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11/28/09 10:00 AM EST

Angels' system rises to occasion in '09

Young pitchers respond to aftermath of Adenhart's death

There are times when baseball becomes secondary, when the importance of wins and losses, of scouting and player development aren't nearly as important as they usually seem. The 2009 season was like that throughout the Angels' system.

NL East

AL East

NL Central

AL Central

NL West

AL West

On April 9, just when the Minor League season was getting under way, Nick Adenhart's tragic death pushed everything aside. Eventually, people throughout the organization tried to do what people often do in times of grief: get back to as much normalcy as possible. Rallying together, the Angels made it to the American League Championship Series. Down on the farm, affiliates combined for a .553 winning percentage, third-best in baseball. Four of the teams made the playoffs with the Orem club taking home the rookie-level Pioneer League crown.

"It was a very difficult situation," Angels farm director Abe Flores said. "There was a funk or a cloud that hung over us for a while. It was an awakening for players who hadn't experienced death at that level with someone their age. When you're young, you're indestructible. It hit home when one of their brothers was killed.

"It's an awakening to what's important. Everyone wants to progress and get to the Major Leagues, but it hits home what's really important with relationships. It hits on so many levels. He touched all the coaches, all the staff had had him at one point. It ripples through the whole organization."

Aside from the enormous emotional impact, there were baseball-related effects of what happened. Adenhart, after all, was going to be a mainstay in the Angels rotation for this season and for years to come. There was some scrambling, but pitchers throughout the system responded to the unexpected challenge of moving up a level.

"With the passing of Nick Adenhart, it accelerated some players," Flores said. "Remarkably, they performed and improved."

Among others, the trickle-down effect was felt by Trevor Reckling. The lefty was likely going to spend most, if not all, of the 2009 season in the Class A California League, working on command and efficiency. Instead, he found himself in the Double-A Texas League after three starts and spent the rest of the year there at age 20, making the All-Star team, the Futures Game and playing for Team USA at the end of the season in the process.

Reckling was needed at Double-A Arkansas when Sean O'Sullivan got bumped up to Triple-A Salt Lake. O'Sullivan ended up appearing in 12 games for the Angels, making 10 starts. Reckling became the ace of that Arkansas staff when O'Sullivan's departure to the bigs forced the Angels to move Trevor Bell up a level. Bell saw 20 1/3 innings of big league action as well. O'Sullivan was 21 when he made his debut; Bell was 22. The numbers may not look all that impressive, but the Angels certainly have respect for how the duo handled themselves.

"They had to develop in the big leagues," Flores said. "That's a rough learning curve, and they came through it so far. There are still things for them to learn, but they contributed."


MLB.com's Preseason Picks

Peter Bourjos, OF: The 2009 season was predicted to be one in which Bourjos continued to develop into one of the better leadoff prospects in the game. It wasn't a bad Double-A campaign for the 22-year-old, as he hit .281/.354/.423 for Arkansas while stealing 32 bases.

Jordan Walden, RHP: The top pitching prospect in the system was picked to win a second straight organizational Pitcher of the Year Award. Instead, he pitched just 60 innings for Arkansas, finishing with a 5.25 ERA and .301 batting average against before being shut down in mid-July with a forearm injury. He's rehabbing it in Arizona and is expected to be ready for Spring Training.

MLB.com's Postseason Selections

Terry Evans, OF: After a lost 2008 season, Evans bounced back with another strong campaign at Triple-A. The outfielder hit 26 homers and stole 28 bases while hitting .291/.341/.520. That earned the 27-year-old another glimpse of the Majors, this time for 11 games and seven at-bats.

Trevor Reckling, LHP: What didn't the young lefty do? He turned 20 in May, yet led the organization in ERA (2.68) and was second in strikeouts (122). His 2.93 ERA and 106 K's in the Texas League were good for fourth and sixth in the Double-A circuit, respectively. Then, for good measure, he went 2-0 with a 0.69 ERA in three starts for Team USA during its IBAF World Cup gold medal run.

Jonathan Mayo is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.