Angels MLB Draft Candidates: The Hitters
Yesterday we surveyed a consensus MLB draft board based on the many mock drafts published online this May. In today’s article we’ll dig a little deeper to look at some of the best position players that may be available when the Angels select at the end of the first round on June 8th.
Opinions are split on whether the Angels’ draft board favors position players or pitchers in the early rounds this year, but there’s little debate that they will likely bias toward college players in any scenario. The system is still weak, although several promising arms are advancing across multiple levels of the minors, but there is virtually no bat on the farm that profiles as an MLB regular with any strong likelihood. There are a few candidates that may emerge as utility players or bench assets, but no Calhouns, Aybars or Kendricks on the radar to date.
For that reason, while one hates to violate the truism “never draft from need”, there are times when one is at degree zero (or approaching it), and much like the Angels have biased toward college pitching in the past three drafts, it’s reasonable to aim the hose at where the house is on fire. If it were my decision, and given where the Angels are drafting, I’d select a position player with the first pick, and aim for collegiate talent if there are still good names on the board when the master of ceremonies calls the Angels to the podium.
There are interesting names on both the prep and college sides of the page. What follows are the top five of each from that band of yesterday’s rankings (roughly #15 to #35) where the Angels credibly have a chance at grabbing the ring, along with the likelihood of the given player’s availability at slot #26. Where the player was not among yesterday’s top 42, I’ve used Baseball America’s rankings as of today (noted with an asterisk).
Finally, I offer a “fringe five” (hattip to Carson Cistulli) of names that have either come up recently in discussions of prospects whom the Angels are “in on”, or prospects that are so compelling in some way that they deserve mention. The two names at the end are players that are wildcards who have been called out in various analyses of late, and are included to suggest folks with late movement up the ranks. In each case, these final players would likely represent overdrafts if the Angels were to select one of them, but that wouldn’t be out of character with this organization, so best to keep our eyes open going in. Here we go.
College Bats, Best in Class
Let me tip my hand immediately: Stewart and Dewees are my guys. They’re two of the position players that are reasonably likely to be available when the Angels select; they are types that the Angels desperately need more of (the Angels farm lacks even one high-ceiling OF prospect); they’d be likely to advance through the farm fairly rapidly; and they’d be a blast to root for and watch. The Angels’ greatest competition for these two appears to be from Oakland, who has scouted each heavily, picks at the #20 slot, and who values the skills these two bring to the table. Some mocks also see threats from Kansas, St. Louis and Baltimore – three teams who often value more mature bats. Keith Law tagged Dewees for Oakland in his recent mock draft for ESPN (Insiders only!), and our SBN sister site Athletics Nation wrote this excellent profile in response.
Dewees and Stewart bring similar packages to the table: lefties with tons of patience, strong hit tools, and excellent wheels. My nod goes to Stewart because he brings modest power along as well. Both walk more than they strike out, though Dewees is more of a contact guy, whereas Stewart walks a ton (144 BBs against 614 ABs!). Dewees is a top of the order threat and his dominant comp (per Keith Law) is Brett Gardner. He also brings some defensive versatility to the table, likely being able to play at any OF position. Stewart is more big-bodied, more likely to become a middle-of-the-order bat, and is probably a leftfielder in the MLB. Think Kole Calhoun, but with more power potential over time.
Looking at their slash lines from 2013-2015, both are consistent year over year and simply destroying in their divisions, but Stewart is facing the tougher competition at the moment.
Donnie Dewees: .382/.451/.632 (511 ABs, 143 runs, 24 HRs, 123 RBIs, 28 SBs)
Demetrius Jones Stewart: .345/.482/.567 (614 ABs, 152 runs, 25 HRs, 162 RBIs, 22 SBs)
Happ and Benintendi, meanwhile, are each highly coveted outfield bats who are likely to go by the mid-teens. I’m shortening my commentary accordingly, but one can find solid takes on each here and here. One may argue that Benintendi may have so much helium that he’s in danger of being relatively overrated in the draft. Several prognosticators have him going as early as #9 to the Cubs, though given his short track record, his rankings are all over the map. Both were named players of the year in their respective conferences, and here’s a compact wrap-up on the both of them. If Happ in particular were to fall to the Angels in some miraculous scenario, he would represent a “best player available” situation that the team simply couldn’t pass up. .492 OBP and .672 SLG this season, 56 SBs in fewer than 600 ABs in his college career. Yessir.
Kevin Newman is the one player on this list that to my mind would be a disappointing selection. It would be the very definition of “drafting from need” for an organization whose middle infield at the MLB level is very unsettled at the moment. Newman is a capable shortstop, and few doubt his ability to stick to the position, even if his defense is likely to be more solid than elite. But he’s also largely a one-trick pony: he hits for high average and very little power. While he’s stolen 36 bases over his college career, he’s not a burner. He’s a high-contact hit machine who rarely strikes out, but rarely walks either. In a draft full of shortstop talent, he’s a safe but un-thrilling choice, whose ceiling is probably that of an average MLB shortstop. That has value, but not where I would go with a first round draft pick for an organization that has had few of them recently.
Prep Bats, Best in Class
Niskayuna (N.Y.) HS
Brother Rice HS, Bloomfield Hills, Mich.
Wilson HS, Long Beach, Calif.
Griffin (Ga.) HS
Concordia Luthern HS, Tomball, Texas
The prize here of course is Garrett Whitley, the toolsy whiz kid from New York who’s even earned a (certainly inauspicious) Mike Trout comp already. Level Trout? Not likely, but he has all the resources: elite footspeed, excellent bat speed, the glove to stick in centerfield, and projection to hit for average and power. He’s cracked the top ten in Baseball America rankings, and the Yankees are said to be all over this youngin’ if he falls to them in the mid-teens. Needless to say, the Angels would have to claim him if he were available, but I don’t see it happening.
Nick Plummer and Chris Betts are more possible, however.
Plummer has rated as high as #14, and as low as #31 in the most recent Baseball America mock. Keith Law and Jim Callis left him off their first round altogether. Apparently a spring bout of mononucleosis weakened his stock a bit, and he dropped twenty spots between the first and third versions of BA’s draft simulations. He’s a bit undersized, but is athletic and has a hit tool that has graded out at 60, with some potential for power as he develops. And development time he would probably need, so this would be a long-term investment if the Angels were to pick him. He’s intriguing, but would be a more likely choice if the Angels had multiple picks in the top 50.
Chris Betts was initially a potential top ten pick who has somewhat mysteriously come down to earth, as analysts have questioned his ability to stick behind the dish as he develops in the next few years. There are perfectly reputable prospect gurus who in turn question that skepticism. John Sickels is one of them; he speculates that Betts’ recent fall in the rankings is due to overfamiliarity, and thinks that there’s nothing preventing him from sticking behind the dish. Betts is arguably the best prep catcher in the draft, is local (Long Beach), and has explosive power potential to go along with solid contact that will likely allow him to hit for average as well. Given the organizational lack of depth at the position (though Bandy and McGee show promise as backups), Betts would be the sort of player one might expect the Angels to pull the trigger on if he is available. In fact, in the latest Baseball America mock, they have the Angels leaning toward upside bats like Betts and Stewart. Sounds good to me, if true.
Cornelius Randolph and Ke’Bryan Hayes bring similar tools to the shed: advanced prep bats with average speed and some power potential, each destined for third base at higher levels. While Randolph is listed as a shortstop, most agree that his body and glove will move him off the position sooner rather than later. He has the greater power upside of the two, but Hayes has an efficient swing that produces line drives to the gaps, and should produce many doubles, earning him a Matt Adams comp in at least one capsule I’ve seen. Those looking for a plus hitter with “good bloodlines” (he’s the son on 14-year major leaguer Charlie Hayes) will appreciate his profile.
I think one of Randolph or Hayes should be available when the Angels pick, but both project as more complementary pieces than potential franchise players. Obviously, the Angels have a terrible track record at developing prepsters on the left side of the infield (eg, Wood, McPherson, Cowart), so my superstition overtakes my forebrain in these matters, but these two still seem like uneasy fits for an organization that may not have 5-6 years to develop them into contributors. Barring some extraordinary circumstance which allows Whitley to parachute into the #26 spot, Chris Betts seems the most likely option for the Angels of this group of high schoolers.
The “Fringe Five”
St. Matthew HS, Orleans, Ontario, Canada
Columbus (Ga.) HS
Each of the players in this section are really supplemental or second rounders. Not a one among them has been targeted above slot #25 in any recent simulation I’ve seen. But the Angels are known for drafting over slot – though perhaps more in the Eddie Bane era than under Dipoto’s watch – and given that the team will not choose again until the 70th pick, if there’s a player they like and truly think will not be around at that point, they may be aggressive to get what they want.
I include both Kingery and Trahan here because they have each been connected to the Angels once in recent online mocks. Keith Law paired the Angels with Kingery, and Jonathan Mayo paired them with Trahan. Those are both credible authorities, but these are the only two times either player has entered the first round in any predictions I’ve seen in the month of May. That doesn’t mean Dipoto’s crew won’t go with one of them should the cupboard be bare when the 26th pick comes along, but both players are really more of the type you’d hope to procure with value picks in later rounds.
Kingery is an undersized, high-contact 2B who profiles as a potential super-utility guy in the Majors. He’s been killing it at U of Arizona in a beneficent hitter’s environment, hitting a ton of doubles and triples, and getting on base at a 50% clip this season. There may be some susceptibility to the belief that we have an Altuve or Pedroia (also a second-rounder) on our hands with such a selection, but it’s important to remember that such types just as often become Amaristas or Amezagas at higher levels.
Trahan, meanwhile, is the diminutive shortstop for the Ragin Cajuns, who the Angels scouts must have seen a lot of last season, as the team went to the well many times last June, plucking three separate players (Austin Robichaux, Caleb Adams, Michael Strentz) off of Louisiana at Lafayette’s College World Series club roster. Going back for one more dip in the first round seems like the stuff that loyalty programs are made of, and would be a bit disappointing. Trahan has had a bit of a quiet 2015, and sits in 60s in many draft scenarios, so could very well still be available at #70 if the Angels held fire.
If the Angels’ drafting team is bound and determined to select a shortstop, they may not do better than to pick Richie Martin. Martin shows up in the supplemental rounds of many sims, and may be falling under the radar a bit. He profiles as a true shortstop and will stick at the position, he had a blistering performance in the Cape Cod league last summer, and he’s put together a nice season with the Gators against decent competition. He has the speed that Kevin Newman lacks, though Keith Law has some doubts about his hit tool at higher levels. I’ve seen Law draw hasty generalizations based on single game observations, but he’s also an informed commentator, so caveat emptor.
The last two players mentioned here, Demi Orimoloye (we’re going to need Brad Pitt to help us pronounce that one) and Alonzo Jones, are to my mind the most intriguing names in the top 100 in this draft. As far as I know, the Angels are not connected to either, but these are the sorts of toolsy, high risk/high reward players that Eddie Bane used to love. As we can well recall, many of them simply don’t pan out, and it may be teams with several picks in the early rounds (eg, Houston, Atlanta) that take a chance on these guys.
Alonzo Jones, with a badass name Melvin Van Peebles or Tarantino could appreciate, is the Billy Hamilton of this draft. He’s a switch hitter with 80 speed and gap power, but no true position, though with the athleticism to play all over the field. As with Hamilton, we know that elite speed doesn’t guarantee that the bat will play among the world’s best competition, but the prospect is tantalizing. Finally, Demi Orimoloye is Canada’s top prepster, and has a 6’4″ beast mode body that any scout could dream on. Dreams with cameo shots of Vlad Guerrero and 40/40 mirrored ceilings stretching to the skies. He’s got an amazing backstory as a Nigerian emigree who may become the first African-born major leaguer. This is exactly the sort of player that makes you wish that the Angels had traded for a competitive balance round pick or two, as I imagine he’ll be gone by the middle of the second round.
…and two for the road.
Christin Stewart is an outfield bat with a questionable defensive profile that John Sickels is high on, and who he predicts may go higher than others are anticipating. He mentions him perhaps moving off the board between the 20th and 26th pick, so he clearly has Oakland and Anaheim in mind with that prediction.
Chris Shaw from Boston College broke his hand at a most inopportune time, but he has power for days, and might be someone to take a look at if he is still available late in the second round.
So that’s round one! Clearly my cards are on the table: D.J. Stewart, Donnie Dewees, Chris Betts. But there are acceptable alternatives should they be available when the first round comes to a close.
What say you, Angels faithful? See folks you like? #AmericanLeague