Angels' Fan Mailbag, August

Angels Fan Mailbag, August. ONE MORE MONTH!

ONE MORE MONTH! There's only one more month left in the regular season, Angels fans. Of course, it didn't go the way you planned, or expected, or hoped for. You had plenty of questions regarding the present, future, and other items, and I'm here to answer the questions you hoped to have answered. Without further-a-do, here you go.

"How come the Angels decided to DFA Johnny Giavotella?" - Arlene (@itsare_lean)

This was a common question. The answer is pretty simple, he's just not versatile. The other Angels' infielders not named Yunel Escobar or Andrelton Simmons have the abilities to play second, short, and third, and all do so reasonably well. So defensively, you can see the answer.

I think the biggest issue was how it was treated. Giavotella went 10-for-18 to finish July. Then he was pulled from the every day lineup, and went 1-for-22 in his final nine games with the Angels, but with only one strikeout. He just wasn't finding gaps. I'm a firm believer in the spark plug influence he had on the lineup, but sometimes, baseball just isn't fair if you can't show versatility.

"What are the chances Arte Moreno, despite the Albert Pujols and Josh Hamilton contracts, breaks down and is willing to spend to improve?" - Rick Anderson (@rickandersonoc); "When the Rangers release Josh Hamilton, how much will the Angels have to pay him?" - Dan Baumgartner, Jr. (@daBAUM_3)

It's not necessarily that Arte Moreno doesn't want to spend big, or doesn't want to improve. Of course he wants to improve. That means more people coming to the stadium, and more money going towards his pocket. It's his job to earn profit from the team, and team success tends to lead towards more profit. With that said, the Pujols signing had to happen. It brought in sponsors, TV contracts, and a large revenue base that likely turned the amount spent into double in return. Another part of the return is what he brings to the clubhouse, particularly teaching young players, and most importantly, that guy you all enjoy so much, Mike Trout.

The biggest issue with these contracts has been the length of each. That's what Moreno would like to avoid. The Hamilton signing was bad from the get go, despite Josh being one of my favorite players to cover (Josh is a good guy, everyone). You begin to look at the C.J. Wilson contract for a better example. The first two years, Wilson was an above-average starter, posting a 3.60 ERA and 105 ERA+. The next two years, 4.24 ERA and an 87 ERA+, quite below league-average. If it was a three-year deal, it likely wouldn't have been considered a poor contract. Moreno would like to avoid length as opposed to dollar signs, and if the free agent in question won't add that much to the team in revenue, wins, or clubhouse activity, it won't be worth the dollar sign.

"Is 2018 the most modest, realistic season for the Angels to be competitive?" - Daniel Wheatley (@Daniel_Wheatley)

Looking to the future can be misleading. There is so much that happens over the course of a Major League season, that you really can only go off of projections. With that, you begin to break down the lineup and rotation. Key pieces will likely remain in Trout, Calhoun, Pujols, Cron, Simmons, Richards, Shoemaker, Bedrosian, Street; then you can add the excess, a healthy Heaney, Tropeano, and potentially experienced Cowart. That is just the outlook, and a lineup, rotation and bullpen with that as your structure is decent. If you can add the pieces, they should be able to contend.

As for 2017, if Garrett Richards is healthy, the team may be able to be competitive. As the numbers show this year, they have an above-average offense, and their run differential isn't too far apart. Pitching has been the issue, primarily, starting pitching. If you start getting the most out of Alex Meyer, have a healthy Richards, and find one or two more pieces to add to the bullpen, you're looking at the .500 team the Angels should be. All you have to do is be average through the year to compete, and then make a late push in September. It's a common belief, but you personally have to accept or deny it for your own beliefs.

"Do you believe the Angels will go after Josh Reddick in the off-season?" - TommyJohnAngels (@CANTHITWRISP); What left fielders can the Angels get in free agency next season? Josh Reddick? Colby Rasmus?" - Jose Rodriguez (@jrcr81701)

This is challenging, because the Angels have so many holes, and most likely, won't be going in on big name free agents. It's not that they don't want them, or can't afford them, but players like that expect large contracts with the large part being both in money, and in length. That's where the plagues have been with recent big signings for the Angels (see above). With that said, Josh Reddick ranks 43rd in WAR (just over two wins a year) among outfielders over the past three years, and Colby Rasmus sits 55th (1.6 wins per year). That doesn't really register as "high-end" signing, but both could produce and be valuable in a Major League lineup.

The real question comes up as, "how long do they want to sign for?" Both will likely be looking for three years or more, and three years isn't that bad, but more would be. Also, the outfield class isn't primarily strong so they'll both be likely be looking for around $15 million per year. That wouldn't put the Angels over the luxury tax, but it would keep them from filling other holes. The ideal situation would be to attain someone of value at roughly $7-10 million a year for three years, which could put you in the market for someone like Gregor Blanco, Angel Pagan, or Jon Jay, who fit the mold of recent Angels signings - they don't strike out much. In my opinion, the best option for the Angels would be Michael Saunders, who they tried to trade for prior to this season.

"What do you think of the possibility of Kaleb Cowart transitioning to second base to give Yunel Escobar another year at third base?" - Aaron Burkhart (@aaronburkhart); "Do you know if the Angels have looked at moving Yunel Escobar to second base to see if it cuts down on his errors? Maybe boost his trade value?" - Steve Eck (@gizmosol)

Kaleb Cowart is a fantastic defensive infielder, and that doesn't just mean at third base. I've seen him play shortstop, and though I don't believe he would be a great fit at the Major League level at short, I do believe he could fill in just about anywhere and provide strong enough defense to never be a liability. With that, the same cannot be said for Yunel Escobar.

Escobar's defensive struggles primarily come from lack of effort. He's not a bad fielder, just a lazy one. With that, he could likely play second base with ease, but probably doesn't want to. The team has explored all options, and of course Escobar at second is one of them, but you have to be able to keep him motivated. It wouldn't necessarily boost his trade value either, as third base is a much more important position than second. If the team were to do this and move Cowart to second, they'd have to possess confidence in his bat to keep him in the lineup every day, which he's still trying to prove.

"Could C.J. Cron eventually transition to another position, especially with Matt Thaiss possibly at first in the next two-three years?" - nmbaseball43 (@nmbaseball43)

Simple answer is no. You could attempt putting him in left field, but he's not fleet of foot and despite showing improvements defensively, just doesn't have the glove or athleticism to put him in the outfield. He's staying at first base. As for Thaiss though, he is athletic enough to test him out in the outfield, especially left field where he wouldn't be a liability. Problem is mentioned in your question though, he's two-or-three years away.

"Who will be the Angels closer in 2017?" - Trent Schlom (@trentschlom)

This is interesting. The obvious question would be Huston Street. Of all the 27 members of the 300 save club, Street has the sixth best save conversion percentage, proving he's one of the best closers ever. The concern comes in three blown saves this season, which can be contributed to injuries. If he comes back next season with full health, the answer is obvious: Huston Street.

If that's not the case, it becomes tricky. You need the proper arsenal to create outs, whether it's on the ground or by a mixture of strikeout pitches. There's a few options to look at in the organization. Deolis Guerra and J.C. Ramirez have swing-and-miss stuff, but haven't shown consistency. Mike Morin has a bulldog mentality, but is missing a second "out" pitch, and hasn't been consistent as of recent. In the system, you have sidearm lefty, Greg Mahle, as well as breakout prospect, Keynan Middleton, who hits triple digits, but it's unlikely Mike Scioscia would put a rookie in that situation.

That leaves two names to gander at. The obvious, Cam Bedrosian. He's in the midst of a breakout season, posting a 1.12 ERA, but isn't yet "proven" as someone you could throw in the ninth inning every other night to lock down victories. The other? Cory Rasmus. He has a pair of swing-and-miss pitches, and has a proven record of attaining outs. Just something to ponder, but the likely scenario will be a healthy Huston Street.

"Is this Jered Weaver's last year with the Angels?" - Aaron The Less (@AaronTheLess)

Jered Weaver is one of the most decorated pitchers in franchise history, and fans don't seem to forget what he's done for the organization - neither has the Front Office. However, this is a business, and Weaver is staring at the fifth worst ERA in the Majors among qualified pitchers, at 5.47. By an analytical stand point, it's the first time in his career that he's hurting the team, seeing a negative WAR of -0.4.

In my lifetime, I have not met or seen many players that compete the way Weaver does. The problem arises in his fastball. His average fastball sits at 83.8 MPH, the lowest average velocity since Barry Zito in 2012. It's not so much the velocity being the issue, but the smallest mistakes being capitalized on. Even at two or three mistakes throughout the game, it's just too much, and even the competitive nature won't get Weaver back to being a star pitcher, or possibly even, an average pitcher in the league.

There have been points in the season where Weaver has mentioned that he's considered retiring. No one has taken this season as hard as Weaver himself, which is pretty heartbreaking to see. The human aspect of the game is the most misunderstood, and when you can't do what you used to, it breaks you. I don't expect him to retire, but I don't expect him to start in the Majors beyond this season. The Angels could offer him a small deal to be a relief pitcher, but it seems this may be the last season Jered Weaver pitches with the Angels, or at all - sadly.

"It looks like Roberto Baldoquin is finding his swing late in the season, what would be the next best base move for him?" - Kevin Jimenez (@KevinCJimenez)

Let's break down his scenario first. You don't have to close your eyes, but use your imagination. You are an American, who's pretty good at his job, and you earn a promotion with a giant pay raise. They send you to China, and you don't speak Chinese. You don't know any of your new work mates, don't even know how to read a menu when you go out to eat, and can't understand what they're saying at work, or even on TV. You're asked to perform at a higher level than you did in America, with your work mates being much more experienced and judging your every move. That is the scenario Roberto Baldoquin was put in when he came to the states.

What he's doing now is showing the tools that made him so desirable in the first place. His slash line over the last 26 games is as such: .291/.366/.337. That may not seem impressive, but you're looking at development in the numbers. He hit just .148 with a .385 OPS over his first 36 games. He's cut his strikeout rate by 13.3% and raised his walk rate by 3.1%. A similar thing happened last season, when he was finally healthy - key word: healthy!

Baldoquin has been quite fragile in his two years state side, attaining a multitude of different injuries that have taken him out for a month at a time, multiple times (only 139 games in two years). He needs to finish out this year, get a little more physically ready for the next season, and the Angels have to gander at what they'll do. There are 13 players younger than Baldoquin on the Orem Owlz roster, a Rookie Ball affiliate. He's much younger than the average competition he's facing. A return to the Cal League in 2017 may not be a bad thing, but it might be better to keep him off his feet in extended spring and then move him towards the lower A-Ball affiliate for a month before testing the waters again in the Cal League.

"Zach Gibbons opening any eyes during his short stay in Orem so far?" - The Franchise Radio (@radiofranchise)

There's two ways to look at this. The first is that his slash line is .365/.442/.561, which is insanely impressive. The second is that he's a senior sign, 22-years-old, and a year-and-a-half older than the average talent of the league he's in. His performance merits attention, but you have to combine both items to see where he really stands.

You look at his consistency, which is nice. He's reached base in 34-of-39 games, and is walking more than he's striking out, which he's only doing in 9.3% of his plate appearances. It's great to see that kind of production, but you can't really evaluate him until he hits a league where he has the same experience as the pitchers he's facing. For an example, Michael Pierson hit .395 with a .995 OPS last season in Orem, and then was released halfway through this season when he had a .597 OPS in 70 games in Low-A.

"Thoughts on Kevin Grendell and Samuel Holland?" - Keith G. Mackey (@kmacnd_1)

A few years ago, I remember a friend telling me about his buddies' kid, and him throwing a no-hitter in front of scouts down in San Diego. That kid turned out to be Kevin Grendell. I got to see him around the middle of the season, and saw why people believed in the upside. He throws in the low-to-mid 90's with a pretty decent curve. Obviously he's turned heads with his ability to miss bats (5.8 H/9; 14.5 K/9) this season between A-Ball and Double-A, along with a 2.62 ERA. He's still young (just turned 23 this week), and honestly, is very intriguing as an underrated relief prospect - he won't be a starter.

Sadly when it comes to Grendell, he'll have something tagged with his name forever. Whether it was something he put in his system, or something he was told to take from a team physician, he failed a drug test not long after being drafted, and was suspended for 50 games for Dehydroepiandrosterone, which was the same substance NBA-player, O.J. Mayo, got busted for. It's something your body produces to an extent, and can be bought at the local pharmacy. According to what I've read, it gives you a better sex-drive, and that's about all it does. Regardless, it is a drug recognized by Major League Baseball as a steroid, and is something Grendell will live with.

As for Sam Holland, I have seen him with multiple organizations, and the Angels have been able to develop him much better than the Padres could. He has a lot more drive, and has shown a much better feel for his pitches this year. It's shown for the submarine pitcher, who is seeing over 50% of balls in play stay in the infield, and the results are very evident. Holland has allowed three earned runs this season in 39.1 innings of work and is throwing strikes regularly, walking just six of the 146 batters he's faced this year. Gibbons is making waves, and needs to continue doing so.

"Any chance Troy Scriber gets called up?" - Crudmeister General (@Crudemeisters)

The whole point of pitching is to attain outs without allowing runs (duh, Taylor, we know that!). Well, Scribner has done that for a few years now. People seemed to catch wave of him when he was promoted to Triple-A and hurled a two-hit shutout in his debut. Since that game, he's allowed four runs in 24 innings and is looking at a 1.09 ERA in five starts. Something that would recommend he's a top-notch prospect in the system and should be called up to help where help is needed - starting pitcher depth.

As for if he'll come up, it's much easier to throw him out with a no than it is to assume he has a chance. His arsenal would have trouble matching up with Major League hitters, as his fastball sits 87-90, and his cutter/curve and change trio just isn't superb. Even with that said, he's been able to keep base runners to a minimum and attain outs with relative ease. The Angels showed desire in Scribner going after him, and him alone, for a cash trade. There needs to be more consistency in throwing strikes, but aside from that, Scribner has just as much a shot as anyone in Triple-A. For the time being, I'll say no strictly because he'd have to be added to the 40-man roster and he's only been in Triple-A for a short time, but will bite the bullet if he is and happily say I was wrong.

"Odds on Manny Banuelos figuring things out with the Angels?" - Colin (@Colin_Massey); Where does Manny Banuelos fit in this season and going forward for the Halos?" - Darren (@theDarrendude)

When you refer to figuring things out, you could be talking about two different items. Will be able to revert back to old prospect status and be a star, or will he be able to perform at the Major League level with some form of success? The latter is the answer. Banuelos was once one of the top prospects in baseball, as a lefty who could throw in the upper 90's as a starter. Now, he sits in the low 90's, primarily 89-92. His off-speed is still good though and he can command his fastball, so the answer is yes. He will be able to pitch at the Major League level with some success, but more likely as a back end starter as opposed to a front-of-the-rotation arm. He's only one year removed from a 2.33 ERA in Triple-A and some quality starts in the Majors.

The biggest problem for Banuelos wasn't his drop in velocity, but how it occurred. He dealt with non-arm related injuries, and then his elbow gave him problems. He had Tommy John surgery that ended his 2012 season early and took him out for all of 2013, so that's experience he won't be able to gain back. He also dealt with elbow soreness as recent as last year, which took him out for the latter stages of 2015. If healthy, he's an arm that will produce outs at the Major League level, with the key word being: healthy.

Banuelos hasn't pitched since early August, and though it's not a lengthy amount of time, he could use some reps to get back to pitching multiple innings. If he's used this season, it'd likely be used in a relief role to build up arm strength, but what's that really going to do for a pitcher with past elbow injuries and a team that doesn't really need him for a playoff push? I expect him to throw a little in Triple-A through this final two weeks, and then wrap up for the off-seasona and compete for a job in Spring. The bonus is that the Angels picked up a young and controllable arm for the next few years at a very low risk and very low price, saving them from free agent signings where they can fill other holes.

"Is Jesus Castillo a finesse or power arm? What type of ceiling do you think he has?" - Matthew Mintz-Plasse (@MTMPlasse)

Castillo is a good balance between the two. When you refer to a power arm, you usually tend to players with a high-velocity fastball and wipeout off-speed pitches. Castillo works mostly in the low 90's and his curve ball is decent at best, so you don't really refer to that as power. However, he has the ability to miss bats, and doesn't always rely on creating weak contact to attain outs, so you can avoid the word, "finesse."

He's very projectable which is exactly what the Angels saw. He turns 21 in the next few days and is competing against talent two years older than he is. While doing that, he's allowed just four runs and 21 base runners in 20 innings in five starts with the Angels' organization, all in Low-A.

"Which pitchers from the minors could be in the Angels' rotation next season?" - Jose Rodriguez (@jrcr81701)

It takes quite a bit to crack a Major League rotation, with the biggest step being consistency over a work load at the higher-level affiliates. That would recommend looking at how many innings a pitcher has thrown, and how they've done while doing so. 17 pitchers in the organization have tossed 100 innings or more this season, with 10 of those pitching at the Double-A or Triple-A level. Of those 10, seven have had multiple seasons of 100+ innings, and only two have had an ERA below 4.00 and have reached the Triple-A level over those 100+ inning years, proving some form of consistency.

Those two are Troy Scribner, whose mentioned above, and Nate Smith. Smith, one of the Angels top prospects, excelled in Double-A, but has struggled in the hitter friendly Pacific Coast League. He's nearing time with the Major League club, and could even be up this year, but you can expect him to compete for a spot in the rotation next Spring. Others you could gander at would be Zach Nuding, Chris Jones, and Kyle McGowin, who are near the consistent mark.

You can add Manny Banuelos and Alex Meyer to that list as well. They were traded for or signed strictly for the scenario of adding depth to the future rotation, with Meyer being the primary focus. Both have already pitched at the Major League level, and will be contenders for the rotation beginning next season.

"Any scouting report on Elvin Rodriguez? Keinner Pina?" - Keith G. Mackey (@kmacnd_1)

I have yet to see Elvin Rodriguez, but what he's done this season is nothing short of outstanding. I've asked around to multiple scouts and trusting colleagues, and it seems none have seen him. He's only been state side since mid-July, but since coming over, he's thrown 24.2 innings, allowing just 18 base runners and three runs. His size would lean to a projectable type, but as for an arsenal, I have not heard and am waiting for texts from Angels' staff for answers.

Keinner Pina intrigued me when he signed in 2014. Contact was down, but he was reaching base and saw his walk rate nearly match his strikeout rate, which was very interesting. This season, he's become more aggressive and flashed a line-drive swing, which has shown with his .301 average and .706 OPS. The more impressive part that caught my eye was when he threw out 40% of runners as a 17-year-old, and he hasn't let off, with a 36% mark this season. I'll continue keeping my eye on him, steadily.

"Is Taylor Ward the Angels future catcher, or another position?" - Jose Rodriguez (@jrcr81701)

Taylor Ward is a catcher the whole way, and will be a part of the Halos' future. He's improved in his blocking and receiving skills, and has always had plenty of arm to keep the running game honest. I've spoken with a few opposing scouts, and all have said that Ward has caught their eye defensively. It's what he does at the plate that will make-or-break him as a potential every day catcher. He's shown some upside with the bat, and has made the proper adjustments to compete. As much as I dislike comparisons, I've heard a high multitude regarding Ward, ranging anywhere from Jonathan Lucroy, to Yasmani Grandal, to Derek Norris, to Jeff Mathis - all Major Leaguers, some All-Stars, and all with at least five-years sticking in the league.

"Have you heard anything about Tim Tebow?" - Ryan Zuchero (@whskyontherox)

When Tebow was on the football field, he won games with possibly the lowest skill set of anyone else on the field. He is one of the greatest competitors of the past decade and that's what makes him so intriguing. Most of the time when halfbacks are being tackled, they give way to the defender, and Tebow never gave an inch. Off the field, he was a happy guy who happened to have a large faith in a superior power which gave him a "bad" reputation for being a "Jesus freak." He went through every negative positive, and turned himself into a winner. That's impressive.

Scouts raved about Tebow, but that was over a decade ago when he was in high school. Now, he's just a pure athlete with a high-load of strength, who's basically a decade behind the curve of the lowest level minor leaguers (he's 29-years-old with no professional baseball experience). He has his showcase this upcoming week, where 20 scouts, including a representative from the Angels, will assess his talents. I do believe he'll sign, but highly doubt he'll succeed beyond Rookie Ball, if he even does do so at that level. Regardless, it's an excellent PR stint, and I do believe that Tebow has the belief he can perform at the professional level, regardless of what anyone else says.

"How has Victor Alcantara looked out of the bullpen recently? Can he fully use big fastball, hopefully like Keynan Middleton has recently?" - Jacob Firmage (@jrfirmage)

I haven't been out to Arkansas to see Alcantara personally this season, but from what I've heard, he needed the move to the bullpen. He has progressed heavily since he first joined the professional ranks, but it seemed to take a step in the wrong direction this year. His fastball velocity was falling, and his changeup wasn't improving. The turn to the bullpen may have turned him into the premiere power arm he was once considered as.

Alcantara has thrown less than 10 innings out of the bullpen, but he's throwing in the upper 90's again and with full steam. When his fastball is sitting in the high 90's, it's near impossible to hit. Issue is whether or not he'll figure how to command it. He'll be able to get away with some mistakes due to the velocity, but he'll still need to harness the command. As for Middleton, his turn to the bullpen allowed him to loosen up and focus on other items than working through the order multiple times. Middleton did have a better ability to throw strikes though, so it's hard to say whether or not it will be that drastic a change.

"Is the hiring of Matt Swanson a good thing?" - Aaron The Less (@AaronTheLess); Is Matt Swanson well regarded in MLB? Is he a step up up from what they had?" - Sean Cronkite (@CronkieSean)

Swanson was a cross-checker for the Cardinals, and if you look at his current resume of signings, it's a nice initial look. When asking sources around the league how they feel about Swanson, consensus was that it was a great pickup. He's very well respected among his colleagues, and competitors. Ric Wilson was also highly regarded, and I don't feel it was his fault he was let go. New Front Office, new format, new brand - you can't blame Ric Wilson for not having multiple first round picks, which impacted the system as a whole heavily.

"Austin Adams ETA?" - Kill Me (@AndrewSWelch)

This has been a tough season for Adams, which is odd to say for a guy with a 3.52 ERA. Adams has had 20 scoreless outings of 29 trips to the mound this year, and is seeing a career high in stikeout rates (13.5 K/9), and has dropped his walk rates by 6.3%, so there are positives.

More on the numbers, Adams has held bats to a .187 average and .276 slugging percentage over his four years in the minors, allowing an extra base hit every 22.5 batters faced. To compare, only five MLB pitchers this season have held hitters to that low an average and three have limited that low of a slugging percentage. The walk rates, and control are the biggest problem. The very second he limits his walks to a slighly lower extent, he'd be a Major League pitcher, and a pretty decent one. He won't see Major League time this year because he's just coming back from an injury, but he will be fighting for a spot out of Spring Training and could be on the Opening Day roster in 2017.

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