This week was marked by two themes: steady advancement in the Angels pitching pipeline under rookie GM Perry Minasian, and steady decline of the Angels’ organizational reputation under owner Arturo Moreno’s ‘stewardship’ of minor league development culture.
It’s hard to know how many steps forward or backward the Angels’ system is taking at any time, since the reportage around cost-cutting, staff reductions and starvation wages in most functions of scouting, development, and operations is chronic and consistent, but also irregular in coverage. It’s repeated often from prospect media, analysts and scouts that Moreno is the least attentive and generous to his talent pipeline of any owner in the sport, but the Minor Leagues are something that most fans only pay attention to around MLB Draft time, or when a team underperforms so badly that the farm is among the only hopes for revival. On balance, I think Angels fans are more farm-oriented, because the Halos have dwelt in the underperforming camp for some time.
In any case, if you haven’t read last week’s reportage on the tragic state of the Angels’ farm players (at least those who are not drafted bonus babies), it’s worth your time to read and think about. Look at this, this and this.
Also consider following the @MiLBAdvocates account on Twitter, which has been broadcasting details of MiLB working conditions since the beginning of last year, and has been leading the charge on the Angels reportage.
If you’re taking the time to read these weekly farm reports, it’s well-worth considering in depth the lives of these young men, in their pursuit of a brief career at the MLB level. And it’s worth the time you volunteer to this team to advocate for and champion the alternative models of respectful compensation as they become known to us.
It should go without saying, but Crashing the Pearly Gates is a player-focused, fan-driven community, and we consider ourselves truth-tellers. We don’t beg for access to the MLB team, and we’re unafraid to annoy executives and ownership.
If any players, agents or scouts want to speak with us and relay accounts of Angels minor league life and struggles, we’re happy to cover them here – on record or on background. You can always DM me on Twitter at @TurksTeeth, or reach out to us through the website Contact Us form.
Week 12 Standings
Salt Lake Bees: Last week: 2-4 / Season record: 34-36
Rocket City Trash Pandas: Last week: 3-2 / Season record: 34-35
Tri-City Dust Devils: Last week: 3-3 / Season record: 28-43
Inland Empire 66ers: Last week: 4-2 / Season record: 38-33
Arizona Complex League Angels: Last week: 1-1 / Season record: 10-7
The Inland Empire 66ers have continued to play good ball, and have boosted their record to 5 games above .500 for the first time in several weeks. It’s a team, as I’ve previously mentioned, that is being driven largely by minor league free agents and some older-than-average players, so there are limits to how optimistic it should make the average fan, but the run of good results also coincides with some pitching stabilization from younger Angels’ draftees, so there’s a little sun to part the clouds as well. Guys you really want to see like Kyren Paris and Jeremiah Jackson are still nursing injuries though, so it’s hard to look at the club and predict future returns for the Angels, but we shouldn’t discount the positives that simply creating a culture of winning at the lower levels of the system might bring for prospect development as new draft classes phase in.
Unfortunately, we didn’t see much at the lowest level of the Angels system this week. The same anthropogenic climate transformation that has been recently cooking the Pacific Northwest and flooding central Europe and China has
been also sending unseasonal also been aggravating monsoonal storm fronts in Arizona (stretching even to LA this morning!), raining out almost all ACL games, or soaking the fields to an extent that they were postponed for days. Troubling, and at minimum, inconvenient for farm enthusiasts like you, the reader, and me, the scribbler.
We should see renewed action soon, though, and the final two months of the MiLB season might look fairly different roster-wise. The Angels have been aggressively promoting key prospects to upper levels (see below), at least in part in anticipation of a new wave of recent draftees and NDFAs that should be arriving in force in the next couple weeks.
The Angels have signed seventeen of their twenty 2021 draft selections, and have added 21 NDFAs to the system (more than twice the number of any other MLB club), so that’s 38 players that need to find MiLB roster slots, places in training camp, or who may idle until early spring 2022. It’s hard not to imagine roster cuts to come among existing players, and significant churn in the system from the ACL to High-A ball.
Prospect of the Week
Reid Detmers, promoted AA –> AAA; 6 IP, 0 ERs, 0 BBs, 3 hits, 9 Ks
After a widely lauded Futures Game performance, the Angels top pitching prospect has been vaulting up prospect rankings across baseball. Keith Law of the Athletic boosted Detmers all the way to #7, trumpeting his increased velocity, the refinement in his (now-plus) changeup and slider, and ended with a sentence that few of us who saw his mid-rotation potential in summer 2020 would have imagined only one year later: “With this kind of stuff and his present command, he could be an ace.”
Baseball America followed suit, bumping him from #93 to #24 in the midseason update of their Top 100 prospects list, which also placed him in their Top Risers section this week, for obvious reasons.
These promotions in the rankings also coincided with a more significant promotion. This week the Angels answered the question much debated by fans of late: Will the team promote Reid Detmers to AAA, or will it avoid the AAA West, with its punishing park factors, where many farm pitchers go to torch their ERAs at high altitudes, in thin air, and on tough turf where bad bounces are the rule, not the exception? And the answer was: yes, yes they would.
And Detmers answered back: just try me.
Three hits, no walks, no runs – 9 Ks. He was using his full arsenal, getting whiffs on his slider and change, and on the high fastball. Of the three hits surrendered, the first two were of the “bad bounce” variety, one deflected by his first basemen into right field. He ran less into the predictable over-the-fence bad luck of Smith’s Ballpark in Salt Lake, but when you’re missing that many bats, it helps. That homerun prevention is something to watch, however, as it’s been the only real chink in Detmers’ armor to date in his quick ascension through the MiLB.
Striking out 44% of the batters you face will get you promoted quickly, without a doubt. Surrendering 67% of your runs via the longball, however, could definitely get your options working a bit once you hit the MLB. And I think he could be reaching the MLB very soon, perhaps once the two week stay COVID protocols demand are exhausted. His SLC performance was sufficient to earn a rare “just bring ‘im up” trigger tweet from yours truly:
At this point in the calendar, there’s no service time benefit in holding him in the Minors any longer. You’d have to wait until late April 2022 to earn an extra year from him, and that’s pretty egregious service manipulation to hold him down for 8-9 months and delay his MLB career.
Might as well give him 2+ months of Major League experience in the low-pressure context of an Angels season largely beyond postseason contention. The seasoning will only benefit the MLB club should he earn the right to come into Spring Training expecting to earn a place in the 2022 Angels rotation.
And Detmers may not be the only Angels prospect arriving in ST with those expectations. Last week was a week of promotions, potential MLB arms among them.
Promotions of the Week
Alongside Detmers, the Angels’ second-best pitching prospect, and another potential 2022 rotation-mate, Chris Rodriguez was promoted to AAA this week, and debuts tonight for the Bees.
C-Rod, after a bullish debut in the MLB bullpen, followed by shoulder-related IL stint, was sent to AA in late June to stretch out and test his mettle as a multi-inning weapon, either of the SP or swing variety. Rodriguez’s tenure in the AA South wasn’t as seamless as Detmers’ – he struggled with command, length and hittability over five outings to a 4.26 ERA and 1.58 WHIP, but he was also clearly workshopping pitches and sequencing a bit, and the Trash Pandas were careful with his workload, given his injury history. His strikeout levels were as promising as ever (17 across 12.2 innings), so the stuff is there. It’s his durability and health that’ll need to be monitored closely in Salt Lake.
[Monday post-game note: C-Rod’s landing in AAA wasn’t as soft as Detmers. He pitched one out shy of five innings, four of them scoreless, but he was also hit with a four-run second inning. It began with two hard-luck singles, but the double and home run that followed were no-doubters. He did seem to be experimenting with a cut fastball in the outing, so the results may not telegraph the final product at the MLB. It was nonetheless good to see length out of Rodriguez. He was allowed to go to 85 pitches, and the Bees would pull out the victory on a walk-off single from Matt Thaiss.]
In recent farm reports, I’ve called attention to a couple under-the-radar swingmen in the ranks who have been strong performers this season: Cristopher Molina and Jhonathan Diaz. This week, Molina was promoted to the AA Trash Pandas to fill one of the spots left by the promotions of Reid and C-Rod, while Diaz was shifted from a long relief role in the Pandas’ pen to the other spot in Rocket City’s rotation.
Both performed admirably in their first calls of duty at their new stations this week.
The 6′ lefty Diaz struck out 11 over five innings, with 2 ERs on four hits in the span. He’s pitched to a 2.00 ERA in July for the Pandas, and has a 2.48 ERA over eight outings on the season, with 49 strikeouts across 32.2 innings pitched.
The 6’3″ RHP Molina was nearly as effective in his outing, also pacing Diaz with five innings and two ERs allowed. He gave up only two hits, and K’ed a batter per inning, but also walked four over 83 pitches. Walks are a part of Molina’s game, and something to work on if he wants to see a future as a multi-inning reliever or spot starter instead of just a mop-up option between AAA and the big leagues.
Another theme I’ve been hitting in the last month of farm digests is the impact of minor league free agents and pieces from other teams’ MiLB systems on the farm. Some are clearly old for their levels and essentially organizational filler, and the team rosters churn through them quickly (and the unfortunate stories that emerged about minor league player treatment in the past week are undoubtedly symptomatic of that). But some of the non-drafted players that have been brought on in the past year or two are interesting, and are playing key roles in the pipeline, beyond lineup-card stuffing on a nightly basis.
One of those players is 23-year-old infielder Brendon Davis, promoted to the AA Trash Pandas last week.
Davis is not to be confused with another AA South Davis, Brennen Davis, of the Cub’s Tennessee Smokies affiliate. That Davis is a top-50 national prospect and an athletic centerfielder with sneaky power who gives the Pandas perennial trouble with the two teams meet. Instead, Brendon Davis was quietly the most performant engine in an underwhelming High-A Dust Devils lineup, hitting .280/.337/.535 for that woebegone affiliate, with 14 HRs and 9 SBs over 42 games.
Upon promotion to Rocket City, Davis picked up where he left off, hitting .333 with three home runs over his first four games.
Brendon Davis was a high-school draftee of the Dodgers from the fifth round of the 2015 draft, so he has some pedigree. Like many prepsters, he struggled over his first five years of pro ball, and he was bounced to the Texas Rangers as an add-on in the Yu Darvish trade, only to peter out in ’19 at the AA level. It was nonetheless surprising to see him fall out of the Texas org at a young 22 – the Angels picked him up last winter in the AAA phase of the Rule 5 Draft, and he may yet me the upside compensation to losing Jose Soriano in that affair. He’s 6’4, quite physical, a former SS prospect currently playing 3B most nights. 17 HRs over 67 games, across two pitching-friendly leagues, is nothing to sneeze at. He’s one to watch.
Performances of the Week
Hector Yan, High-A West Pitcher of the Week
Hector Yan has had a fairly rough go at the High-A level this season, despite a surprising (and fairly effective) Futures Game appearance this July.
While he’s kept the hits down and his strikeout rate up, he’s otherwise struggled with control and command, reinforcing some of the doubts evaluators have about him as a starter, and tagging him with the inevitable “SIRP” (single inning relief pitcher) projection.
On Thursday, however, the 22-year-old lefty bolstered the bull case for the starter forecast, pitching a complete game on 94 pitches (60 strikes), giving up only one run on three hits. His only mistake was a solo home run to Brenton Doyle in the second inning. He also kept the walks down to two – a significant improvement for a guy with a BB/9 of 5.72 this season.
John Swanda, 7 IP, 5hits, 0 ERs, 0 BBs, 6 Ks (76 pitches)
It’s been hard to know what to make of RHP John Swanda, 2017 prep draftee from the 4th round, both this season and over the course of his pro career since drafting. His strikeout rates don’t blow the covers off anything, he gives up more than a hit an inning, and his performance has been a bit inconsistent to say the least.
But prep pitchers often take time to come together, and Swanda has advanced one level through the system each year, while making incremental improvements to his secondaries and generally showing length out of the rotation. On the strength of his change and curve, he’s boosted his K/9 above 8, and his WHIP is the lowest of his career thus far as he’s brought his BB/9 rate down to 3.31.
On Sunday, he put it all together in a 5-0 winner for the Inland Empire 66ers in which he pitched seven scoreless innings, on 5 hits with 6 strikeouts and no walks. He was extremely pitch efficient at 76 pitches (52 strikes). Jack Dashwood shut the door to keep the Lake Elsinore Storm punchless for the evening.
It’ll be interesting to see if the Angels give the slowly improving Swanda a challenge at High-A before year’s end, or simply let him play out a full season in San Bernardino – the first full season he’ll have experienced at any level of pro ball.
Taylor Ward, .444/.474/.889, 1 hr, 5 doubles in 19 plate appearances
Mister Ward isn’t a minor league prospect any more – he’s an MLB player, and he’s hitting like one, at both the MLB and MiLB levels. He unfortunately still has options, though, and the Angels sent him down to Salt Lake when Justin Upton was activated from the IL. Taylor Ward had a 108 wRC+ this season with the Angels, meaning his bat is 8% better than the average Major Leaguer this season. (Justin Upton’s wRC+ is a comparable 112.) In 2020, Ward’s wRC+ was 98, so he’s been at least an average MLB hitter for quite a stretch now.
And this is what at-least-average MLB hitters do in the AAA West:
Taylor Ward has no business being on a minor league field at this point. He’s an under-the-radar trade deadline candidate if I’ve ever seen one. If it weren’t for positional uncertainty and an uneven glove, he’d be a fit more many teams’ benches down the stretch.
Arocho is up to .344/.434/.422 with 21 runs and 8 steals at the top of the 66ers order in July. He’s well due for a promotion at this point. The switch-hitting middle infielder continues to walk more than he strikes out, and sports a .420 OBP (second best mark in the league). His weak spot is his glove (17 errors in 86 chances, oof), but the bat is no longer being challenged at the Low A level.
Meanwhile, Edwin Yon has 10 home runs in a mere 28 games. Over the past 30 days, he’s slashing a ridiculous .360/.443/.827, leading the league in SLG and OPS, and it’s not remotely close. This kid has no business being in Low-A ball – he just turned 23 this week, and the High-A Dust Devils could really use the gas.
The big news on the MLB Draft front, beyond the Angels signing 17 of their 20 draftees, is that they managed to nail down their toughest potential sign, left-handed prep pitcher Mason Albright. It took the largest overslot deal in MLB history for a player drafted past the top ten rounds to do it.
For a twelfth round selection, Albright possesses more of the value and ceiling of a player like Jack Kochanowicz, whom the Angels drafted in the third round of 2019 – although Albright’s profile is different. He’s a command-centric, polished lefty, and was a top-100 draft prospect at the beginning of this year, when his FB was touching 94-95, before backing up a bit as the season wore on.
The key remaining holdouts from this draft class are Chase Silseth and Mo Hanley, and both will be tough signs. Given the current state of the Angels’ remaining draft bonus pool, I’d predict they secure only one of them.
Hanley is a very intriguing power lefty relief applicant from a Division III school, who had a ton of helium on boards before falling to TJ this spring. Siseth was a projected 4-5 rounder, who would be among the handful of legit starter projects from Minasian’s 2021 draft class.
That’s it for me this week. Here’s some wishing-well coin, looking forward to milder weather, better sleep and fewer hungry nights for our cherub boys down on the Angels farm. – Hugs, Turk