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Angels Fan Mailbag 2.0, 2017 Off-Season

You asked and Taylor Blake Ward answers. Which prospects are closest to having an impact? Is Eduardo Paredes ready? Where will C.J. Cron land? Everything you wanted to know. 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.

Howdy y'all. It's been a wild off-season, and you want answers. Less than a month before Spring Training really kicks off, hang tight folks.

"David Fletcher, how long until he takes over at second base for the Angels? I say two years, you?" - Les Lukach (@LesLukach)

The Halos have been blessed with multiple quality sixth round picks like Clyde Wright, Devon White, Gary Disarcina and a *catcher* from Southern California they selected in 1990 who went by the name of Troy Percival. You may have heard of that last one. It's been a decade since the Angels drafted a player in the sixth round that reached the Majors, and that can change within a year or two.

David Fletcher is a gamer, who has drawn comparisons to former Angels fan favorite, David Eckstein. A draft eligible sophomore, Fletcher has done nothing but impress the system with his abilities to put the ball in play and play suitable defense, giving him a fast track to the top. Though he's going to be used as a shortstop in the minors, his calling card is at second base, where the Angels could have a hole beginning as soon as the off-season of 2017/18.

Danny Espinosa and Cliff Pennington will be a free agents at season's end, and there's not a load of prospects blocking Fletcher from taking over the four-hole once he's gone. The big question will be if he's ready or not. The only stalwart in his development came due to a minor injury this past season that took him out for a month, and he returned with authority, hitting .308 between two levels. You could see Fletcher as soon as Spring Training 2018, fighting for a spot at second along with Kaleb Cowart, Sherman Johnson and fellow Southern Californian, Andrew Daniel, but it all depends on how far he is into development. I'd say two years is more accurate, your exact prediction.

"Have the Angels signed anybody to a minor league deal with invites to Spring Training?" - Andrew Barone (@thebarone15)

Yes, but not many. The Angels have signed a total of 16 players to minor-league contracts, three of which are returning after being in the organization last year. Of those 16, there have only been six or seven that I have knowledge of that included an invitation to big league camp. Non-roster spring invites should be announced anytime now, and I'm sure a few of the players on minor league deals will be involved with those invites.
From what I know, Shane Robinson, Cody Ege and Kevin Grendell are all back on minor-league deals and all have spring invites. John Lamb and Eric Young Jr. got invites on minor-league deals. It's reasonable to believe that Justin Miller and Tony Sanchez also attained invites on their minor-league deals. Hold tight, Spring Trainingis coming really soon!

"Who do you see as Opening Day closer? Who will be the most impactful MLB rookie next season for the Angels?" - Darren (@theDarrendude)

I'm sticking with Huston Street. As a whole, the Angels 40-man pitching staff outside of Street is 27-for-65 in save opportunities since 2012, which includes Andrew Bailey who is 20-for-28. Keep in mind that Street was one of the most premier closers in baseball until injuries began to take their toll. Even with the injuries, you can almost key in on the exact game that changed things for Street - September 13, 2015.

Up to that date, Street had taken the mound 55 times trying to preserve a lead in a "save opportunity." In those 55 games, the Angels only lost two. On that game in mid September 2015, Street blew a 3-0 lead, allowing five runs in the ninth. Since that day, Street has pitched in 17 games with the same impact, and the Angels have lost the same amount - two.

As for the other options, Cam Bedrosian is the obvious choice, but in two save opportunities, he's only preserved one lead. Andrew Bailey went six-for-six in save opps to close out the year, so it's not far fetched he could have an impact as a closer. I'm not fortune teller, and I'm sure Mike Scioscia has a much better plan than I do as to who the closer will be, but I'm sticking with Huston Street to close out games until I have a reason to believe he's not effective doing so.

"Of the seven Angels who played in the Arizona Fall League, who makes the soonest impact and highest upside?" - Aaron Burkhart (@aaronburkhart)

There are a pair of the seven prospects the Angels sent the Fall League that are closer to Major League time than the others - Eduardo Paredes and David Fletcher. I answer everything you need to know about Fletcher above, but let's touch base on Paredes. In the low minors, Paredes held bats to a .211 average and .548 OPS; in High-A or above, that average has jumped to .241 and OPS to .669. Still honorable numbers but not enough to even regard him as ready for the Majors. The kid is only 21-year-olds and has logged near 50 innings in Double-A, so he's far above others in development. You'll see a lot of him in Spring Training, as he was added to the 40-man roster as protection from the Rule-5, but it' still likely he's at least one year away - similar to Fletcher.

As for upside, the crop was actually high-floor guys for the most part. Paredes would be a standout as a premier reliever option due to his high 90's fastball and potential growth. Of course you have Taylor Ward, the first-rounder from 2015, who has flashed brilliance at times, but is still a ways away from being more than an every day regular behind the plate. Grayson Long is a back end rotation man. Justin Anderson is interesting, but has a bullpen look to him, as does Adam Hofacket. That leaves Michael Hermosillo.

I've raved about Hermosillo for awhile because of what he was in high school. He was a two-way football star, and had D1 offers from across the country, and was in multiple showcases as a defensive back, squarring up with a guy you may have heard of - Ezekiel Elliott. That athleticism has finally transferred in the box scores, and he's showing all the tools he was drafted for. As for a ceiling, it could be high. He needs to tap into every bit of his baseball skills, but he could be a potential above-average outfielder if everything translates due to his athleticsm and ability to barrel the ball.

"Where do you see Taylor Ward?" - Arlene (@itsare_lean)

I see him in the mirror. Sorry, I had to. Taylor Ward had a much different season than he did the year he was drafted. In his first taste of full season ball, he hit .249 with a .659 OPS, which are much lower numbers than his .348 average and .895 OPS after the draft in Orem and Burlington. It's not the most promising sign in terms of numbers and development, but if you saw him in person and take a deeper look, he was much improved as the season carried.

In the first half, Ward was reaching base in 30.5% of his plate appearances, all while keeping his strikeout rate around average at 15.3%. In the second half, he opened his stance and became more patient, lifting his batting average 22 points, and reached base in 35.0% of his plate appearances. That shows signs of adjustments in the proper way which would suggest he's on track to move forward to Mobile (Double-A) in 2017.

The most intriguing part of Ward's second half is that his strikeout rate stayed the same but his power numbers jumped, hitting eight of his 10 home runs for the season in his final 44 games. There's still signs he could be a promising piece of the Angels' future, as a starting catcher at the highest level. His defense is still stellar.

"I really like Tyler Skaggs in our rotation. How do you think he will do this upcoming season?" - Jay (@chavezjd11)

I'm with you, Jay. Tyler Skaggs is awesome. The numbers have not been friendly to the southpaw though, so don't look to those for his future. The key asset, as goes for every Angels' pitcher, is health. Skaggs has only thrown 353.1 innings since 2013, which is not ideal for someone with front of the rotation like stuff.

He may still be a season or two away from blossoming into that "number two" like pitcher, but the stuff is still there. He's very strong when pitching ahead, predominantly with two strikes and two outs, so he's still putting guys away. The concerning number is that batters are hitting .290 with men on against him.

One thing to remember is that he's only 25-year-old. Even though the game is seeing guys like Manny Machado, Carlos Correa, Kris Bryant, and Mike Trout who are acting as carrying figures in their youth, most players don't hit their full stride until they're in their mid to late 20's, so give him time. 2017 could be the year he breaks out as a star.

"Will C.J. Cron be flipped for pitching, or is Luis Valbuena signing more for next season at third base?" - Ben Fueger (@_bfueger)

To be perfectly honest, I was kinda lost with the Valbuena signing, and thought it was a giant addition to the depth. You can read about it more here, but Billy Eppler was very open about the amount of time Valbuena will get, which means much less for C.J. Cron. I've been told the Angels aren't making any significant moves anytime soon, but that could change with one phone call from an opposing general manager. For now, let Spring Training play out, and see what happens with the season. If Cron is moved, I doubt it will happen until the mid parts of the season, if at all.

"Do the Angels land either Jason Hammel or Matt Wieters or both?" - Dan Baumgartner Jr. (@daBAUM_3)

I say no. The Angels have roughly $12 million left before they go over the luxury tax, and they have to leave a large margin of that available for mid-season pickups that could alter the overall financial side of the team. I've been told the interest in Wieters is there, but not monumental to where the team would go over the luxury tax. The Angels have so much starting pitching depth currently, Hammel just isn't worth the nickles and dimes. It may not seem that way, but there's a good chance one of the eight or nine former prospects Eppler brought in will have a resurrection of their career in some way and become a good back end arm. I did a breakdown of the depth recently and couldn't figure out if guys like Daniel Wright, Manny Banuelos or Vicento Campos end up in Mobile or Salt Lake, it's that deep.

"Some names we should know for the Halos before the draft?; Over/under 81 wins?" - Kyle S. Parent (@parant80)

The names will change every week from mid-February, all the way to draft day. Settle in, do your homework, and let the new scouting department go to work. The class is deep with college arms and prep position players, so I expect the Angels to do something in that order. Here's two names just to give you a firm answer - Tristan Beck and Ryan Vilade.

Projection for team records rely purely on that each team will have a full bill of health. That said, if this Angels team can remain healthy through the entirety of the season, I see them as a 80-85 win team, just outside of the wildcard mark. Could they surprise everyone and win 90? Sure. Could they also disappoint and win 75? Sure.

"Will the Angels go after a left-handed relief pitcher?" - Beakster_722 (@akallday22)

Yes, but I do not have any information on who that player could be. Arguably, the top two left-handed relief arms on the market are Jerry Blevins and Boone Logan. Depending on their asking price, which has been said to be multiple years at $6 million average, they both could be out of the price range the Angels can afford. If you're going to assume anything, assume they'll be buying low

"Does a younger reliever like Keynan Middleton or Eduardo Paredes have a legitimate chance at making the team if they impress in Spring Training?" - nmbaseball52 (@nmbaseball52)

I touched on Paredes above, and still believe he has plenty of development remaining. Keynan Middleton is intriguing though. He struggled mightily as a starter, and the decision to move him to the bullpen saw every reward possible. He missed bats regularly, and saw his fastball jump from low 90's to touching triple digits, with one report saying he hit 102 MPH.

It was expected he would be a potential September callup or be offered a place in the Arizona Fall League, and neither happened. However, the organization did add him to the 40-man, protecting him from the Rule-5 Draft, where he likely would have been selected. He'll be able to pitch fairly regularly in Spring Training, and if he continues to show he's doing everything right, he could easily be the missing piece in the Angels' bullpen. I don't expect him to be on the Opening Day roster, but instead, be up around June or July, and never come back down.

"Can you see yourself on 'Jeopardy' in the near future?" - Kevin Jimenez (@KevinCJimenez)

I'll take, "Sports is all I know," for 500, Alex.

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