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2015 MLB Draft Reviews – Los Angeles Angels

Los Angeles Angels 2015 MLB Draft Picks

After a .188/.345/.217 junior season, I was ready to stick 1B Jared Walsh back on the mound and embrace him as a potential lefthanded middle reliever prospect. Maybe I should have paid closer attention to the 15 BB/8 K ratio as a sign of a potential senior season breakout instead. Walsh did just that and then kept hitting upon entering pro ball. It’s a tough profile to get behind as Walsh doesn’t have the usual strength and power associated with first base, but he deserves credit for at least getting a mention here as a 39th round pick. Hitting .325 in your debut season will do that. 1B Nick Lynch didn’t hit .325 in his debut and is older than you’d like in a recent draftee (24 next February), but he flashed enough power as a college slugger to earn himself at least another season of trying to see if he can make it.

2B Tim Arakawa is a nice addition to the franchise in round 23. He’s not the biggest nor the fastest nor the most powerful, but he grinds out professional at bats and puts himself in good situations in the field and on the base paths. It’s a nearly impossible profile to make it as a second base only prospect, but you never know. 2B Hutton Moyer is toolsier than most college second base prospects and it shows. Those tools — above-average speed, average power, average or better glove — got him selected earlier than I would have guessed (7th round) and should continue to give him chances over the next few seasons. Like Arakawa, it’s very likely second base or bust for Moyer, so getting to the highest level will be a challenge.

3B Michael Pierson, another older than you’d like prospect (24 next May), hit like the man among boys in short-season ball that he was. It was the kind of performance that gets your name on the map within an organization, perhaps even leading to a double-jump promotion (right to A+?) heading into next season. The former Appalachian State star has the early edge on some of the previously mentioned 2015 MLB Draft infielders not only for what he did with the bat (.395/.467/.528 with 22 BB/30 K) but also for his slightly more versatile defensive utility (second and third).

Speaking of defensive versatility, I’d love to see 3B Kenny Towns make the long rumored switch to catcher in instructional league this fall. Having watched him play a fair amount of third base over the years, I think it’s fair to say he’s got the hands, arm, and athleticism to potentially pull it off. More to the point, catching is probably his one and only true shot at ever advancing past a certain level in pro ball. If that switch is made then there will be a good bit of competition behind the plate to come out of this draft class. C Izaak Silva is decent organizational depth, but C Dalton Blumenfeld and C Tanner Lubach each have a chance to be more. Blumenfeld, the overslot twelfth round pick, fits the big-bodied, plus arm strength, plus raw power archetype that has recently fallen out of favor some among most teams; their loss could very well be the Angels gain. Lubach is more of a modern catcher — big enough but not huge, hit over power, reliant more on athleticism and smarts defensively — so Los Angeles gets a little bit of variety out of two second-tier backstops. I’ve anticipated a breakout season for Lubach for way too long now, so it might be time to accept the fact it’s not going to happen and readjust expectations. If LA gets a backup catcher out of this group, they’ve done well for themselves.

The man they’d be backing up looks like a really safe bet to be C Taylor Ward (65). My final pre-draft ranking had Ward as more of a second round value than a first rounder, something I wish I hadn’t hedged on. Should have stuck to my mid-season guns…

Sometimes I get so wrapped up into doing things for the site that I forget that there is a great big baseball world outside my tiny corner of the internet. As such, I’m way behind on checking in on a lot of the mainstream draft coverage that has been put out since the college season in February. Help me out here: Fresno State JR C Taylor Ward is a first round pick, right? People have caught on to that? He’s pretty much Max Pentecost without the Twitter approved cool guy name. If Pentecost could go eleventh overall, then surely Ward can find a fit in the first day, right? He’s a really good athlete who moves exceptionally well behind the plate. His arm is an absolute howitzer with easy to spot plus to plus-plus raw strength. Offensively he does enough of everything – average or a tick below speed underway, about the same raw power, and a disciplined approach that consistently puts him in good hitter’s counts – to profile as a well above-average regular when both sides of his game are considered.

“The best true catcher is probably Pentecost,” a club executive said. “He’s going in the first round for sure. He doesn’t have a lot of power, it’s more alley and extra-base hits than pure power, but he’s a good hitter, a good athlete and he can run. He can throw and he will get better as a receiver. I think it’s a solid overall player at a tough position to find.”

Sub out Pentecost’s name for Ward’s and you’re all set. His closest competitors for top college catcher in this class (pre-season) for me have all slipped enough that I think there’s real separation between Ward and everybody else. Shaun Chase (Oregon) still has the prodigious raw power that will keep him employed for years to come, but the approach has shown little to no signs of improving. My former top guy, Ian Rice (Houston), has been up and down (to put it kindly) in his first season of D1 baseball. Austin Rei (Washington) seemed poised to have a breakout season and challenge Ward for the top spot, but a torn thumb ligament stalled his season after only 17 at bats. There’s still a question as to whether or not he’ll be back before the end of the season. I could see a scenario where a team would prefer Rei, who I still think goes higher than anybody thinks because of his pitch-framing abilities alone, but the injury obviously makes him one of the draft’s greatest unknowns heading into June.

I don’t actually know where Ward will go in the draft and without having my entire board lined up just yet it is premature to say he’s a no-doubt first round pick for me personally. I do find it hard to imagine that a player with his upside will fall past the first forty picks or so into the second round. This kind of logic doesn’t always hold because it takes but one team to select a player, but if Pentecost, who, I liked more than loved as a prospect, went off the board at eleven last year then I don’t see why Ward would fall multiple rounds past that in what many (not me, but still) consider to be a weaker draft.

At least the last part came to pass after the Angels popped Ward with pick 26 in the first round. The most important takeaway here is that Ward is a really good player, both offensively and defensively. I think we all knew about his upside as a catcher, present plus to plus-plus arm strength, and well above-average athleticism for the position. The bat, however, was a revelation as a pro: .348/.457/.438 with 39 BB/23 K. He’s hardly coming out of nowhere with a performance like that: those numbers are fairly consistent with what he did in his last two seasons at Fresno State. He was called a future “well above-average regular when both sides of his game are considered” on this site during the season and his play since then has only helped sway some of the last remaining doubters. Nothing against any of the other catchers taken at the top of the draft, but Ward is clearly the best blend of upside and polish…and it’s not even close. Tyler Stephenson is still an excellent prospect, but he’s the only other catcher you’d consider taking over Ward out of this class. This is a great pick made even better by all the insta-hatred it caused on Twitter back on draft night.

(Would I throw that last dig in if Ward struggled rather than excelled in his first 250 or so professional PA? There’s no way of knowing for sure, but I honestly believe that I would. Let’s be real, though: it obviously doesn’t hurt any. I certainly didn’t expect Ward to hit quite like he did, but the Angels drafted a really good prospect with the 26th pick in the first round and the majority of prospect “experts” took turns lining up to lambaste the selection. That’s crazy to me. Everybody is entitled to an opinion, but having an informed one doesn’t really cost all that much extra. At minimum, I’d throw out the idea that opinions about something you might not know everything about be made a bit more quietly and with a little less know-it-all venom. I guess the best way to get noticed in the online scouting world these days is being as loud as possible with your opinions since the bad ones all have a way of getting forgotten over time. Still, there’s a big difference between “I’m not sure about this pick based on what I know about the player and I would have rather had [blank], but it’ll be fun to see where it goes.” and “OMG LOL WORST PICK EVER THIS GUY IS A WALKING BUST DRAFTED TEN ROUNDS TOO SOON I SHOULD BE THE NEW GM OF THE ANGLES JET FUEL CANT MELT STEAL BEEMS!!1!!1”)

I like how this pre-draft piece on SS David Fletcher (133) sounds today…

Loyola Marymount SO SS David Fletcher would be the top shortstop in many conferences across the country. He does a lot of the same things that Holder does well, especially on the defensive side. I’m a tiny less sure about his bat going forward, so consider that my admittedly thin rationale for having him behind both Holder and Sullivan. Being the third best shortstop behind those two guys is still a really, really good thing. He’s stung the ball so far this season, and I’ve heard from those who have seen him often that the improvements are real. Slowly but surely his ceiling has risen with some now willing to make the move from glove-first utility player to potential big league regular. I’m not quite there yet, but I get it. All the shortstops are great.

All The Shortstops are Great! That would be the name of my video yearbook for this year’s draft. Swanson, Bregman, Rodgers, Newman, Martin, Holder, Trahan, Miller, Jackson, Fletcher all selected within the draft’s first two hundred picks…what a group. I talked a lot throughout the spring about how the depth of this year’s shortstop class could help some teams with front offices split on taking a shortstop early pass on the top-tier talents and wait it out. There’s obviously no way of knowing if the Angels FO had those internal discussions — maybe they were hoping either Newman or Martin fell to them, maybe they considered taking Holder but opted to wait — but it’s something to think about. The fun hindsight game gives you two options: Ward (first round C) and Fletcher (sixth round SS) or Holder (first round SS) and Francis Christy (catcher taken one pick after Fletcher in the seventh). Early pro returns there make the Angels look like geniuses!

In more seriousness, Los Angeles found themselves a real keeper in Fletcher. Like Ward, we knew he could do it all defensively, so the strides he’s made as a hitter over the last calendar year are almost icing on the cake. The lack of power is something to be monitored, but if he can just do enough to keep opposing pitchers on their toes, he’s a potential regular at short. Even if that doesn’t happen, he’s got a high-floor as a rather valuable potential utility guy.

I love the pick of Ti’Quan Forbes to Texas in the second round last year. The Angels selection of OF Jahmai Jones (37) in the second round this year gives me a very similar warm and fuzzy feeling. Jones has electric bat speed and plenty of natural raw power. Few, if any, high school players smoked the ball as consistently as he did in my admittedly limited views of the cream of the crop of this year’s class. Maybe my appreciation for him as a prospect is too heavily influenced on my “not a scout” personal observations — it’s human nature to do so and I’ve been guilty of it in the past — but the overall offensive tool set that includes a potential plus hit (could see him hitting .300 one day), above-average or better raw power, and above-average or better speed is exciting even if you haven’t seen him up close. I threw out a tentative Cameron Maybin comp on him before the draft that I think works from a raw ability standpoint but is hard to draw much meaning on beyond that considering Maybin’s generally underwhelming — though, in the real world, projecting a second round pick to ever have a 4.0 WAR season like Maybin once did is generous — career to date.

OF Brendon Sanger (63) was on my short-list of FAVORITES going into the draft, so seeing him go above where many of the expert sites had him ranked makes me very happy for him.

JR OF/2B Brandon Sanger (Florida Atlantic) is a lot of fun to watch as a hitter. He’s a high-contact bat with above-average raw power and average or better speed. Beyond that, Sanger is the kind of player that is tough for me to write about because he’s just so darn well-rounded that his game borders on boring at times. He gets on base so often that you begin to take for granted his outstanding plate discipline. He wears out the gaps as well as almost any other hitter in the country. If he could be counted on playing average or better defense at second base professionally – and I’m not ruling this out, but hedging my bets with the corner outfield projection because that’s what people who have seen him more than I have recommended – then he’d be at or near the top of my list of “Why are we not including this guy among the nation’s best position player prospects?” players. As a corner outfielder he’s a little less exciting, but still one of my favorite bats to watch this spring.

I still don’t think it’s crazy to want to see him get an honest shot at playing second base this fall. It’s a bit of a played-out comp, but I think there’s enough Jason Kipnis to Sanger’s game to make attempting the conversion worth a shot. If it doesn’t work, you move on. I still think the bat is big league regular quality in an outfielder corner. Jones, Sanger, Ward, and Fletcher give the Angels a really impressive quartet of hitting prospects to be excited about from this draft.

OF Jeff Boehm (292) played 1B in his debut season, but I think he has enough athleticism to man an outfield corner again if that’s what the Angels want out of him. He’s got a cannon for an arm, so right field makes sense. Boehm’s always showed some feel for hitting and has flashed some interesting power in the past, so don’t rule out the thirteenth round pick from potentially growing into a useful bench piece. That’s the most realistic ceiling I see for him now, though I was once a bit more bullish about his future…

Boehm flashes all five tools and enough at the plate to potentially profile as a regular in right field. The Kentucky transfer’s arm strength is his best current attribute while his other four tools all have a shot to play average or better as he continues to develop as a position player.

Perhaps one day Boehm will share a big league bench with OF Sam Koenig (281). Koenig’s swing has a lot of moving parts, so inconsistent contact figures to always be an issue to some degree. Thankfully, he has more than enough raw power packed into his 6-4, 220 pound frame to remain an intriguing potential bench bat or platoon option. The fact that he has experience at all of the four-corner spots (1B-3B-LF-RF) makes him appealing in that way. As a fifth-year senior (24 this March) and 27th round pick who didn’t exactly light the world on fire with his pro debut, he’ll have to get hitting quickly to keep getting chances.

rSR OF/3B Sam Koenig (Wisconsin-Milwaukee) is an old favorite who has plenty of raw power, but inconsistent contact skills. He’s even bigger than Timm and Mahoney – listed at 6-5, 220 pounds compared to their measly 6-5, 200 frames – but not nearly the defender at the hot corner as the two more natural infielders. That’s why he’s now listed as an outfielder first. It feels like he’s been on the verge of bursting out since mid-way through his sophomore season and just last year he was off to a blistering start (.424/.500/.667 with 5 BB and 6 K in 33 AB) before going down with an injury. It would be silly to suggest that such a small sample is the smoking gun that will lead to a breakout senior season; no sillier, however, then prematurely dismissing the progress any young, still developing player makes. There’s no need to overreact to Koenig’s aborted 2014 season, so the best (and most obvious) course of action is to keep a close eye on him in 2015 to see if he can finally put it all together.

OF Jared Foster (439) and OF Trever Allen winding up with the same pro club feels right. Both are outstanding athletes who can run, throw, and hit the ball out of the damn stadium if you make a mistake. Both are also senior-signs who never really had that one true breakout season to give you the confidence that they’d grow into anything more than tooled-up backup outfielders with perpetual promise. That’s not to say both didn’t have very good senior seasons…

Foster: .294/.352/.533 – 13 BB/31 K – 7/7 SB – 180 AB
Allen: .345/.387/.505 – 13 BB/33 K – 4/7 SB – 200 AB

Pretty similar production, right? Those raw lines are super and both were key bats at upper-echelon college programs, but the underlying plate discipline numbers are less than ideal. Those rough BB/K ratios carried over to the pro game as one might expect. Still, there are many ways to wind up a successful pro ballplayer. I like my guys to exhibit the kind of strike zone awareness that has the ballpark questioning an umpire’s call when a 50/50 pitch goes against the batter — blame watching 162 games a year of Bobby Abreu (and later Jayson Werth) during my formative baseball watching years for that — but hitters like that who can also do other things at a high-level are rare. You’ve got to embrace imperfect players at a certain point. Foster’s pre-draft blurb sums him up pretty well, I think: “raw, but as much upside for a senior sign as you’ll find.” If the light bulb ever comes on for Foster, he’s an above-average regular. That “if” is pretty gigantic considering we’re talking about a soon-to-be 23-year old prospect and not a teenager out of high school, but you never know. Allen is about a half-step down from Foster in certain physical areas (arm, speed), but if you tried to sell me that he’s better prepared for the pro game than Foster based on the idea that Allen actually started all four years at Arizona State while Foster, when not serving as the reserve QB on the football team, was consistently crowded out of a stacked LSU outfield then I wouldn’t argue.

In the end, I think both players have that one fatal flaw that will make advancing to the big leagues very difficult. Foster will get more chances as a fourth rounder (Allen went in the 25th), so he’ll get the leg up when the politics of promotions comes into play. He’d be my bet to go higher up the chain, but I think toolsy up-and-down reserve outfielder is the most realistic best case scenario. I can’t blame the Angels for going big on tools, though.

A trio of college outfielders picked later by Los Angeles caught my eye for various reasons. OF Kyle Survance was a surprise top ten round pick to me (8th), but his athleticism, speed, and CF range all play. The pre-draft take…

JR OF Kyle Survance is the best of the trio. His power is limited, but his speed and defense should keep him employed for at least a few years. If it clicks for him, it’s a big league skill set.

I saw OF Jordan Serena up close a lot this spring for Columbia. Besides sporting an impressive beard, he ran well, showed good athleticism, and could drive a mistake to the gaps. I like the Angels taking the approach of moving him around the diamond (2B, 3B, SS) while also keeping the knowledge that he can play a mean CF in their back pocket. He’s a solid org player.

Then there’s OF Josh Delph. Delph is weird. The guy has a strange knack for getting on base. I don’t really know how to explain it beyond that. For a corner outfielder with an iffy hit tool and minimal power to put up the kind of consistent on-base figures he has…there’s really no figuring it out. Look at some of his weird lines while at Florida State…

.261/.465/.342 – 34 BB/14 K
.268/.385/.351 – 34 BB/32 K
.279/.410/.358 – 38 BB/42 K

He kept it up as a pro by hitting .313/.441/.354 with 8 BB/8 K. Come on, that’s weird. I really think he was created in a lab somewhere by Mike Martin in an attempt to create the Platonic ideal of a Florida State hitter. Or maybe Delph was drafted because he’s almost this year’s draft exact counterpoint to Jared Foster. Either way, for as much as I value plate discipline, Delph will have a tough time moving up relying on that one awesome skill. I’ll be rooting for him all the same.

My pre-draft rankings cease to mean a whole lot the second the draft ends, if they ever meant anything to anybody else at all. I can admit that. Prospect rankings are merely snapshots in time as real life living breathing players improve, stagnate, and generally evolve in ways that no one person could ever hope to accurately predict with real precision. Still, rankings serve an organizational purpose. Less so on straight prospect rankings, but draft rankings can literally be used to determine who gets picked and when. Every team makes some kind of list before the draft and sticks to it for as long as feasible (in some cases, you’d be stunned how quickly the list is abandoned…though it’s often replaced by smaller positional lists, so I guess it’s all the same thing in a different wrapper), so there is at least some utility in a pre-draft ranking. This is all a long way of saying that the Angels somehow managed to draft only one pitcher off my personal pre-draft list of 500 names. They grabbed seven of my position players, but only one pitcher. More of a weird quirk than an attempt to denigrate the work done by the Los Angeles front office, but an interesting note all the same.

That one pitcher is RHP Grayson Long (62) from Texas A&M. I love that the Angels managed to get Long with pick 104…

Long hasn’t progressed quite as much as I was expecting back then, but that’s not to say he hasn’t progressed at all. It’s been a slow and steady climb for him, and the results so far this year indicate that real honest improvements have been made. Long lives 88-92, but can climb up to 94-95 when needed, though those mid-90s figures are an admittedly rare occurrence. The fact that the long and lean high school version of Long, thought for all the world to be full of projection and potentially of capable of eventually lighting up radar guns once he filled out, hasn’t added much to his fastball can be taken either as a negative (for obvious reasons) or a positive (he’s pitched damn well even without the big fastball and there could yet be some more in the tank coming) depending on your world view. All of those other extras that made me fall for his heater in the first place remain, and I’d call his fastball a plus pitch still even without the knockout velocity. There still isn’t one consistent offspeed pitch that he can lean on from start to start, but there are enough flashes of his change and slider that you can understand what the finished product could look like.

I really believe in Long; he’s one of those players I’d go out on a limb for and really push my team to draft if ever put in such a position of power. I think he’s as good a bet as almost any college pitcher in this class to have a long career in a big league rotation (high-floor!) while still retaining some of that upside we’ve seen over the years to be something even more (high-ceiling!).

Even though I only ranked Long, I did reference a good number of pitchers selected by the Angels this past year. RHP Nathan Bates out of Georgia State had a solid junior year. He’s big (6-8, 200) and throws hard enough (low-90s) to deserve a long look. I saw LHP Ronnie Glenn start as many games at Penn than just about any human not affiliated with the team, school, or his family. He’s a good one. Glenn throws three pitches with a chance to be around average (88-92 FB, 76-78 breaking ball, 78-80 change) with a nice amount of deception in his delivery that figures to give lefthanded hitters fits in the pros. RHP Aaron Rhodes was a stalwart performer in the Florida bullpen over the past few seasons. He’s a tough player to figure out going forward because he plays with his delivery so much that you don’t know which pitcher the real Aaron Rhodes is. The more traditional delivery can give you low-90s sinking velocity (up to 96) with the occasional above-average slider. The sidearm action is more low- to mid-80s, but no less effective. RHP Jacob McDavid out of Oral Roberts has some projection left and a good low-90s heater.

I won’t pretend to know any more about RHP Adam Hofacket than you do, but I’ve heard he throws bowling balls and his pro debut (63.3 GB%) seems to back it up so far. He’s got my attention. I like what little I know about LHP Nathaniel Bertness, a long and lean lefty out of junior college. The 6-5, 185 pound pitcher was a standout basketball player in high school who has only really focused on baseball full-time within the last year or two. Needless to say, I’m intrigued. RHP Samuel Pastrone is an intriguing overslot HS arm out of Nevada who can throw four pitches for strikes who has reportedly made a big leap forward with his velocity over the past calendar year (from 88-92, 94 peak to 90-94, 96 peak).

RHP Travis Herrin is a blank canvass with some upside. RHP Aaron Cox was worth a draft pick even without his fun backstory (though, as an aside, I personally think it’s awesome that his sister/Mike Trout’s girlfriend was [maybe still is?] a teacher…didn’t know that until this year’s draft). RHP Taylor Cobb is a decent arm strength shot in the dark. I thought RHP Cody Pope might have been the first pick ever out of Eastern New Mexico, but he’s not even the first pick drafted out of Eastern New Mexico this year! Whoops. I knew LHP Connor Lillis-White wasn’t the first pick ever out of the University of British Columbia because Jeff Francis was a first rounder back in 2002. LHP Winston Lavendier has a name that just needs to be on a baseball card one day. RHP Jonah Dipoto is off to San Diego to play college ball, a really good decision made even better by what transpired in the Angels front office shortly after the draft in June…

Here are the 2015 Los Angeles draft picks that slipped into my pre-draft top 500…

37 – Jahmai Jones
62 – Grayson Long
63 – Brendon Sanger
65 – Taylor Ward
133 – David Fletcher
281 – Sam Koenig
292 – Jeff Boehm
439 – Jared Foster

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