Starting in October and running through the end of the year, MiLB.com's State of the System series evaluates the strengths and weaknesses of each Major League organization, highlights prospects who've made the biggest strides in 2020 and offers a peek at 2021.
After a 30-50 finish to the 2019 campaign, the Angels made the biggest position-player splash of the offseason when they inked third baseman Anthony Rendon to a seven-year, $245-million contract in December. That signing came a week after former general manager Billy Eppler acquired right-hander Dylan Bundy from the Orioles for four prospects. Both players provided good returns on those investments in 2020.
But despite those prudent pickups, not much else went right for Los Angeles in 2020, and Eppler was fired after a 26-34 campaign and fourth-place finish in the American League West.
Shohei Ohtani didn't record an out in his first start of the season and lasted just 1 2/3 innings in his second outing before a forearm injury ended his season as a pitcher. A full-time batting role didn't seem to suit the 26-year-old either, as he hit .190/.291/.366 with seven homers and 50 strikeouts in 175 at-bats.
Many scoffed when Angels manager Joe Maddon declared that top prospect Jo Adell had "things to work on" in mid-July, but those words rung true after Adell debuted in early August. The 21-year-old struggled to a .161/.212/.266 slash line with three home runs and no stolen bases in 132 plate appearances.
It wasn't all bad for Los Angeles, though, as Mike Trout tied for fourth in the bigs with 17 home runs, David Fletcher improved on his impressive full-season debut and Jared Walsh produced immediately as a rookie. Assuming a bounceback from Ohtani and improvement from Adell, there's reason for optimism.
System strengths: Seven of the Angels' top nine prospects are outfielders or middle infielders, according to MLB.com. Led by top prospect Brandon Marsh, who parlayed an impressive .909 OPS in 19 Arizona Fall League games into a strong camp this year, there are plenty of options in the pipeline, both short and long-term, for Los Angeles to fill in around Trout, Adell and Fletcher.
“[Marsh] dominated the camp in every capacity,” Angels director of Minor League operations Mike LaCassa told MLB.com. “Starting with the energy he brings every day, players build off of him every day. He’s a big reason we had such a competitive attitude. He has a high baseball IQ, plus instincts on the bases and defensively. He always plays hard.”
Seventh-ranked Jahmai Jones, a former outfielder who moved back to second base -- his high-school position -- in 2018, finished last year strong with 11 extra-base hits and three steals in August. He kept his foot on the gas and ranked just behind Marsh with an .886 AFL OPS, and he also tied for third on the fall circuit with seven steals while getting in some work in the outfield to maintain his versatility. He earned a late-season callup to the Majors this September and picked up three hits in seven at-bats to back up the continued confidence in his development.
Add in 2018 first-round pick Jordyn Adams, 2019 Pioneer League home run leader Jeremiah Jackson, 2019 second-rounder Kyren Paris and recent international signings D'Shawn Knowles and Arol Vera, and the Angels are positioned to keep these spots well stocked for the better part of the next decade.
Areas for growth: With strengths at the plate often come weaknesses on the mound, and the Angels' system is no different in that respect. Los Angeles addressed this need with its 2020 first-round pick, nabbing Louisville left-hander Reid Detmers with the 10th overall pick, but overall depth is an issue.
Hard-throwing righty Chris Rodriguez has three above-average pitches in his repertoire, but he's thrown just 9 2/3 innings since 2017 due to a stress reaction and fracture in his back. The 22-year-old seemed to be back to full health this summer, though.
“He made 10 starts, is 100 percent healthy and he’ll continue to build that workload at instructs,” LaCassa said. “He did a great job competing against upper-level players, big league depth players. ... He would talk through the hitters, read their swings, then go against them again five or so days later. That was really beneficial. To get that feedback and then repeat it, that normally doesn't happen. He took advantage of that and learned a lot about what it means to be a pitcher.”
Beyond that duo, 2019 third-round pick Jack Kochanowicz hasn't thrown a pitch since high school in 2018, while southpaw Hector Yan has battled control issues with 98 walks in 185 1/3 innings the past two seasons. There's some potential here, but it comes with a lot of projection.
What's changed: The biggest difference obviously was the removal of Eppler, with the Angels subsequently conducting a methodical search for his replacement. The organization has cast a wide net with over a dozen candidates interviewed to this point and hopes to have settled on a new GM by Thanksgiving.
Beyond the turnover at the top, Adell's graduation left Los Angeles without a prospect ranked in the top 70 of MLB.com's Top 100. Trades of Jason Castro, Tommy La Stella and Brian Goodwin netted the organization right-hander Gerardo Reyes from San Diego, middle infielder Franklin Barreto from Oakland and left-hander Packy Naughton from Cincinnati respectively, but only Naughton stands inside the team's top 30.
Alternate site standouts: Marsh may get the headlines in the outfield now that Adell has moved up and out, but Adams turned heads this summer at the ripe young age of 20. The Angels pried their No. 3 prospect away from a dual-sport commitment to North Carolina in 2018 with a $4.1-million signing bonus, and he rewarded them by working his way to Class A Advanced Inland Empire by the end of his first full season in 2019.
Even further down the list, 20th-ranked William Holmes made a name for himself both on the mound and at the plate. A two-way player who endured control issues on the bump in the Arizona League and Rookie Advanced Pioneer League while impressing at the plate in 2019, it would have been interesting to see what Holmes could've done had there been a Minor League season this year. But the experience he got against more polished players at the alternate site ultimately may have been more beneficial.
“Every time there’s a break and we see him again, he’s more and more impressive,” LaCassa said. "He’s a great young man who is a tremendous athlete. The strides he’s made on the mound and offensively have been exciting to see. He got out there relatively late just to get a few outings. He hasn’t pitched above Rookie ball, not many innings in life and was facing Triple-A level hitters. It was a challenge and he lived up it. He just needs more reps on both sides of the ball. It was fun to see him in that environment.”
Impact rookies: Adell was supposed to head this list, but Walsh stole the prospect thunder once he took over as the team's everyday first baseman in late August. The 27-year-old hit .293/.324/.646 with nine home runs and 26 RBIs while striking out just 15 times in 108 plate appearances, numbers made even more impressive when compared with those from his 2019 debut -- 35 whiffs in 87 plate appearances while batting .203/.276/.329. He also enjoyed a 14-game hitting streak during his torrid September.
Left-hander Patrick Sandoval opened the season in the Angels' starting rotation, allowing 14 runs -- 12 earned -- in 20 innings before being optioned to the alternate training site in late August. He returned as a long reliever in September, and while his 5.65 ERA may have left much to be desired, his 33-to-12 strikeout-to-walk ratio and 4.00 xFIP in 36 2/3 innings hinted at some upside and potential for the future.
Next big thing: Detmers has yet to throw a professional pitch, but he's already caught the eye of the organization that selected him at No. 10 during the First-Year Player Draft in June.
“He looked great,” LaCassa said. “He came in as one of the most advanced pitchers in the Draft class, with a solid four-pitch mix with feel and deception and a strong track record of performance.
“There’s not a lot we tried to do with Reid. We let him get acclimated to pro ball and get some reps in, building up his workload. We encouraged him to use his entire repertoire, mix in his changeup and slider, which are this third and fourth pitches, using them with more frequency."
A record setter at Louisville who set school marks with 13 wins and 167 strikeouts in 2019, the 21-year-old southpaw tops out at 94 mph with a plus curveball and above-average control. While the ceiling may not be that of a top-of-the-rotation starter, Detmers profiles as a player who could help the big league club as soon as 2021; there was even some buzz he would get a callup this summer.
“He’s going to be able to gain a level of consistency with those pitches to have a solid four-pitch mix at the Major League level," LaCassa said. "He’s very polished. His performance will dictate how he moves, but there’s excitement for that.”
Chris Tripodi is a coordinator for MiLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @christripodi.