Halos Daily

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Hank Conger vs. Chris Iannetta

February 5th, 2012

Hank Conger has struggled in his short stints with the Angels over the past two years.

In late November the Halos flipped pitching prospect Tyler Chatwood to the Colorado Rockies for Chris Iannetta, which seemed like a bad move with superstar Jeff Mathis already entrenched at catcher then promptly shipped Jeff Mathis out of town a few days later. This leaves us with a peculiar situation behind the plate. Hank Conger, one of the team’s top prospects entering 2011, appeared in 59 games last season and posted a disappointing .209/.282/.356 slash line. Conger is still lauded for his tools, but the team’s acquisition of Iannetta makes for an interesting competition going into Spring Training.

Manager Mike Scioscia clearly prefers catcher defense over catcher offense, which is the only justification for giving Mathis 1360 plate appearances over the years. Among the two candidates for the job, Iannetta is the clear favorite defensively. Conger is a major question mark defensively. Some people think seasoning can make him passable because he’s a smart player and has a good report with his pitchers. Iannetta, on the other hand, is around league average at catcher. 2011 was the best defensive season of his career, as he posted above average numbers in some of the best defensive categories.

Offensively, Iannetta figures to struggle greatly away from Coors Field. Over the course of his career, Iannetta has a .262/.377/.492 slash line at Coors, and a .208/.338/.369 line everywhere else. He might be able to post respectable numbers, but I wouldn’t expect him to be the type of player he was in Colorado.

Conger, on the other hand, only has upside offensively. He struggled in a small sample in 2011, but dominated in the minor leagues (as he always did) and still had the quick bat and the swing that made him one of the team’s top prospects entering the season. The 24-year-old should develop into one of the better hitting catchers in the game as he gets more seasoning.

How about the money? The Angels will pay Iannetta $3.6 million in 2012, before they decide whether or not to pick up $5 million option for 2013 (they can buy him out for $250,000). Conger will receive just a tick over the league minimum salary in 2012, as he gets one year closer to hitting arbitration.

The Angels could choose to leave Conger in the minor leagues and potentially have him for an extra year, but they’re probably best off making their decision based on who the best player is for 2012, rather than 2017. Regardless, Mike Scioscia will have a tough decision to make as Spring Training ends and Opening Day rolls around.

Hudson Belinsky can be followed on Twitter at @hudsonbelinsky.

In Trout We Trust: Jason Parks Breaks Down Halos Prospects

February 1st, 2012

Garret Richards appeared in seven games for the Halos in 2012.

Jason Parks of Baseball Prospectus runs a series on what could go wrong with each team’s top five prospects. Parks is one of my favorite writers around, and if you listen to his podcast with Kevin Goldstein you can hear him give me fashion advice. Parks mixes his vast knowledge of the game and scouting with his undeniably brilliant sense of the English language. Before my nose gets too brown, I should probably get to the discussion of prospect failure, particularly in the case of the Halos.

I particularly enjoy this series because of the way we as a society of fans view the prospect scene. Prospect evaluation has come a long way over the last several years, but it’s nowhere near perfect. Fans today often get carried away with what “prospect guys” write about the farm systems of their favorite teams. The truth is that most prospects will fail to reach their ceilings.

I don’t much care about the order when it comes to prospect rankings. Really the entire process of prospect evaluation is completely subjective, so every set of prospect rankings is a collection and ranking of the author’s favorite prospects, rather than a factual account of who is a better prospect than who. Let’s take a look at Professor Parks’s top five Angels prospects.

1. Mike Trout

Parks writes that he would take Trout over Harper, Moore, and Profar. He doesn’t mention Brandon Wood, so I assume that Trout is his second favorite prospect in baseball. Parks is all over Trout, lauding him as a “legit five-tool talent,” and projecting him as a perennial MVP candidate down the line. Despite all of his ability, Trout could still struggle in 2012 as he adjusts to big league pitching and works on handling certain pitches in certain spots.

2. Jean Segura

Segura is a talented hitter with advanced pitch recognition skills and average pop. Parks believes in his ability to stick at shortstop, but acknowledges the real possibility that he could fail there and find himself switching to second base. He’s a supreme talent, but his value drops significantly if he’s unable to stay at the hot corner.

3. Kaleb Cowart

A raw hitter with contact issues that could explode down the line, but could also fail miserably. Parks envisions Cowart struggling in his transition to full-season ball in 2012. His swing issues will be exposed by more advanced pitching and he will have to adjust his approach to succeed. Parks touches on Cowart’s history as a pitcher who threw in the 90s coming out of high school, so he could have a future as a pitcher even if he fails as a hitter. It’s way too early to make the comparison, but this reminds me of Sergio Santos and his failure as a position player.

4. Taylor Lindsey

Lindsey is coming off of a season in which he hit for a .362/.394/.593 in short-season ball. According to Parks, Lindsey isn’t a toolsy player, with his only real tool being his hit tool. Parks fears that Lindsey may try to become more of a power hitter with a more leveraged swing, which could seriously negate his hit tool. 2012 could be just another step towards a future as a big league second baseman, or he could “get hit by the wall of reality.”

5. Garrett Richards

Richards sports a fastball-slider mix and both pitches are above average. The 23-year-old spent time with the Halos in 2011, and could be ready to make the jump permanently at some point in 2012. In order to avoid failure, Richards has to learn how to command his pitches, rather than just control them. Parks says that he needs to “refine his ability to put the ball in the desired quadrants of the plate.” Even if he fails as a starter, Richards’s stuff could still allow him to pitch in a major league bullpen. 2012 could be a crucial year in determining what Richards’s future looks like.

Prospects may be the trickiest subjects in the game. It’s incredibly difficult to know what you have in a player until you actually get the chance to see them perform at the major league level. Many prospects climb the ladder through Triple-A and never succeed in the major leagues, so it’s important to recognize potential failure just as much as potential success.

If you found this post interesting you ought to pony up the small chunk of cash, buy yourself a subscription to Baseball Prospectus, and read the article. You can find it here, and I highly recommend it, as well as the rest of Parks’s series.

Hudson Belinsky can be followed on Twitter at @hudsonbelinsky.

Francisco Rodriguez Back With The Halos

January 30th, 2012

Today is shaping up to be another uninspiring day in the world of Angels new, but we do have something to talk about. According to Alden Gonzalez and Spencer Fordin, the team has agreed to a minor league contract with Francisco Rodriguez. Yes, we’re talking about the Francisco Rodriguez made famous by his string of mediocre relief appearances for the Halos in 2010.

Rodriguez struggled in 2011, plagued by shoulder issues throughout the season. He’s a solid up-and-down middle relief candidate for the team next season if he can stay healthy. His value is minimal even if he stays healthy, but he is a guy with a place on a 25-man roster somewhere.

Hudson Belinsky can be followed on Twitter at @hudsonbelinsky.

SABR Day in New York City

January 30th, 2012

Billy Blitzer and Cesar Presbott both scouted Yankees' prospect Dellin Betances significantly before he became one of the better pitching prospects in the game.

This past summer I had the privilege of joining the Society of American Baseball Research (SABR) and attending the organization’s annual conference in Long Beach. The trip was incredibly validating; I realized that there were tons of baseball nerds just like me. Most outsiders think of SABR as a group of stat geeks, but the reality is that the geekdom knows no limits (Geekdom is a word. Look it up. Or don’t). SABR has a ton of people with a variety of interests in the game: there are folks who visit players’ grave sites; there are folks who try to determine which scouts signed which players; then there are the folks who love their stats.

Sabermetrics isn’t a term I much care for. It just doesn’t really capture what SABR is. I try to stay away from the word because what we’re really talking about when we use it is analytics. If analytics are what you’re looking for, you can absolutely find them with SABR, but the organization is a great fit for anyone who has an unhealthy obsession with the game.

Every year in late January, SABR has a national event called SABR Day. Chapters all across the country meet and celebrate the game with panels on various topics. I had the chance to attend my first SABR Day this past weekend, and I had a fantastic day.

The closest (or most accessible) chapter for me is the New York City chapter – the Casey Stengel Chapter. The Casey Stengel chapter’s rendition of SABR Day included two panels and a speaker. The panels were on the Mets and scouting, and the speaker was George Vecsey, the author of Stan Musial: An American Life and sports columnist for various prestigious publications.

The Mets panel was moderated by Billy Altman and included Bud Harrelson (former Mets shortstop and manager), Harvey Poris (lifelong Mets fan and memorabilia collector), Ben Baumer (Statistical Analyst, Mets Baseball Operations), and TJ Barra (Minor League Video Coordinator, Mets Baseball Operations). The panel discussed an array of subjects, from Harrelson’s fight with Pete Rose in 1973 to the Mets’ statistics database and use of analytics.

The scouts panel was my favorite part of the day. Moderated by Lee Lowenfish, author of Branch Rickey: Baseball’s Ferocious Gentleman, the panel included Billy Blitzer (Pro Scout, Chicago Cubs) and Cesar Presbott (Area Scout, New York Yankees). The scouts shared anecdotes of scouting players that made it and stories of their starts in scouting.

George Vecsey was the final act. He discussed the life and career of Stan Musial, the subject of his most recent book. I haven’t read the book yet, but I can say that Vecsey is a tremendous journalist and I’m excited to see how his voice comes accross on paper.

SABR Day was a fantastic experience and I encourage any interested party to give SABR a shot. It’s an amazing organization and a great place for the obsessed fan of the game.

Hudson Belinsky can be followed on Twitter at @hudsonbelinsky.

In Trout We Trust: Making Sense of Mike Trout and the Service Time Issue

January 26th, 2012

Mike Trout made his major league debut as 19-year-old in 2011

Before I tell you why Mr. Trout should or should not spend some time in Triple-A in 2012, I’ve got a couple administrative things to discuss. As much as I’d love to, I’m just not going to be able to post new articles on the Angels every day. I hope to get something out every week day, but sometimes even that may be too much. So I can’t promise a new article or post everyday, but what I can promise is that I’m going to do my very best to put out quality stuff as often as possible. I’m currently negotiating for the rights to HalosOccasionally.com.

Now, this is going to be the first piece at Halos Daily related to prospects. Regardless of how long he’s a prospect, Mike Trout’s glorious one-syllable last name will grace all prospect-related articles. Before anyone flips out about me using Trout’s name in place of God, please realize that I’m not comparing him to God, but rather poking fun at the fact that we as a blogosphere seem to idolize prospects these days. If it upsets you, I’m sorry, but we’ve got more pressing matters at hand right now…SOPA!

A few months ago we were uncertain of a few things in the game; expansion of instant replay was on the table; changing the draft was on the table; the playoffs might have been expanding. There’s one issue that not only remains unresolved, but was actually only made worse by the new collective bargaining agreement: the Super Two issue.

I’m going to try to explain the issue, but comment if you don’t fully understand it. Under the current system, all players with between three and six years of service time are eligible for arbitration. These players typically get a significant raise from their third season to their fourth, their fourth to their fifth, and so on. A small number of players are eligible to go to arbitration after two plus seasons. We call these players Super Twos. It’s easy to see why being a Super Two is great for a player and not so great for a team; going to arbitration one more year will lead to a larger payout over the six-year period.

To become eligible for arbitration after before accumulating three years of service time, a player must be amongst the top 22% in service time amongst players between two and three seasons. That’s a bit wordy, but basically we’re dealing with the players who are closest to three years of service time. The 22% is a 5% bump over the previous agreement’s number of 17%, which means that even more players will be eligible for Super Two status every year.

Teams try to avoid Super Two status with their top prospects by keeping them in the minors longer into seasons. Stephen Strasburg is a perfect example of this. Few would argue that Strasburg was not ready for the majors when he made his professional debut in 2010, but the Nationals kept him in the minors until June, with the idea being that they’d save themselves a hefty chunk of change down the line if and when Strasburg was coming off his 5th straight Cy Young season in 2016. Really this concept should apply to any prospect a team feels is going to become an impact player.

In addition to holding a player back from going to arbitration, a team needs to decide if bringing a player up can help the team win in the short term. If the answer is yes, then the team should obviously bring the player up, but if it isn’t then the team should obviously wait on the player. Additionally, studies have shown that players tend to peak near their age-27 season. Ideally, a team would have a player during his peak.

So this brings us to Mike Trout, the Angels #1 prospect and the best or second best prospect in baseball, depending upon who you ask. Trout is absolutely oozing with tools and it’s quite difficult to imagine him failing. He has the hit tool, speed tool, defense, average power, and a fringy arm. Add it all together and we should have a superstar centerfielder.

The Angels, at least under Tony Reagins last season, assumed Trout could help the team win enough to make the postseason and promoted him when Peter Bourjos was injured. Trout was above average in his limited run in 2011, but unfortunately for the Halos he wasn’t good enough to put them over the top.

Trout accumulated 83 days of service time in 2011, so the Angels would have to keep him in the minors for a very large part of 2012 to keep him from becoming a Super Two. So the Angels have a decision to make. Should they keep Trout in the minors through September? Or ought they to give Trout a job on Opening Day? This depends on whether or not they think he can be better than Vernon Wells. I’m not sure he can be in the short term, but Jerry Dipoto and his crew must have a good idea of what each guy is going to be next season.

It all boils down to this: The Angels should use the leftfielder they feel gives them the best chance to win.

Hudson Belinsky can be followed on Twitter at @hudsonbelinsky.

Halos Daily

Dedicated to bringing you top notch Angels analysis!