On June 19, the Rocket City Trash Pandas did what no LA Angels minor league affiliate had done since 2017, qualify for the postseason.
To earn a spot in the Double-A Southern League playoffs, a team needs to finish either the first or second half of the season as the top team in their division. At 39-24, the Trash Pandas not only secured the best first-half record in the North Division, but in the entire league. It may seem inconsequential, but this is the reality:
The Trash Pandas making the playoffs is a sign that the LA Angels are finally on their way to having a quality farm system.
After years of having a bottom-tier farm system, the LA Angels are now seeing many of their most promising prospects from the last few drafts emerging as possible future major leaguers, and it all starts with the Trash Pandas.
Double-A is where the true blue-chip prospects begin to pull away from their peers and prove to scouts that they have what it takes to make it to the majors. Unsurprisingly, the Trash Pandas currently boast several players who have the potential to make that jump.
The most notable of course is Chase Silseth, who became the first player from the 2021 draft to appear in the big leagues after quickly establishing himself as the best pitcher in all of Double-A baseball, boasting an elite 1.75 ERA, 0.889 WHIP and 11.8 K/9. Before that, he was named the Southern League Pitcher of the Month in April.
Fellow starting pitchers and 2021 draftees Ky Bush, Sam Bachman, and Brett Kerry, as well as 2019 draftee Coleman Crow have all had phenomenal seasons too. Bush is currently sporting a 2.47 ERA through 11 starts and looks to be the next Trash Panda to make his MLB debut, while Bachman has made good on his first-round draft pedigree by posting a 1.98 ERA through his first four starts, though, has twice been sidelined due to injury.
As for Kerry and Crow, the two seem to have flipped places over the course of the half, with Kerry looking like one of the league’s best pitchers through his first six starts (eight earned runs) before getting lit up in his last five (17 earned runs), while Crow struggled in his first five starts (16 ER) before dominating his next six (five ER). Regardless, both have spent significant time this year as two of Double-A’s best pitchers.
Two more members of the 2021 draft class, relief pitchers Luke Murphy (2.92 ERA in 18 appearances) and Eric Torres (1.13 ERA in 18 appearances), have also looked incredible, further giving hope to the once pitching starved Angels’ system.
It's not just the pitching prospects that are wowing either, as the Trash Pandas’ offense has been highly potent as well. Trey Cabbage (1B/RF), Jeremiah Jackson (2B/SS) and Zach Humphreys (C) are just some of the many Trash Pandas who have had monster years at the plate so far.
Cabbage, the Southern League April Player of the Month, was one of the best hitters in all of Double-A before getting sidelined with an injury in mid-May, slashing .327/.434/.664 with 10 home runs and 32 RBIs in 30 games. Jackson, the only position player on the Trash Pandas ranked among the Angels’ top 30 prospects (#7), came out strong after missing much of the early season with injury, now boasting a .939 OPS through 20 games.
Meanwhile, Humphreys is starting to set himself up as the best catcher in the Angels’ farm system, with an .863 OPS and five home runs with the bat, and 11 batters caught stealing from behind the plate.
Other notable players include Orlando Martinez (.808 OPS) and Ryan Aguilar (.861 OPS), who have shown some pop at the plate, as well as Jose Gomez and Preston Palmeiro, who combined for 30 doubles in 51 games.
While it's true that only a few of the guys currently on the Trash Pandas will make it to the majors someday, that’s not really the point. Having a roster this talented from top to bottom, filled to the brim with exciting prospects is something the Angels minor league system has not had in a long time, and that’s what really matters.
If the Angels want to prove to the entire baseball world that they can have a top-tier farm system that develops future stars, then the Trash Pandas owning the best record in the Southern League and third best record in all of Double-A is a good start.