The Angels have worked hard this offseason to shore up their rotation and with good reason; their starting five was one of the worst among all contending teams in 2013. But their bullpen was just as much of a problem, ranking as the fifth worst by ERA in the league last year, ahead of four teams that finished with a combined winning percentage of .415. Luckily for Anaheim, that problem could largely resolve itself, with the addition of prospects R.J. Alvarez and Mike Morin, both of whom should be in the majors no later than this June.
Alvarez, 22, is your prototypical power reliever. He can run his fastball into triple digits, consistently sitting at 95-96 MPH with movement, and his tight power slider is a potentially plus pitch. Minor league hitters have proven little match for the combo thus far, as Alvarez used it (along with an occasional change up) to strike out 14.6 batters per nine innings last year in the High-A California League.
But there in lies the problem; Alvarez has yet to pitch above A ball and it remains to be seen how his stuff will translate against tougher competition. The sheer ferocity of his repertioire should allow him to succeed and to continue to miss bats, but his control will become more of an issue. Like many hard throwing youngsters, Alvarez struggles with command, having walked five batters per nine last season. He won’t need the precision control of a starting pitcher, but major league, and to a lesser extent Triple-A hitters will lay off his stuff, no matter how sharp.
If he shows even moderately improved success at the upper level of the minor leagues, he should be in the Angels’ bullpen before long. Once there, Zips, a traditionally conservative sabemetric projection system, particularly when it comes to prospects, projects Alvarez for a 3.83 ERA and a 4.05 FIP. Although there’s no guarantee he even acheives that, Alvarez certainly has the capacity for a much better number than that.
Mike Morin, meanwhile, is a more complete pitcher. Coming in at #5 on our Angels’ top 15 prospects list, the 22 year old righthander dominated High and Double-A last season, pitching to a combined 1.93 ERA, 1.3 BB/9 and 9.8 SO/9. He works primarily off of a low-90′s fastball/sinker and a change-up that grades out as plus. As illustrated by his exceptional walk rate, his command is far superior to that of Alvarez and most of his relief peers. Baseball America agreed, ranking his changeup and his control as the best in Anaheim’s system.
Morin’s control over his fastball/change-up combo actually allow him break camp with the Angels, despite the fact that he has only 20 career games at Double-A. Zips, though, is slightly more sour on Morin than Alvarez, projecting a 4.14 ERA and 3.97 FIP, but again, thats a better projection than it spits out for most players who have never played a game in the major leagues.
The addition of Tyler Skaggs and Hector Santiago to the back end of Anaheim’s rotation may grab most of the headlines, as they should, but by this summer, most every one of their wins will have to pass through the hands of Alvarez and Morin, as well as free agent addition Joe Smith, before it can be closed out by Ernesto Frieri.