Braves loss is Angels gain; Los Angeles signs Maitan and Soto

The Los Angeles Angels continued to bolster their improving farm system with the additions of infielders Kevin Maitan and Livan Soto on Tuesday. Maitan signed for $2.2 million while Soto signed for $850,000.

Maitan was originally signed by the Atlanta Braves on a $4.25 million deal in the summer of 2016. After years of being lauded as a can’t miss talent, Maitan entered the year as the consensus top international prospect and upon signing, he was immediately a top 100 prospect in the game of baseball. Soto was ranked as the 24th best prospect, according to MLB.com, in that same period and signed for $1 million in July 2016.

The Braves were busted in November after an investigation found the organization guilty of engaging in illegal behavior while signing amateur talent. Atlanta was crushed with punishments, which included the firings of General Manager John Coppolella and several scouts, along with the resignation of John Hart, President of Baseball Operations. On top of losing much of their front office, the club will have reduced international spending money through 2021 and they forfeited 13 of their prospects, with Kevin Maitan and Livan Soto being two of those players.

While the Braves were put in a dire position, this opened up the door for other teams. MLB made an exception for teams to utilize their 2018-2019 international funds to sign the released Braves prospects, with every team also receiving $200,000 in additional spending to obtain these prospects. The Angels, who currently have $1.3 million in the 2017-2018 spending pool, spent $3.05 million on Maitan and Soto, which means they utilized some money(unknown how much) from next year’s pool to obtain them.
While both players are supremely talented, Maitan is the big get for the Angels. With that said, Maitan’s stock is down after a subpar 2017. After showing up to camp 25 lbs heavier than when he was signed(jumped from 185 to 210 lbs), there were concerns about his work ethic and those concerns weren’t tempered when he didn’t produce in the coming season. Maitan came into 2017 as the 38th best prospect according to MLB.com but there is some concern after his showing.

Maitan hit a measly .240/.290/.340 and struck out 27.8% of the time in his 176 plate appearances. He was just 17, however, so it’s probably fair to give the kid a mulligan. Scouts did notice an issue with breaking ball recognition, which is usually the first obstacle first-year players have to overcome.

The tools are still there for Maitan to become a force at the plate, even with the poor showing in 2017. A switch-hitter, Maitan receives stronger reviews from the right side. As a right-hander, his swing is more fluid and he showcases prodigious raw power. The comfort level is obvious from a simple look at his swings, with some help from a leg kick he uses as a timing mechanism.

From the left side, Maitan tends to get a bit longer with his swing and doesn’t look quite as comfortable. The raw power he possesses from the right side is there as a left-hander but he doesn’t show a swing that will allow him to reach that power in games. Like the rest of his game, some tweaks with his left-handed swing could lead to an extremely good hitter from both sides of the plate.

When he was signed a year and a half ago, scouts were giddy about Maitan’s ability at the plate, where he flashed plus power, bat speed and hand-eye coordination. His approach at the plate is clearly behind those tools but if his strong baseball acumen can help improve that approach, there is sky-high potential for him. MLB.com’s prospect report throws a Miguel Cabrera and Chipper Jones comparison on Maitan at the plate, which is probably extreme but it speaks volumes to the perceived upside Maitan has.

Defensively, scouts saw a thicker Maitan, which led to less lateral range and created issues for him at shortstop. He still possesses a plus throwing arm that should allow him to potentially play third base but his below average speed could shift him over to first base. The hope is he can make it work at third base with his good instincts but the lack of range could become an issue as he inches closer to the majors. If this happens, there is immediately a ton of pressure on Maitan to produce offensively.

With a change of scenario, both team-wise and position-wise, 2018 could allow Maitan to focus more at the plate and unlock some of the potential scouts have lauded for years. Given that 2018 will be Maitan’s age 18 season, the Angels have the luxury of taking it slow with him. Another re-do of Rookie Ball would be a wise move and if the tools start to translate to in-game production, a move to Low-A Ball may be in the works for the end of the season.

Livan Soto was part of the humongous international class the Braves brought in during the summer of 2016. Soto hit just .225/.332/.254 in 208 plate appearances in 2017 but also walked more times(27) than he struck out(26), showing some strike zone awareness. Scouts are projecting heavily on his ability to fill out because he doesn’t possess much power at present but he has some solid hitting ability. He’s extremely raw with his swing mechanics and his ability to transfer some of those tools into in-game production is next on his to-do list.

Soto is a shortstop who may be able to stick in the long term. Soto has good range, reads the ball well off the bat and has a strong throwing arm, although he doesn’t possess great speed. If he fills out a bit, and slows down as a result, he could end up as a very solid defensive third baseman. With Maitan potentially moving to third base as well, it’ll be interesting to see if these two overlap each other as they climb up the minor league ladder.

Angels General Manager Billy Eppler, who was trained from the School of Yankees(assistant GM from 2011-2015), knows a thing or two about the importance of international talent. After being restricted in the 2016 period due to overspending from the previous regime, the Angels were off the hook in 2017. They added quite a bit of talent in July, including outfielders Trent Deveaux and D’Shawn Knowles, who were both listed among the top 50 international players in that signing period. The team also signed seven other players.

With limited spending money left in this period, Eppler made a move with those aforementioned Braves last week, when he acquired Jim Johnson and the Braves remaining international spending space($1.21 million) for prospect Justin Kelly. Eppler came out immediately and said the money would be used for Japanese superstar Shohei Ohtani. With the Angels being one of the seven finalists for Ohtani’s services, it’s fair to assume the club may have saved all of this year’s international money for him and used next year’s funds to acquire Maitan and Soto.

The Angels have had themselves quite the offseason so far, which kickstarted with Justin Upton signing a five year $106 million deal. With two big prospects added to the system, along with a potential Ohtani signing, this could be a monumental offseason for the Angels franchise. Billy Eppler, who is entering his third season/offseason with the club, deserves a ton of credit for his work.

With an improved MLB roster and farm system, Eppler is starting to put his blueprint on the organization. Former Angels General Manager and current Mariners General Manager Jerry Dipoto also deserves some credit for drafting or acquiring prospects such as Jahmai Jones, Jaime Barria and Michael Hermosillo. Those three players are consensus top 10 prospects in the Angels system but a ton of the other work has been done by Dipoto’s predecessor.

Eppler was widely lauded for his 2016 draft, when he went under-slot on Matt Thaiss in the first round but used the extra money to draft Brandon Marsh, Nonie Williams, Chris Rodriguez and Cole Duensing. In the 2017 draft, Eppler didn’t try to save money and instead grabbed Jordon Adell,the extremely impressive prospect, with the 10th overall pick. With the signings of Maitan and Soto, the farm system is in a much healthier position now than it was two years ago when Eppler came on board.

With Maitan and Soto on board, the Angels system has probably jumped up a few spots in rankings. If the club manages to bring Ohtani on board, the Angels suddenly possess an average farm system or better, just a few years after having “the worst farm system he’d ever seen”, according to Keith Law. This is a step in the right direction for the Angels franchise.

With the addition of Maitan and Soto, here is the updated Angels Top 10 Prospects List. You can find out the most recent Top 50 Angels Prospects List here from this past September.  My new Angels Top 50 for 2018 will be released in January.

1. Jahmai Jones OF

2. Jordon Adell OF

3. Kevin Maitan INF

4. Jaime Barria RHP

5. Brandon Marsh OF

6. Chris Rodriguez RHP

7. Matt Thaiss INF

8. Griffin Canning RHP

9. Michael Hermosillo OF

10. Taylor Ward C  (was Jacob Pearson OF before this week’s trade)

 

Article featured image of Kevin Maitan – courtesy of Jason Woodell (@JasonAtTheGame)

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