Welcome to the thirteenth installment of my series 2021 Diamonds in the Rough. In this article, I will break down two hitting and two pitching prospects from the Los Angeles Angels farm system.
Last time out, I took a look at some of the Kansas City Royals prospects.
In deep dynasty leagues, the ability to spot high-upside lower-ranked prospects before they become household names in the fantasy baseball community can make a big difference to the long-term success of your team.
To qualify as a diamond in the rough for this series, a player must be currently ranked lower than No. 15 on their team's latest MLB Pipeline Prospect Rankings.
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2021 Los Angeles Angels Diamonds in the Rough
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Jose Bonilla, SS/3B (#26)
Bats: R | Throws: R
Tools: 50 Hit | 50 Power | 40 Run | 50 Field | 60 Arm
Highest Level: Rookie
— Jared Tims (@Jared_Tims) February 27, 2021
The Angels signed Jose Bonilla out of the Dominican Republic during the 2019 international signing period.
Bonilla had a stellar professional debut in 2019 in the Dominican Summer League. In 20 games, Bonilla batted .284/.402/405, with 13 runs and 6 RBI over 92 plate appearances. Bonilla also displayed solid plate discipline, posting a 14/19 walk-to-strikeout ratio. In addition, while Bonilla posted an average 20.7 strikeout percentage, he also posted an excellent 15.2 walk percentage.
Though Bonilla did not hit a home run in his debut, he flashed some gap-to-gap power, with one-third of his 21 hits going for extra-bases, including five doubles and two triples. Moreover, Bonilla compiled an excellent .399 wOBA and an above average .129 wRC+.
Further, Bonilla has a chance to tap into above-average raw power as he grows and adds muscle. Per Baseball America, "Bonilla has a clean bat path that allows him to barrel baseballs consistently and produce high-end exit velocities, and he has a natural launch angle that helps him hit the ball into the air."
Bonilla is a solid defender and has an excellent arm that would play at either shortstop or third base. Though Bonilla has primarily played shortstop with the Angels, some evaluators speculate that he may end up at third base due to his thicker 6-foot-1, 199 pound frame. According to MLB Pipeline, Bonilla has a 60 grade arm, which is tied for tops in the Angels farm system with Brandon Marsh (#1) and William Holmes (#4).
In the infant stage of his professional career, Bonilla has flashed an intriguing mix of elite on-base ability and underlying power potential. Though Bonilla only played 20 games in his professional debut, he posted an excellent .402 OBP and his .368 BABIP was significantly higher than his already solid .284 BA.
The combination a small sample size, elite on-base ability and underlying power potential render Bonilla a prime candidate to shoot up prospect rankings in 2021.
Torii Hunter Jr., OF (Unranked)
Bats: R | Throws: R
Tools: 45 Hit | 40 Power | 60 Run | 55 Field | 45 Arm
Highest Level: High-A
Torii Hunter Jr. taking after his father in center field 👏
— Sports Illustrated (@SInow) March 9, 2019
The Angels drafted Torii Hunter Jr. out of the University of Notre Dame in the 23rd round (696 overall) of the 2016 MLB draft. His father, consecutive nine-time Gold Glove winner (2001-2009) and five-time All Star, Torii Hunter Sr., played with the Angels from 2008-2012. Suffice it to say, Hunter comes from good stock.
Hunter had a promising collegiate career as a wide receiver at Notre Dame. In fact, he may have drawn interest from some NFL teams if he had not signed with the Angels in 2016 prior to his senior season. According to former Angels scouting director Ric Wilson, "[the Angels] were willing to take a chance because it's hard to turn those kinds of tools away."
Interestingly, Hunter batted just .182 in 11 at-bats in only 18 games at Notre Dame and was used mostly as a pinch-runner. In his last full season of baseball during his junior year of high school in 2012, Hunter batted .393 with six home runs and 13 stolen bases. While Hunter turned enough heads to be selected by the Detroit Tigers out of high school in the 36th round of the 2013 MLB draft, he declined and instead decided to attend Notre Dame where he primarily played football.
However, it is clear that Hunter is an athletic specimen and has raw tools that can play on the diamond. In his 2017 debut in the Pioneer League, Hunter batted an impressive .352/.432/.441 with one home run, 48 runs, 28 RBI, and 13 steals (in 15 attempts) over 247 plate appearances. Despite only seeing 11 at-bats in college, Hunter displayed advanced plate discipline with a 23/44 walk-to-strikeout ratio. In addition, Hunter compiled an excellent .405 wOBA and an above average 122 wRC+.
In 2018, Hunter struggled against more advanced competition in Class A and High-A. Hunter batted a significantly lower .264/.339/.353 with only one more home run and the same amount of RBI in double the number of plate appearances. Moreover, though Hunter kept his walk percentage stable, his strikeout percentage inflated along with his 46/124 walk-strikeout ratio. However, his signature speed was on display, as he racked up 29 steals (in 35 attempts). Hunter had a similar year at the dish in 2019 against competition in High-A, though his numbers were down slightly across the board.
While Hunter has good raw strength and plus bat speed, his hit tool is a work in progress. He has a tendency to get long with his swing and chase pitches out of the zone. Further, Hunter will need to work on his pitch recognition to have success against more advanced pitching. However, Hunter is still relatively new to baseball as his sole focus and his hit tool should continue to develop.
But like his dad, Hunter uses the most of his excellent athleticism and plus speed in the field. Though Hunter needs to improve his arm strength, he is a defensive force in the outfield. According to Hunter, "[t]he way I play defense, I cherish that a lot...[w]atching my dad play, he played defense really hard. He was always trying to not let balls drop in the outfield, so I take that same mentality out there as well." If you watched his dad play, you know what a special outfielder he was (see below for some highlights).
Hunter has that in his blood. The fact that he has an appreciation for the way his dad played defense is a good sign to me.
Ultimately, Hunter will need to significantly develop his hit tool to advance through the minors and succeed at the major league level. Though he has good raw strength, he has hit only four home runs in 923 at-bats in the minors. However, over that span, Hunter has also batted .280 with a .365 OBP and stolen 59 bases (in 70 attempts).
If Hunter can improve his hit tool and add power, his plus defense and speed make him an intriguing prospect. Oh yeah and it does not hurt that his dad is on the Hall of Fame Ballot. At almost 26 years old, 2021 will be a big year for Hunter. He will be a fun story to monitor as his career progresses.
Erik Rivera, LHP/OF (#24)
Bats: L | Throws: L
Tools (Pitching): 55 FB | 45 SL | 50 CH | 40 CNTRL
Tools (Hitting): 40 Hit | 50 Power | 45 Run | 50 Field | 55 Arm
Highest Level: Rookie
Angels take Erik Rivera, lhp/of from PR. Two way guy, has upside as a LHH OF with power upside, think most prefer him on the mound at this point, ran his FB up to 97 mph this spring, the arm speed and athleticism are loud tools.
— Brian Sakowski (@B_Sakowski_PG) June 4, 2019
The Angels drafted Erik Rivera out of the Puerto Rico Academy in the fourth round (121 overall) of the 2019 MLB draft. Rivera was the first player out of the Puerto Rico Baseball Academy drafted in the top five rounds of the MLB draft since Carlos Correa went number one overall in 2012.
Rivera is part of an Angels organization loaded with two-way players, including MLB stud Shohei Ohtani and the lesser known, but also studly, 2018 fifth round draftee William Holmes (#14). Though Rivera is a talented but raw two-way player, the Angels like Rivera's powerful left-handed swing and played him at DH to get at-bats during his 2019 debut.
In his 2019 debut, Rivera struggled at the dish. In just 21 games, Rivera batted a poor .208/.313/.264 with eight runs and nine RBI over 72 at-bats. Despite his above-average raw power, Rivera posted a microscopic .056 Isolated Power. Moreover, Rivera struggled with swing-and-miss issues, evidenced by his sky-high 37.3 percent strikeout percentage.
However, Rivera opened some eyes on the mound during 2020 instructs. Further, many evaluators think that Rivera may have more upside as a lefty on the mound. After sitting 87 to 88 mph with his fastball as an amateur, Rivera consistently ran his fastball up above 95 mph and generated tons of swings-and-misses. In addition, Rivera showed good feel for his secondary offerings. Rivera noticeably improved the command of his slurvy 77 mph curveball and fading 83 mph changeup.
Further, Rivera possesses a smooth, athletic delivery with a slight three-quarter arm slot that is conducive to throwing strikes. In fact, Rivera's delivery has drawn comparisons to the delivery of Dodgers left-hander Julio Urias. According to Angels minor league pitching coordinator Buddy Carlyle, "[s]ome people throw pretty, and [Rivera] throws pretty. It's a nice delivery, especially for a guy who hasn't had a ton of reps. The more he gets, the better off he'll be. It's developing a feel for how to pitch."
Though Rivera may have more upside on the mound, as the Angels have shown, there is potential for two-way players in the majors. Per Baseball America, "[e]valuators generally prefer River as a pitcher and think that should be his primary role moving forward, but he showed enough offensive potential to contribute as a pinch-hitter or designated hitter on days he didn't pitch."
Other than his two-way potential, what stands out to me most about Rivera is his ability to demonstrate great improvements not only in his velocity, but also in his command in a relatively short period of time. As a two-way player who hit exclusively in his 2019 debut, Rivera showed incredible progress pitching at 2020 instructs.
I am excited to see what Rivera can do with more time focused on pitching in 2021. The Angels would be wise to continue to give Rivera at-bats, as it is too early to tell whether Rivera will remain a two-way player or become a full-time pitcher or hitter. However, Rivera has untapped upside as a pitching prospect and carries serious breakout potential coming into 2021.
Connor Higgins, LHP (Unranked)
Bats: R | Throws: L
Tools: 55 FB | 50 SL | 45 CH | 40 CNTRL
Highest Level: High-A
— Jared Tims (@Jared_Tims) December 29, 2020
The Angels drafted Connor Higgins, a pure relief prospect, out of Arizona State University in the 30th round (901 overall) of the 2018 MLB draft.
During his 2018 debut across the Arizona Fall and Pioneer Leagues, Higgins compiled a solid 3.68 ERA over 22 innings. In addition, Higgins displayed solid strikeout stuff, compiling over one strikeout per inning and a great 23.8 percent strikeout percentage. However, Higgins also displayed major control issues. Higgins racked up 18 walks in 22 innings with an inflated 1.55 WHIP and an awful 16.8 percent walk percentage. Further, his 4.73 xFIP was over one point higher than his ERA, which is a negative predictor of future performance.
Yet, Higgins showed improvements across the board in 2019. Higgins posted a 3.49 ERA (with a near even xFIP) over 56.2 innings. Further, Higgins improved upon his already impressive strikeout numbers, compiling 74 strikeouts and an excellent 30.2 strikeout percentage.
In addition, Higgins displayed improved control, lowering his walk percentage over six and a half percentage points. However, Higgins still walked 30 in 56.2 innings and his walk percentage still sat at a rough 12.7 percent.
Standing at a big 6-foot-5, 240 pounds, Higgins is a long lefty reliever with a nasty fastball/slider combination. Higgins has a high-spin fastball that sits 92 to 94 mph and tops out around 97 mph. In addition, Higgins uses his length to generate above average extension, helping his fastball play up even more. To pair with his plus fastball, Higgins also possesses a wipeout slider that sits 83 to 85 mph with late bite and a developing change-up.
Higgins has already demonstrated big-time strikeout stuff in his first two seasons, posting an excellent 11.2 strikeouts per nine innings (K/9). However, in order to maximize his potential as a high-leverage reliever, Higgins will need to improve his control. In addition, he will need to refine his changeup to complement his fastball/sider combination.
Though Higgins has never pitched above High-A, he will be 25 years old in June. Therefore, he could move quickly through the system if he shows improved command. With the right adjustments, I think that Higgins has a good chance to make an impact as a high-leverage lefty out of the bullpen in Anaheim by the end of 2022.
To uncover more high-upside lower-ranked prospects, you can access all of the articles for other teams in my 2021 Diamonds in the Rough series here.
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