Halos excited about outfield prospects
Trout, Grichuk, Bourjos revive system's talent at position
ANAHEIM -- The Angels have kept the pipeline flowing from their Minor League system to manager Mike Scioscia's roster, keeping the big man flush with pitchers, catchers and infielders.
The one area where the organization has lagged in producing top-tier talent is the outfield, and it is busy addressing that.
Three of the franchise's blue-chip prospects are found in the outfield, two -- Mike Trout and Randal Grichuk -- having come in the 2009 First-Year Player Draft.
The third, Peter Bourjos, has been moving steadily through the system with his blazing speed and superb play in center field. Trout also is a center fielder, while Grichuk is projected as a corner outfielder.
It's not as if the club has abandoned the focus on its primary strengths, however. A strong crop of young pitchers is led by southpaw Trevor Reckling, while Hank Conger is continuing his growth as one of the premier catching prospects in the game.
The absence of outfield prospects has been reflected in the free-agency signings of Vladimir Guerrero, Gary Matthews Jr., Torii Hunter and Bobby Abreu over the past six seasons. Juan Rivera was acquired along with Maicer Izturis in a deal that sent outfielder Jose Guillen to Montreal.
Reggie Willits, Terry Evans and Chris Pettit have made the climb through the system to make the big club. While Willits had a quality rookie season in 2007, the three athletes have been unable to make a significant impact the past two seasons in an outfield loaded with established talent.
In Trout, Grichuk and Bourjos, the Angels are hoping to revive a time when the system cranked out such premium outfielders as Garret Anderson, Tim Salmon, Darin Erstad and Jim Edmonds.
Trout and Bourjos have plus speed and instincts in the outfield, while Grichuk is a power hitter with developing outfield skills. Trout is the most complete package of the three at the moment, combining a full range of talents, while Bourjos is closest to reaching the Majors.
Reckling and Conger figure to be hooking up to start the 2010 season at Triple-A Salt Lake. Both were high school draftees who have more than held their own moving through the system.
All five of these players are ticketed for The Show in the view of Angels scouting director Eddie Bane, whose keen eye for talent has enriched the organization for six years. It was Bane, along with the late Preston Gomez, who was forecasting big things of Kendry Morales long before he blossomed in 2009 as one of the Majors' most feared sluggers.
Clubs in search of premium young talent surely will inquire about all five of these athletes in trade conversations down the road, giving the Angels flexibility if they decide they need to pursue established difference-makers. That was the case in August when they sent Sean Rodriguez, Alex Torres and Matt Sweeney -- three of their top 20 prospects -- to Tampa Bay for Scott Kazmir.
A glance at the five blue-chippers:
Bourjos: Tom Kotchman, highly successful manager of the Angels' Orem (Pioneer League) rookie affiliate and Florida-based scout, compared the Scottsdale, Ariz., product to Devon White when Bourjos played at Orem in 2006, according to Bane.
Bourjos, 22 and right-handed all the way, was signed in the 10th round in 2005 on the strong recommendation of area scout John Gracio. The son of former Major Leaguer and current scout Chris Bourjos, Peter spent the 2009 season at Double-A Arkansas, batting .281 with a .354 on-base percentage, stealing 32 bases in 44 attempts. He had a team-high 14 triples along with six homers and 51 RBIs.
"He's a splendid outfielder," Bane said. "He can throw, and he's as fast as anyone. He can run with [Grady] Sizemore, any of those guys. He's going to get better. Two years ago, he was hitting .350 at [high Class A Rancho Cucamonga] and couldn't get a hit in August, wound up hitting .295. Last year, when he went into a slump, it didn't last, which was a good sign.
"With all that speed, playing for Mike, he should be a big-time basestealer, challenging for the league lead. He has terrific makeup. He's had some wrist and hand injuries, and he had minor hand surgery in the offseason. But he'll be fine for Spring Training. His natural progression this year would be Triple-A. I see him having a fine big league career."
Conger: Chosen in the first round (25th overall) in 2006 out of nearby Huntington Beach (Calif.) High School after extensive work by area scout Bobby DeJardin, Conger, a second-generation Korean-American, landed with the team of his dreams. His early progress behind the plate was hindered by a succession of injuries (hand, back, shoulder), but he was able to demonstrate his tremendous power, especially from the left side as a designated hitter at the lower levels.
Finally healthy and cleared to catch regularly, Conger put together a quality '09 season with Bourjos at Arkansas. Conger batted .295 with a .369 on-base percentage, delivering 11 homers and 68 RBIs in an environment unfriendly to power hitters -- the Travelers had a total of 69 homers in 140 games.
"Counting the Fall League, he caught about 100 games this year," Bane said. "An unbiased Fall League [talent evaluator] from another organization raved about Hank's catching. Every time I've talked to Hank, I've told him, 'You're not going to catch for Mike Scioscia unless you can catch.' He knows that.
"He's going to be a middle-of-the-order bat in somebody's lineup -- hopefully, ours. He can drive the ball from both sides, but his left-handed swing is something to watch, like Kendry's. He's got legitimate power and is a quality hitter. We've got some quality catchers in the big leagues, but this guy has a future."
Grichuk: Taken last June, No. 24 overall in the first round as compensation for the Mets' signing of Francisco Rodriguez, Grichuk traveled from Lamar Consolidated High School in Rosenberg, Texas, to Arizona for rookie-league play and kept hitting shots -- just as anticipated by area scout Kevin Ham, who loved his quick hands, strength and bat speed.
A right-handed hitter at 6 feet, 185 pounds, Grichuk batted .322 against comparable age-level talent in Arizona with seven homers and 53 RBIs in 53 games. The one blip: 64 strikeouts, nine walks in 236 at-bats. Improved plate discipline is his challenge.
"Grichuk is a guy who can take two bad swings and double off the wall," Bane said. "He's not a smooth-looking outfielder who can absolutely fly, like Trout, but he's getting better. Randal's tool is his bat. He's got power and can hit. He needs time to develop, but we really like what we've seen."
He's been driving the ball since the 2004 Little League World Series when he homered four times. He went deep three times to help power Team USA to the gold medal in the 2007 World Youth Championship in Venezuela.
Reckling: At the urging of area scout Greg Morhardt, the Angels made this left-hander from Newark, N.J., one of the steals of the 2007 Draft in the eighth round out of St. Benedicks Prep School, where he was an all-around athlete.
With good size (6-2, 205 pounds) and crackling good stuff, Reckling has raced through the system and figures to open 2010 at Salt Lake along with Bourjos and Conger. Dividing '09 between Rancho Cucamonga and Arkansas, Reckling was a combined 9-9 with a 2.68 ERA, striking out 122 while walking 78 in 154 1/3 innings while yielding 127 hits. The organization's Pitcher of the Year, he was a Texas League All-Star, a Futures Game Team USA choice and pitched for the Team USA World Cup squad, completing a busy season.
"He had a good year, but not great," Bane said. "There's a lot more in his tank. It's another case of a Northeast kid not getting enough exposure. He should have been a first-rounder; we're fortunate Greg Morhardt saw his potential.
"He's got an unusual delivery that makes him uncomfortable to hit against. There's going to come a day when he's going to dominate left-handed hitters. He can touch 95 [mph] and hits 92, 93 comfortably, with a natural changeup and big curveball.
"I'd assume he's going to be at Triple-A. He's got to get better command, and he knows that. I'm sure his experience on the U.S. team helped him, being around other guys with great stuff and command. He could be contending for a rotation spot before long if he continues to develop and improves his command."
Trout: Another New Jersey find on Morhardt's watch, Trout was well known to scouts nationally as one of the premier athletes available but luckily slipped to No. 25, one pick after Grichuk, as compensation for the Yankees' signing of Mark Teixeira.
Moving from Millville (N.J.) High School, where he also excelled at shortstop and as a pitcher, to the Arizona Rookie League, Trout joined Grichuk and was brilliant. Trout batted .360 with a .418 on-base percentage, stealing 13 bases in 15 tries while cranking seven triples in his 39 games. He joined low Class A Cedar Rapids, going 4-for-15 (.267) in six games, and that's where he figures to start 2010 along with Grichuk.
"He should have gone a lot higher, looking back," Bane said of the 6-1, 205-pound Trout. "He went to a Yankee workout and one of their people told me they had him sky-high on their board. Luckily, they picked behind us and couldn't get him.
"Body-wise, Mike looks like a safety in the SEC. He's got that kind of neck and body. We got him at 3.98 [going to first] in the Instructional League from the right side. I don't think he's quite as fast as [Bourjos] in the 60, but he's not far behind. Mike's a quality center fielder with good instincts. His dad played in the Twins organization and was a grinder who could do a lot of things; you can see that in Mike.
"I think Mike Trout will be a really good Major League player."
Lyle Spencer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.