There was a time when the Angels were gaining a reputation for finding scrappy role players and maximized their value with great coaching. That time passed for a while after Bud Black left to manage the Padres; after Joe Maddon left to manage the Rays; and after Ron Roenicke left to manage the Brewers. There was a strong correlation between those departures and the Halos' demise in coming up with productive role players. That time, however, may have returned.
By 2012, the Angels had a bench and bullpen that were thinned out by major injuries to key players, as well as meltdowns by a couple of important starting pitchers. One can argue that the biggest problem the Halos had at the time was the fact that they were suffering from an organizational epidemic of major injuries. But at the same time, there was little production off the bench from 2010 through 2012, and the bullpen was full of either young, immature pitchers and mediocre veterans, thus exposing the obvious lack of depth.
This was a clear indication of the fall of the Angels' minor league system. Their rankings drops dramatically by 2010. The organization also blew the 2010 draft, where they had several first round picks that didn't pan out. That's a key point that many forget. Even with some questionable trades, that draft should've replenished the Angels' system regardless. But it didn't happen. And the Halos spent a few more years waiting for some young players to develop. But the time has finally arrived... again.
The Angels have implemented an interesting strategy to bypass having a weak farm system, in terms of lack of upside and future stars. One reason their system is ranked so low is a major bias toward the Mike Trouts and the Jose Fernandez' of the minor leagues. But what people seem to forget -- and I don't understand how so many knowledgeable people miss this fact -- is that even low-ranked minor league systems can still produce role players who help their respective teams absorb injuries. That's exactly the case with the Angels. And they've done this in part by making small, under-the-radar trades to ensure depth in different areas.
Take the Alberto Callaspo for Grant Green trade last July. This was a great move in terms of finding a young depth piece under club control for the next several years. The Angels have developed Green into a fine hitter for his role, and they're grooming him to be another super-utility player to produce when needed.
The Scott Downs for Cory Rasmus trade has yet to fully establish it's value. But Rasmus has his upside as a decent middle reliever whom a team can call up any time a key reliever goes down or struggles. This is what Angels General Manager Jerry Dipoto was talking about with organizational depth.
The most intriguing trade was Andrew Romine for Jose Alvarez. This deal caught me by surprise. It was an unknown backup infielder -- one who was barely making his mark as a bench player -- for the Detroit Tigers 2013 Minor League Pitcher of the Year! How did that happen? Need. The Angels and Tigers had different needs, and they met in the middle with that deal. Alvarez gives the Angels yet another role player (in the pitching staff) they can use for situations such as the current Hector Santiago situation.
The David Freese / Fernando Salas / Peter Bourjos / Randall Grichuk trade was another example of filling in holes with supporting players under club control.
Then there's the three team, Mark Trumbo for Hector Santiago and Tyler Skaggs trade. That deal replenished a lot of starting pitching the Angels had lost over the last few years. Homegrown talent like Ervin Santana and Joe Saunders, as well as key veterans like Dan Haren leaving, created major holes in the long run. The key element is that Santiago and Skaggs are still young with lots of upside. And Skaggs has the makings of a frontline starter.
And don't forget Collin Cowgill, as well as players like CJ Cron and Efren Navarro finally becoming Major League ready, and producing.
Several of these deals were basically young major league-ready players for young, major league-ready players. These are the types of clever moves a front office makes to get around having a rather weak farm system. Get those valuable role players to round out the roster between the strong core and the twenty-fifth spot on the roster.
This is exactly why sometimes it's the twenty-fifth man who becomes the hero in the postseason.
Fans saw the beginning of the new rise of the Angels' role players last season. There were the obvious struggles of Albert Pujols and Josh Hamilton. Then, Pujols missed the final two months of the season. However, the Angels began producing the Kole Calhouns and the Grant Greens. By the end of August, the Angels were a much different team than they were in the first half.
This season, the Angels are starting to look like the team they were from 2002 through 2009. Except now they have Mike Trout, Albert Pujols, and Josh Hamilton at the core instead of it being Vladimir Guerrero and everybody else. They have the good, young starting pitching again. The last ingredient is the bullpen.
Angels relievers are figuring it out, however. And they're on their way to maturing and mixing well with veterans like Joe Smith. In fact, the ninth inning is the role the Angels needed to fix, more specifically. But that looks to be remedied for the time being.
So what does all of this mean?
The Angels are defying the critics, both on the Major League field, as well as coming up with young role players no one thought they had. As a result, they're winning despite key injuries. And, like last year -- and I've said this a million times -- they're proving they can now absorb any struggles and/or injuries from Pujols and Hamilton.
Those two don't necessarily have to have big years for the Angels to contend.
The Angels are creating their own depth. I have a feeling it may finally pay off the way it did during the playoff years. And the best part, right now, is that those key players are returning within the next week. The Angels already have a dangerous offense, and are on a run, winning 9 of their last 12.
What is this club really capable of at full strength? It's a bit frightening, even for this die hard Angels fan.
Angels Insider News
- Last night, David Freese was activated from the DL, and Luis Jiminez was sent down. Freese went 2-for-5 with 4 RBI in his first game back.
- Kole Calhoun is back with the club and could be activated as early as today.
- Josh Hamilton is set to return Monday.
- Dane De la Rosa is close to returning, as is Sean Burnett. De la Rosa could be back by the end of next week. Burnett is in extended spring training, and could be back by early June.
- The Angels purchased the contract of right-hander Anthony Lerew from the York Revolution, an Independent League club. Lerew, 31, has experience in parts of five MLB seasons with the Braves and Royals. His last appearance, however, was in 2010. Once considered a top-100 prospect with Atlanta, Lerew has a 7.48 ERA in 61 1/3 innings in the Majors. He does have a 3.90 ERA in 330 1/3 innings at Triple-A. Lerew pitched in Japan and Korea from 2011-13. He returned to the United States this year with the Revolution. There, he had a 2.25 ERA in 24 innings.
- Right-hander Brandon Lyon has elected free agency. Lyon, 34 had a 4.08 ERA in 17 2/3 innings. The 12-year Major League veteran spent most of the 2013 season in the Mets’ bullpen, where he posted a 4.98 ERA, a 6.0 K/9, and a 3.4 BB/9 in 34 1/3 innings. Lyon has a career 4.16 ERA in 681 1/3 innings with the Diamondbacks, Astros, Blue Jays, Mets, Tigers and Red Sox.
- According to MLB.com’s Alden Gonzalez, Angels General manager Jerry Dipoto wouldn’t say whether or not Ibanez will be released when the Angels activate Josh Hamilton, Kole Calhoun, and Dane De La Rosa off the disabled list. Dipoto's point is that production can change in that time. Plus, Ibanez was never signed with the intention of him being an every day player throughout the entire season. 1B/DH CJ Cron is expected to ease his way into the DH role as the season progresses, and is making a great case for himself right now.
- The Angels acquired minor league right-hander Greg Billo from the Royals on May 13th in exchange for cash considerations. Billo, 23, had a 1.35 ERA with a 38-to-13 K/BB ratio in 40 innings at Class A Lexington last season. However, this season he has a 7.41 ERA with 17 strikeouts and 13 walks in 17 innings at Double-A. Kansas City selected Billo in the 28th round of the 2008 draft. Billo was once regarded as having the best command of any pitcher in the Royals’ system.
- The Angels signed outfielder Erik Komatsu to a minor league deal on May 12th. Komatsu, 26, is a former Rule 5 pick, who has limited MLB experience with the Cardinals and Twins. He was recently released by the Nationals.
- Also on May 12th, left-hander Buddy Boshers cleared waivers and was outrighted to Triple-A Salt Lake. Boshers was designated for assignment when the Halos claimed Brooks Raley off waivers from the Twins.
- The Angels released lefty Robert Carson on May 10th. The Angels claimed him from the Mets in October, then outrighted him in March. He pitched 33 innings for the Mets in 2012 and 2013, with a 6.82 ERA, a 3.5 K/9, and a 3.0 BB/9. He struggled for Triple-A Salt Lake this season, with 13 walks and nine strikeouts in 15 2/3 innings.