Angels' goal to continue improving farm system
GM Dipoto not concerned with low marks in upcoming Baseball America rankings
ANAHEIM -- It's safe to say Baseball America isn't a very big fan of the Angels' farm system.
When the esteemed publication releases its annual organizational rankings later this month, Angels Minor Leaguers, sources confirmed, will be ranked 30th for the second straight year. It's an indication that progress hasn't really been made over the last 12 months -- and a point of contention within the organization.
"We're better than we were [last year]," Angels general manager Jerry Dipoto said. "If that's deemed by Baseball America to be No. 30, we'll have to be content with living with their evaluation of our system. But we believe we're getting better; we believe we're in a better situation than that."
Though Angels representatives disagree with the ranking, they aren't necessarily surprised by it. And they understand a lot of work remains for a system that has suffered from several win-now trades and the continual loss of early-round Draft picks.
That's why Dipoto is so adamant about not signing free agents tied to Draft-pick compensation, essentially eliminating the Angels -- still hopeful of adding another starting pitcher -- from Ervin Santana or Ubaldo Jimenez.
The Angels haven't had a first-round pick in either of the last two First-Year Player Drafts, a direct result of the Albert Pujols and Josh Hamilton additions. In 2012-13, they ranked 30th and 29th, respecively, in spending-pool money.
In short, they haven't had a lot to work with.
"It all comes down to having top Draft choices," said assistant GM Scott Servais, in charge of scouting and player development. "We haven't had the first-round Draft choices the last couple of years, and those are the guys that carry those rankings. Not a whole lot we can do about what Baseball America says. That's their opinion. I don't necessarily think we're 30th, but we know we have a ways to go and we're going to try to continue to improve in those areas."
Judging solely by wins and losses, the Angels' farm system took major steps last year.
Their Triple-A and Double-A affiliates played in their respective championship games, Class A Advanced Inland Empire won the California League title and Rookie-level Orem also qualified for the postseason, giving the Angels four affiliates in the playoffs -- more than any organization except the Astros, which Baseball America ranked ninth heading into last year.
How much does that factor into organizational rankings?
"The reality of it is that it doesn't," said Baseball America writer J.J. Cooper, who was in charge of the Angels and three other clubs for this year's Prospect Handbook. "I think that they did a really good job of pro scouting. They hit the [independent] ball circuit really well, and they added a number of role players who were solid Minor League players but who don't project as future big leaguers."
The Angels' top prospect, third baseman Kaleb Cowart, posted only a .580 OPS in his first stint of Double-A. Outfielder Randal Grichuk, who's still raw but was ranked fourth in their system by MLB.com, was dealt to the Cardinals in the David Freese trade. And though starters Hunter Green (the Angels' first pick last year) and Ricardo Sanchez (their most expensive international signing) have some promise, they're still only teenagers.
"When you look at farm system rankings, it's very important to realize -- and fans don't always do this -- that it's just a snapshot in time," said MLB.com Draft and prospect expert Jim Callis, who spent the previous 25 years putting these rankings together for Baseball America. "It's not necessarily indicative of how good or bad a job the team has been doing in the last few years. It's just what they have in this moment."
Offensively, the Angels' farm system is in decent shape. From 2012-13, their affiliates went from being ranked 22nd to second in on-base percentage, a primary focal point for the new front office. And though they're still relatively thin on can't-miss, position-player talent, the likes of Cowart, C.J. Cron, Taylor Lindsey and Zach Borenstein -- the reigning Cal League MVP -- have upside.
But as Cooper noted, it's still very hard to identify high-upside pitching in their system, particularly those capable of remaining starting pitchers.
Angels affiliates have ranked last in collective ERA each of the last two years -- though their mark improved in 2013, from 4.76 to 4.48 -- and a lot of their turnaround could hinge on how many sleepers they hit on in 2013.
Last June, the Angels loaded up on pitching, taking an arm with each of their first seven selections, and 10 of their first 11. But only one of those players (Green) was ranked among Baseball America's top 200 amateurs, a big reason why the publication soured on their latest haul. And the Angels spent only 87.6 percent of their already-thin bonus pool, third lowest in baseball.
That extra money, Servais said, was intended for Blake Goins, the high-school right-hander who was taken in the 12th round and ultimately became their only unsigned pick.
"That's why they have pools," Servais said. "Everybody does it. It's just Blake Goins decided at the final hour that he was going to go to the University of Texas."
Texas is also site of the organization Servais once turned around, as the Rangers' senior director of player development from 2006-11. Heading into the '07 season, the Texas farm system was ranked 28th by Baseball America. Two years later, they rose all the way to No. 1, paving the way for back-to-back World Series appearances.
But the Rangers had five picks within the first 54 selections of the '07 Draft, and they went really big in the international market over a 12-month span.
The Angels, still trying to capitalize on a championship window with their Major League club, aren't really in a position to do that. So over the last two years, they've tried to use their limited spending-pool money to find diamonds in the rough, made strides to beef up their presence in Latin America -- an area of neglect from 2009-10 -- and supplemented the rest of their affiliates via the scrap heap.
Later this year, they'll have the 15th overall selection and will also draft higher in the later rounds while hoping to benefit from a much larger spending poll, both in the Draft and the international market.
For now, the stigma that comes with being deemed the worst farm system in baseball is just something they'll have to accept.
"I'm not going to cry in my beer over it," Servais said. "It's Baseball America. At the end of the day, the goal is to get much higher, and I believe we will."
Alden Gonzalez is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Gonzo and "The Show", and follow him on Twitter @Alden_Gonzalez. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.