OREM — One of the first stops along the path to the pros for a young baseball prospect is a major league team’s rookie affiliate. For the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, one of those affiliates is in Orem.
On Monday, the Orem Owlz of the Pioneer League introduced their new manager and several new players on media day. They also held their first team workout of the season under the warm sun beaming down on Brent Brown Ballpark.
Since the MLB first-year player draft less than two weeks ago, the Owlz and their new players have had little time to prepare. In most instances, young draftees from college, junior college and high school have had less than a week to decide their playing futures.
For most, deciding to sign with the Angels is a dream come true and a culmination of a life’s work. So it was easy to understand the feeling of optimism surrounding the club Monday.
New manager Bill Richardson didn't claim to know a whole lot about the Owlz' past, but was excited to talk about their future.
“It’s just really exciting right now for all of us,” he said. “What the Angels’ organization wants us to do is ... to be a family. Today we’re doing individual interviews and stuff like that. We want to get to know these guys right at first. And with kids today you have to coach them a lot from the inside out, so you have to get to know them a little bit in the process.”
Richardson comes from the Texas Rangers organization, where he spent the last three years managing the Rangers rookie affiliate in Hickory, N.C. He spent two years before that coaching in the Arizona League.
One of the players he'll coach this summer is 19-year-old Jose Rondon, who is expected to be one of the top performers for Orem in 2013.
The Venezuelan-born shortstop spent the final week of last season with the Owlz and played in six games. He is anxious to return to the field at Brent Brown Ballpark.
“Even though I was only here for a week, I really got some good playing time in.” said Rondo through a translator. “I’m anxious to start again, where I left here and hopefully move up to A or maybe even double-A ball when our season is over.”
The person translating for him was teammate Angel Rosa, the Angels' 13th-round selection in this year’s draft. Rosa, also a shortstop, is bilingual and was more than happy to help teammates adjust to their new surroundings.
“It’s cool to meet so many different guys from different places whether it’s Puerto Rico or Venezuela or China," Rosa said of meeting his new teammates. "The language is always the same in baseball.”
The Los Angeles Angels have struggled this season in the AL West, and some have suggested one of the reasons has been a lack of pitching depth. The Angels addressed that need early and often in the draft, selecting pitchers with their first eight picks.
One young pitcher the organization has brought to Orem is its third-round selection, Keynan Middleton, a two-sport star from Lane Community College in Eugene, Ore.
Middleton, a 6-foot-3, 210-pound right-hander, gave up basketball to pursue professional baseball.
“I was pretty surprised to be drafted so high,” Middleton said. “I was following the draft online, but not for myself. I was mostly listening for other guys from Oregon. But when they said my name ... I was like, 'Whoa.'”
The pitcher had talked with several teams prior to the draft, including the Seattle Mariners, but was very happy to get the call from the Angels. “I’m happy to be here and to get started for sure.”
The Angels, who have currently signed 34 of their 39 draft choices, will be filling out the Orem roster completely by the end of the week. For now, it will be up to Richardson and his staff to get the new guys acclimated to their first experience as professional baseball players.
The Owlz open the 2013 campaign on the road Thursday and Friday in Idaho Falls with a pair of games before returning to Orem for a six-game homestand beginning Saturday.
Kenny Bristow is the staff sports writer for the Wasatch Wave in Heber City. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
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