Jonathan Mayo

Top Draft picks on display at Angels' instructional league

Top Draft picks on display at Angels' instructional league

As the 2016 Draft approached, high school outfielder Brandon Marsh's name definitely had some helium, his stock rising as the calendar flipped to June. He ended up going to the Angels in the second round, No. 60 overall. But they've had to wait until now to really get a look at him on the field as an Angel.

That's because of a back injury that not only muddled negotiations over Marsh's bonus -- he signed a week before the deadline for a full pick value bonus of $1,073,300 -- but kept him from making his pro debut all summer. Instead, he worked tirelessly on rehab, strength and conditioning, and he is now happily participating full-strength in the Angels' instructional league program.

"He's on the field and is looking good now," Angels director of Minor League operations Mike LaCassa said about their No. 4 prospect. "He's been anxious to play baseball and we're finally starting to see what he can do."

Angels' Top 30 Prospects list

A two-sport star in Georgia, Marsh was a wide receiver on a two-time state championship-winning football team. He carries a full toolbox with him on the diamond, but he will need some development time to sharpen those tools given his dual focus as a high schooler. Being able to fully participate at instructs is a big step forward in that development. The Angels just began their games on Monday, and Marsh was expected to see his first, albeit unofficial, pro at-bats soon.

Angels Top 30 Prospects at instructs
1. Matt Thaiss, 1B
2. Jahmai Jones, OF
4. Brandon Marsh, OF
6. Nonie Williams, SS
7. Jaime Barria, RHP
13. Joe Gatto, RHP
15. Connor Justus, SS
17. Julio Garcia, INF
21. Brendon Sanger, 2B
22. Jared Foster, OF
23. Roberto Baldoquin, INF
26. Troy Montgomery, OF
29. Jesus Castillo, RHP
30. Jose Suarez, LHP

"Being a part of our instructional league program, working out with the team, you see the energy he has," LaCassa said. "It was hard for him to not be on the field the last few months. He worked tremendously hard in the weight room and got positive reviews on his attitude. Finally, we're getting the chance to see him play baseball, and he is one of the best athletes in our system."

Two high school arms standing out

While plenty of eyes at instructs are on first-rounder Matt Thaiss and Marsh, a pair of high school pitchers also from the 2016 Draft have started making a name for themselves as well.

The Angels took Chris Rodriguez in the fourth round out of the Miami high school ranks and gave him nearly $400,000 above pick value to sign. After a busy high school season, Rodriguez impressed during his stint in the Rookie-level Arizona League, allowing just two earned runs on six hits and three walks over 11 1/3 innings, striking out 17. The organization loves that he has a feel for four pitches, including two distinct breaking balls, all while having turned 18 in July.

"He's a tremendous athlete, a student of the game and a hard worker," LaCassa said. "To a lot of our guys in camp right now, he might be the top pitching prospect in our organization. He's an exciting addition."

Because of his workload as a high school senior and then the innings in the Arizona League, Rodriguez won't get much mound time during instructs. Instead, his mission is to soak in information about things like nutrition, strength and mobility. That doesn't keep Rodriguez from lobbying to get on the mound, however.

"He comes up to me every other day and says, 'Can I thrown an inning tomorrow?' And I say, 'Not this week, Chris,'" LaCassa said. "He's learning a ton. We saw everything we needed to see from him when we ended his season at the end of August."

Sixth-rounder Cole Duensing, another high school pick -- from Kansas -- will get the chance to throw a few more innings. He might be the 1A to Rodriguez's Exhibit 1, but he did get close to $250,000 above pick value to sign. Duensing also threw well in the Arizona League, yielding just two earned runs in 13 innings. He's projectable with a solid feel for pitching.

"He's one of the standouts at instructs," LaCassa said. "That's a nice pair of high school arms we added."

Alberto transitioning to the mound

Ranyelmy Alberto had spent parts of five summers trying to move up the Angels' ladder as an outfielder. After two less-than-successful stints with Burlington in the Class A Midwest League, the organization approached him about giving pitching a try.

While Alberto, 22, had hit just .223/.293/.339 as a position player, he had always exhibited a very good throwing arm from the outfield. So both sides felt there was nothing to lose.

"The bat wasn't going to continue to play moving up," LaCassa said. "This was always another option for him, because he has tremendous arm strength."

The early returns have been promising. Alberto has shown good life on a fastball that touches the mid-90s along with an intriguing splitter. He faced hitters for the first time on Tuesday, so obviously a long path to the big leagues lies ahead.

"He's a strong kid who's still learning how to use his whole body in a delivery," LaCassa said. "Once he does that, there could be even more in there. He's still in that transition stage from a thrower to a pitcher. He's a long way away from having any kind of impact."

Jonathan Mayo is a reporter for Follow him on Twitter @JonathanMayo and Facebook, and listen to him on the weekly Pipeline Podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.