Angels Top 10 Prospects
By Josh Boyd
Disney couldnt find a buyer after putting the team on the market. Contraction was mentioned as a possibility. Anaheim agreed to trade team leader and pending free agent Darin Erstad to the White Sox for Jon Garland and Chris Singleton before ownership pulled the plug for marketing reasons. Shortly thereafter, team president Tony Tavares resigned.
But general manager Bill Stoneman never wavered. He put the pieces in place for manager Mike Scioscia to lead an improbable run to the 2002 World Series title.
While the Angels may not even have been the most talented team in franchise history, their character was the biggest single difference from their predecessors, who were notorious for late-season collapses.
Anaheims never-say-die approach was best illustrated by its Game Six comeback against the Giants in the World Series. But the Angels were riding the Rally Monkeys magic long before the rest of the nation realized what was going on, as they stayed in a heated American League West race even as the Athletics went on a 20-game winning streak.
Anaheim should remain a contender. The clubs nucleus is tied up with long-term contracts and Disney has increased the payroll to $84 million, though the franchise remains up for sale.
Stoneman has shown a knack for turning parts such as shortstop David Eckstein and relievers Brendan Donnelly and Ben Weber into vital cogs. With a larger budget and an improved farm system, he wont be forced to sift through the bargain bin as often.
Scouting director Donny Rowland followed up a fruitful 2001 draft that produced Casey Kotchman, Jeff Mathis and Dallas McPherson with another solid effort in 2002. First-rounder Joe Saunders should move quickly, and several pitchers who were taken with later picks could emerge.
No. 1 prospect Francisco Rodriguez leads the new wave of homegrown talent, already having made a name for himself by dominating in October. Troy Percivals eventual replacement, Rodriguez will shorten games for Scioscia and bridge the gap to Percival in 2003.
Another young righthander stepped up for the Angels with the season on the line, and should be a fixture in the rotation. John Lackey, rated the No. 3 prospect a year ago, became the first rookie since Pittsburghs Babe Adams in 1909 to win Game Seven of the World Series.
Age: 21. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-0. Wt.: 165. Signed: Venezuela, 1998. Signed by: George Lauzerique.
Background: Rodriguez has been a fixture on prospect lists since the Angels signed him for $900,000 in 1998. Yet it wasnt until instructional league after the 2001 season that the Angels decided he could be their future closer. He showed his overpowering stuff as a starter, but shoulder and elbow problems kept him from surpassing 114 innings. His career took off when he moved to the bullpen in 2002 and his arm proved resilient. His September callup produced 52Ž3 dominant innings, and thats all it took to put him in manager Mike Scioscias postseason plans. Rodriguez became the youngest pitcher in 32 years to pitch in the World Series and the youngest ever to pick up a victory. He went 5-1, 1.93 with 28 strikeouts in 19 postseason innings.
Strengths: Despite spending the most of the season in the minors, Rodriguez emerged as Scioscias go-to reliever in critical playoff situations. He made veteran hitters look foolish with his electrifying two-pitch arsenal. His lightning-quick arm generates 94-96 mph velocity on his fastball with explosive late life. Rodriguez tightened the hard rotation on his breaking ball and became more consistent locating it. He can throw it for a strike to either side of the plate or bury it in the dirt, and hitters have a difficult time reading the pitch until its too late. Scouts are split on whether its a slider or curveball. Rodriguez alters his grip and changes the tilt on the pitch, creating a true slider break or a sweepy curveball arc. Righthanders stand little chance when hes on. Rodriguez made his biggest strides in maturity, mound presence and conditioning.
Weaknesses: Though his across-the-body delivery creates deception and leverage, his mechanics and frame could be considered red flags. Considering Rodriguez history of arm problems, the Angels would be wise to preserve his arm. Unflappable and confident on the mound, he still overthrows at times.
The Future: Scouts already compare the Rodriguez-Troy Percival tandem to John Wetteland and an up-and-coming Mariano Rivera. Like Rivera, Rodriguez is the heir apparent as closer.
Click here for prospects 2-10.
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