Top Ten Prospects: Anaheim Angels
Complete Index of Top 10s
By Alan Matthews
Baseball America's Top 10 Prospects lists are based on projections of a player's long-term worth after discussions with scouting and player-development personnel. All players who haven't exceeded the major league rookie standards of 130 at-bats or 50 innings pitched (without regard to service time) are eligible. Ages are as of April 1, 2005.
Background: Some club officials have known Kotchman, the son of longtime Angels scout and minor league manager Tom, since he was 7 years old. In 2004 they got a firsthand look at how he has developed into one the best pure batting prospects in baseball, as he made his major league debut after a red-hot month in Double-A. He was called up to Anaheim in May to replace injured first baseman Darin Erstad and recorded four multihit games in his first eight starts. He didn’t strike out until his 48th plate appearance, and his first hit came off Mariano Rivera in a nine-pitch at-bat. Kotchman became Pedro Martinez’ 2,500th career strikeout victim, but only after an epic 15-pitch at-bat. He was sent to Triple-A Salt Lake and continued to rake. He was back in Anaheim in September and received a spot on the postseason roster, thanks in part to injuries to other players.
Strengths: Kotchman has more walks (116) than strikeouts (100) as a pro and manages the balance between selectivity and aggressiveness better than any hitter in the minors. He has a natural, fluid swing and keeps the barrel of his bat in the hitting zone a long time. He makes consistent, sharp contact to all fields. Kotchman is adept at quickly identifying the spin and break of pitches. He rarely chases pitches and frequently works deep into counts. When he gets his pitch, he’s content to lash it to both alleys, though he displays more over-the-fence power potential in batting practice. He projects to hit at least 20-25 homers annually once he learns when to lift the ball. He is smooth around the bag at first and is a future Gold Glover. He has good hands and easily scoops up errant throws.
Weaknesses: Kotchman never has been healthy for a complete season. He did play in a career-high 114 games in 2004 after totaling just 156 in his first three seasons, but he missed all but one game in July with a sprained right wrist and a bruised shoulder. In previous years, he missed time with wrist, back and hamstring injuries. After tearing his right hamstring running from first to third base in 2003, he was timid on the basepaths in 2004. His speed is below average, but he previously had shown good baserunning instincts. While his home run power is expected to develop, he has gone deep just 24 times in 977 pro at-bats and showed little pop in his big league debut.
The Future: Kotchman has hit .343 in the minors and has nothing left to prove at that level. Erstad profiles better as a center fielder, but the Angels won’t necessarily move him back there to open first base for Kotchman. As a result, he could return to Triple-A Salt Lake rather than sitting on the bench in Anaheim at the start of 2005. If he gets a chance to play in the majors, Kotchman will be a leading contender for Rookie of the Year.
Background: After he led the minors in slugging (.670) and total bases (349) in 2004, injuries thrust McPherson into a starting role during the final two weeks of the regular season. The Angels initially were uncertain about giving him a September callup, but he held his own.
Strengths: McPherson owns the organization’s best raw power and translates it into game power. His swing is balanced and controlled, and he uses his lower half well. Because of his leverage and extension, he draws comparisons to Adam Dunn. McPherson’s intense makeup is off the charts. He has an above-average arm.
Weaknesses: He must sharpen his ability to make contact and handle quality breaking balls. McPherson whiffed 169 times in the minors and 17 times in 40 big league at-bats. Defensively, he struggles to read balls off the bat and looks stiff at third base.
The Future: With the Angels choosing not to keep Troy Glaus, McPherson faces the task of replacing him at third base and in the heart of the order. In time, he should match Glaus’ production in the majors.
Background: Aybar played alongside Alberto Callaspo during his first two pro seasons, and they were inseparable on and off the field. In 2004, the Angels decided to break them up so both could play shortstop. Aybar wasn’t fazed and led the minors in hits. His older brother Willie is an infielder in the Dodgers system.
Strengths: Aybar possesses a rare blend of sound fundamentals, instincts and pure shortstop actions. He has excellent range, good hands and a plus arm. Offensively, he has a knack for making contact and enough power to hit 15 homers per year. He’s equally adept from both sides of the plate.
Weaknesses: He has a tendency to force off-balance throws, which led to many of his system-high 34 errors in 2004. At the plate, Aybar gets pull-happy and needs to improve his pitch recognition. He’ll chase pitches out of the strike zone, though he often manages to put them in play because he has quick wrists, thus limiting his walks.
The Future: Aybar will be reunited with Callaspo, who’s moving back to second base, at Double-A Arkansas in 2005. He’s on schedule to arrive in Anaheim the following season.
Background: After Mathis got off to a strong start, he collapsed after Casey Kotchman and Dallas McPherson were promoted from Double-A. Mathis slumped to .165 the rest of the way and continued to struggle in instructional league.
Strengths: A premium athlete, Mathis has fast-twitch muscle movement and plenty of bat speed, enabling him to drive balls into the gaps. In instructional league, he worked on shortening his swing and closing his stance. He moves well behind the plate, blocks balls in the dirt and has slightly above-average arm strength.
Weaknesses: Mathis previously overcame his swing flaws with his athleticism, but he was exploited at Double-A. His plate discipline suffered as well. Like many intelligent players, Mathis can be overly analytical and too self-critical. Despite his defensive tools and acumen, he threw out just 21 percent of basestealers.
The Future: It’s likely much of Mathis’ struggles stemmed from trying to carry a depleted Arkansas lineup. He’ll implement a revised approach at the plate in 2005, most likely back in Double-A. He still could start for Anaheim in 2006 and develop into an all-star catcher.
Background: The Angels signed Morales to a six-year major league contract in December, which includes a $3 million bonus and could be worth as much as $10 million. In 2002, Morales became the first teenager to star for Cuba’s national team since Omar Linares, but the government later banned him after repeated attempts to defect. He succeeded in June and established residency in the Dominican Republic, making him a free agent.
Strengths: Morales ranks with Linares as the best position player developed in post-revolution Cuba. He profiles as a middle-of-the-order run producer, with a level swing from both sides, power to all fields and an aggressive approach.
Weaknesses: Morales’ speed is average at best, leading to some question as to where he’ll fit defensively. A first baseman on Cuba’s national team in 2003, he has a plus arm and instincts to become a reliable corner outfielder.
The Future: The Angels believe Morales is ready to contribute immediately in the majors and will give him every chance to win their left-field job this spring. He must overcome culture shock, obstacles that have waylaid several highly touted Cuban defectors in the past.
Background: Known as a skinny, defensive-minded shortstop before his high school senior season, Wood suddenly blossomed into a power hitter. The 23rd overall pick in 2003, he signed for $1.3 million. He hit a wall in his first full pro season, batting .198 in August after an impressive start.
Strengths: Wood has strong, nimble wrists and quick hands. His swing has natural loft and he accelerates the bat head through the hitting zone well. He shows good instincts at the plate, in the field and on the bases. He has average range and arm strength.
Weaknesses: Wood struck out too often in 2004 and gets pull-conscious, trying to hit for too much power. He can be overaggressive at the plate and falls behind in counts. He often fails to set his feet and hurries his throws. He may outgrow shortstop, necessitating a move to third base.
The Future: Because of his athletic ability and aptitude, Wood has a high ceiling. He profiles as a reliable everyday infielder who should hit for average with 15-20 homers annually. The Angels won’t rush him and may give him another half-season at low Class A Cedar Rapids.
Background: Bothered by a sore shoulder, Santana began the 2004 season in extended spring training and didn’t join Arkansas until mid-May. He broke down a month later with a sore elbow. Though an MRI showed no structural problems in his elbow, he didn’t take the mound again until tossing three innings during the final week of instructional league.
Strengths: When healthy, Santana has the most electric stuff in the system. During his breakthrough 2003 season, he often opened games pitching at 90 mph before cranking his fastball up into the mid-90s. His heater has good, late life, especially down in the strike zone. When he follows through on his slider, it’s a true put-away pitch that peaks at 87 mph.
Weaknesses: He also had a tender elbow in 2003, so health is the greatest concern with Santana. He’s reluctant to change speeds, though his changeup has the makings of an average pitch. He still thinks more velocity is the solution to pitching out of jams.
The Future: Despite his setbacks, Santana still could make his major league debut at some point in 2005. He’ll begin his comeback back in Double-A.
Background: Kendrick has improved exponentially since he was cut as a college freshman. After he found a home at little-known St. John’s River (Fla.) CC, area scout Tom Kotchman loved his bat so much he urged the Angels to draft him in the 10th round. Though he missed two months with a groin injury in 2004, he won the low Class A Midwest League batting title and raised his career average to .357.
Strengths: Kendrick derives his hitting ability from extraordinary hand-eye coordination and a balanced, controlled swing. He has a clear plan for each at-bat and recalls pitchers’ tendencies, allowing him to adjust from one pitch to the next. He has gap power and is an excellent situational hitter.
Weaknesses: Only Kendrick’s bat grades as an above-average tool. He has improved defensively but remains a work in progress. His range and arm are average at best. Kendrick is a below-average runner but has good instincts on the basepaths.
The Future: Kendrick has drawn comparisons to Orlando Hudson and fits the mold of a prototypical No. 2 hitter. He could do a lot of damage at high Class A Rancho Cucamonga, a hitter’s haven, in 2005.
Background: The Angels usually are conservative with assignments, but chose to skip Callaspo over high Class A in 2004 so he could play shortstop. He didn’t lead his league in hits for the third straight year, but did hold his own in the Texas League.
Strengths: Despite playing in Double-A at age 21, Callaspo was the toughest player to strike out in the minors. He lacks Erick Aybar’s pop, but he’s a pure-hitting singles machine. He proved he has the skills to play shortstop and he stands out more at second base. His arm and speed are average tools. Anaheim’s player-development staff praises his work ethic.
Weaknesses: Though he drew a career-high 47 walks, Callaspo needs to improve his patience and pitch selection to become a quality leadoff hitter. He often puts pitches in play that he’d be better off taking.
The Future: The Angels decided to move Callaspo back to second base. That will allow him to team once again with Aybar, forming a dynamic double-play combination that should get to the majors in 2006. He’ll return to Double-A to open 2005 but could force a promotion to Triple-A by midseason.
Background: Shell started the California-Carolina League all-star game in 2003, but faded in the second half after coming down with a tender elbow. The Angels decided to play it safe and sent him back to high Class A. He led the Cal League in strikeouts and walked more than two batters in just two of his 28 starts.
Strengths: Shell has the best command in the organization. He can work his 89-92 mph fastball in on righthanders with cutting action, and it has natural sink as well. His 12-to-6 curveball grades out as slightly above average. He refined his splitter this year, and when it’s on, he can be hard to beat. His changeup is a solid fourth pitch.
Weaknesses: Shell doesn’t have a dominant pitch he can rely on to get outs. He has to mix his pitches and locations in order to succeed. He had a reputation for getting flustered easily, but he made strides with his poise in 2004.
The Future: Shell projects as a middle-of-the-rotation starter. Ticketed for Double-A in 2005, he could compete for a big league job as early as 2006.