Like their big brother seraphim in Anaheim, one of the Angels farm teams finally experienced life in the paint – more black than red – as they nudged their record one win above .500 with a winning streak that spanned most of the week.
This would be the Halos’ newest affiliate, the Rocket City Trash Pandas, which managed a six game run of victories from June 5th to June 12th, and took a scoreless game into the 7th inning on Sunday, again on the strength of an excellent outing by RHSP Kyle Tyler, until the bullpen gave up the ghost, cutting the streak to six.
This implosion was actually a bit uncharacteristic, at least of late, as we’ll touch on below, but it’s nice to see some good news at an advanced level of the farm system, and have it be built on a foundation of solid pitching to boot.
Week 6 Standings
Salt Lake Bees: Last week: 3-3 / Season record: 14-19
Rocket City Trash Pandas: Last week: 5-1 / Season record: 18-17
Tri-City Dust Devils: Last week: 2-3 / Season record: 12-23
Inland Empire 66ers: Last week: 2-4 / Season record: 16-19
Not a lot to look at here beyond our lovable trash-pickin’ ringtails – with middling performances at most franchises, and rather few offensive highlights for the week. Once again, the hitting prospects we’d most like to see are chronically on the mend: Jordyn Adams, Brandon Marsh, Kyren Paris. Even Jeremiah Jackson, who otherwise had a fine week (.353/.421/.647), sat out the final two games of the weekend series after being removed from the June 11th game. He’s not on the IL as of yet, but it’s a situation worth monitoring.
Needless to say, the medical situation lowers the ceiling quite a bit on farm progress and development. The Angels’ one high-caliber bat of note saw an uncharacteristic power deficit in Week 6, as Jo Adell put up a .280/.308/.360 slash over six games, adding only one extra base hit (a triple) on the week, while whiffing 12 times over 26 plate appearances. Obviously, a 46% K rate is not going to get Joltin’ Jo back to Anaheim anytime soon.
But here’s that triple!
The good news this week comes largely in the form of pitching, both in the starting and relief varieties, and there’s nothing wrong with that. It wasn’t all panda promise – we did see Brent Killam struggle in his first promotion to the High A Dust Devils, failing to get out of the first inning after dropping 5 ERs over 35 pitches. Jack Kochanowicz again struggled with control and hittability, exiting after 66 pitches in the third. Reid Detmers was solid, but also pitch inefficient, in his seventh outing of season, requiring 87 pitches to get through four innings in a one-run performance (6 Ks, 2 BBs).
But quibbles and caveats aside, there are several players worth unambiguously celebrating this week.
Prospect(s) of the Week
The Trash Pandas bullpen!
Ok, maybe it’s a cop-out to deliver the top prospect award to a collective unit, but the Angels have struggled for so long to put together a performant relief corps of the sort they fielded during the golden age of the 2000s (eg, K-Rod, Percival, Shields, Donnelly), it’s worth celebrating when something comes together, however temporarily.
The Trash Pandas have four solid starters in Reid Detmers, Aaron Hernandez, Cooper Criswell and Kyle Tyler who have been largely successful in keeping an otherwise middling AA team above water and getting the ball to the bullpen.
On the other hand, the Pandas have a full six relievers who have put up at least 10 IP this season, each with an ERA of 2.30 or better. As a unit, that group of six have pitched 87 innings, with a 1.86 ERA and 99 Ks. The 18 earned runs that the sexy sextet have surrendered over six weeks is equal to the number a single Trash Panda reliever, Kyle Molnar, has surrendered all by himself in 12.1 innings of work. Oliver Ortega is not far behind with 17 ERs in 14.1 IP. So it’s easy to guess who has appeared in some of the late inning blowouts in a Rocket City contest, and who is anchoring the back end when the Pandas keep the runs-allowed side of the ledger to one or two.
Who is this brave band of late inning shutdown artists?
|Tyler Danish||0.90 ERA||10 IP||12 SOs||.118|
|Adrian Almeida||1.69 ERA||10.2 IP||10 SOs||.194|
|Nathan Bates||1.69 ERA||16 IP||14 SOs||.102|
|Jhonathan Diaz||1.93 ERA||18.2 IP||24 SOs||.191|
|Connor Higgins||2.25 ERA||16 IP||21 SOs||.238|
|Keith Rogalla||2.30 ERA||15.2 IP||18 SOs||.267|
Almeida and Bates have been a bit wild, struggling with walks, but as the averages-against show, they’re sparing with the hits. Higgins and Rogalla bring the swing-and-miss, and are frequently used in tandem to close out narrow contests. Diaz is quite interesting as a swing guy – a converted starter previously in the Red Sox organization who was picked up in the offseason as a free agent. He’s still only 24, so very much a viable relief arm or bulk innings guy worth watching.
All of these arms are in the 24-27 age range, so are nearing the make-it-or-break-it phase in their MiLB careers (though the long pandemic layoff needs to be taken into account when ages are discussed). I’m less certain of (and familiar with) Danish and Almeida (neither drafted by the Angels), but the other four are all plausible BP candidates in the next year or two for the MLB club. And that alone makes them a promising feature in the system’s otherwise inconsistent pitching pipeline.
Performances of the Week
Davis Daniel, High-A Dust Devils, 0 ERA, 7 IP, 1 H, 0 ER, 0 BB, 8 Ks
Davis Daniel is a legit top-20 prospect in the Angels system – a seventh-round pick from 2019 out of Auburn University. Three-pitch guy with a smooth, repeatable delivery, and low-90s velo, he got Tommy John surgery in spring of 2019, but the Angels took a chance on him with a selection in the top ten rounds, and the TJ recovery delay is why we’re seeing him for the first time in 2021. Like many TJ rehab guys, he’s struggled with command in the early going, and his velocity has often been in the 88-90 range early in games.
That said, he’s made considerable advances in his recent starts, and on June 10th, he took a no-hitter into the seventh inning, while walking none in that contest. In many senses, he’s himself worthy of Prospect of the Week, and he’s surrendered only two hits over 12 scoreless innings spanning his two June starts. Over his past 18 innings, he’s struck out 27 batters.
He’s doing it largely on strength of command, a nice curve, high strikes and deception – not on heat, as I’ve spotted very few fastballs in the 91-94 mph range in the starts I’ve watched.
To give a sense of the improvement in command – Daniel walked 10 in 6.2 innings over his first two starts in May, and walked four in his previous June start. But in three of his past four starts he went at least six innings with one or fewer walks on the outing. He’s now down to a 2.35 ERA and .171 average against on the season. Combined with the strikeout profile (41 Ks in 30.2 IP), that’ll get him promoted to AA to join Detmers, Tyler and Hernandez soon enough.
Kyle Tyler, AA Trash Pandas, 0 ERA, 6 IP, 3 H, 0 ER, 1 BB, 7 Ks
And speaking of Kyle Tyler, the kid keeps rolling.
Despite an uncharacteristically short outing in Week 5 in which he walked four and failed to get out of the fourth inning, Tyler recovered in Week 6 to shove out six scoreless innings in a one-hit performance (7 Ks, 1 BB) – in his fourth quality start in five tries. Tyler works with a similar repertoire to Daniel (above), but with a touch more velocity, albeit less than his stable mates Detmers and Hernandez. His command and consistency keep him deep in games, and while I continue to feel this is depth starter profile in the end, Tyler has the bulldog presence to outperform expectations, so let’s see.
With a 2.08 ERA and a 1.03 WHIP over seven starts, Tyler is currently the most performant pitcher at the upper levels of the system, and it’s consistent with his success since 2019 when he debuted as a starter. He has a 14-3 record with a 2.82 ERA in his MiLB career, so there’s nothing fluky about what he’s doing at a fairly advanced level of play.
Ryan Smith, High-A Dust Devils, 0 ERA, 6 IP, 2 hits, 0 ER, 1 BB, 9 Ks
Another pitcher defying the odds is lefty Ryan Smith, who recently made the leap to Advanced-A ball and showed no signs of challenge in his initial debut. While Tyler is the most performant Angels farmhand in the upper levels, Smith may soon claim the same across two levels of A ball. And while he was promoted the same week as his fellow 66ers rotation mate Brent Killam, Killam really struggled in his first outing, while Smith cruised.
In his first outing with the Tri-City Dust Devils, Smith threw 95 pitches over six scoreless, and K’ed nine in the process. Both hits were soft grounders on the infield. This was his fifth straight start in which he’s given up one or fewer runs, and his fourth in a row in which he’s gone at least six innings deep. On the six-week season, he’s sporting an excellent 1.34 ERA, 0.71 WHIP and an impressive 53 Ks over 33.2 dominant innings.
Continue to look forward to what Ryan Smith can do over the full 20 week season. This interview with him from last week misidentifies him as a right-handed pitcher, but has some interesting insights nonetheless.
Aaron Hernandez, AA Trash Pandas, 3.60 ERA, 5 IP, 2 hits, 2 ER, 3 BBs, 8 Ks
Also pulling out his first win at a new level is Aaron Hernandez, recently promoted to the AA Rocket City Trash Pandas, for his first taste of upper level ball. While not quite as dominant as the pitching performances above, Hernandez limited the opposition to two hits over five innings, and continued his streak of 23.2 innings without a longball surrendered.
As you can see in the sampler above, Hernandez shows at least five different ways of getting batters out. He clearly has very good secondaries, and has been successful at hit containment all season, but his struggles with control tend to tag him with a relief profile – and he does have good upside as a late inning weapon, where he’ll likely see a FB velocity increase. That’ll require some simplification, because at the moment he has a complicated portfolio of pitches, some short of polish.
But any outing where he goes five innings or more keeps the promise alive of a potential mid-rotation starter, given his four-pitch mix and a potential mid-90s fastball, should he develop that consistency at higher levels. In this week’s outing, roughly two thirds of his 88 pitches were strikes, and he probably had a little more in him to make it into the sixth, so huzzah! – and something to build on going forward.
Matt Thaiss had another very strong week at AAA with the Bees, and if he’s being shortchanged here by being dropped to the Quick Hits section, it’s only because he’s age 26 in a hitter’s league, and hasn’t qualified as a prospect in awhile. But across his last six games, he’s slashed .417/.481/1.167 (!!), with 4 HRs, 8 XBHs, 7 runs and 10 RBIs. (That includes two triples, folks.)
Thus it’s hard not to wonder if there isn’t some world where “catcher” Matt Thaiss joins a resurgent Max Stassi in the most unlikely, improbably powerful catcher’s tandem in recent Angels history.
Another forget-me-not reserve player at AAA is Luis Rengifo. Rengifo, who only turned 24 this spring, is also having himself quite a month of June. Over 10 games and 46 PAs this month, he’s hitting .395/.435/.814, pacing the Bees offense with 13 runs, largely out of the leadoff spot. With only 8 Ks over the same span, he’s making above-average contact, while his 4 HRs and 2 triples show he’s not all slap.
There’s not all that many places to put him on the active 25-man right now, but it’s good to know there’s a hot hand in reserve if the Angels need it this summer.
He hasn’t quite hit enough (.224 avg, .325 OBP) and he’s struck out too much (34% of PAs) with the Rocket City Trash Pandas for me to afford him true prospect status, but 23-year-old lefty outfielder Izzy Wilson also leads the entire AA South league in home runs with 10, and he sports a fine .514 SLG, given the rest of his batting profile. He has also stolen 8 bags. He’s part of the offbeat class of minor league free agents the Angels have been importing into their affiliates to fill clear gaps in the talent pipeline. Wilson is a converted shortstop previously with the Braves organization, a former international sign born on the small Leeward Island of Saint Martin, and I assume he’s someone Minasian has had his eye on over the years.
And that closes out Week Six of the Angels farm digest. Summer is clearly in full effect and the heat is on – let’s hope we see some party crashing from the wounded ranks of Adams, Marsh and Paris soon. Shrimps on the barbee, lads. (Keeping on’ – Turk)