One of the Angels biggest needs this offseason, aside from a few pitching stars up top, always seems to revolve around a lack of strong talent behind the incumbent starters and superstars. It’s hard to sustain any type of run towards success when the supporting cast behind our frontlines is more often than not “less than replacement level”. Last year saw a slight change of pace as a support squad of O'Hoppe/Neto/Schanuel grew as frontline leaders, yet now behind them appears yet another thin picking of questionable prospects. Competing in 2024 would be nice and I’m sure fans would love to see an immediate run towards success, yet without truly accepting the lack of roster wide depth and firmly addressing it next year will be nothing but a repeat of the last season, and the season before, and so on. We all agree the Angels need to do something different, something more than the cycle of free agent signings and trade packages leaving Anaheim in order to roll the dice on the productivity of inconsistent veterans. Too long have the Angels shyed away from trading their own big league pieces for prospect packages and develop their own cycle of youth infusion. The lack of initiative in taking advantage of trade values over the last few years is one of the biggest culprits in this perpetuating cycle of failure, but with the Angels roster already so paper thin how exactly can they open up their trade options without tearing it all down?
Recent hot stove news has the Marlins leaving prospective first baseman and corner outfielder Troy Johnston unprotected for the upcoming Rule 5 Draft. They 26 year old lefty swinger profiles as a talented power hitter who just finished his 2023 season at Triple A with a 51 game stint that saw him collect 22 XBH's on a .923 OPS. Much like Mickey Moniak, though with a game that is naturally more level spread and consistent, Johnston’s potential puts himself in line for a possible breakout season should he get claimed and featured in a Major League outfield. Overall his 600 PAs across both Double A and Triple A in 2023 amounted to a season total 26 HRs with 116 RBIs, 62 BBs/108Ks with an OPS of .948 while scoring 102 runs and stealing 24 bases (2 caught stealing). It doesn't take much to see the value in a hitter who can bring runs around while also putting himself in position to score at a high clip. A deeper dive into his peripherals takes us into some mind blowing territory; his 125 PA’s in 2 Out RISP situations has him mashing an 1.022 OPS. His splits are as even as it gets as RHP have him at .314/.406/.557 on 17 HRs (432 PAs) while LHP see him swing .288/.381/.527 with 9 HR in 168 PAs. His ability to see either handed pitchers on a relatively even basis can bring a much needed consistency to a roster that struggles to employ such qualities across the roster. One of the Angels biggest offensive struggles stemmed from an inability to make meaningful contact in high leverage situations, yet Johnston has the apparent ability to step up in hot situation. Could that simply be a fluke minor league run, or perhaps the indication of a gritty, hard nosed man in the box? There are few guys better for injecting culture into a clubhouse than the ones who step up in the grittiest of moments and often they make the best role models for those who struggle to do the same. Of course this is prefaced with a lot of "what-ifs", yet the potential ceiling Johnston has is enough to make one seriously ponder.
Just off of these stats it seems like a no brainer claim on the Angels end given the lack of outfield depth behind Moniak, unless you count Rengifo. Defensively Johnston has not played the corner outfield since 2022, yet his 93.2 innings in LF that season saw him manage a perfect fielding percentage alongside enough positive peripherals to encourage a potential transition of said skills to the Majors. Especially when you consider the outfield specialties of Angels new 3B coach Eric Young Sr and the support he will bring to developing athletes. It seems like a lot of work to transition a 1B/DH guy a year removed from slight Minor League outfield reps into MLB form, and while it is quite the task this does not come without reward for the effort. The Angels biggest hump that keeps them from truly progressing into sustained competency is the lack of initiative in occasionally offloading big league talent for prospect packages. The Angels cannot continue to clutch their pearls over their own valuable players until said player loses all value and sees release (for nothing) either through Free Agency or waivers. All good clubs utilize every avenue of improvement regardless if it means trading a big league piece or two to ensure youth is constantly cycled into the organization. The Angels do not do that, only within the last couple of seasons have the Angels prioritized infusing youth talent across the roster and we've quickly seen the effects it can have on a roster. That lackadaisical, no initiative attitude has to end now if the Angels are going to compete in the near future, this penultimate first step requiring the trades of at least one of Ward, Drury, or Estevez. You don't have to trade all three, but even just two of them (Ward/Estevez) would bring a worthwhile haul back to Anaheim. This is not an opportunity to be scoffed at, again especially for a franchise hard up on avenues towards improvement. A Troy Johnston claim would more than free up Ward for trade consideration, but at the end of the day it doesn't have to be Johnston. It can very much be a Bellinger on a big time contract or any other free agent outfielder, but if the Angels are looking to do it cheap while maximizing ceiling potential this would be the way.
Troy Johnston can give the Angels what they need most and provide options where little to none exist. Much of this conjecture relies on the Angels missing out on Ohtani and committing to a reload (we all know Moreno doesn’t rebuild), but should the Angels take the path of the reload a Ward trade would be the easiest to stomach. It would probably be more feasible to sign Bellinger and go with a more proven starting commodity in event you ship off Ward, but if the Angels want to allocate those dollars towards young pitching talent on the market (Yamamoto) they'll have to go cheaper than Bellinger. Johnston could potentially be a massive pickup for a team looking to take a chance on high ceiling prospect talent and with the luck the Angels have had flipping other teams top prospects into MLB talent (Moniak/O'Hoppe) perhaps it would be advisable to continue the trends that have brought the few bright spots the Angels currently have. Rather than build from the top down through expensive contracts the Angels should continue to build from the bottom up by taking furthered chances on top ranked prospects. If it ain’t broke don’t fix it as they say, and though much of Anaheim is in tatters the one quality that worked in their favor was their trust in young prospect talent and should they continue to trust the highly talented baby boom coming into the modern baseball landscape they will find suitable reward awaiting at the end of a long season.