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' farm system produced mixed results in the standings in 2011. Although three affiliates advanced to the playoffs -- Double-A Arkansas, Class A Advanced Inland Empire and Rookie-level Orem -- only the latter posted a winning record during the regular season.
Nevertheless, the organization boasts a number of top-level prospects and has proven very successful with its recent Draft picks. Two first-rounders from 2009, outfielder Mike Trout and right-hander Garrett Richards, made their Major League debuts this year. Taylor Lindsey, a 2010 first-round pick, was named Pioneer League MVP. The Angels' top two selections this June, slugger C.J. Cron in the first round and lefty Nick Maronde in the third, also did well in Orem, which boasted the Pioneer League's best record.
While the Major League club has missed the postseason each of the last two years after reaching it in six of the previous eight, the Angels' system is poised to help the team reload.
Angels Organization All-Stars
Catcher -- Carlos Ramirez, Cedar Rapids (31 games), Inland Empire (52 games), Arkansas (four games): For the second straight season, Ramirez got off to a slow start only to catch fire in the second half. At Cedar Rapids in 2010, the Arizona State product hit .176/.308/.289 before the All-Star break and .287/.373/.496 after it. This year, returning to the Kernels in April, Ramirez batted .259 with three homers in 31 games before a promotion to Class A Advanced Inland Empire on May 20.
The 23-year-old went 3-for-3 in his first game with the 66ers and never looked back. In 52 games the rest of the way, he hit .348/.403/.530 and was named the organization's Defensive Player of the Month in July. After throwing out 42 percent of potential base stealers in 2010, his percentage dipped to 24 percent this season, but he made great strides in the other aspects of the trade.
"He's been unbelievable," Inland Empire manager Damon Mashore said. "As a rule of thumb, catchers are last looked at for defensive player of the month [awards], but he's improved 100 percent. He had a game where he had 27 blocks, and to his credit the pitchers feel comfortable with him behind the plate. They can throw their breaking balls and know he will block them."
First base -- Frazier Hall, Orem (62 games): One is hesitant to heap too much praise on Rookie League and short-season players who play half as many games as their full-season counterparts. But the Angels' affiliate in Orem featured an impressive group of youngsters that led the Owlz to the best record in the Pioneer League.
Hall, a 2011 16th-round pick out of Southern University, is one of them. In his first three games as a pro, he went 9-for-13 with a homer, three doubles, five runs scored and four RBIs before an ankle injury kept him out of the lineup for eight days. From July 22-30, he reeled off seven consecutive multi-hit games, going 17-for-31. A left-handed hitter, Hall batted .372 against southpaws.
The 23-year-old ultimately ranked third in the league (and second in the organization) with a .355 average while slugging nine homers and driving in 46 runs in 62 games. Despite playing almost exclusively at first base, Hall was named a Pioneer League All-Star at designated hitter. Originally scouted as a catcher, a corner outfield position might be the quickest way to get Hall's bat into a lineup.
Honorable mention: Efren Navarro, Salt Lake (133 games), Angels (eight games)
Second base -- Taylor Lindsey, Orem (63 games): Lindsey was a first-round pick (37th overall) out of Desert Mountain High School in Scottsdale, Ariz., in the 2010 Draft. Like Hall, he got off to a remarkable start, going 7-for-9 with a homer, three doubles, four RBIs and seven runs scored in his first two games. In his second Pioneer League contest, he tied a league record by scoring six times in a 23-1 rout of Casper.
Lindsey barely cooled off as the season progressed. After falling a triple shy of the cycle against Ogden on Aug. 5, he completed the feat the following night, going 5-for-5 in the process. The left-handed hitter batted .362 (best in the system and second in the Pioneer League) with nine homers, 46 RBIs and 64 runs scored in 63 games. He also posted a .976 fielding percentage, committing only seven errors in 62 games at second base. The phenomenal campaign, in which he led the league in runs scored, hits and total bases, earned Lindsey the MVP award and made him the fans' choice for the Best Short-Season Hitter MiLBY Award.
Honorable mention: Michael Wing, Inland Empire (73 games)
Third base -- Jeff Baisley, Salt Lake (134 games): After years of injuries had derailed the 2006 Midwest League MVP, Baisley was almost an afterthought when the Angels signed him -- only because Freddy Sandoval was injured -- three days before Minor League training camp began.
"I was prepared to go play independent ball," Baisley said. "[The Angels] basically told me when Freddy got healthy they were going to release me. I was playing for my job every day."
After six seasons in the A's organization, the 28-year-old began his Angels career with a flourish, going 3-for-3 against Reno in his first game. He hit .400/.432/.718 with six homers and 23 RBIs in 21 April games to earn Angels Minor League Hitter of the Month honors. By the time Sandoval returned in July, any thought of releasing Baisley had vanished, since he'd just represented the Pacific Coast League at the Triple-A All-Star Game.
The big Floridian finished the season with a career-high .303 average while leading the Angels system with 100 RBIs and ranking second with 20 longballs. While he did not get a big league callup (he played 14 games for Oakland in 2008), Baisley should be more than an afterthought next spring.
Shortstop -- Gil Velazquez, Salt Lake (123 games), Los Angeles (four games): A veteran of 13 Minor League seasons, Velazquez's first campaign in the Angels organization produced career highs in batting average (.328), doubles (25), RBIs (58) and stolen bases (17). He led all Angels full-season farmhands in batting and paced Triple-A shortstops in hitting and runs scored en route to being named a Pacific Coast League All-Star and a postseason Topps Triple-A All-Star.
The Los Angeles native, who turned 32 in October, went 0-for-2 in his first game in the system on April 10 before rattling off hits in his next 18 contests. He also had hitting streaks of nine and 11 games during the season. Velazquez appeared in four games with the Angels in September, going 3-for-6 with an RBI. A 1998 14th-round pick by the Mets, he previously played in nine big league games with the Red Sox in 2008-09. Along with Baisley, he became a free agent following the season.
Designated hitter -- C.J. Cron, Orem (34 games): Limited to 34 games in his first professional season -- a knee injury ended his campaign on Aug. 7 -- Cron made quite an impact. The Angels' first-round pick in June (17th overall) led the Owlz with 13 homers while batting .308, scoring 30 runs and driving in 41.
Cron, who played several positions -- including catcher and first base -- at the University of Utah, served solely as Orem's designated hitter due to a torn labrum in his right shoulder. He collected RBIs in each of his first four games and fell a triple shy of the cycle in just his ninth outing as a pro. When the calendar flipped to August, the former Golden Spikes Award semifinalist delivered an offensive outburst of impressive proportions. On Aug. 1 at Ogden, Cron homered, tripled and drove in four runs. The following night, he homered three times -- becoming the first Orem hitter to do so -- doubled and plated four more runs. After going 0-for-4 and 3-for-5 in a two-game series against Idaho Falls, the 21-year-old ripped Ogden again on Aug. 5 for two longballs, two singles and six RBIs. In all, Cron slugged six homers and drove in 17 runs over five games.
"There were some stretches in college where I was seeing the ball well, but this is a completely different level of game," he said. "Doing it on this level is something special."
Honorable mention: Paul McAnulty, Salt Lake (118 games)
Kole Calhoun, Inland Empire (133 games): At 5-foot-10 and 200 pounds, Calhoun is a little shorter and stockier than the ideal Minor League prospect. But he certainly played like one in 2011, leading the Angels system with 22 homers and 73 walks. The Arizona State product, an eighth-round pick in 2010, ranked second in the organization with 99 RBIs and 94 runs scored, third with 36 doubles and 11th with 20 stolen bases. Calhoun batted .324/.410/.547 overall, with the .324 average ranking third among Angels full-season farmhands.
Those numbers made him the 66ers' lone representative on the California League postseason All-Star squad and the Angels' Minor League Player of the Year.
Calhoun's season was remarkable, not just for its quality but for its consistency. He hit .324 in both halves, batted .303 against southpaws and .332 against righties, and reached base in 47 straight games between July 12-Sept. 3. He also compiled a 19-game hitting streak from June 4-26 during which he batted .432 and struck out only four times.
Matt Long, Inland Empire (121 games), Arkansas (17 games): Calhoun's teammate for much of the season, the 24-year-old Long was a run-scoring machine at both Inland Empire and Arkansas. His 119 runs scored were 25 more than anyone else in the system and third-most in the Minor Leagues. The Santa Clara product ranked second in the organization with 34 steals, fourth with 18 homers, 84 RBIs and 64 walks and fifth with 34 doubles.
A 2009 30th-round pick, Long twice flirted with the cycle. On Aug. 31, he went 4-for-4 with a homer, double and four RBIs for Arkansas. Playing for Inland Empire on April 28, Long hit a second homer when he needed only a single, going 4-for-6 with two roundtrippers, a triple and a double.
While his power numbers were no doubt boosted by the homer-happy Cal League environment -- he hit only four longballs in 125 games for Cedar Rapids in 2010 -- Long's speed and ability to get on base were no fluke. He played all three outfield positions for the 66ers and his top-notch arm helped him rack up 18 assists.
Mike Trout, Arkansas (91 games), Los Angeles (40 games): Trout's selection is hardly a surprise, but it's worth reviewing exactly how much the young outfielder who turned 20 on Aug. 7 has accomplished in 2 1/2 pro seasons.
The 25th overall pick in the 2009 Draft, Trout began the 2011 campaign as MLB.com's No. 1 prospect and did nothing to prove that selection misguided. He was named Minor League Player of the Year by Baseball America after hitting .326 with 18 doubles, 13 triples, 11 homers, 82 runs scored and 33 stolen bases for Arkansas. The .326 average ranked second among Angels full-season Minor Leaguers, while his 33 steals were second in the organization, even though he appeared in only 91 Minor League games.
Trout was the youngest player to appear in the Major Leagues when he made his Angels' debut on July 7. Seventeen days later, he became the first teenager since Arizona's Justin Upton to homer when he hit his first big league blast on July 24.
With Torii Hunter, Peter Bourjos and Vernon Wells slated for the Angels outfield in 2012, it's unclear where Trout fits in the club's short-term plans. In the longer term, however, he has all the makings of a star.
Honorable mention: Jeremy Moore, Jerod Yakubik, Orem (60 games), Cedar Rapids (19 games), Inland Empire (two games)
Right-handed starting pitcher -- Garrett Richards, Arkansas (22 games), Los Angeles (seven games) and Matt Shoemaker, Arkansas (23 games), Salt Lake (four games): A pair of Arkansas Travelers finished atop the Angels system with a 3.15 ERA. Although Richards trailed Shoemaker in strikeouts, he was more successful at keeping the ball in the park, allowing 10 homers to Shoemaker's 20 while going 12-2 with a .233 batting average against.
Both hurlers were named Texas League postseason All-Stars. Shoemaker, a 25-year-old non-drafted free agent signed out of Eastern Michigan in 2008, was second in the organization with 141 strikeouts and was named Pitcher of the Year by the Texas League and the Angels.
The 23-year-old Richards, whom the Angels selected with the 42nd overall pick in the 2009 Draft, won 10 straight games between May 4-July 30, posting a 1.69 ERA over 14 starts, and was the fans' choice for the Double-A Starter of the Year MiLBY. He made his Major League debut on Aug. 10 and went 0-2 with a 5.79 ERA in seven appearances.
Left-handed starting pitcher -- Nick Maronde, Orem (11 games): Maronde's first season as a pro could hardly have been better. A 2011 third-round pick out of the University Florida, he went 5-0 with a 2.14 ERA in 11 starts for Orem. He struck out 50 batters over 46 1/3 innings while holding Pioneer League hitters to a .217 average.
Although all but one of Maronde's 58 appearances over his final two years in Gainesville came out of the bullpen, the Angels' decision to put him in the Owlz's rotation paid dividends. He yielded more than one earned run in only two of his 11 outings and tossed five one-hit frames on Aug. 2 at Ogden to earn his first victory.
Maronde turned 22 in early September and figures to move rapidly through the system. Following the season, Baseball America rated him the Pioneer League's top pitching prospect.
Relief pitcher -- David Carpenter, Inland Empire (25 games), Arkansas (19 games): Comparing relief pitchers is difficult because the roles of setup men, closers and long relievers are so different. This selection, however, was easy.
Carpenter, who turned 24 at the beginning of September, began the season with Inland Empire and allowed three earned runs while fanning 36 over 29 innings. He converted 11 of 12 save opportunities, posted a 0.93 ERA and was named the Angels' organizational pitcher of the month for May.
The Texas native was even better following a mid-June promotion to the Texas League. In 18 2/3 innings over 19 appearances with Arkansas, Carpenter did not allow a run. Relying heavily on ground-ball outs, he held Double-A foes to a .182 average -- just .059 (1-for-17) with runners in scoring position.
Overall, Carpenter's ERA was 0.57 -- he gave up three earned runs on 35 hits (including one homer) over 47 2/3 frames. Relief pitching doesn't get more dominant than that.