Toolshed: Angels' Marsh ready to earn his wings

Promising outfielder preparing for full-season ball after false starts

Brandon Marsh collected 22 extra-base hits in 39 games last season with Rookie-level Orem. (Stephen Smith/Four Seam Images)

By Sam Dykstra / MiLB.com | January 5, 2018 12:30 PM

Brandon Marsh would prefer not to go back to extended spring training. He's happy to prove himself at the Angels' Spring Training facility in Tempe, Arizona, but after that, the 2016 second-rounder would much rather head elsewhere for Minor League Opening Day on April 5. For starters, he'd like to see Class A Burlington for the first time -- or any full-season affiliate for that matter.

"I do think that's an option for me, with some good numbers in Spring Training," he said. "That would be a good spot for me for sure. Nobody wants to be back in extended again. But I can't just talk it. I have to prove it in the spring. We'll see where the cards fall."

So far, the cards haven't been particularly kind for the Angels' No. 7 prospect, who almost didn't sign out of Buford High School in Georgia after a post-Draft medical report revealed he had a lower-back stress fracture. After he did sign, the Halos didn't let him play that first summer. A year later, he was limited to 39 games with Rookie-level Orem due to a thumb sprain that knocked him out for a month.

Marsh hopes these false starts to his pro career are behind him and 2018 provides the fresh start he needs.

"I've looked at it like this is God's way of getting me to wait and putting me on the best path to shine," he said. "I just want to ball though. I don't want to be on the trainer's table ever, whether it's for my back or my thumb. I want to be in the outfield, throwing guys out and getting our pitcher off the mound. I want to be in the box, getting hits and getting their pitcher off the mound and into the bullpen. I guess you could call it a false start, but I'm really focused now of taking really good care of my body and making sure those things are past me."

When Marsh was on the field in 2017, it was easy to see why both the player and organization have such high hopes for his future.

Playing in what would have been the summer between his freshman and sophomore years at Kennesaw State University, the left-handed hitter produced a .350/.396/.548 line with four homers, five triples, 13 doubles and 44 RBIs. The Pioneer League can be a rather offensive environment -- teams in that circuit averaged 6.57 runs per game last season, the highest in the Minors -- but Marsh was still a well above-average hitter with a 125 wRC+.

Video: Orem's Marsh blasts a solo home run

The Georgia native also proved to be a threat beyond his bat, stealing 10 bases while getting caught only twice. His above-average speed helped him be an asset in both right and center field, and he flashed a strong arm with five outfield assists -- three of which came from center despite playing only 91 innings there.

The Angels were already keenly aware of Marsh's talents, selecting him 60th overall in 2016 -- six spots before the Jays took 2017 breakout star Bo Bichette -- and giving him the full $1.0733 million slot bonus even after discovering the back issue.

"As far as his physical tools, he can run, he can hit, he can throw, he can hit for power," Angels general manager Billy Eppler told FanGraphs earlier this offseason. "Physically, he kind of looks like a Larry Walker-type body. I would't want to comp him directly to Walker, but he's built to bring a power-and-speed element with his game. He's got some tenacity to him, as well. I think people are going to start noticing him more in the mainstream. In the marketplace, I've been asked about him in trades a number of times already."

Marsh understands he might not be getting the same attention as some of his cohorts, but he isn't worried -- as long as those closest to him know his capabilities.

"I haven't had as much experience as the guys drafted with me, and I can't do anything about that now. Just put my time in," he said. "The guys here know what I can do. But even coming out of high school, I wasn't a Perfect Game All-American. I wasn't any kind of All-American. I was just a kid going to college. This with the Angels now is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and that's how I treat it. I'm not focused on what people say outside that."

Offseason MiLB include

Making the most of that chance starts anew this offseason, one Marsh readily admits is different from his first offseason in which he says he was "flying blind." He's working with Major and Minor Leaguers close to home and focusing on improving his hit tool, the only part of his game to receive a below-average grade from MLB.com. That starts with standing in against whoever is throwing a bullpen that day -- Tennessee sophomore right-hander Connor Darling was the latest hurler -- or even using a pitching machine that can mimic most types of pitches. 

"I'm focusing on things in the box mostly," he said. "Defense is always the same or at least relatively the same. At the plate, there are a lot of things that can be different. I've tried to do a lot of work on pitch recognition, getting my foot down in the right way. I've usually been a middle/away hitter, so a lot of guys have tried to bust me in. I've got a lot better with getting to those, or at least that's where I'm focusing. Then speed work, quickness, trying to perfect my game because I'm still a young guy."

Then there's the issue of durability. Marsh might show flashes of a five-tool player should his hitting continue to develop beyond the Pioneer League, but if he can't stay in the game, none of that will matter. As a result, the outfielder is doing everything in his power to be ready for 100-plus games this year.

"This offseason, I'm focused on everything when it comes to that -- hydration to flexibility to putting my body through all kinds of different movements so it can withstand them. That's sports. You don't know what kind of weird spots your body will be in, but I want to be prepared for anything."

The way the Angels system is growing, Marsh may need all the weapons at his disposal if he's going to get noticed. Fellow outfielder and 2015 second-round pick Jahmai Jones is a fringe top-100 prospect after showing good speed and power at Class A Burlington and Class A Advanced Inland Empire. The Halos added another talented outfielder in Jo Adell with the 10th overall pick last June. They also made two of the biggest prospect additions of the offseason when they landed Shohei Ohtani from Japan and shortstop Kevin Maitan following his release from the Braves. Then there's the fact that Mike Trout -- the best player in the sport -- is signed through 2020, and Los Angeles just re-signed four-time All-Star Justin Upton to a five-year deal.

"Billy's doing a great job for this organization," Marsh said. "He's made a lot of moves that I like. But at the end of the day, I'm a huge competitor. I'm going to give it my full shot. For all these outfielders, they're all my brothers. I have faith in all of us that we're going to make it somewhere. But at the same time, I'm trying to beat everyone out and still always looking out for my boys. We all have a great relationship, and it really helps what Billy's done. I feel like he's put us back on the map. I can't wait to be a part of it."

Sam Dykstra is a reporter for MiLB.com. Follow and interact with him on Twitter, @SamDykstraMiLB. This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.

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