It’s been a few years since the minor league evaluators at MLB Pipeline, the farm-focused crew at MLB.com, have published a comprehensive ranking of all 30 MLB minor league systems. Their team is not a fly-by-night squad. Led by Jim Callis, Jonathan Mayo and Mike Rosenbaum, they have deep knowledge of the prep and collegiate ranks, and their judgments are well-argued and sound. And in 2020, they estimate the Angels have the #26 ranked farm in baseball.
A bottom-five system.
Now, to be sure, this is a specific point of view that is not echoed by all other analysts. Bleacher Report pegged the Angels’ system at #25 in their preseason rankings, so Callis-Mayo-and-co are not alone in their estimation, but BR isn’t known for credible and thorough player analysis to the degree that MLB Pipeline is. Keith Law, who recently made the jump from ESPN to the The Athletic, ranked the Angels system at #18. But his estimate also came with ample warnings:
Jo Adell’s a stud, Brandon Marsh might be, too, but many of the other players with upside in this system took steps back last year or were hurt, and then the Angels traded away their first-rounder to clear Zack Cozart’s salary, so the system as a whole is in worse shape relative to their competitors than it was a year ago. It’s also really young – everyone’s system is young, of course, but this one seems especially so, with only one prospect drafted from college in their top 20.
Like Law, other estimators (like those at Baseball America) give the Angels more rope because they score more towards upside, while the team at MLB Pipeline score for breadth, depth and upside.
Nonetheless, it’s likely to be rather galling to have the farm judged by the keystone media organization of professional baseball as a bottom-five system, especially after four years of losing based in part on a draft-and-develop strategy with pronounced avoidance of major trades and a clear verbally-reinforced target of a “top five” system in short order.
Even more triggering for Angels fans might be how a handful of other teams are currently ranked:
Tampa Bay Rays (#1): The Rays had the lowest payroll in baseball last year ($54M!), yet also fielded a team that won 96 times last season, and won 90 games in 2018. In 2017, they shared the same record as the Angels. They have done more with less, despite an increasingly disadvantageous drafting position. Yes, they get a supplemental rounder here and there, but they also trade well, develop well and draft very well.
Los Angeles Dodgers (#3): The team with typically the best record in baseball, with ritually poor draft position, simply kills it on all fronts: trading, domestic drafting, the Latin harvest, player development. They prove again and again that you can carry a big payroll, selectively invest in free agency, and win at the MLB level without compromising one’s minor league organization.
Seattle Mariners (#9): The Dipoto-led Mariners only lost five more games than the Angels in 2019 while ostensibly “tanking”, but they rebuilt their farm from a bottom-three system two years ago to a top-ten system now. The argument usually goes: “but the Angels could do that too if they traded away their stars!” – but could they? After first-round picks like Thaiss and Wilson (and even Adams), are you so confident? The quick Mariners rebuild gives ammunition to two fan arguments that have percolated about over the past couple years: (1) Dipoto was actually better at drafting, trading and developing than many conceded, but had little opportunity to prove it given a punishing CBA and a win-now mandate. And (2) an interventionist owner in Arte Moreno has hamstrung both Dipoto and Billy Eppler from executing on a balanced build-and-contend strategy that could have made the Angels resemble the Mets less and the Dodgers more.
Oakland Athletics (#14): In recent years, the A’s have regularly maintained a farm ranked in the mid-teens, often led by some intriguing pitching talent (Luzardo and Puk are both in the top 60 here), while often punching above their weight (and pocketbook). Like Tampa, they have the lowest payroll in the AL West (usually around $80M), but have fielded a 97 win team each of the past two years. They make good strategic trades without eviscerating the MLB club, complement them with under-the-radar MLB talent, and they graduate players aggressively, often with productive results.
What can Billy Eppler learn from the clubs above? In the case of Tampa and Oakland, he’s working with a $100M+ payroll advantage, but still is underperforming both teams at both and MLB and MiLB level. Whether you’re bullish or pessimistic about the farm, we’re still working within a range of #16-#26 well below Eppler’s desired goal for the org. The consensus says it’s a below-average system (and one that is likely to fall further upon graduating Adell and Marsh).
What steps should the organization take to improve? Or should it abandon its largely unsuccessful five-year plan of organizational renaissance in favor of a couple short title runs? Do the Angels need new leadership that better prioritizes pitching in the draft, and a more balanced portfolio of minor league talent?
How much does it hurt our prospect ranking that we have been forced (due to injuries) to use players at the big league level that this year seem destined for AAA?
Rengifo, Thaiss, Suarez, Barria, even Ward are all young and could reasonably have still been prospects with less injuries to other players .
Would that have improved our ranking?
None of those prospects were considered elite prospects to begin with – neither among the top five prospects in the Angels system or most top 100 lists, though Suarez briefly flirted with one. Ward and Thaiss were low-ceiling draftees, and Suarez and Barria were cheap intl signs from the Dipoto era that no one expected to even make the MLB. Rengifo was a Mariners non-prospect who surprised for us after we traded for him, but he wasn’t a ranked prospect in the system buoying the Angels’ prior rank.
Also, several of these prospects were drafted 4-6 years ago, meaning that if they weren’t eventually graduated, they would be approaching bust stage (Ward and Thaiss are on the bubble of that now). All teams graduate a couple prospects each year – the Angels aren’t particularly unique in that regard.
The larger issue is Eppler-era avoidance of polished pitching and college hitters with standout tools. We’ve squandered a couple first rounders on low-ceiling defense-poor collegiates like Thaiss and Wilson, and otherwise invested in raw bodies promising 5+ year development curves and high variance outcomes.The result is a very gappy system with far greater risk of disappointment than other systems.
TT why do you think Eppler passed on Pete Alonso over Matt Thaiss?
Well, a lot of teams passed over Alonso. He was drafted at #64 at the back of the second round, and that was largely where he was expected to go. (MLB Pipeline had him ranked #65 going into the draft.)
Alonso was a slow, big-bodied bat-only player limited to first base who had no real track record for consistent power until his junior year when he was drafted. With some swing adjustments his in-game power really came on a couple years after drafting in 2018. A prospect like that rarely goes high in the first round – ‘cuz sometimes you get a CJ Cron, but only rarely do you get a Pete Alonso.
It may be a little too early to be completely down on the farm system because we have such a young group of prospects. Eppler’s strategy is to take the high risk younger players so right now they don’t rate too high. Give this group of young players a couple of years and you will have a better idea of just how good the farm really is. If they don’t develop, then we will be in trouble but if some of those young toolsy players blossom then our ranking will rise and we should be much deeper if our drafting strategy works.
If the system generates a couple trades and 3-4 position players on our roster over the next few years I don’t give a shit about rankings. Of the 24 teams ahead of us I would hate to be stuck being a fan of more than half of them as they cry themselves to sleep all August spooning their farm rankings for comfort…. but please, for the love of Gah, draft college arms and some catching this year Biller.
Great stuff Turks. It’s definitely discouraging to see the club down near the bottom of the rankings after rising to a near-top 10 unit recently. My biggest concern with this system is how much they’re banking on high-risk, high-reward types (Adams, JJ, C-Rod, Soriano, etc). Adell and Marsh feel like the only real bets to contribute in some fashion at the MLB level. At some point, this organization will have to start building up more quality players through the draft/intl FA to supplement the other talent they’ve put on the roster.
Is JJ Jeremiah Jackson or Jahmai Jones?
Most like Jackson. Jam seems to crush the AFL then become a victim of chronic swing changes by the coaching staff.
I think they’re going to let him hew to his original swing this year, but the ceiling case for Jam is still a bench/utility role on the Fletcher/Rengifo model. He may have value as a role player, but the Angels aren’t particularly short in this area.
Whoops I meant Jackson.
TYAS…….Told You All So.
Epp has been just brutal here for 4 yrs……Trials & Tribulations.
I can’t say I’m surprised. Reading the MVP Machine right now and Dipoto comes up a number of times. It’s very clear after nearly completing the book, that the Angels are one of the last few teams that aren’t on the player development train. They JUST got on top of sabermetrics, I want to vomit thinking how long it will take them to dive into player development.
He’s hoping JA will be the next big hitting everyday POS star. And then surround him with a bunch of bad players…..especially crap 27-29 yr old pitchers who are on their 3rd team. Like having Denzel Washington and Pauley Shore in the same bad movie.
They need to give Callaway a year to see what he can do with those young optionable guys like Sandoval. Any of them that are apparently never really going to make it should be dumped somehow so we can draft, sign, or trade for some other guys that still hold promise.
Maybe Maitan needs some guidance about low carb diets.
Dang … We suck.
All this post needed was the 4 headshots and a jumbo sized emoji.
Did 2002Heaven make it over here?
Here you go. I have no idea where he’d have played in our org, but we could have drafted him instead of Marsh, so….. wah?
I still like the Marsh pick. Liked it then, like it now. Was a fine selection for a second rounder.
What hurts more is that Eppler passed on so much serviceable pitching in Dakota Hudson, Justin Dunn, Eric Lauer, TJ Zeuch etc all drafted immediately after Thaiss in round one. And of course the Dodgers snatched up Gavin Lux, a consensus top five prospect in baseball, only four picks after the Angels chose Thaiss (who even then was viewed more as a supplemental round talent).
Yeah. Most of Eppler’s picks make at least some sense to me, and can still potentially prove fruitful, but Thaiss was a downer from the start. I know that it was post our “Escobar is our best hitter not named Trout” season and they really wanted a bat that would develop fast, like Kyle Schwarber, but Thaiss has strait up failed at that, and he didn’t even really remind me of KS when we drafted him.
This may have even somewhat motivated the “draft young athletes” bent of the drafts after Thaiss.
Eppler came to the organization with a known bias toward young athletes, so the Thaiss pick (like the Wilson one) was/is perplexing.
I generally don’t like to offer criticism without also offering alternatives/solutions. My preference for the past four drafts is that Eppler would have had more balance toward pitching – even a slight bias toward pitching – in the top three rounds. The Angels only get three selections each draft that fall within the top 100 picks, where most value resides. Of the 12 such picks the Angels have had over the past four years, the Angels have only used three picks on pitchers. One came with copious injury red flags (Canning), and another is a raw prep pitcher with a likely 5 year development path (Kochanowicz). I liked those picks anyway – I just wish we’d have made 2-3x more of them.
Given that the pitching pipeline in the Angel org has been particularly decimated for some time, committing 6-8 of their top 12 to promising arms seems like an obvious path. You can still pursue a ‘best player available’ strategy while maintaining positional/pitching target ratios. Free agent arms are scarce and costly, while free agent OFs seem to populate the market in significant quantity well into late winter every offseason. Moreover, the success rate among first round pitchers in the last few drafts has been pretty good.
You gotta give it up for Andrew Friedman. He built both the Rays and Dodgers systems, and has success with either end of the payroll spectrum.
This is yet another bad indictment of the Angels farm, particularly the pitching side. And completely whiffing on a first round pick last year was brutal.
Nobody is perfect and thus far Eppler’s handling of the pitching side of the game has been bad, particularly at the minor league level. Very few projectable arms drafted and constant trades from what little depth he has.
I’m with you, but we need to see what happens after last year’s pitchers only draft. (Well almost only) I’m excited to track last year’s draft class this season. You only need a few good catches for it to pay off. Now how do we get them all their reps?
Many of those senior signs have been earmarked for reliever roles, while Peek (round 6) and Brnovich (round 8) were traded for Bundy.
The only college sign from the top ten rounds of the Angels 2019 draft that may have a backend starter trajectory within 2-3 years of the MLB is Stallings, who is likely to taste high-A this season.
Angels like pulling non entities out of the farm though. Like Fletcher and Kole. Sure it looks bad. And it is at least half bad. But I think it isn’t as bad as it seems.
Keeping in mind that Fletcher was a Dipoto sign from 2015, and Kole was one of the uncut gems from Bane’s final 2010 draft (before Reagins fired him). These two examples are pretty distant in the rear-view mirror, and precede the Eppler era.
They are also the sort of high-floor collegiate picks that Eppler has pursued fewer of – a strategy that many fans have celebrated, and derided Dipoto/Reagins for doing too much of. In reality, collegiate signs like Calhoun and Fletcher, or Canning and Newcomb, have been where the Angels have found most of their value in recent years.
We’ll see if Adell breaks the trend. One prep lotto ticket going off per decade ain’t too much to ask.
I just don’t like Eppler’s draft strategy.
The one thing that’s constant about Billy Bean’s 22 yrs as the A’s GM is that he feels that he needs to have a star 3B ( Eric Chavez, Josh Donaldson, Matt Chapman ) whenever possible. Also since Eppler’s tenure started, is that he has yet to find and develop that uncut diamond in the later rounds ( Josh Hader, Russell Martin, Marcus Semien, Khris Davis, Mookie Betts, Cody Bellinger …..all mid or lower round picks 4th RD or later ).
Anthony Rendon won’t save him……
Given that Hader, Semein and Davis weren’t drafted by the teams on which they became diamonds maybe we’ll eventually get ours.
But Cody Bellinger, Mookie Betts, and Russell Martin were……..
Antonio Rendon won’t save Guillermo Eppler……..
I’d also say that making regular MLB players out of never heralded prospects drafted in later rounds isn’t unique to the Angels. Think of players like Luke Voit or Tommy Pham or Chris Taylor. Each were drafted well outside the top 100 picks, never had top prospect status, but each became integral pieces for their clubs, delivering similar value to Calhoun and Fletcher.