The Angels apparently got better at drafting and developing players in the last 12 months. Either that or their young players (eg., Mike Trout, Mark Trumbo and Hank Conger) just turned out to be better than people thought.
Last off-season, most people were panning the Angels' minor-league system. ESPN.com's Keith Law ranked them 22nd out of 30 teams. Baseball America pegged them at No. 25. Some people wondered about organizational rot, with bad contracts and poor prospects keeping the Angels out of contention for a decade or so.
Things look a lot brighter this spring. In his January rankings, Law puts the Angels at No. 6. He praises Trout, but it's not about one player. I corresponded with Law this week about his big upgrade of the Angels' system and here's what the former Toronto Blue Jays scout said:
"It's system-wide, including strong drafts the last two years. One player can't pull up a system by himself, even if he's Mike Trout."
BA's rankings, which came out Wednesday, rank the Angels No. 15. Baseball Prospectus' Kevin Goldstein agrees with Law and has them No. 6, saying they're, "much more than just Trout."
One lesson to draw: Were the Angels a little rash in firing scouting director Eddie Bane back in October? There reportedly were some personality clashes with Angels general manager Tony Reagins, but suddenly Bane's results don't look bad at all. If Trout pans out and the 2010 draft class proves productive, Bane's dismissal will look foolish.
Law, by the way, agrees:
"I thought their decision to fire Eddie Bane was nonsensical, and smacked of internal politics and furthered Tony Reagins' reputation in the game as a difficult person to work for and someone who only values opinions that match his own," Law wrote in an e-mail. "Results had nothing to do with this, and they couldn't have, because Bane's track record is good."
Another lesson is that money usually rules the day. The Angels are able to pay draft picks bonuses that 75 percent of the other teams wouldn't deliver. There's a reason Jered Weaver slid all the way to No. 12 and into their laps in 2004. The No. 1 college pitcher in the nation that year, he was represented by Scott Boras and rumors were he was looking for a $10 million bonus. The Angels gave him $4 million, which is still more than a lot of teams might have offered.
As long as owner Arte Moreno stays committed to winning and surrounds himself with good baseball people, the team should avoid a long decline.