As we transit into June, we’re five weeks into the 20 week-long minor league season, and five weeks out from the rescheduled MLB amateur draft. The latter now happens during All Star week, July 11-13, and we’ll be keying up some draft coverage here at CtPG leading up to the event. Meanwhile, a quarter of the way into MiLB action in the new 120 game format, we’ve received some early summer assessments of the Angels farm from a couple canonical sources.
Fangraphs and Baseball America released new takes on our Cherubs over the past week. Eric Longenhagen released his 2021 Top Prospects report for the Los Angeles Angels, and Baseball America released a revised list of their Top 100 prospects list. Both featured some downward revisions for the Angels system. Between 2020 and 2021, the Fangraphs estimated value for the Halos prospect class fell from ~$201M to ~$150M, in part due to the graduation of Jo Adell off the list, but also in part to the large exodus of 40 grade college pitching (eg, Kyle Bradish, Isaac Mattson, Garrett Stallings) in trades. As a result, it’s a smaller list (32 vs 35 in 2020), with much of the new value in the lower ranks of the system.
Longenhagen sums it up in a sentence: “This system is thin but exciting because so many of the higher-variance prospects are fresh faces in the lower levels of the minors.”
By “exciting” it’s important to understand that Longenhagen lives in Tempe, Arizona, and his bread and butter is analyzing very young prospects in extended spring training – often recent draftees and Latin signs – who have yet to matriculate to the four upper levels of pro ball, and are often five years out from any potential MLB impact. As the upper levels of the Angels system have progressively thinned out, this young blood is exciting for a prospect hound like Longenhagen, but “high variance” also means we have little certainty about the outcomes of these kids – they are raw material, fissile or fusible, that may blow up or burn out quickly in time. But his list reflects a lot of names that Angels fans simply haven’t seen yet in any public context: Arol Vera, Adrian Placencia, Alexander Ramirez, Denzer Guzman, Alejandro Hildalgo, Gabriel Tapia. Ideally, we’ll get a peek at a few of them as the AZL Angels take flight at the end of this month.
The thinning of the upper ranks is also evident in the revised Baseball America Top 100. The Angels possess only two prospects in the list. Jo Adell falls from #11 to #17, and Brandon Marsh falls from #30 to #62. Early season injuries to Marsh, Jordyn Adams and Kyren Paris haven’t helped strengthen the Angels position in the rankings.
Week 5 Standings
Salt Lake Bees: Last week: 2-3 / Season record: 11-16
Rocket City Trash Pandas: Last week: 3-2 / Season record: 13-16
Tri-City Dust Devils: Last week: 2-4 / Season record: 10-20
Inland Empire 66ers: Last week: 2-4 / Season record: 13-16
A bit of a tread-water week for the junior Angels, with a couple nice pitching-driven wins for the Trash Pandas, but no sustained surges for any affiliate. Brandon Marsh hasn’t been in the Bees lineup since June 1st, and Jordyn Adams and Kyren Paris remain on the IL. However, we saw good weeks from Jo Adell, Reid Detmers and Jeremiah Jackson, as you’ll see below.
Promotions (!) of the Week
A month-plus into farm action, we see our first upward movement for some aspirant Angels. This is a system that has recently been aggressive in moving high-performers to tougher challenges, and we saw as much last week.
On June 3rd, after another dominant performance from Ryan Smith for Inland Empire, I tweeted this:
I had posted similarly the previous week about Brent Killam. Not that I have any pull with the front office, but two days later, we saw this:
All the right moves!
Killam and Smith are both older than Detmers, but were sitting in Low A and carving up the competition. Tri City is losing two thirds of its contests, so there’s little reason not to see what the small school lefties can do against Seattle’s AquaSox outfit and the other Pac NW clubs in the High A West.
Aaron Hernandez was also missing a ton of bats as a short-stint starter on the Dust Devils, but his control remains a real problem. He deserves the promotion to AA, but he also deserves a conversion to the bullpen, where his velocity should see a boost in short relief, and he could provide competition for another converted starter, Oliver Ortega, who has been very inconsistent of late for the Trash Pandas.
Prospect of the Week
Jo Adell, .435/.480/1.130 (10-for-23) last week, 7 runs, 7 XBH, 7 RBIs
Well… look who’s back! Only two weeks out from his last appearance in our top prospect section, Jo Adell returns, rolling all sevens across a rain-shortened five-game stretch for the Salt Lake Bees. An even nicer two-fer in the weekly counting stats is the following: 4 strikeouts, 4 home runs. If your pocket calculators are at the ready, kids, that’s a 17% K rate on the week, and, well, that’ll do, Jo, that’ll do.
As you all probably know, Adell is leading all the minor leagues in home runs, now with 15, and his closest competition is a 25 year old Red Sox farmkin, Johan Mieses, who has hit 12 – all but one of those in AA ball, from which he was recently promoted. Adell also added two doubles and a triple to the mix this week, and there’s really no further proof needed that he can hit the ball real hard, real far in the former PCL, at the highest level of MiLB play.
It was all enough to put Adell once again on the Baseball America Weekly Hot Sheet, this time at #6.
The question remains: when to revisit Jo in the Angels outfield? You certainly have to believe he’ll be back for the second half, after the All Star break. But if he can keep his strikeout rate in the 20% or below range for another week, is there any harm in accelerating his promotion?
One thing that is interesting to see – the Bees returned Adell to centerfield for the first time all season over the weekend. He played two error-free games there in the Tacoma series over the weekend, also going 5-for-10 at the plate. With Mike Trout out of action for several more weeks, could we see a return of Jo Adell to his natural position if he’s called up for a sophomore season?
Performances of the Week
Reid Detmers, AA Trash Pandas, 1.80 ERA, 5 IP, 5 H, 1 ER, 0 BB, 10 Ks
Detmers earned his first win of the season – in the second 10 K outing in his past three tries. It was also enough to earn him a place at #13 (of 20 top performers) in BA’s Hot Sheet for the week.
The Trash Pandas offense hasn’t been so great about providing him enough runs for pitcher wins (sound familiar?), but Detmers has also let some innings get away from him along the way, leading to some shorter-than-preferable outings, as 25 innings over six appearances would indicate. 40 strikeouts over that same span, however, shows the tantalizing talent that the 21 year old lefty has displayed in his first assignment, at AA Rocket City.
I watched the full June 5th start – which also featured strong relief work from Keith Rogalla and Connor Higgins, both potential pieces for a 2022 Angels bullpen – and there were a few things to like.
One, his fastball velocity was sustained at 93-95 for the entire outing, and he got half his strikeouts on the heater, working largely high in the zone. He also was getting consistent swings and misses with his 88 mph slider, low and in to righties. That’s a promising advancement for a guy that mostly worked fastball-curve in college. And that curve, properly executed, still gives fairly mature hitters fits, as you can see in the clips above. Reid got away with one that landed high and tight at one point, but when he landed it low with a sharp vertical break, it made good hitters look bad.
His in-zone offspeed stuff is still a work in progress. Short-levered and smaller contact hitters can time it, and a guy like former Halo farmhand Leo Rivas took him into a deep count and then knocked a pitch into shallow center. Detmers showed a kind of slurvy breaker with more lateral movement than his 12-6 curve, and that works against aggressive hitters, but his straight change (which he throws less) is more inconsistent. He did, to my eye, get one swing and miss on an effective mid-80s execution of it.
The development of the slider/change is something to watch. The velocity boost will help get him to the majors, but a league-average changeup and show-me slider will give him a four pitch mix to keep him there.
Jeremiah Jackson, Low A 66ers, .350/.458/.700 (last week), 6 runs, 8 RBIs, 4 XBH
Jackson pulled off a six game on-base streak last week against Rancho Cucamonga (Dodgers affiliate), including three multi-hit appearances. While a 29% strikeout rate in that stretch should still spook the horses, Jackson also walked four times and played six errorless games at shortstop over the same span. And that’s big progress for this guy. Two doubles, a triple and a HR reminds us that Jackson remains a true speed/power threat, and the extreme lift of his swing gives him what Longenhagen called (in last week’s rankings) “an airplane hangar’s ceiling”. But also, given the contact issues, “extreme risk” that burdens the leavened heart.
If there’s any possibility that Jeremiah Jackson can stick at shortstop and add some walks to his game, he’s a potential superstar. If he slides to third and continues to strikeout at a 30-40% clip, he’s a would-have-been. Games like that of June 4th, where JJ got 2 hits, 2 walks, 3 runs and 4 RBIs provide some tailwind to the upside case.
It was all enough to award him last week’s Low-A West Player of the Week, and deservedly so:
Ryan Smith, High A Dust Devils (!): 1.66 ERA, 44 Ks, 7 BBs over 27.2 IP
I mentioned Smith’s promotion upstream, but last week’s outing reinforces why it happened.
For the fourth straight appearance, he surrendered 1 ER or less, with more than a strikeout per inning over the game. His last three starts have all been 6+ inning pitch efficient affairs. It only took him 80 pitches to dispatch the Quakes with 7 Ks, 2 hits and one walk. The 66ers bullpen would ultimately puke up all the goodness that went down in first six innings, ultimately losing the game, but no fault to Smith for that. He’s been excellent, and I look forward to seeing what he and Brent Killam can do at the next level.
Things won’t get any easier in terms of run support, as the Tri City Dust Devils have the worst offense in the six-team High A West league by far. Good luck, boys.
Thinking ahead to the 2021 MLB Draft next month also has me thinking about past drafts as well. Tonight the MLB Angels face Jackson Kowar of the Kansas City Royals in his major league debut.
Kowar was the top target on my own draft board going into the first round in 2018. In most years, I have a preferred target for the Angels, relative to their draft positions, and then a player or two you never expected to arrive falls down the boards at the last moment. Brady Singer was that BPA (best player available) in 2018, as he slid down from the expected top ten range to the 18th selection. Kansas City would select Singer and Kowar in the first round, and with four selections in the top 40 picks, would select Daniel Lynch and Kris Bubic as well.
All four of the Royals’ 2018 first round selections were college pitchers, and as of tonight, all have now reached the MLB. The Angels, who selected just before KC at #17 in the draft, chose yet another toolsy prep outfielder with meager baseball experience in Jordyn Adams. Adams has been on the IL with a quad injury since the first week of the season, in High A ball.
Did we say Jo Adell can hit the ball far? Yes, Jo Adell can hit the ball real far.
Matt Thaiss continued to play half his Salt Lake Bees games at catcher last week, and even managed to throw a guy out!
The Rocket City Trash Pandas may not have a winning record, and their pitching and offense are decidedly middle-of-the-pack, but they do lead all of AA in one surprising category:
They also have a rather…um…metrosexual dance troupe for northern Alabama. P-Valley this ain’t!
If you can’t dig the shuffle in that Caucasian Persuasion, maybe you just need to get (cough) Higgy with it?
That’s what I got, fancy dancers. Keep the club bouncin’ in the comments. Summertime rolls, and the farm beat goes on.