- C – Brennan Morgan – 22 yo
- 3.09/.751 – PAG/APPA – (Rookie Orem)
- 2016 stats: .277/.376/.419; .795 OPS; 10 doubles, 4 home runs; 24% CS rate
“It was very difficult.” Those were the first words that came out of my mouth when a friend asked how the Angels system looked when doing my UTR OAS research. Difficult is quite an understatement. But you know what? Regardless of the organization, Jim and I compartmentalize each organization. No comparing one organization to the other. Looking at the Angels catching ranks, 2015 – 1st rounder Taylor Ward sits atop the mountain. He debuted in 2015 and over two levels (Rookie Orem/LoA Burlington) he posted a 56-game PAG/APPA of 3.46/.795. This season Ward was with HiA Inland Empire and in comparison to his debut, had quite a unique season. You’d think the Cal League would help a hitter, but in Ward’s case, not so much. His batting average dipped nearly 100 points, his walk rate plummeted and his K’s skyrocketed. This zeroed me in on first-year player Brennan Morgan. The Angels drafted the hulking 6’4″ – 230 pounder out of Kennesaw State University (GA) in the 24th round and immediately assigned him to the Pioneer League’s Orem Owls. Morgan didn’t light up the scoreboard, but one thing he displayed was near eerie consistency. In four years with the Kennesaw State Owls (ironically), he logged a .275/.373/.399/.772 slash line. As you can see above, Morgan posted near identical numbers. However, Morgan led all Angels minor league catchers in OPS, on-base and slugging percentage. Keep an eye on this kid. He can really hit, has growing power and if catching doesn’t work out, he’s spent time at first base. He has the potential to make a big leap forward in the LAA prospect ranks.
- 1B – Matt Thaiss – 21 yo
- 3.49/.788 combined – PAG/APPA – (Rookie Orem – 4.73/1.000; LoA Burlington – 3.13/7.21)
- 2016 stats combined: .292/.361/.462; .824 OPS; 19 doubles, 6 home runs; 26:32 BB:K ratio.
Simply put, there isn’t a better hitting prospect inside the Angels system than Thaiss. The 2016 – 1st rounder out of the University of Virginia was a catcher for the Cavaliers and when you post the offensive numbers Thaiss did from behind the plate? I’ll take that 25 hours a day, 8 days a week. However, upon being drafting the Angels shifted the 6’0″ – 195 lb. lefty to first. Now, when tabulating the offensive calling card for catcher and first base, suddenly Thaiss’ numbers appeared a bit pedestrian. The thing is, no matter what the position, he’s a hitter with an advanced approach, power to spare and plate discipline well beyond his years. I think with the Angels system sitting at the bottom of the barrel, Thaiss may go slightly unnoticed in 2017 minor league fantasy rookie drafts. But let me tell you, if you do your homework and take the young New Jersey native, you’ll eventually have a player that fellow owners will eventually be begging for in trades.
- 2B – Miguel De La Cruz – 18 yo
- 3.03/.723 – PAG/APPA – (DSL Angels)
- 2016 stats combined: .292/.361/.462; .824 OPS; 19 doubles, 6 home runs; 26:32 BB:K ratio.
When Jim and I run into a situation like the Angels, we have to take not necessarily a skewed approach, but we have to analyze things using a different lens. The system is bad. Let me just get that out there. In a few mainstream minor league prospect publications, 2015 – 4th rounder Brendon Sanger and 2014 Cuban-born signee Roberto Baldoquin top the Angels second base vector. Both come with a vast array of tools that could help push them high up the organizational ladder. But, based on this season alone, 2016 free-agent signee out of the Dominican Republic, Miguel De La Cruz could be closing in fast on those above him. Probably the biggest bit of upside for De La Cruz and the system is his age appropriation per level. He’s an 18-year-old who led his DSL squad in walks, doubles and triples. Could I have chosen 2016 – 19th rounder out of Arizona Cody Ramer? Sure, but I have to gauge faith carefully when Ramer is a 22-year-old who pulverized pitching from 18-19 year olds. I just like the position in which De La Cruz is set up in: age appropriate, led his team in several categories. Another kid I liked here was 2016 – 7th rounder Jordan Zimmerman. He posted a higher PAG/APPA per say, but I wanted to see a bigger age/level difference between he and De La Cruz.
- 3B – Zach Houchins – 23 yo
- 3.03/.732 – PAG/APPA – (Hi Inland Empire)
- 2016 stats: .262/.312/.423; .734 OPS; 24 doubles, 18 home runs
Houchins has been a mainstay at UTRMinors since the inception of the website. The 2014- 13th rounder out of East Carolina University landed on the UTR Hitters of the Day list 20 times over the last three seasons in addition to a being a 2014 Organizational All-Star and a 2015 “One to Watch.” This season the 6’2″ – 210 lb. righty led the entire minor league organization in home runs and RBi’s (84). Some might say his production this season might be a product of Cal League inflation, but if you look at last season’s numbers, they are strikingly similar. For LoA Burlington, Houchins posted a .253/.313/.401/.714 slash line and a 2.84/.681 PAG/APPA. Sure, his numbers improved, but only by a slight margin. Houchins isn’t the sexiest prospect. In fact, he’s not even listed inside the current Angels top 30 over at MLB Pipeline. But you know what? That’s ok. Julio Garcia and Hutton Moyer carry the 3B distinction. But I’ll take the weighted measure for this season (ignoring Garcia’s .149 batting average in 14 AZL games and Moyer, who’s the same age as Houchins, but at a lower level) and place Houchins, who I believe is on his way to Double-A Arkansas, ahead of them in good old UTR fashion.
- SS – Leonardo Rivas – 18 yo
- 3.41/.855 combined – PAG/APPA – (DSL – 3.70/.961; AZL – 3.04/.731)
- 2016 stats combined: .289/.413/.379; .792 OPS; 26 stolen bases, 36:39 BB:K ratio
With a system as inferior as the Angels, 18-year-old Leonardo Rivas is one of the few bright spots of the 2016 UTR season. The Angels signed the 5’10” – 160 pounder out of Venezuela back in July of 2014, but Rivas didn’t see his first game action until 2015. He debuted in the Dominican Summer League, posted a 3.18/.750 PAG/APPA and led his team in hits, runs scored, triples, stolen bases, walks and total bases. Obviously the Angels wanted to see if the then 17-year-old was for real so they kept him with the DSL squad to begin 2016. All the rail-thin switch hitter did was log a 33-game PAG/APPA of 3.70/.961 and a slash line of .323/.455/.414/.869. This was enough to prompt the organization to promote him to the Arizona League. In only 26 games, Rivas was among the team leaders in runs scored (22) and walks (16). Rivas possesses a great set of tools defensively, but will need to gain arm strength and learn better reads off the bat before he’s deemed a full-blown prospect of the future at shortstop. I love this kid and my gut says the Angels may promote him to Rookie Orem in 2017, where he could possibly see a breakout season.
- LF – Zach Gibbons – 22 yo
- 4.22/.946 – PAG/APPA – (Rookie Orem)
- 2016 stats: .351/.441/.513; .955 OPS; 12 doubles, 5 home runs; 29:22 BB:K ratio
Now we’re talking. With the inferiority of the Angels UTR infield, the outfield is quite the opposite, housing several top prospects as well as a hand full of UTRs. Chad Hinshaw and Caleb Adams are a few top prospects but Hinshaw has surpassed UTR age requirements (25) and Adams spend the majority of 2016 with Double-A Arkansas. Of the several left fielders, 2016 – 17th rounder Zach Gibbons had as stellar a season as anyone in the system. The University of Arizona draftee was assigned to Rookie Orem where he hit the ground running. Gibbons batted .351 and ranked within the Pioneer League top 10 in walks, stolen bases (17), batting and on-base percentage. Now, Gibbons isn’t the most exciting prospect, but the 5’8″ – 190 pounder fits into that “what you see is what you get” mold. But make no mistake, he’s a ballplayer. I’m sure experts will look at his age/level and waive Gibbons off. However, I could envision Gibbons logging another season just like his debut, but this time at either LoA Burlington or, most likely, HiA Inland Empire. Gibbons seems to be the type of prospect who’ll have to work extra hard to prove he belongs within mainstream top prospect lists. And I believe his plate discipline, gap-to-gap approach and ability to work pitchers deep into counts will allow him to do it.
- CF – Jahmai Jones – 18 yo
- 3.78/.818 – combined PAG/APPA – (Rookie Orem – 4.15/.881; LoA Burlington – 2.69/.614)
- 2016 stats combined: .302/.379/.422; .801 OPS; 13 doubles, 4 home runs; 20 stolen bases
There may not be a better overall athlete/hitting prospect in the Angels system than Jones. Drafted in the 2nd round out of Wesleyan School (GA) in 2015, the 6’0″ – 215 lb. righty began his pro career for Rookie Orem where he batted .244 with 10 extra base hits, 16 stolen bases and 28 runs scored in 40 games. It was obvious the organization wanted Jones (and his debut 3.40/.743 PAG/APPA) to spend more time in rookie ball. So, he opened 2016 again with the Orem Owls and easily proved he was more than up for the challenge batting .321 with 12 doubles, 3 home runs and 19 stolen bases. Jones received a promotion to LoA Burlington in mid-August and batted .242 with a double and home run in 16 games. I think Jones begins 2017 back with Burlington, but if he busts out of the gate, he could see HiA Inland Empire sooner rather than later, showing off the skills and supreme make everyone in the organization is extremely excited to have in the fold.
- RF – John Schuknecht – 21 yo
- 3.78/.818 – combined PAG/APPA – (Arizona League – 3.39/.862; Rookie Orem – 4.72/1.149)
- 2016 stats combined: .315/.387/.573; .960 OPS; 20 doubles, 8 home runs; 10 stolen bases
This was a tough choice. As followers of UTRMinors know, Jim and I make a concentrated effort to discuss the hitters and pitchers outside of the mainstream top 20s and 30s. And it’s OAS races like LAA’s right field that helps. I’m all over 2016 – 8th rounder Troy Montgomery. The 5’10” – 185 lb. lefty played the majority of his debut season in right field, but being a defensive-first player, I could see Montgomery shifting to centerfield so the organization can take advantage of his plus-speed and strong arm. This shifts my focus to Schuknecht, who was taken in the 37th round out of Cal Poly Tech this season. The 6’0″ – 200 pounder didn’t light the scoreboard on fire for the Mustangs. He posted a career .265 batting average with 15 home runs, 95 RBi’s and 20 stolen bases. That averages out to approximately 4 home runs, 5 stolen bases and 24 RBi’s a season. Yet, nothing makes an organization happier than seeing a late round draftee long overplay their draft status. This describes Schuknecht’s debut. He began 2016 in the Arizona League where he batted .318 and led the team in doubles (16) and total bases. After 33 AZL games, Schuknecht received a promotion to Rookie Orem and actually gained steam. In only 18 games, he batted .309 and led the team in home runs (8), slugging percentage (.721) and ranked second in OPS (1.085). My gut says the Angels will start Schuknecht at LoA Burlington next season, but could aggressively push him to HiA if he handles himself just like he did in his debut.