Last Monday we kicked off another week long trip to Arizona for the final week of instructional league and the opening week of the Arizona Fall League. This has been a great plan for the last few years giving me time to see the Angels prospects from the DSL, AZL, Orem, Burlington, and to catch up with the Inland Empire guys that are at instructs and the prestigious Fall League. We followed the same game plan this year arriving in Mesa Arizona fifteen minutes before the advanced instructs game against the Texas Rangers.
The Angels were a co-op this year combining with the Chicago Cubs advanced instructs to face other teams at instructs. The roster of advanced instructs included Bo Way (OF), Kody Eaves (IF), Michael Strentz (C), Wade Wass (C/1B), Andrew Daniel (IF), Natanael Delgado (OF), and Zach Houchins (IF).
I only got to see two Angels pitchers during advanced instructs. The Cubs arms threw 2 of the 3 games I attended and I left early in one game to catch the AFL Angels players. I did see Angels prospect Joe Gatto throw a couple of innings and I also saw 2015 Inland Empire 66er Garrett Nuss who replaced Gatto. Gatto lived up to what I had heard and I am looking forward to seeing more of him in IE. Very good command, smooth mechanics, good velocity, and his ball moves late. Garrett Nuss was unlucky every inning. Between bloopers, infield singles, errors, you name it, it happened in Garrett’s innings.
It was great to get my first look at Zach Houchins. He was a new face and I had to ask one of the IE guys who was playing 3B. Zach clubbed 14 home runs in Burlington last season and I was told “he will hit 25 at Inland.” High praise and I hope to see that in 2016 (No pressure Zach!). Kody Eaves was the same Kody, making outstanding plays at both SS and 2B, plays that were not easy but he makes them look that way. Bo Way was doing Bo Way things running like a wide receiver and laying out to snag a would be extra base hit and saving runs. It may be an instruct game in October but Bo and Kody make it look like they are in the middle of a race for a league championship. You will not find two guys that play the game harder than Eaves and Way (well, Caleb Adams). Andrew Daniel’s bat was hot all week. I got to see what he said was his first home run since July, as well as a few well hit doubles. Wade Wass had time behind the plate as well as at first base. This was the first time I had seen Wade at 1B but he did outplay the Cubs Dan Vogelbach in my opinion. With Wade’s bat, you need to find a spot for him just about every day. Natanael Delgado is very raw and will be an exciting player to watch. I am a little concerned about the plate discipline but we will see how it plays out when he gets to IE. It was impressive to watch him go Bo Jackson and bust a bat over his knee after a strikeout. I told Bo Way I wanted to see him break a bat over his knee if he struck out, he replied “I’d break my leg.” Delgado is built like a horse.
I did watch some workouts at the Tempe complex for regular instructs, advanced instructs, caught some PFP (Pitchers fielding practice), got to see men acting like kids, Pitching coach Matt Wise taking Victor Alcantara’s hat playing chase through a couple of back fields before finally throwing the hat on top of the backstop. Victor did eventually get it back. I got to see Sherman Johnson from the 2013-2014 IE team. He was at the complex rehabbing his knee from a recent surgery.
A lot of work goes on at the complex and the temperatures exceeded 100 degrees daily. The boys have access to a portable make shift kitchen at the complex, it is a tented area outside the front of the complex. They get breakfast, lunch, and are given what amounts to $15 per day for dinner. They do not get paid to be at instructs. Keep in mind they make roughly $1,300 per month during the season and only get a check when they are playing. Imagine your job wanting you to go to another state to work or train for a month and all you would get was a plane ticket, a hotel room, breakfast, lunch, and $15 per day for dinner. Most of these guys had to dig into pocket to get by in Arizona. Many of these guys are also here without a car so the options around the hotel are limited and finding a good healthy dinner for $15 is not an easy task especially in Tempe.
The advanced boys had their final game on Friday 10/16 so I had talked to one of the guys asking if any of them wanted to meet up for dinner Thursday night. I honestly expected one or two as usually is the case when we meet up with players, but to my pleasant surprise we had a full table of 7 of them, 2 of us. We had a great time talking, laughing, and really cementing why I do what I do. These kids are great, they were raised right. I still do not know Dingus’ name. They introduced the kid as “Dingus,” called him Dingus, and when I asked what his real name was Michael Strentz replied, “Dingus, it’s what we call him and what he answers to.” So Dingus, when you get to Inland Empire, please come up and say hello, I’d like to know your real name.
As far as the Arizona Fall League goes, we watched the opening game on Tuesday, the Mesa Solar Sox were in Glendale to face the Desert Dogs. I caught up with Brenton Del Chiaro, the IE hitting coach, Chad Hinshaw, Caleb Adams, and Alan Busenitz before the game. Hinshaw looked great collecting a couple of hits in the game. Alan Busenitz was welcomed into the fall league by the first batter he faced, the Astros JD Davis who homered to left center. After that he walked one and struck out 2. Harrison Cooney had an eventful inning. He faced the minor league leader in home runs Astros AJ Reed and they had a good battle until he eventually walked Reed. A run scored during the inning but he should have been out of the it when Oakland A’s 2B Chad Pinder threw a ball away at second allowing a run to score. Cooney struck out 2 and gave up a run. Greg Mahle took the mound trying to close it out but had a pretty rough outing and wore the loss.
Wednesday was the same two teams just the venue shifted to Mesa’s Sloan Park. Caleb Adams is on the “Taxi Squad” meaning he is only active on Wednesdays and Saturdays. Teams are usually allowed 7 spots on Fall League rosters but the Angels have 8 so one had to go on the Taxi Squad and Caleb was the name drawn. On Wednesday Adams had 2 hits including a home run to left in the 9th inning. Catching prospect Stephen McGee has been on fire early with a home run, a double, and threw out two runners trying to steal second. Eric Aguilera had a base hit and was hit by a pitch and scored a run.
Friday I got a look at a familiar arm. Ryan Etsell took the mound for mesa and never looked comfortable. Etsell ended up throwing 3 innings allowing 4 hits, 5 runs, and walked 3.
AFL Angels Stats:
Caleb Adams 2 for 4 .500 HR 2 RBI
Stephen McGee 3 for 7 .429 2B HR
Chad Hinshaw 2 for 5 .400 2B 2 RBI
Eric Aguilera 4 for 12 .333 3 RBI
Ryan Etsell (0-1) 3 IP 4 H 5 ER 3 BB 16.87 ERA
Alan Busenitz 2 IP 4.50 ERA H R BB 2K
Harrison Cooney 1.2 IP 16.20 ERA H 3R 4BB 2K
Greg Mahle (0-1) 1 IP 8H 7R 3BB 63.00 ERA (Mahle appeared in 2 games, 1 inning total)
Eric Aguilera represented the Angels on Saturday night in the Bowman Hitting Challenge. There was one representative from each MLB team that is at the AFL. The San Francisco Giants did not have a player there, I was told it was supposed to be Austin Slater but he had a sore wrist so Christian Arroyo was to take his place but Arroyo was not there. It was my first hitting challenge and I got to see former California League guys like Aguilera, Jordan Patterson (COL), Dan Palka (AZ), AJ Reed (HOU), Brett Phillips (MIL), Fernando Perez (SD), Tyler O’Neill (SEA), Lewis Brinson (TX), and Jacob Scavuzzo (LAD). The Dodgers Jacob Scavuzzo won it all with a total score of 2,450 points. He tied with Miami Marlins Austin Dean but won the tie breaker which was the Bowman Ball. Scavuzzo hit a double bonus target giving him an extra 800 points and the win.