AL WestAnalysis

Angels prospects look to contribute to 2021 playoff run

The LA Angels franchise is one that has straddled the line between fielding a competitive team and being half a step behind a total rebuild for the last half-decade, and you can plainly see the results of their inability to totally commit to one or the other. You can point your finger in plenty of different direction as for a reason why the Angels are constantly stuck in the middle-ground, but the fact of the matter is that the Angels now stand on the cusp of contention after half a decade of balancing a rebuild with their honorable but misguided attempts to avoid a total rebuild. In the last six years the Angels have gone through two GM’s and a horde of trades and free agent signings that have amounted to little, but now a new decade stands on the horizon as the franchise sits at the verge of their next transformation. The only question that’s left seems to be this: will the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, after close to a decade of quasi-rebuilding, find their place in the sun or will they careen towards the bottom of the barrel in the AL West?

Many think that this is the year where it all comes together for the Angels; maturing prospects like Jo Adell and Brandon Marsh aim to man the corner outfield spots on each side of Mike Trout in the place of a failing Justin Upton in LF and a revolving door of place-holders in RF with varying success. On the infield we’re seeing the formerly under-appreciated 39th round draft pick Jared Walsh finally get the chance to show his stuff last year after fighting through block after block on his way to the MLB (namely Matt Thaiss and Albert Pujols). Jared Walsh faced some expected growing pains in 2019 with his slash line of .203/.276/.329 through 87 plate appearances and many took this opportunity to wonder aloud if he had what it took to adjust to the MLB. Without skipping a beat, Walsh lit the world up in 2020, tearing through 32 games and posting a .971 OPS in his 2nd MLB season. Walsh’s extreme MiLB success, which includes a record setting 36 HR season for the Triple A Salt Lake Bees (beating out former record holder David Ortiz) and has finally translated to the Major League level, suggests that the Angels have their power hitting replacement for Albert Pujols locked and loaded at first base.

When evaluating Walsh’s value we can’t forget that he can also double as a pitcher. In 2018, across three levels of MiLB play, Walsh pitched 5.2 innings of relief (eight total games) all to a 1.59 ERA with 7 K’s to his name. He showed a similar propensity towards relief pitching with the Angels MLB squad in 2020 with 5 innings of relief pitched in which he posted a 1.80 ERA, and though he did walk 6 he came away with 5 Ks. The versatility he provides can be invaluable to the Angels: not only can he put on a show manning first, he can provide some emergency relief out of the pen. In the current day and age of relief pitching taking more of the front stage than ever before, having a two-way player who can save bullpen arms and provide for the long-term stamina of a bullpen will be a huge part of any teams playbook and will likely be a future staple of playoff built teams. Though Walsh does not qualify as a prospect he is still fresh enough out of his breakout to be considered at the tail-end of his prospective development.

The previously mentioned duo of Jo Adell and Brandon Marsh will be a massive spark for the Angels franchise that has been desperate for consistent power out of the corner outfield spots. The last two seasons have been a travesty for the 100 million dollar man Justin Upton, and the Angels are without a doubt done letting him stretch his swing out. in 2020 Upton barely cleared a .200 batting average in 147 AB’s. It should be said that while Jo Adell didn’t make an obvious show of coming to take a corner outfield spot for himself last year, he has a lot more to look forward to as a former #5 overall prospect who is still just 21 years old. There will still be a growing period for Adell as we wait to see him mature into full Major League form, as he did look uncomfortable and outmatched at times throughout his MLB debut season, but that doesn’t take away from his overall ability and potential as a top power hitter in the MLB. It’s doubtful Adell will be running away with a corner outfield spot come the start of the season, but by the end of the 2021 season the Angels starting roster may have a completely different face than that of 2021 Opening Day.

The other half of this young dynamic power-duo is Brandon Marsh, another beloved Angels prospect with the potential to top the charts in terms of power hitting ability. Marsh doesn’t have any official 2020 season stats to show given the lack of a MiLB season. However, in his last officially recorded season Marsh hit for a .287/.368/.408 slash with 30 XBH recorded in 380 AB’s across the Arizona Fall League and Double A. Brandon Marsh projects as more of a gap type power hitter, though his raw power is eye-catching and with a more refined contact ability Marsh will without a doubt be topping the Angels power leaderboards for years on end. Jo Adell and Brandon Marsh aren’t pegged to be immediate contributors coming out of the 2021 gate, but with a full 162 game season pegged for 2021 there is little chance we won’t be seeing them with the squad by All-Star break.

Leading the youth pitching core will be Griffin Canning and Patrick Sandoval, and though Canning is clear of his prospect status he has pitched just under 150 MLB innings. Though he has had his flashes of dominance there is still some development to be had, namely in his ability to pitch into the later innings of a start without wavering. It should be noted that Canning’s 2019 season was limited by injury when a UCL strain sidelined him after just 56.1 IP in 2020. The other commander of the youth core will be former Astros prospect Patrick Sandoval, who showed his ability to slice and dice hitters across the Angels MiLB with a K/9 that revolved around 10+ across 3 MiLB years, his highest notch being 14.4 K/9 in 2019 Double A. His ability hasn’t translated to the Majors just yet, but it should be noted that he has pitched just 76 MLB innings and is still working through his transition period. Each of these former prospects are eyeballing a breakout season with 2021 firmly in their crosshairs.

When it comes to pitching prospects, the Angels offerings are a little less defined than that of their upcoming hitting talent, though they do have big potential pieces on their way up the ranks, they just aren’t as close to the bigs as their hitting counterparts. On the pitching side we have Packy Naughton, a 24 year old lefty starter whom the Angels recieved in a swap with the Cincinatti Reds. Naughton’s top qualities include a supreme sense of control to match with a 4 pitch repertoire that includes a mid 90’s fastball in tandem with a deceptive change, both which are backed up by a decently average curveball/slider offering. The issue here is health, as Naughton was diagnosed with a Grade 1 UCL sprain just last month and will likely be handled with care throughout the 2021 season. This greatly hampers his ability to chase a big league roster spot as he was seemingly pegged for a starting rotation job in Triple A heading into 2021, which would have put him in striking distance of the Angels. In 2019, with the Cincinatti Reds, Naughton threw 157 innings of 3.32 ERA baseball (across Single and Double A) with 131 Ks and 35 walks all while keeping the ball in the park with just 10 HRs allowed.

The gap between Naughton and the Angels other top pitching prospects stand at a couple ranks of Minor League experience, with Naughton preparing for a potential Triple A assignment whilst the Angels other top pitching prospects have yet to hit Double A. We have Reid Detmers, the Angels 1st round pick in 2020, who is looking to fly through the minors and may end up somewhere near Double A or Triple A by year’s end, though the conversation is being had that he may end up finishing the year in the Majors. Detmers astonished in his three years of NCAA play, pitching a total of 191 IP (including 27.2 Cape Cod league innings) with a 3.20 ERA alongside 13.4 K/9 in his three years of college play. His last two years at Louisville saw him annihilating hitters: in 2019 he finished 113.1 IP with a K/9 of 13.3 while 2020 saw him pitch 22 innings with a grand 19.6 K/9 before being drafted.

There is also the presence of the 22 year old Chris Rodriguez, an absolute ace potential pitcher with a killer repertoire and commanding mound presence, who has been held back only by his health. 2019 saw him pitch just 9 innings of work with Single A, though those innings were absolutely fantastic as he dazzled hitters with 13 Ks and zero runs allowed before a recurrent back injury, which also sidelined him in 2018, required season ending surgery. The Angels scouting director has spoken positively about his health through his 2020 workouts, which included 10 starts, offering hope that the future dazzler could be within arms reach of a MLB showing near the end of 2021. C-Rod holds a fastball in his arsenal that can hit the high 90s and with his power delivery he consistently dominates hitters as he naturally sits in command of most ABs with his aggressive presence. It will take a lot of work and proof of health throughout the 2021 season, but if the young star can continue his forward trajectory as he left it off prior to injury there is little doubt he could see 2021 MLB reps.

A few other longshots would be Denny Brady, who proved to be a reliable, and even flashy at times, arm with the Single A 66ers in 2019 as he pitched 76.2 innings of 3.64 ERA baseball backed up by a nice 10.1 K/9 rate (86 total K’s), although his command has wavered a bit. As a non-roster invitee to Spring Training it seems the Angels have their eye on him, and while he won’t be finessing hitters with the big league club out of the gate in 2021 there is a healthy chance that he could be running relief innings with the Angels by season’s end.

There is also Hector Yan, another non-roster invitee to Spring Training, though he has not pitched above low-A yet and is just about to hit the age of 22, so he likely is only getting ST looks so notes can be taken on his current trajectory to the Majors. The highest workload he’s picked up was in 2019, when he pitched 109 innings with 148 strikeouts. He also struggled with his walks, though, as he allowed a total of 52 BBs across the season. His fastball isn’t the hottest heater in the world as he sits in the low-mid 90s, though his deceptive delivery allows him to keep hitters fooled (when he is able to repeat his delivery) especially when worked off of his plus-potential curve. Although it is unlikely that he will make any MLB appearances in 2021 there will likely be plenty of bullpens spots to fill as the season winds to a close, but given any chance of MiLB dominance we may see him get MLB reps by years end.

This is not an all encompassing roundup of prospects who may impact in 2021 given the chance that some less notable prospects may unexpectedly light up the world or some top names fall short of expectations. As the season goes on we will continually update our prospect news and keep you involved in the comings and goings of prospects throughout the Angels system. Stay tuned for more and cheers to a bright 2021 season of baseball for all!

Ryan Falla

Ryan began his work covering the Angels in 2011 for Monkey With A Halo before moving on the Halo Hangout where he began covering the Minor League Inland Empire 66ers, working with athletes such as Jared Walsh and Patrick Sandoval. In 2019 Ryan was credited by the Athletic for being the first to report on the Patrick Sandoval call-up, this news break being possible thanks to an inside source who gave Ryan the break on the story. In addition to writing with Diamond Digest, Ryan Falla also covers the Dodgers Low A team, the Rancho Cucamonga Quakes, for Dodgers2080

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