By @taylorblakeward, AngelsWin.com Staff Writer
With just under a month before the first name is called in the 2022 Major League Baseball amateur Draft, we take a look at some of the potential candidates for the Angels first selection at pick No. 13, as well as some personal favorites who may be options with their second pick, which comes in the third round at No. 89.
With a prep and bat-heavy class at the top, it is safe to rule out some names no matter how unorthodox the draft may pan out over the first 12 picks. At the top, prepsters Druw Jones (Wesleyan - GA), Termarr Johnson (Mays - GA), Jackson Holliday (Stillwater, OK), and Elijah Green (IMG Academy - FL) are safe bets to be off the board. Brooks Lee (Cal Poly), Kevin Parada (Georgia Tech), and Cam Collier (Chipola JC) are also viewed heavily as top 10 selections who are unlikely to reach the Angels. As you'll note, all of these players are position players which will come at an unprecedented number early due to the lack of high-scale pitching and injuries to the top arms in the class.
Since entering into executive powers, clubs Perry Minasian has been affiliated with -- albeit roles altered some (or most) of his decision-making powers -- have taken pitchers with a first-round pick 18-of-26 times. It's enough of a sample and a school of training (i.e. Alex Anthopolous) to see a potential early common thread of Minasian's view to the draft and building from the ground up: Pitching. It is no anomaly that the majority of names attached to the Angels early in the draft are all mound dwellers.
There is an outside chance the Angels are the first team to take a pitcher in this class, and if they aren't the first, they could be one of the first which permits them a bit of favoritism towards the arms in this class.
Looking at the college arms, who are seen as a general weakness at the top of the draft, the Angels have been attached to RHP Gabriel Hughes of Gonzaga, LHP Cooper Hjerpe of Oregon State, and RHP Justin Campbell of Oklahoma State.
Gabriel Hughes, who has been seen in person by Minasian, is an easy operator with size and athleticism on the mound. Standing tall and broad at six-foot-four and 220 pounds, Hughes does offer the ideal frame for a starting pitcher mold. Blending a new-school arsenal with a throwback east-to-west approach with an up-tempo pace, Hughes throws a high amount of strikes, starting with his mid 90's fastball that can track up to 96-97. His slider is his best out pitch and he's shown a knack for working it into any count. Though he shows feel for his changeup, it is a distant third pitch to his primary pairing. Hughes won't turn 21 until late August which will bode well for draft models.
Cooper Hjerpe doesn't have the power arsenal that you see most commonly suited for first-round picks, but his consistent attack of hitters, ability to attain outs, and advanced pitch data have been a calling card for him this season. Another tall and lean-framed on-mound athlete, Hjerpe comes at hitters from a shoulder-height low three-quarter release that makes him challenging against hitters on both sides of the plate. His fastball will sit in the low 90's, touching 95, while his secondaries have improved his stock towards first-round chatter. Hjerpe's ability to manipulate his breaking ball has made both his curve and slider a weapon as he'll alter speed and angle giving them different looks from a similar plane. His changeup has worked fine against right-handers, particularly when away. He is a low variance arm who should see the Majors quickly but offers back-end rotation upside at his peak.
Justin Campbell is a near blend of Hughes and Hjerpe, though with a more pro-ready arsenal. Already tall at six-foot-seven and athletic like his counterparts (former two-way player like Hughes), Campbell has a loose and easy-to-repeat high-slot delivery which has helped him throw high-quality strikes throughout his college career. He'll work in the low 90's mostly with some mids hovering in the bag, but the high spin and run in the lower quadrants of the zone make him a potential high groundout pitcher. Equipped with one of the best changeups in the draft, Campbell sells it well and allows its late downward break to be swung over. He has confidence in throwing his curveball at any time with some downer action. His upside will be as a mid-rotation starter with some low variance towards being a back-end rotation member.
Though with their window to compete coming in the next few years with Mike Trout and Shohei Ohtani right at their prime, don't rule the Angels out on taking a prep arm early, such as RHP Brock Porter (Orchard St. Mary's - MI), LHP Brandon Barriera (American Heritage - FL), and LHP Robby Snelling (McQueen - NV).
Following the arm injury to Dylan Lesko (Buford HS - GA), RHP Brock Porter (Orchard St. Mary's - MI) is now seen as the best pitcher in the class and has a strong chance of not making it to the Angels pick at 13. With the best fastball and arguably best changeup in the class, Porter has a chance at two 70-grade pitches, not dissimilar to Sam Bachman of yesteryear. Porter has all the makings of a mass-upside arm who could be a front-line starter with some distance to his Major League potential. An easy operator on the mound, Porter's fastball will sit in the mid-to-high 90's and can touch triple digits, showing run to his arm side. His changeup, thrown with the same vengeance and intent as his fastball, has some 15-20 miles per hour of separation and works well to both sides of the plate with similar traits to his fastball making it even more deceptive. Porter's breaking pitches do show upside but lag behind his fastball-changeup combo. He'll incorporate both a downer curve and hard slider with the slide-piece being the better of the two, though he struggles to sell it well in his delivery making it predictable for more advanced hitters. Porter's frame, arsenal, and delivery make him a project to dream on with enough present to feel comfort in knowing he'll become an asset down the road -- as whichever team that takes him will look to improve his in-zone command as opposed to just letting him throw strikes which has yet to be a problem.
Coming from the Florida prep powerhouse of American Heritage, Brandon Barriera is one of the more electric arms in the class. With one of the quickest arms in the class, Barriera works primarily in the low 90's with some mid and sneaky uppers in short stints. His low 80's two-plane slider is a real swing-and-miss weapon, as he whips it through and out of the zone with ease. There's much to like about Barriera's changeup, as he sells it well with the same quick arm as his fastball but also comes in firm in the mid 80's. Barriera is an outstanding athlete who will have to show he can work deep into games to remain a starter as he comes in undersized and has quick-tempo aggression on the mound, coming direct at hitters with a ton of strikes, already giving him some relief vibes. Barriera did shut down his season in early April as a precaution to the draft.
A two-sport talent, Robby Snelling is a big and physical kid, built like a Division-1 quarterback, even though his gridiron calling card is as a hard-hitting outside linebacker. On the diamond, Snelling is a strong and athletic pitcher who has a solid two-pitch mix that is making him one of the more desired arms in the class. Snelling will work mostly 91-94 with his fastball that has touched 97, giving him plenty of velocity to dream on from the left side. His curveball is the calling card and it's a sweeping breaker that alters in speed with late break. Snelling's ability to locate his curveball gives it regular plus grades. A changeup is there for Snelling, but will be the focal point of development. There is a lot of upside to Snelling as he shows all the traits of a mid-rotation arm, and it may take a high bonus to keep him away from Louisiana State where he's expected to play both baseball and football.
The aforementioned pitchers have all been attached to the Angels in some way or another over the last two months which is the time to begin taking notice of who is where and why they are there. It doesn't rule out some other arms at the top of the class though as we'll breeze through some quick hits on other potential picks.
RHP Dylan Lesko (Buford - HS) was seen as the best pitcher in the class until he required Tommy John surgery in April, which altered his draft stock with plenty of questions as to where he will go. Advanced beyond his years, Lesko is a pro-ready arm when healthy with three plus pitches in a mid 90's sinker, high-spinning curve, and 70-grade changeup with all kinds of break, all of which come with ease and are commanded well.
Not long after Elijah Green's name is called, LHP Jackson Ferris (IMG Academy - FL) will follow suit likely in the first round. Ferris is an ideal project arm with three pitches that flash plus starting with a data-driven mid 90's fastball, and a swing-and-miss 12-to-6 curve and changeup. Ferris will have to clean up his mechanics as he has all kinds of moving parts from a funky herky-jerky catapult motion but his upside is enough to see him go early.
One of the more polished prep arms in the class comes in RHP Andrew Dutkanych IV (Brebeuf Jesuit - IN). Tall and lean on the mound with an easy delivery, Dutkanych has been seen this spring by some of the higher-ups in the Angels Front Office. His fastball sits 93-94 and comes from a high three-quarter slot giving it a good angle to the plate working north-to-south, and is his primary attack pitch. Dutkanych's power slider has swing-and-miss potential giving him two true out pitches. His curveball has progressed and there's enough feel for a changeup to believe in some mid-rotation projection.
The crop of top college arms took a big hit over the calendar year with most of the best arms going down with elbow injuries that required Tommy John surgery, with others receiving a suspension for performance-enhancing drugs, and another who did not sign the year prior.
Of those that had Tommy John surgery in the last year, LHP Connor Prielipp (Alabama), Landon Sims (Mississippi State), and Peyton Pallette (Arkansas) all have reasonable questions about their draft stock this July. Prielipp and Sims were both seen as potential top-10 picks around a year ago due to two potential 70-grade pitches, with Prielipp leading the way a bit more as a potential first-overall candidate. Prielipp, who had Tommy John in May of 2021, threw a showcase a year after his surgery where his two-pitch mix was prevalent and have him moving up boards quickly. Sims had arguably the best two-pitch mix not in amateur baseball but across all of baseball, though with questions about command and the ability to maintain his stuff deep into outings gave him relief questions. Prior to blowing out his elbow in March, Sims showed the ability to work deep in games with improved command and progressive signs of a third pitch. Pallette has electric stuff on the mound highlighted by a mid 90's fastball and high-spin plus curve, but missed the end of 2021 and had Tommy John before this spring.
After being suspended for testing positive for a performance-enhancing drug, RHP Carson Whisenhunt (East Carolina) missed the spring until playing in the Cape Cod League just over the last two weeks. Whisenhunt's changeup alone will make him an enticing bet in the first round as it makes him a safe bet for the back end of a rotation, and his fastball has enough velocity to set it up and play at the upper levels. Some teams who have looked into the suspension believe Whisenhunt's note of purchasing a non-PED over-the-counter drug.
One of the biggest questions in this draft comes with some of the biggest questions from the last draft. RHP Kumar Rocker was seen as one of the top prospects in the 2021 Draft and landed himself as the 10th pick with an agreed-upon $6 million bonus before post-draft physicals turned the agreement sour on the Mets end, and he ended up unsigned. Instead of returning to Vanderbilt, Rocker instead opted to go to Indy Ball and is pitching for the Tri-City ValleyCats of the Frontier League. He has been sitting in the mid 90's this spring with Tri-City with his signature mid 80's power slider in full effect and missing bats and a cleaner delivery though still with effort. Teams are still leaning on some 2021 data which knocked Rocker's draft stock down a bit when inconsistent fastball velocity and movement, where his fastball ranged from the low 90's up to 99 sporadically. The big and physical right-hander has frontline starter upside, though whichever team takes him is likely to get him to the Majors in a hurry to mix him into their playoff chase (potentially September).
After gandering at the potential first pick, here's a trio of pitchers that are among my personal favorites for the 89th overall selection:
Trystan Vrieling is a rotation mate with Gabriel Hughes at Gonzaga and offers similarities to his counterpart. Though his secondary command is well below-average, the raw repertoire and projectable frame of the right-hander leave some excitement. He can locate his fastball which is one of my primary drawing cards and he can work it in the low-to-mid 90's. Arm strength-based, his curve and changeup flash above-average and could make him a dually effective reliever.
I'd be remiss if I didn't include a local kid as a personal favorite and despite a down year in Southern California, Kassius Thomas was a standout. Sierra Canyon (CA) has the best draft-eligible duo at the top of their rotation in the region with Thomas and Jaden Noot but I couldn't stop coming back to Thomas here. He's a solid athlete on the mound with three pitches that will work at the next level, giving him some starter upside. Working with 16-year MLB veteran, Dave Stewart, over the lockdown, experienced coaching from a premier prep program give me confidence in him taking the next step. He's also committed to Duke, and I like smart kids. He has all the tools on and off the mound to be a successful pro.
There's being remissed and there's being flat-out stupid, which is what I would be if I didn't mention Ben Joyce. There have been less than 100 players in the Statcast era who have touched 101 with their fastball, and probably less than a handful who have spent an extended period of time averaging that velocity. Joyce has an average fastball velocity of 101 miles-per-hour -- yes, one, zero, one. He also hit 104 on the radar gun multiple times this spring which has only been done multiple times in the Statcast era by some dudes names Aroldis Chapman and Jordan Hicks. You can't just randomly fall upon velocity like this. His slider is fine and will work, but his command (or lack of) leaves him as a one-pitch reliever who is seen by scouts to go in the third round or so, but you know someone will take a flyer on him earlier than that just on velocity alone. Everyone wants this kid and it's obvious why.
Stepping away from the pitchers, there is a glaring hole in the Angels minor league depth and the pitchers are staring right at it. Edgar Quero is an exciting prospect in the Angels organization, but beyond him, there is little depth at the catching position despite an influx of new backstops from last year's undrafted free agent crop.
In the draft, you never draft for need at the Major League level and rarely do so for the minor league level as well, but as we saw last year with 20 pitchers in 20 picks, Perry Minasian and staff aren't afraid to fill gaps from the amateur ranks. The amateur catching crop this year has some talent, particularly with two at the very top, but there's a chance to address some depth needs in the draft.
Kevin Parada of Georgia Tech would be an ideal scenario for the Angels as they need impact bats and catchers, but the likelihood of him lasting to the 13th pick doesn't seem realistic at this point. Following Parada in the ranks is Daniel Susac of Arizona. A former quarterback, Susac is a solid athlete behind the plate who has good side-to-side movement and a strong arm supported by 1.8 pop times. His receiving needs work and he's not the best framer but we don't know how long that will matter once MLB goes to automated balls and strikes. Of note, he was the primary catcher for USA Baseball's Collegiate club which showed his ability to catch some upper-tier arms. At the plate, Susac trusts in making hard contact and allows his natural strength to produce over-the-fence power. He has a fine idea of what's doing at the plate, which gives him above-average offensive potential and makes him a potential two-way catcher ala Travis d'Arnaud.
Not dissimilar to Shea Langeliers, drafted in the first round by Minasian's Braves in 2019, Logan Tanner (Mississippi State) is a defense-first catcher who should be able to hit enough and with power to stay a daily catcher at the highest level, a specific item that is hard to come by in MLB. Tanner's ability to control a game from behind the dish is special as his arm (potentially 80-grade) and ability to throw from difficult angles will keep runners quiet and his game-calling with some of the best amateur arms in the nation already make him an advanced asset. Tanner is a prototypical offensive backstop with power and discipline with little menace on the basepaths, though his ability to hit for average will consistently be questioned. Starting a bit slow offensively, Tanner's draft stock did fall a bit which may make him a stretch at No. 13, but as mentioned, he is not dissimilar to Langeliers who went ninth overall.
Along with catching depth, one lost item in the Angels depth charts is impact bats who could profile as middle-of-the-order sluggers.
Bishop Gorman High School in Las Vegas has produced its fair share of Major Leaguers, and Justin Crawford could be one of the next in line. Son of former Major Leaguer, Carl, Crawford is one of the best athletes in this class and is currently heavily attached to the New York Mets who have the pick ahead of the Angels at No. 12 (Billy Eppler loves athletes). The player present is not the player projected, as Crawford is currently a barrel control hitter at the moment with modest strength to all fields. As he fills into his lean six-foot-three frame, there is average power projection expected. Crawford's top-of-the-charts speed make him a threat both offensively and defensively as he is quick to the ball in center field and can cause havoc on the base paths.
Jordan Beck and Drew Gilbert shared outfield duties for one of the best regular-season teams in recent memory at Tennessee, a regular stop for decision-making scouts and executives due to the surplus of talent. Similar beyond the plate, Beck, who played in right field, and Gilbert, who manned center, are both gifted defenders at their positions and will be capable at the next level to play all three outfield spots, backed with strong and accurate arms. There is more upside to Beck offensively due to his power potential as he has good bat speed and strength. Gilbert also has solid bat speed but is more contact-oriented where his strength should play easily to produce power. Both are aggressive hitters at the plate with Gilbert being an ambush hitter and Beck struggling at times with pitch recognition, though steadily improved. If either or both Beck and Gilbert can limit themselves to expanding the zone and prove they can handle a wood bat, they have middle-of-the-order upside.
Leaning back to some personal favorites for the 89th selection, two Vanderbilt hitters stood out to me not only during the season but particularly, during the Draft Combine. Spencer Jones is a familiar name as he's a local product and was already selected by the Angels in past draft (31st round, 2019). Jones has missed time with arm injuries (was a two-way player in high school and drafted as such), but he came into his own offensively this year with Vandy, posting an OPS above 1.1. There are questions about his pitch recognition but the size and power upside is too much to ignore. He could be a high strikeout and high ISO kind of hitter, but his defensive traits at first base and upside give me little pause to his potential. Dominic Keegan caught for Vandy this year and at the draft combine he showed regular 100+ mile-per-hour exit velocities with a very simple and low-effort swing that produces hard-contact to the gaps and up-the-middle with clear home run projection. His catching is still a work in progress but I'm dreaming more on the bat and backup catcher/versatile corner man down the road.
Anyone who has spoken to me over the last year knows I'm kind of obsessed with Jacob Reimer, an infielder from Yucaipa High School (CA). The balance at the plate and ability to drive the ball with ease made him alluring to me and I think he'll hit plenty in pro ball with power even as physically capped as he is. He won't be a shortstop in pro ball long, though he was better this year at the position, and is athletic enough to handle third base.
I love shortstops almost as much as I love catchers (I was a catcher, err, glutton for punishment, and still do so in my "old pals games"). I'm sticking local here with Jordan Sprinkle of UC Santa Barbara who has the tools to make an impact at the Major League level. He has range to both sides at shortstop with light feet that make him quick to the ball and has the ability to throw from multiple angles with plenty of arm strength to make tough plays. His quick feet work on the base paths and he'll be a base-stealing threat. The bat is light and will be a hindrance in him getting to the upper levels but with the right development, I think there's a reliable bench option in Sprinkle.
The 2022 Major League Baseball Draft will take place in Los Angeles on July 17-19, beginning at 4 pm PT. The Angels first selection will come approximately between 5:45 to 6:15 pm PT.