There's a simple process we learn from elementary school. If you do your homework, you'll be better prepared for the test. For prospect analyst, doing your homework on an entire farm system may be an extensive search, but you'll find all the answers to future problems for the big club. For those that do homework on the Los Angeles Angels' farm system they'll find gems that will have an impact on the big club within seasons soon to come.
Analyst from Baseball America, MLB Pipeline, and FanGraphs do an outstanding job of doing their homework through all 30 MLB farm systems, and Scout.com is not any different. Here at Scout.com, we pride ourselves in giving you, the readers, information on prospects, and what better way than to talk about the top of the system with the top 10 prospects in the Angels' system.
Here are the Top 10 Angels' mid-season prospects, from Scout.com Prospect Analyst, Taylor Blake Ward.
1. Jahmai Jones, Outfielder; Rookie Orem Owlz
In a system looking for future star-talent, you don't have to dig too deep. The Angels saw an athletic prep outfielder, with raw tools and an NFL blood line, and grabbed him in the second round of the 2015 draft. Since then, all Jones has done is perform well and produce with his tool set.
When you mix his halfback-like frame, line-drive stroke, raw power, true speed and incredible makeup on-and-off the field, you've got the makings of a true talent for the future. Tools can only take you so far though, as you also have to produce, which is exactly what Jones has done since coming into pro ball.
This year, the 18-year-old prospect is in the Pioneer League, where pitchers are an average of three-years older than him, and he's hitting .327 with an .859 OPS, along with 11 doubles and 15 stolen bases, and a league leading 40 runs scored. He was recently named one of the league's top All-Star vote getters by coaches and broadcasters and named the top prospect in the system by Kyle Glaser of Baseball America.
2. Matt Thaiss, First Baseman; Class-A Burlington Bees
This past draft was a key system-building moment for the Angels, who had their third-lowest selection since winning the World Series in 2002. Those two prior picks saw Jered Weaver, who is viewed as one of the greatest pitchers in franchise history, and Sean Newcomb, who was a key piece in attaining five-years control of Andrelton Simmons. With this year's pick, they landed one of the top college bats in the class.
Hardly any college hitter had an approach as advanced as Thaiss coming into the draft. Along with the approach comes power potential from the left-side, which was highlighted over the college season when he pulled a 93-MPH fastball to deep right field (see video below). The biggest keys to Thaiss' game is bat control and a keen eye for the strike zone. He has the highest floor of any Angels' prospect. Though most of his games in college were spent behind the plate as a catcher, the Angels feel he'll fit better as a first baseman, and his athleticism may move him around to the corner outfield in the latter stages of his minor league career, helping him be a versatile piece in the system.
In his final year at Virginia, Thaiss struck out just 16 times in 279 plate appearances, and has shown similar numbers in pro ball, as his first professional strikeout came in his 35th plate appearance. In his pro debut with Rookie Orem, Thaiss slugged an RBI double in his first at bat, and in his final, he hit a go-ahead three-run home run. He was promoted to full season A-Ball within three weeks of his debut, and hit another RBI double in his first at bat in Burlington. Over the season, he's hitting .319 with an .864 OPS, and leads all 2016 first-round picks in with 26 runs, 44 hits, 14 doubles and 68 total bases.
3. Taylor Ward, Catcher; Class-A Advanced Inland Empire 66ers
Many were surprised when the Angels took Ward with their first-round pick in 2015, feeling he was a defense only catcher, but immediately, Ward put a lot of people in their place. Right out of the draft, Ward led all first-round picks in batting average (.348), which stood as eighth best in all of the minors, as well as held the second best on-base percentage (.457) among all 2015 draftees, to fellow Angels' draftee, Michael Pierson.
The offensive numbers have since calmed down, and adjustments at the plate have been made against more advanced pitching, but they've all showed in game and in the box score. Pitchers exposed the inner half against Ward, so he opened his stance and since then has been spraying the ball. There's been more aggression of recent, but Ward still possesses a nice approach at the plate. There's more raw power to Ward's game than shows statistically, which should show as he continues to fill out. Defensively, there aren't many equipped with an arm like Ward, and his blocking and receiving skills are improving every game, and were above-average prior to the season.
Now in his first full pro season, Ward saw the struggles of a long season hitting just .243, but maintained his defensive statistics, sitting fourth best in minor league baseball in caught stealing percentage (46.2%) a month into the season. Since the California League All-Star break, Ward, and his new more open stance, have produced both offensively, hitting .281 with a .713 OPS, and his arm is still among tops in the league, with a 35.3 caught stealing percentage.
4. Nate Smith, Left-Handed Pitcher; Triple-A Salt Lake Bees
No Angels' prospect is as close to knocking down the door of the Majors as Smith is. He's currently the "ace" of the Bees' rotation, and has been close to getting the call to make his MLB debut due to injuries. At season's end, it seems he'll get that opportunity with either a September callup or be able to fight for (and win) a spot in the rotation in Spring Training of 2017.
Though there's nothing that will really "wow" you about Smith's arsenal, he makes everything work with strong averages on all four-pitches he throws, all of which, for strikes. His four-seam fastball runs in around 88-91 on most nights, and is backed up by an above-average changeup he has a strong feeling for. When he mixes in his curveball and slider with nice diving action, he can miss bats regularly. He has an excellent feel for all his pitches and throws them for strikes regularly.
Smith excelled in the lower minors, and well into Double-A where he held a 13-7 record, 2.63 ERA and 1.146 WHIP. Mid last-season, Smith moved to Triple-A, and the Pacific Coast League has treated him about as well as any pitcher in the league - poorly. There are obvious signs of improvement from the initial shot in Salt Lake, where he held a 7.75 ERA, as he currently sits with a 4.49 ERA in the hitter friendly league.
5. Brandon Marsh, Outfielder; Rookie AZL Angels (60-Day DL)
For the second consecutive year, the Angels went with a raw athlete with their second-round selection, and the rewards will take slightly longer than they did with Jones the year prior. Marsh and the Angels had a long negotiation period, primarily due to a stress-reaction in his lower back, when he eventually signed for slot bonus. It looks as if the injury won't be long-term, but may keep him from taking the field for in-game action this season.
When it comes to Marsh, it's strictly raw tools. The biggest tool comes in the form of a very strong swing from the left-side, which will show when he makes contact, something he'll have to focus on against professional pitchers. He has plus speed, a plus-arm, and plus-strength; so the key to harnessing all of that is giving him a routine, which is one of the largest strengths to the Angels' system coaches. He'll be able to have baseball as his primary focus for the first time in his life, as he was also a very talented wide receiver for Buford High School, who won back-to-back Georgia State Championship when Marsh was a freshman and sophomore.
Marsh was placed on the 60-day disabled list once assigned to the Tempe, Arizona, Rookie Ball affiliate, which would constitute that he won't see much or any in-game action, outside of instructional league, during the course of the 2016 season.
6. Kaleb Cowart, Third-Baseman; Triple-A Salt Lake Bees
Once the most desirable prospect in the Angels' farm system, Cowart fell victim to poor adjustments that took him away from his swing that made him a top prospect in the system. Whether it was a hitting coach that couldn't figure him out, or just being too young for the league he was in (Double-A), Cowart had a resurgence, with the help of Angels' minor league hitting coach, Brent Del Chiaro, and regained top prospect status. The reward was a saved career, and a few short stints at the Major League level, and one of the best comeback stories in recent history.
Cowart reverted back to his old swing near the middle of the prior season to this current one, and is back to swinging with freedom. Though he still strikes out often, he has regained a balanced approach at the plate, and is working into more favorable hitter counts. He has also reverted back to switch-hitting and is seeing power come from both sides of the plate. In the field, you'll be hard pressed to find a prospect in any system with as strong an arm as Cowart. He has solid foot work and actions to be a very good defender at any infield spot off the bench as his floor. Time will soon tell whether be the future of third base in Anaheim, and tap into his above-average, every day player, potential.
At the moment, Cowart is behind better options in the depth chart for third base, but gaining momentum for when his opportunity arises. Though the Triple-A numbers aren't what they were in short stints last year, they're still promising, with a .294 average, .814 OPS, 29 doubles, 17 stolen bases and six home runs. The production is there to get Cowart time at the Major League levels, but it's hard to move Yunel Escobar, who is among MLB leaders in batting average.
7. Grayson Long, Right-Handed Pitcher; Class-A Burlington Bees
The Angels may be able to pick up what they lost in the Simmons trade, when they parted ways with Chris Ellis, in the form of Grayson Long. Both were college pitchers taken in the third-round, one year apart from each other, and both have produced. The largest difference is where they were assigned for their first year of pro ball. Long had more advanced pitchers ahead of him in the depth chart who are still being given an opportunity to start, and he landed in Low-A Burlington instead of High-A Inland Empire, but the results show he may have belonged at the higher level.
Long has an ideal pitcher's frame, standing tall and filled out at six-foot-five and 230 pounds, and he has the arsenal behind him, along with easy-and-repeatable mechanics, that could to turn him into a #4 or #5 option in the rotation. His fastball, that sits in the low-to-mid 90's, and changeup both come with sink and late life, and are both above-average offerings. He also has a tight slider that create swings-and-misses. He throws all his pitches for strikes.
There's been limits to Long's success, primarily due to ailments. He's thrown just 60 innings as a professional, and this season has been cut short due to bicep tendinitis and a finger injury attained in a rehab appearance, while fielding a come backer. Despite that, Long was able to get eight five-inning outings, where he allowed just seven runs and allowed just over one-base runner per inning, more than enough to give him a quick promotion if not for the injuries.
8. Nonie Williams, Shortstop; Rookie AZL Angels
What was viewed as one of the stronger draft selections in recent Angels' history, a very young Nonie Williams became one of the more intriguing Halos' prospects. The third-round selection took classes at a local high school to attain draft status one year prior, and his makeup jumps off the charts, with many of the prospects listed above.
Williams is very young, turning 18 just over a month before the draft occurred, and he brought to the draft a big bag of tools with him. His bat speed is the biggest asset which should translate into a nice amount of power as a professional as he fills out more of his already nice athletic frame. It's a tail of two stories at the plate for Williams, who is a switch-hitter, and sees more power potential from the left-side and line-drive abilities from the right-side. Defensively, he has good foot work, fluid actions, and enough arm to stick at shortstop, but it seems he may be moved around the infield and outfield to become more versatile.
Out of the gate, Williams struggled to make adequate contact, as he struck out seven times and collected just two hits in his first 20 plate appearances. Since those first 20 plate appearances, Williams has found a bit more comfort, hitting .234, working counts and making harder contact, picking up three extra-base hits.
9. Jaime Barria, Right-Handed Pitcher; Class-A Burlington Bees
The Angels took a shot at a 16-year-old from a country not necessarily known for developing and growing prospects, and are now reaping rewards from the risk. Barria, still very young, at 20, is pitching against guys nearly two years older than he is on average, and excelling. The production comes direct from a strike-throwing right-hander, with a strong understanding of how to setup hitters and put them away.
There are very few in the system, or across the minors, that throws strikes at the rate Barria does. He has spot-on command of his three-pitch mix, and finds the zone with ease due to a simple delivery. The arsenal isn't very overwhelming, but is right around or above the average of a top ranked prospect. Barria's fastball ranges in the high to low 90's with late motion and should pick up steam as he grows more into his frame, and puts on the right muscle weight. He has an above-average changeup that compliments his fastball and is improving from outing-to-outing. He has a third pitch that currently stands as an average to below-average curve with little bite.
After performing well at the international level, Barria came stateside and struck out 31 while walking three, a ratio of 10.33 more K's than walks. A promotion did take it's toll on Barria's season stats the season prior, when he allowed 23 runs in just over 30 innings. That didn't take anything away from a promotion to full-season A-Ball, where Barria is currently staring at a 3.66 ERA and 1.264 WHIP, while still walking three batters per 18 innings.
10. David Fletcher, Shortstop; Class-A Advanced Inland Empire 66ers
The 2015 draft may have been a surprise at the outset, but the Angels were able to pick up some hidden gems outside of the top selections. One of those gems came in the form of draft eligible sophomore, David Fletcher, who the Angels nabbed in the sixth round. A stand out at Loyola Marymount, the Angels saw the tools present, along with an outstanding knowledge of the game, and gave him a quick trip to A-Ball out of the draft, and High-A for his first full pro season.
Coaches and scouts give Fletcher high marks of praise for his baseball IQ, and understanding of the game, and the scenarios placed in front of him. He has a bit of slap-contact to his game that has turned into a more line-drive plane over the past season, and some power is beginning to show that wasn't shown when drafted. Defensively, Fletcher has fluid movements, and can stay at shortstop over the long run. Recently, he was named the "best baserunner" in the system by Scout, while his speed is above-average at best.
Out of the draft, Fletcher did much more than expected from the outset, hitting .311 with a .791 OPS, along with 28 stolen bases - very good numbers. At the outset of this season, Fletcher had an outstanding Spring Training, but struggled out of the gate in High-A, while battling a wrist injury, holding just a .436 OPS. Since returning from the DL, Fletcher is batting .326 with a .791 OPS, while slugging an unexpected three home runs. As this article is being written, Fletcher is riding a 22-game hit-streak, tied for third longest streak in the system since the 2009 season.
This article was written and published by Taylor Blake Ward, who serves as a Senior Publisher and Prospect Analyst for Scout.com. For more updates on the Los Angeles Angels and prospects across the minor leagues, follow Taylor on Twitter, @TaylorBlakeWard