Stefanic, Daniel offer optimism for Angels
Each offseason, MiLB.com goes position by position across each system and honors the players -- regardless of age or prospect status -- who had the best seasons in their organization. Click here to locate your favorite club. If a few key players can figure out a way to stick in
Each offseason, MiLB.com goes position by position across each system and honors the players -- regardless of age or prospect status -- who had the best seasons in their organization. Click here to locate your favorite club.
If a few key players can figure out a way to stick in the Majors, the 2021 season could be the end of a strange era of Angels baseball.
Though Los Angeles added yet another American League MVP to its ranks -- although the winner, two-way sensation Shohei Ohtani, was different this time around -- they once again fell well short of a playoff spot.
Full seasons from a healthy Mike Trout and Anthony Rendon would certainly pair nicely with Ohtani and other young talent such as Jared Walsh and David Fletcher, and there already seems to be an emphasis on adding pitching through the free agent market. But in order to end a 12-year drought since their last postseason victory, the club is going to need some of their brightest youngsters -- some of whom have already reached the Majors -- to put their Minor League days behind them.
The Angels’ affiliates didn’t have much team success at the upper levels. But many of the best individual performances came from players at Triple-A Salt Lake or Double-A Rocket City. Their Rookie-level Dominican Summer League and Arizona Complex League clubs were the only affiliates to finish better than .500, while the overall system had a winning percentage of .461.
There are names on this list of Organization All-Stars that could be important in deciding the Angels’ postseason fate as soon as next year. And if it works out, their 2021 Minor League seasons could be seen as the springboard.
Angels Organization All-Stars
Catcher -- Matt Thaiss, Triple-A Salt Lake (101 games), Los Angeles (three games): The 26-year-old is among those who could really help change the tide at the next level. Thaiss saw nearly 400 at-bats at Triple-A this season -- a level at which he first debuted in 2018 -- and batted .280/.383/.496 with a career-best 17 homers, 23 doubles, 69 RBIs, 71 runs scored and 60 walks.
“Matt's a guy that showed some feel for the barrel. There's plate discipline there. He handles the bat well,” Angels player development director Joe Prebynski said. “Obviously, this year, he caught more, so there's good baseball aptitude, arm strength. He provides some versatility defensively with his ability to play multiple positions.”
He first appeared in the Majors in 2018, and his stints with the big-league club have gotten shorter in the two years since. His extended stay in Salt Lake this season likely had to do with a shift back to his natural position behind the plate. The Angels drafted Thaiss out of the University of Virginia with the No. 16 overall pick in 2016 but almost immediately moved him to first base at the start of his pro career.
Thaiss got in 54 games behind the plate -- his first as a professional -- in Salt Lake, but he has yet to appear as a catcher in a Major League game. He threw out seven of 34 would-be base stealers while getting back to the position.
First baseman -- Braxton Martinez, Low-A Inland Empire (79 games), High-A Tri-City (seven games): It’s been an interesting road for the 27-year-old. Undrafted out of St. Louis University in 2016, Martinez played four seasons in the Frontier League and had a short stint in the Mexican League in 2018. He signed with the Angels after the 2019 season and, of course, missed a year to the pandemic.
His debut in the Minor Leagues was worth the wait. He batted .331/.439/.588 with 15 homers, 28 doubles and 64 RBIs.
“Just can't speak enough about not only Braxton's on-field performance,” Prebynski said. “His makeup and character and just the leadership and the impact that he had on people around him -- that's something that's really important to us as an organization, and Braxton is a model in how he goes about it.”
Martinez led all qualified Angels’ Minor Leaguers with a 164 wRC+ and 1.027 OPS. He also saw time at both corner infield spots but mainly stayed at first base.
Second baseman -- Michael Stefanic, Double-A Rocket City (21 games), Salt Lake (104 games): Among all Minor Leaguers with at least 500 plate appearances this season, only Twins prospect Jose Miranda hit for a higher average than Stefanic.
The 25-year-old batted .336/.408/.493 with 17 homers, 63 RBIs and 78 runs scored. His OBP ranked third among that group.
“Obviously, he has a feel for the barrel. It's gap-to-gap contact. There's some plate discipline in there. So, the ability to hit has always been in there for Michael,” Prebynski said. “We moved him to Triple-A later in the year and he continued to produce.”
Stefanic is another undrafted free agent out of Westmont College, an NAIA school in Southern California. He’s provided consistent production since he signed with the Angels in 2018, but this season should put him on the Major League radar heading into camp.
Third baseman -- Jeremy Arocho, Inland Empire (63 games), Tri-City (19 games), Salt Lake (one game): Arocho didn’t last long on the Minor League free agent market after three seasons with the Dodgers. The 23-year-old signed with the Angels in November 2019 and showed off his bat-to-ball skills and base-stealing prowess.
“Not only does he have the speed, but he's got the ability to apply it on the bases,” Prebynski said.
The 2017 27th-rounder batted .305/.412/.354 with 10 extra-base hits, 30 RBIs and 31 stolen bases, which was tied with D’Shawn Knowles for the most in the system. Arocho saw time at six different positions but struggled at the hot corner, where he logged the most innings, with 17 errors in 34 games.
Shortstop -- Brendon Davis, Tri-City (63 games), Rocket City (30 games), Salt Lake (31 games): The 2021 season was a breakout one for the fifth-round selection in 2015.
Davis led the system with 30 homers and 91 runs scored while batting .290/.361/.561 with 83 RBIs, 29 doubles and six triples. He reached Triple-A for the first time in his career and continued to produce, batting .333 with eight homers and a 1.050 OPS at the Minors’ highest level.
“As we continued to move him, Brendon continued to produce,” Prebynski said. “Offensively, there's tremendous baseball aptitude there.”
The Angels clearly valued defensive versatility, a common trait among each infielder to earn Organization All-Star honors. Davis not only climbed two levels, but he bounced around from second, third, shortstop and left field without losing any production at the plate.
Davis had never hit higher than .254 or compiled an OPS better than .720 in his five previous seasons in the Minors. Originally drafted by the Dodgers, Davis landed with Texas as part of the Yu Darvish trade in 2017 and was claimed off waivers by the Angels last December.
Jo Adell, Salt Lake (73 games), Los Angeles (35 games): The 22-year-old is the perfect example of the type of player who can make a significant big-league impact as soon as next year. He shed his prospect status during the 2021 season after being among the most heralded players in the Minors since he was drafted No. 10 overall in 2017.
Adell batted .289/.342/.592 while swatting 23 homers and driving in 69 runs for Salt Lake to earn a return trip to The Show in early August before his season was cut short by an abdominal strain in September.
“Obviously, there's huge raw power. The thing that Jo really needed to work on this year is the plate discipline. The plate discipline improved,” Prebynski said. “He got better at making contact in the zone. Defensively, Jo got better in the outfield. ... He's continued to become an all-around player.”
Adell improved his Major League K rate by nearly 20 percent and was the only Angels Minor Leaguer to hit at least 20 homers and have fewer than 100 strikeouts.
Defensively, Adell should make a home in the outfield with Trout and another former top prospect who seemed to figure things out in the Majors, Brandon Marsh. Adell played all three outfield positions in the Minors.
Jake Gatewood, Salt Lake (116 games): Gatewood was another success the Angels found on the Minor League free agent market. The 26-year-old slugger bashed 28 homers and led the system with 84 RBIs while batting .227/.281/.471 with 22 doubles and 60 runs scored.
“He's a really good athlete, and just from an offensive standpoint, he's continued to improve,” Prebynski said. “Obviously some of the contact rates have picked up, and you know he's able to tap into some of the tools he has. ... It's really a combination of the power, the athleticism, the ability to play multiple positions, and then the overall toolset.”
While the batting average seems low, it’s a 40-point improvement over 2019 with Double-A Biloxi. Gatewood struck out 170 times this season -- 33 more than anyone else in the Angels’ system.
The 26-year-old saw time at six different positions but mostly played center field, third base and shortstop.
Izzy Wilson, Rocket City (83 games): The 23-year-old was the only player in the Angels’ system to put together a 20-20 season. Signed by the Braves out of Saint Maarten in 2014, Wilson bashed 21 homers and stole 25 bases while batting .247 with 53 RBIs in his first season at Double-A.
“He really tapped into the power this year and just had a really nice year offensively and defensively,” Prebynski said. “It was more of an approach and learning on the balls he can do damage against, where he's able to tap into the raw power.”
Wilson hadn’t reached double-digit homers since he went deep 10 times for Danville in 2015. He landed with the Angels on a Minor League deal last November after spending the 2019 season in the Rays’ system.
Right-handed starting pitcher -- Davis Daniel, Tri-City (nine starts), Rocket City (nine starts), Salt Lake (five games/four starts): The 24-year-old didn’t pitch in the Minors after being drafted in the seventh round out of Auburn in 2019 but reached Triple-A in his first professional season.
Daniel went 4-7 and struck out 154 batters -- the most in the Angels’ system and 11th-most in the Minors -- while compiling a 3.92 ERA in 114 2/3 total innings.
“It's the four-pitch mix of stuff that creates north and south separation, and he has an ability to miss bats and limit free passes,” Prebynski said.
The 6-foot-1, 190-pounder will likely need more time in Salt Lake before he could potentially crack the big-league roster. He allowed 24 earned runs in 21 innings (10.29 ERA) with the Bees.
Daniel, the Angels’ No. 21 prospect, was one of only 10 pitchers in the Minors with at least 150 strikeouts and 40 walks or fewer.
Left-handed starting pitcher -- Reid Detmers, Rocket City (12 starts), Salt Lake (two starts), Los Angeles (five starts): It probably wouldn’t have come as a big surprise if Detmers, the No. 10 overall selection in last year’s Draft, made his Major League debut during the pandemic-shortened 2020 season. But the Angels showed patience with their top prospect and allowed him to climb the ladder in 2021 toward his first big-league promotion in August.
Detmers, the No. 23 overall prospect, went 3-4 with a 3.19 ERA and 108 strikeouts over 62 innings in 14 starts in the Minors this season. His 15.68 K/9 was the best among all Minor Leaguers to complete at least 60 innings.
“With Reid, it's a four-pitch mix. He's able to use it to all quadrants,” Prebynski said. “The fastball execution continues to get better, and just the overall command in how he executes pitches. With Reid, it's just continuing to focus on his execution of pitches and continue on the path that he's on.”
Detmers did not have such a smooth path in his first big-league action. He held a 7.40 ERA in 20 2/3 innings while collecting 19 punchouts. He tested positive for COVID-19 at the end of August and returned to make just two more starts, one in Salt Lake and one with the Angels, before the end of the season.
Relief pitcher -- Dakota Donovan, Inland Empire (23 games), Tri-City (12 games): The 2021 season was Donovan’s first at the professional level. The 24-year-old compiled a 2.33 ERA with 74 strikeouts over 58 innings while converting seven of 10 save opportunities. He spent most of the season at Low-A, where he pitched to a 1.70 ERA over 42 1/3 innings but struggled in his limited time with Inland Empire.
“Dakota had a ton of conviction in what he was doing,” Prebynski said. "But he's a guy that showed the ability to execute pitches.”
Donovan, a 6-foot-6, 2019 16th-rounder out of Central Arizona JC, boasts a traditional reliever’s profile with a four-seamer, slider and changeup.
Gerard Gilberto is a reporter for MiLB.com.