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Angels must conduct the MLB amateur draft without furloughed scouts

Angels general manager Billy Eppler at spring training.
The Angels’ depleted scouting department puts general manager Billy Eppler in a rough spot heading into the MLB amateur draft.
(Darron Cummings / Associated Press)

Even in its amended form, the Major League Baseball amateur draft Wednesday and Thursday promises to be one of the most exciting in recent memory. The talent pool available is widely considered the deepest it has been in several years. A team in need of a significant boost to its farm system will not need to look too far to find a spark, even though the draft will only last five rounds.

But to stage a successful draft — that is, a draft in which the scouting department not only selects high-upside players but also signs those draftees — a team must have a dependable staff of scouts. Only scouts know well what prospects are thinking leading up to and during the draft.

And for the first time in history, the Angels will not have that pivotal intelligence network. Their area scouts were furloughed June 1, said people familiar with the situation who spoke on the condition of anonymity. After spending months preparing for a radically different draft amid the cancellation of high school and college seasons, scouts were forced to unplug and cut ties with the players and families they had gotten to know.

They will watch the five rounds of the draft on television, detached from the decision-making by the front office. The Angels must reckon with the consequences.

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“We are confident that the Angels have the information and personnel to have a successful draft,” team spokeswoman Marie Garvey said in a statement.

An American League executive said removing area scouts from his own draft room would cripple the process. Scouts have spent months, even years, vetting a player’s assets — both physical and intangible. They know how likely a player is to sign and for what price. Regional and national scouts are in charge of comparing prospects and don’t spend nearly as much time with individuals. They can’t fully replicate the grass-roots efforts of area scouts.

There are no major holes in the Dodgers’ farm system, so picking for need is a pitfall they can avoid during this week’s coronavirus-shortened draft.

But there are factors that could lessen the effects of the depleted scouting department. Unlike previous years in which teams had 40 rounds to make selections, Angels amateur scouting director Matt Swanson has to worry only about making four picks at Nos. 10, 82, 111 and 141.

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There is also the matter of the volume of information available. Data for many players stretch back years. The Angels could supplement their own research with the evaluations of respected independent organizations such as Perfect Game and Prep Baseball Report.

The situation is not ideal, but the Angels’ draft might not be a lost cause. They furloughed 17 area scouts but still have 11 scouts in addition to Swanson on the payroll.

The Angels have a ways to go to refurbish a farm system ranked 16th by Baseball America and 26th by MLB.com in preseason evaluations.

Catching depth is the Angels’ most prominent weakness. The team has confidence in the emergence of minor league catchers Keinner Piña, Harrison Wenson and Franklin Torres, but none has established himself as a premier prospect.

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The team has selected 10 catchers since 2016, the first draft of general manager Billy Eppler’s tenure. Eight entered the farm system, one was converted to the infield before making his pro debut, and two were released. Of the remaining five, only 2016 pick Jack Kruger has made it to double A.

Pitching is also an area of concern.

Mock drafts have mostly linked the Angels to college pitchers in the first round, but the Athletic suggested the team might choose North Carolina State catcher Patrick Bailey, a college teammate of the Angels’ 2019 first-round pick, shortstop Will Wilson.

In their latest restart proposal to MLB owners amid the coronavirus outbreak, the players push for an 89-game season with prorated salaries.

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MLB.com anticipates the Angels going with Tennessee high school outfielder Robert Hassell III, who fits the mold of the five prep stars (Brandon Marsh, Jo Adell, Jordyn Adams, Jeremiah Jackson and Kyren Paris) the team took in the first two rounds of the last four drafts. Baseball America’s mock draft has the Angels selecting University of Louisville left-handed pitcher Reid Detmers.

Eppler hired Swanson in August 2016. It usually takes three to six years for a draft pick to reach the major leagues, so it is too soon to pass judgment on Swanson’s success rate. Orange County native and UCLA product Griffin Canning, a second-rounder in 2017, was the first of Swanson’s draftees to graduate to the majors. One player from Eppler’s first draft, first-rounder Matt Thaiss, also received big league playing time in 2019.

Three-time AL MVP Mike Trout (first-round compensation pick) and relievers Cam Bedrosian (first-round compensation pick) and Keynan Middleton (third round) are among those the Angels landed in the first five rounds before Eppler arrived. They also drafted Cleveland Indians ace Mike Clevinger (fourth round), Toronto Blue Jays outfielder Randal Grichuk (first round) and pitcher Patrick Corbin (second round) of the Washington Nationals.

Angels’ first-round draft picks since 2000

Position; Player; Pick; HS/Col; MLB WAR

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2000
LHP Joe Torres,10, HS, NA
RHP Chris Bootcheck, 20, 4YR, -1.6

2001
1B, Casey Kotchman, 13, HS, 7.5
C Jeff Mathis, 33, HS, 0.0

2002
LHP Joe Saunders,12, 4YR, 8.4

2003
3B Brandon Wood, 23, HS, -3.8

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2004
RHP Jered Weaver, 12, 4YR, 34.6

2005
RHP; Trevor Bell; 37; HS; -1.2

2006
C; Hank Conger; 25; HS; 2.0

2007
RHP; Jon Bachanov; 58; HS; NA

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2008
No first-round pick

2009
OF Randal Grichuk, 24, HS, 9.4
OF Mike Trout, 25, HS, 72.8
LHP Tyler Skaggs, 40, HS, 3.2
RHP Garrett Richards, 42, 4YR, 7.3
LHP Tyler Kehrer, 48, 4YR, NA

2010
3B Kaleb Cowart, 18, HS, -1.3
RHP Cam Bedrosian, 29, HS, 0.9
OF Chevy Clarke, 30, HS, NA
SS Taylor Lindsey, 37, HS, NA
OF Ryan Bolden, 40, HS, NA

2011
1B C.J. Cron, 17, 4YR, 7.3

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2012
No first-round pick

2013
No first-round pick

2014
LHP Sean Newcomb, 15, 4YR, 3.6

2015
C Taylor Ward, 26, 4YR, -0.8

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2016
1B Matt Thaiss, 16, 4YR, 0.5

2017
OF Jo Adell, 10, HS, NA

2018
OF Jordyn Adams, 17, HS, NA

2019
SS Will Wilson, 15, 4YR, NA


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