We’re two months into the Minor League season, and June is almost done. The MLB draft is two weeks away, and we’ll be starting our draft coverage here at the Pearly Gates beginning July 1st. The summer heat is cranking up across MiLB parks, and you can see on the faces of young players on MiLB.TV, and occasionally in mid-game meltdowns on the mound as well.
The Angels farm had a hit-and-mostly-miss week, and the injury bug that has set a defiant and frustrating ceiling on the MLB club’s performance (with the ghosts of Trout, Upton, and a hobbled Rendon haunting the lineup) still plagues the farm clubs as well. Three of the Angels’ top six prospects (Brandon Marsh, Jordyn Adams, Kyren Paris) are still on the mend, or struggling badly after protracted IL stints.
The farm’s outstanding power threat, Jo Adell, is in the midst of a serious power slump, with only one HR in his past 18 games, and none in the past ten. Even the “heroic trio” of Trash Pandas pitching that we celebrated last week struggled a bit with run prevention this week, while still exhibiting many of the positives that leaven our doubts during an era of struggle in Angels baseball, in both the junior and senior leagues.
(A note that next week’s Angels Farm Report will cover five teams, as the ACL Angels debut tonight! While video and clips from the Arizona site are often scarce, there are a ton of fun Latin signs and 2020 draftees to follow at the youngest level of minor league play.)
Week 8 Standings
Salt Lake Bees: Last week: 3-3 / Season record: 20-25
Rocket City Trash Pandas: Last week: 3-3 / Season record: 25-22
Tri-City Dust Devils: Last week: 1-5 / Season record: 15-32
Inland Empire 66ers: Last week: 3-3 / Season record: 22-25
All of the Cherub clubs played .500 ball last week, save for the execrable Tri-City Dust Devils (sorry, boys), who have yet to put up a winning week of baseball at any point in the past eight tries. They do, however, have a few interesting starting pitchers (see below), and their stadium showcases fabulous summer sunsets:
That Tri-City lineup, though is just a tough, tough sell, reflective of serious gaps in drafting and development in the torso of the Angels system – and a result of owner underfunding of the talent pipeline plus an earlier front office that was focused on buying scratch tickets for lottos that infrequently pay out instead of holistically raising the floor of a depleted system. When the previous FO did fitfully attempt to raise that floor in terms of pitching, it quickly reversed itself, sending out advanced college arms in bulk to other clubs for win-now rentals for a club that’s skid just south of .500 for several seasons. Some of those arms (Brnovich, Bradish, Peek) – all traded for a season and a half of Dylan Bundy – are having quite nice seasons for Baltimore at the moment, each with sub-3 ERAs at three levels of their system. And the handful of arms the Angels retained from those same drafts (Kyle Tyler, Ryan Smith, Brent Killam, et al) are some of the only positive stories on the farm this season to date.
There’s clearly a consistent story here about the value of drafting college pitching, one that Kansas City learned well with its marvelous 2018 MLB draft, where they drafted five college pitchers (and a college CF) in the first 100 picks of the draft – all of them selected after the Angels’ #17 first round pick – and five of those six players have already hit the Majors. The final one, their second rounder Jonathan Bowlan, was absolutely dealing in AA, with a 1.59 ERA and 13.2 K/9, before succumbing to TJ earlier this month. Upon recovery, he has a good chance to make KC six-for-six in graduating their top draft picks from the first three rounds to the MLB, and that simply doesn’t happen very often.
On the flip side of that strategy is Jordyn Adams, the Angels first-rounder from the same draft – recruited less for his approach or track record than for an athletic multi-sport body with few baseball miles logged on it. After three games at high-A this season, he went down with a quad injury (not his first lower leg injury for a player whose top tool is his speed), and has simply vanished as a performer since returning this month. He has 2 hits in his last 33 plate appearances, his June slash is .069/.182/.069, and things just don’t look right at the moment. The Dust Devils sat him out for half of last week’s games.
This sweet swing from March is not the swing we’re seeing in late June:
Over the past five years of draft classes, the Angels’ draft model more often than not has favored younger-than-average players with projectable athletic bodies. Virtually all of those players have struggled with injuries and developmental issues, or have emerged incomplete players with serious challenges to a couple of their baseball tools. There’s clearly something going on with organizational development that needs to be remedied, and absent that, Minasian needs to readjust the organization’s drafting model to favor college performers and track record more, and save his few precious bullets in the off-season from opportunistic trades.
Prospect of the Week
David MacKinnon, AA Trash Pandas, 476/.500/.905, 5 runs, 7 RBIs, 3 2Bs, 2 HRs
David MacKinnon is hitting .322/.399/.510 for the AA Trash Pandas this season. His line in June is .361/.413/.556, and this is in a league that does not particularly favor hitters (.237/.324/.386 is the league average). It also contains some of the better pitching prospects in the minors – like Cincinnati’s Nick Lodolo and Hunter Greene, and Milwaukee’s Ethan Small. Last week, MacKinnon had four multi-hit outings versus the Chattanooga Lookouts (Reds affiliate) series, and slashed .476/.500/.905 with five XBHs, including two home runs.
That power is a little unusual for him. Because despite the consistent outperformance at a challenging AA level, MacKinnon is typically not considered a prospect, as he’s a singles/doubles hitter who mans the corners, mostly first base, and at age 26, is a bit out-of-range of the orbit of prototypical amateur success stories. It’s not that he’s a late bloomer. He’s a late-round (32nd) senior red shirt sign from a small cold weather school taken in the Jo Adell / Griffin Canning draft class. If not for the Covid disruption to the 2020 season, he’s likely be in AAA right now, alongside 2018’s late round college performer Michael Stefanic.
And later this summer, he probably will be.
MacKinnon is illustrative of the success the Angels have in picking up useful reserves and taxi squad players in the back half of the draft, and increasingly in minor league free agency. It’s a trend that’s likely to continue as the MLB draft has been shortened of late (five rounds in 2020, twenty rounds in 2021), and teams are going to be drawing more from the free agent pool and the new independent leagues that are evolving after this season’s minor league contraction.
We shouldn’t mistake MacKinnon for a Jared Walsh breakout – the hit tool is typically there, but the raw power is not. This is what we tend to see more of in a standard MacKinnon outing:
MacKinnon is more in the mold of corner-oriented utility players the Angels have featured like Jose Rojas and Efren Navarro, and I could see him play a taxi squad role, especially as he’s a right-hander on a club whose primary 1B/DH weapons are lefties. Until then, he’s one of the consistent bats on a Rocket City club and has kept them contending through much of the season with the White Sox and Reds affiliates for the top record in their AA South North Division.
Performances of the Week
Davis Daniel, 7 IP, 0 ER, 2 hits, 2 BBs, 7 Ks
Jose Salvador, 7 IP, 0 ER, 5 hits, 0 BBs, 11 Ks
On Wednesday night, Daniel scattered two singles and two walks across seven innings (and only 86 pitches), lowering his season ERA to 2.04. It was a performance that recalled his dominance two weeks earlier on June 10th, when he took a no-hitter into the seventh inning and K’ed 8 over the same seven innings:
That’s Daniel’s second High-A pitcher of the week award, and as the league leader in ERA, you have to feel a promotion to AA may be soon in the works.
A candidate to take his place might be Jose Salvador, who echoed Daniel’s 7 inning performance with a scoreless 7 inning sharpie of his own on Friday night with the Inland Empire 66ers.
The 21 year-old lefty Salvador’s curve is too advanced for Low-A hitters, and the combination of fastball shape and backspin sets up the offspeed well, and leads to showcase nights like the one above, as well as his marvelous 12 K debut in early May:
That’s more than enough for half a season of Brian Goodwin.
Salvador has lowered his seasonal ERA to 2.82 and he has 52 strikeouts against 38.1 IP. He had a short IL stint, and a couple short outings since his return, but when he gets in trouble, it’s usually a mechanical issue, followed by walks (he walked 4-5 hitters in two previous outings this spring). His .200 average against, however, demonstrates that, when he’s not getting in his own way, junior hitters really have trouble squaring him up.
Reid Detmers, AA Trash Pandas, career-high 16 Ks!
The takeaway pitching line doesn’t look great – Reid tired in the sixth, and may have been rushing his delivery a bit (and hopefully not stat-chasing), ultimately yielding a 5 ER, 3 HR outcome over 6 IP. That would be the ugliest start of the year for Detmers, if he hadn’t been absolutely cruising over the first 5.1 innings of the game.
Outside of a solo homer in the first inning off the Lookouts’ top performer, three-hole hitter Lorenzo Cedrola, Detmers was devastating. His first twelve outs were all strikeouts swinging save for one pickoff after Cedrola (again) got on in the fourth on an infield error. He added two more Ks in the fifth, and three more in the sixth. But that sixth inning was a bear, as in between whiffs, he gave a walk, a single and then two consecutive homers. In a testament to the faith that Trash Pandas manager Jay Bell has in his #1, he let Detmers finish out the inning, even after the long-balls, which he accomplished in eight pitches and two Ks.
Even with the dramatic meltdown in the sixth, Reid Detmers ended the day with SIXTEEN strikeouts (fifteen swinging) on only 97 pitches. As they say: that’ll play.
Cooper Criswell, 9 IP, 2 ERs, 6 hits, 5 Ks, 1 BB
It wasn’t 14 Ks this week, but it was a very different sort of triumph for the tall righty, and one-third of the “heroic trio” featured in last week’s farm report. Criswell has struggled with short outings and pitch inefficiency parts of this season (6 of 9 starts he’s gone less than six innings), so nine full innings on 101 pitches almost trumps the 6.2 inning strikeout swarm he delivered last week.
Criswell has lowered his WHIP to a hair under 1.01, and that command-a-rific K/BB ratio of 10.5 is something to behold.
The cumulative success of their top three starters has led to the Rocket City social media team flexing a bit on Twitter:
Orlando Martinez, AA Trash Pandas, 4 for 5, 2 2Bs
Orlando had himself another nice series against Chattanooga, in what’s shaping up to be a good June overall for the future fourth-outfielder. He hit .333/.364/.714 in the series, 5 runs, 5 RBIs in as many games, with two doubles and two HRs along the way. On Friday night, he was almost impossible to get out, going 4 for 5 in 10-9 Pandas football contest.
Martinez continues to strike out way too much (a third of his PAs), probably in part due to him selling out for power on a squad that likes to do just that, but he’s hitting .320/.386/.547 this month, and in any other situation, would probably be ripe for promotion to AAA, given he’s one of the youngest players on the team, and almost two years younger than the average player in the league. He’s among the top six players in the League in doubles (10), home runs (10) and SLG.
While not an Angels draftee (he was a compensation round pick by Toronto in the 2012 draft, and not exactly a prospect, 27-year-old Mitch Nay has been one of the cogs in the middle-of-the-order run engine for the Rocket City Trash Pandas. He’s hitting .288/.387/.663 in June, playing mostly third base, and has clubbed 8 HRs and 2 2Bs in that stretch. Sunday afternoon he went off, with a double and two HRs – though he also made that error that was subsequently picked off in inning 4.
Former Reds farmhand Ibandel Isabel, age 26, is Nay’s big bat complement in Rocket City. Big 6’4″ righty from the Dominican, middle name “Euclides”, helps do the math for the Pandas offense, and put big numbers last week, .421/.560/1.105 with two 2Bs, a triple and 3 HRs over his past six games. Chiefly a DH for the club, but he helps pace the league-leading SLG on the team.
Jeremiah Jackson sat out the second half of the games the 66ers played this past week against the Stockton Ports (Oakland’s Low-A West affiliate), but he had hits in all three games in the first half of the series, including a Wednesday night contest that earned him a mention in Baseball America’s daily hot sheet, as he clobbered 3 doubles, 3 RBIs and scored two runs. He’s been one of the Low-A West’s hottest hitters in June, with a .338/.397/.692 run.
Hope you’re all keepin’ cool out there in melty America, farmhounds. Hard to know where the red in the thermometer’s gonna land as this thing rolls on.
See you next week, when we kick into gear for the 2021 MLB Draft.
– Hugs, Turk