O cruel reversals of fate! The tailwinds that had nudged half the Cherub farm clubs to winning records in week two abruptly changed course, as if in tempestuous partnership with their big MLB brothers to the southwest who lost two series and split a third last week. Already challenged offenses disappeared altogether, often in the midst of no-hit/low-hit pitching gems, and bullpens melted down unpropitiously at late hours, as if preparing future Angels for present-style pain. This is how it’s done in Anaheim, boys! Mettle up!
But for farm watchers, it’s not all BDSM-lite, I promise. As we said at the beginning of May action, the Angels do not have a particularly exceptional farm system right now – it lacks breadth, balance and diversity. But there are two things to monitor. One is the double-trio of bats (Adell, Marsh, Adams) and arms (Detmers, Rodriguez, Naughton) at the top levels of the system, who at season’s-start were within a year of contributing at the MLB level. We want to see health, outperfomance and advancement from these near-players, as the front office could really use a better view of what to expect of their young core before the 2021-22 offseason, when there’s much rebuilding to do. The second thing to look for is movement, any movement, among the raw pitching materials at the lower levels of the system. This is an organization that badly needs to develop a homegrown pitching pipeline, as it has not drafted well at the top in the last decade.
On both fronts there was some good news last week. Let’s take a look.
Week 3 Standings
Salt Lake Bees: Last week: 3-3 / Season record: 7-9
Rocket City Trash Pandas: Last week: 1-5 / Season record: 8-10
Tri-City Dust Devils: Last week: 2-4 / Season record: 5-13
Inland Empire 66ers: Last week: 2-4 / Season record: 8-9
The Bees got some help from a top prospect this week to ultimately jimmy their way to a .500 result – but it wasn’t the prospect we highlighted in last week’s farm report. Read further to see who seized the reins in week three, but it sure wasn’t Brandon Marsh, who had a miserable stretch, going 0-fer in four games out of five before being benched for the last two weekend games of the series in Las Vegas. News has been typically slow in coming, but we’d be right to fear the next shoe-drop that knocks Marsh from the weekend bench to the IL in predictable sequence. Although Jordyn Adams has been sitting on the bench in Tri-City for two-and-a-half weeks without cycling through the injured list, so who knows how the Angels are managing the wingèd wounded these days!
Prospect of the Week
Jo Adell: .333/.379/.926 (last week), 5 HRs, 8 RBIs
Can a guy who is striking out in 34% of his seasonal plate appearances earn the Prospect of the Week award? I’ll admit to some hesitancy in giving him the nod so early, given the contact issues that plagued him in the MLB in 2020 are still very much in evidence at Salt Lake. But so is something we saw much less of last season: prodigious on-field power. Jo Adell hit five home runs last week, delivering two multi-homer games in fact, and now leads all of the Triple-A West league with 9 HRs on the short 16 game season.
That actually undersells this feat a bit. Adell leads not only AAA in the longball metric – he leads all four levels of minor league ball. He’s doing this while maintaining a rather underwhelming (for the pinball wizard parks of the PCL… or, er, the “Triple-A West” as it’s now prosaically called) batting average of .261 and an OBP of .329. (As a benchmark, Kean Wong is slashing .368/.394/.574 on the same Bees club.) But that’s markedly improved from last Monday. Adell has a five game hit streak, and has raised his batting average 70 pts in a week, while reducing his strikeout rate over the past six games to 24%. Still a bit too much, but better! If the guy could only walk once every other game, that’s an All Star composite married with the monster in-game power he brings.
Key context point, skeptical Angels fans: Jo Adell only turned 22 in April. The top ten in SLG in the AAA West is an exclusive club of players aged 24 to 31 save for Taylor Trammell (eighteen months older than Adell) and joltin’ Jo. So don’t judge the kid on a Troutian development curve. The Millville Meteor has probably distorted all fan expectations for a generation; prospect wine just doesn’t age like that. Adell is well ahead of the typical pattern.
So, in the meantime, he’s arguably the most interesting power bat in the minor leagues – a two-true-outcomes hitter in search of a third. And he’s heating up. In fact, Baseball America names him the hottest prospect of the moment in their Monday hot sheet, so I guess that’s some Venusian levels of heat. And the glove thusfar? Well, it’s a little better than an oven mitt, believe it or not. He’s only made one error on the season – two weeks ago –and he’s even turning in a web gem here and there, like this one:
Performances of the Week
Week three, while featuring a number of disappointing bullpen spinouts at the game level, saw some promising performances from starting pitchers, or would-be starting pitchers, up and down the pipe.
Reid Detmers built on a positive week two start with an even better one in the third. He stretched out to five innings and 89 pitches, held his opponents to one earned run, all while showing good command and elevated velocity throughout. Detmers struck out six while walking only one, against a Marlins affiliate that featured two top-five draft selections from ’19-20 in Max Meyer and JJ Bleday.
Meanwhile, Chris Rodriguez pitched two good bullpen sessions, and, nearly recovered from shoulder inflammation that placed him on the 10-day IL, appears to be nearing a return to the Angels bullpen.
But the best performance this week in the upper levels has to have come from a much less heralded farmkin in AAA, the chief return in last year’s Brian Goodwin trade with the Cincinnati Reds:
Packy Naughton (Salt Lake Bees)
Let’s say it again: great, classic baseball name there.
Packy Naughton is a soft-tossing command lefty, and it’s hard to find a prospect profile of the former Reds ninth-rounder that doesn’t feature some descriptive derivative of “funk” and “deception”. I mean, did I just write “funk” and “deception”? Ummmm:
That is to say, yes, what he lacks in raw stuff he makes up for in smarts and canniness, living on location, sequencing, and the execution of his changeup. Players of this type often get quickly exposed in the Major Leagues, and become taxi squad resources (eg, Suarez, Barria, Sandoval) when a team falls on harder times. For that reason, I was a little underwhelmed when Naughton was the return for peak Goodwin in mid-2020. Because when you trade a solid performer, I’m hoping for upside at the expense of probability, or high-floor AAA material.
But that’s probably unfair to Packy Naughton. It’s not like he isn’t used to this – his Twitter profile slogan is literally “Grind until you don’t have to introduce yourself anymore.” I mean, that’s wise and that’s self-knowing and that’s awesome. On the one hand, these are the guys we should be rooting for in an increasingly boring, velocity-driven game optimized toward minimizing contact (and if there’s one basic fan equation in this sports it’s: CONTACT = FUN). On the other, when pitchers like Naughton manage to thread the needle, they can become durable backend starters / bulk-inning relievers of the Ryan Yarbrough variety (a comp Eric Longenhagen of Fangraphs has laid on Naughton more than once), or land on a spectrum of occasionally useful (like Hoby Milner, my value comp when the Angels acquired him) and old faithfuls like Gio Gonzalez, delivering a decade-plus of grinder innings that tweaks the noses of critics season after season. That is, they can tend to surprise us when we’re otherwise looking for the dull obvious, delighting us with the strangeness in this age-old game of ball and bat.
Surprise us is precisely what Packy Naughton did this weekend, pitching a no-hitter through 7 and 2/3 innings against the Las Vegas A’s affiliate! In the offense-first Triple-A West. In an extreme hitter’s park (the Aviators have a 6.89 team ERA this season). Then, on the 102nd pitch of the game, he surrendered a double and was promptly pulled. (James Hoyt thankfully retained the scoreless bid with a final K in the inning.) But before that, he showed the working formula that allows crafty southpaws like himself to reach the Bigs and stick for awhile. He was locating all four of his average-ish pitches and making good use of his slider’s glove-side run. Perhaps most importantly, his typically mid-to-high 80s fastball showed renewed velocity, sitting more in the 90-92 range, which is, well, Andrew Heaney territory. And I think most Angels fans know that this is Heaney’s last contract year with the club. He’s not likely coming back. So maybe there’s a world where Naughton’s ceiling exceeds Heaney’s floor, and destiny finds a place for another soft-tosser on a major league mound. Props to Packy!
Just another quick look at premium funk:
Low-A low-hit masterpieces from Ryan Smith + Brent Killam
One way we perennially underrate lefty starting prospects is to undersell their craft and emphasize what they lack in tools and fuel (see above). Another way we do so is to note their height, draft position, and school program, ignoring their in-game results.
If we wanted to undersell Brent Killam and Ryan Smith, we’d note that they are undersized lefty 2019 late-rounders (11th and 18th respectively) from private schools (Georgetown and Princeton) more known for producing titans of government and industry than MLB pitchers. Neither of them are ‘crafty lefties’ – both set single season strikeout records at their respective schools, and both can now work regularly in the 92-93 range with their heater. Because of their stature and lack of track records, analysts tend to tag them as future relievers, but that’s as much a way to punt on prediction and projection as anything else. For the optimists and futurists among us, let’s instead focus on the game results, because the present tense is good eatin’ this week.
We introduced Brent Killam in last week’s farm report. Killam surrendered only one hit in each of this first two outings this season, K’ing 16 in 8.2 IP over those two appearances. This week, he took on the toughest club in the Low-A West league, the Modesto Nuts (currently 13-5), and set a new strikeout mark for himself on the young season, with 11 over 4.1 IP – eleven of thirteen outs by the K. He did scatter four hits over that span, but he struck out the best hitter in the league in Noelvi Marte both times he faced him, and both times swinging. He’s now produced 27 strikeouts over 13 innings in three appearances. If that’s a relief profile, well ok, but please keep it coming.
Can we improve on that? Well, I do believe we can, and that’s with Ryan Smith, who earned Low-A West pitcher of the week honors with his May 21 gem. He faced the same formidable Modesto lineup and took a no-hitter into the fourth, finally surrendering a single to (who else?) Noelvi Marte tens outs into the game. Undeterred, he preserved that one-hitter into the sixth inning, where, perhaps beginning to tire a little, he loaded the bases with a couple singles and a walk. A single mound visit apparently pepped him up, as he retired the side with a pop out and a strikeout swinging in short order. Final result? 13 Ks over six scoreless innings, halting Modesto’s 8-game winning streak with an exclamation point. He did it in only 84 pitches. So, hello Mr. Smith.
As if to prove that it’s not just lefties that have all the fun, on the same night as Ryan Smith’s standout performance with the 66ers, Cooper Criswell, a 6’6″ RHP with the AA Trash Pandas took a no-hitter into the fifth inning before things unwound a bit. A HBP and two singles would allow Pensacola to put up one of their only two runs of the game, though Criswell would conclude the inning with no further damage. Final line: 5 IP, 1 ER, 2 hits, 7 Ks. Criswell has a 3.38 ERA on the season, and is one of a few bright lights on a Trash Pandas club with a lot of bulbs to screw in. To punctuate that statement, the Pandas would go on to lose the Criswell game 2-1, despite outhitting the Blue Wahoos 11 to 5. Their sole run came in the ninth, courtesy of a Torii Hunter Jr solo blast. Otherwise, nine of their hits were not-much singles, and inconveniently spaced.
Another AA pitcher to monitor? Jhonathan Diaz. I’ll admit that I’m not sure what’s up with the oh-ho first name inversion, increasingly common among South American athletes, but I’m going with it, whatever my spellchecker thinks. Diaz has been recently moved to the Trash Pandas rotation, and he’s meeting the moment. Across four appearances, he maintains a 2.30 ERA with 19Ks vs 4 BBs over 15.2 IP. Another shortish-of-stature lefty, Diaz has only surrendered one earned run over his past two starts, both of the 5+ inning variety. LFG.
Jose Salvador returned from the injured list on May 15. He immediately continued the way of the K, but also worrisomely walked 5 as well. He’s made 20 outs over two appearances, 17 by strikeout. Salvador was the second piece in the Brian Goodwin trade, apparently the best of Eppler’s 2020 exchanges.
In-position, out-of-position? The most interesting development of the past couple weeks has been what the new Minasian regime has been doing with positional role changes among some prospects in the talent pipeline. First exhibit: Matt Thaiss. With first and third bases blocked for the foreseeable future in Anaheim by Walsh and Rendon, can you guess where Thaiss has played the majority of his starts for Salt Lake thusfar? Why, at backstop, because… well, why not? He was drafted as a catcher out of college and immediately (perhaps inexpediently) converted to a first baseman, where his fringe power barely suited the position. Now, half a decade later, the experiment resumes, and should he return to the MLB as a receiver, there’s no question he would boost his value in the process. Meanwhile, we get this spectacular Maddon-ism out of the gate:
“There’s so much to think about when you engage in this position, and good catchers make it look second nature,” Maddon said. “Until it is, you’re constantly thinking and really dissecting and digesting the game plan. There are all these different things that get thrown at you that make it a little more difficult. There’s no timeframe, but yes, go ahead Matty. Go ahead and become a big-league catcher.”
Another notable role change:
Oliver Ortega, who had been given multiple seasons to develop as a starter, has been shifted to closer role at AA Rocket City. This was a change foretold in a sense, as the MLB ran a feature a couple weeks ago touting prospects who might be future closers, and Ortega was the Halos pick. Out of relief, his FB has been clocked in the upper 90s, and he has a 12-to-6 breaker that is a potential difference maker. But early returns have also been mixed. His last two save opportunities? One he struck out all three batters he faced, in sequence. The other, he gave up three runs, blew the save and lost the game. Raisel Iglesias, someone has your number!
And thus completes our Week Three greenfields digest, where Angels are mayhap made into miracles, tho often sprung from the crudest stuffs.