The Angels farm system became likely the worst in baseball around 2014 or 2015. But this wasn’t an overnight occurrence. This farm system had been improperly handled for a solid five plus years before it went into an irrevocable tailspin. Large contract free agent signings resulted in loss of first round picks. Major trades at the major league level were financed in terms of prospects. Corruption and illegal handling in the Dominican Republic caused a firing of all scouting personnel, effectively eliminating the Angels from all major international free agents. Overspending on the final product in America and leaving no room in the budget for updating a dilapidated facility in the Dominican Republic left scouts and players alike dreading coming to this rundown complex. A total lack of analytical presence within the minor league realm resulted in stalled development for many prospects. A draft strategy that focused almost solely on collegiate pitching left the Angels without the upside talent present with prep players and a very low number of position players. The manager of the major league team has shown a general reluctance to play the prospects that have been promoted which has resulted in confidence loss of key long term assets. And finally, former GM Jerry Dipoto and current manager Mike Scioscia never saw eye to eye, certainly when it came to Scott Servais being in charge of minor league operations.
Basically, whatever the Angels could do wrong, they did wrong. And yet this organization still managed to produce the likes of Trout, Trumbo, Calhoun, Bandy, Richards, Skaggs (trade), Heaney (trade), Tropeano (trade) and Bedrosian during what I’d consider this “dark time”.
But for the first time since almost the Bush administration, it appears the Angels have firmly set themselves upon the right path toward progressing into an organization capable of purchasing major free agents, and growing star caliber young players themselves.
It starts with new General Manager Billy Eppler. He’s implemented advanced analysis of players both in the major leagues and minor leagues, in a manner that Jerry Dipoto could’ve only dreamed of. Now players are receiving top of the line instruction to help them improve to the best of their ability. Under the Eppler regime’s eye, prospects like RHP’s Keynan Middleton and Jaime Barria, infielders like Andrew Daniel, Cal Towey and David Fletcher, and outfielders Michael Hermosillo and Jared Foster have all experienced success that was completely unexpected. Even Dipoto’s biggest whiff, SS Roborto Baldaquin has gotten hot with the bat and is looking more muscular that before. But Dipoto’s regime wasn’t all bad. In perhaps his last gift to this organization, Dipoto (or more Servais) brokered a deal with Arte that meant rebuilding an entirely new multi-million dollar facility in Boca Chica, Dominican Republic.
A big reason for the optimism however stems from this past draft, which looks to be the best Angel draft class since 2009. Scouting director Ric Wilson technically had his name on it, but upon the announcement of him being relieved of his duties, and seeing a draft strategy implemented that is completely unlike anything Wilson had ever done before, it’s clear that Eppler and co. were really pulling the proverbial strings on this one. From this draft alone, it appears the Angels signed between 10-15 of their expected top 30 prospects (we’ll find out this winter), including 1B Matt Thaiss, OF Brandon Marsh, SS Nonie Williams and prep pitchers Cole Duensing and Chris Rodriguez. There’s a palpable excitement around prospects with legitimate upside for the first time in a very long time.
Even Eppler’s not-so-heralded moves have provided a tremendous boost to the Angels season. Jefry Marte had been all but given up on by the Tigers, but at age 25 he’s managed to hit .252 with 8 HR’s in only 135 AB’s. Roughly translated, that’s a pace of 25+ HR’s across a full season. Eppler’s Rule 5 draft picks Deolis Guerra and Ji-Man Choi have also performed better as of late. Guerra owns a 2.70 ERA while Choi has filled in admirably in both LF and 1B due to injuries. Reliever J.C. Ramirez was picked up off the scrap heap and has turned in a 2.84 ERA thus far. Gregorio Petit has hit .283/.331 in his most extensive major league action to date, and has turned in positive defensive performances at third base, shortstop, second base and even left field. There were all players that former GM Jerry Dipoto just couldn’t seem to find.
And finally, Eppler has stayed true to his word when he insisted the Angels would not go through a rebuild, but would make calculated decisions on which players to sell or buy on. While the team is firmly out the race, Eppler managed to turn free agent to be Joe Smith and the inconsistent Hector Santiago into RHP’s Alex Meyer and Jesus Castillo, both of whom figure to be Top 15 prospects in the system, as well as inning eater Ricky Nolasco.
The Angels are playing surprisingly good baseball right now, have a lot of money coming off their books, have a minor league system well on its way and a front office working cohesively with the major league team, the statistics sector of the organization, and the minor leagues.
Things are looking up folks.