Angels can find security in high picks

ANAHEIM -- As the Los Angeles Angels have floundered during a disappointing first two months, they've sent the occasional distress signal out to Salt Lake City.

That's where the club's Triple-A team is based. Like most teams, the Angels rely on their top-tier farm system to send them fill-in talent when holes pop up on the roster.

So far, the Angels have summoned seven players from the Bees. They've gotten a bit of relief work from Trevor Bell, Bobby Cassevah and a pair of Rodriguezes, Francisco and Fernando. None of it was stellar. Bell's work, mostly in mop-up situations, has probably been the best: He has a 4.05 ERA with opponents batting .345 against him.

The Angels have gotten a little help off the bench from the likes of Kevin Frandsen, Michael Ryan and Ryan Budde, all longtime minor leaguers near the upper age limit for a prospect.

It's hardly been a cavalry charge from below, which is one of the reasons the upcoming baseball draft -- which begins June 7 -- is such a key one for the Angels, who hold five of the first 40 picks. Thirteen of the 25 players on the Angels' major league roster were signed and developed by the team, an upward funnel that has left a talent void at the upper reaches of the system. The Angels have the bonanza of high picks as compensation for losing Type A free agents John Lackey and Chone Figgins, both of whom were offered arbitration.

"With so many picks, we're going to get some good players," Angels general manager Tony Reagins said.

This draft is an opportunity for the Angels to make sure that future seasons aren't like this one. They'd like to be able to reach to the minor leagues for help and pluck elite talent, not emergency replacements. Their best Triple-A prospects, catcher Hank Conger, 22, and pitcher Trevor Reckling (6.11 ERA), 22, are not considered major league ready.

But early returns suggest last season's draft was a success, meaning the Angels could parlay two good drafts into a solid foundation in coming years.

The club's Class A team at Cedar Rapids is made up largely of last season's draft picks and it has been churning up the Midwest League.

The best prospect on that team -- and one of the best prospects in baseball -- is 19-year-old outfielder Mike Trout, who is batting .352 with 18 extra-base hits and 23 stolen bases. Not to put pressure on him, but he's already reminded some people of a young Kirby Puckett.

Not far behind him are a couple of promising pitchers, Garrett Richards (4-2, 3.19 ERA) and lefty Tyler Skaggs of Santa Monica (3-2, 2.37).

"I'd like our guys to go and find somebody better than Mike Trout, but that's going to be kind of Earlier this year, Angels manager Mike Scioscia gushed about the talent level of that team. Unfortunately for him, it's not going to do him any good for another two to three years.

Reagins said the team isn't necessarily looking to draft college players this season to restock the system with talent that might help the major league team more quickly. The club has stood out under scouting director Eddie Bane for the opposite: drafting almost exclusively high school players, particularly pitchers. It doesn't sound like this year will be any different. The last time the Angels used their top pick on a college player was 2004, when they selected Jered Weaver from Long Beach State.

"If we're presented with a Jered Weaver, we're smart enough to take him, but by and large we don't get those," Bane said.

ESPN's Keith Law notes that the Angels have been "linked to almost every Southern California prep arm," and projects them to take Barstow High right-hander Aaron Sanchez with their first pick. He figures their next two picks will also be out of high school: Indiana catcher Justin O'Connor and Florida right-hander A.J. Cole. Nobody would be particularly surprised to see the Angels stock up on high school players. Reagins hinted they might be more inclined to take pitchers.

"What I've seen is more pitching than hitting, but there are some attractive hitters," Reagins said.

Being aggressive in the free-agent market and winning games cost teams in the draft. That's part of the reason the Angels are so thin in the high minor leagues. They had no first-round pick in 2008 and had just one in 2004-07. They've done fairly well in the late rounds, finding Howie Kendrick in the 10th, Mike
in the 17th and Scot
in the 38th.

A lack of high picks isn't an excuse in 2010. This year's bounty might be the key to avoid Aprils and Mays like the team just went through.

Mark Saxon covers the Angels for ESPNLosAngeles.com.