"As far as the rankings go, they aren't important," said Scott Servais, assistant general manager in charge of scouting and player development. "We feel really good about our process."
The Angels hired Jerry Dipoto as their GM in October 2011, and he lured Servais from the Rangers a week later. At that time, the system had Mike Trout on the verge of becoming a superstar, Jean Segura in high Class A and not a whole lot else. Signing free agents Josh Hamilton, Albert Pujols and C.J. Wilson cost Los Angeles three premium picks in the 2012 and '13 First-Year Player Drafts, which has made rebuilding the system all the more difficult.
When MLBPipeline.com released its Top 100 Prospects list in January, the Angels were the only organization that wasn't represented. The relative strength of the system is its upper-level position players, led by third baseman Kaleb Cowart, second baseman Taylor Lindsey and first baseman C.J. Cron.
But the talent drops off after that, and there's just one starting pitcher who has reached Double-A (Mark Sappington) on MLBPipeline.com's Angels Top 20 Prospects list. To address their pitching shortcomings, the Halos spent their top seven selections and nine of their first 10 in the 2013 Draft on arms.
Going forward, they'll have a first-round pick this June for the first time since 2011 and only the fifth time in the last 10 Drafts. To help on the international front, they've significantly upgraded their complex in the Dominican Republic. Servais spent five months putting together a 300-page player-development manual that outlines to coaches how players should be developed, and to players what the organization expects from them.
Servais admits that the Angels will need multiple bountiful Drafts and international crops to refurbish the system, but he's confident they'll accomplish that goal.
"We can't control the talent we inherited," Servais said. "We've put a process in place and we see what we're doing. Our coaches are going to do a really good job once we bring more talent in."
Three questions with Cowart
Since Trout graduated to Los Angeles, Cowart has been rated as the Halos' top prospect. The 18th overall pick in the 2010 Draft, he maintains that status despite posting the worst numbers of his career (.221/.279/.301) last year in Double-A.
MLBPipeline.com: How difficult was it going through your struggles last year? Was that the first time you faced adversity on the field?
Cowart: It was tough. I had good backing from the Angels and my coaches, they supported me. In the end, it can be a positive. It can help me. Everybody struggles at some point in their career, and maybe I got mine out of the way in the Minors. It taught me how to deal with failure if it happens again.
MLBPipeline.com: What did you do to prepare for this year? What adjustments have you made after 2013?
Cowart: I feel great. I came into camp 15 pounds heavier and stronger. I have more control of the bat when I swing. I've quieted my swing down more. I just really tried to eliminate having too much weight on the back side, getting a smoother transfer to my front side.
MLBPipeline.com: How much interest did scouts show in you as a pitcher when you were coming out of high school? Do you miss pitching?
Cowart: Half the teams want me to play, and half the teams wanted me to pitch. I told teams before the Draft that I wanted to play every day, be on the field every day. I wouldn't want to be a starting pitcher. I would miss playing too much. I threw in the mid-90s in high school, but I haven't been on the mound since the [Georgia Class AA] state championship game in May 2010.
Camp standout: Jose Rondon
Since signing for $70,000 out of Venezuela in January 2011, Rondon has been one of the most consistent hitters in the lower levels of the system. He has a compact swing, excels at making contact and has batted .289 in three seasons in three different Rookie leagues.
Though Rondon has just two homers and a .392 slugging percentage in 653 pro at-bats, there could be more pop in his future. He barrels balls easily and has boosted his weight from 160 pounds to 185 since signing. Rondon has been driving the ball more often this spring, which has the Angels thinking about skipping him a level and sending him to high Class A at age 20.
"He's off to a very good start," Servais said. "There's a pretty good chance we could shoot him to the Cal League, because he could handle it with the bat. We're going to continue to play him at shortstop, but he might be a third baseman."
Rondon lacks typical shortstop quickness, though he does have a solid arm and sure hands. He led Pioneer League shortstops with a .955 fielding percentage in 2013. If he has to move to the hot corner in the future, he'll have to increase his power output.
Breakout candidate: Ricardo Sanchez
Sanchez has yet to pitch in the United States, but by the end of the year, he could be recognized as the Angels' best pitching prospect. He led Venezuela to the championship at the 15-and-under World Championships in August 2012 by shutting down Cuba in the gold-medal game. A year later, Sanchez signed for $580,000, the largest international bonus that Los Angeles paid in 2013.
Sanchez was 5-foot-10 and 160 pounds when he signed, and while he has grown nearly two inches and added 15 pounds since then, he'll never be a big guy. But he has a quick arm and a clean delivery, which should translate into quality stuff and command.
"I was with Texas when Martin Perez was coming up, and Ricardo Sanchez is the same guy," Servais said. "He's a really, really advanced kid."
Sanchez's fastball has improved from a steady 86-88 mph to 90-92, with a peak of 94, since he has turned pro. His curveball shows signs of becoming at least a solid pitch, and his feel leads the Halos to believe he'll be able to hone a changeup. They hope to bypass the Rookie-level Arizona League and send Sanchez to the more advanced Rookie-level Pioneer League as a 17-year-old in June.