I mentioned it briefly earlier in the week, but I participated in the MVN MLB Outsider: 2009 Mock Draft. Out of context my turn as the Angels scouting director may not be the most interesting read (that’s why I linked to the whole mock – it’s full of pretty interesting opinions on who is going where and well worth a look), but if you take it as a mini scouting report on the drafted players (Skaggs and Williams) then it sort of works as a stand alone piece. Anyway, I did my best Eddie Bane impression and came up with the following:
The Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim are in prime position to completely restock a rapidly declining farm system with five selections in the draft’s first 48 overall picks. Relatively weak draft or not, scouting director Eddie Bane and his staff are no doubt as geared up for June 9th as Vlad Guerrero sitting on a 3-0 meatball. As much fun as it must be for the Angels front office to actually, you know, have early round picks at their disposal (they haven’t had a first rounder in two years), it’s also serious business for a franchise that has seen their young talent supply dwindle as the decade has rolled along.
So, what to get the farm system that needs everything? The Angels have shown a proclivity towards youth and upside over experience and polish. Due to the desire to get their hands on prospects as early in their development as possible, Eddie Bane has explicitly stated his preference for drafting high school players over college players, all other factors being equal. Keeping that in mind, and noting that potential college targets (Rich Poythress and Rex Brothers to name two) are already off the board, the Angels first pick of the first round is LHSP Tyler Skaggs from Santa Monica HS in California.
In a draft year loaded with high upside prep pitching, the Angels figure to be in on any number of the talented high school arms. Of the pitchers left on the board, Skaggs represents the most impressive blend of projectability and present skills. The Californian portsider is unusually mature for a high school lefthander with a build and curveball that evoke memories of a young, effective Barry Zito. If the comparison to the former Oakland A’s star is unbecoming to an interested Angels fan, then perhaps a more palatable name would be Colorado’s first round pick last year, Christian Friedrich. The similarities in scouting profiles describing both Friedrich and Skaggs are uncanny, but Skaggs has the advantages of youth and projection on his side.
His excellent performance against his tough Southern California high school competition and extensive high level tournament experience give scouts confidence that he’ll make a smooth transition to professional ball. His fastball currently sits at a solid-average 88-90 MPH, but plus movement and above-average command of the pitch make it a good one at present. His aforementioned slow low-70s CB is a plus pitch already. A big part of Skaggs’ success going forward hinges on the development of a solid third offering; whether or not his slowly developing slider or his little used, but promising changeup emerges as that pitch remains to be seen.
Buying on Skaggs means believing in his ability to add bulk to his 6-5, 180 pound frame as a professional. If he fills out as hoped, he’ll be in a much better position to unleash the full potential of his fastball velocity, but it’s far from a guarantee. Even so, a potential mid-90s plus fastball, a present plus curve, and the chance at developing a third above-average offering (I’m a believer in the change, for what it’s worth) make Skaggs a likely target of a team that loves their high reward high school pitchers.
Before getting into which player fits the Angels draft blueprint best, I think it’s wise to make note of the franchise’s willingness to bust slot and draft players with signability red flags in recent years. If a player drops due to signability concerns, then you can be sure scouting director Eddie Bane has confidence that owner Arte Moreno will pony up the big bucks to take advantage. The Angels track record of snagging risky signs in late rounds (Jordan Walden in the 12th, the late Nick Adenhart in the 14th round, and Mark Trumbo in the 18th, and) may not show a perfect correlation to their enthusiasm in taking an early round faller, but it does show a pretty clear pattern of an ownership group willing to spend an extra dollar (give or take seven hundred fifty thousand dollars) to get the player they identify as having the best value with each pick. Players like Grant Green, Donavan Tate, Jacob Turner, Tyler Matzek, Matt Purke, and Shelby Miller all might want to at least mentally prepare for the possibility that they could slide right into the mid-20s and become Angels property before the end of the summer. Get those base tans, flip flops, and board shorts ready just in case, gentlemen.
Assuming the draft board shakes out like it has here so far (no big fallers), the Angels may be faced with their choice of yet another premium prep prospect. Everett Williams is a fast rising, tools-laden high school outfielder from McCallum HS in Austin, Texas. Despite early reports comparing him to speedsters like Houston’s Michael Bourn and fellow 2009 Draft prospect Brian Goodwin, Williams is a different kind of player with a unique power/speed blend. What makes Williams stand out from Goodwin and the rest of the crowded prep outfielder peer group is his ceiling with the bat. Scouts were slow to accept Williams’ near-plus raw power because it didn’t quite look right coming from his thin 5-10, 175 pound frame. The already substantial power took another step forward this spring as Williams followed through on a commitment to adding muscle, putting on close to 15 pounds of good weight since last summer. Combine that with a very strong throwing arm, enough speed and athleticism to easily stick in centerfield, and you’ve got a player that profiles favorably to Detroit outfielder Curtis Granderson. Everett Williams is, like Tyler Skaggs before him, another high upside high school pick for the Angels that just makes sense.
A closing thought as I run up against the maximum word threshold – watch out for the Angels popping University of Washington OF/QB Jake Locker with an early mid-round pick (early as round 4, late as round 7). Adenhart, Trumbo, and Walden were all risky signability picks, but Eddie Bane and his staff did their homework to know exactly how much each player needed to sign on the dotted line. Locker’s commitment to football and time away from baseball make him as risky a signability pick as any player in the draft, but his raw tools are good enough that some team will call an all-out blitz in an attempt to get him signed. That team will be the Angels, you heard it here first.