Minor League Minor Leaguers: 2018 Sleepers, Los Angeles Angels

angels

Prospects highlighted with 2019 age/projected assignment: RHP Mayky Perez (22, A+), 2B/SS Livan Soto (19, A), 2B/3B Franklin Torres (22, A+), 3B Taylor Ward (25, AAA), RHP John Swanda (20, A), OF D’Shawn Knowles (18, R), 2B/SS Leonardo Rivas (21, A+), RHP Luis Madero (22, A+)

This is the first installment of a look at sleeper prospects for all thirty MLB teams. There is no sense in covering the Angels’ top prospects, such as Jo Adell, Jahmai Jones and Luis Rengifo, because you’re already going to hear a lot about those players this winter and throughout the season ahead.

There is a lot of great prospect coverage around, and I want to be clear that outside of brief ancillary exposure to the world of scouting during brief internships and professional roles with a Rookie level minor league team, USA Baseball and the administrative office of two independent leagues, I lack professional scout training at this time or a network upon whom to rely. Anyone who wants to learn more about where tomorrow’s MLB stars come from need to be reading the great work of Baseball America, Baseball Prospectus, Jim Callis and Jonathan Mayo of MLBPipeline, Keith Law, Eric Longenhagen and Kiley McDaniel of Fangraphs (THE BOARD), and John Sickels, who I feel does the best job of condensing a lot of information into something accessible, especially for people new to following and analyzing minor league players.

Because I don’t want to plagiarize others’ work, I will be using this series to focus on less heralded prospects, especially in the low minors, to keep an eye on this coming spring. There will be a heavier lean on statistical indicators, and you’re going to want to get scouting reports on players from guys like Callis or Longenhagen, who can let you know why the numbers alone do or do not help paint an accurate picture of the player in question.

 

Los Angeles Angels of the Greater Anaheim Metropolitan Area Minor League Affiliates (2018)
AAA: Salt Lake Bees, Pacific Coast League (Salt Lake City, UT; since 2013)
AA:
Mobile BayBears, Southern League (Mobile, AL; since 2017)
A+:
Inland Empire 66ers, California League (San Bernadino, CA; since 2011)
A:
Burlington Bees, Midwest League (Burlington, IA; since 2013)
R-SS:
Orem Owlz, Pioneer League (Orem, UT; since 2001)
AZL: AZL Angels / DSL: DSL Angels

 

RHP Mayky Perez – Signed as international free agent (IFA): 2013, Dominican Republic, $635,000
2019 Age: 22
2019 Projected Assignment: A+ (Inland Empire 66ers, California League)

Perez was ranked by MLB.com as the 9th best prospect of the 2013 IFA class, and he was the most expensive of the Padres’ international signings for the year. Perez didn’t get out of rookie ball in his first three professional seasons. He managed only 2 appearances in 2015 for reasons I was unable to uncover. At the end of 2016, following his most successful pitching to date, San Diego gave him four appearances at their low A Northwest League affiliate, where he held his own in a tiny sample of seven innings, but he was released in March 2017. The Angels picked him up, and he again pitched at a rookie level classification, and he again wasn’t very good.

Armed with a low to mid 90s fastball, a slider and a change, Perez’s profile had long been that of a pitcher demonstrating strikeout potential, yet running hit rates of approximately ten per nine while struggling with control. Perez was moved to the bullpen full time in 2017, although he was never exclusively used as a starter.

In 2018, Perez received his first full season assignment and thrived, posting a 2.58 ERA in 38.1 innings, finishing 17 of the 25 games he pitched in. His season in Burlington was driven by a microscopic 3.8 hits per nine, which is most certainly far too low to be tenable; American League Cy Young Award winner Blake Snell ran the lowest H/9 among MLB starting pitchers in 2018 at 5.6. Still, it was an encouraging development after a worse, less inexperienced pool of hitters had given him trouble through his age 20 season.

Perez had a jump in strikeout rate to a career-best 13.4 per nine, an excellent mark that makes it difficult to wave away all of his giant gain in hit rate, or to dismiss every bit of it as luck fueled by a mere .212 BABIP (batting average on balls in play). He held opposing hitters to a .124 batting average overall. Although he’s going to need to bring his walk rate down to succeed in the upper minors, 2018 represented significant progress on his road to a possible future major league relief role. Perez recorded four strikeouts in a game eight times, even though he only pitched two or more innings thirteen times.

We won’t immediately learn much about Perez unless he’s good enough in hi A to get a few weeks, or a couple of months, to begin the transition to AA next summer. Although there are a lot of big run scoring environments in the California League, the Angels’ affiliate, Inland Empire (San Bernadino, CA), plays in a very difficult park for hitters. Using the most recent three year park factors available for the league (2014-2016), it produced the fewest runs of any park in the league: 80.3% of the runs a neutral run environment would see, and it was second to only San Jose in terms of hit rate (90.8% for Inland Empire, 90.6% for San Jose).

If Perez again runs a well below average hit rate in hi A, I would have little confidence in it being representative of real growth as opposed to run environment, although another late inning potential type of K rate would help assuage some doubts. In researching players for this piece, I noticed several split season pitchers who cut a double digit hit rate by multiple points upon promotions to hi A.

Perez needs to tighten up his control, but let’s see if he can consolidate some gains in a season split between A+ and AA. Someone gave a 16-year-old more than half a million dollars for a reason, presumably, and if his large improvements in H/9 and K/9 across the most challenging assignment of his young career are sticky, we could be looking at someone who begins 2020 on the 40-man roster, ticketed for a AA/AAA/MLB fast track type of split season year with upside for an eventual late inning role.

 

2B/SS Livan Soto signed as IFA: 2017, Venezuela, $850,000
2019 Age: 19
2019 Projected Assignment: A (Burlington Bees, Midwest League)

Soto actually signed with the Braves in 2016 for a million dollars, but he became a free agent when his contract was voided due to Atlanta being pretty darn sketchy about how they went about getting a ton of international talent under contract all at once. While Kevin Maitan, the top ranked IFA among the 2016 class by both MLBPipeline and Baseball America, was the headliner of the Angels’ pickups from the suddenly available Atlanta IFA class, Soto himself was an interesting enough talent to rank 16th for BA and 24th for MLB prior to the signing period. Playing as teammates for the Orem (UT) Owlz of the Pioneer League, the contact-happy Soto demonstrated much better feel for the strike zone than Maitan.

Soto has now walked 51 times to 50 strikeouts across more than 400 professional appearances, good for very healthy 12.5 BB/9 and 12.3 K/9 marks. He’s got a bit of speed and is 16 for 22 in stolen bases while splitting time about evenly between both middle infield positions, although he’s made 26 errors in his first 68 games at short.

It’s worth pointing out that Soto missed the age cut off for this being called his age 17 season by a mere eight days. He will be a very young 19 and one of the youngest players in the Midwest League when he steps onto the field for Burlington (IA). This is not a finished product; we can’t conclude from some rookie ball errors that Soto will not be able to play shortstop as he ascends the minor league ladder. Although he has very little power, a contact hitting profile with a high walk rate is a great foundation for surviving and adjusting to better pitching.

Sometimes low minors walk rates do not hold as the pitchers become less bad with experience and age at the higher levels. I will be concerned if I observe Soto’s strikeout rate creeping up towards 20% over his first couple full season assignments. This isn’t a profile with the power to carry a league average strikeout rate, so he would need to add at least doubles power to compensate for putting the ball in play less. The walk rate is a great sign, because a player so young having control of the strike zone already puts him ahead of a lot of toolsy players who can’t get out of A ball, mostly because of striking out thirty or forty percent of the time. But because rookie ball pitching contains a lot of bad pitchers, it’s dangerous to assume a rookie ball walk rate can carry most of a player’s value at the plate three or four levels higher, before he’s even given low A a first try.

Walk rates and strikeout rates stabilize more quickly in terms of sample size than virtually any metrics we’d want to look at among very young, still developing players. The jump to full season ball is large and Rivas is so young that if 2019 goes poorly, he can afford a second try at Burlington in 2020 without falling off the map. Keep a close eye on the plate approach numbers, however. With more strikeouts or many fewer walks, this is the profile of an empty batting average hitter, and that’s a utility infielder at the highest level, if and only if the defense is not just playable but comfortably above average at shortstop. If the plate approach falls apart, he adds no power, and he’s a full time second baseman, he’s not a major league player.

 

2B/3B Franklin Torressigned as IFA: 2013, Venezuela, signing bonus n/a
2019 Age: 22
2019 Projected Assignment: A+ (Inland Empire 66ers, California League)

Torres made his full season debut in the Midwest League this year, getting about half of his starts at second and about a quarter apiece at first and third. He’s 6’0” 175lbs and will probably not offer significant power at any point; it’s ideal if he can make it as a second baseman. The Angels seemed to agree when he was promoted to high A in July, as he did not make a start at any other position. He made five errors, for what it’s worth, in 51 keystone starts combined between the two levels. His season likely ended due to injury, about which I’ve found no information. He didn’t play past the end of July.

Torres demonstrated reasonable control of the strike zone in A ball, posting a strong 13.1 BB% and an under control 17.8 K%. He’s a high percentage base thief, caught only 8 times in 42 attempts across his professional career. His .285/.381/.382 line at A ball recalls Chone Figgins’ best season, when he hit .298/.395/.393 en route to a 6.5 fWAR season. Figgins had more straight steal speed and more doubles power, and Torres has to conquer three more minor league levels before hoping to approach anything like that production in the majors. However, if he can maintain the foundation of his plate approach and find the gaps against better pitching in the next couple of seasons, Figgins is a 98th percentile outcome for what looks like the ingredients you would throw in the mixing bowl to try to bake a Chone.

Torres now has 1152 career plate appearances. Even though he only received 56 PA with Inland Empire before his season ended prematurely, Torres nonethelesss clubbed his tenth, eleventh and twelfth career home runs in the brief trial. He’ll return to high A to begin 2019 and could push for a late season trial at AA. It’s a mistake to reach hard conclusions about anything across 56 PA.

That said, more prospects struggle upon promotion to better competition than not. Over-the-fence power is not a part of Torres’ game and almost assuredly never will be. However, watching a featherweight swat five extra base hits in two weeks upon promotion isn’t a bad sign. It’s not something that you file under “evidence this player has become overmatched”. A player doesn’t have to light the world on fire as long as he isn’t overmatched. There’s no shortage of empirical examples of middling minor league production that turned into useful enough MLB pieces.

I’ll be interested to see if Torres can build on his successful 2018. Since he can do a lot of things well and he is only missing raw power from his offensive profile, he has a route to more than an up-and-down brief AAA shuttle career. A player who can draw walks, keep strikeouts under control, and perhaps add the corner outfield spots to his profile is the kind of Johan Camargo or Marwin Gonzalez profile that is becoming extremely popular as 8-man bullpens continue to become the norm and major league benches shorten.

I’d like Torres’ chances of eventually sticking on a major league roster more if he could cover shortstop or center on a non-emergency basis. He had shortstop exposure in his first pro exposure in 2014 but does not appear to have shortstop in his future, which is a limiting factor for a utility profile. If the bat holds up as competent enough, you’ve got to try him in the outfield and see if he can justify a 25-man spot by covering five or six positions, even if one of them can’t be shortstop.

 

3B Taylor Ward 2015 1st round (26th overall), Fresno State
2019 Age: 25
2019 Projected Assignment: AAA (Salt Lake Bees, Pacific Coast League)

NOTE: Ward lost rookie eligibility in his first stint with the parent club last year, but he is also a young cost-controlled player who as of yet has not become an established MLB player. For our purposes, we’re going to consider prospects as young players who have not yet become established MLB players, since some of them do.

Ward was drafted by Tampa Bay in the 31st round of the 2015 draft (962nd overall), but went to Fresno State rather than jump into professional ball as a recent Californian high school graduate. As a former first round pick, Ward isn’t entirely off the radar, but it does look like a full time move to third base and away from the defensive grind of catching allowed his bat to take off this year, which Ward finished with his first MLB trial.

Ward may have been overmatched in his first taste of the majors, posting easily the lowest walk rate and highest strikeout rate of his career en route to batting just .178/.245/.333 in 147 PA. However, even while struggling, he swung and missed less than the average MLB player. Actually, he swung at fewer pitches than average in general, whether they were in the zone or out of the zone. The point is that even though he struck out in thirty percent of his plate appearances, he wasn’t flailing wildly at unhittable pitches. There’s no cause for alarm, and we’ll see if Ward is better prepared the next time he gets the call.

His defense graded out as 7.5 runs above average per 150 games, although 40 games is a small sample in general, and I believe when defensive metrics were finding themselves into the public consciousness, we used to talk about needing three full years of such data to consider it relatively stable.

Ward ran excellent lines split across the Pioneer and Midwest Leagues in 2015 following the June draft, but that’s what college hitters are supposed to do at those levels. His triple slash lines in 2016 and 2017 at A+ and AA were uninspired, but not awful. The power was modest and the offensive production he was offering looked unlikely to play if he had to move off of catcher, but even as he otherwise struggled, he ran walk and strikeout rates in the mid teens. He wasn’t clueless or overmatched. Unlike other younger position players mentioned in this piece, he’s already had the chance to show his approach works at higher levels. Although some scouts reportedly weren’t thrilled with his swing, he was able to maintain strike zone awareness while adjusting to better pitching.

Ward reworked his stance and swing in the offseason (OC Register, 9/11/18, Jeff Fletcher). “Ward said he stands a little more upright now, and he added a leg kick.” He also placed more of an emphasis on getting the ball in the air, and it showed. Ward posted healthy 25% and 24.6% line drive rates, indicative of more ideal, hard contact, at AA and AAA, respectively. His previous high mark was 21.5% across a half season of high A in 2017.

Said to possess only average power and showing perhaps slightly less than that throughout his prior minor league career, 2018 Ward looked like a brand new hitter. He hit 29 doubles and 20 home runs across the three levels in 593 PA. He also stole 20 bases and was caught only three times, even though he is thought to have below average speed.

Ward struck out slightly more often, but he more than made up for it by nearly doubling his prior power output. Batting .349/.446/.531 across 446 high minors PA, he made the case that there is everyday potential here, even with the higher offense demanded by third base as opposed to that of catcher. At age 24, he wasn’t young for the high minors, but he wasn’t old for them, and the slower moving college bats are rarely going to have age relative to league on their side, since they don’t get to begin their careers until age 21 or 22. His BABIP ran over .400 at both AA and AAA, and the high scoring run environment of the Pacific Coast League creates more mirages than breakouts. Still, the anecdotal evidence of a swing change, and the observable change of quality of contact and more game power portends higher in play averages: harder hit balls are converted into outs less frequently.

Steamer (the Fangraphs projection system) sees his walk and strikeout rates improving in the majors in 2019, but both the 9.1 BB% and 23.8 K% it projects would still be worse than anything on his minor league track record. His projected .241/.315/.376 triple slash is indicative of a player who be neither especially productive nor completely overmatched in his second shot at the big leagues. But those projections also take into account everything else Ward put on tape before 2018, playing a much more mentally and physically demanding position and batting with a less optimized swing. The previous data doesn’t not matter, but it’s descriptive of what was a very different player from the one who broke out last year.

If the power gains are real and Ward continues to show well defensively, there’s certainly opportunity for a decent everyday third baseman here. The average third baseman hit .251/.324/.425 with a 8.9 BB% and 20.8 K%. Ward can hit that bar and a number of teams did worse at the position, because the league average only includes the players who were both healthy enough and good enough to keep the job long enough to qualify for league leaderboards. I would bet on this player consolidating his gains and rounding into a 2-3 fWAR regular.

 

RHP John Swanda – 2017 4th round pick (115th overall), Roosevelt HS (Des Moines, IA)
2019 Age: 20
2019 Projected Assignment: A (Burlington Bees, Midwest League)

Did you notice yet that the Angels’ have two affiliates nicknamed the Bees? This must be extremely confusing around the front office. Utah (Salt Lake City Bees) is the Beehive State, so surely it is on Burlington to change. Anyway, Burlington is where Swanda is likely to play, less than two hundred miles from Des Moines, where he was named the Gatorade Player of the Year, recognized as the top high school player in the state. You can read an interview with Swanda here at Halos Heaven (SB Nation).

Since Swanda himself said these words, I feel comfortable plagiarizing that he was a two-way player in high school as the team’s shortstop. He only threw about 25-30 innings per year. That’s nice because it means there isn’t a lot of wear-and-tear baked into his arm, but it also means he’s a raw pitcher who will be taking things one level at a time. He turned down a scholarship with Nebraska, missing out on the opportunity to play for former Angel Darin Erstad, who was a part of the 2002 World Series Champions.

He was fastball/curveball in high school, but he has also integrated a changeup that he felt good about heading into the season. He says he loses the shape of his curveball at times and is working for consistency with the pitch.

Swanda made ten starts totaling thirty innings with Orem this summer, right in line with his high school workload. He allowed at least a run in all but two appearances. However, he threw more than 64% of his pitches for strikes and demonstrated strikeout ability. He also never walked more than one batter per appearance and only seven total, good for a 2.1 BB/9. He coaxed a groundball nearly half the time (46.9%), above the average MLB rate. A 4.50 ERA in a small sample isn’t going to turn heads, but control of the strike zone is the first thing I want to see from a rookie ball player, regardless of whether he is pitching or hitting. After all, the samples are small, the environments and player pools volatile, and the majors years away.

Most top 100 overall pitching prospects garner cottage industry attention when they limit walks and spike strikeouts after a full season at low A or more typically high A, chock full of positive reports from professional scouts. Swanda threw thirty competent innings in rookie ball. There are a lot of pitchers like Swanda in rookie ball.

I wouldn’t bet specifically on Swanda turning into a top pitching prospect, but he demonstrated the ability to control what he can control, and I would bet on this type of pitcher often, because if I do that ten times, I’ll get two top pitching prospects, and hopefully only one of the two tears his elbow or shoulder up. That’s how you develop MLB pitching, and the high bust rate is why every team in baseball needs more pitching than it has, virtually all of the time.

Swanda will get an opportunity to put himself on the map with his full season debut in the Midwest League in 2019. He will be a one-level-at-a-time pitcher for a while and even if he never has a lost season, which, yeah, he hasn’t thrown a pitch above rookie ball, I still wouldn’t expect to see him in the majors before 2022.

 

OF D’Shawn Knowlessigned as IFA: 2017, Bahamas, $850,000
2019 Age: 18
2019 Projected Assignment: R (Orem Owlz, Pioneer League)

Knowles is a switch-hitting outfielder who only got 28 games at Orem after getting promoted out of the AZL, but he mashed like he was a 22-year-old college graduate, not a 17-year-old in his first professional season. Knowles batted .321/.398/.550 in 123 PA, and 15 of his 35 hits went for extra bases. Combining his two rookie level stops, Knowles walked in 11.1% of his PA and struck out a little over a quarter of the time, although his K rate spiked at the more difficult assignment, and that’s the cost of above average power potential.

He played all three outfield spots in the AZL, but in Orem, he primarily saw time in center, making three quarters of his starts there while occasionally playing right. More CF end up in right than ones that don’t, which puts more pressure on how much bat a guy will need to develop, since more players can play RF or especially LF than CF. Sustaining his walk rate in full season ball and continuing to show power as one of the youngest players in his league is a great start, should a move to a corner eventually become necessary.

In between Knowles’ young age, his limited exposure to Orem and the 30% K rate he ran there, it seems likelier that he will return for a second go at age 18. Then again, the parent club has a lot more access to the player than we do, and it wouldn’t really shock me to see him pushed to the Midwest League, either.

IFAs with pop and a batting eye is a good foundation for where the once-in-a-solar-eclipse prospects like Ronald Acuna and Juan Soto come from, IFA successes who rocket out of nowhere to the majors as teenagers.

Those are entirely unfair expectations to place on any given player; I do not place them on Knowles. However, you’re never going to find one of those players without fishing out of this pool of upside potential power bat. A successful organization is going to want to do that. Players way less abnormally gifted than Acuna or Soto enjoy years as productive, if unspectacular, starting position players.

A large number of raw teenagers run a 30% K rate like Knowles just did, but pair it with a terrible walk rate. The strikeouts are a little less concerning when you have reason to believe the far-from-finished, very young player isn’t totally clueless about the strike zone. Keep an eye on the K rate, but keep an eye on this guy in general, too, because if he doesn’t hit a wall he’ll probably have justified a place among the Angels’ top 10 prospects in twelve months.

 

2B/SS Leonardo Rivassigned as IFA: 2015, Venezuela, signing bonus n/a
2019 Age: 21
2019 Projected Assignment: A+ (Inland Empire 66ers, California League)

The switch-hitting Rivas stands 5’10” 150. This middle infielder’s frame is not conducive for power, which is why it was problematic that Rivas saw his K rate shoot way up to 25.2% (previous high 19.2% as 17-year-old in DSL) across a full season in the Midwest League.

Rivas does a lot of things well. He can run a bit. Although he was only 16 of 26 (61.5%) on steal attempts this season, it followed up an excellent 19 of 20 (95%) rate in 2017. He plays middle infield and plays it capably. He’s not anemic at the plate, but power is not going to be what makes this player valuable, if he is able to become valuable someday.

Rivas needs less swing and miss in his game to ascend to the highest level. This player makes it when his game on offense is built around contact. His speed, perhaps his best tool, is nullified when the ball isn’t put in play. He’s a sleeper because he’s a middle infielder with a middle infielder bat who just struck out 138 times in low A while producing a pedestrian .233/.355/.326 triple slash line. If 2018 had been the year he cut the strikeouts down, bumped the contact, and sprayed a healthily modest smattering of doubles and triples throughout the year, like you’ll be watching to see if he can accomplish in a poor run environment in San Bernadino next season, then he wouldn’t be a sleeper anymore, because all of a sudden that’s a well rounded player at a position where Charlie Culberson has been the starter on two different playoff teams in two consecutive years.

I also want to point out that Rivas managed to get hit by a pitch 17 times in just 276 PA in the Dominican Summer League (DSL) in 2015. That’s 6.2% of his plate appearances that saw him reach base for the small price of having a hard object launched at his body. Brandon Guyer is the all-time MLB leader in HBP rate at 5.72%.

 

RHP Luis Maderosigned as IFA: 2013, Venezuela, $160,000
2019 Age: 22
2019 Projected Assignment: A+ (Inland Empire 66ers, California League)

Madero was acquired from the Diamondbacks at the 2017 trade deadline in exchange for reliever David Hernandez. He was added to the 40-man roster last month to protect him from being lost in the Rule 5 draft, which allows teams to draft unprotected minor league players who become the property of the claiming team so long as they spend an entire year on the active MLB roster. It’s difficult to hide a raw player for a full season, but at the same time, a couple teams know they gonna 2018 Baltimore next season, and another talent pipeline for a rebuild is more interesting then worrying about losing 109 instead of 104.

Madero was protected despite a performance record that is uneven at best so far, and he’s thrown only 44.1 innings above low A. He’s pretty clearly not ready for MLB action. 40-man protection from the Rule 5, or lack of it, obviously speaks to the parent club’s fear of or relative indifference to losing a player. These choices are always worth paying attention to in November. If a guy would be really hard to hide in the majors for a year, and he’s protected anyway, the team clearly values the prospect highly.

Madero isn’t hopeless, but he’s also been pretty hittable at almost every stop since getting out of Arizona (Arizona’s Arizona League rookie team, not Arizona as an MLB organization). In fact, the lowest rate he’s run came in his nine high A starts to close the 2018 season. But as we’ve talked about earlier in this piece, Inland Empire’s home park mutes about ten percent of hits. And despite the helpful environment, he was still only able to cut his rate to 8.3 per nine, which isn’t bad in a neutral environment, but also isn’t especially great. He has allowed more than ten hits per nine at almost every other stop, including the better part of his season, which was spent with Burlington. Minor league defenders are worse than major league defenders, but 10+ H/9 is a lot, and sometimes it’s indicative of a thrower who needs to learn to pitch. Clearly, Los Angeles isn’t too concerned.

Let’s stop picking on the guy for a bit and appreciate that he caught the Angels’ eye in summer 2017 trade talks, because 2017 was the beginning of a stretch of nearly 200 encouraging innings through the end of this past season. Over the past two seasons, Madero make significant command gains, flashing a winning combination of strong home run suppression and limiting walks to go with strikeout stuff. That’s a comfortable formula for someone who will keep getting opportunities as a starting pitcher. And across 2017-2018, he’s appeared in 38 games and started all of them.

2017 (age 20) – R (PIO) – Missoula, MT – 29.1 IP – .9 HR/9, 1.8 BB/9, 8.6 K/9

2017 (20) – A- (NWL) – Hillsboro, OR – 19.2 IP – .9 HR/9, 2.3 BB/9, 7.8 K/9 (promoted 7/15/17 to make four showcase starts pre-trade)

2017 (20) – A (MID) – Burlington, IA – 26.2 IP – 1 HR/9, 3 BB/9, 6.1 K/9

2018 (21) – A (MID) – Burlington, IA – 61.1 IP – .7 HR/9, 2.2 BB/9, 7.2 K/9

2018 (21) – A+ (CAL) – San Bernadino, CA – .6 HR/9, 2.4 BB/9, 9.3 K/9

Madero ran out of steam at the end of 2017, but not before he first conquered Missoula after putting up an ERA north of 11 and a WHIP well above 2 across five poor starts there the previous season. As strong as the first two thirds of his season looked, he actually recorded a 6.42 ERA on the year. I left the H/9 column off for a reason. He’ll surely return to high A to start 2019, but could end up pitching across three or even four levels and making his MLB debut if things really start to click and/or injuries strike the parent club. It’s more likely that the plan is for him to split a year between high A and AA.

If the hit rate problem wasn’t here, I would be all over this prospect in a keeper league without knowing or even really caring what he throws. He’s never been old for a league, and the three primary component ratios have shown real growth over the past two seasons. The Angels spent a 40-man roster spot on a guy who would likely be below replacement level if thrust into MLB duty next April. They wouldn’t spend the roster spot on a pitcher who they didn’t feel had stuff good enough to play at the MLB level if kept on a proper development path.

It’s also worth bearing in mind that the Pioneer League is the highest scoring run environment in minor league baseball. The Arizona League, Northwest League and California League all aren’t far behind. Burlington is the only place Madero has had the chance to pitch so far that isn’t in one of those four leagues. Some of his hit rate issues might be a product of the environments he finds himself in.

I would ultimately decide to take a shot on this picture, but if a 9-11 H/9 is still showing up the year after he gets his first month or two of AA exposure, I’d be very concerned about it, and if he runs a strong hit rate at Inland Empire to start 2019, I wouldn’t prematurely consider the issue settled due to run environment.