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Wednesday, July 06, 2005

Stephen Smith Interview

I asked Stephen Smith of FutureAngels some questions about a few players in the Angels minor league system, especially after I started digging around in some of the results. Here it is:

Rob: Michael Collins at Cedar Rapids: Old for his league? Another guy I looked up and said, wow, those are some good numbers. Good plate discipline, hardly ever strikes out (17 K's in 167 AB -- exactly the kind of player the Angels seem to like) and a little pop (.545 SLG, more of a gap hitter based on his doubles).

SS: Michael belongs in a special category, in my mind. He was signed out of Australia at age 16. He didn't grow up where there's much of a true baseball development program (i.e. no Little League) so his learning curve will be longer.

That said, I've seen him every year since he's signed and have seen him sprout into a big athletic body. In the back of my mind, for some reason when I see Michael I think of Mike Piazza. The defense may not be as good as, say, Mathis but the offense is finally coming along just as Piazza was a late bloomer.

As a basis of comparison ... Piazza's DOB is 9/4/68. As you know, he was selected by the Dodgers in the 7,945th round (okay, the 62nd round) of the June 1988 draft. His first year, in 1989 at age 21, he played Short-A at Salem in the Northwest League and posted an AVG/OBP/SLG of .268/.318/.444. The next year, his first full season, he was at High-A Vero Beach and posted .250/.281/.390. Returning to High-A at Bakersfield in 1991, he posted .277/.344/.540.

So now we have Michael, who turns 21 on July 18, posting .347/.426/.545 in a pitcher's league.

(Yes, his age is appropriate for the Midwest League.)

Is it for real? Well, at Provo in 2003, he posted .333/.353/.447 in 132 AB. The Pioneer League is a hitter's league, but I felt he needed to play every day in 2004 at Provo but he didn't get the chance. Now he's getting to play every day and he's finally kicking in.

I hope the Angels find a way to keep him. He's a six-year minor league free agent at season's end. I think he's worth placing on the 40-man roster but if he indicates he's willing to stay with the system then maybe they can save that slot for someone else.

Rob: has Mathis stalled? He started the season very slow and only now is coming back to being something useful. Big question for the Angels: will he be a useful part in time to let Benjie go? And are his catch-and-throw skills good enough for the show?

SS: Mathis hasn't stalled. He's a 22-year old in Triple-A. I haven't researched it, but I suspect he's one of the youngest catchers in Triple-A. He did have an injury earlier in the year that shut him down a bit but his .280/.344/.498 are hardly bad numbers (although it is a hitter's league). My guess is the Angels would like to keep Bengie for another couple years and let Mathis slowly work into the mix. He caught very little in high school so the more experience the better. Every scout I've ever talked with, heard or read thinks he'll be a big league catcher with all-around athletic skills. I remember him in Provo back in 2001 making throws on a dime to 2B, which says a lot for an 18-year old.

Regarding Matty's age, keep in mind we just drafted players older than him in the June 2005 draft. The same goes for Casey Kotchman. People tend to forget how young they are for Triple-A.

Rob: Will Mike Napoli cut back on his strikeouts fast enough to overtake him?

SS: I don't foresee Mike Napoli being a #1 in the big leagues, more like a Todd Greene C/1B/DH type. Mike has worked very hard to improve all aspects of his game, but he doesn't have Matty's athleticism.

Rob: What do you think of Aaron Peel at Rancho? A lot of doubles, but homers, not so many. He seems to be having a nice little season for himself, but his strike zone judgement has deteriorated quite a bit since being moved up. Every time I look up at the Rancho box scores, though, he seems to be doing something good. Also, at 22, is he old for his league?

SS: I really haven't seen enough of Aaron Peel to form an opinion. He got moved up in part because he was doing well at Cedar Rapids, but also in part because Rancho's outfield was depleted. Historically he doesn't take many walks and without much speed he doesn't really project as a true leadoff hitter. Until this year, he was a corner outfielder so I don't have much of a sense whether he's competent defensively in CF.

Thanks for taking the time to answer, Stephen. Much appreciated.


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