ANAHEIM -- There's nowhere to go but up.
The Angels' system heads into the 2013 season at the bottom of the totem pole, ranked 30th out of 30 Major League organizations by Baseball America and ESPN. For win-now teams that spend a lot on their Major League roster and spin trades for the present, a thin farm system is a trade-off.
But assistant general manager Scott Servais, in his second year overseeing scouting and player development, doesn't believe the Angels are as far off as others portray.
"We're not at the bottom," Servais said. "We have enough young guys that are coming that are interesting. We don't have the depth that a lot of other systems have and we need players, there's no doubt, but I like the improvements we've made. We've made a few adjustments in the program, and I think that's starting to take hold. We'll continue to add more talented players to the system, but I think we'll be much more competitive this year. Our pitching is improving at the lower levels, and we're on the right path."
where to watch
|5||Kole Calhoun||Salt Lake City||AAA|
|6||Luis Jimenez||Salt Lake City||AAA|
|9||Mark Sappington||Inland Empire||A+|
|11||Jose Rondon||Extended ST|
|12||Alfonso Alcantara||Extended ST|
|13||R.J. Alvarez||Inland Empire||A+|
|14||Austin Wood||Inland Empire||A+|
|16||A.J. Schugel||Salt Lake City||AAA|
|17||Eric Stamets||Inland Empire||A+|
|18||Alex Yarbrough||Inland Empire||A+|
|19||Yency Almonte||Extended ST|
Minor League Baseball is under way, and you can keep track of the Angels' top prospects throughout the season on MLBPipeline.com and Prospect Watch. Get scores, stats, news, schedules, tickets and more for all of the Halos' Minor League teams on MLBPipeline.com/angels.
Of the Angels' affiliates, only the Triple-A Salt Lake Bees (73-71) finished above .500 last season, providing a snapshot of the lacking talent and depth in their Minor League system. Double-A Arkansas (62-78), Class A Inland Empire (66-74), Class A Cedar Rapids (53-86 before moving to Burlington) and rookie-level Orem (35-41) all struggled.
The graduation of talented prospects to the Majors (see: Mike Trout), in addition to several win-now deals, the loss of early-round picks tied to free-agent compensation, a couple Draft gambles that didn't pan out and a two-year absence in Latin America has caused the Halos' system to take several steps back. But an increase in scouts, a safer drafting strategy and the upcoming relocation of their academy in the Dominican Republic could help them replenish.
The Angels have a few intriguing position players in their system -- third baseman Kaleb Cowart, first baseman C.J. Cron, second baseman Taylor Lindsey and outfielder Kole Calhoun, to name a few -- but the pitching needs to catch up.
"We're probably a lot farther along, position player-wise," Servais said. "I think the focus for us, all the time and especially this year, in the Draft and internationally, is on pitching. Hopefully we can beef that up. But if the Austin Woods of the world and Mark Sappingtons, some of these guys start to come, we'll be fine."
Two of the Halos' most intriguing pitching prospects (Wood and Sappington) will reside in the Inland Empire pitching staff, and the Triple-A roster is packed with Major League veterans (Scott Cousins, Luis Rodriguez, Chris Snyder and Mitch Stetter).
But the best young talent will be in Double-A. That's where the No. 1 prospect in the Angels' system, Cowart, will man the hot corner in what will be a crucial year for the 20-year-old switch-hitter. It's Cron's next stop after driving in 123 runs in his first full season, then undergoing shoulder surgery (Servais said the shoulder is "not conventional, but it's functional"). It's where Nick Maronde will transition into his first full season as a reliever. And it's where talented outfielders Randal Grichuk and Travis Witherspoon will also roam.
Debuts and draftees
All but two of the Angels' 2012 draftees signed, and the vast majority of them did so in June, so the club was able to see plenty of them in the summer. But they're excited to get a longer look at right-handed pitcher Yency Almonte, who was plucked out of high school in the 17th round last year and only made three appearances in rookie ball. The wiry 6-foot-3 Almonte, an 18-year-old who's ranked 19th in the Angels' system by MLB.com, will start in rookie-level Orem.
Sappington (ninth), fellow right-hander R.J. Alvarez (13th), and middle infielders Eric Stamets (17th) and Alex Yarbrough (18th) are other Top 20 Prospects who will be entering their first full season in pro ball. Sappington struggled in rookie ball, posting a 5.15 ERA in 15 games (12 starts), but is 6-foot-5 and has a power arm, making him one of few high-upside pitching prospects in the Angels' system.
Teams on TV
The Salt Lake Bees and Arkansas Travelers are among a growing number of teams whose games are available on MiLB.TV. The 2013 MiLB.TV package will include more than 3,500 Minor League games streamed live, as well as games archived for on-demand streaming soon after completion.
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.