TEMPE, Ariz.—When most of a team’s top prospects are ticketed for the lowest full-season level in the minors, it might be cause for concern.
Usually it signals a dearth of talent in the upper levels of the system. For the Angels, however, their youngest wave of talent has been the source of plenty of optimism at spring training.
After not placing one player among the Midwest League’s top 20 prospects a year ago, Cedar Rapids could have several of the low Class A circuit’s top youngsters. The Kernels’ outfield will feature Mike Trout and Randal Grichuk, two first-round picks from 2009. Joining them in the lineup is promising second baseman Jean Segura, while fellow Dominican righthander Fabio Martinez will pitch in a rotation that could potentially include five of the Angels’ top pitching prospects.
Among all the talent likely headed to the Cedar Rapids, the player generating the most talk around camp has been Trout. Those who have followed the Angels this spring say Trout hasn’t missed a beat since hitting dominating the Rookie-level Arizona League last summer. He finished minor league spring training on a tear, gobbling up hits in bunches and showcasing his speed and defense in the outfield.
“He hit three or four home runs, and he must have hit .700 or .800 this week,” Cedar Rapids manager Bill Mosiello said as camp was drawing to a close. “It’s a fantasy week.”
Trout even got a brief taste of major league spring training, pinch-hitting in a March 20 game against the Rockies in the eighth inning and driving in two runs with a triple off of lefthander Damian Moss.
“We knew he was an advanced hitter, we knew how well he ran the bases,” Mosiello said. “He’s made a couple incredible defensive plays. Power’s always the last to come; we know he’s got strength and he’s learned to turn on the ball a little bit. It’s been a really scary week for his progression, and his aptitude is just incredible, so wow—it’s an exciting, exciting player.”
Sturdily built at 6-foot-1, 200 pounds, Trout has the potential to have five average or better tools, including his present plus-plus speed and above-average range in the outfield. His bat is already advanced for his age, and while not known for his power, the righthanded-hitting Trout has flashed some surprising pop this spring.
“Trout has a good understanding of staying inside the baseball, using the other side of the field,” Mosiello said. “As they get older, not only do they get stronger, but they learn how to handle different pitches. Pulling the ball’s usually the last thing to come, and that’s where Trout’s actually made some quicker strides than anybody could have anticipated.”
Both Trout and Grichuk are extremely young, even relative to their fellow 2009 high school draft picks. Both of them won’t turn 19 until August. Trout is more advanced than Grichuk, who is known more for his raw power with a much less refined approach at the plate.
Still, Grichuk showed up to spring training with better tools than even the Angels expected. The organization drafted Grichuk knowing that his fringe-average arm strength would limit him to left field, but he’s improved his arm strength since signing enough to change the Angels’ minds.
“He’s thrown so well that if he breaks camp with us, he’ll be the right fielder,” Mosiello said. “He threw out two guys at the plate with incredible throws, and that was one of his objectives to work hard on. Obviously, he’s done it.
“What I’ve been really surprised about is how athletic he is. He’s a better runner than I anticipated and he’s become a better defender. I’m excited by the other things that he’s able to do right now as opposed to being a power-hitter that’s just an offensive guy, which I had anticipated. He’s a work in progress, like all of our young kids, but he doesn’t want to be just a one-dimensional, raw power-type guy.”
While other first-round picks held out until the Aug. 17 signing deadline and either didn’t play or played sparingly in 2009, Trout and Grichuck both signed relatively quickly last year and played in the Arizona League. Trout played 44 games—including five in Cedar Rapids—while Grichuk got 53 games under his belt. That extra experience may have kick-started their development, and their offseason work has thrilled the organization.
“The best part is they’re both great kids who really want to become players, and that’s half the battle,” Mosiello said. “Obviously they’re talented, obviously when you’re a first-rounder you’ve got some special tools, but the neat thing is being around them and how much they want to work and how much they want to become players, and they’re willing to do whatever it takes to become players.
“The thing about the Angels organization is, you don’t get to the big leagues just because you’re a bat guy. You’re gonna have to run the bases, you’re gonna have to play defense, or you can’t play in the big leagues for our club. That’s what’s exciting—they want to be good at all those facets, be a good defender and run the bases well.”
Meanwhile Segura, one of the top prospects in the Rookie-level Pioneer League last season, could be on the verge of a breakout season. Along with Trout, the 20-year-old Segura should give the Kernels a second speedy righthanded hitter with a propensity for getting on base thanks to a compact swing and a strong batting eye.
“He can do a lot of things,” Mosiello said. “He uses the whole field and he has a good two-strike approach. He can really play defense, he’s a really good offensive player and he’s a plus runner who’s going to steal bases.”
Then there’s the rotation, which could potentially be comprised of five of the organization’s top 10 pitching prospects, each of whom already has showed glimpses of dominance as pros last year in rookie ball.
Martinez will get his first full-season test after baffling Arizona League hitters last year with a low- to mid-90s fastball and a power slider that flashes plus but still needs to be more consistent. Martinez left the league to make two starts for Rookie-level Orem at the end of the year after striking out 92 in 60 2/3 innings, an average of 13.7 per nine innings. The 20-year-old still needs better command after walking 5.3 per nine in the AZL.
“He throws downhill and he’s got incredible deception,” Mosiello said. “If he was 89-91 with that deception, he’d have some success. With that power 94-97, it’s pretty neat to watch. Like all young guys, he’s going to have to learn command. It’s going to be interesting to see how he pitches out of jams, because I don’t think a whole lot of guys have had a lot of great swings off him in his career so far.”
The Kernels could round out their rotation with their three supplemental first-round picks and their second-rounder from the 2009 draft. Lefthander Tyler Skaggs, picked 40th overall, is a projectable 18-year-old at 6-foot-4, 180 pounds, with a delivery that draws comparisons to that of Brian Matusz and Cole Hamels. His stuff isn’t quite as electric, but he complements a lively fastball that reaches the low-90s with an above-average slider.
Righthander Garrett Richards, who went two picks later, struggled at Oklahoma, though certainly not for lack of stuff with a fastball that can touch 97 mph and two promising breaking balls. After finishing his college career with a 6.57 ERA, Richards posted a 1.53 ERA and a 30-4 K-BB mark in 35 innings for Rookie-level Orem, giving the Kernels a second flamethrower alongside Martinez.
Lefthander Tyler Kehrer, the Angels’ final supplemental first-rounder (48th overall) from Eastern Illinois, and lefthander Pat Corbin, the club’s second-rounder (80th overall) from Chipola (Fla.) JC, could round out the rotation.
But the scariest part about all the talent headed to Cedar Rapids? The Kernels might be even better in 2011.
After losing Chone Figgins and John Lackey as Type A free agents, the Angels have three first-round picks—18th, 29th and 30th overall—and two more supplemental first-round picks (No. 37 and No. 40 overall). With another extra pick in the supplemental third-round in addition to their normal picks in rounds two through four, the Angels will have the chance to take nine of the top 150 players in this year’s draft.
Thanks to five American League West crowns in the last six seasons, the Angels have consistently picked late in each round and haven’t had the opportunity to trade for prospects to supplement their farm system. After surrendering their first-round pick as free agent compensation three of four years from 2005-08 and a run of recent unsigned top draft picks, the Angels checked in at No. 25 in Baseball America’s annual organization talent rankings coming into the year, a precipitous decline from earlier in the decade when the club spent several years ranked among the game’s elite farm systems.
That all could change quickly, however, with the talent that will pass through Cedar Rapids the next two seasons. The Angels are quick to manage expectations for their young talent, but the enthusiasm over the lower levels of the system is clear.
“One thing about this level is that it’s refreshing, but a lot of times guys are rated so high because they haven’t played a full season yet,” said Mosiello, who previously managed in the Midwest League with the Yankees organization. “It’s all promise. Now, I’d much rather have that than guys that no one thinks can play, but we’ll wait and see. It’s an intriguing group and it’s an exciting group. You love it as a manager.”
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