strikeout rate below 5%.

Tremendous, tremendous eye at the plate – regardless of his struggles in the Cape last summer. He has the chance to develop into a perennial 15-homerun threat. If he proves to be adequate behind the plate, Thaiss could be a 3.0- to 3.5-win player.”

I want to update that up a bit, OK?

Thaiss is primed to develop into a 20+ annual homer threat. But his move away from behind the plate likely limits his value as first base doesn’t add much defensive worth in terms of wins above replacement. Still, though, a very, very solid pick in the middle of the first round by the Angels.

Ceiling: 3.0- to 3.5-win player

Risk: Moderate

MLB ETA: 2018/2019

 

 

2. Luis Pena, RHP                                                   
Born: 08/24/95 Age: 21 Bats: R Top CALs: Frank Lopez, Devin Williams, Greg Harris, Gerson Moreno, Jake Newberry
Height: 5-11 Weight: 190 Throws: R
 

Year Age Level IP W L ERA FIP K/9 BB/9 K% BB% HR/9 LOB%
2015 19 R 25.0 0 2 5.04 3.35 9.00 2.88 22.30% 7.10% 0.00 57.90%
2016 20 A 100.2 5 9 4.02 3.37 10.55 3.84 27.50% 10.00% 0.54 67.90%

Background: Fun Fact Part I: No hurler in either Low Class A league under the age of 22 posted a higher strikeout percentage than Pena’s 27.5% mark last season (minimum 100 IP). Fun Fact Part II: the last time a player 20 years or younger posted a better strikeout rate was in 2014 when St. Louis’ Alexander Reyes accomplished the feat. Fun Fact Part III: Among all Low Class A arms with at least 100 innings last season, Pena’s strikeout-to-walk percentage, 17.5%, ranked 10th among 82 qualified arms. Needless to say, the 5-foot-11, 190-pound Dominican-born right-hander had a coming out party of sorts in 2016. He finished the year with a career best 100.2 innings, more than 65 innings greater than his previous career high, with 118 punch outs, 43 walks, a 4.02 ERA, and a 3.37 FIP.

Projection: One of the least talked about prospects in all of the minor leagues. Pena began the year working as a multiple inning swing-man for the Burlington Bees. And he didn’t get his first crack at consistently turning over a lineup until late-July. But once he moved into the club’s rotation he was just as impressive: 43.2 IP, 49 K, 12 BB.

His frame size is going to potentially be a limiting factor, but as long as he can navigate his way through the injury nexus without more than a few hiccups, he could be one of the pop-up prospects in the minor leagues over the next year or two. There’s some big league rotation potential buried in his stocky right arm.

Ceiling: 2.0-win player

Risk: Moderate to High

MLB ETA: 2019

 

 

3. Alex Meyer, RHP                                           
Born: 01/03/90 Age: 27 Bats: R Top CALs: Jaye Chapman, Colton Murray, Ronald Uviedo, Taylor Jungmann, Tyler Robertson
Height: 6-9 Weight: 225 Throws: R
 

Year Age Level IP W L ERA FIP K/9 BB/9 K% BB% HR/9 LOB%
2012 22 A 90.0 7 4 3.10 3.01 10.70 3.40 29.20% 9.30% 0.40 72.40%
2012 22 A+ 39.0 3 2 2.31 3.41 7.38 2.54 20.80% 7.10% 0.46 79.10%
2013 23 AA 70.0 4 3 3.21 2.85 10.80 3.73 28.10% 9.70% 0.39 71.80%
2014 24 AAA 130.3 7 7 3.52 3.66 10.57 4.42 27.10% 11.30% 0.69 74.70%
2015 25 AAA 92.0 4 5 4.79 3.28 9.78 4.70 23.90% 11.50% 0.39 67.40%

Background: Very few people on the planet can keep their feet on the ground and look the 6-foot-9, 225-pound right-hander squarely in the eyes. And once again, he continued to tantalize – and confound – analysts, pundits, and front office personnel with tremendous strikeout ability, though he’s seemingly always tainted by his lack of strike zone consistency.  Last season Meyer was limited to just 29.0 minor league innings and another 25.1 innings in the big leagues thanks to some nagging shoulder issues. Los Angeles grabbed the behemoth hurler – along with Ricky Nolasco and cash – from the Twins in exchange for Hector Santiago and Alan Busenitz.

Projection: I’ve always been consistently high on the towering right-hander. Here’s what I wrote in my very first book three years ago when I ranked him as the Twins’ third best minor leaguer:

“If you were to create a starting pitcher from scratch it might look something like Meyer: 6-foot-9, 220 pounds, above-average to plus strikeout potential, solid or better control, and fantastic groundball rates. If he can avoid injury, Meyer could develop into a legitimate frontline starting pitcher.”

I followed that up by once again listing him as the fourth best prospect in the system the following year, writing:

“Is he a finished product? No. The control’s still a work in progress, but he’s entering his age-25 season with some impressive numbers in the minor leagues. He’s averaged 10.4 punch outs and 3.4 free passes per nine innings in his career. And let’s be honest – there’s an awful lot of moving pieces/parts to a 6-foot-9 hurler’s windup. The fact that he hasn’t launched one over the backstop should be considered a win. If the control takes a step forward he’s a solid bet to a good #2/#3 arm; if it doesn’t then he’s no worse than a league average performer or shutdown reliever.’’

And I remained completely undeterred in last year’s book when I – once again – listed him as the fourth best prospect in the Twins’ system, writing:

“Officially among the largest human beings to ever don a Major League uniform, Meyer has a whole helluva lot of moving parts to control; thus explaining his problematic control. But I would like to point one thing out: Randy Johnson didn’t become Randy Johnson until his age-29 season. Just take a look:

Player Ages IP BB/9 K/9
Randy Johnson 24-28 818.0 5.7 9.0
Randy Johnson 29+ 3317.1 2.7 11.0

And that includes leading baseball in free passes for three consecutive seasons. Now, is Meyer the next Randy Johnson? Certainly not. But just ask yourself this question: If Randy Johnson was coming up through the minors in today’s age of deep, specialized bullpens, would he have been given more than 800 innings at the big league level – with a walk rate approach 6.0 BB/9 – to figure it out? Certainly not. With that being said, I’m still a big, big fan – no pun intended – of Meyer. He unleashed a mid- to upper-90s fastball during his debut, which only plays up due to his massive wing span, and he has the build to chew up plenty of meaningful innings. Sure, he’s entering his age-26 season but let’s see if the kid can figure it out. He is in the right organization for that. At the very least, he’s a dominant, shutdown closer.”

The ongoing shoulder woes add some serious clouds to his already unsure big league future – in terms of starter vs. reliever. But it’s very encouraging that the Angels continued to give him time to figure things out in the rotation.

Ceiling: 2.0- to 2.5-win player

Risk: High

MLB ETA: Debuted in 2015

 

 

4. Keynan Middleton, RHP                       
Born: 09/12/93 Age: 23 Bats: R Top CALs: Miguel Socolovich, Tyree Hayes, Hector Hernandez, Thomas Melgarejo, Jake Brigham
Height: 6-2 Weight: 185 Throws: R
 

Year Age Level IP W L ERA FIP K/9 BB/9 K% BB% HR/9 LOB%
2014 20 R 67.0 5 4 6.45 5.81 7.12 4.03 17.60% 9.90% 1.21 50.90%
2015 21 A 125.2 6 11 5.30 4.74 6.30 3.37 16.00% 8.60% 1.07 67.80%
2016 22 A+ 36.1 1 1 3.72 4.79 13.87 4.95 37.60% 13.40% 1.73 83.90%

Background: It took awhile for the 2013 third round pick to get going – he spent his debut splitting time between both rookie leagues, then spent the entire next season in the Pioneer League, and then the 2015 season getting shelled in the Midwest League – but Middleton sure as hell made up for lost time last year. After toying around with the idea of developing the 6-foot-2, 185-pound right-hander as a starting pitcher, the ball club transitioned the hard-throwing hurler into a full-time reliever. And, viola, he made stops at three different levels. Middleton threw 36.1 innings with Inland Empire, fanning 56 and walking 20. He blitzed through the Texas League, putting together an 18-to-4 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 15.0 innings. And he capped off his wildly successful year with 14.2 solid innings in the PCL. Overall, Middleton finished his breakout season with 88 punch outs, 28 walks, and an aggregate 3.41 ERA in 66.0 innings of work.

Projection: Last year I ranked the former Lane Community College standout as the club’s 25th best prospect, writing:

“There’s really not too much to add here. As a third round community college pick, Middleton’s been a disappointment over the past three seasons, though his control has been trending in the right direction. He’s probably headed to a relief role. And quick.”   

Middleton battled control issues at the start of the season, walking 12 across his first 16.1 innings of work. Beginning with May 18th through the rest of the year, though, he walked just 16 over his final 49.2 innings – or an average of 2.9 BB/9. And he didn’t walk more than one batter in any outing once the calendar flipped to July. He’s going to be a very dominant big league reliever soon – especially with the big league club content on running out a suboptimal pen in 2017. 

Ceiling: 1.5-win player

Risk: Low to Moderate

MLB ETA: 2017

 

 

5. Brooks Pounders, RHP                                        
Born: 09/26/90 Age: 26 Bats: R Top CALs: Casey Coleman, Malcolm Culver, Barret Browning, Ryan Sadowski, Ryan Reid
Height: 6-5 Weight: 265 Throws: R
 

Year Age Level IP W L ERA FIP K/9 BB/9 K% BB% HR/9 LOB%
2015 24 AA 49.1 3 4 2.19 4.13 5.84 3.47 16.20% 9.60% 0.55 79.20%
2016 25 AAA 80.1 5 3 3.14 3.86 10.08 4.15 26.30% 10.80% 0.56 78.40%

Background: Originally a second round pick of the Pirates all the way back in 2009, Pounders, who moved on from his original organization four years later, scratched and clawed his way through the minor leagues and eventually made his way to The Show after eight grueling seasons. Pounders, a 6-foot-5, 265-pound right-hander out of Riverside, California, spent time with the Omaha Storm Chasers in the PCL as well as the Royals in 20106. He threw 80 minor league innings, his most since 2013, with 90 punch outs and 37 walks with a 3.14 ERA. Kansas City called him up a couple times throughout the year as well, calling on Pounders to throw 12.2 innings.  The Halos acquired the sturdy hurler in exchange for Jared Ruxer in early December.

Projection: All the way back in my very first book in 2014 I ranked Pounders as Kansas City’s #13 prospect, writing the following:

“Back-of-the-rotation arm, Pounders could eventually head back to the pen if things don’t work. Below-average strikeout, walk, and groundball rates. But, again, a decent enough showing as a 22-year-old in Class AA.”

Guess what?

After posting some strong relief numbers last season, the Angels reportedly told him to prepare for a starting role over the offseason. He could eventually develop into a nice little #4/#5-type arm.

Fantastic, fantastic pickup by the Angels’ staff.

Ceiling: 1.5-win player

Risk: Low to Moderate

MLB ETA: Debuted in 2016

 

 

6. Taylor Ward, C                                                   
Born: 12/14/93 Age: 23 Bats: R Top CALs:  Ed Easley, Christian Kelley, Petey Paramore, Garrett Boulware, Raywilly Gomez
Height: 6-1 Weight: 185 Throws: R
 

Year Age Level PA 2B 3B HR AVG OBP SLG ISO BB% K% wRC+
2016 22 A+ 529 11 0 10 0.249 0.323 0.337 0.088 9.10% 15.30% 82

Background: The front office was wildly lambasted for taking the Fresno State backstop with the 26th overall pick two years ago. And it seemed like the organization was going to get the last laugh after Ward set fire to everything he touched during his debut when he walloped .348/.457/.438 with seven doubles, one triple, and three homeruns in 56 games. But Ward’s production crashed back to earth as the club pushed him up to High Class A last season. In 123 games with Inland Empire, the 6-foot-1, 185-pound backstop batted a disappointing .249/.323/.337 with just 21 extra-base hits – 11 doubles and 10 homeruns – to go along with a lowly 82 wRC+.

Projection: OK. So, there are two points I want to make here:

  1. There’s going to be a learning curve with most – if not all – college bats when they get aggressively pushed through the minor leagues. It’s important to remember that Ward spent just 32 games in the Pioneer League and another 24 games in Low Class A before hopping right into the California League. And, unsurprisingly, Ward got off to a slow start last season: he batted a lowly .232/.294/.264 over his first 65 games vs. the .269/.353/.421 triple-slash line he put together over his final 58 contests. His wRC+ was a solid 107 over his final 58 games, by the way.
  2. Inland Empire’s home park, San Manuel Stadium, is incredibly pitcher-friendly. According to StatCorner.com, Ward’s overall triple-slash line improves from .249/.323/.337 to .255/.331/.356 once it’s adjusted for the park.

So, in all actuality, Ward’s season wasn’t nearly as bad as it looks.

Here’s what I wrote in last year’s book:

“A promising receiver that displayed a tremendous feel for the strike zone over his final two seasons with Fresno State – he sported a 63-to-63 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 116 games – and that continued into the low levels of the minors; he actually finished with 16 more walks than strikeouts in pro ball. Ward isn’t going to offer up a whole lot of power in the minors, specifically when he gets past High Class A, but a catcher with gap power, a strong eye at the plate, and some defensive value will certainly make some waves as a potential every day big leaguer.”

Still seems spot on to me – especially after he threw out 38% of would-be base stealers last season.

Ceiling: 1.5-win player

Risk: Moderate

MLB ETA: 2018

 

7. Eduardo Paredes, RHP                            
Born: 03/06/95 Age: 22 Bats: R Top CALs: Jake Newberry, Elieser Hernandez, Brent Honeywell, Eduardo Sanchez, Josh Hader
Height: 6-1 Weight: 170 Throws: R
 

Year Age Level IP W L ERA FIP K/9 BB/9 K% BB% HR/9 LOB%
2015 20 A 42.0 0 2 1.71 1.99 12.64 1.71 35.80% 4.90% 0.43 81.60%
2016 21 AA 48.1 0 3 3.35 3.89 8.01 2.61 21.10% 6.90% 1.12 75.60%

Background: One of the more intriguing arms in the system. Paredes has been nearly unhittable throughout his five-year minor league career. He’s sporting an impressive 2.53 ERA over 203.0 total innings, averaging 10.5 strikeouts and just 2.2 walks per nine innings. And last season was no different. Splitting the year between the California and Texas League, the 6-foot-1, 170-pound reliever totaled a career best 70.1 innings while fanning 75 and walking just 20 en route to totaling a 3.33 ERA.

Projection: Here’s what I wrote in last year’s book when I ranked him as the 10th best prospect in the system:

“A fast-moving righty that could conceivably be called up by June 2017. Paredes has been a dominant force during his four-year professional career, offering up huge strikeout totals and barely-there walk totals. And just to add some context to this: among all hurlers with at least 50+ innings last season, at any level (minus the Mexican League), Paredes finished 10th in strikeout-to-walk percentage with 28.2%. He’s going to be a force.”

Well, he didn’t make it up to the big leagues at all last season, but he’s damn close. Personally, I’d love to see the organization transition Paredes into a starting pitcher, but the Angels are caught in this mode of trying to contend without actually having the talent to do so.

Meaning: they’re likely going to keep him locked up in the pen because they don’t have time to fiddle around.

Ceiling: 1.5-win player

Risk: Moderate

MLB ETA: 2017

 

 

8. Jahmai Jones, CF                              
Born: 08/04/97 Age: 19 Bats: R Top CALs: Billy Mckinney, Randy Ventura, Alexis Rivera, Ruben Sanchez, Ramon Beltre
Height: 6-0 Weight: 215 Throws: R
 

Year Age Level PA 2B 3B HR AVG OBP SLG ISO BB% K% wRC+
2015 17 R 183 6 2 2 0.244 0.330 0.344 0.100 9.30% 18.00% 101
2016 18 R 226 12 3 3 0.321 0.404 0.459 0.138 9.30% 12.80% 121

Background: Taken in the second round out of Wesleyan School two years ago, the Angels signed the 6-foot, 215-pound center fielder for a little more than $1 million. Jones had a bit of a disappointing debut, hitting .244/.330/.344 with six doubles, two triples, two homeruns, and 16 stolen bases (in 23 attempts) en route to tallying a 101  wRC+ in the Arizona Summer League. The club pushed the toolsy teenager up to their advanced rookie affiliate, the Orem Owlz, and Jones blossomed: he slugged .321/.404/.459 with 12 doubles, three triples, three homeruns, and 19 stolen bases while topping the league average offensive production by 21%. He also received a 16-game promotion up to full season ball at the end of the year as well.

Projection: Rock solid for a six-foot player. Jones offers up an intriguing package of offensive skills – at a premium defensive position: above-average speed, strong contact skills, a decent eye at the plate, and doubles power. He’s still several years away from making a contribution in the big leagues but in a system completely bereft of offensive talent, Jones rises up to be one of the better bats.  Here’s your word of warning though: there were 49 qualified bats in the Pioneer League, 17 of them posted a 121 wRC+ or better.

Ceiling: 1.5-win player

Risk: Moderate to High

MLB ETA: 2019

 

 

9. Grayson Long, RHP                               
Born: 05/27/94 Age: 23 Bats: R Top CALs: Christian Meza, Alberto Mastardo, Michael Theofanopoulos, David Carpenter, Ismael Guillon
Height: 6-5 Weight: 230 Throws: R
 

Year Age Level IP W L ERA FIP K/9 BB/9 K% BB% HR/9 LOB%
2016 22 A 40.0 3 3 1.58 3.07 10.13 3.60 28.10% 10.00% 0.45 74.60%

Background: The injury bug struck once again. Long, the club’s third round pick out of Texas A&M two years ago, missed significant time with biceps tendinitis and a fractured finger. A three-year member of the Aggies’ rotation, Long began last season with eight starts in the Midwest League, posting an impressive 1.58 ERA in 40.0 innings with a 45-to-16 strikeout-to-walk ratio. All of his starts with Burlington, by the way, lasted exactly five innings. He hit the DL after his May 20th start and didn’t pop up again till a four game rehab stint in the Arizona Summer League in early August. He closed out his season with a three-game stint in the California League. Overall, the 6-foot-5, 230-pound right-hander threw just 65.0 innings, averaging 9.7 strikeouts and 3.5 walks per nine innings with a 3.18 ERA.

Projection: The injury really set him back in terms of development. Long’s now entering his age-23 season with just 14.0 innings above the Midwest League. And because of his collegiate experience, he’s a tough read because he’s dominating against the lowest levels of the minors. The control’s been slightly below-average since his junior season with A&M. And I still wouldn’t count on him missing a whole lot of bats as he moves up the ladder. At best he’s a #4-type arm.

Ceiling: 1.5-win player

Risk: Moderate to High

MLB ETA: 2018/2019

 

 

10. Jaime Barria, RHP                             
Born: 07/18/96 Age: 20 Bats: R Top CALs: Luis Castillo, Jose Rodriguez, Ronnie Williams, Jonathan Martinez, Roel Ramirez
Height: 6-1 Weight: 210 Throws: R
 

Year Age Level IP W L ERA FIP K/9 BB/9 K% BB% HR/9 LOB%
2014 17 R 59.3 4 4 3.03 2.39 8.34 1.67 22.30% 4.50% 0.15 62.70%
2015 18 R 33.1 2 4 6.21 4.63 8.10 1.89 20.00% 4.70% 1.08 54.90%
2015 18 R 36.0 3 0 2.00 2.34 7.75 0.75 21.00% 2.00% 0.00 72.10%
2016 19 A 117.0 8 6 3.85 3.42 6.00 1.62 15.60% 4.20% 0.46 66.60%

Background: The 19-year-old Panamanian with impeccable control handled the transition to full season action with ease last season. In 25 starts with the Burlington Bees, Barria posted a decent 78-to-21 strikeout-to-walk ratio with a 3.85 ERA.

Projection: The 6-foot-1, 210-pound right-hander owns an incredible 198-to-43 strikeout-to-walk ratio through his first 250.2 innings. As expected, his strikeout rates came tumbling down as he moved away from the rookie leagues. He’ll continue to succeed against the low levels of the minors in large part due to his pinpoint accuracy. But if he wants to produce at the Double-A level, he’ll need to start missing bats.

Ceiling: 1.5-win player

Risk: Moderate to High

MLB ETA: 2019

 

 

Author’s note: A special hat tip the following websites for the use of the their statistics – fangraphs, baseballreference, baseballprospectus, statcorner, and ClayDavenport.com



About

After serving as a video scout/analyst for Baseball Info Solutions, Joe Werner began writing at his original site, ReleasePoints.com. He’s since transitioned into his current niche, prospect analysis, at ProspectDigest.com. He has been fortunate — and incredibly blessed — to have some of his work published and mentioned by several major media outlets, including: ESPN, Cleveland.com and the Baseball Research Journal. He can be reached at: JosephMWerner@yahoo.com.


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