The LA Angels crop of prospect talent in the lower levels of the organization are starting to peek their heads around the development corner & show flashes of what they can be capable of at the MLB level.
One of the hottest hitting LA Angels prospects down in Class A Advanced, with the Inland Empire 66ers, is middle infielder and reliable contact man Mike Stefanic.
What really makes Mike Stefanic special is the determination behind his game; so much of Stefanic’ baseball life prior to coming into the Angels system has seen him being overlooked. Even if his stature isn’t the biggest, he stands at 5’10, he is still swinging the bat just the same as the rest of the guys out there. You could even say that he’s swinging the bat better than a lot of guys out there. Stefanic graduated from Westmont College in Santa Barbara, CA and started on the baseball team all four years. He holds the school records for career hits with 275 and career runs with 157. In fact, Stefanic has the 5th best career batting average for Westmont with .363 and in his senior year he notched another school record by lining 50 doubles.
Mike Stefanic holds the distinct honor of being the only baseball player from that school to be named All-Golden State Athletic Conference Team in each of his four years at Westmont as well as being a recipient of the GSAC Gold Glove all four years including an NAIA Gold Glove his senior year. His college career is simply just one long highlight reel and he’s brought those same skills that made him successful in college to the Angels organization. His passions for the game are relentless and his determination to succeed is unstoppable.
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Stefanic was skipped over in the 2018 draft, but that didn’t deter the young star from making opportunities for himself, which is also a very encouraging natural trait for a hitter to have. Instead of moping about after not being drafted Stefanic went to work sending every one of the 30 MLB teams multiple emails featuring his resume alongside a prospect video and soon after he got a call from the Angels looking to sign him as an undrafted free agent. It hasn’t been an easy road for Stefanic, but it’s been a road that he’s built with his own two hands and that’s a lot more than most people can say for themselves.
That kind of strength, passion, and determination can take you far not just within the game of baseball itself, but in life. The fact that Stefanic takes those traits onto the field with him lets us know just how true of a ballplayer Stefanic is.
LA Angels middle infield prospect, the 23-year old right-handed hitting Mike Stefanic, has been hitting .292/.386/.386 with 40 Ks and 25 BBs across 342 PAs within the Angels system across Low A and High A in 2019. His reliable bat has seen him stroke .301/.369/.355 over the last month with the 66ers as he’s begun to establish himself as a top bat within the order.
Much like the Angels beloved middle infielder David Fletcher, we’re seeing Stefanic display the same high contact/low strikeout abilities that Fletcher is currently showing at the Major League level. At the age of 22 (2016) Fletcher hit .275/.321/.346 across 355 PA’s with the High A 66ers which is strikingly similar to what Stefanic has done with his first go-around in High A. Not only has Stefanic showed a generally reliable bat, when it comes down to crunch time there is no other man you’d want to have at the plate than Stefanic. When facing a situation with RISP and 2 outs Stefanic is hitting .328/.443/.448 in 70 PAs across his time with the Inland Empire 66ers and the Low A Burlington Bees. His power isn’t all there as of now, but the developments he’s made since joining the 66ers are highly encouraging.
Mike Stefanic #23
H.H: What were the first adjustments you started making since coming into High A?
Stefanic: I’ve been focusing in on my hot zones, there’s certain parts of the strike zone I’m really good with and I’m just trying to swing at more pitches inside those zones. It’s helped a lot since I’ve been here. It’s been great, we got a great group of guys up here and we’re having a lot of fun. Hopefully we try to turn the corner and play better baseball this last month and make a run at a playoff spot.
H.H: What were some of the first pieces of advice you got when coming up to the 66ers?
Stefanic: Only swing if it’s a pitch you can drive. I’m a guy who doesn’t really swing and miss a lot so pitch selection is almost more important for me cause if I swing I’m gonna make contact. I’m really just honing in on pitches I can drive. Obviously you’re gonna go through stretches where you’re not seeing it great, but I feel like I’ve been seeing it a lot better lately. Hopefully the exit velocity and our processed numbers continue to rise over the last month of the season.
H.H: How are you approaching your at-bats with 2 outs that bring you the success you’re seeing in that situation?
Stefanic: I’m just trying to hit the ball in the air more. Through my career I’ve been more of a high ground ball guy. Coming here they’ve really preached “hit the ball in the air”. It’s worked quite a bit with driving the ball with 2 outs.
Low A Slash (2019): .333/.400/.431
When coming into High-A Stefanic was more of a ground ball hitter, but since joining High-A Stefanic has put an emphasis on learning how to drive the ball in the air and his efforts were almost immediately rewarded. His first month with the I.E 66ers saw him hit .291/.371/.494 with 3 HRs and 12 RBIs in 89 PAs. The power isn’t expected to be all there, especially with Stefanic just starting to adjust to driving the ball in the air, but at the age of 23 we’re seeing him make huge strides in his game. It’s incredibly encouraging to see his bat developing the way it is given his hitting profile at the start of this season being a high contact ground ball hitter. He is slowly, but surely, evolving past that label and growing into a hitter that can do damage in more ways than just making simple contact.
The most important aspect of a players development aren’t the tools they show up with or even how far those tools can go, the most important aspect of development is how well a prospect can adjust to different environments and the needs that come along with rising in the system. Adaptation is the biggest key to success in baseball and we’re seeing a strong handle on adaptive ability with Mike Stefanic. I can’t say exactly how far his development will take him, but the fact that he’s continued to evolve his profile as a player is highly encouraging towards his future in the MLB.
Rookie Ball Slash (2018): .351/.429/.405
H.H: What’s your approach at the plate like now that you’re getting comfortable in High-A?
Stefanic: I’m really just looking out over the plate in my hot zones, trying to drive the baseball. Like I said I’ve hit a lot of ground balls as an Angel so I’m trying to drive the ball through the gaps and over the fence eventually.
H.H: What are you working on to help you get better at driving the baseball?
Stefanic: In batting practice I’m just focusing on hitting the ball in the air, almost trying to hit home runs really. Baseball is such a touchy feely sport where one day you’re feeling great and one day you won’t. You kind of have to over-exaggerate things in practice so that in game you kind of override that muscle memory in a sense. I’m feeling good and hopefully the numbers continue to go up over this last month.”
5 Gold Glove Awards (GSAC/NAIA) in College
Defense has been just as important a focus in Stefanics development as is his bat as he’s entered his first year in High-A. Stefanic has seen his fair share of struggles in 2019, but that hasn’t shaken his trust in his defensive ability as he’s shown plenty of skill with his multiple Gold Glove awards in college as a second baseman. As a multi-position infielder defense may be more critical than hitting ability only because his versatile defense is what will keep him in lineups day in and day out. Defense is what wins championships, defense is what wins games, but most importantly defense is what allows middle infielders to keep their jobs.
His defensive struggles aren’t what’s important, how he reacts and adjusts is what truly matters. Like we’ve seen with his bat there is a clearly competent ability to adapt, his glove is a little bit behind his bat but it’s still developing all the same. That doesn’t take away from the raw defensive talent that’s there, he showed what he could do in college and it will all come together with time. It’s been a long season for Stefanic, but today he is a much better player than he was at the beginning of the year and if a prospect is giving you that then you can’t really ask for much more. Sure we all want every prospect to be the next big thing, especially the under-the-radar guys, but the one thing that matters more than a prospects potential ceiling is how well and often they actually make strides in development.
2019 High-A Fielding % (2B): .971
H.H: Is there any part of your game you’re specifically looking to work on in this last month of the season?
Stefanic: Defensively I haven’t had the best month so I’m really focusing on taking care of the baseball more and letting the game come to me instead of trying to make plays happen that aren’t necessarily there. I really take pride in my defense so I’ve been kind of frustrated with my defensive numbers as of late but hopefully that will turn around over this last month.”
H.H: How are you working to improve your defense?
Stefanic: Extra ground balls and throwing work, at this time of the year everyones gonna be tired and I think just using my legs more when I throw will be key for me over this last month. I don’t have an 80 grade throwing arm, so really having my feet underneath me and throwing across the diamond is gonna help a lot.”
H.H: What do you see as your overall biggest developmental needs?
Stefanic: Really just consistently hitting the ball harder, we were just looking at our exit velocity numbers and they’re not where I want them to be right now. I look for contact a lot and sometimes I make weak contact since I don’t swing and miss a lot. That’s what we talked about earlier is honing in on pitch selection and driving the baseball more.
Mike Stefanic #23
We’ve seen a lot of “can’t miss” prospects with huge ceilings come through the Angels system whom, at the end of the day, did not achieve any MLB success because they did not have the one skill most critical to a prospects development, which is the ability to evolve and adjust. Mike Stefanic is showing off that key ability we’ve discussed time and time again, adaptation, and in that one factor alone we can confidently say that he has a future as a big league Angel.
No matter what, Stefanic will make it happen, just as he’s did when he first came into this organization. Mike Stefanic is a man who makes things happen and at the end of the day you couldn’t ask for more from you ballplayer.