This offseason, MiLB.com will be honoring the players -- regardless of age or prospect status -- who had the best seasons in their organizations. We're taking a look at each team to determine the outstanding seasons in Minor League baseball. Select a team from the dropdown below.
The Angels entered the 2013 season with the worst farm system in the game, according to Baseball America, having given up their first-round Draft picks in 2012 and 2013 after signing free agents Albert Pujols and Josh Hamilton and traded away several prospects to acquire since-departed righties Dan Haren and Zack Greinke. They have just one player in MLB.com's list of Top 100 Prospects, outfielder Kaleb Cowart, who batted .221/.279/.301 as a 21-year-old at Double-A this season. And the system is particularly bare in the pitching ranks, which the Angels attempted to address by drafting hurlers with each of their first seven 2013 picks.
Nevertheless, the organization enjoyed Minor League success in 2013. Triple-A Salt Lake and Double-A Arkansas both reached the Championship Series in their respective leagues, while Class A Advanced Inland Empire won the California League title, despite a 69-71 regular-season record. The Angels hope those positive playoff results can translate into help for the big league club sooner rather than later.
Angels Organization All-Stars
Catcher -- Zach Wright, Burlington (30 games), Inland Empire (68 games): A 2012 12th-round pick out of East Carolina, Wright went straight to Class A Cedar Rapids that summer and posted an impressive .385 on-base percentage with six homers in 52 games while throwing out 30 percent of potential base-stealers.
The 23-year-old took a step backward after opening the 2013 season with Inland Empire. Though most hitters get a boost playing in the California League, Wright batted .253/.345/.356 and caught only 11 of 72 potential base-stealers. Returning to the Midwest League in late July, he saw his slugging percentage jump 100 points and he ended the season with a flourish. In his penultimate game of the campaign against Wisconsin on Sept. 1, he went 4-for-5 with a homer, double and six RBIs, capped by a walk-off grand slam in the 14th inning of Burlington's 9-5 win.
First base -- Efren Navarro, Salt Lake (134 games), Los Angeles (four games): Navarro has come a long way from his humble origins as a 50th-round pick in 2007 -- in seven Minor League seasons he owns a .295 average, with his finest year coming in 2013.
The 27-year-old UNLV product ranked second among full-season Angels farmhands with a .326 average, was fourth with 81 RBIs and led both the system and the Pacific Coast League with 39 doubles. Navarro was particularly dominant in the first half of the season -- he hit .387/.452/.495 in 25 May games -- and proved comfortable with two strikes, batting .287 when behind in the count. His .404 on-base percentage ranked fourth in the PCL, which named him a postseason All-Star. Navarro also is considered a stellar defensive first basemen, winning a Gold Glove in 2011.
While he lacks the power one would like in a first baseman -- he slugged seven homers this season in the offense-friendly PCL and has reached double digits once in seven years -- he's a proven hitter. Along with his great regular-season numbers, Navarro went 16-for-27 (.593) with eight walks and nine RBIs in eight PCL playoff games.
Second base -- Alex Yarbrough, Inland Empire (136 games): Yarbrough thrived in the offensive-minded Cal League in 2013, clubbing 11 homers in 136 games after failing to go deep in 63 games the previous season, his first as a pro. A 2012 fourth-round pick out of Mississippi, Yarbrough's numbers put him among the top hitters in the system, where he ranked third in batting (among full-season players) and doubles and fifth with 80 RBIs. His .313 batting average placed him fifth in the Cal League.
A 5-foot-11, 180-pound switch-hitter, Yarbrough batted over .300 from both sides of the plate but showed slightly more power as a lefty. He proved more than adequate defensively with a .982 fielding percentage -- committing 10 errors in 127 games -- that was among the best in the league at the position.
Although Yarbrough drew only 27 walks (while striking out 106 times), his 182 hits were tops in the Minor Leagues during the regular season. The Angels' No. 7 prospect added 13 in 11 playoff games, including a walk-off single in the semifinal clincher, as Inland Empire rolled to the Cal League title.
"Alex's walk numbers weren't ideal, but he sees a lot of pitches and has a real knack for getting deep into counts and fouling off borderline strikes," Angels director of player development Bobby Scales said. "His defense at second was outstanding and his footwork turning double plays visibly improved during the season."
Third base -- Cal Towey, Orem (70 games): Drawing walks was not a problem for Towey, a 17th-round pick out of Baylor in the June Draft. The 23-year-old walked an incredible 67 times (to go along with 73 hits) in 70 games for the Owlz, giving him a .492 on-base percentage that was tops in the Minor Leagues -- 49 points better than the next closest player.
Not coincidentally, Towey led the Pioneer League with 69 runs scored and still tied for third with 53 RBIs.
"The big thing is that he controls every at-bat," Orem manager Bill Richardson said of Towey. "He will not swing at pitches he can't do damage on, and that's the hardest thing for a first-year hitter to do -- to be able to command the strike zone. Guys like that have a chance to go to the big leagues."
Scales echoed Richardson's praise. "For me, walks are a byproduct of a mature approach at the plate. We talk about hitting zones -- strike zones are for pitchers -- and [Towey] has an excellent sense of both. He refuses to swing at balls and only likes to swing at pitches he can drive."
Shortstop -- Tommy Field, Salt Lake (81 games), Los Angeles (15 games): Field rebounded nicely from a subpar 2012 in his first season with the Angels, hitting .303/.391/.484 in 81 games with the Bees.
The 26-year-old did not fare as well in the field, where he committed 15 errors on 182 chances (.918) in 46 games at shortstop. Field was more surehanded at second, making three miscues in 30 games. Nevertheless, his bat was his most valuable tool for Salt Lake, which tied Las Vegas for the league lead in team batting.
Zach Borenstein, Inland Empire (112 games): Cal League offensive stats can be taken with a grain of salt, but it's hard to ignore Borenstein's success. He led the circuit in hitting, homers and slugging and batted .367/.461/.657 with 45 RBIs in 47 second-half games, earning a MiLBY nomination for Offensive Player of the Year.
The 23-year-old Illinois native won the Angels organization Triple Crown with 28 homers, 95 RBIs and a .337 average that led all full-season hitters.
"He's a patient hitter, has power and is able to hit the ball to the opposite field," Inland Empire manager Bill Haselman said. "He puts together good at-bats and goes about preparing for games in a professional manner."
Borenstein's .631 slugging percentage -- second-best in the Minors -- was .146 higher than his 2012 mark, so it's fair to expect some regression as he climbs the organizational ladder. Still, no one else in the Cal League put up those kinds of numbers, which is why he was named Most Valuable Player.
"In a league with so much offense, sometimes the numbers can only tell you so much," Scales said. "Sometimes you've got to go back to the old ways and look at how a player plays the game, and he really passes the eye test. He handled left-handed pitching very well and showed great plate discipline."
Randal Grichuk, Arkansas (128 games): Forever fated to be compared to Mike Trout, whom the Angels selected one pick later in the 2009 Draft, Grichuk established himself as the organization's No. 4 prospect after clubbing a career-high 22 homers in the Texas League.
Grichuk, who turned 22 in August, surged toward the end of the season, hitting .304/.333/.574 in 27 games in his birthday month and sharing Texas League Player of the Month honors with Tulsa's Kyle Parker.
A solid fielder (he notched nine outfield assists), the only weak area of his game appears to be his ability to get on base: his .306 OBP was below the Texas League average of .320.
Matt Long, Arkansas (32 games), Salt Lake (100 games): Despite spending the bulk of the 2012 season at Triple-A and hitting a solid .282/.344/461, Long opened the 2013 campaign back in the Texas League. Undeterred, the Santa Clara product collected hits in 14 of his first 15 games and was named league Player of the Week in mid-April.
Back in Salt Lake by early May, Long again was a strong performer, batting .307/.397/.496 against right-handers, scoring 79 runs in 100 games (he led the system with 96 for the season) and playing all three outfield positions as well as 19 games at second base. He also hit 14 homers, drove in 71 runs and stole 20 bases overall. A 2009 30th-round pick, Long has shown an ability to thrive in almost any situation.
Designated hitter -- Michael Snyder, Inland Empire (137 games): A burly 23rd-round pick out of Florida Southern in 2012, Snyder is an old-fashioned slugger who generates a lot of homers, RBIs and strikeouts. He led the system in the last category, fanning 149 times in 137 games, and finished second to teammate Zach Borenstein in the first two, going deep 25 times and driving in 92 runs.
Despite having only a season and a half of pro ball under his belt, Snyder can draw on the experience of his older brother, Brandon, who spent 2013 with the Red Sox, and their father, Brian, a 12-year Minor League pitcher who made 17 big league appearances.
Right-handed starting pitcher -- Brandon Hynick, Arkansas (24 games): Once a top prospect in the Rockies organization -- he was 2007 California League Pitcher of the Year after winning 16 games for Modesto -- Hynick spent time with the White Sox, Reds and Rockies again before signing on with the Angels. Although he has fared poorly at Triple-A, going 14-22 with a 5.08 ERA in 59 games, he's been stalwart at Double-A and was again with Arkansas in 2013. The 28-year-old won 12 games -- his highest total since 2007 -- and ranked third in the Texas League with a 2.80 ERA.
Hynick pitched a number of big games for the Travelers, his 10th Minor League club. He held host Northwest Arkansas to two hits over seven innings June 11 and limited Tulsa, his former team, to a single hit in seven innings July 25. Hynick went 0-2 in the playoffs, despite a 1.38 ERA. In Game 1 of the Finals, he suffered a complete-game loss to San Antonio after allowing one run on four hits over eight innings and retiring the final 17 batters he faced.
Left-handed starting pitcher -- Ryan Crowley, Burlington (26 games): Crowley struggled mightily in the California League in 2012, posting a 1-8 record and a 7.76 ERA in 14 outings (12 starts) before returning to the Midwest League.
The 22-year-old bounced back with a strong 2013 campaign, going 10-7 with a 3.28 ERA for Class A Burlington. He was particularly strong at home, where he was 6-2 with a 2.62 ERA, and tossed 20 consecutive scoreless innings over three starts from May 25 to June 6. Crowley's 123 strikeouts ranked second in the Midwest League and fourth in the organization. He issued 35 walks in 151 innings to post a 1.17 WHIP, good for fourth in the MWL.
"When you take it on the chin the way he did [in 2012], you can kind of go two ways -- you can pout and say 'Woe is me' or you can get mad and work to get better," Scales said. "Ryan really did that. He came into Spring Training in excellent condition and willing to look critically at his game. This season, he really made a point of pitching inside. He mixed his speeds well and he got great results."
Reliever -- Mike Morin, Inland Empire (30 games), Arkansas (26 games): Morin led the system with 23 saves (in 25 opportunities) and a 0.94 WHIP (among pitchers with at least 40 innings) after issuing 10 walks in 70 innings. His 76 strikeouts were the most by any Angels farmhand who did not make a single start.
A 2012 13th-round pick out of North Carolina, Morin split his first full season between the Cal League and Double-A Arkansas. Not only did he shine personally, he helped Inland Empire teammate Mark Sappington develop his changeup. After pitching four hitless innings in the Texas League playoffs, Morin has been equally impressive in the Arizona Fall League, where he did not allow a run in his first eight appearances for Mesa.