The Angels only picked pitchers in 2021. How are you?

ANAHEIM, California. – The Rocket City Trash Pandas is nearly 2,000 miles from Angel Stadium physically and is about eight years ahead of the major league parent club spiritually. The first becomes apparent every time the Los Angeles Angels recall a player from their Class AA affiliate. The latter was fielded one Sunday last month when the Madison, Alabama-based Trash Pandas celebrated a Southern League first-half victory in the northern division by splashing champagne.

Even with superstars like Mike Trout and Shohei Otani, the Angels haven’t popped a single champagne cork since winning the American League West in 2014.

“The holiday was amazing. Our minor league coordinator has gone down,” pitcher Chase Silseth said, referring to Joey Prebinski, who is in his second season in the position after spending two years with the St. Louis. Louis Cardinals’ run prevention coach. “They’ve been telling us since spring training, ‘This is what we’re trying to do. We’re trying to win here.”

But the unlucky and traditionally starving Angels, free fall again this seasonare not just lip service to supporting cultural change in their minor league system. Last summer, they adopted a drafting strategy that hadn’t been used since the draft was created in 1965: they drafted all pitchers.

From the first round to the last, the Angels passed 20 to 20. Right-handed, left-handed. Most projects for beginners. Some figures to land in the bullpen. Tall pitchers (8th-round pick Nick Jones and 15th-rounder Glenn Albanese are both 6ft 6in). Short pitchers (20th pitcher Marcelo Perez, 5’10”). Heavy Pitchers (1st round pick Sam Bachman weighs 234 pounds). Light pitchers (fourth round Luke Murphy weighs 175 pounds). Nineteen of the 20 were college pitchers, indicating the Angels’ urgency: college pitchers are older than high school pitchers, are generally more advanced, and as such have a faster path to the majors.

The first signs are promising for the Angels, even as things go awry at the major league level again: nine pitchers from last year’s draft made up the bulk of Rocket City’s staff this season, including Silseth, Bachman, Jones, Murphy. , Kai Bush, Brett Carrey, Eric Torres, Braden Altoff and Mason Earla.

And Silseth became the first of 612 players selected in last year’s draft to qualify for the Majors, earning a win on his May 13 debut in Oakland.

“Obviously, the pitch was a priority for us and we really wanted to hit,” said Perry Minasian, the Angels’ sophomore general manager who managed his first major league draft in 2021. “We thought it was really good. weapons harvest last year, and, obviously, with a shortened draft in the previous year, not only quality, but also quantity took place.

Due to the pandemic, the 2020 draft was shortened to just five rounds, helping to secure that many. This year’s draft, which begins on July 17 and runs for three days, also has 20 rounds, up from 40 in previous years, as a result of a new collective bargaining agreement between players and owners.

Whether the Angels’ philosophy of buying in bulk could lead to an industry trend where pitching is always in short supply is something that other clubs have been discussing in their internal conversations.

“That’s a terrific question,” said Joe Delli Curry, Pittsburgh’s director of scouting since 2012. “We could probably spend hours talking about what’s going on in the game and how the pitch is used in major league baseball if you have horses to go six innings and how many pitchers only four or five innings.”

“Listings with 13 pitchers, how it will affect our work, it will be interesting,” he added. “Each team has a lot of dialogue about this. We. “

Delli Curry was the Pirates’ assistant director of scouting in 2010 when the club opened its eyes by taking right-handed pitchers with nine of its first 10 picks. Their first pick that year was Jameson Talon, a right-hander who had injury problems for several years but crashed well after last year’s trade with the Yankees. Only four others have advanced to the majors – Nick Kingham, Jason Hersh, Brandon Cumpton and Zach Weiss (who faced just four batters in 2018, failed to get an out and has an infinity career ERA). Of the nine pitchers, only Tylon made an impact.

Although the Pirates were in need of a pitch at the time, DellyCurry said the club did not make a concerted effort to target right-handers. It just so happened that these jugs were the best available at the time, according to the pirates. Just like Mike Chernoff, Cleveland’s general manager, said the Keepers weren’t necessarily focused on all the pitching in last summer’s draft, despite the fact that 19 of their 21 picks were pitchers. Only the Angels have drafted more.

“Believe it or not, it depended more on who was on the board of directors at the time we chose,” Chernoff said. “We didn’t take a strategic approach to get a ton of pitches. We really feel that our system is deep in the talents of position players. But we tried to take the best player on the board given the places we were in.

“I think it was an exceptionally strong pitching project.”

The Angels, the Guardian and the San Francisco Giants, who drafted 14-of-20 pitchers last year, including 13 college-age pitchers, are hoping time will prove it was indeed a strong draft.

In general, however, the vagaries and unpredictability of the amateur talent pool make it extremely difficult to match a given skill set to organizational needs in a given year.

“I can only speak for us, but every year is different, every project is different,” said AJ Preller, president of San Diego baseball operations. “Some years there is strength in catching. There is power in some years in high school. For us, we are still the best players in every round.”

Even in an era of pitching shortages at major tournaments, most scouts see this year as a light year for top-level amateur pitching.

“There’s no submission anywhere,” said an American League team official not authorized to publicly discuss the draft. “There is no pitching on planet Earth.”

Perhaps, if this turns out to be true, the Angels, Guardians, and Giants did the right thing by buying in bulk in last summer’s draft. But no project gives guarantees. In 2018 Kansas City selected 26 pitchers out of 43 drafted, and in 2021 five of those pitchers started at least one game for the Royals – Brady Singer, Chris Bubich, Jackson Kovar, Daniel Lynch and John Heasley – to make history and raise expectations. . It was the first time five pitchers from the same draft class started in the majors in the same season for the team that drafted them.

But time is still making its verdict: Singer, Bubich and Lynch are currently in the Royals’ rotation, Heasley made 11 starts but is on the injured list with a sore shoulder, Kovar is in their bullpen, and Kansas City has so far played. under expectations. Based on ERA, WHIP and total runs allowed, the Royals rotation is the worst in the AL. Whether pitchers will survive the usual heavy developmental blows or whether these starters will become busts remains unknown for several years.

As for the Angels, the Rocket City first-half title was a celebratory moment, but like all minor league moments, caution must be exercised here.

“We were very excited,” Prebinski said. ‘Maturity, the overall competitiveness of the group, and also in terms of personnel. Most of these guys came from places where they competed at a high level, so we felt good.”

It’s the same with one Angel who hasn’t made the playoffs regularly in his career and whose biological baseball clock is ticking louder every day.

“I think we looked at pitchers last year and thought this was going to be a huge upgrade for us, and obviously it paid off,” said Trout, who turns 31 on Aug. 31. 7. “Look at the Double-A team, it’s incredible.”