The LA Angels made their first picks in the annual Amateur Draft Monday. As the draft snaked through the front offices of all 30 MLB teams were looking for that diamond in the rough.
The LA Angels were no exception to this as general manager Billy Eppler and Matt Swanson, the director of amateur scouting were picking and choosing fresh blood to replenish a perpetually hungry farm system that chews through prospects like Bartolo Colon through a post-game spread.
Eppler took over a farm system that, just two years ago, was ranked as the worst in baseball. Two short years later, the Angels came into the 2018 season with two recent draft picks in the Baseball America Top 100: last season’s #1 pick, outfielder Jo Adell, and Jahmai Jones, the second pick of the 2015 draft. Beyond that, Griffin Canning, last year’s second pick, has thus far dominated the Southern League.
Taylor Ward, the first pick in 2015, was shifted from catcher to third base, and his bat has finally started to meet the lofty expectations that came with his draft status. The two top picks in 2016, Matt Thaiss and Brandon Marsh, have moved steadily up the minor league food chain. This doesn’t even count the significant contributions of rookie Jaime Barria, without whom the Angels would be more than floundering.
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The top end of this season’s ongoing draft shows again that Billy Eppler has a type: he loves athletic high school position players and college pitchers. Here are the newest Angels:
Rd.1 Jordyn Adams, OF, 6’2″, 180 lbs (17th selection overall)
A high school phenom from Cary, North Carolina, Adams is known for his absolute freakish across-the-board athleticism. Note, for example, this incredible dunk that became a viral sensation on YouTube, or the videos of him shredding defenses as a wide receiver. Like most high school phenoms, he hit for a ridiculous average, but he’s only had two homers in nearly 50 high school games. One assumes that he’ll grow into some power, but his athleticism is eye-popping, and he may well be the fastest prep player in the country.
It wasn’t a lock that he’ll sign with the Angels as he was committed to playing football and baseball for UNC, and according to Adams in a Baseball America interview last month, football is a very big deal to him and his family, but that he also feels more attached to baseball at this point.
Adams was slotted for around $3.5 million as the 17th overall pick, so that might have something to do with why he decided to forego college and sign with the Angels today. Eppler possibly may have used his warmth, words and sweet, sweet legal tender to sway him into sign on the dotted line.
Rd. 2 Jeremiah Jackson, SS, 6’0″, 170 lbs (57th selection overall)
Unlike Adams, Jackson has already declared his intention to play for whomever drafts him, so the Angels are assured that the state of Mississippi’s Mr. Baseball will be joining their ranks. While there are some questions as to which position he’ll eventually end up at, what’s fairly certain is that this kid is far beyond his high school competition: so far this season, he’s hitting .644 with 15 homers in 31 games. At the plate, he shows a mature approach to the strike zone, and seems to have no problems laying off pitches he doesn’t like.
Rd. 3 Aaron Hernandez, RHP, 6’2″, 175 lbs (93rd selection overall)
Here’s all you need to know about Hernandez: he can throw 98 MPH. A classic Texas fireballer from Texas A&M-Corpus Christi, he also throws a curve, slider, and change, and his secondary pitches all have plus potential. The problem — as is so often the case with young pitchers like Hernandez — is that he can’t always throw strikes. In 40 innings, he’s walked 20, thrown five wild pitches, and hit six guys. He’s also allowed more hits (41) than innings pitched, not a great sign for someone who throws as hard as he does. Hernandez is 22 years old, so he’s not a teenager like Jackson or Adams, and given where he is on the development curve, a move to the bullpen may be in store for him.
Rd. 4 Kyle Bradish, RHP, 6’4″, 190 lbs (121st selection overall)
Bradish was projected to go higher by nearly 30 slots, so either the Angels caught a big break, or they missed on something. A three-year starter at New Mexico State, Bradish throws his fastball in the low- to mid-90s, and compliments that with plus curve as well as a slider/cutter that scouts are very excited about. He comes high over the top and his deceptive motion helped him log over 12 Ks per 9 innings, but he also walked 55 batters in just 101 innings pitched. Bradish isn’t quite big league ready, but his repertoire and mound presence have him as close as the Angels can expect to get from a draftee.
Rd. 5 William English, RHP/OF, 6’3″, 190 lbs (151st selection overall)
Yep, another prep athlete. William English is athletic enough to join Jordyn Adams in a dunk contest, but what makes him stand out is his two-way talent. Already a beast of an athlete at 17, English boasts a fastball that edges the mid-90s. When he’s not striking out 35 guys in 19 innings, he’s playing the outfield and stealing bases. Taylor Blake Ward reported on Twitter that Billy Eppler plans to allow English “built up to give him a chance to do both pitching and outfield” — I guess one Shohei Ohtani isn’t enough.
Rd. 6 Austin Warren, RHP, 6’0″, 170 lbs
Warren is a right-handed reliever from UNC Wilmington. Warren is a senior who had some eye-popping numbers in 2018, his final year. In 28 games Warren pitched 51.1 innings allowing only 10 runs with an ERA of 1.75 with 64 strikeouts and only 13 walks with an opponents’ batting average of .181 and a WHIP of 0.89.
Rd. 7 Andrew Wantz, RHP, 6’4″, 235 lbs
Andrew Wantz is another hard-throwing right handed reliever with college experience. Wantz pitched three years in college with his senior year being the best for UNC Greensboro in 2018. Wantz pitched in 26 games this year throwing 55 innings with a a 6-0 record an 2.95 ERA and 10 saves.
Wantz struck out 81 batters in his 55 innings of work with only 18 walks which equates to over a 4 to 1 ratio of strikeouts to walks. His WHIP was 1.09 and opponents hit .214 against him.
Rd. 8 Tyler Smith, RHP, 6’0″, 230 lbs
Tyler Smith is another reliever who was Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference Reliever of the Year. Smith was 12-6 with 22 saves and 2.50 ERA in 89 appearances in his career at Canisius College in Buffalo, New York. The Griffins were in the same regional as UCLA in the NCAA Baseball Regionals.
Smith went 2-3 with a 0.98 ERA in 25 apppearances in 2018. He had 10 saves striking out 43 batters in 36.2 innings with a 1.20 WHIP and opponents batted just .185 against Smith this season.
Rd. 9 Jake Lee, RHP, 6’4″, 215 lbs
Jake Lee, the one starter in the bunch, is particularly intriguing. He’s big and broad, which means he’s projectable. His strikeout rate in three years at Oakland University went from 5.6 K/IP to 9 K/IP to 13.4 K/IP — he improved tremendously over his three years, and improved over the course of his final year. Lee went 7-5 with 112 strikeouts to break the school record for strikeouts in a season In 2018.
He knows how to miss bats and he knows how to adapt and improve, and you have to love those traits in a young player. If the Angels can help him stay in the strike zone (35 walks, 11 wild pitches, 7 hit batters in 75.1 innings, yikes) Lee could be real sleeper pick.
Rd. 10 Ben Morrison, RHP, 5’11” 185
Ben Morrison is a red-shirt junior who is also a reliever. Morrison successfully came back in 2017 from a torn labrum that required surgery during the 2016 season. In 2018 Morrison was 3-4 with seven saves and an ERA of 2.21 for Western Kentucky University. He finished with 36.2 inningings of work and 42 strikeouts with only nine walks and opponents had a .217 batting average against Morrison with a WHIP of 1.09.
Billy Eppler loves his college pitchers — five straight hard-throwing right-handed college seniors will fill in the Angels minor leagues. Warren, Wantz, Smith and Morrison are all relievers who throw hard and strike out a lot of guys, and it’s hard not to think think that Eppler was drafting out of an organizational need for relief pitching — young Jose Suarez was the only high-ceiling relief arm that’s close to showing up in Anaheim anytime soon. Not anymore. While Suarez is just 20 years old, the organization’s four new relievers are all 22 and 23 years old, within a year of getting shots at the major leagues, especially if the current big league pen continues to be flammable when exposed to open air.
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All in all it was a pitching rich first 10 picks and it will be interesting to see how they develop over the next few years, and shh!! Stay healthy. Stay tuned.