The Angels future is in question for the same reason that I have confidence in it. At first, we might wonder just what the team’s plan is after the 2012 season, given the sheer quantity of players slated for free agency: Mike Napoli, Ervin Santana, Jered Weaver, Joe Saunders, Maicer Izturis, Howie Kendrick, Erick Aybar. Those are just the homegrown players. Surely, the rich Angels will re-sign some of these guys, but I can’t imagine that all of them will stay in Anaheim. So, while the loss of any of these players will represent a hit to their post-2012 future, the fact that this Angels scouting department could produce so many big league talents at once gives me faith in their ability to have replacements ready.
However, given that praise of the team’s ability to scout, I also must re-hash my issue with the organization. As I’ve written previously, the Angels must do a better job of scouting the signability of their draftees. Nothing hurts a scouting department more than when a former draftee, like Matt Harvey or Zach Cone, blossoms after spurning a sizable offer. It’s now six players (in the first five rounds) in five years that the Angels have failed to sign, a trend that can’t continue should the organization hope to add any depth. They were better in 2009, signing their first six picks until third rounder Josh Spence inexplicably turned down six figures. Inexplicable as it might be on Spence’s end, clearly there was better value to be had with that pick.
Even without Spence, the 2009 draft has a chance to be a banner class. This is what happens when you have five of the first 48 picks in the draft. With back to back picks near the end of the first round, the Angels snagged a pair of high school outfielders in Randal Grichuk and Mike Trout. Both were spectacular in their debuts, Grichuk showing his huge raw power, and Trout with nice patience and speed skills. They won’t reach the Majors anytime soon, but they give the Angels some star potential in a system that needs it. The team then gambled on three pitchers: Tyler Skaggs (a projectable California southpaw), and enigmatic college talents Garrett Richards (Oklahoma) and Tyler Kehrer (Eastern Illinois). All were good in their debuts; I like Richards heavy movement the best of the three.
But where the system thins out is what exists in the middle, between that 2012 free agency group and the 2009 draft class. On the Major League side, you have cornermen Kendry Morales (post-2013 free agent) and Brandon Wood, who no longer profiles as an above-average third baseman for me. Maybe there’s still belief in Sean O’Sullivan or Trevor Bell, but it’s not coming from me. This is where the upsetting loss of Nick Adenhart strikes the hardest, as the right-hander should have been the ace of the next generation of Angels contenders. But as the organization’s inspired play last season proved, the show must go on.
In the minors, I see three real talents in that middle range, and then like every team has, some arms that serve as coinflips. My favorite talent is Peter Bourjos, written up by Erik Manning on this site not long ago. Bourjos might not be a leadoff hitter, but he can be league average, and that will be enough to contribute many WAR. In a perfect world, the Angels move Torii Hunter soon to make room. Won’t happen. Hank Conger will replace Napoli as catcher, but he’ll require the Angels to keep a plus-defensive catcher as back-up. I think his bat is overstated, but it certainly can be above-average for the toughest position on the defensive spectrum. The last talent is Trevor Reckling, a big lefty that prevents hitters from ever making good contact. His command is a mess, but I think he puts it together and becomes a viable big league starter.
I know the Angels can do it, because they have done it before. But this team will not succeed in the future on young talent alone, given the gap between guys like Jered Weaver and Garrett Richards. Some years hindered by a faulty process leaves a gap without a hint of depth. This scouting department will bring the talent back, but homegrown players will be few and far between for a couple seasons.