Cowart leads Halos' new Top 20 list, wish list
Third base one of the few need positions for veteran-laden team
ANAHEIM -- On the Major League side, the Angels have a lot of positions locked up long term. But it just so happens that third base isn't one of them. And it just so happens that a third baseman is now the No. 1 prospect in their system.
That would be Kaleb Cowart, the 20-year-old switch-hitter who went from fifth in the rankings to first after a solid season at both of the Angels' Class A affiliates.
With the Minor League regular season complete and most September callups promoted, MLB.com re-ranked its Top 100 prospects overall and the Top 20 prospects in each club. Cowart now paces that group for the Angels, and at No. 53, is their lone representative in the Top 100 after a season in which he posted a .276/.358/.452 slash line for Class A Cedar Rapids and High A Inland Empire, hitting 16 homers, driving in 103 runs and stealing 14 bases.
This fall, Cowart will play in the Arizona Fall League. And next year, he'll get a big test in Double-A.
"The thing that stood out to me is he has very, very good makeup, work ethic," said Angels assistant general manager Scott Servais, who oversees scouting and player development. "He has tools, obviously. He can switch-hit, has good size and is a very good defender at third base. I definitely see him staying at third base, and we're excited about what lies ahead for him, because it's a position that's hard to find."
The Angels' new Top 20 is as follows: Cowart, first baseman C.J. Cron, second baseman Taylor Lindsey, lefty Nick Maronde, outfielder Kole Calhoun, righty Cam Bedrosian, center fielder Travis Witherspoon, shortstop Andrew Romine, third baseman Luis Jimenez, righty Nick Mutz, righty Daniel Tillman, right fielder Randal Grichuk, center fielder Chevy Clarke, righty A.J. Schugel, righty Michael Clevinger, righty R.J. Alvarez, shortstop Eric Stamets, second baseman Alex Yarbrough, catcher Carlos Ramirez and righty Austin Wood.
But the key to that Top 20 is how its members impact the big league club. This year, half of the preseason list has impacted the Angels.
Center fielder Mike Trout (No. 1 in the preseason list) is having a historic season for the Angels, while righty Garrett Richards (No. 3) has helped out in the rotation and the bullpen. Shortstop Jean Segura (No. 2) and righties John Hellweg (No. 9) and Ariel Pena (No. 18) were used to acquire Zack Greinke in a deal with the Brewers. Infielder Alexi Amarista (No. 12) and pitcher Donn Roach (No. 16) were sent to the Padres for closer Ernesto Frieri. Maronde (No. 7) is proving to be a valuable situational lefty. And Romine and Calhoun (Nos. 14 and 15, respectively) have been versatile reserves for a good portion of the season.
For Cowart to have an impact on the Majors some day, he'll have to improve on his consistency from both sides of the plate. At High A this year, the Angels' 18th overall pick in 2010 batted .313 from the right side, but just .241 from the left side.
"Being consistent from both sides of the plate will be key," Servais said, "because even though you're a switch-hitter, you don't want to have one side be that much better than the other."
The best season in the Angels' farm system came from a man who has no clear path to the big leagues in this organization -- Cron, who occupies the position Albert Pujols is signed to play through 2021.
angels' top prospects
Cron batted .293 with 27 homers and 123 RBIs for Class A Inland Empire, finishing one RBI short of the club record in the Minors -- set by Todd Greene in 1994 -- before undergoing surgery on his right shoulder with one week left in the season.
"Our biggest thing is to get him healthy, because it's very hard to find right-handed power in today's game," said Servais, who expects Cron to be ready by early next season. "He certainly possesses that. If he fits for us, great. If he fits for somebody else, maybe that's the way it works, too. But my job is to get it at the upper levels, and you create more options for our Major League team and [general manager Jerry] Dipoto to look at our Major League team."
Asked to identify one player in the farm system who really made an impression, Servais had a quick answer: Grichuk. You might know him as The Outfielder Taken Before Trout.
When the Angels had back-to-back first-round picks in 2009, they took Grichuk at No. 24 and Trout at No. 25. Because of that, Grichuk has always been compared to Trout, which isn't exactly fair considering the latter may finish the season as the youngest Most Valuable Player ever.
But Grichuk finally had a healthy season at Class A Inland Empire, posting a .298/.335/.488 slash line in 135 games.
And Servais believes the comparisons are needless.
"It's tough," Servais said. "I think [Grichuk is] finally over that. He was pressing a little bit in the first half, but I'm excited about the jump he's made. He's a good player. We all know Mike's a special, special talent, but that doesn't mean Randal isn't a good player. He is. He's just on a little bit more of a conventional developmental track, and that's fine."
Alden Gonzalez is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Gonzo and "The Show", and follow him on Twitter @Alden_Gonzalez. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.