Angels' farm system, called worst, is producing best shots at winning

Angels' farm system, called worst, is producing best shots at winning
Angels outfielder Kole Calhoun is congratulated by his teammates after scoring a run against the Texas Rangers during a game on July 10. Calhoun is one of several farm-developed players who have made a quick impact for the Angels. (Tony Gutierrez / Associated Press)

Kole Calhoun has given the Angels consistent production in the leadoff spot, and Wednesday night, he drew a bases-loaded walk in the bottom of the eighth inning to lift the Angels to a 3-2 come-from-behind victory over the Baltimore Orioles.

Rookie Mike Morin helped stabilize a wobbly bullpen in May and June; Matt Shoemaker has been a highly capable rotation fill-in; Efren Navarro has provided clutch hits and superb defense at first base and left field, and C.J. Cron hit so well the Angels released veteran designated hitter Raul Ibanez to clear a spot for him.


What do these players have in common? They are all recent products of a farm system that Baseball America rated as the worst in the major leagues in 2013 and 2014 but has churned out a number of significant contributors to a team with baseball's second-best record and a major league-leading 31 comeback wins.

"Our system is probably a little more capable than people think," General Manager Jerry Dipoto said. "One thing we've focused on, because we didn't have first round picks [in 2012 and 2013], is finding guys who may not have superstar-type tools but have the intangibles to compete in the big leagues."

Calhoun, an eighth-round pick out of Arizona State in 2010, and Morin, a 13th-round pick out of North Carolina in 2012, fit that mold.

The gritty Calhoun, 26, is an undersized 5-foot-9 and 200 pounds, but he packs a wallop, with 11 home runs to go with his .288 average, .498 slugging percentage and 52 runs in 65 games. He also has a strong throwing arm in right field.

"I was just a ballplayer, you know?" Calhoun said. "I played hard and got better as I climbed the ladder. It's a tribute to the Angels system how it all came about. Guys get into the system and continue to grow and get better. If you look around this room at some of the guys who came up, that's what's going on here."

Morin didn't light up speed guns at North Carolina — his fastball tops out at about 92 mph — but the Angels liked the fact that he closed for a nationally ranked team.

It took Morin, 23, only two years to reach the big leagues — he was called up from double-A in late April-and, with a highly effective fastball-changeup combination that reminds some of Trevor Hoffman, he could be here to stay.

Morin is 2-3 with a 2.63 earned-run average in 37 games, with 35 strikeouts in 37 2/3 innings. He had a 1.96 ERA before giving up three runs Tuesday night.

"He's not going to throw 98 mph, but he has a great changeup, he can locate, and he knows how to use his stuff," Dipoto said. "I saw him in college, where he had the bravery to pitch at the end of the game. He had the makeup. He's always had the changeup. We didn't teach him that."

Dipoto looked for similar qualities in recent trades for players such as outfielder Collin Cowgill, infielder Grant Green and reliever Corey Rasmus, "guys who have contributed in roles that aren't always sexy but are critical to a team's success," he said.

Cowgill hit .277 with five homers before going on the disabled list because of a broken nose July 13. Green hit .313 in 31 games and played all four infield positions and left field before going on the DL because of a lumbar strain Wednesday. Rasmus has a 1.99 ERA in 16 games.

Neither Shoemaker, who signed as a non-drafted free agent out of Eastern Michigan in 2008, nor Navarro, a 50th-round pick out of Nevada-Las Vegas in 2007, were highly touted, but both have been valuable.

Shoemaker is 7-2 with a 4.54 ERA and 72 strikeouts in 69 1/3 innings, and Navarro is batting .295 in 22 games, including a 16th-inning RBI single in a 3-2 walk-off win over Seattle on Friday.

"Every team is going to have guys banged up," Manager Mike Scioscia said. "It's just a matter of absorbing as much as you can with depth, and we've been able to do that on the offensive and pitching sides."


Cron, demoted to triple-A Saturday and recalled on Wednesday, was a 2011 first-round pick out of Utah who arrived sooner than expected. He elbowed Ibanez out by hitting .269 with nine homers and 27 RBIs in 53 games.

Dipoto also used three minor leaguers from a supposedly thin system to acquire closer Huston Street from San Diego last Friday.

The Angels were among the top five in Baseball America's organizational rankings from 2003-2007 but slipped to 11th in 2008, 25th in 2009 and 26th in 2010, the latter surprising because the Angels snagged Mike Trout (25th overall), Tyler Skaggs (40th) and Garrett Richards (42nd) with high picks in 2009.

But those "can't-miss" prospects at the top of the draft aren't the only players who excel at the big league level.

"Instead of always looking for the 95-mph fastball or the light-tower power guy, go find guys who understand how to play," Dipoto said. "In doing that, you find a lot of guys who can play."

Twitter: @MikeDiGiovanna