Angels powered by homegrown talent
Organization emphasizes Draft and international signings
From his locker in the clubhouse at Angel Stadium, right-hander Jered Weaver can look across the room and see teammates Kendry Morales, Jeff Mathis, Mike Napoli, Erick Aybar, Howard Kendrick, Reggie Willits and Joe Saunders.
But no, those aren't just his teammates on the Angels. These players each were originally signed by the club and came up through the Minor Leagues together, with all eight of them playing on the same Triple-A team just three seasons ago.
Now that contingent is an important part of the big league club that is headed toward its fifth American League West title in the past six years.
And they're not the only ones who came up together. The Angels are largely homegrown, with 22 of the 35 players on the active roster coming from the farm system.
It's part of an emphasis by the organization to cultivate its own talent through the Draft and international signings, which has helped make the Angels one of the most consistent teams in baseball ever since the club won its first World Series in 2002 under manager Mike Scioscia.
"We're known for that," said Weaver, who is one of the club's four starters who originally signed with the Angels. "We're known for having a great Minor League system that sticks with our guys until they get a chance to prove they belong."
That emphasis on developing talent through the farm system starts at the top with general manager Tony Reagins, who also was the Angels' director of player development for five years before taking over as GM in 2007.
But as Reagins noted, it's not easy to construct a roster full of homegrown players, because there are so many crucial steps in the process with many prospects not panning out.
"First, you have to scout well, and it's what we really try to do," Reagins said. "We have guys out there looking every day to try to find players to make us better.
"Then, you have to really have a commitment to developing your own players. And you have to teach them the style of play we want for the Major League level, which is important to us because once they get up here they already know the style we want."
That style of baseball is a distinct one, as the Minor Leaguers are taught aggressive tactics on the basepaths, at the plate and on defense. Players are taught from an early level about stealing bases, running from first to third on singles and moving runners over into scoring position.
It's sometimes branded as the "Angel Way," but Reagins doesn't like to put a label on their style of play.
"I don't know if it's the 'Angel Way' or if it's just playing baseball," Reagins said. "We're not trying to be too complicated or sophisticated. We want to keep it simple in our philosophies.
"It's our goal to do the fundamentals better than the 29 clubs. So you can call it small-ball or being aggressive. I think Angels baseball is just playing sound baseball, night in and night out."
That style of baseball is ingrained in the players at an early age as the club has a tendency to draft high school players so that they can mold the players early on in their careers.
Napoli was drafted out of high school in 2000 and immediately noticed the commitment to a fundamental style of baseball.
"It starts from the coaching down in the early Minors, and they were teaching us the same things we do up here," said Napoli, who joins fellow catchers Bobby Wilson, Ryan Budde and Mathis as former Angels draftees. "We learned how to play the game right and play it our way."
It also instills confidence in young Minor Leaguers, because if they can grasp these concepts of being aggressive and playing fundamental baseball, they know they're on the fast-track to the Majors.
"It gives you a lot of hope that if you do things the right way and play the system they way they're teaching it in the Minor Leagues, you'll have a very good chance of being a Major Leaguer in this locker room as an Angel," Kendrick said.
One way the club rewards its top prospects is by calling them up in September for a brief stay in the Majors, often for the first time.
"It gives them a taste of a pennant race, and the chance to talk to guys like Torii Hunter, Bobby Abreu or Darren Oliver," Reagins said. "It gives them a chance to really pick our veterans' brains because they might be in a starting position next year."
One player who capitalized on an opportunity such as that is reliever Kevin Jepsen, who was a late callup last season and has now evolved into the team's top setup man this year.
Jepsen has made it a point to talk to callups such as rookie pitchers Sean O'Sullivan and Trevor Bell to point out that their play in September doesn't go unnoticed.
"I came up last year just saying I was going to have fun knowing I wasn't going to get sent down because it was September, and the next thing you know I was on the playoff roster," Jepsen said. "And so I just let other players know that when they go in there they can't just think it doesn't matter. You never know what will happen."
Jepsen also said part of the process has been the benefits of talking to veterans in the clubhouse like closer Brian Fuentes, Oliver and even offensive players such as Hunter.
And that's the other thing about having a roster largely composed of homegrown talent -- it allows the organization to spend money on free agents because homegrown players are cost-controlled for their first six seasons in the Majors.
So the club has been able to go out and sign veterans in recent years such as Gary Matthews Jr., Hunter, Abreu and Fuentes, as well as trade for players such as Scott Kazmir.
"It's a part of it because it gives you an opportunity to make yourself better via trade or free agency because of the cost-certainty," Reagins said.
Add it all together with the free agents, players acquired through trades and the roster full of homegrown talent, and the Angels have a winning combination that has seen the club win at least 90 games in seven of the past 10 years. And for that, Reagins is a proud GM.
"It's good for these guys to win with guys that have been playing with each other in the system for seven or eight years," Reagins said. "So to share this type of atmosphere together is a great experience and great feeling for them.
"I think it's important to our organization to see a group of guys being able to not only play in the Minor Leagues, but to be able to see them play at the Major League level and win."
Rhett Bollinger is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.