Angels betting on high-ceiling high schoolers

Angels betting on high-ceiling high schoolers

ANAHEIM -- It was right around the time the Angels selected their third amateur player, at 10:49 a.m. PT on Friday, Day 2 of the 2016 Draft, that change began to seem evident.

The Angels are taking chances again.

Their Drafts the previous four years were made up mostly of seasoned collegiate players, those with potential to quickly matriculate through the farm system but didn't necessarily boast the raw tools that would make them impact players. It was a strategy under former general manager Jerry Dipoto, who wanted to maximize the number of prospects who reached the upper levels of a thin farm system that could ill-afford complete flops in the Draft.

16th overall: Matt Thaiss
60th overall: Brandon Marsh
Halos focus on shortstops on Day 2

This year, though, the Angels, under first-year GM Billy Eppler, are seemingly betting on the upside again. Their third-round pick, an 18-year-old shortstop named Nolan Williams, marked the second consecutive high-school player selected by longtime scouting director Ric Wilson, who made outfielder Brandon Marsh his second-round pick on Thursday night.

All told, the Angels took four high school players in the first 10 rounds, doubling their previous high through Round 10 in each of the last five years. They selected a teenager with two of their first three picks for the first time since 2010, the last Draft orchestrated by Eddie Bane, who loved to gamble on high ceilings and high risks.

"I love high-ceiling guys with some tools, but you have to be smart about it," Wilson said after wrapping up Day 2. "You can't just get guys that are just high school guys that have no baseball skills at all. These guys have some baseball skills as well."

The Draft concludes on Saturday, with exclusive coverage of Rounds 11-40 beginning on MLB.com at 9 a.m. PT.

Williams -- deemed the 60th-best amateur by MLBPipeline.com -- is a "well-above-average runner," according to Wilson, who described him as a "very quick-twitch, toolsy guy with a lot of upside."

Williams didn't turn 18 until May, but he was already deemed the best position-player prospect produced by the state of Kansas in the last five years. And though scouts believe he will eventually transition out of shortstop, the Angels believe he is versatile enough, athletic enough, to eventually find a position somewhere.

Williams, who was home-schooled but played baseball out of Turner High School, is a 6-foot-2, 195-pound switch-hitter. Wilson sees him as a future leadoff hitter, and his upside as that of "a strong everyday player."

The Angels also selected a couple of high school right-handers, Chris Rodriguez from Miami Gardens, Fla., in the fourth round, and Cole Duensing out of Overland Park, Kan., in the sixth round.

Their system remains the consensus worst in the industry, partly because they've gone a few years without a first-round pick, partly because they've traded prospects for veterans, partly because they haven't been aggressive in Latin America and partly because the types of amateurs they recently targeted don't grab the attention of prospect experts. From 2012-15, the Angels drafted a combined 17 high schoolers, which is just one more than the number they selected in 2010 alone.

Wilson admitted that drafting high school players "is a risky thing to get into."

"But if you hit with those kinds of guys," he said, "you hit with them big."

Alden Gonzalez has covered the Angels for MLB.com since 2012. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook, and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.