Shaikin: Angels get a reminder about the perils of relying too much on core prospects


What are the Angels selling at Angel Stadium this season?

The waffles are pretty good — and, dare we say it, a bargain for ballpark food. For $12, you get a warm waffle, topped with strawberries and cream or s’mores.

On the field, the last-place Angels are selling hope and faith, the currency of another bummer summer. Let the kids play, and hope the likes of Jo Adell, Logan O’Hoppe, Zach Neto, Nolan Schanuel and José Soriano blossom into the core of the Angels’ next great team.

With the Cleveland Guardians in Anaheim this weekend, the Angels need only peer into the visiting dugout for a reminder of the perils of counting on a core of prospects.

Joe Torres, the Guardians’ assistant pitching coach, was the Angels’ top draft pick in 2000. He was part of a touted core of Angels prospect two decades ago, along with infielders Casey Kotchman, Dallas McPherson and Brandon Wood and catchers Jeff Mathis and Mike Napoli.

“As an organization, you just want to stack as many prospects as you can,” Torres said. “That’s all we are. It’s just a label, until you get to the big leagues and play.

“It’s a different animal up here. The game adapts to you. You have to find a way to adapt back, and quickly. It’s a tough game. It’s not easy. I don’t care who you are.”

In terms of prospect rankings, the Torres group ranked higher than the current group. Kotchman, Mathis, McPherson and Wood each ranked among the game’s top 25 prospects during his minor league career.

“It was a pretty talented group,” Torres said.

McPherson’s major league career was derailed by injury. Wood’s career was derailed by anxiety.

Kotchman played for seven teams in a 10-year career. Mathis played for six teams over 17 years, a career .194 hitter cherished for his defensive wizardry.

Napoli enjoyed the best career of them all, most of it after the Angels traded him for outfielder Vernon Wells in an ill-advised and ownership-driven move. Napoli was the only one to make an All-Star team.

The 2000 draft class, to which Torres belonged, was not stellar. Of the 40 players selected in the first round, 17 never made the majors, and another 17 put up a career Wins Above Replacement below 2.0.

Torres was one of those who never made the majors. He also was one of those who was never as good after his Tommy John surgery, a reminder that no procedure has a 100% success rate.

When the Angels drafted him, Torres said, he threw as hard as 97 mph.

After the surgery?

“I don’t even know if I saw 93 again,” he said.

The Angels released him in 2006. Over the next seven years, he played for minor league teams in eight states, and winter ball in Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic.

He loves coaching, a second career that might never have happened if he had developed into a star.

“I think what I went through as a player,” he said, “the failures, the injuries, having been a top prospect and all, and then being on the other end of it, the grinder minor leaguer trying to find your way through it all, it felt like I had a lot of experiences and things that I could share and be able to work with players.”

He has stories to share. Napoli set him up with his wife. He and McPherson coached a high school team together one spring in Georgia.

If he ever tires of coaching, he has an aptitude for scouting. In 2009, he was playing in the California League, for a team that wanted to make a pitcher out of one of its catchers.

“I was his first catch partner,” Torres said. “I’m older by that time, been around a little bit. I look at him and go, ‘Hey, man, I don’t think you realize how good you are. You might be in the big leagues next year. You’re that good.’ ”

Sure enough, Kenley Jansen was in the big leagues the next year.



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