|Left-handed reliever Nick Maronde could push for a spot in the Angels' bullpen this year. (US Presswire)|
Prior to the start of the season, we'll highlight a few players in each team's minor-league system to let you know which players you should be paying attention to throughout the year. These aren't meant to be comprehensive top-prospect lists, but should provide a look at some key players within each team's organization.
The Angels' farm system took a big hit when Mike Trout was promoted to the majors early in 2012, but it's a trade-off any team will take 10 times out of 10. Built to compete this year and in the immediate future, the Angels' major-league squad doesn't appear to have many weaknesses open to competition from below. That actually works out, as the team's farm system doesn't really have much impact talent in the high minors ready for a shot at the big leagues.
2013 Impact Player
LHP Nick Maronde
A third-round pick out of the University of Florida in 2011, Maronde found incredible success after transitioning to the bullpen in college, but the Angels converted him back into a starter before his professional career began. The initial results have been great, as Maronde has put together an 11-4 record, 2.22 ERA and 1.04 WHIP in 146 innings while striking out 140 batters and walking just 34. Only 32 1/3 innings came at the Double-A level, and that's where Maronde is likely headed to start the year.
However, Maronde has been projected by some to wind up in the major-league bullpen as early as this year. The team signed Sean Burnett to be its lefty setup man, but the other lefty in the pen, Scott Downs, turns 37 in March and dealt with a shoulder issue late last year that required a stint on the DL.
Maronde was called upon to pitch out of the bullpen for the major-league team last season, responding with six innings of one-run ball spread over 12 appearances. If the rotation remains healthy this year, he could provide quality work in middle relief while remaining available to transition to the rotation if needed.
3B Kaleb Cowart
Tabbed by many evaluators as the top prospect in the organization heading into 2013, Cowart was a first-round selection in 2010. He hit well at rookie ball in 2011 during his age-19 season and took a small but noticeable step forward last season while splitting his time virtually in half between the Class A and Class A Advanced levels. He should be able to handle the hot corner defensively for much of his career, but despite the Angels' lack of an elite offensive presence at the position, the switch-hitting Cowart likely won't see significant time in the majors for at least a few years without taking a big leap in development.
1B C.J. Cron
A first-round pick out of the University of Utah in 2011, Cron is an aggressive hitter who can put the ball over the fence whenever he makes contact. After posting a 1.000 OPS in rookie ball in 2011, Cron hit .293/.327/.516 with 27 home runs and 123 RBI but just 17 walks in 557 plate appearances at Class A Advanced last season. He still has plenty of development ahead if he's going to contribute at the big-league level, but that's a solid start. Cron, who could be a liability defensively, likely is going to be a designated hitter. While he's blocked by Mark Trumbo for the near future, he still needs a few years of progression before that becomes an issue.
RHP R.J. Alvarez
A third-round pick by the Angels last season, Alvarez is a strict relief prospect who could one day be in the mix to close. He has plenty of heat on his fastball, with some reporting that it can reach triple digits. He also throws a quality slider that he'll have to learn to deploy at the proper times. That being said, his first brief action last season was encouraging, as Alvarez struck out 38 batters while walking 11 in 27 1/3 innings at Class A. Alvarez, 21, could advance quickly and may even make some appearances with the Angels before the 2013 season is over.
3B Luis Jimenez
The one player who may have something resembling an opportunity to supplant a starter is Jimenez, 25. A third baseman who has hit at every stop in the minors, Jimenez put together a .309/.334/.495 line with 16 home runs and 17 stolen bases in 517 plate appearances last season during his first exposure to Triple-A pitching. A quality defender, Jimenez has the minor-league experience and quality performance that makes him ready for a role in the majors.
He's blocked by Angels third baseman Alberto Callaspo, who just signed a two-year, $8.98-million contract this offseason but doesn't quite have the offensive upside of Jimenez. If Jimenez gets out to another hot start in the minors this season or has a big spring, it wouldn't be surprising to see Callaspo become available on the trade market.
The Angels' farm system just finished producing one of the brightest young stars baseball has seen in quite a while. What's left is a collection of talented players who are a few years away from being ready to make an impact mixed in with a few solid players that don't project to be stars but could certainly help the major-league team if needed.