Today I will look at a reason Angels fans could be pessimistic about their team’s chances in the upcoming season. There will be five posts and they’ll be rolled out in the next week or so. These aren’t necessarily apocalyptic, worst case scenarios (Pujols busted for deer antler spray and begins fawn mutation, Weaver retires and starts a garage band, etc.) but are things that could easily happen and wouldn’t take a large stretch of the imagination. For Part 1, click here.
2) The Weak Farm System Will Hamper the Angels’ Ability to Improve on the Fly
While some straw men that I just made up might want to make sweeping gestures about how the Angels and Arte Moreno don’t care about the farm system, the team is actually benefiting from their strong farm systems in the mid-aughts. Guys like Howie Kendrick, Erick Aybar, Jered Weaver, Alberto Callaspo (originally an Angels farmhand who they dealt in 2006 and reacquired in 2010), Peter Bourjos, Mark Trumbo and of course Mike Trout are all homegrown products that made the Angels competitive enough to give management incentive to pursue big ticket free agents and chase a championship. Let’s also not forget blue chip prospects that busted out (Brandon Wood, Dallas MacPherson and the still-employed Jeff Mathis), players that were used as trade chips (Casey Kotchman dealt for Mark Teixeira in 2008) and obviously Nick Adenhart, who by now may be a top-of-the-rotation starter had he not been tragically killed in a car accident in 2009. The organization cares about their farm system and has a recent history of building a very strong one — albeit not under the current roster-building team, but that’s hardly fair to critique since Jerry Dipoto has been employed for roughly 15 months — the Angels are simply in a natural dry period. Baseball America ranked the Cardinals as the best farm system in baseball, but as recently as 2005, the Cardinals ranked last. The Cardinals have won two World Series titles since 2005, so obviously that poorly graded unit in 2005 didn’t cripple the Cards’ chances.
However, ESPN’s Keith Law ranked the Angels as the #30 farm system in all of baseball. By the way, there’s only 30 teams. John Sickels likes the Angels a little better, slotting them at #29, just ahead of the Tigers. Fangraphs, Baseball America and Baseball Prospectus rate C.J. Cron as the system’s third best prospect, and he’s a 1B/DH that can’t play defense, can’t run, hasn’t really shown any plate discipline, has offensive numbers that are probably inflated by the California League (where everyone mashes), and is already 23 but has yet to play a game above Single-A. So yeah, other than toolsy Kaleb Cowart and maybe Nick Maronde, there’s just not much there.
I don’t have to look that far back to see how utilizing the farm system in-season can greatly impact a team’s chances. Mike Trout (the team’s best position player in 2012), Ernesto Frieri (the team’s best relief pitcher) and Zack Greinke (arguably the team’s best starting pitcher the last two months) — what do those three have in common? In addition to being valuable cogs in the Angels 89-win season, all three are direct results of the Angels utilizing their farm system to improve the big league club. It’s likely not a huge leap to think that those three moves were worth 10 wins to the Angels.
Remember, the Angels were hyped as World Series favorites even though Trout wasn’t ever guaranteed to play on the big league roster last season; as chance had it, he prevented the season from being an utter embarrassment. Frieri was acquired in early May from the Padres for prospects Donn Roach and Alexi Amarista, and Greinke was acquired from the Brewers for three of the Angels top ten prospects: Jean Segura, Johnny Hellweg and Ariel Pena. That’s five players major league teams found desirable enough to poach from the system in the span of four months. It’s not exactly a shock, then, that the Angels farm system is in ruins.
This season, it seems unlikely the Angels will be able to utilize the farm to substantially improve the big league roster, as they did thrice in 2012. What if this year the Angels again struggle out of the gate? This time, there’s no Trout to save them and there are fewer minor league assets at their disposal to make a game-changing trade. Cowart, the lone elite prospect that could fetch a nice return (especially with the current state of third basemen in MLB), is probably untradeable. The Angels likely see Cowart and Trout as franchise cornerstones for the next decade, and given that Cowart is Dipoto’s last premium prospect, he’s going to treat him like his precious.
And oh yeah, the Angels also forfeited their first round pick this June to Texas after signing Josh Hamilton, making it two consecutive years the Angels won’t be participating in the first round. Thus, the Angels’ odds of drafting a high impact player are that much slimmer. This comes on the heels of forfeiting two picks in 2012′s draft, thanks to the Albert Pujols and C.J. Wilson signings.
Having a weak farm system won’t disqualify the Angels from contending for a World Series banner in 2013. It might five years from now, but today the more pressing worries rest with the talent on the big league squad. But it’s a good thing the Angels project as having a very talented club because if the ship veers off course during the season, it will be difficult for Dipoto to find leverage to take corrective action. Unlike 2012, the Angels are entering the fray by themselves, and they probably shouldn’t expect any relief.
In Part 3, I’ll take a look at the Angels’ questionable pitching staff.
Follow Andrew on Twitter @andrewkarcher.