40. Zach Houchins, Third Baseman
6'2, 210 lbs, R/R
September 16, 1992 (24); Wilson, North Carolina
East Carolina University (Greenville, NC)
Drafted in 13th Round (389th overall) of 2014 MLB Draft
As a teen, Zach Houchins dealt with unfair adversity for comments made on Twitter that registered those who'd never met him to say he was a bigot and racist. He assuredly is neither, but no agreement was made with the Nationals when he was drafted out of high school and the adversity may have cost him a few rounds in the 2014 draft. This easily became the Angels reward. Known throughout the organization for his friendly demeanor and plus makeup, Houchins is also recognized as the top power hitter in the Angels' system.
Strength, strength, strength. Stemming primarily from his upper body, Houchins creates a high amount of torque in his level swing, which allows him to drive the ball well with a snapping bat action. Tendencies is these types of swings see high strikeout rates, which Houchins has eliminated from his game due to an advanced aggressive, swing early, approach. Power numbers haven't translated just yet because he is still a bit stiff in his swing, and lacks the true loft and extension to rise the ball over the fence instead of gash the walls in the left-center gap. If he frees up in his swing and creates more loft - something he's worked on improving - you can see the raw power become true in-game power and give the Angels a nice power hitter from the right-side who doesn't strikeout often.
In the field, Houchins also allows his upper body strength to be his strongest asset. He has a cannon of an arm, and charges well on the ball, making the challenging plays on the run seem easy. Growing up a soccer player, Houchins has a quick initial burst and allows him to set his feet well when throwing the ball, but he lacks the speed and lateral range to play shortstop which puts him as a third base only option. He is much better on the charge than ranging to either side, but is stronger to his throwing side and isn't a liability by any means. Though he lacks speed, he is an average runner with good instincts on the paths.
In an odd year where he easily could have been a breakout prospect in the hitter friendly California League, Houchins hit a rut that leaves his numbers puzzling. He began the season homering in each of his first four games, and just weeks later fell into an 0-for-32 stretch that ended up becoming a 2-for-58 stretch. Outside from the poor streak at the plate, Houchins put up a slash of .287/.336/.469 while striking out in just 14.9% of his plate appearances. He came on strong in his final 70 games, hitting .310 with a .835 OPS, along with 10 home runs and 55 RBI. The results from the full season may not express it, but Houchins should be set to move forward in the organization to Double-A in 2017.
39. Sherman Johnson, Second Baseman
5'10, 190 lbs, L/R
July 15, 1990 (26); Tampa, Florida
Florida State University (Tallahassee, FL)
Drafted in 14th Round (447th overall) of 2012 MLB Draft
Many have considered Sherman Johnson as the hidden gem in the system for quite some time. Now, Johnson is at the door step of the Majors, knocking on the door hoping someone will answer. With added depth, he may have to wait for the right moment or opportunity, but a strong effort in Spring Training may give him the adequate timing to take over a bench spot in 2017 and future starting role depending on if he can maintain his ability to reach base non-stop once second base is vacant again at season's end.
Though numbers rarely express much in a scouting report, there are a few that express Johnson's tools and abilities. Take a look at two numbers; 36.4 and 83.13. The first number is his percentage of reaching base. With plus-plus discipline, Johnson has drawn 369 walks in his career and garnered a .364 on-base percentage. The second is the amount of games he's reached base against the amount of games played. Though tougher pitching has forced Johnson to adjust and take him away from being overly disciplined, he still draws walks at a premier rate and constantly works deep counts and forces opposing pitchers throw strikes due to his baserunning skills. On the paths, he doesn't have explosive speed, but uses his outstanding baseball IQ to take the next base. Whether it's a steal, or aggressive jump, Johnson finds his way around the paths and scores runs frequently.
As for the rest of his offensive tools, his contact abilities aren't enough to make him a threat at the Major League level yet. He has a short and compact swing from the left-side with some loft at the tail end giving him surprising raw power. However, due to his disciplined approach, he falls into non-hitter counts and will fall victim to high strikeout rates. If he can make the proper two-strike adjustments and improve his bat plane and contact abilities, he could work his way into a starting role at the highest level.
Using pregame workouts and extended reps in the field, Johnson has become a strong versatile asset for the infield. He has the ability to play third base and shortstop, but is best suited for second base where his footwork and soft hands have shown how important he is to run prevention, a key in the Angels new regime. Stronger to his glove side, Johnson has a quick initial burst en route to the ball, and has a quick release allowing him to throw strikes to first base. Using communication as a strong tool, Johnson thinks ahead of the play and leads the infield and to make the right decisions in taking away the run game and excess base runners, making him a vital player in the organization.
As stated before, Johnson has made a career in reaching base at the minor league level. Spending last season primarily in Triple-A, Johnson didn't put up the numbers he had in previous years, slashing .226/.332/.345 in the hitter friendly Pacific Coast League. Though he'll likely contend for a bench spot in Spring Training, added development in the league could help Johnson's future, and Salt Lake will likely be his destination come April.
38. Jose Rodriguez, Right-Handed Pitcher
6'2, 175 lbs, R/R
August 29, 1995 (21); Ciudad Bolivar, Bolivar, Venezuela
Signed as International Free Agent; December 3, 2012
Some players can find a way to make the game simple. Simplicity is the name of the game for Jose Rodriguez. Though there's no standout or even sexy tool that Rodriguez possesses, he does the job of a pitcher and creates outs regularly. The ceiling isn't high, but if Rodriguez can continue to just do what he does, he has a shot at becoming a a small role Major Leaguer in the future, which is the start of any player's dream. Being fluent in both English and Spanish, Rodriguez has become a tool himself in helping his team and foreign teammates in communication and building chemistry.
With clean and repeatable mechanics on the mound, Rodriguez is a simple pitcher, never overdoing or overthinking what he has to do. His pitchability is off the charts, as is his makeup and ability to learn how to get each batter out. He works in the high 80's to low 90's with both his four-seam and two-seam fastballs, utilizing his sinker as his best tool. He replicates arm speed with his changeup, darting it to the bottom of the zone with ease. Another key asset is his pin-point command of both pitches. Rodriguez also possesses a fringe off-speed offering that's shown a slurve-like break, but has been a weapon in garnering hitters to swing over top of it and miss on two-strike counts when necessary.
With an inning-limit for each game, Rodriguez did himself justice in his first taste of full-season ball. Never going over five innings in any outing, he saw 19 of his 27 outings in the Midwest League go for under two runs allowed. In his final six outings, he had four go scoreless over five innings, and another see just one run, walking zero of the 115 batters he faced, holding bats to a .470 OPS. Over the year, Rodriguez had a 7-5 record, 3.14 ERA and 66.1 strike percentage according to Baseball-Reference.
37. Jordan Zimmerman, Second Baseman
6'1, 195 lbs, R/R
November 21, 1994 (22); Chandler, Arizona
Michigan State University (East Lansing, MI)
Drafted in 7th Round (216th overall) of 2016 MLB Draft
Whoever coached this kid growing up deserves some high praise. Jordan Zimmerman came into professional baseball prepped and ready to showcase his talents in the same manor he did in the amateur ranks. With the possibility of hitting his way through the organization, Zimmerman is a step ahead of most while adapting to a new position.
Zimmerman's hit tool matches up with the top in the organization. With a short-to-the-ball compact swing, Zimm loads well with his firm lower half and drives the ball, barreling balls from gap-to-gap. He uses his quick hands and natural strength to muscle balls over the fence, but will be known for line drives more than home runs over his career. There's room for improvement in making his swing more athletic and less robotic to garner more tools to excel against higher level pitching, but should be able to adjust with the Angels' new flexibility and dietary plans. With an advanced approach, he's nothing short of a sure thing at the plate.
Zimmerman has a stocky figure, but it does not take away from his average speed, which has helped him in the field. Mixing time between the outfield and first base at the college ranks, he's adapted to second base well, showing fluid routes and quick hands to help him make the easy plays. It will be a strong test for him moving forward, but so far, he's shown no reason to believe he can't be a reliable right-side infielder. Zimmerman makes strong and accurate throws, and there's been rumors he may make a move back to the corner outfield at points in his development.
Breaking into professional baseball with a bang, Zimmerman hit safely in each of his first 19 games, all in the Pioneer League. With Orem, he hit .422 with a 1.117 OPS, driving four balls out of the park. He hit a rut in Low-A, going 20-for-130 (.154), which should be his landing spot in 2017 where he can adapt to professional pitching.
36. Brendon Sanger, Second Baseman
6'0, 195 lbs, L/R
September 11, 1993 (23); York, Pennsylvania
Florida Atlantic University (Boca Raton, FL)
Drafted in 4th Round (135th overall) of 2015 MLB Draft
It seems everyone is waiting for Brendan Sanger's breakout party. After an astonishing offensive collegiate career, Sanger is struggling to find luck in the professional ranks while still flashing the desirable tools that made him one of the more coveted hitting prospects in his draft class. There may be no standout tool in his game, but there's nothing short of boring when a man reaches base at the rates he does. With the California League in his sites, there may be no one better suited for a breakout season in the Angels' system than Sanger himself.
Known for his hitting capabilities, Sanger still shows promise as an offensive threat despite poor numbers. Loading with his hands, there's some length to his stroke from the left side, but keeping the barrel of the bat in the zone throughout his swift swing, he's given high praise for his contact ability, but lacks anything more than gap-to-gap power. Mixing balanced discipline with his ability to hit to all parts of the field, he has a strong approach at the plate. Strikeouts have remained low due to his mixture of contact and pitch selection, but is still adapting to working from behind against higher-tier professional pitchers. With his pure hitting talents, Sanger should be able to march through the system and match his low ceiling mark at minimum.
Once a highly touted prep shortstop, Sanger was moved all around the field in college and may have found his mark at the professional levels at second base. Though there's much work to be done, the move back to the infield from the outfield was relatively simple. He's an average fielder, which is all he needs to be over time. There's nothing flashy about his glove, but with enough lateral range and a strong and accurate arm, he won't be a liability and can maintain his value on the right side of the infield. His speed stems primarily from agility, but his overall speed is below-average.
Following a career at Florida Atlantic where he slashed .351/.463/.507, with a 15.1 walk rate and 11.2 strikeout rate, Sanger struggled in his first taste of pro ball. He did finish strong, hitting .357 with a 1.043 OPS in his final 40 games. Last year, his first of full-season ball, he hit .230 with a .654 OPS, but did possess a .329 on-base percentage. Sanger reached base in 59 of his final 70 games. As noted in the introduction, Sanger should make the leap to the hitter friendly Cal League in 2017 where his bat could play large dividends on his prospect status.