For the struggles the Los Angeles Angels bullpen has faced this season, there are several intriguing bullpen options waiting in the minor leagues. In fact, in a system often mentioned among the weakest in the game, the club ranks among the best in bullpen talent.
When talking about Angels pitching prospect Cam Bedrosian, it is never long before his father Steve Bedrosian is mentioned. The same is true here, as the elder earned the 1987 Cy Young Award as the closer for the Philadelphia Phillies, making him a valuable resource for the 22-year old from Senoia, Georgia.
In my opinion, Cam Bedrosian is the top relief pitcher in the Angels system at the moment. He has certainly pitched like it this season, striking out a mind-blowing 75% of the hitters he faced for Inland Empire of the California League before earning a promotion to Double-A Arkansas. He worked 5.2 scoreless innings in five appearances for the 66ers, and allowed one hit and two walks. He also earned one save and struck out 15.
Since the promotion, Bedrosian’s strikeout percentage has plummeted (sarcasm) to 53.3% in his first four appearances. He struck out the first six hitters he faced and had three perfect innings out of the first four for the Travelers. In his third Double-A outing, Bedrosian also faced his first bit of adversity when he allowed two earned runs on two hits and one walk with (gasp) zero strikeouts April 24 against Tulsa.
Understandably, the 2014 season is a very small sample size. After being selected in the first round of the 2010 draft, there were very high expectations for Bedrosian and he underperformed in the eyes of many scouts and fans. In 158 innings across 70 professional outings including 27 starts, Bedrosian was 4-18 with a 5.48 ERA and allowed a .269 batting average.
However, Bedrosian has performed very well since being converted to the bullpen last season after spending two of his first three seasons as a starter and missing the entire 2011 season recovering from Tommy John surgery. Reports have his fastball ranging between 93-97 this season, up from previous years, and his slider and change up are better suited for short stints out of the pen. He will likely spend the rest of the year in Arkansas, but another promotion is not out of the realm of possibility.
Most talent evaluators and publications have R.J. Alvarez rated as a higher prospect than Bedrosian. This includes our own preseason Top 15 Prospects list, which ranks the right-handed reliever tenth overall in the system, and Bedrosian absent.
A third rounder out of Florida Atlantic in 2012, Alvarez has been solid in two full professional seasons, and is off to a great start with Double-A Arkansas in 2014. In 85.1 professional innings, Alvarez has a 2.74 ERA and has struck out 35.8% of the hitters he has faced while holding them to a .199 batting average. This year, the right-hander has worked 10.1 scoreless innings across seven appearances, striking out 16 hitters in the process (42.1%).
His fastball sits in the same range as Bedrosian, but Alvarez has been known to pump it up to 99 and pairs a very good slider and what has been called an “unhittable” curve, which he has yet to fully harness. Scouts are concerned about his mechanics and feel he could be at increased risk of injury, but Alvarez could contribute in Anaheim as early as this season.
Mike Morin, a soon to be 23-year old right-handed reliever, started the season as the closer for Arkansas after finishing the 2013 season in the role. In 70 innings combined between Double-A and High Class-A Inland Empire, the 2012 13th round pick had a 1.93 ERA and struck out 28.4% of hitters he faced while walking only ten total batters (3.7%).
Morin lacks the velocity of Bedrosian and Alvarez, but has been very successful with his low-90s heater and quality control. He collected three saves in three opportunities for the Travelers this season before being promoted to Triple-A Salt Lake in mid-April.
After a rough first appearance for the Bees, Morin has collected two saves in his next three games. He may be more of a middle reliever in the long run, but Morin could also make his big league debut in 2014.(Update: Morin was promoted to Los Angeles shortly after this article was posted).
Under the Radar:
Used primarily as a starter in his first two professional seasons, Victor Alfonso Alcantara is a hard throwing 21-year old that may be best suited for the bullpen. Like many pitchers that have the ability to throw a baseball in excess of 100 mph, Alcantara has struggled at times with his command. The Dominican-born right-hander posted a 7.47 ERA in 17 games for Rookie-level Orem last season, and walked 12.5% of the hitters he faced.
It was a bit of a surprise that Alcantara was slated to begin 2014 with a full-season club, but despite his struggles in the low minors, Alcantara has a ton of talent. In four appearances this season for Low Class-A Burlington, Alcantara has walked an even higher percentage of batters (16.7%), though his strikeout numbers are also up (24.2% in 15 innings this year). Expect him to log innings as a tandem starter early this season for Burlington before potentially returning to Orem.