Today, May 31st, may be a day of remembrance, but the last week of Angels minor league play was a week to forget.
While the MLB club showed glimpses of what a pennant-contending team might do – sweeping Texas in a short series, and splitting a four-game sprint with division-leading Oakland – the younger Cherubs took a step back on most fronts. The Angels’ top five prospects all regressed or succumbed to the injury list, and not a one of the four farm teams succeeded in pulling off a winning week. The two A-ball clubs played .500 ball, and the upper ranks each lost 4 of 6, producing four losing seasonal records, with only the 66ers within a series of making their way back-to-black.
We’re officially one month shy of the six year anniversary of Jerry Dipoto’s resignation as Angels’ GM. I still occasionally see comments among the casual Angels fanbase on Twitter that Dipoto “set the Angels farm back a decade” and what we are seeing now is ultimately the rotting fruit of that dark ministerial work. Beyond the fact that that’s simply not true (Dipoto draftees like Jared Walsh and David Fletcher would have something to say about it in any case), it’s impossible to “set [a farm system] back a decade” in less than four years flat. A farm generation turns over roughly every 4-6 years, simply given contract controllability, optionality, Rule 5 protocols, etc. No GM with only 3+ years on their tenure can be fully responsible for a farm system’s contents in any case, but a GM with 5 years of drafts behind him certainly can be.
What we presently see in the Angels talent pipeline, outside of a handful of minor league free agents injected to fill in obvious gaps from imbalanced drafting, is almost 100% the work of Billy Eppler. Six weeks out from the 2021 MLB draft, we can clearly begin to fairly assess what the man has built.
Week 4 Standings
Salt Lake Bees: Last week: 2-4 / Season record: 9-13
Rocket City Trash Pandas: Last week: 2-4 / Season record: 10-14
Tri-City Dust Devils: Last week: 3-3 / Season record: 8-16
Inland Empire 66ers: Last week: 3-3 / Season record: 11-12
Brandon Marsh and Jo Adell had tough, no-good weeks. Adell hit .167 on the span, and while he added two more HRs since last Monday, his strikeout rate increased to 33% of appearances again, and he didn’t walk once. Two 0-for games led him to be benched for one of the weekend games against Round Rock. Marsh, meanwhile, hit .174 over the six-game week, and while he kept his Ks down (5 of 28 PAs) and walked as often as he struck out, that only managed him a .321 OBP in a hitter’s league. We need to see more from these two in the big-swinging Triple-A West.
Jordyn Adams and Kyren Paris both officially went on the 7-day IL last week. Adams has been out of action since the first week of May, so that felt like a formality to allow some roster shuffling. Information on Paris has been scant since he went down, so one hopes it’s minor, as he’s been clearly the most interesting performer in the Angels’ system this May.
Rounding out the top six with the two best pitchers among Angels prospects, C-Rod and Reid Detmers both had rather wobbly outings at AAA and AA respectively. While Rodriguez saw a short scoreless inning at Salt Lake in his first rehab appearance, he struggled a bit to find the zone, walking his first batter on four pitches. He was helped by his defense – a nice running play in the leftfield corner by Adell, and a runner caught stealing by rehabbing Max Stassi – keeping his exposure to the three batter minimum. But one abbreviated appearance in four days makes one wonder how he came out of that one brief outing.
Detmers, meanwhile, had a tough go, failing to make it out of the third inning in an embarrassingly lopsided Trash Pandas loss on Sunday to the Birmingham Barons, 17-4. Detmers surrendered four runs, three of them earned, on three walks, four hits and three strikeouts. He was a bit of a mess as a defender as well, throwing one into the dugout, essentially earning that ‘unearned’ run. Part of it must’ve been frustration. He wasn’t missing the zone by much, and was essentially battling the ump for close calls, and none of the hits he gave up were barreled. Soft contact, a couple infield hits, including a bunt single. But 64 pitches in 2.2 IP is what is: not great.
“Not great” is unfortunately the overriding theme this week, and I apologize for sullying the long weekend with cloud-grey overhang. But there is some color here as well: well, that is, red flags are abounding everywhere at the moment.
The cleanup hitter for the Low-A West 66ers, one of only two in the lineup hitting north of .250, is 27 years old, and was last seen playing Mexican ball for Pericos de Puebla in 2018. The High-A West Dust Devils, who lost two thirds of their games in May, lead the league in strikeouts (by their hitters) and are last in the league in runs, RBIs and most rate metrics. As a team, they are hitting .183/.279/.325. The AA Trash Panda hitters also lead their league in strikeouts, though other team metrics are more middling. Finally, the Salt Lake Bees carry a team ERA of 6.30 and AAA West teams are hitting .308 against them (worst mark in the league) – not unprecedented numbers in a batter’s paradise, but also not universal: the Sugar Land Skeeters (Houston’s AAA affiliate) carries a 2.94 team ERA with a .206 BA against. So eyes on the prize, junior Angels.
All that may give you some idea of why I volunteered that digression earlier on Billy Eppler’s minor league legacy. It is what it is, folks, but at the moment it depends on what the definition of “is” is. Small as that word sounds, it’s what we got at the moment.
Prospect(s) of the Week
This is a tough one. This wasn’t the sort of week with sustained offensive performances worth of last week’s nod to Jo Adell, or a week with a single dominant start like Packy Naughton’s 7.2 one-hit innings in Las Vegas last weekend. The good moments were of the “nice progress, keep it up!” variety – noted in the best performances section below.
I’m tempted to give it to Matt Thaiss, who has a seven-game hitting streak with the Bees, and hit .370 last week – but he also struck out in a third of his ABs, didn’t walk once, and only played one of six games behind the dish.
Instead, while each of them only pitched once over the course of the week, I’m going to co-award two pitchers on the Low-A Inland Empire 66ers who both won Performance of the Week honors last week, and extended that momentum into last week. So, without further ado:
Brent Killam & Ryan Smith, LHSPs, Low A West
Last week, we gave them nods for taking no-hit bids deep into the game and ultimately scattering seven hits over 10.1 IP between them, striking out a whopping 24 batters in that span. This week, while the K totals were more “modest” (15 over 12.1 IP), each pitcher went a full six innings, surrendering the same measly seven hits between them, and only allowing one run total collectively (and that in the sixth inning, on a ground ball chased around LF for a triple by the 66ers defense). In total, here was there lines on back-to-back nights this week:
|Brent Killam||6 IP||2 hits||0 ER||1 BBs||7 SO||81 pitches|
|Ryan Smith||6.1 IP||5 hits||1 ER||0 BBs||8 SO||84 pitches|
Each starter now has four appearances this month. Both are 2019 draftees, chosen in the later rounds (11th and 18th), both are age 23, both lefties with similar repertoires, both 5’11”. And their records after the month of May are similar as well:
|Brent Killam||1.42 ERA||19 IP||34 Ks||0.79 WHIP|
|Ryan Smith||1.61 ERA||21.2 IP||37 Ks||0.83 WHIP|
I’ve seen enough after a month to want to see these two challenged in Advanced-A ball. It’s not like Tri-City has anything to lose. Once Andrew Blake and Erik Rivera return from the 7-day IL, a promotion to the Dust Devils up north would seem in order.
Performances of the Week
In fact, most of the good news from an otherwise rough week came in the form of solid pitching outings from under-seen, unheralded or recently struggling younger prospects. Here are three to note:
Jack Kochanowicz, RHSP, Low-A West
The big tall righty, standing in at a full 6’6″, and Baseball America’s #7 ranked Angels prospect finally showed what he could do with that big frame and 3+ pitches. He had legitimately struggled his first three appearances of the season, to the tune of 13 ERs and 19 baserunners in 6.1 innings pitched. On Saturday night, however, Kochanowicz held the Fresno lineup to two singles, and one unearned run (on an errant throw from his third baseman), striking out four Grizzlies swinging in the process. Looking at the clip below, you can see why scouts are high on Gentleman Jack: smooth, repeatable delivery and a lovely curve that was very much working this weekend:
Aaron Hernandez, RHSP, High-A West
Hernandez is still a legit prospect in the Angels organization. His third-round pedigree from the 2018 draft combined with a sophisticated four-pitch mix and a strong performance in the Arizona Fall League keep hopes for him as a potential mid-rotation starter alive, even though many expect him to thrive in a bullpen role eventually, where his velocity is likely to see a boost. He’s already 24 years old, but has only put up 73 innings of work across his pro career, on top of a college career that was already low mileage due to some injuries. That lack of game innings is why he’s likely being given long rope at lower levels at the moment.
Hernandez has yet to surrender more than two hits in any of his four appearances this year, but has nonetheless battled his control, issuing too many walks and averaging nearly 20 pitches per inning. He seemed to put it all together on Friday, however, contributing 5 scoreless innings to a nine inning, two-hit shutout, doing it with 69 pitches, and walking only one in the process. More of that please (!), as despite often threading a shaky needle, he has a fine 1.32 ERA, at least in part because he *can* miss bats. He is repeating Advanced-A ball at the moment. You’d really like to see Hernandez challenged alongside Detmers at AA, where he’d be more age appropriate. He has the stuff to play, as Friday night attests.
John Swanda, RHSP, Low-A West
Swanda has fallen off a number of top prospect lists for the Angels since he was drafted in the fourth round in 2017. He’s progressed steadily through the lower levels, putting up respectable, if not dominant, results. As a young prep sign, he’s still young however – only 22 as of March – and he’s been quietly putting together some good appearances with Inland Empire of late. While he’s not evidencing a lot of swing-and-miss, he’s been progressively avoiding hard contact, and has not surrendered an earned run in his past four appearances. On Sunday night, he put up six very efficient innings, only tossing 68 pitches, while the Grizzlies scattered four innings to little effect. While Swanda would only K two over that span, he held Fresno scoreless and earned his second win on the young season.
CtPG’s own Jeff Joiner interviewed Swanda three years back at another familiar site. Learn about his Panera parking lot miracle here:
An injury to Jose Iglesias and a call-up of Kean Wong set things in motion for a promotion to AAA of Michael Stefanic. It’s not like the guy didn’t earn it. A 2018 undrafted free agent pick-up, Stefanic continues to hit wherever he is placed. He hit .358/.419/.442 for the AA Trash Pandas this season, and in his first two games with the Salt Lake Bees has made it on base in five of nine attempts. Like Wong, it wouldn’t be at all surprising to see this grinder play his way into the Angels lineup this season.
D’Shawn Knowles was activated off the injured list and joined action with the IE 66ers this week. The speedy switch-hitting centerfielder immediately displayed his tools with a triple and two stolen bases in week one, but he’s also pressing a little, with only one walk and 6 Ks in 21 PAs, and a .211 batting line in the first five games. I look forward to seeing Knowles with Kyren Paris at the top of the 66ers order when Paris returns.
Jeremiah Jackson, a top-ten power threat on most Angels prospect lists, finally showed some of the thump he evidenced when he broke the Pioneer League homerun record in 2019. He hit two of them and 4 RBIs on the way to a 9-3 victory Saturday night over Fresno at home in San Bernardino. Unfortunately, these displays have been rare enough, and Jackson otherwise hit only .158 last week, striking out 9 times in 20 appearances. He’s going to fall down the rankings in favor of Paris and others if he plays in June as he has in May.
Oliver Ortega continued to show what makes him such an intriguing and frustrating prospect this week. Early in the week: Two no-doubt, confident, shutdown saves, three up, three down. Then one ugly game-losing meltdown – a blown save featuring three hits, two walks, a wild pitch, an error on a pickoff attempt, a game tying home run. Just a mess. That performance also featured three strikeouts swinging, which highlights the tantalizing talent amidst the chaos. One mitigating factor here: the Trash Pandas manager brought Ortega in at the beginning of the eighth and left him in for FIFTY pitches over two innings, and… just why? If the org is committed to making Ortega a closer, why two innings, why fifty pitches, why eff with a young player like that? (Perhaps to prepare for the high-seas Maddon-helmed bullpen management at the upper level?)
Ok, ok, fire up the Monday BBQ and chase away the mosquito hum of this cranky farm pest. Week 4 Angels Farm Report is off the grille. Sorry for all the groans – some weeks the weather just don’t suit the clothes, y’know?