2014 L.A. Angels: Losing The Arms Race


Jim Fregosi

Jim Fregosi, who died this February, was the Angels’ first star, if better known for the team trading him away to acquire an even bigger star, Hall of Fame pitcher Nolan Ryan. A native north Californian, Fregosi was an 18-year-old Class D minor-leaguer when the Angels took him in the expansion draft from the Red Sox. Within two seasons, he was the Angels everyday shortstop. In 1963, he batted .287 at age 21 and finished 23rd in the MVP vote; a year later he hit .277 with 18 homers, 72 walks and an .833 OPS and was 13th in the MVP vote. Fregosi got MVP votes every year through 1970, finishing as high as seventh in 1967 when he won his only Gold Glove. In 1970, he hit .278 with 22 homers and 69 walks, but after he hit .233 in ’71, he was traded to the Mets and moved to third base. The Mets moved him to Texas in midseason ’73, before they began their push to the NL East title. The trade of Ryan for Fregosi was not straight up — the Mets also gave up catcher Frank Estrada (0-for-2 in his career), pitcher Don Rose (1-4, 4.14 ERA) and outfielder Leroy Stanton (.244 average and 77 homers in nine seasons) to make it even. Fregosi stopped playing in ’78 to become the manager of the Angels, with Ryan as one of his pitchers. Fregosi’s Angels won the AL West in ’79 and made their first postseason appearance; he also managed the White Sox, Phillies and Blue Jays, winning the ’93 pennant with Philadelphia, but losing the Series in six to Toronto. His career numbers: .265, 151 homers, 1,726 hits, .338 on-base, .398 slugging. .736 OPS, 113 OPS+, 48.7 WAR (7.9 in ’64, 7.7 in ’70), 1028-1094 as a manager. He received four votes in the 1984 Hall of Fame voting.

I feel like I’m knocking on heaven’s door: The Angels don’t have the worst farm system in baseball, not as long as the Brewers are forfeiting first-round picks to sign Kyle Lohse. But the Angels are ranked 29th by ESPN’s Keith Law, which still seems generous. John Sickels, at minorleagueball.com, has only two Angels prospects rated better than C+s, and one of those is a veteran of 16.2 Rookie League innings in which he walked nearly a batter an inning. Infielder Taylor Lindsey is the consensus No. 1 prospect, if only because he’s one of the last No. 1 picks they’ve had. First baseman C.J. Cron was the Angels’ most recent No. 1 pick in 2011, but he put up a .746 OPS in AA at age 23; Lindsey’s OPS was 34 points higher at the same stop while two years younger. But the Angels shouldn’t expect too much help from Lindsey besides some plus second-baseman’s power — he fanned 91 times, had just a .339 on-base percentage and was caught stealing as often as he succeeded. The Angels had two first-round picks in 2010: Chevy Clarke, at No. 30, went seven spots ahead of Lindsey and has a career .225 batting average. He has yet to clear Class A. By that standard, Lindsey’s a prospect.

Trivia: Who were the Angels managers when they had their first winning record, first playoff appearance and first postseason victory (three managers)?

What he said: Mike Trout on his new contract: “When the owner comes out and puts up these big numbers, like $33 million, it’s hard to turn down.” Trout said. What he meant: “It’d be nice to see Albert Pujols put up some big numbers.”

Outlook: The Angels’ problems seem easy to identify, even if they’re difficult to fix. If only cutting a check could improve the pitching staff.

The Angels were 11th in ERA in 2013 (just sixth in runs scored), after being eighth in 2012. The Angels have signed free-agent sluggers, but they don’t have pitchers to face their opponents’, and the roots of the Angels’ failings can be seen in the last few drafts’ first round. Consider:

  • The Angels took Clarke and Lindsey in the 2010 draft; they could have had Noah Syndergaard (38) or Anthony Ranaudo (39) or Taijuan Walker (43) or Luke Jackson (45), all pitchers and all better prospects.
  • They took Cron at No. 17 in 2011; the A’s took Sonny Gray at No. 18. Matt Barnes (19), Alex Meyer (23), Henry Owens (36), all pitchers, all followed.
  • The Cardinals used the first-round pick the Angels lost for signing Albert Pujols to take Michael Wacha 19th in the 2012 draft. Pujols’ contract has eight more seasons and Wacha is already the more valuable major leaguer. And cheaper, too.
  • The Angels lost their first-round pick in 2013 for signing Josh Hamilton; the Rangers used their compensation pick to take shortstop Travis Demeritte at No. 30. A high school infielder, Demeritte had an .844 OPS in an abbreviated Rookie League stint.
  • Every pick is perfect, of course, looking back at a draft. But the decisions of the last four first rounds — going for position players and free agents — impact 2014.

    Some of the Angels’ wrongdoing is happenstance: they led the AL in pitching as recently as 2011, so there wasn’t as much impetus to draft it.

    But there is now. The Angels did get creative last offseason, reacquiring Tyler Skaggs, a 2009 Angels first-rounder they traded away for Dan Haren, and Hector Santiago, a wild left-hander made expendable by fellow lefties Chris Sale and Jose Quintana (not to mention John Danks) with the White Sox (109 of the White Sox’s 162 games in 2013 were started by lefties).

    That was a good return on one-dimensional slugger Mark Trumbo, but it’s not enough. It filled out the rotation, but not the bullpen, and the Angels have an organizational shortage of pitching. When Sean Burnett and Dane De La Rosa open the season on the disabled list, the qualified options in the system are scarce.

    The Angeles have Mike Trout, but besides pitching, they have issues at catcher, third base and depth in the outfield. The talent base is deep on the top level and woefully thin beyond. The Angels didn’t build these problems in a single season, but Trout can only hope it doesn’t take the length of his contract to fix them.

    Trivia answer: Bill Rigney was the Angels’ manager when they had their first winning record, going 86-76 in 1962, their second season. Jim Fregosi was the manager when they first made the playoffs, losing the 1979 ALCS in four games to Baltimore. And Mike Scioscia was their manager in 2002 when they first won a postseason series, beating the Yankees in four games in the divisional series on the way to winning the World Series.

    Team song: Lucinda Williams: Drunken Angel

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