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The importance of the 2017 MLB Draft for the Angels

The Major League Baseball Amateur Draft is the most complex draft among all the major american sports. The draft lasts 40 rounds, partially due to the necessity to fill out various minor league baseball rosters. Teams have allotted amounts of money to spend for each pick, so picking the best available talent in every single round isn’t a realistic option, although it’s a bit easier to pick the best available early on this year thanks to the new CBA agreement on slot values. The trickiest part of the draft, however, is trying to evaluate what these players will do 2-6 years down the line. Unlike the NFL and NBA draft, MLB teams aren’t selecting players who will be ready to play in the big leagues from Day 1. Projecting how a player will progress through the Single A, Double A, Triple A and eventually the MLB levels of baseball is without a doubt one of the toughest job in professional sports. For the Angels, the draft has been a major weak spot for nearly a decade now.

The 2017 MLB Draft might represent the most important draft in recent memory for the Angels. The 2009 MLB Draft brought the Angels Mike Trout(along with Garrett Richards, Randall Grichuk, Tyler Skaggs and Patrick Corbin), a draft that is reaping major benefits today. Since then, however, the club has been one of the worst, if not the worst, at evaluating talent in the draft. Since the 2010 MLB Draft, the only players the team has drafted to appear in the major leagues include: Cam Bedrosian, Kaleb Cowart, Kole Calhoun, C.J. Cron, Nick Maronde, Mike Clevinger, R.J. Alvarez, Michael Roth, Mike Morin, Keynan Middleton and Greg Mahle. That is simply not a good enough crop of talent to supplement a MLB roster and the results have shown. The Angels had 5 picks in the top 40 in 2010 but then general manager Tony Reagins and scouting director Eddie Bane botched several picks. Only Cam Bedrosian and Kole Calhoun have been real impact talents at the big league level. In Ric Wilson’s first draft in 2011, he selected C.J. Cron, who was a fine pick but he’s the only impact player so far. Jerry Dipoto took over in 2012 and essentially botched back to back drafts that year and in 2013, without the luxury of having 1st round picks those years. The 2014 draft netted the Angels Sean Newcomb and Chris Ellis, who were flipped for 5 years of Andrelton Simmons, so you can view that draft in a positive manner. Jahmai Jones’ selection in the 2015 draft was a big one and the rest of the draft class actually looks ok. The Angels have been to the playoffs once in that 2010-2016 span, winning 98 games in 2014 but getting swept by the Kansas City Royals in the division series. The Angels organization needs to follow up a very good 2016 draft with another good 2017 draft to get the health of the organization in a better place.

The Angels have the 10th pick in the 2017 draft. They also select 47th and 85th in the top 100 picks. The 10th overall pick represents the highest pick since they picked 12th in the 2004 draft, when they selected selected Jered Weaver, who had one of the best careers in Angels team history. Luckily for the Angels, the crop of 2017 players is filled with a lot of similarly valuable player after the top 3(Hunter Greene, Brendan McKay and Kyle Wright)and the team has the chance to draft a high talent with the 10th pick. There’s no question the team will be able to draft a good player. The real question is who will they select and what kind of strategy will the team abide by?

In the 2016 draft, new general manager Billy Eppler clearly showed his influence on the draft, helping Ric Wilson select some bigger talents in Wilson’s final year of of being the Angels scouting director. Unlike his previous predecessor in Jerry Dipoto, Eppler showed a propensity to acquire high upside talent rather than draft players with higher floors. While the Angels selected Matt Thaiss in the first round, a lower ceiling 1st baseman with a higher floor, the team saved that money to acquire high school talents with big upside who commanded more money(Brandon Marsh, Nonie Williams, Chris Rodriguez and Cole Duensing). This is the type of strategy that had been lacking since the glory days of Angels drafting, when they targeted high upside talents such as Mike Trout, Howie Kendrick, Jered Weaver and various others. Jerry Dipoto and Ric Wilson, the previous general manager/scouting director duo, stuck to their guns and wanted to pick high floor players who had the chance to advance quicker and fill holes at the major league level. That duo developed neither high floor players nor high ceiling players so kudos to them on that achievement. That group also played at a gigantic disadvantage after signing numerous high level free agents, costing the Angels the 2012 1st round pick(Albert Pujols), a 2012 supplemental round pick(C.J. Wilson) and the 2013 1st round pick(Josh Hamilton). The 2010-2015 draft period looks completely barren of real impact level(so far) outside of Kole Calhoun, Cam Bedrosian, C.J. Cron and Keynan Middleton.

The 2017 draft features a ton of talent, which is mostly heavy on college pitching, but the Angels can go a number of different ways with the #10 pick. A blueprint of the 2016 draft could be realistic, with the Angels possibly exploring the advanced college position player route(Virginia outfielder Adam Haseley, Virginia first baseman Pavin Smith, North Carolina shortstop Logan Warmoth). Going that route likely signals the Angels don’t like whoever is available at #10 or they just potentially trust going the college hitter route. This would allow the team to save funds, grab high upside picks in the later rounds and have a more balanced draft approach. Last year’s draft looked great on paper and with the Angels selecting 47th overall as well, they have a very good opportunity to grab a high upside pick at that spot.

The 2nd scenario would be to draft a college pitcher, considering this draft is flush with pitchers from the college ranks. J.B. Bukauskas, Alex Faedo, Seth Romero, Tanner Houck and David Peterson all represent pitchers who may be available at the 10th pick, with several of them offering high floors and the ability to move through the system quick. The Angels system is very thin on impact pitching and the MLB club is also lacking in this area, causing some draft experts to think the Angels could go this route. This tends to be the most controversial approach to the draft, basing your pick on needs in the farm system rather than drafting the best available talent you can grab. The Angels might opt for drafting players who can help supplement Mike Trout quicker, which is a questionable strategy but given the absurd amount of college pitchers, this might be the likeliest scenario. It’s also possible Billy Eppler likes college pitching, although he certainly didn’t show that last year, selecting only 1 college pitcher in the first 10 rounds.

The 3rd scenario is the one many fans would like to see the Angels go and it’s very possible it happens. This is the first time in 17 years the Angels will have a pick in the top 10 of the draft and based on how much talent is available that early, it seems more feasible that the team will draft one of the talented players who manage to fall to them at 10. This could be the local Royce Lewis from Junipero Serra High School, the top prep left handed pitcher MacKenzie Gore, toolsy outfielder Jordon Adell, or Austin Beck, who possesses the best bat speed of any player in this draft. Billy Eppler showed his desire to acquire high upside talent in last year’s draft and with new scouting director Matt Swanson drafting for the first time, the Angels may want to start off the draft with a bang. It’s unlikely Lewis or Gore manage to fall that far but if they do, it completely changes the complexion of this draft for the Angels.

At the 10th pick, there are so many different scenarios that could play out for the Angels. When you’re selecting within the top 5 picks, you can target 3-5 players who you really like and have an easier time drafting. When you’re down at #10, however, there are seemingly endless scenarios which can play out, leading to players you expected to be there to be gone or players you didn’t expect to be sitting in your lap. Recent mock drafts believe the Angels will explore the college route, based on how heavy the college ranks are this year, but there’s no indication on who they may want to take. Baseball America had the Angels selecting 2B/DH Keston Hiura from UC Irvine, RHP Alex Faedo from Florida and J.B. Bukauskas from North Carolina in separate mock drafts. John Sickels had the Angels taking Pavin Smith in his recent mock draft. Teams never lead you to believe they want a particular player because keeping their lip tights may help their particular draft strategy but pundits aren’t really sure which way the Angels will go.

Whatever the Angels decide to do this draft will shape the future of the organization in a huge way. A big draft would go a long way in helping transform the farm system, adding talent to a system that got a much needed boost in 2016. With a good draft this year and an active international signing period, which will begin in July following the draft, the organization can start to get back to its’ roots of the mid 90’s and 2000’s, when the team drafted and signed players with the best of teams. While the team should certainly be focused on trying to maximize Mike Trout’s window, the organization desperately needs to start hitting on some draft picks to create an influx of young players down the road. The biggest issue for the club in recent years has been payroll and roster inflexibility, not having the young players to call up to fill spots nor the available funds to plug holes across the roster. If Billy Eppler and Matt Swanson can nail this draft, it will create some optimism for the team going forward. If the draft is another bust, it will continue the recent trends of the MLB club not having enough young talent to build a winning roster. No pressure Angels.

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