Angels Fan Mailbag 1.0, 2017 Off-Season

Taylor Blake Ward answers your questions about the Angels, their off-season, prospects, Trout's future, shoe game and what kind of fish to try and catch at your local lake.

Hello everybody. Hopefully you're enjoying the off-season so far. You asked and I answered, so here it is. The first mailbag of the off-season. - TBW

"Where do you honestly see Mike Trout's future? Do you think he'd stay in Anaheim after his contract is over." - KT (@Ktarque2)

- This has been a hot button topic for quite some time. The Angels aren't winning, while Trout's contact only gets closer and closer to free agency. There's multiple things to what the future will hold for Trout. First off, money won't be an issue. Arte Moreno is an owner who understands what is happening with his team, and also understands how much money Trout is actually worth. Imagine coming to Angel Stadium and not hearing Trout's name. That means less tickets sold, less chance of winning (which results in less tickets sold), less merchandise sold, and many fan outrage. It's not actually what will happen, but Arte will metaphorically hand Mike Trout a blank check and say, 'fill it with any number you desire,' prior to him hitting free agency.

As for a trade of Trout, it's not happening. Billy Eppler has told me that he either hangs up or laughs when teams call asking about Trout. The only chance he'd be traded is if the end of his contract is very near (July of 2021), the Angels aren't in a winning scenario, and Trout has told the team he wont' re-sign, with the latter of those items being the most unlikely of all the scenarios.

The final chance is that Trout tests free agency. He's been open about wanting to win a championship, and also been open about how much he enjoys playing in Anaheim. I think an underrated part of Albert Pujols' contract is what he's done as a mentor for Trout, and that his impact of being a positive voice could keep Trout in Anaheim long-term. If the Angels just don't show they're in a winning scenario by 2021, or haven't given Trout the opportunity to play for a championship by then, then there might be a chance he goes to someone who will give him that opportunity. Trout won't answer questions about that, and usually reverts to the cliche of playing for the game that's occuring that day. Many players are blowing smoke by saying that, but I doubt Trout actually is, and the fans should do the same. Enjoy what's happening now, and when the time arises, I'm sure Trout and the Angels will have an answer for what will happen in his future beyond 2021.

"There are a couple people I would love to get. They are Matt Wieters, Jose Bautista, Coco Crisp, Kenley Jansen and Edwin Encarnacion. Any chance we get two of them?" - Erik (@ErikSchouweile2)

- Well Erik, you are more than welcome to have them. Once your fantasy baseball draft happens, make sure to get them in the order of Edwin, Jansen, JoeyBats, Wieters, and Crisp. As for the Angels, which I assume is what you mean by "I would love to get," I doubt that one of them will be in Anaheim come 2017. There's no need for Encarnacion with Pujols, Cron, and Marte taking time at first base and DH. Maybin is a better defender than Bautista, which is one of the ways the organization is going in the future, and cost a high-risk prospect instead of a second-round draft pick. Coco Crisp isn't out of the question, but the team will likely go for a cheaper fourth outfield option. Matt Wieters is intriguing, but Eppler has said they want to add depth at catcher, not have a new starter. Kenley Jansen is going to cost a lot, and I mean, A LOT. That includes a draft pick, and somewhere around $20 million or more, which would tap the Angels out of any other signing. He'd be a bonus to the bullpen, but it's just not someone the Angels would feel is a necessity (that goes for Aroldis Chapman and Mark Melancon as well).

"Is the door still open for a Jered Weaver return after the Jesse Chavez signing?" - Sean Cronkite (@CronkiteSean)

- The door will always be open for Weaver. He isn't that desirable piece, but with this market, he could land a starting job somewhere, and the Angels are in need of keeping depth at the position. My best guess is that Weaver will only continue pitching if he's offered a starting role and something above a minor-league deal, and in an area where he can still be with his two kids and wife. That pretty much leaves the Angels, Dodgers, or Padres. It's not what anyone wants to see, but Weaver might not pitch again. Personally, I think it'd be great for him to become a pitching coach at his alum, Long Beach State, but that's just my own personal desire with no actual facts or murmurs, and it is not me starting a rumor - it's just a hot take, which are usually wrong and awful, so don't make them (ahem, stop it Taylor).

"Do the Angels have an impact player in their system?" - Mike in Vegas (@mk9577); Does anyone in the pipeline have a #1 or #2 ceiling? I see a lot of 3-5 guys like Nate Smith and Joe Gatto." - AaronTheMoorIsLess (@AaronTheLess)

- The Angels farm system has been scrutinized as one of the worst in baseball for a few years, and for good reason - there hasn't been an impact player in some time. The most recent drafts have changed that. Matt Thaiss drew comparisons to both Brian McCann and Carlos Santana, and you could argue that those are two players who have been very impactful to their teams for multiple years. Thaiss is the most likely to have the quickest impact due to his bat. If he can show more versatility, and possibly make the move to the outfield, you could possibly see him at the Major League level in 2018 as a needed left-handed bat with some signs of average or better power. Jahmai Jones is also a prospect the organization and business has drawn their eye to. He has the upside of becoming what is apparently a big title given by the analyst of "Top 100 Prospect." Organizations don't care for rankings, but most fan bases do, and Jones is most likely to appear on that list soon.

When it comes to pitching prospects, the Angels farm system isn't fairing well. Most of the high-upside arm have ceilings that aim towards the bullpen, such as Chris Rodriguez and Keynan Middleton. Nate Smith has been said to be a #5-6 starter due to his average tools, but he'll likely be needed to reach that ceiling next year if the Angels want to contend. Joe Gatto was shut down for the year with an unlisted injury, but many inside the industry have heard that it was primarily to get his head straight. He had a poor 2016, but the organization has been happy with his progress shown in instructional league, and he'll gain the opportunity to start again in Low-A in 2017. As for others to keep an eye on, you could look to Jaime Barria and Grayson Long, but they are both #4-5 starters at their ceiling. Alex Meyer is still listed as a prospect, as is Vicente Campos and Manny Banuelos. They have high ceilings, but are near the end of their runs as prospects and Meyer seems to be the only one who could possibly become a #3 type of arm. A high mark is that the Angels have a high draft pick coming, and the current stock of college arms would recommend they could attain a #2-3 ceiling starter. It wasn't asked, but others have, and from what I've seen, as well as the industry, Sean Newcomb seems destined to be a premier reliever or #3 guy due to his inability to throw strikes consistently, and Chris Ellis has a similar ceiling to Grayson Long.

"I'd like to ask how your shoe game is progressing." - Abbey Mastracco (@AbbeyMastracco)

- I've been wearing suits more often, so most of my shoe purchases have been dress shoes. I now have a mixture of black, blue, and brown/maroon dress shoes. Daily, I wear sandals. It's not the best look, but it's comfortable and that is all I care about. When I show up to the stadium next year, I'll likely be sporting some average, every day, New Balance sneakers and off-brand shoes that were comfortable and passable enough shoes that I bought at ROSS or Marshall's.

"Where does Jesse Chavez slot into the rotation and do you see them making a move for another starter?" - Jeremy Golding (@JeremyGoldin); "Who do you see in the Angels rotation next spring?" - Adam (TroutPls)

- Jesse Chavez was actually a really good signing for the Angels. Though his numbers have declined since his days in Oakland, he's still a serviceable pitcher who can be used as a starter or long reliever. He won't be a "wow" factor by any means, but the back of the rotation needs help, and Chavez can provide that help. It's actually more likely he's a better fit for that #4 or #5 spot in the rotation than Alex Meyer, Nate Smith, Manny Banuelos, Vicente Campos, Daniel Wright or others.

As for an actual rotation in Spring Training and into the start of next season, there's a few questions. The only sure thing is that Tyler Skaggs and Ricky Nolasco will be there. Matt Shoemaker is a near fill in, but he's still recovering from taking a baseball off his temple, and may need a bit of mental recovery, which is why Spring Training is great. Garrett Richards has been cleared to pitch, but he and the team still aren't out of the water until he actually pitches regularly. That fills four spots, with the fifth spot being filled by someone listed here; Jesse Chavez, Alex Meyer, Nate Smith, Daniel Wright, Vicente Campos, Manny Banuelos.

"International prospect, any names jump out for the Angels this coming summer? Maybe Eric Pardinho from Brazil?" - Aaron Burkhart (@aaronburkhart); Any recent news on Norge Ruiz and Cionel Perez? Any way these top international prospects last until July?" - AaronTheMoorIsLess (@AaronTheLess); Will the Angels try to sign any of the top international amateur free agents next signing period?" - Kyle (@Angels_Fan_Kyle)

- Despite my enjoyment of covering prospects, both amateur and professional, I have very little knowledge of the international market aside from the top prospects, and usually don't hear about them until right before they're signed. As for Norge Ruiz, I do know who he is and that's he very talented and available at the moment. If he'll stick around through the next signing period is beyond my knowledge. One guy who everyone has heard of is Shohei Otani, the Japanese sensation who throws over 100 MPH and hits ball 400 feet. There is no sign as to when he'll come to the states, but when he does, I'm sure the Angels will explore the opportunity to sign him.

When it comes to if the Angels are willing to sign big-name international prospects, the answer is simple: HECK YES. Billy Eppler helped build the giant empire that was the Yankees farm system in the early 2010's, and a lot of that was foreign prospects. He's openly said that the plan is to help build the farm system with international players, and spending as much of the allotted amount as possible while doing so. That should mean the premier names, so I'll have to start learning more about them. If anything, follow Ben Badler of Baseball America or Jesse Sanchez of MLB, who deserve awards for their coverage of amateur talent in Central America.

"Rainbow trout? Brown trout? Brook? Golden? Steelhead, maybe? - Frozen Royalty (@frozenroyalty)

- I love fishing, but like most, tell more lies than truths about the amount or size of fish I catch. The lake I live on has mostly cod (eww) and rainbow trout. I'd recommend calling Kevin Estrada who has a really cool catch-and-release program in British Columbia, catching monster sized white sturgeon. Estrada was also a pretty good hockey player who played in the local area. If you're reading this, and are a fan of hockey, I'll make another recommendation of following Gann Matsuda, a.k.a, "Frozen Royalty," who covers the Los Angeles Kings and actually had the guts to hire me for a short period of time to do hockey coverage. That's likely the only compliment you'll receive for the next two years from me, Gann.

"Big fan, what do you think of Kaleb Cowart? 3B? 2B? - Mario Benitez (@Mar_e_o17)

- Thanks for the continued support, Mario. Cowart is still really intriguing to me. He continually puts in the extra work and has off the charts makeup, which makes me believe there's more in the tank, but I'm uncertain how much more. He's still adapting to his swing, which he only recreated a year ago, and sometimes falls back into poor habits. There's two problems that come up with Cowart and it both involves repetition. He excels at the Triple-A level when he gets regular at bats, which is a positive, but he needs to build off his failures and correct what is wrong, which isn't happening often in Triple-A and the Majors aren't a place to correct them. It's going to take a good hitting coach to make him an impactful hitter in the big leagues, like he had with Brent Del Chiaro when he corrected the initial problems that brought up rumors that he'd move to the mound - something he would have hated to do.

On the defensive side of the ball, he's fantastic at third base. This last year, he showed versatility, playing every position of the infield and excelling at each. He had some struggles working with Andrelton Simmons, who is so good, he's sometimes too quick for his teammates. Cowart is going to need more time adjusting to that speed is he's going to go from a useful to a good defensive second baseman, which isn't something I'd fret about.

"What do you expect from Cameron Maybin, offensively and defensively, as he becomes a full-time left fielder?" - Kevin Jimenez (@KevinCJimenez)

- Cameron Maybin had the best season of his career in 2016, hitting .315/.383/.418, all career highs. All of this came in an above-average hitter friendly ballpark, but the key numbers I looked at were has his .383 on-base percentage, 15 stolen bags, and his 80.4 contact percentage. If he can put up anything close to that with the Angels, he'd be a great table setter near the top of the lineup, and with his speed, could score a lot of runs with Trout and Pujols driving him in.

Analytics would show Maybin as an average center fielder in his career, with deteriorating numbers as he's aged. The perk of this is that he won't be in center field, he'll be in left. I doubt he'll be a premier defender, but he personally believes he can be, and I'm not one to doubt another person's self belief. All in all, Maybin should perform better than any left fielder has for the Angels possibly since when Peter Bourjos and Trout split time in 2013, or back to 2010 when Juan Rivera was in left.

"What's the scouting report on J.C. Ramirez?" - Chuck Richter (@ChuckRichter70); I wonder if they will try and make Ramirez a groundball guy. They had him throw his two-seamer at a career high rate last year." - Glenn Milligan (@halofanatic776)

- For those that didn't see Ramirez out the bullpen last year, his scouting report is pretty simple. Tall guy who is still fighting his mechanics, which impacts his command. He throws a mid-to-high 90's fastball with late cut, and a decent mid-to-high 80's slider.

As for him starting and turning into a groundball guy, I'm not sure how it's going to go over. He doesn't use his changeup, and only recently started using a two-seamer as often as 9% of the time. He did however produce a career-high, 54.9% ground ball rate, on batted balls. I don't think his use as a starter will go further than Spring Training, but if he can show that he can work through an order multiple times, produce ground balls at a rate he has, and actually throws strikes consistently while doing so... maybe?

"Your view on how the MVP is awarded? Think Mike trout has got screwed simply by not making playoffs or agree with voters?" - Nick Swenson (@nswenso)

- This question came in prior to Mike Trout being named MVP of the American League, but I will express my opinion on the voting. Every voter has a different opinion on the actual word, "value," and that could be anything from impact on a team or individual efforts, or any other reasoning. With that said, I don't believe anyone can disagree with another person's opinion just because it differs with their own. I.E., if someone voted for Mookie Betts or another player because they were on a winning team, I cannot disagree with that opinion.

My personal opinion is that the best player in the league would be at the top of my ballot if I had a vote. If two players have very similar numbers and or what is seemingly an impact on their team's success, a winning team over a losing team is a very good way to decipher who was more valuable. In 2016, my obvious vote would be Mike Trout. As for past years, without going too deep into the conversation, I think Trout should have won in 2012 and 2014 (the other year he won). I'm a firm believer that Miguel Cabrera should have won in 2013 and that Josh Donaldson should have won in 2015, and that is based on both individual and team performance.

"Projected lineup for next year?" - A.J. Rodriguez (@littlemann17); Where in the order do you think Yunel Escobar, Cameron Maybin and Kole Calhoun will bat?" - Michael (@michaels27_)

- The lineup can't be fully structured because there isn't any name to fill in for second base, unless you want to put Kaleb Cowart or Cliff Pennington there, and they'd definitely be ninth in the order. With that, here's my best guess based on the structure of the prior season (this answers the second question as well).

Yunel Escobar, 3B (leadoff); Cameron Maybin, LF; Mike Trout, CF; Albert Pujols, DH; Kole Calhoun, RF; C.J. Cron, 1B; Andrelton Simmons, SS; Carlos Perez/Jett Bandy, C; Cliff Pennington, 2B.

"How far off is David Fletcher for second base? Understand he just tasted Double-A, how much more time does he need and is he an option for 2017?" - Darren (@theDarrendude)

- I'm higher on Fletcher than most analyst, and still don't see his ceiling as more than an average or less second baseman. He's an exciting player because he's small in stature and has a grinding mentality and incredibly strong baseball IQ. The issue is that he has really limited power (.377 SLG%). His baserunning is primarily from IQ and not actual speed, so it's not like he's a blow you away kind of guy with any tool.

As for how far away he is, it's tough to say. He worked his way to Double-A in his first full year of pro ball, but his time was limited and he performed average at best in the Fall League. If he can show next year that he can perform at the level he did in the minors in the second half of the season, he could work his way to Triple-A by mid-season and potentially get his name into the depth charts, but it's likely that if he has only chance of playing in the Majors in 2017, it'd be as a September call up. The second baseman for the Angels next year is likely coming from a trade or free agency.

"I've watched Jared Foster a few times and have come away impressed with his ability. What are his chances to star in MLB?" - Samuel Montgomery (@TrojanWarrior)

- From the time he was drafted, I've thought highly of Foster. He was a backup quarterback at LSU, while playing in the infield for the baseball team. He's incredibly athletic, strong and has a bulldog mindset, which stems from the football field. As for him being a star, I'll just revert to his ceiling.

He has some fun tools, which I noted on above - strength, athleticism, grinder mentality. I'd put his power and defense right around 50 grade, and his speed slightly above that, maybe even at 60. Overall though, his bat doesn't overwhelm me, and may limit him in becoming a starter in the future. I'd tap him as a fourth outfielder, but another full season like he just showed could change my mind. He's not a future star by any means, but there's a chance he could turn into a potential starting corner outfielder.


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