Angels' Cron, Maronde rise to the top

Power-hitting first baseman named Cal Rookie of the Year

By Danny Wild / | October 24, 2012 12:31 PM

This offseason, is honoring the players -- regardless of age or prospect status -- who had the best seasons in their organization. We're taking a look at each team to determine the outstanding seasons in Minor League Baseball. Select a team from the dropdown below.

Though the Angels always seem to yield a winning season at the Major League level, most Halos fans probably would be content with the gem produced by the farm system this year: Mike Trout.

For the purposes of choosing impact players for the entire season, however, Trout -- who spent only 20 games at Triple-A Salt Lake -- isn't what we're looking for. Sluggers like C.J. Cron and Kaleb Cowart produced big years in the Minors for Los Angeles, and though the Angels missed the postseason in 2012, they have even more help on the way.

At the same time, it wasn't a great season in terms of wins and losses for Angels' affiliates. Triple-A Salt Lake (73-71) was the only one to post a winning record, with Class A Advanced Inland Empire (66-74), Class A Cedar Rapids (53-86), Rookie-level Orem (35-41) and even the club's Rookie-level Arizona League entry (23-33) finishing in last place. At 62-78, Double-A Arkansas just escaped the Texas League cellar.

In the offseason, the Angels switched Midwest League affiliates from Cedar Rapids to Burlington.

Angels Organization All-Stars

Catcher -- Hank Conger, Salt Lake (67 games), Los Angeles (7 games): The switch-hitting backstop has spent time in the Majors in each of the last three seasons but got the bulk of his playing time with the Bees again this year, batting .295 with 10 homers and 42 RBIs. He batted .313 against right-handed pitchers, compared to .238 against lefties and posted his best statistics in April, when he hit .357.

"Hank made some nice improvements with his throwing. I know that was one area of concern that not only the Angels had but others in the industry," said Scott Servais, the Angels' assistant general manager for scouting and player development (he was also a Major League catcher). "He made some good adjustments and he got a lot better. He's always been able to swing the bat, so we're good with where he's at. He's lining himself up for an opportunity to make our big league club coming out of Spring Training."

First base -- C.J. Cron, Inland Empire (129 games): The 2011 first-round pick may have exceeded expectations in his first full season in the Minors, batting .293 with 27 homers and 123 RBIs in the Cal League. He ranked first in the system in homers and 10th in average while leading the league in RBIs. A decorated college player out of Utah, the righty-swinging Cron batted .313 against lefties and .359 with runners on base in earning Cal League Rookie of the Year honors and tying the franchise record for RBIs in a season. The bad news? He's blocked at first base by Albert Pujols, he drew only 17 walks in 2012 and underwent surgery to repair the labrum in his right shoulder in August, a lingering injury from college. His 2011 season also ended with surgery (to his knee).

"We knew coming in, obviously, newer people like myself and Jerry (Angels general manager Jerry Dipoto), C.J. was one of the better bats in the Draft," said Servais. "The year he had -- he had a little shoulder cleanup at the end, so hopefully he's good to go by the end of Spring Training."

"He's the best power hitter in the league," 66ers manager Bill Haselman said in August. "Driving in runs is the name of the game and Cron delivered all year long."

Honorable mention: Wade Hinkle

Second base -- Taylor Lindsey, Inland Empire (134 games): Lindsey, a 2010 first-round pick, spent his first full season at Inland Empire after skipping the Angels' Midwest League affiliate. He hit .289 with nine homers, 58 RBIs and 26 doubles.

"He's played in the Cal League at 20 years old, in his first full season, so he's well ahead of his age and level," Servais said. "He's made a lot of strides defensively and he had a nice year."

Honorable mention: Matt Long

Shortstop -- Jean Segura, Arkansas (94 games), Huntsville (8 games), Milwaukee (45 games): Segura was traded to Milwaukee as part of the Zack Greinke deal, but he spent most of the 2012 season in the Texas League, where he hit .304 with seven homers, 40 RBIs and 33 steals. He's now considered the Brewers' top prospect.

"Jean is a good player. We got a good player back in the trade, obviously, but you've got to give up something to get something, and he'll do fine with Milwaukee," Servais said.

Honorable mention: Ed Lucas

Third base -- Kaleb Cowart, Inland Empire (69 games), Cedar Rapids (66 games): Cowart, the Angels' top prospect, crushed the ball in his first full season, batting .276 with 16 homers and 103 RBIs. Another 2010 first-round pick, he stole 14 bases, added seven triples, ranked second in the system in RBIs, earned Midwest League All-Star honors and earned an invitation to the Arizona Fall League.

"Kaleb had a great year for us, starting at low-A and finishing at high-A at 20," Servais said. "And defensively, he's pretty advanced, he can handle the glove, he's got plenty of arm strength and his range is good. He switch-hits, and it's hard to keep it going from both sides all year, but he did a nice job. He ran out of gas at the end of the year and in the AFL a little, but we're excited about him and where he should end up this next year."

Honorable mention: Michael Snyder

Designated hitter -- Luis Jimenez, Salt Lake (122 games): The Angels' No. 9 prospect ranked third in the system in average and RBIs after hitting .309 with 16 homers, 85 RBIs and 17 stolen bases in his first Triple-A campaign. Signed out of the Dominican Republic in 2005, Jimenez is the Halos' No. 2 third base prospect behind Cowart and showed why following a 94-RBI campaign in 2011 at Arkansas.

"He gets overlooked because of Cowart, but Luis is a good player," Servais said. "He's produced big numbers the last few years, he had a good year at Triple-A. He's a guy who is on the cusp of breaking into the big league level sometime next year."


Randal Grichuk, Inland Empire (98 games): The Angels' No. 2 outfield prospect ranked sixth in the organization in average after hitting .298 with 18 homers, 71 RBIs and 16 steals. Selected one spot ahead of Trout in the 2009 Draft, the 21-year-old got a quick taste of the Cal League in 2011 and adjusted well this season, hitting .353 against southpaws.

"Grichuk had a nice year. It was his first year of being completely healthy the whole season and when he's healthy, he can go out and you can see the numbers he puts up," said Servais. "He's well above average in the outfield, throws well and he has success against left-handers, but he's continued to work on his hitting and using the whole field. He'll continue to move along on a good path if he stays healthy."

Kole Calhoun, Salt Lake (105 games), Los Angeles (21 games): The lefty-hitting outfielder out of Arizona State ranked seventh in average among Angels' Minor Leaguers during his stay at Triple-A, finishing at .298 with 13 homers, 73 RBIs, a dozen steals and a .369 on-base percentage. He got 23 at-bats in the Majors and figures to fight again for playing time in 2013, a year he'll begin as the club's top outfield prospect and No. 5 overall.

"Calhoun is a nice player. We bumped him along a little quicker, he's a little older, so we stepped up his progress a little into Triple-A after he had a good showing at Spring Training," Servais said. "He didn't slow down. He's a very aggressive player, he can play all three outfield positions, so we're really excited to have him. I'm sure he'll get more opportunities at the big league level. He's a nice-looking player."

Travis Witherspoon, Inland Empire (67 games), Arkansas (54 games): The Angels' No. 7 prospect led the organization with 34 steals across two levels. A Cal League All-Star, the 23-year-old batted .268 with 13 homers and 48 RBIs while also making his Double-A debut.

"Spoony was a later-round Draft choice but really came on the last year," said Servais. "He's a very good defensive player in center and covers a lot of ground out there. He still needs to work on using the whole field. He gets a little too pull-happy at times, but he's a very athletic player."

Honorable mention: Cory Aldridge, Roberto Lopez, Joel Capote

Right-handed starting pitcher -- A.J. Schugel, Arkansas (27 games): The Texas League All-Star, whose father is a pro scout for the Angels, went 6-8 with a 2.89 ERA in 27 starts for the Travelers, good enough to rank second in the system in ERA. The Angels' No. 4 right-handed prospect recorded 109 strikeouts over 140 1/3 innings and held opponents to a .232 average.

"A.J. is a converted kid, he hadn't pitched a whole lot, but he had a nice year," said Servais, who noted the Angels drafted him as a pitcher even though he also played third base at Central Arizona College. "He has a really good changeup and his velocity is 92-95 and a big overhand curve, so that's a nice pitch as well. We're looking for him to make the jump to Triple-A this year -- it'll give us some more depth. There'll be plenty of opportunities for him."

Left-handed starting pitcher -- Nick Maronde, Inland Empire (10 games), Arkansas (7 games), AZL Angels (3 games), Los Angeles (12 games): The 2011 third-round pick out of Florida reached the Majors in his first full season, going 6-4 with a 2.26 ERA at four levels. Considered the team's top pitching prospect, the 23-year-old fanned 90 over 99 2/3 innings, held foes to a .220 average and allowed just one run in a dozen big league relief outings.

"Nick got off to pretty good start and after some shoulder issues, we shut him down. But when he came back, he was lights-out," Servais said. "We were looking for left-handed relief and he handled himself very well. I think it's the product of him of pitching at a very good college in Florida, he jumped right in at the big league level, and I'm not sure he makes the club out of Spring Training, but he'll definitely be in our mix going forward."

Reliever -- Ty Kelley, Inland Empire (12 games), Cedar Rapids (38 games): The Auburn product went 6-1 with a 1.66 ERA and led all Angels farmhands with 19 saves. The Midwest League All-Star struck out 61 in 58 2/3 innings, held opponents to a .201 average, allowed only two home runs and earned a second promotion to the Cal League to finish his second Minor League season.

"He's a guy we didn't really expect much from, but he earned the right to close games at Cedar Rapids. And as the season went on, his velocity went up," Servais said. "He's got a very good changeup and he's a guy who might be a nice surprise for us. He earned the right to get the ball late and we'll continue to challenge him."

Danny Wild is an editor for This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.

View More