When pitchers and catchers report to Tempe in a short month, there will be plenty of discussion as to who will make up the Angels' pen after veterans Huston Street, Joe Smith, Fernando Salas and the newly acquired Al Alburquerque. Like many teams, the Angels have a heavy stable of talented-but-imperfect arms vying for a spot on the big club come April. Let's examine the best of the rest and get a head start on our rooting interests to make the squad heading into spring training.
The change-up artist followed up a promising 2014 rookie campaign with a frustrating sophomore season, running up a 6.37 ERA across 35.1 innings. The sample is small, of course, inflating his raw numbers and obscuring some very positive peripherals:
Why did Morin give up so many more runs (and hits) last year, despite pitching just as well? An easy answer would be luck, as his BAbip jumped from a typical .287 in 2014 to an outrageous .344 last year. According to PITCHfx, there were no significant changes to his velocity or movement over the previous year. The most alarming trend for Morin was an increase in the number of fly balls allowed, as his GB% went from 43.9% to 38.9%. As balls were hit in the air more frequently, his HR/FB ratio went from 4.7% to a league-average 7.3%.
Morin altered his pitch mix, throwing less sliders and two-seamers last season, while ramping up his change-up usage from 23% to 39%. This is understandable, given it is considered his best pitch. It is also a pitch hitters typically hit in the air. If Mike can work in his sinking pitches more effectively to help keep the ball on the ground, it will hopefully mitigate some of those line drives and home runs.
Rasmus was one of the unsung heroes of the 2014 AL West champs. As the first man out of the gate for each of the team's "bullpen" games that year, Rasmus helped keep the team afloat after their depth was tested following the injuries to Garrett Richards and Matt Shoemaker. Mixing a 93 MPH fastball and a variety of off-speed pitches, Rasmus had some of us believing he could be a serious option for the starting rotation, striking out a batter per inning with acceptable control.
Those plans were derailed before the start of the 2015 season as Cory was shelved with a right forearm strain and did not make his debut until July 31. While Cory still managed to strike out plenty of batters, his control took a significant dip, walking nearly five batters per nine innings. He also saw a small drop in velocity, down to 91.8 MPH. A forearm strain is one of those red flag injuries for pitchers, as many times it precedes a more serious elbow issue. It seems likely Rasmus is no longer a viable option for even a swingman role, much less a potential starter. If he shows he's healthy in spring and regains his velocity, he could still be a very effective short reliever.
"Bedrock" continues to confound the Angels, as he has yet to translate his minor league dominance into any sort of major league success. Bedrosian garnered a lot of attention in 2014 by dismantling AA hitters with a line that speaks for itself:
Understandably excited and desperate for an effective reliever, Cam was skipped over AAA and called up to the big club, where he immediately struggled and was quickly returned to AA. He was shuffled back and forth between the majors and AAA the rest of the season and never found near the success he enjoyed in Arkansas.
Advanced hitters in AAA and the majors have forced Cam to work harder, as his BB/9 jumped to 4.2 in Salt Lake and an unacceptable 5.3 across his two major league seasons. His stuff still plays in the majors, as he has averaged a strike out an inning on the strength of his 94 MPH fastball and nifty slider. His home run rates have been solid, even during his major league struggles. Those key stats have Fangraphs somewhat bullish on the 24 year-old, projecting Cam to lower his walks to 3.96 per nine innings while continuing to pile up the strike outs, resulting in a 3.45 ERA and 0.3 WAR.
It is easy to forget the lefty spent the entire year in the Angels' pen, posting a respectable 3.49 ERA working mostly in mop-up duty. A case can be made that Jose was underutilized by Mike Scioscia and his fetish for firm fastballs, as Alvarez did a nice job keeping the ball in the park with his two-seamer, while still striking out nearly eight batters per nine and keeping his walks in line.
Curiously (or not), Scioscia deferred to the veteran Cesar Ramos against lefties last season, even though Alvarez had much more success with the platoon advantage, with lefties hitting only .219/.299/.276 against him, with a 3.38 SO/W ratio. His modest stuff will likely limit any high leverage duty, but with a lack of viable southpaw candidates in the pen, he should get an opportunity as the first guy out when a tough lefty comes to the plate.
And the rest...
As any good GM should, Billy Eppler has invited a whole gaggle of journeymen relievers, failed starters and fringe arms to spring training. Lefty Bobby LaFromboise was claimed off waivers from the Pirates, where he has had only a few sips of coffee the last few years on a deep Pirates staff. The 29 year-old native of Downey, CA has had modest success over four go-arounds in AAA, striking out nearly a batter an inning with decent control. A sinkerballer that touches 90, he will compete with another lefty named Bob claimed off waivers, Rob Rasmussen. Rasmussen is younger and appears to have better stuff, sitting at 93 MPH during stints with Toronto and Seattle, though his mediocre walk and strike out numbers in the minors suggests Rob has less command than his older counterpart.
Deolis Guerra is another Pirates castoff, swooped up in the Rule V draft earlier this offseason. The 26 year-old righty has shown decent command in the minors while limiting home runs and striking out an acceptable number of batters, relying mostly on a fastball that touches 93 MPH and a change-up that acts as his out pitch. As we know all too well with last season's Taylor Featherston adventure, Guerra would have to make the team and stay on it all year, meaning he would really have to show the coaching staff something to survive spring training.
As for long shots already in their minor league system, Greg Mahle is an intriguing lefty who had a nice season in AA and has posted consistently strong peripherals through each rung of the minor league ladder the last two years. Jeremy McBryde is a righty who has toiled in the minors for nine years despite promising peripherals, while Tyler DeLoach and Kyle McGowin are starters worth keeping an eye on. Of course, any of these guys would have to be added to the 40 man roster to make the club, so the uphill climb for all them is far more arduous than the aforementioned arms.
Personally, I would love to see the guys who miss the cut for the fourth and fifth starter spots get stashed in the pen to give the team some length and allow a quicker hook when rotation locks such as Weaver or Wilson are struggling to get out of the third inning. Matt Shoemaker and Nick Tropeano both have the looks of guys whose stuff would play up nicely in a swingman role, while Hector Santiago has plenty of experience in the pen and the "team first" attitude to make it work. Of course, Scioscia prefers the more conventional six inning starter, two set-up guys-and-a-closer arrangement, so realistically it will come down to three of the names above, assuming they run with a 7-man pen.
How would you assemble the pen? Who do you think the team is favoring? What names did I miss?