Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim

Elite Prospect Updates: Moore, Trout, Harper

Elite prospects are always popular targets come draft day, and this year we have a trio of ultra-promising young players on the cusp of the big leagues and eager to help your fantasy team. To help you prepare for the early part of the season, here's the lastest news on each of those three players. Average Draft Positions come courtesy of Mock Draft Central.

Matt Moore, LHP, TB
ADP - 104

A mild oblique strain held the game's best pitching prospect back early in Spring Training, but Moore got into his first game action this week and struck out three of the six men he faced. Thanks to his new contract extension, the Rays have no salary or free agency-related reason to send the 22-year-old southpaw to Triple-A to start the season. Either Jeff Niemann or Wade Davis will be shifted to the bullpen to free up a rotation spot, with Niemann the favorite to remain a starter. A trade is always possible as well. There's enough time left in Spring Training for Moore to make four starts, which should give him plenty of time to properly stretch out and start the team's fourth or fifth game of the regular season. Oblique issues can be tricky though, and a setback would surely have him start the season on the DL.

I ranked Moore as the 43rd best starting pitcher in fantasy baseball a few weeks ago, but I like him quite a bit more than that. I can definitely see a Madison Bumgarner-type of performance coming in 2012, which means something like 13 wins, a 3.30 ERA, a 1.20 WHIP, and 8.5 K/9. Given the tough AL East competition, I would probably take the over on the ERA though.

Mike Trout, OF, LAA
ADP - 220

Injuries are a theme in this post, but in Trout's case it's an illness. The 20-year-old told Bill Plunkett of The Orange County register that he's "feeling weak and feverish with no appetite" due to a flu-like virus which has also caused him to lose ten pounds. Trout hasn't played in close to a week now, so his already long chances of making the club out of camp have been diminished further. The Angels have a logjam of outfielders and DH-types with Mark Trumbo, Bobby Abreu, Torii Hunter, Vernon Wells, and Kendrys Morales penciled into just three lineup spots (four if you're feeling generous and think Trumbo can cut it at third). Abreu and Wells are release candidates, but the latter will likely get a significant opportunity to show he's worth the $63MM left on his contract.

Trout was #59 on my list of fantasy outfielders mostly because his playing time is so uncertain. The talent is there for him to club double-digit homers with 30+ steals if given 400 plate appearances, although the high batting averages might not come right away. Fantasy owners won't benefit from Trout's above-average defense, but there's enough here to become a top ten fantasy outfielder in the near future. I just wouldn't expect it to happen this summer given the team's currect roster situation.

Bryce Harper, OF, WAS
ADP - 227

Harper has been limited by a calf issue this week, prompting him to tell Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com that he probably won't be able to make the team out of Spring Training despite his (and manager Davey Johnson's) wishes. Still just 19, Harper has five singles and two walks in 13 at-bats this spring, and he was going to really have blow the doors off the competition to have a realistic chance to make the club. There's a open spot in the outfield calling his name and GM Mike Rizzo says he's still a candidate for the roster, but I get the sense the club is content with letting the game's best power prospect get some more time in the minors rather than throw him to the big league wolves as a teenager.

I didn't rank Harper among the game's 60 best fantasy outfielders only because I find it very hard to believe a kid that young will be that productive right away. Harper has insane power, legitimate 40 homers-a-year type of power, but no teenager has ever hit even 30 homers in a season, and only twice in the last 50 years has a 20-year-old managed 30 homers (Alex Rodriguez in 1996 and Tony Conigliaro in 1965). There figures to be a point in the not too distant future when Bryce is among the game's very players (fantasy or reality), but that probably won't happen in 2012.

Position/Role Battles: The Angels' Designated Hitter

The Angels find themselves in a position common to fantasy owners --- too much talent stockpiled at one position. Were the Halos a fantasy team, no doubt they'd be pestering you to acquire one of Bobby Abreu, Mark Trumbo or Kendrys Morales for your utility or corner infield spot in exchange for an outfielder.  (In real life, of course, Vernon Wells can't be so easily or cheaply released.)

A positional logjam is a small price to pay when it is caused by the addition of a superstar like Albert Pujols. It's very possible the Angels could still swing a trade to move at least one of their DH candidates; just within the last week, an Abreu-for-A.J. Burnett deal was floated with the Yankees, though Burnett rejected the deal since the Angels and other West Coast teams are on his no-trade list. If a trade doesn't happen, however, let's see how Abreu, Trumbo and Morales might all fit into the Los Angeles lineup ...

Abreu: It may be tough for Abreu to reach Cooperstown, but he is a charter member of the Underrated Fantasy Player Hall Of Fame. Abreu has averaged 102 runs scored, 101 walks, 20 homers and 28 steals per season over the past 13 years, and yet always seems to be available about a round lower than you'd expect. After years of consistency, however, Abreu has finally started to slip, batting .255/.352/.435 in 2010 and dropping to a .253/.353/.365 line last season.  Abreu turns 38 in March and is simply no longer a viable everyday option, as his numbers against left-handed pitching have especially slipped in recent years.

This didn't stop LAA from playing Abreu enough for him to unlock a vesting option in his contract, extending his deal through 2012 and guaranteeing him a $9MM salary. At that price, it's going to be hard for the Halos to unload Abreu in a deal, especially with so many other DH types like Johnny Damon, Vladimir Guerrero, Hideki Matsui, etc. still on the free agent market and available at a much lower price.  Swapping Abreu for another bad contract (i.e. Burnett) might be the only way the Angels would make a trade work.

If Abreu does remain an Angel, however, his days of 600-plus plate appearances are over.  Expect him to be used much more sparingly, more or less exclusively against right-handed pitching. Fantasy-wise, I'm not sure Abreu holds much value, even as a part-timer.  His numbers even against righties have slipped in recent years, so there are better options out there if you're looking for players with pronounced splits as streaming options.

Trumbo: Despite 29 homers and a second-place finish in the AL Rookie Of The Year balloting, there isn't a great sense that Trumbo is a big part of the Angels' future. Trumbo's power was countered by his .254 average and a disturbingly low .291 OBP -- getting on base has been issue for Trumbo throughout his career, as he carries a career .330 OBP in the minor leagues.  This said, Trumbo is just 26 years old and is theoretically entering his prime, so the Angels are committed to seeing if his overall batting skills develop into something special. Even if he doesn't, there are worse fates for a player than following the Mark Reynolds career path.

Reynolds could become an even closer comparable to Trumbo since the Angels will be working Trumbo out at third base during Spring Training in an attempt to find him a regular spot in the lineup.  Trumbo would displace regular third baseman Alberto Callaspo, who should still find some playing time against left-handed pitching (Callaspo is a switch-hitter, Trumbo is right-handed) and spelling Trumbo as a defensive replacement. 

Third-base eligibility would give Trumbo a big fantasy boost, as third basemen with 29-homer potential are hard to come by.  If he proves he can handle the job during Spring Training, he is definitely worth a pick during the later rounds of your fantasy draft.  There is risk attached to a Trumbo pick, however, as he'll provide virtually no fantasy value if his power wanes. Also, if he can't handle third base, it leaves Trumbo as a part-time DH at best and greatly limit his value.

Morales: Here's the big x-factor. Morales suffered one of the most infamous injuries in recent baseball history on May 29, 2010, when he fractured his lower left leg leaping onto home plate after a walkoff grand slam.  Two surgeries later, Morales may finally be ready to return, but the Angels will treat him with kid gloves. In other words, don't dream that Morales will be healthy enough to take over from Wells in left field since it'd be a surprise if the Angels play him anywhere other than the DH spot this season.

Even if Morales is fit, you can't expect him to regain his 2009 form after missing essentially two years of action. Morales was hitting .290/.346/.487 before he went down in 2010, and optimistically, that's probably his ceiling if he can stay healthy in 2012. An .833 OPS is nothing to sneeze at, but again, that represents a best-case scenario for Morales, who might not be ready for Opening Day.  I'd expect Los Angeles to bring Morales along slowly, keeping him in a DH platoon until he proves he's healthy enough to handle more playing time. It all adds up to a classic "draft him in the last or second-last round" scenario, and in most leagues, I'd guess Morales to last that long given the sheer uncertainty about his injury situation.

Fantasy outlook: It's easy to foresee a scenario where Morales isn't healthy, Abreu continues his decline and Trumbo fails to develop, turning the Angels' "logjam" at DH into an even more pressing problem of having nobody to fill the spot. It's also worth citing the names of Wells, Torii Hunter and super-prospect Mike Trout in the conversation.  If none of Abreu/Trumbo/Morales working out, you could see Hunter or Wells added to the DH mix, creating an everyday job for Trout in the outfield. 

For now, however, we'll save Mike Scioscia some lineup juggling and presume that it will indeed be some combination of Abreu, Trumbo and/or Morales rotating as the designated hitter. Trumbo's possible third base eligibility gives him the most fantasy value of the three players, with Morales' potential making him the second-best choice and Abreu's decline putting him in back.  Given the number of question marks surrounding all three players, LAA general manager Jerry Dipoto may want to hold off on trades until he sees which (if any) of his DH candidates will perform in 2012. In fact, if it turns out Morales can't play, it wouldn't be a shock to see the Halos sign someone like a Damon or a Guerrero late in Spring Training to help fill the void.

Position Battles: Angels Closer

In what appears to be a wide open competition, the Angels have five candidates trying to win the closer's job this spring. Manager Mike Scioscia has hinted at a closer-by-committee to begin the season, saying recently that "any one of five guys have the ability to get the last out of the game." But it's quite possible that somebody emerges with the job by the time the season starts. I'll be keeping a close eye on this competition, along with over 50 other position battles that I've identified, over at MLBDepthCharts.com. Let's take a look at the contenders.

Tale of the Tape

Fernando Rodney vs Scott Downs vs Hisanori Takahasi vs Kevin Jepsen vs Jordan Walden

Rodney: 33 years old, $5.5MM salary 2010 stats: 4-3, 4.24 ERA, 68 IP, 70 H, 35 BB, 53 K, 14 Sv, 21 holds 2011 Outlook: Slight favorite 

The right-hander took over as the team's full-time closer after Brian Fuentes was traded to Minnesota in late August and proceeded to blow saves in four of 12 opportunities. Rodney also gave up at least one run in 8 of 17 games during that stretch. So it's easy to understand why his manager has not anointed him as the team's closer for 2011. He is the most experienced of the group, by far, with 84 career saves and had a solid first half of the 2010 season (4-0, 3.57 ERA in 38 games) so it appears he could still have a slight edge at this point.

Downs: 34 years old, $5MM salary 2010 stats: 5-5, 2.64 ERA, 61.1 IP, 47 H, 14 BB, 48 K, 26 holds 2011 Outlook: Underdog, more likely to fill setup role with an occasional save opportunity

The veteran has been among the top left-handed setup men in baseball over the past few years and was rewarded this offseason with a three-year, $15MM deal to join the Angels. Aside from 2009 when he saved nine games for Toronto, Downs hasn't been given much of a chance to close out games. He's likely to stick to his typical role, trying to hold a lead or keep a game close in the 7th or 8th inning. However, it wouldn't be surprising to see him get a chance to save a few games when the opponent has more than one tough left-handed batter due up in the 9th. In case you're wondering, lefties hit just .152 (12-for-79) against him last season.

Takahashi: 35 years old, $3.8MM salary 2010 stats: 10-6, 3.61 ERA, 122 IP, 116 H, 43 BB, 114 K, 8 Sv 2011 Outlook: Underdog, more likely to fill various roles with an occasional save opportunity

His versatility may have been one of the main reasons the Angels snatched him up with a two-year, $8MM deal this offseason. But it could also work against him in this competition. The left-hander, who started 12 games for the Mets last season, saved eight games down the stretch as the team's closer, and finished with 10 wins and 122 IP, is capable of filling many roles. He can work multiple innings, make a spot start, come in to face a tough left-handed batter (lefties had .217 BA against him in '10), set up, or close. Takahashi isn't going to strike fear into opponents with his high 80's fastball, but he mixes in a very good change up along with a slider, cutter, and curveball. Not your prototypical closer, which is probably why he's usually going to be overlooked with the game on the line in the 9th.

Jepsen: 26 years old, est. $440K salary 2010 stats: 2-4, 3.97 ERA, 59 IP, 54 H, 29 BB, 61 K, 27 holds 2011 Outlook: Underdog, more likely to continue in setup role 

He appears to have the stuff to be a closer (mid-90's fastball, low 90's cutter, good curveball) but he'll have to be more consistent with his command if he's to be trusted with a 9th inning lead. His 4.4 BB/9 is actually a tad better than Rodney's while his 9.3 K/9 is much better. But it's his lack of experience (1 career save) that puts him behind in this competition. 

Walden: 23 years old, est. $414K salary 2010 stats: 0-1, 2.35 ERA, 15.1 IP, 13 H, 7 BB, 23 K, Sv, 6 holds 2011 Outlook: Underdog, more likely to begin in middle relief role with chance to win job later in the season

Converted to relief just last season, Walden was called up to the majors in August after spending most of the season in Double-A. Scioscia threw him right into the fire and the rookie responded with 23 Ks, six holds, and one save in his 16 big league appearances. For those of you that are impressed by this kind of stuff, the right-hander averaged 98.9 mph with his fastball during his stint with the Angels and reportedly hit 102 mph on the radar while in the minors. Once he proves that he can command his fastball-slider repertoire on a consistent basis, he'll be trusted with the ball late in games and could eventually take over as the full-time closer sometime in 2011. 

Final Word

Instead of aggressively pursuing a free agent closer, such as Rafael Soriano, the Angels chose to invest their money in improving the overall depth of their bullpen, spending $23MM on Downs and Takahashi. Baseball games can just as easily be won or lost in the 7th and 8th innings so we don't know at this point if the Angels will come to regret their decision. It's hard to name a successful team, however, that has gotten by with a bullpen-by-commitee for very long. My guess is that they lean on Rodney early on, with Downs getting an occasional save opportunity, while they ease Walden into the role. If Rodney struggles, look for more Takahashi. Without that 'go-to guy' in the 9th, it's hard to have confidence in the Angels going into 2011. They're living dangerously, if you ask me.

Assessing Ervin Santana

Ervin Santana rewarded those who drafted him in the 19th round or picked him up off the waiver wire this season, posting a 3.92 ERA, 1.32 WHIP, 169 strikeouts, and 17 wins over 222.6 innings.  It was a far cry from '09, when Santana posted a 5.03 ERA and missed a chunk of the season with an elbow strain.

How should you handle Santana, heading into 2011 drafts?  This wasn't a repeat of his '08 season, when he posted a brilliant 3.49 ERA (3.12 SIERA) and 1.12 WHIP with 214 Ks.  This time Santana had a 4.29 SIERA, 6.83 K/9, 2.95 BB/9, and 1.09 HR/9.  Those are not bad peripherals, but they suggest he belongs at the back end of a mixed league rotation.  Also, he was throwing a 94.4 mph average fastball in '08 and was at 92.5 in '10.

Don't forget that elbow issue, which makes you wonder if he can log anything close to 222.6 innings again.  If you're getting Santana around the 15th round, that works, but don't be too aggressive on him.

We don't have SIERA by month but we do have xFIP, courtesy of FanGraphs.  Santana never had an xFIP below 3.97 in any month, and his strikeout rate dipped below 6.0 in the last two.  Hard to say if that's a trend, but he could fall outside the realm of mixed league usefulness in 2011 if so.

Peter Bourjos Examined

The Angels called up center fielder Peter Bourjos on August 3rd, with Torii Hunter moving to right field to accommodate the rookie.  Serving as the Angels' ninth-place hitter, Bourjos has started all seven Angels games since his promotion.

28 big league plate appearances isn't much of a sample, though Bourjos has scored four runs and swiped two bags in that brief time.  At Triple A this year he hit .314/.364/.498 in 455 PAs (102 games).  He hit 13 home runs with 12 triples and 27 stolen bases in 32 attempts.

Bourjos' game is all about speed.  His wheels enable him to play plus center field defense, so that should keep him in the lineup even if his offensive numbers don't sparkle.  Playing time is not an issue, but can fantasy leaguers expect tons of steals?  In the minors Bourjos attempted to steal 27.6% of the time when he singled or walked (a rate that drops if we include Bourjos' ten HBPs).  I'd like to see more - the game's top thieves typically attempt to steal around 40% of the time.

Using the MLE calculator at MinorLeagueSplits.com, here's how Bourjos profiles over 550 ABs: .256-12-47-78-29.  It's a line worth about $6, similar to the value provided by Alex Rios or Vernon Wells last year.  It's nothing to write home about; you might do just as well grabbing Corey Patterson, Will Venable, or Coco Crisp off a mixed league waiver wire if you're desperate for steals.  We don't know if Bourjos' 12 home run type power will translate to the Majors, especially over the next two months as a rookie.

Closer Report: Los Angeles Angels

Brian Fuentes remains the Angels' closer, and the tenth round is pretty early for a guy who didn't pitch particularly well in 2009 and has decent backups in place.

The Halos committed big money to Fernando Rodney, but he's slated to be a setup man.  Mike DiGiovanna of the L.A. Times explains:

Rodney is expected to share setup duties with Scot Shields and Kevin Jepsen and close on a fill-in basis when Brian Fuentes is down.

Fuentes was relieved by Jepsen multiple times last season, with Mike Scioscia opting for a semi-job share arrangement in mid-September.  Jepsen dealt with shoulder tendinitis that month, so he's been taking it easy this spring.  Shields is coming off knee surgery.

Given Rodney's fastball, closing experience, and contract, he's the one you want.  And though the Angels probably won't admit it, they could try to prevent Fuentes from reaching the 55 games finished he needs for his 2011 option to vest at $9MM.  Unfortunately Rodney is currently going in the 18th round, a sign that those drafting don't realize he's not the closer.  At that point in the draft you can still get established closers like Chad Qualls, Matt Capps, and Kerry Wood.

For all of our 2010 closer reports, click here. And be sure to follow our @CloserNews twitter page for instant updates on changes in closing situations.

Eyeing Sean Rodriguez

One player to watch in the middle infield is second baseman Sean Rodriguez, of the Angels organization.  He's tearing it up in Triple A with 21 HRs in 202 ABs.  The 24 year-old is slugging .644, with 6 SBs to boot.  It's not just a half-season of data - Rodriguez hit 21 HR with a .645 SLG in 248 Triple A at-bats last year.  Yes, that's 42 HR in 450 ABs.  It's the Pacific Coast League, but still.

Back on May 31st, Mike DiGiovanna of the L.A. Times wrote that Rodriguez is more likely to replace Howie Kendrick in the Angels' infield than Brandon Wood.  Kendrick has a .367 OBP since that article appeared, so he might be able to stave off a demotion.  But middle infield pop is a precious commodity in any fantasy league, so monitor Rodriguez.

Napoli Could DH

MLB.com's Lyle Spencer continues to beat the drum for the Angels to give Mike Napoli significant time at designated hitter in 2009.  He says Mike Scioscia's stance has softened on the idea recently and it will be discussed during Spring Training.

With 406 ABs, we have Napoli as an $18 player given his catcher eligibility.  We're currently ranking him 5th among catchers due to a projected 26 HR.  Bump that to 500 ABs, though, and Napoli easily passes Joe Mauer as fantasy baseball's most valuable backstop.  His only negative would be a .250 AVG, easily overcome by his other stats.

Napoli is currently being drafted in the 15th round, 10th among catchers.  In a recent Mock Draft I did, I was chilling and waiting to take Napoli in the 14th or 15th.  Instead, some guy using AutoSelect took him in the 11th.  Not sure if it means anything.  MDC says Napoli has been picked as early as the 8th round.  If you become dead set on Napoli, and that's a dangerous thing to do with any player, you might have to plan to take him around the 11th or 12th round.  Last year I reached on Rafael Furcal, Corey Hart, and Matt Kemp, and it paid off for the two outfielders.  It is possible to get too reliant on Average Draft Position data.

Mike Napoli: Top Five Catcher?

One fantasy baseball issue to follow closely for 2009 is the playing time of Angels catcher Mike Napoli.  Napoli got only 227 ABs for the Angels in '08, putting up a massive .273-20-49-39-7 line in that time.  He missed a month due to a shoulder injury, but even without that he would've projected for about 320 ABs. 

When a catcher shows that kind of massive home run power (and speed!), fantasy leaguers get delirious thinking what he could do with 400 ABs.  Reasonably, he'd have a shot at 30 HR, which would probably lead all catchers.  In a November mailbag, MLB.com's Lyle Spencer discussed the idea of having Napoli spend some time at DH, getting him 500-600 ABs.  Let's not get greedy - 400 would be great.  If Napoli is healthy, there's no reason Jeff Mathis should be stealing an abnormal amount of playing time.  The Angels are rumored to be in on various corner outfield/infield types, which would presumably leave less of a chance for Napoli to DH.

If Napoli gets those 400 ABs, he has a legitimate shot at being a top five catcher (and that allows for his AVG to drop under .260).  He is being drafted 11th among catchers, in the 19th round.  One health issue to monitor - he had arthroscopic shoulder surgery on October 31st.

Ervin Santana Pitch F/X Analysis

David Golebiewski of The Transaction Guy analyzed Angels' starter Ervin Santana with Pitch F/X data.  He likes what he sees, for the most part.  Here are his numbers so far:

4 starts
27 innings
6.75 IP/start
2.67 ERA
0.96 WHIP
7.33 K/9
2.00 BB/9
3.67 K/BB
6.67 H/9
.250 BABIP
0.67 HR/9
6.7% HR/flyball

Obviously some regression is due, but it does seem that Santana could do something similar to his '06 season (4.28 ERA in 204 IP).  And if he keeps his walk rate under 2.5 this could be the best year of his young career.  He gets a risky opponent in the Tigers next time out. 

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