We’ve officially crossed over into the second half of this 20 week-long minor league season, the first season since MiLB contraction and realignment, and the first week since the Angels’ unusual all-pitcher draft of 2021. As we were completely consumed with the MLB Draft last week, I did not publish a Week 10 farm report, so consider this your double-bubble blast of summer farm action.
And summer can definitely be felt across the system. The heat is catching up with some of our previously-surging starters, hits are falling in, outings are shorter, and offense is cresting as temperatures rise. The composition of minor league rosters is about to shift as new recruits filter in, and it’s about time, as rotations need reinforcement and refreshment right about now.
Week 11 Standings
Salt Lake Bees: Last 2 weeks: 8-5 / Season record: 32-32
Rocket City Trash Pandas: Last week: 5-6 / Season record: 31-33
Tri-City Dust Devils: Last week: 7-5 / Season record: 25-40
Inland Empire 66ers: Last week: 9-3 / Season record: 34-31
Arizona Complex League Angels: Last week: 7-3 / Season record: 9-6
Though the seasonal records of most Angels affiliates reflect the middling mediocrity of the big club – and in many cases due to the same plague of injuries to its key nameable players like that MLB club – we did see a stretch of solid performances from the kids at the lower levels during the two weeks that bookended the All Star Break and MLB Draft.
A lot of the excitement is coming from the rookies in the Arizona Complex League. If I had to name a key factor driving the Angels’ decision to go all-in on college pitching this draft, outside the organization’s clear pitching pipeline deficit, it would be the promising greenshoots in the ACL that may be softening the front office’s sweet tooth for raw prep talent. Yields from recent Latin recruitment and the 2020 domestic draft are apparent, and the well is deep enough that there should be plenty to go around when the Low A West roster needs to be filled out come spring of 2022.
Here’s a look at current performers:
|Arol Vera||SS||.397/.463/.586||9 XBH, 15 runs in 14 games|
|Edgar Quero||C||.324/.425/.618||2 HRs, 12 runs in 10 games|
|Jose Bonilla||3b||.342/.381/.500||3 SBs, 10 RBIs in 11 games|
|Adrian Placencia||SS||.265/.432/.559||10 BBs vs 5 SOs in 9 games|
|Alexander Ramirez||OF||.276/.368/.517||3 3Bs, 2 HRs, 15 runs in 14 Gs|
|Werner Blakely||2b||.262/.429/.381||12 BBs, 4 SBs in 13 games|
|Trent Deveaux||CF||.355/.382/.419||Only 6 Ks in 34 PAs (17%)|
Everyone on that list is 18 years-old, save for Jose Bonilla (age 19) and Trent Deveaux (age 21). Deveaux has gone through so many swing adjustments and had a 33% K-rate in 2019, so it’s good to see him cut that in half, even if it is at a rookie level of play. Bonilla was a bit undercooked for Low-A ball earlier this season, so the ACL is technically a step back, but it’s still a good result to see him pick up the pace at this juncture of his development.
Obviously the standouts here are Arol Vera (already known as a top 5 prospect in the Angels system, and quickly proving it), and the recently acquired Edgar Quero (a 2020 sign for $200k out of Cuba), who is a rare ray of light for catching in the Angels’ pipeline.
Meanwhile, the emergence of Werner Blakely, an under-the-radar prep sign from the short 2020 draft, is nice to see. Blakely was considered young and raw, with a long swing, and a bit of a reach in the 4th round last year, but his intelligence at the plate and on the basepaths is already quite evident, and he’ll be one to watch going forward.
At other levels of the pipeline, if you really dig into the boxscores, a lot of the progress is being driven by minor league free agents, several a bit old for their levels, so I don’t want to exaggerate the sunshine. (The surging offense at Inland Empire, for example, is anchored by a 27 year-old free agent named Braxton Martinez, with .362/.483/.596 slash in July. But the average age of hitters in the Low-A West in 21.)
The AAA West may be an exception, as a number of age-appropriate homegrown guys finally have the club at .500 again, and the work of one contributor especially stands out. He’s our Prospect of the Week!
Prospect of the Week
Brandon Marsh, promoted AAA ––> MLB
Riding a 12 game hit streak since being activated from an extended IL stint for shoulder irritation, Brandon Marsh was called up to play centerfield on Sunday, a somewhat surprising promotion for the 23-year-old second-rounder from the 2016 draft.
Marsh has for some time possessed arguably the highest ceiling of any kid on the farm, but recurring injuries stemming from his all-out playing style have slowed his ascent. While his first game in the Majors on Sunday delivered no immediate heroics – he ran into the same excellent Seattle pitching that ended David Fletcher’s 26-game hitting streak – his promotion was nonetheless well-deserved based on his last two weeks of play.
He also got a little jobbed on his first plate appearance:
Joe West’s floating strikezone notwithstanding, Marsh has had a good run of late. Since his early July reinstatement, he was hitting a cool .417/.481/.792. Three doubles, three triples, three homeruns. Playing exclusively CF when on the field. He hit in the Arizona Complex League, he hit in Salt Lake, he hit in Tacoma on the road – so his performance was not park or league dependent. He’s simply been locked in this month with seven multi-hit games in twelve tries.
As his glove is plus and he fits in at any outfield spot, the timing seems reasonable for an Angels club that is largely out of the MLB postseason running, but needs to assess its farm holdings before the 2022 offseason comes on. With Trout and Upton still not on the field, and Eaton and Lagares largely reserve placeholders, airing out the farm’s #1 prospect isn’t a bad idea, even if that means extending 22 year-old Jo Adell’s development in AAA.
To his credit, Adell has also been making steady progress this summer. Coming into Sunday’s game, Adell was hitting .371/.403/.613 in July, with a 21% K-rate (close to league average). While he’s still not walking as much as you’d like, the improved contact (his K-rate was 29.5% in June) will be what internal evaluators notice, and as if he were already anticipating as much, Adell walked three times in Sunday’s contest against two Ks swinging. We’ll forgive him the whiff for the walks, as those are what will ultimately earn him a second look in the OF next to his buddy Brandon.
Or should we call him Gritty?
Theme of the Week: NDFA Bonanza!!!
For the uninitiated, “NDFA” stands for non-drafted free agent, and this describes amateur players, typically collegiate seniors, who contract with Major League teams outside the typical drafting process. For the 2020-2021 cycle, MLB teams are allowed to draft as many NDFAs as they like for a very reasonable $20,000 bonus apiece.
That bonus level, however, falls well short of the $125k bonus most draftees can hope for in typical later rounds of a conventional draft, so those players who choose to sign generally do so because they have few alternatives, but still want to prove their value on a baseball field.
As the draft has been shortened from the forty round affair it was in 2019 and before, NDFAs have become more of a factor in the post-draft picture. More than 125 players were drafted in the first week after the 2020 Draft alone – unsurprising since that draft was only five rounds long. Many collegiate players, however, chose to wait out the pandemic context, play out their senior year, and see what happened.
The fact that the 2021 Draft was still cut in half at 20 rounds meant that there is a backlog of college players out there who’ve gone undrafted despite having solid track records of recent performance. In raw numbers, roughly 2500 players were drafted between 2018-2019; that shrunk to about 800 from 2020-2021. Add to that the hundreds of players shed or set adrift when the MLB contracted 45 minor league teams, and you suddenly have an unprecedented supply of player talent without an organizational anchor.
Some Angels fans were a bit despondent that the Angels only selected a single NDFA in the weeks immediately after the 2020 Draft. But that picture is a bit underdeveloped and misleading, because after the short post-draft window, the Angels actually went a little bonkers signing minor league free agents – in fall, winter, spring – and much of that was due to need.
If you look at one of the nightly lineups at High-A or AA ball this season, you’ll see that the majority of bats on those clubs were not drafted by the Angels, and their age (typically 22-27) indicate players who have aged out of their prior contracts, or are coming in from independent leagues, international ball, or perhaps voluntarily left their prior clubs. 7 of 9 players in the Trash Pandas lineup in the first game of Sunday’s double-header were not Angels draftees – the only exceptions being David MacKinnon and Orlando Martinez.
Example: Luis Aviles Jr.
Um who? He joined Rocket City in late June, is 26, has been operating as the Pandas’ leadoff hitter in recent games, and earned AA South Player of the Week last week.
Well, okay – an “organizational soldier” strategy that kinda works? At least holding together mid-level teams at .500 or so, as a handful of key prospects advance through the pipeline.
This draft, the Angels have extended this strategy into the conventional NDFA period, so for those who fetishize senior signs and post-draft pick-ups, the team has you covered! If you thought the Angels’ no-hitter, all-pitcher 2021 draft was wild, well, their NDFA haul resembles no one else’s. It’s clear that the Angels front office was nostalgic for the 40-round draft, because as of Sunday evening, the team had already picked up SEVENTEEN NDFAs.
To put this in perspective, the Phillies are the second largest hauler so far with six. Most teams have chosen to select two or three. The Angels basically addressed the questions around their lack of positional acquisitions in the all-pitching draft by simply picking up senior talent (and one Puerto Rican prepster) in the wake of the official process. This includes seven catchers, if you were wondering, along with three 3Bs, and three OFs. A number come from good programs; a number have interesting resumes.
- Cade Cabbiness, OF, Oklahoma State
- Myles Emmerson, C, Cal Poly
- Zach Grech, RHP, Stanford
- Zach Humphreys, C, Texas Christian
- Kyle Lovelace, C, Houston
- Gabe Matthews, 1B, Oregon
- Griffin Mazur, C, Michigan
- Matthew McMillan, RHP, UT-Tyler
- Christian Molfetta, C/3B, Michigan
- Mike Peabody, OF, UC Irvine
- Straton Podaras, C, Radford
- Steven Rivas, OF, Houston
- Quentin Selma, 3B, California
- Lucas Torres, C, Cayey, P.R.
- Paxton Wallace, 3B, Wichita State
- Joey Walsh, LHP, Boston College
- Kenyon Yovan, RHP/IF, Oregon
A guy like Gabe Matthews was actually Oregon’s “career leader in hits, at-bats, RBIs, doubles and multi-hit games” – the sort of guy who would’ve easily been picked up in an extended draft cycle, but a number of collegiate players got fewer looks as scouts were just not disseminated around the country to the degree they were pre-pandemic.
The interesting detail that emerges from some of the local news coverage announcing these signings is that the Angels plan to inject these players into the system soon, and are planning a one-week survivor-style bake-off to determine who lands where. Check out this graf from the Matt McMillan pick-up coverage:
As a free agent signee, McMillan will report to the Angels mini-camp in Arizona on July 20 alongside fellow draft picks and free agent signees from the organization. McMillan will compete amongst those draft picks and signees in a series of workouts and scrimmages in hopes of earning the opportunity to join one of the Angels minor league affiliate teams for the remainder of the 2021 season, a decision which will be made by the organization on July 24.
This may not be unprecedented, but I can’t say I’ve ever seen anything quite like it. I suspect those who do not get allocated will work out in Arizona or be shut down for the season, but it’s very intriguing to read that these NDFAs will essentially compete with recent draftees to find a home in what is certain to be rather few spots across the Angels’ four primary MiLB clubs (and perhaps pop up here and there in the ACL).
August is about to get interesting on the farm.
Pitchers getting hot (their ERAs? maybe not)
Those recent pitching additions may be arriving at just the right time, because some of our pitching heroes of the first half have been taking it on the chin a little in July. There’s a heat wave sweeping the nation, and batters are adjusting after a year-plus layoff, so let’s call it what it is: a long-hot summer, and mean-old regression.
Kyle Tyler (AA South Trash Pandas) had a spiffy 1.96 ERA on June 20th, but surrendered 13 ERs over 13.2 IP spanning three outings, raising that to 3.47 ERA as he skidded into the All Star Break. He stabilized a bit yesterday, giving up only two runs over six innings, but he still put 12 men on in the process (9 by hit, 3 by walk). He has a 6.32 ERA in July.
Davis Daniel, with multiple Player of the Week awards at the High-A level, has struggled a bit since his promotion to the AA level. In his first two outings with Rocket City, he’s been limited to 3-4 innings in each appearance, and has wobbled to a 7.36 ERA in July. He continues to strike out more than a batter per inning, but he’s been command-shy and very hittable, with 11 hits and 4 BBs in 7.1 IP.
Chris Rodriguez‘s conversion to starter with the Trash Pandas has been fitful and inconsistent at best. He’s just not seemed to be completely right since his stint on the IL after a tantalizing MLB debut. He’s made four appearances for the Pandas, but has yet to stretch out past 4 innings, and he’s been more hittable than usual in the short 8.2 innings that compose that stretch. While he continues to get whiffs (13 Ks) at AA, batters are hitting .314 against him, and his WHIP is up to an unsavory 1.62. (His average-against in the MLB was .237, so, yeah, the kid’s just not alright at the moment).
Brent Killam, one of our undersized lefty stars of the 66ers, is being challenged at Tri-City, a level above. Since being promoted to High-A in June, he has a 5.14 ERA, with 9 walks in 14 IP. 20 Ks in that time shows he can still miss some bats, but that’s the profile that gets you sent to the bullpen if you can’t right the ship.
Ryan Smith is Killam’s lefty draft-class counterpart, and he was performing quite well up until half-time this season, with a nice 2.50 ERA with the Dust Devils, and a spectacular 41 Ks vs 6 BBs over his first 36 IP with the team. He was averaging 6 innings a start, keeping batters to a measly .173 batting average, and generally dealing. The wheels came off, however, in his first game back from the ASB, as he gave up 6 ERs on 6 hits and 2 HRs and was pulled after the third inning. The Everett AquaSox have a punishing offense, representing Seattle’s resurgent farm, so let’s call this one a gimme. (It raised his ERA over a point to 3.69 in a single appearance…ouch.)
Perhaps the one saving grace this month is that Reid Detmers continues to excel. After a perfect Futures Game appearance where he struck out both batters he faced, and was credited by Eno Sarris as having (with Shane Baz) the best stuff of any pitcher in the game, he’s otherwise pitched to a 2.08 ERA in July, with 21 Ks (and 4 BBs) on 13 IP. That’ll play on most any field, and Reid doesn’t have much more to prove before he’s a walk-on in the Show.
While starters are taking a step back this summer, some bulk relievers and swing men are stepping forward to make their names known. One to keep an eye on is Jhonathan Diaz of the AA Trash Pandas. He’s put up a 2.28 ERA over 27.2 innings this season, and has 38 Ks vs 6 BBs in that span. On July 15th, he picked up a rain-delayed Aaron Hernandez start, pitched four scoreless innings, and K’ed 9 batters on 60 pitches (2 hits, 0 BBs).
This is not the first time we’ve talked about him here. He took a no-hitter into the sixth earlier this year, contributed to the Pandas’ first CG shutout, and delivered this double-digit K gem in May:
While most of the impact of the Angels’ run on minor league free agents has been felt on the offensive side of the game, Diaz is an example of a recent pitcher pick up who might have value down the stretch.
Speaking of quiet Trash Panda performers, no one has figured out how to shut down David MacKinnon yet. MacKinnon is slashing .322/.385/.492 in July after hitting .377/.443/.597 in June. He rode a 17 game hitting streak into AA action this weekend.
All that adds up to the league leader in batting average, OBP and OPS (second in SLG). Even at age 24, there’s got to be at least a bench role for this 32nd-round pick on the Angels at some point, no?
I mentioned (somewhat dismissively) the older free agents driving the Inland Empire 66ers recent run of victories (9-3 over the past two weeks), but two players on the bubble of interest, worth monitoring, are Jeremy Arocho and Edwin Yon. Both are 22, which, given that minor league baseball was shut down for a year, means they would have been largely of average age for A-ball in a normal context, or at least of peer age to newly drafted college arrivals.
Arocho is a late-round Dodgers selection from the 2017 draft class. Yon is a former Dominican sign from the Reds organization. Each arrives from a smart, analytical organization good at finding diamonds in the rough.
Both players have carrying tools that are notable. With Arocho, it’s his elite plate discipline (32 BBs to 28 Ks), which he combines with speed and base-thievery (15 SBs, 3 CS) to produce an effective top-of-the-order weapon, albeit a largely punchless one (.301/.416/.350). If he can do this in the High-A West, he’ll be doing something that Livan Soto isn’t for the Tri-City Dust Devils.
He had quite the game over the weekend, and is hitting .366/.426/.439 in July, with four multi-hit games in his last five tries.
Yon, meanwhile, is a two-true-outcomes hitter: he mashes and he whiffs. He also drives in a *lot* of runs from the middle of the 66ers order.
He has 13 XBHs and 8 HRs in 97 PAs, but he carries that with a simply-unacceptable 45% K rate. Somehow that produces the improbable batting line of .279/.361/.628. A productive and power-driven one, no doubt, but one not likely to be reproduced at more advanced levels of play.
That said, the sound of that bat!
Second-round 2021 draft pick Ky Bush is “pumped” and wants you to know it – directly, and through interpretative dance:
Meanwhile, closer to home, it’s a Braden Olthoff sighting!
That’s what I got for Week 11, Halo homies. This NDFA just keeps hanging by the telephone, waiting for his call, but all I get instead are nice gentlemen trying to extend my car’s warranty.
Am I not real enough, Perry Minasian? Do I not, too, have all the moves? – Hugs, Turk