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Spring training is creeping closer: Relievers to watch in Tempe

One for the money, two for The Show, three to make ready, go...

MLB: SEP 29 Mariners at Angels Photo by John Cordes/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Here we are, 12 days before pitchers and catchers report and you might wonder if Billy Eppler is done filling out the team, let alone the bullpen. Knowing Billy, I’m sure he’s still looking for that diamond in the rough, but we can look at who the Angels currently have in the relief role. A GM’s job is never done..

Looking at the depth charts on and Roster Resource, this is the list of current relievers:

No Options:

  1. Blake Parker
  2. Cam Bedrosian
  3. Jim Johnson
  4. Jose Alvarez
  5. Blake Wood
  6. Noe Ramirez

Options Left:

  1. Keynan Middleton
  2. Eduardo Paredes
  3. Luke Bard
  4. Dayan Diaz
  5. Felix Pena

Keynan Middleton has options, but I’m sure he starts with the big league club. Like Bard was a Rule 5 pick so he either starts with the big league club (because he has to be on the 25 man roster), or the Angels give him back to the Twins. Paredes, Diaz, and Pena could all start in Salt Lake since the bullpen is crowded and they have options.

Blake Parker

Last year, Parker was a godsend to the Angels. Claimed off waivers from the Brewers, he easy one of the top pitchers on the team, let alone in the bullpen. Parker’s secret sauce was his splitter that generated an elite whiff rate of 24.4% and led him to the best K% on the team.

Parker also had a pretty great 11.5 K/9 rate, 0.83 WHIP (6th best among relievers), 78.4% LOB rate and a 2.71 FIP. There is some question as to whether he can be THAT dominate again in 2018, but he shouldn’t be too far off, given a career K/9 rate of 10.2, 3.27 FIP, and 1.13 WHIP. Among relievers with more than 25 innings pitched last year, Parker had the 2nd best Inherited Runner strand rate at 22% (second to Jose Alvarez at 17%).

He’ll be a key piece for sure in 2018 and my money would be on him pitching the 8th or 9th innings in most games.

Cam Bedrosian

Bedrock (or Subsoil as I not so affectionately named him last year), took a step back in 2017 from his stellar 2016 campaign.n Much of this was blamed on injury issues and that resulting 2 MPH loss on his fastball. Bedrosian also loss some movement on his 12-6 slider over the past season (several inches in each direction). The resulting pitch value on his fastball dropped from 4.2 to 0.8 and his slider value dropped from 6.2 to 1.1. Both still positive numbers, but not what he showed he could be in 2016. That slider, which he only threw in the zone 39% of the time, gave him a nearly 20% whiff rate and close to a 39% K rate.

Part of what turns Bedrock into Subsoil is his knack for allowing inherited runners to score. He’s much better with clean innings given that he allowed 45% of his inherited base runners to score - the highest in the bullpen for anyone who threw over 17 innings. His BAA with me on base was .286 last year vs. .204 with no base runners. He had an impressive 0.98 WHIP on empty bases but a sky high 1.78 with men on.

Bedrosian will be a key piece in the bullpen this year IF he gets that fastball velocity back and the movement he lost on his slider. In addition, he needs to get over the rather severe case of yips he seems to have. If he does, he could compete for that closer role - or at least as the set up man. For the love of all things holy - just don’t put him in the game with the bases loaded.

Jim Johnson

Jim Johnson is part of the reason why the Angels have Shohei Ohtani, so he may already be a winner. The Angels sent relatively unknown prospect Justin Kelly to the Braves in return for Jim Johnson and 1.21 million in bonus pool money. Johnson has been around the block - since 2006 in fact, so the 34 year old brings a veteran presence to the bullpen. The Angels will pay him $4.5 million in in 2018 (a salary dump for Atlanta).

Johnson had a 5.56 ERA in 2017, up from 3.06 in 2016. However, his FIP was only 4.22, making things look a little bit better. Johnson also only had a 62.3% LOB rate. His sinker (above) has been pretty hittable the past few years but if he can rely on his curveball and changeup a bit more, things may look up for 2018. Johnson has the pedigree to be a high leverage, late inning guy if he can get back some of that form from prior years.

Jose Alvarez

Would you believe Alvarez had the lowest rate of inherited runners scored on the team? At 17% his rate was also below league average. Alvarez had slightly better stats against lefties last year but was actually pretty effective against hitters on both sides of the plate.

Alvarez has a good mix to his arsenal, tossing a fastball, slider, sinker, changeup, and occasional cutter. He mixes them all quite a bit and manages around a 25% K rate with his fastball, slider, and changeup.

As the only lefty in the pen, Alvarez has a pretty secure job.

Blake Wood

Like Parker, Wood was another Eppler waiver claim, but he didn’t quite work out the same way. Wood had a decent 3.99 ERA in 2016 but also a 4.12 FIP and 1.435 WHIP. Last year he had a 4.76 ERA but only a 3.57 FIP. One of Wood’s main issues was his high walk rate of 4 per 9 IP.

Despite the so-so stats, Wood has some great pitches including a splitter and slider that both get him well above average whiff rates and out of zone swings. However, his fastball was crushed to a .467 AVG and did him no favors and he gave up 3 home runs off his slider.

Wood can be a decent piece in the bullpen this year, but should be relegated to an innings eater role unless he can prove more worthy.

Noe Ramirez

Ramirez only threw 13 innings (8 for the Angels) last year and just 39 so far in his big league career. In those 12 games he put up a 2.77 ERA (4.16 FIP) with 14 Ks an a 0.846 WHIP. His main power pitch is a sinker on which he’s given up a career .426 BAA.

The Angels need to find a place for the former 4th round drat pick or risk losing him off waivers. Another Eppler waiver claim, Ramirez does have some good stuff and a high K rate of 10.8 per 9 innings but he’s definitely on the bubble if he doesn’t perform well in spring training The later shouldn’t be a problem if he can put up numbers like he did in 2017 for the Angels.

Keynan Middleton

Kenyan “Major Key” Middleton burst onto the scene last year showing he is here to stay. A blazing fastball, an impressive slider, and effective changeup helped him get called up - and stay up. Not a huge number, but Middleton also put up a postive WAR value (0.2) in his rookie campaign.

Middleton was really good at keeping runners from scoring with an 84.7% LOB rate, but a slightly above average inherited runner score rate of 34%. His fast ball hi 100 MPH at times and got him an above average whiff rate of 12.8%. His slider and changeup were also REALLY good at generating whiff at 22.7% and 33.3% (30 changeups and 10 of them were whiffed at!)

The problem, of course, for Major Key was his rate of home runs. He allowed 11 homers last year, amounting to a 1.7 HR/9 rate and a 16% HR/FB rate. Middleton certainly has back of the bullpen potential, but he’s going to have to miss more bats with his fastball to be successful at that. Also possible is that Middelton will be more adjusted to the rigors of a full season since last year his second have BAA (.310) was 108 points higher than the first half (.202).

Eduardo Paredes

The truth about Eduardo Paredes is that he was “good enough” last year. Along with a 4.01 FIP, Paredes had a 1.208 WHIP and 17 Ks in 22.1 innings.

Paredes didn’t get above a 10% whiff rate or 27% out of zone swing rate on any of his three pitches. His slider has very little depth to it was was hit to an .874 OPS and only 2 Ks. His changeup is pretty decent but his low 90s fastball was his best tool with a 23.7% K rate. Paredes really needs a better slider if he’s going to be effective in the long run since so far, it’s been a very hittable pitch for opposing batters and he throws it almost half as much as his fastball.

Luke Bard

Bard was a first-round Draft pick for the Twins in 2012. The draft tracker scouting report at the time said:

The younger brother of Red Sox pitcher Daniel Bard, Luke may not throw quite as hard as big bro, but he has enough fastball, touching the mid-90s at times. He combines that with a good power slider, and that was enough to have some success when he was given a chance to start for Georgia Tech this year. A torn lat muscle ended his season early, somewhat ending his climb. Most see his future in the bullpen, where the his combination of fastball and power breaking ball would play up.

Thanks to the Twins deep farm system, Bard was left unprotected and Eppler pounced. Bard is essentially a two-pitch player with a mid 90s fastball and above average slider. He has some problems with control and had a 3.3 BB/9 rate last year but also 13.6 K/9 along with a 2.76 ERA in 65 innings. As a rule 5 pick he needs to stay on the 25 man roster (or be sent back to the Twins). He has yet to face big league hitters but should have the stuff to make a good run in the pen.

Felix Pena

Last October, the Angels traded the Cubs a player to be named later for Felix Pena. Pena had a promising big league beginning in 2016, but he only threw 9 innings. Last year he put up a 5.24 ERA with 37 Ks in 34.1 innings.

Pena doesn’t throw his changeup much, but he did throw 42 of them without a single hit allowed and only 1 walk. As you can see above, he also has a nice effective slider (although it did have a 41% fly ball rate). Pena’s fastball was his undoing last year with 6 home runs allowed and 14 walks, so getting that under control will go along way toward being a valuable piece since his secondary pitches work well for him.

Dayan Diaz

Eppler snagged Diaz off waivers from the Astros last September. During his short stint in the big leagues last year he struck out 20 in just 13 innings but he also had a sky high .452 BABIP which led to a 9.00 ERA (4.00 FIP).

Diaz’s slider was his bet swing and miss pitch with his changeup (above) not being too far behind. Diaz will almost certainly start the season in Salt Lake and his best role in the 2018 bullpen might be as a mop up guy.