It was only a month or two ago, I had visions of Jason Heyward–Mike Trout–Kole Calhoun both in the outfield and top of the order. I dreamt of a Kendrick reunion that would save us all from another season of Johnny Giavotella at second base. I even kicked around the idea of Daniel Murphy at third base and an improved bullpen. So yes, I am disappointed. So is every other Angel fan on the planet right now. But there’s certainly a level of intrigue present with the Eppler constructed team on a budget.
Every team eventually reaches a point where it has to rely on its prospects. The money eventually runs out, profits shrink and no owner is willing to lose money. I didn’t think the Angels would reach this point for another five years. Actually, I was hoping it wouldn’t happen for another five years, so they’d have a chance to really grow the system. But Arte put his foot down, and yeah, I do blame him because it’s a mess he created. Still, I at least understand where he’s coming from, in terms of finances. Every team faces this situation. How the prospects react ultimately dictates the direction of the team and its future. I can remember 2011, watching Garrett Richards pitch in AA, opposed by a Cardinals prospect Shelby Miller. Garrett was utterly dominant, and still lost, because Shelby Miller was downright better.
The Cardinals had reached the point of no return after Albert Pujols left for the Angels. There was a general shift, the Cardinals had to rely on their prospects to pick up much of the slack and take over leadership roles on the team. And who were these prospects they were relying on? Trevor Rosenthal, Joe Kelly, Lance Lynn, Allen Craig, Oscar Taveras, Matt Carpenter, Carlos Martinez, and the aforementioned Miller. These kids weren’t superstars at the time. In fact, even as prospects, they weren’t viewed as sure things. Only Miler had an A grade. Carpenter invoked mixed feelings among scouts. Martinez was a gamble, Craig was seen as a 4th OF, Kelly a swing starter and no one had ever heard of Rosenthal.
The point is, the Cardinals prospects stepped up, and became solid, good, and sometimes great major leaguers when it counted. And now we’ve reached the point where it’s the Angels’ turn. Granted, it isn’t so much on the prospects as much as it is on the young players already with a taste of MLB time, but the same idea applies:
1. C.J. Cron comes into the year as the clear-cut starting 1B. The Angels cannot afford for him to slump. He has to figure it out and stay locked in. If he performs the way he’s capable, the Angels should have no problems with 1B for another half decade at least.
2. Second Base Prospects. I don’t care if it’s Alex Yarbrough, Sherman Johnson, or even Tim Arakawa, but someone needs to step up and grow into the long term answer for the Angels. Yarbrough has a very good bat and stunk it up last year for some unknown reason. Sherman can play some defense and in an on-base machine. The only problem is he just hit .200 in AA. Arakawa was fantastic upon being drafted last season. The Angels skipped him up to A ball and Arakawa enjoyed breakthrough results. He needs to keep it up this season in the Cal League and hopefully jump up to AA or AAA at the end of the year.
3. Kyle Kubitza or Kaleb Cowart, or both, doesn’t matter. Someone needs to step up and take over third base and live up to their potential. Cowart has the defense, athleticism and power. Kubitza comes with the bat, OBP and left-handedness. Either way, the Angels are counting on both of these guys, assuming they aren’t traded.
4. Ji-Man Choi is a bit of a hail-mary, but he has the chance to really grow into something here. He’s just 24 years old and has the potential to grow into a Nick Markakis type of player. He’ll be given a shot at 1B/DH while Albert is recovering, and still more of an opportunity in LF against Craig Gentry and Daniel Nava.
5. Garrett Richards, Andrew Heaney and Tyler Skaggs. These three make up the future of the Angels pitching staff. The four and five slots can go any which direction. But these three need to meet their potential for the Angels to truly grow into an elite team. First, there’s Richards. He’s fully past his knee injury, and has the youth and stuff to become one of the best pitchers in baseball. Heaney probably has one of the smoothest deliveries I’ve ever seen. He pitched like a #3 starter in his rookie season, and that seems about right to me, but if he somehow reaches another level, he’d make an ideal #2 starter. Many believed that was his likely outcome as a prospect when the Marlins drafted him and the Angels traded for him. Skaggs is very similar to Heaney, with slightly more upside and less polish. When fresh and using the ideal mechanics, Skaggs has the ability to hove 93-95 with perhaps the best curve ball in the game and a good change up. Getting him back healthy and pitching to his potential can be huge.
6. Cam Bedrosian, Mike Morin and Cory Rasmus need to take all the minor league success, and roll it over into the majors. It’s getting a little ridiculous, Angel relievers posting video game numbers in the minors and coming up to the majors only to get shelled. All three of these guys have the potential to pitch in the 9th inning with a lead, and with the Angels bullpen as depleted as it is right now, these three could form an elite unit if they all figured it out at the same time.
There’s no guarantee any of these players will find even moderate success in 2016, of course, but it’s far more enjoyable to believe in the best of your favorite team’s up-and-comers than dwell on the club’s shortcomings. If Ken Giles can go from struggling low-minors arm to elite MLB reliever in the span of six months, then Angels prospects can make similar leaps. If you’re looking for a group of young guys to believe in for the coming season, these are them.