The MLB draft begins tomorrow at 4pm Pacific. The Angels have a single selection on Day One at #13, and will probably make that selection between 5pm and 6pm.
This is the first year in some time that I haven’t done an elaborate lead-up to the MLB Draft, with talent rankings and prospect assessments. For those who were regular readers of those, I give you my apologies.
The reasons are many, but begin with a shift in my professional life. Since late last summer, I own and direct a large arts and entertainment venue in Los Angeles, and I have very few hours to spend toward my longtime passionate hobby of baseball prospecthounding and farmwatching. That’s the key reason I stopped issuing weekly farm reports two-thirds of the way into the 2021 MiLB season.
Well, that, and the frankly depressing state of the franchise, the MLB team and an Angels farm system too patchy and depleted to rescue it. It’s tough to justify volunteering tens of hours a week following minor league games to synthesize comprehensive reports on a system that does not even have a single player in the Baseball America Top 100 (and hasn’t since the offseason).
This year’s MLB Draft does not portend to change the situation. Along with $21M in salary, the Angels surrendered their second-round draft pick to sign Noah Syndergaard, for one year of league-average starting pitching (currently 99 ERA+), and roughly what one might predict for a former ace working his way back from elbow surgery. That leaves the Angels with only two picks in the top 100: #13 and #89. In a draft class that is quite short on high-end pitching.
It’s not crystal clear what their draft strategy should be.
Their arms-only 2021 draft class has certainly shifted the balance on the farm toward pitching assets, but the talent level of the 19+ pitchers they brought into the system is uneven, and typically more floor than ceiling. There are some backend rotation candidates in the mix (eg, Bush, Silseth, Erla, Marceaux) and some clear bullpen possibilities (eg, Torres, Murphy, Bachman?). But their #1 pick in Bachman has been off the mound almost all season with back ailments and arm irritation, and all the red flags that cast doubt about his viability as a shutdown starter have been thrown up early with a flourish. It’s not just a pessimist’s response to worry that this guy may lack the durability to crack an MLB roster (much less stay there). If you convinced yourself last summer that Sam Bachman made more sense for the team than a Kumar Rocker with murky medicals, well, Kumar has spent much more time dealing on a mound this season than Sam (who hasn’t pitched since May 27) to date.
Kumar Rocker is one of the advanced starting pitchers who is generally thought to be available to the Angels at #13 this weekend. In fact, Baseball America has mocked Kumar to the Angels in their last couple mock drafts. It’s not a bad choice, and would redress having passed over a no-doubt starting pitcher with injury concerns for a high-probability late reliever with injury concerns last year.
In general, the draft prognosticators are simply not confident in what the Angels will do with their first-round selection this year. As CBS Sports says: “Just about every pitcher with a chance to go in the first round has been connected to the Halos at one point or another.” Most assume that they will select another pitcher, but whether that comes from the college or prep class is anyone’s guess. The college crop is ostensibly weak this year, without a lot of track record to go on. There’s upside in the prep pitching class, along with the standard risk that comes with early-round prep selections.
But the Angels are also very, very thin in their positional ranks at present. Most of their promising bats are 2-4 years out, in A-ball, the ACL or in the Dominican. There is some hope that infielder Jeremiah Jackson in AA puts it all together by 2023, and some possibility that Livan Soto and Jordyn Adams provide some bench help on a similar schedule, but there’s nothing currently in the system likely to make an impact on the dirt or in an outfield corner that will relieve the Angels of the burdens of a costly free agent market next offseason.
So using their first round selection for a quick-to-the-show college bat is not irrational either. There will be some plausible shortstops and outfielders available when the Angels select tomorrow.
Here are some names that are frequently appearing in mocks and talent rankings in the early-mid-teens that the Angels are probably considering. Provided one of the top 7-8 players don’t slide down the boards, these are the names most often mocked into the middle of the first round.
BA says Rocker. The Athletic (Keith Law), Taylor Blake Ward and CBS say Barriera. Many have heard Gabriel Hughes as a possibility. John Mayo of MLB agrees: “Barriera and Robby Snelling are the high school arms, with Prielipp, Cooper Hjerpe and Gabriel Hughes from the college crop.”
The Angels haven’t had a prep arm with the ceiling of Porter, Barriera or Lesko in the system in maybe a decade. I have no faith in their development system, but it would be interesting to see that type of upside in the pipeline. Prielipp was a likely top-ten pick, but like Lesko, he’s coming back from TJ. Before that, he had a 60-70 grade FB and slider combo that is the stuff that frontline starters and power closers are built on.
Horton is another high-variability pitcher with very recent outperformance, having excelled in the College World Series. He may be this year’s Gavin Williams, who was short on track record last season, but has ended up perhaps the most promising arm from the first round last draft. Horton’s FB/slider combo at least provides high-leverage reliever fallback.
Hughes, Campbell and Whisenhunt are polished high-floor guys with mid-rotation ceilings, but Whisenhunt was drug test positive last year, and that’s the sort of makeup red flag the Angels tend to avoid. Hjerpe is another college performer command lefty that feels like a backend rotation or swing candidate.
I can sell myself on any of these guys, but am probably least excited about Hjerpe and Campbell, and haven’t seen enough video on Ferris and Snelling to know what the team would be getting. Rocker, Hughes and Whisenhunt all see perfectly rational picks, and Porter, Lesko and Barriera are genuine talents that a team with a stronger development culture could turn into gems.
Catcher: Daniel Susac
Susac is one of the two best catchers in the draft. Between him and Kevin Parada (whose strong bat has him being placed into the top 5-9 picks), Susac is the better glove, and has a strong arm, to go with legit raw power. Analysts think that he’ll be low-OBP, high-SLG catcher who sticks behind the plate. As the Angels only have one catching prospect stateside at the moment with any upside (Edgar Quero), Susac would make a reasonable selection for their system.
Cross and DeLauter are protypical lefty mashers, and I really like Cross as a healthy performer who will likely be quick to the show. Neto is a true shortstop with a high contact approach – his .400/.503/.751 college career slash line shows a 60-grade hit tool and an offensive profile with few weaknesses. Jung is similarly polished, with more raw power, but less speed and arm, so lacking the defensive versatility to play on the right side of the infield.
The rest are plausible contributors, but I really like Cross, Neto, Susac and Jung, in that order.
Outfielders: Justin Crawford (LH)
Crawford is the prototypical Eppler-era athletic pick in the mold of Jordyn Adams. Speedy, good glove, lanky, projectable – son of Carl Crawford and looks it. Lottery ticket. Williams is a mighty mouse (5’8”) leadoff threat with a consistent, impressive hit tool and baseburner instincts. Bregman comps for days on this kid. Cole Young is a well-balanced, well-tooled bat likely to stick at short, but without any one tool that stands out. He gets Neil Walker comps (though largely due to the Pittsburgh ties).
I’m not overly excited about this group, but Jett Williams could be fun to follow on the farm, and he scores an 11 on the baseball-name register.
There’s always the chance that a top-ten bubble player like third-basemen Cam Collier or Jacob Berry slide to the Angels (where they’ll promptly pass, for indiscernible reasons). But the above are the current consensus candidates that represent their potential mid-round targets.
Here’s another way of looking at the likelihood of one of these players reaching the Angels at #13. I received these draft-slot odds today in my email inbox, from Josh Barton at oddspr.com:
- Zach Neto draft position: Over/Under 12.5
- Brock Porter draft position: Over/Under 12.5
- Jace Jung draft position: Over/Under 13.5
- Justin Crawford draft position: Over/Under 14.5
- Dylan Lesko draft position: Over/Under 16.5
- Daniel Susac draft position: Over/Under 17.5
But what about y’all? Is there anyone here your pulse is racing for?