TDG’S Triple Play: Los Angeles Angels!
The Triple Play is back for a fifth season! This regular feature is broken down by senior writer Phil Barrington and he is joined by a rotating panel of some of the best Dynasty Baseball writers in the business. If you’re new to the Triple Play, this series breaks down an arm, a bat, and a prospect within each organization for your reading pleasure!
Taylor Ward, Age: 28, Position: OF
Analysis by: Chris Knock
BackWARDs Down the Number Line
In 2015 the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim (yep, they were still calling themselves that in 2015) selected Taylor Ward in the first round to be their catcher of the future. While he showed enough promise behind the plate, the front office realized his bat was more valuable in the field around reaching AA. In fact, in Ward’s entire minor league career he only had a wRC+ below 135 twice: an injury shortened 2016 at High-A and at the start of 2017 when repeating that level (which was still a 103 wRC+). And both of those were BEFORE his conversion away from the backstop.
2018 was his first defensive trial where he was moved to the hot corner. That positioning wouldn’t last long, but despite focusing on new defensive fundamentals his bat shined. He had a combined .977 OPS between the upper minor levels. The parent club gave him a 40 game trial and he wasn’t able to replicate the success and he finished 2018 with a .255 wOBA. Sent to AAA to start the 2019 season, his final season in the minors was another dominant effort. Now playing outfield, Ward hit 27 homers in 106 games with a wRC+ of 145 supported by a 15.6% BB-rate and 19.7% K-rate. In September he got the call but again couldn’t repeat the success.
Finally making the MLB roster full time, Ward was only able to play a total of 90 games between the 2020 and 2021 seasons. Keeping his K-rate below 30% for both (including 23.2% last year), he was a league average bat with wRC+ of 97 and 111, respectively. Despite the solid performance, he wasn’t getting the counting stats we look for in fantasy. Ward hit just eight home runs over the 90 games and only 87 Runs+RBI. As boring as that was, it set the bar of expectations for the fantasy community as we entered the 2022 season.
For the two months of this year, no one thought Taylor Ward had this level of batting prowess in him. Regardless of the offensive statistic you’d look at, Ward was a league leader. Until his injury on June 3rd, his season wRC+ was 207 and wOBA was .461. In those first 38 games this year, Taylor hit ten home runs and batted .333. He struck out 22.2% of his plate appearances and walked 16.5% of the time as well. He was playing at a pace only two of his teammates could match and the early MVP candidate wasn’t just getting lucky. Statcast’s expected statistics, such as xwOBA, gave credence to the high level Ward was producing at. His xwOBA in April and May was .462 and .426, while his actual wOBA over this time was .482.
After missing two weeks with a hamstring strain in early June, Ward’s return to the lineup resulted in “only” a .332 xwOBA for the month. So far in July, his xwOBA is .340, both of which would be in the top 100 for the season long wOBA leaders. So if his results should be a top-100 bat while recovering from injury, why isn’t he getting all the hashtags on Twitter lately? Well, now he’s substantially under-performing those expected statistics. His actual June wOBA was a below average .278 and July was only a mild improvement at .286 so far. He’s only hit two home runs in the month since his return with a triple slash of .239/.311/.330. So to the casual fantasy baseball fan (obviously not you, my fine TDG reader) he’s back to being that low output player from the ‘20 and ‘21 seasons.
So ultimately we’re all wondering, what is the future dynasty value of Taylor Ward? Sticking with the simple Statcast comparison, his full season xwOBA .390 fully supports his actual .385 wOBA. Ward’s power profile metrics are all virtually in the top third of baseball, further underlining the total season output. His K-rate is his weakest category, striking out currently at a 25.1% clip. Looking a bit deeper, you’ll notice he’s elite and in the league leaders of base on balls related metrics. His chase rate is 18.6% with a top ten Swing Rate of 38.4%. Align this with his 13.4 BB% (another top ten category) means his elevated strikeout count likely is attributed to being overly selective at the plate.
You may be still harboring some doubt based on Ward’s lack of production since returning in mid-June. In reality, this is the time to try and catch a league-mate sleeping on him. Phil Nevin, the interim manager of the Angels, is still lining Taylor up in the cleanup spot many nights. It would have been silly to expect his first few months to continue without negative regression though it would also be silly to expect the last month’s poor production to continue as well.
Taylor Ward was a player drafted for his bat by the Angels. His slow simmer through the minor leagues only helped prepare him to succeed offensively once he got his chance; this is his breakout season at 28 years old. I expect him to be a top 75 bat, or an OF3 level production, once we get past the All Star Break. If I’m trying to acquire Ward, I would start asking at a lower price than that OF3. I wouldn’t trade him for anything lower than that valuation because he’s shown the potential of an OF2.
Reid Detmers, Age: 23, Position: SP
Analysis by: Bob Cyphers
Reid Detmers’ path to the big leagues was one of the fastest/shortest I have seen in some time. Coincidentally, Garrett Crochet, the player drafted immediately after Detmers, went directly to the MLB, but I digress. Detmers was drafted in 2020 by the Los Angeles Angels with the 10th overall pick and was regarded as a polished pitcher who could find himself in the major leagues relatively quickly. Despite this high praise, some did question the pick as it seemed like a “safe” pick with limited upside due to mediocre fastball velocity. Either way, no one could argue his talent after Detmers was one of the best college pitchers in 2019 during his sophomore season at the University of Louisville. He was off to a fantastic start in 2020 as well, but the NCAA season ended early due to the global pandemic. Detmers was drafted that summer and immediately reported to the Angels alternate site.
There was extremely limited coverage in the early months of Detmers’ professional career, but the reviews from the alternate site were very encouraging. His fastball velocity increased a few ticks and he unlocked something with his slider that he never had during his college career. It shows what the support of a major league coaching staff can do for a talented young pitcher, but it was still an unusual year in which Detmers only pitched 22 innings of college ball and then whatever simulated work he could get in at the alternate site. Despite the odd 2020, Detmers found himself invited to the big league camp in 2021. He did not break camp with the Angels, but he was aggressively assigned to Double-A without a single inning of professional baseball to his name. The then 21-year-old impressed and dominated his competition proving the level was not too much for him to handle, and after only 54 innings Detmers was promoted to Triple-A. There is not much to say about his Triple-A numbers because after only two starts comprising eight innings pitched, he was called up to the big leagues on August 1, 2021.
Detmers was rudely welcomed to The Show as he did not find the same success that he had against minor league hitters. He threw only 20.2 innings over five starts with a 7.40 ERA and 1.79 WHIP before an injury ended his season. Now, most would say that the major league experience was more important than the results for the young pitcher, and I would typically agree with this notion, but his struggles continuing into early 2022 makes you start to question just how ready he was for the majors. This is pure speculation by me, but I wonder if gaining the fastball velocity and tweaking his slider was just enough to get past lower-level minor league hitters, but not the best of the best. Detmers pitched 113.1 innings his sophomore year of college in 2019, and then a combined 104.2 innings (on record) in 2020 and 2021. That’s a small number of innings to gain experience and make adjustments to prepare for the challenge of facing major league hitters.
No Hits, But No K’s
As previously mentioned, the beginning of 2022 did not bring better results with Detmers on the mound. He carried an ERA over 5.00 through his first five starts of the season. Redraft managers hoping for late-round gold were likely jumping ship at this point, and dynasty managers were questioning their draft pick from the previous year. The results were not great, but even more discouraging was the realization that the underlying numbers didn’t give much reason to hope for improvement. His outings were short, but most pitchers were limited on innings early in the season. More importantly, his performances were just unimpressive. Through 22 innings, he had given up the same number of hits as he had recorded strikeouts (18) and he allowed 13 total runs.
Then came May 10th, on which Reid Detmers threw a no-hitter against the Tampa Bay Rays. Unfortunately, the majority of fantasy managers who roster Detmers likely did not have him in their active lineups and missed out on the best outing of his young career. In the same breath, the impressive outing may not have been as helpful from a fantasy standpoint as you would expect. I promise I am not trying to take anything away from his historic feat of retiring 27 batters without giving up a hit, and yet the ratio help should not be overlooked, but the performance noticeably lacked strikeouts. Detmers only retired two batters via strikeout in his no-hit outing, which is impressive in its own right that he was able to not give up any hits on that many balls in play, but also unimpressive with such a low strikeout total.
Fantasy managers who rushed to get Detmers in their lineups after the no-hitter were not rewarded with the results they were hoping for moving forward. I think the phrase, “turned back into a pumpkin,” applies as over his next six starts he gave up 17 runs in 27 innings pitched while only recording 24 strikeouts. His Statcast page is very blue, with not a single stat measuring above the 50th percentile in the major leagues. As a result of his continued struggles Detmers was optioned back down to Triple-A on June 22nd.
Extra, Extra, Reid All About It!
Detmers made his first start back in Triple-A on June 29th and looked noticeably different, but in a good way. In six innings pitched, he gave up one earned run on three hits, but with 14 strikeouts! Now I know its was at a lower level, but this was a very impressive outing by a pitcher who was struggling to induce swings and misses. Even more important than the stat line itself, was the news headline that Detmers made some mechanical adjustments based on watching older film and noticing differences in his slider specifically. The fact that he openly acknowledged this change and then immediately showcased the results of his revamped slider in his very next start is very encouraging.
In keeping with the overall theme of Detmer’s career, he was of course immediately recalled to the majors after only one start in the minors. He has sustained the momentum built off of that start and delivered two quality starts since his return to the majors on July 8th. He has gone six innings in each of those starts while only allowing two runs and striking out 13. Even more impressive is the fact that the second of these starts came against the Houston Astros who are one of the best teams in the league and also strike out one of the least. These stats are impressive and speak for themselves, but I think Detmer’s ability to adjust and do so quickly, is equally, if not more, important. He is still young (23 years old) and very early in his major league career, so the ability to learn and adjust is crucial to his future success. The results of the revamped slider are a reminder of his overall potential, and I would keep a close eye on his breaking ball stats moving forward. If the gains are sustained and the numbers continue to trend in the right direction, I will be looking to acquire his services for my dynasty rosters.
Jeremiah Jackson, Age: 22, Position: SS, Level:Double-A
Analysis by: Phil Barrington
I’ll be there
Jackson was a popular first year player draft choice back in 2018; he was a 2nd round choice by the Angels (57th overall), with a lot of raw power and a very questionable hit tool. As an 18-year-old, he started in Rookie ball, for the Orem (Utah) Owls, and in 22 games he hit only two homers with a .198 average. He was sent to the Arizona Fall league where he performed better, hitting five homers with a .971 OPS. In 2019 he was back in Orem, where he performed even better; 23 home runs (which tied the single-season Pioneer League record) in only 65 games with a .939 OPS. That production would lead to a promotion to Single-A in 2020, but then, Covid. After playing at the alternate site in 2020, in 2021 Jackson made it to Single-A Inland Empire in San Bernardino, CA. He did well in 45 games for the 66ers, slashing .264/.352/.527 but only eight homers and 11 steals and an unsightly 34% K rate kept him from gaining in popularity amongst prospectors.
Jeremiah, you on fire
2022 has seen Jeremiah really shine. The Angels sent Jeremiah close to home (he went to High School in Mobile and was Alabama’s Mr. Baseball in 2018) starting at shortstop for the Rocket City Trash Pandas (one of the best minor league team names) who play in Madison, Alabama. Maybe its being back in Alabama, maybe it’s the water, but whatever it is, Jackson is doing quite well; over 160 plate appearances thus far he has nine home runs, five steals, an .852 OPS, and has his walk rate at 10% and strikeout rate at a much more reasonable 23.4%.
In our latest TDG Roundtable, we predicted the 2027 NL All-Stars, and I choose guys less than 15% rostered on Fantrax. The AL group is up next, and I’ll give you a hint on who my starting SS will be, Mr. Jeremiah Jackson. It was as easy as 1-2-3. He’s only rostered in 9% of Fantrax leagues, which is criminal, and not a smooth one.
Josh Carey (son of Skip and grandson of Harry) and play-by-play man for the Trash Pandas interviewed Jackson last month. Jackson had this to say that stood out to me, “Growing up I always hit for power…I always hit doubles, triples…It was surprising for people, but not for me.”
His confidence is clear, but he also has a humble quality that will make him a fan favorite when he reaches the bigs. Jackson was raised by his mom, and lived with his grandparents in Mobile, has loved baseball since a kid, and attended games of his current team (before they moved five hours away) when they were known as the Mobile Bay Bears. I recommend listening to the 20-minute interview if you want to get to know more about Jeremiah.
I want you back
A quad in August kept him out 11 weeks in 2021, and a pulled abdominal muscle kept him out a month and a half from April to May this season. Those are not typically reoccurring injuries, and he’s so young, that they do not worry me for his long-term outlook. Furthermore, if you know me, you know I’m down with OPS leagues and prospects, so Jeremiah Jackson has always been a guy on my radar (and dynasty teams). Though even I had to get off the Jackson train after 2021 (I needed open spots in my FYPDs!); but now I want him back on my teams (and am raising that rostered percentage on my own across all my dynasty teams as I type this).
MLB has Jackson as the 7th rated prospect in the Angels system, Fangraphs at #9, and you won’t find him on any top 100 prospect lists. Good, people still aren’t believing he’s for real. He should be rostered in most Dynasty Leagues, so if you’re looking for a guy who will jump up some lists in the off-season and want to get ahead of the curve, add Jackson now.