|Los Angeles Angels Top 5|
|1||Jordan Walden||RHP||Overwhelmed Low-A hitters (2.96 FIP); then hit a speed bump in High-A (11.2% BB, 23.4% K)||20.9||A+|
|2||Nick Adenhart||RHP||Posted worst pro FIP (4.95) in the hitter-friendly PCL last season; middle-of-the-rotation upside||22.1||MLB|
|3||Hank Conger||C||Could be average big leaguer if he can stick behind the plate; stock drops drastically as 1B/DH||20.7||A+|
|4||Trevor Reckling||LHP||Good GB pitcher had a 3.75 FIP as 5th-youngest SP in Low-A last season; 19.9% K, 9.2% BB||19.4||A|
|5||William Smith||LHP||6-foot-5 lefty with pinpoint command struck out 25.5% of R batters he faced; '08 7th rounder||19.3||R|
|Honorables: Mark Trumbo (1B), Sean O'Sullivan (RHP), Ryan Mount (2B), Clayton Fuller (CF), and Peter Bourjos (CF).|
|* Our rankings combine a player's ceiling with the odds that he'll reach it and favor recent production|
|** Ages are as of November 1st, 2008|
|*** Level is the highest level the player has reached|
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Jordan Walden -- Standing 6-foot-5, 220 lbs., Walden was drafted in the 12th round of the 2006 draft. He signed for $1,000,000 through the now extinct draft-and-follow process. A highly touted high school righthander, Walden has the ability to miss bats (22.0% '08 K) as well as induce a lot of ground balls. And with the exception of last July, he has also demonstrated solid command (8.1% career BB). Walden has a high ceiling and floor -- could be a No. 3 starter or better. He was too much for the Midwest League last season, inducing ground balls at a 64% clip along with a 2.96 FIP (426 TBF). His 2.85 K/BB ratio was solid, but his 21.4 K% fell slightly below some expectations. Promoted to the California League in late July, Walden started off shaky (14.7 BB%, 20.6 K% in July; 68 TBF) but settled down nicely. He struck out 23.4% overall at the hitter-friendly level (214 TBF). The 2009 season could be Walden's true breakout year.
Nick Adenhart -- A curious case as a pitching prospect, but unlike Benjamin Button, Nick Adenhart hasn't exactly gotten better with age. He was in competition for a rotation spot with the Angels last season but wound up spending almost the entire season struggling against Triple-A hitters (4.95 FIP) -- it's worth noting that he was in a hitter's park and league. Adenhart was exceptinoal in Low-A (23.4% K, 6.1% BB, good in High-A (21.0, 7.3), and solid in Double-A (17.3, 9.7) before dissapointing in Triple-A (16.8, 11.5). While he has always had youth on his side, looking back, perhaps we should have been wearier of his .283 Low-A BABIP, as well as his incredibly low 1% HR/Air rate. Even though his strikeout and walk rates have declined at each of his minor league stops, they are still solid enough to give him middle-of-the-rotation upside, even if his floor is dropping like an elevator.
Hank Conger -- Like most minor league catching prospects, Conger still needs to prove he can stick behind the plate. But when you couple his bat with a chance of catching in the major leagues one day, you have a very solid prospect. The 25th pick in the 2006 draft, Conger has shown some pop (.179 Midwest League IsoP, .214 California League), though his plate discipline is discouraging (6.6% in 2007, 4.4% in 2008). Youth is one of the biggest advantages the 6-foot, 205 pound switch-hitter has on his side -- he turned 21 last month. Conger was sidelined for most of 2008 with back spasms and a partially torn labrum in his throwing shoulder, which limited him to designated hitting. His value will take a huge hit if he has to move to the other end of the defensive spectrum (i.e., first base or designated hitter). The bat would certainly play above-average at backstop, but he may not have enough going in the patience/power departments to play at a premium offensive position.
Trevor Reckling -- Following the top three, the Angels have a plethora of pitching prospects in the mix. Reckling's pro performance to this point is the reason we are giving him the nod as the Angels 4th best prospect. A 6-foot-2 lefthander, Reckling has shown the ability to strike hitters out (23.1% career) and get plenty of grounders (55% career). Following a 36.0 inning stint in the AZL where he was untouchable (4.7 BB%, 37.2 K%, 55 GB%), Reckling continued to pitch well in Low-A (3.75 FIP). And although his strikeout rate dropped dramatically from rookie ball to Low-A (19.9%), his showing was strong for a teenager -- 5th-youngest SP in Low-A last season. Reckling had command issues to begin 2008 (11.8% in April/May/June; 356 TBF) but he settled down as the season went on (5.9% in July/August; 287 TBF). His solid rates leave us thinking he has middle-of-the-rotation upside, although it's still early enough in his career that he could have a breakout year.
William Smith -- Many 18-year-old pitching prospects are considered “raw”, “wild”, or “a project”. This is not the case with William Smith. Pinpoint command is the name of his game. This coming from a 6-foot-5 left-hander, offers plenty of reason to get excited. Making his pro debut after being selected in the 7th round of the 2008 Draft, Smith walked an astonishingly low 2.0% of the 298 Pioneer League batters he faced while striking out 25.5%. Before you get too excited, be aware that some pitching prospects -- especially lefties -- can put up amazing numbers in the low minors by commanding their pitches. But still, Smith’s command actually improved each month -- he walked 0.7% in August and September (141 TBF); 26.2% K. Based on what we’ve seen from him, it’s safe to say that Smith has some of the best command in the minors. If he can retain his ability to strike batters out, as well as continue to get a solid amount of grounders (50% last season), I see no reason for him not to break out in full-season ball this year.
Mark Trumbo (1/16/86) -- The California League is a great place to have a breakout season, and that’s exactly what Mark Trumbo did in 2008. With the lack of a long-term first baseman in the Angels system, Trumbo has a good chance to eventually claim the everyday job eventually. But he’ll need tom make some crucial adjustments first, primarily with his plate discipline. Trumbo managed to walk in just 5.7% of his plate appearances last season (in A+/AA). He did, however, make big strides in the power department. Following back-to-back Midwest League seasons of poor slugging (.135 isoP in ‘06, .155 isoP in ‘07), he managed a .270 in High-A Rancho Cucamonga, then .220 in Double-A (133 PA). Trumbo also doesn’t strike out too much (16.8% in ‘08). If he improves upon his ability to take walks, Trumbo could start receiving a lot of hype in 2009.
Brett Sullivan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.