TEMPE, Arizona -- Inside the Anaheim complex, players and administrators know their Minor League system isn't going to win any contests with the media.
The Angels enter the 2016 season with a system that, according to MiLB.com, ranked 29th of 30 teams in position player talent, 30th in pitching talent and graded as an F in talent under 21 years old. This site wasn't the only one that presented a bleak picture for Halos fans. Baseball America tabbed the Angels as the worst system in the game, and neither MLB Pipeline nor Baseball Prospectus named a single Angels player to their respective top 100 and top 101 prospects lists.
All those things? The Angels have heard them. But the Halos' player-development department isn't in the business of debating rankings. In Anaheim and Tempe, it's time to get to work.
"I think certain people may look at it as insulting," Angels director of Minor League operations Mike LaCassa said in his office between meetings with players and staff members on a busy Tuesday afternoon. "However, for me, I would push our players to look at it as a challenge and an opportunity. Look to your right. Look to your left. It is your opportunity to do everything you can to pass these guys up. And if the guy to your right and your left do great as well, there will be room in the big leagues for all of you."
Along with new director of baseball development Mike Gallego, LaCassa is tasked with rebuilding and reshaping a farm system widely viewed as the weakest in baseball. Just 30 years old, LaCassa is somewhat of a prospect in his own right after flying through the ranks to his current position following stints in scouting and player development with the Brewers and Rangers.
"I thought [an advance video scouting internship with Milwaukee] was the dream job, working in the front office, and then I was even luckier to get an opportunity to intern in player development and see a side that I never knew anything about," he said. "I grew up a fan. I loved the statistics, and now being able to balance the two, it's really been lucky to break in that way."
LaCassa didn't shy away from the projections regarding his team's system.
"I think every system has room for growth, both in programs -- how things are run -- and you can always acquire more talent," he said. "I'm not going to put a number on where we are ranked in the industry. I know there are guys in the system who are going to play in the big leagues. It just so happens that they didn't come with a first-round tag next to them. Therefore, it's going to surprise the industry or whomever.
"We know of a handful of guys in the system who we feel very confident in, that the industry is going to start to learn about what kind of players they really are as they get a chance to go through this season and the coming years."
Anaheim's farm has been depleted in recent years to benefit the Major League roster with deals such as November's stunner that sent top pitching prospects Sean Newcomb and Chris Ellis to Atlanta in exchange for big league shortstop Andrelton Simmons. The system now boasts just one first-round pick in top Angels prospect Taylor Ward. But Ward and athletic outfielder Jahmai Jones are just two of the promising -- if under-the-radar -- talents the Angels are high on.
"There's a lot of competition in this camp, which is a great thing for a group of athletes, having that competition, go up against each other," LaCassa said. "There's definitely an opportunity in the end to win jobs and make a name for themselves."
The Angels have placed additional emphasis on nutrition and proper sleeping habits as well as mental health for prospects this offseason with the belief that work beyond the playing field and weight room goes a long way too.
"Why would you take care of your body physically and not mentally?" LaCassa said. "The way I explain it to the players is in every one of these areas of your development, if you could do something right that gives you an extra one percent chance, why wouldn't you eat properly? Why wouldn't you take care of your body and your health in all these ways to make yourself as physically and mentally strong as possible? It goes for every single one of us to achieve our max potential. For them, why would we ignore these other areas of their development and take just 100 swings a day as being the only goal to achieving their potential?"
LaCassa's pairing with Gallego might seem like a match made in Moneyball. LaCassa didn't play in college or professionally but has worked exclusively in a variety of player development roles since getting into baseball. Gallego spent 13 years in the big leagues as a 5-foot-8, 160-pound infielder and has served as a Major League coach with the Rockies and Athletics since his playing days ended.
From LaCassa's perspective, the pairing is working exactly as intended with an embrace of development "open-mindedness."
"When I have an idea or he has an idea or an A-ball coach has an idea, [we] share the idea and understand that there's value in it," he said. "We can have competing ideas, discussions, debates, but having open-mindedness will allow all of us to learn. His background is the complete opposite of mine, but together we're addressing the player-development system with all sorts of new ideas when we're able to bounce them off of each other as well as the voices from everyone else in the system.
"We're working really well off of each other, allowing each of our strengths to make an impact."
Tyler Maun is a contributor to MiLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @TylerMaun.