ESPN.com ranked the Angels' collection of prospects last among the 30 teams -- as did Baseball America. From ESPN.com's article: "They need a big Draft this year to restock the system or we're going to start talking about whether it's time to trade Mike Trout."
The Angels aren't seriously considering that, of course. They hope to continue to build around Trout, and restock their farm system on the fly, and perhaps someday sign him to another contract extension.
But sustained winning becomes extremely difficult -- not to mention expensive -- without a strong foundation of prospects. And it's been a while since the Angels had that. From 2013-16, Baseball America has ranked their system 30th, 30th, 27th and 30th heading into each season, respectively. ESPN.com had them 30th, 29th, 27th and 30th.
The Angels' inability to make up ground in that window is a product of two main reasons:
1. They drafted conservatively over the past four years, taking a lot of collegiate players with high floors as opposed to high ceilings, because they needed to stabilize their farm system before rolling the dice on high-upside prospects.
2. They continue to chase championships and make trades to immediately help the Major League club, most notably sending their two best prospects -- starters Sean Newcomb and Chris Ellis -- to the Braves for shortstop Andrelton Simmons in November.
When that's the case, development becomes crucial. And in that vein, the Angels need several of their own young players to take big steps forward. Below is a look at 10 key prospects, all of whom will initially work out with the Major League club in Spring Training. Starter Joey Gatto and shortstop Roberto Baldoquin are also worth monitoring, but they'll remain on the Minor League side of the complex this spring.
C Taylor Ward: The Angels took Ward with the 26th overall pick in last year's Draft, then watched him bat .348/.457/.438 in his first 56 games. Ward is only 22 and is a couple of years away from being Major League ready, but he's polished behind the plate. The question is whether he can continue to hit well as he matriculates.
SP Nate Smith: After the eight Major League starters heading into Spring Training, Smith is probably next in the organizational depth chart. Ranked third in the system by MLBPipeline.com, Smith doesn't overpower, but he does execute his pitches well. He posted a 2.48 ERA in 17 Double-A starts last year, then got hit around after a late season promotion to Triple-A.
OF Todd Cunningham: Despite having played in 47 Major League games, Cunningham still qualifies as a prospect, ranked 14th in the system. He was claimed off waivers from the Braves and has proven to be a useful, versatile fourth outfielder. He's a 26-year-old switch-hitter who has batted .276/.346/.367 in his Minor League career, but he's also out of options.
SP Victor Alcantara: After Newcomb and Ellis were dealt to the Braves for Simmons, Alcantara became the Angels' top-rated prospect. He's 6-foot-2 with a big fastball and a solid slider, but he struggled to a 5.62 ERA in 27 starts for Class A Advanced Inland Empire last year. Alcantara was added to the 40-man roster to protect against exposure in the Rule 5 Draft.
RP Greg Mahle: If Mahle continues to develop, he could become the type of lefty specialist the Angels' bullpen has long been craving. The 22-year-old southpaw throws from a variety of different angles and can fire his fastball up to the mid-90s. He finished last year with a 3.26 ERA, a 1.28 WHIP and a 4.79 strikeout-to-walk ratio at Class A Advanced and Double-A. His splits were pretty even, though.
3B Kyle Kubitza: When the Angels acquired Kubitza from the Braves last January for starting pitching prospect Ricardo Sanchez, the hope was that he would become the everyday third baseman in 2016. The 25-year-old did just fine in the hitter-friendly Pacific Coast League, batting .271/.357/.433, but batted just .194 in 19 Major League games. With Yunel Escobar playing third base this year, Kubitza may get more reps in left field.
3B Kaleb Cowart: Cowart is in a similar situation, though he was supposed to take over by 2015. The 23-year-old switch-hitter struggled mightily for two seasons in Double-A, then turned his career around with some mechanical adjustments early in the 2015 season and excelled in Triple-A, batting .323/.395/.491. But he hit just .174 in 34 Major League games. He's more advanced than Kubitza defensively, but also without a role.
C Jett Bandy: Bandy will likely be the first catcher called up if something happens to Carlos Perez or Geovany Soto. He's 6-foot-4 and filled out, but surprisingly athletic despite his size. He also excelled in Triple-A last year, batting .291/.347/.466 with 11 homers and 60 RBIs in 87 games.
OF Chad Hinshaw: Ranked 13th in the Angels' system, Hinshaw was a college senior taken in the 15th round of the 2013 First-Year Player Draft and has proven himself at every level. Last year, the speedy center fielder batted .289/.341/.365 with 27 steals in 71 Double-A games. That earned him his first Spring Training invite.
2B Alex Yarbrough: Yarbrough, a switch-hitter, doesn't walk a lot or hit for much power, and he strikes out a little bit too frequently for someone with those characteristics. Still, the 24-year-old has always excelled with the bat -- until last season. In his first stint in Triple-A, Yarbrough batted just .236/.274/.324. This is a crucial year for him.