Angels Move Top 2015 Picks To New Positions
The Angels' top two selections from the 2015 draft were on the go this spring, with first-round pick Taylor Ward moving from catcher to third base and second-rounder Jahmai Jones moving from center field to second base.
General manager Billy Eppler said the decisions were fueled not so much by perceived defensive deficiencies but rather the belief that the players are better suited in the long run for their new positions.
"We have a profiling system that takes into account the strength of a guy’s tools and the ordering of those tools,” Eppler said. "Then we break players down athletically and look at their lower half, core strength and upper half.
"Their superior lower-half athleticism, agility and explosiveness . . . lead us to the direction that (Ward and Jones) might be able (to handle their new positions). So we’re going to see if they can make the transition.”
Like the decision to move 2016 first-round Virginia catcher Matt Thaiss to first base, the Angels relied heavily on the input of player development director Mike Gallego.
"He’s a tremendous infield instructor who has a keen awareness of the game,” Eppler said of Gallego. "I had him work with Ward and Jahmai, and he said these guys merit the opportunity to see if they can do this.”
The 24-year-old Ward’s transition to third base was rocky. The 26th overall pick out of Fresno State committed four errors in his first 10 games in the field at Double-A Mobile—but that didn't affect him at the plate. He hit .419/.519/.558 with one home run through 13 games.
Jones, 20, committed two errors in his first seven games at high Class A Inland Empire while hitting .167/.324/.267 with one homer.
Scouts were mixed on Ward’s work behind the plate. He had a plus arm that allowed him to throw out 34 percent of basestealers over the past two seasons, and after allowing 19 passed balls in 90 games in 2016, he allowed four in 63 games in 2017. But Ward’s game-calling and leadership skills were questioned.
Jones played some infield at his Norcross, Ga., high school, which made the Angels more comfortable with the switch. His bat showed life last season when he hit .282 with 14 homers and 27 stolen bases at two Class A levels, but the Angels believe his production profiles best at second base.
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>> Two of the Angels' top pitching prospects, 21-year-old righthander Griffin Canning and 20-year-old lefthander Jose Suarez, were promoted from Inland Empire to Mobile. Suarez struck out nine and walked one in 3.2 innings of his Double-A debut on April 18.
>> Third baseman Kaleb Cowart suffered a broken foot late in spring training. He began the season on the Triple-A Salt Lake disabled list and would miss at least the month of April.