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January 24, 2007

Future Shock

Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim Top Ten Prospects

by Kevin Goldstein

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Excellent Prospects
1. Brandon Wood, ss
2. Nick Adenhart, rhp
Very Good Prospects
3. Erick Aybar, ss
4. Sean Rodriguez, ss
5. Hank Conger, c
Good Prospects
6. Stephen Marek, rhp
7. Jeff Mathis, c
Average Prospects
8. Terry Evans, cf/rf
9. Hainley Statia, ss
10. Jose Arredondo, rhp

1. Brandon Wood, ss
DOB: 3/2/85
Height/Weight: 6-3/185
Bats/Throws: R/R
Drafted: 1st round, 2003, Arizona HS
What he did in 2006: .276/.355/.552 at AA (522 PA)
The Good: Skinny frame belies outstanding power and offers scary projection for what is already a plus-plus skill. Remarkably strong wrists fire the barrel of the bat through the zone in whip-like fashion, and balls fly off contact with outstanding backspin and loft. Improving approach led to career-high walk total. Excellent fundamentals in the field and on the basepaths. Above-average arm.
The Bad: Wood's swing is designed for one thing: power. Strikeouts will always be an issue, but he has enough raw hitting skills to bat .270-.290 in the majors. Average runner who positions himself well in the field, but might be a little short range-wise to stay in the middle of the infield.
The Irrelevant: Over the last two seasons, Wood has 162-game seasonal averages of 61 doubles, six triples and 44 home runs.
In A Perfect World, He Becomes: An All-Star run producer who could push 100 extra-base hits annually.
Gap Between What He Is Now, And What He Can Be: Low. The Angels have a logjam at shortstop and a gaping hole at third base, where Wood would fit nicely. They insist he's still a shortstop for now, but he'll likely begin 2007 at Triple-A, where they most likely already have a shortstop in Erick Aybar.

2. Nick Adenhart, rhp
DOB: 8/24/86
Height/Weight: 6-4/190
Bats/Throws: R/R
Drafted: 14th round, 2004, Maryland HS
What he did in 2006: 1.95 ERA (106-84-26-99), 3.78 ERA at High A (52.1-51-16-46)
The Good: Brilliant late pick by the Angels, who were able to select one of the top pitching talents in the draft and manage his rehab from Tommy John surgery. Tall and long-armed, Adenhart's 91-95 mph fastball has late sinking action, and his changeup is among the best in the system. Breaking ball shows hard bite at times and his control and command are excellent. Arm held up for a full season with no complaints and frame offers good projection.
The Bad: Adenhart's curve can flatten out at times. He has a tendency to fall in love with his fastball, when his secondary pitches are effective offerings that would be even more effective if he used them more.
The Irrelevant: Between May 19 and August 13, Adenhart went 15 consecutive starts without giving up a home run.
In A Perfect World, He Becomes: A No. 2 starter and occasional All-Star.
Gap Between What He Is Now, And What He Can Be: Average. With a healthy, productive 2006, Adenhart established himself as one of the better right-handed prospects around. Just 20, he'll begin the year back in the California League.

3. Erick Aybar, ss
DOB: 1/14/84
Height/Weight: 5-11/160
Bats/Throws: S/R
Signed: Dominican Republic, 2002
What he did in 2006: .283/.327/.413 at AAA (368 PA), .250/.250/.325 at MLB (40 PA)
The Good: On the excitement scale, Aybar ranks among the best in the game. He's an outstanding contact hitter with surprising pop coming out of compact frame. Aybar is a plus-plus runner, and he's a Web Gem-worthy fielder with outstanding range and a rocket arm.
The Bad: Aybar has made little progress over the past two years in harnessing his skills. He remains over-aggressive at the plate, reckless on the base paths and out of control defensively.
The Irrelevant: Aybar hit .370 when batting third in the lineup, but just .259 elsewhere.
In A Perfect World, He Becomes: An All-Star shortstop that is above average both at the plate and in the field.
Gap Between What He Is Now, And What He Can Be: Higher than it should be. Aybar is blocked by Orlando Cabrera at shortstop, but at the same time, he still has work to do in the consistency department to be considered for the everyday job. He'll go back to Triple-A in 2007, but also is one of the Angels' top trading chips.

4. Sean Rodriguez, ss
DOB: 4/26/85
Height/Weight: 6-0/180
Bats/Throws: R/R
Drafted: 3rd round, 2003, Florida HS
What he did in 2006: .301/.377/.545 at High A (523 PA), .354/.462/.662 at AA (79 PA), .000/.000/.000 at AAA (2 PA)
The Good: Pure hitting ability finally caught up with already outstanding secondary skills, leading to a breakout season. Above-average power and a patient approach allow him to have value far beyond his batting average. Solid defender with a good arm.
The Bad: Scouts don't like Rodriguez's herky-jerky hitting mechanics, but can't complain about the results. Rodriguez began the year looking for--and swinging at--early fastballs, but he returned to his patient ways in the second half without any drop in production. He's an average runner, and few think he'll be able to stay at shortstop.
The Irrelevant: Rodriguez' full name is Sean John Rodriguez, yet he is not a hip-hop mogul with his own record company and clothing line.
In A Perfect World, He Becomes: A valuable offensive player who can play multiple positions.
Gap Between What He Is Now, And What He Can Be: Average. Rodriguez will stay at shortstop for now, and will begin 2007 back at Double-A.

5. Hank Conger, c
DOB: 1/29/88
Height/Weight: 6-0/205
Bats/Throws: S/R
Drafted: 1st round, 2006, California HS
What he did in 2006: .319/.382/.522 at Rookie level (76 PA)
The Good: Potential impact bat at catcher with switch-hitting skills, plus-plus raw power and a refined approach. Solid defensive catcher with a very good arm and average receiving skills. Hard worker who takes well to coaching.
The Bad: Conger's future is tied in many ways to his defense. He's big-bodied at 18, and there are worries that he'll have to move to first base if he continues to fill out, where the offensive expectations increase exponentially.
The Irrelevant: In his 19-game debut, Conger was 3-for-16 (.188) with runners on base and two outs, but 12-for-20 (.600) with runners on and less than two outs.
In A Perfect World, He Becomes: A starting catcher who hits in the middle of the lineup.
Gap Between What He Is Now, And What He Can Be: High. Conger will make his full-season debut in 2007, where scouts will pay more attention to his defense; they're already trusting in the bat.

6. Stephen Marek, rhp
DOB: 9/3/83
Height/Weight: 6-2/200
Bats/Throws: R/R
Drafted: 40th round, 2004, San Jacinto (Texas) JUCO - DNF
What he did in 2006: 1.96 ERA at Low A (119.1-95-24-100), 3.94 ERA at High A (32-26-13-33)
The Good: Big-money draft-and-follow pounds the strike zone with a 90-95 mph fastball that can hit 97 when he rears back for a little more. Curveball features strong, late downward break. Strong body and solid mechanics give him excellent stamina.
The Bad: Marek has yet to get comfortable with his changeup, which lags behind his other offerings. He pitches primarily off his fastball and needs to get a better feel on setting up batters. At 23, he's a little behind the standard development curve.
The Irrelevant: Marek didn't allow more than three runs in any of his 19 Midwest League starts, and he allowed two or fewer 16 times.
In A Perfect World, He Becomes: A middle-rotation starter or power reliever.
Gap Between What He Is Now, And What He Can Be: Average. Marek will begin the year back in the California League, but the Angels would like to accelerate his development a bit and get him in Double-A as soon as possible.

7. Jeff Mathis, c
DOB: 3/31/83
Height/Weight: 6-0/180
Bats/Throws: R/R
Drafted: 1st round, 2001, Florida HS
What he did in 2006: .289/.333/.430 at AAA (417 PA), .145/.238/.291 at MLB (63 PA)
The Good: Former top catching prospect crashed and burned after earning Opening Day starter's job, but recovered with decent showing at Triple-A. Solid hitter with average power who uses all fields effectively. Very athletic behind the plate with plus arm strength.
The Bad: Mathis' plus arm is hurt by accuracy problems due to a bad habit of rushing his throws. He shortened his swing when he was sent down, which led to a good average but also sapped him of his power. He needs to improve his patience and pitch recognition.
The Irrelevant: Mathis' older brother Jake played two years in the Angels system, batting .238/.298/.339 in 149 games.
In A Perfect World, He Becomes: An average-offensive, plus-defensive everyday catcher.
Gap Between What He Is Now, And What He Can Be: Low. Mike Napoli's miserable second half means Mathis once again has a legitimate shot at earning a big-league job in Spring Training.

8. Terry Evans, cf/rf
DOB: 1/19/82
Height/Weight: 6-3/200
Bats/Throws: R/R
Drafted: 47th round, 2001, Middle Georgia JUCO - DNF
What he did in 2006: .311/.373/.550 at High A (263 PA), .308/.380/.578 at AA (297 PA)
The Good: Everything clicked in 2006 for big, athletic outfielder who went from organizational player to 30/30 star. Plus power to all fields, excellent speed for his size and a strong outfield arm.
The Bad: Evans' long, uppercut swing led to plenty of strikeouts, and could limit his ability to hit for average at the upper levels. Despite playing most of the season there, he lacks the range to play center at the big league level. The 2006 performance is so completely out-of-nowhere that few trust it yet.
The Irrelevant: Evans' hometown of Dublin, Georgia is mentioned in the opening passages of James Joyce's impossible-to-understand Finnegans Wake.
In A Perfect World, He Becomes: A starting corner outfielder.
Gap Between What He Is Now, And What He Can Be: Average. Evans turned 25 last week, so there's little time for any sort of regression to his previous mediocre ways. He'll begin the year at Triple-A.

9. Hainley Statia, ss
DOB: 1/19/86
Height/Weight: 5-10/160
Bats/Throws: S/R
Drafted: 9th round, 2004, Florida HS
What he did in 2006: .297/.379/.384 at Low A (480 PA), .300/.386/.367 at High A (70 PA)
The Good: Exciting young shortstop made minor improvements across the board in 2006. Statia showed a much better approach in 2006 and his excellent feel for contact projects for strong on-base percentages in the majors. Fantastic defensive player with above-average range, a strong arm and outstanding fundamentals, as evidenced by a league-leading fielding percentage among Midwest League shortstops.
The Bad: Small and wiry, Statia does not hit for power, and doesn't project to add any. For a player with his type of profile, big time speed would be a nice aspect to his game, but he's only an above-average runner who is still learning how to steal a base.
The Irrelevant: Statia's lone home run of the year came off of Beloit (Twins) righthander Eduardo Morlan in his 11-strikeout complete-game performance.
In A Perfect World, He Becomes: An everyday shortstop who gets on base and has significant defensive value.
Gap Between What He Is Now, And What He Can Be: Average. Statia will play in the California League in 2007, but he'll be unable to take advantage of the power-friendly environment.

10. Jose Arredondo, rhp
DOB: 3/30/84
Height/Weight: 6-0/170
Bats/Throws: R/R
Signed: Dominican Republic, 2002
What he did in 2006: 2.30 ERA at High A (90-62-35-115), 6.53 ERA at AA (60.2-80-22-48)
The Good: Fastest arm in the system pumps out mid-90s heat and touches 98-99 despite slight frame. Surprisingly good command despite lack of experience. Slider shows flashes of being a plus pitch.
The Bad: Arredondo rarely kept his velocity after the fourth inning, and was clearly out of gas after moving up to Double-A. His changeup is rudimentary at best, and he is prone to overthrowing his slider, causing it to flatten out. As a one-to-two pitch guy with limited stamina, a future move to the bullpen seems inevitable.
The Irrelevant: Originally signed as a shortstop, Arredondo hit .250/.281/.311 in 102 games before moving to the mound.
In A Perfect World, He Becomes: A power-based late-innings reliever.
Gap Between What He Is Now, And What He Can Be: Average. Arredondo will likely return to Double-A, and should see a return to early-2006 form with a fresher arm.

The Sleeper

2005 second-round pick Ryan Mount is loaded with secondary skills: hitting for power, drawing walks and stealing bases during a .285/.370/.448 showing in the Pioneer League. He strikes out a lot and probably lacks the range to stay at shortstop, projecting as an offensive second baseman.

The Big Picture: Rankings Combined With Non-Rookies 25 Years Old Or Younger (As Of Opening Day 2007)

1. Howie Kendrick, 2b
2. Jered Weaver, rhp
3. Brandon Wood, ss
4. Francisco Rodriguez, rhp
5. Nick Adenhart, rhp
6. Ervin Santana, rhp
7. Erick Aybar, ss
8. Sean Rodriguez, ss
9. Hank Conger, c
10. Casey Kotchman, 1b

Now that's some young talent, and players like Kendry Morales, Mike Napoli and Joe Saunders--who would make most team's lists--just missed the cut. Kendrick at number one may surprise some, but I'm still convinced that he's a right-handed Tony Gwynn. Weaver exceeded expectations in his pro debut, proving that his command and control are more than enough to combine with his good-not-great stuff to create an upper-echelon starter. Francisco Rodriguez is among the best closers in the game, and will remain so for some time, while Santana's youth and performance offers plenty of room for optimism. Kotchman still has his believers, despite the almost-cursed injury history.

The Angels are many experts' early favorites for the American League West title, and based on their young talent, that could be the case for a few years to come.

Next: The Minnesota Twins.

Kevin Goldstein is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Kevin's other articles. You can contact Kevin by clicking here

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