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A few takeaways from the Angels’ back fields

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The back fields are where minor league affiliates practice and play during spring training.

Rahul Setty/Halos Heaven

During a trip to spring training, I was able to check out the Angels’ back fields, where their minor league affiliates practice and play before the season begins.

Here are a few interesting nuggets that stood out to me.

Griffin Canning is pitching in games again

Canning, the Angels second round pick in last year’s draft, had been overused in his time at UCLA. He made 17 starts and threw 119 innings for a 2.34 ERA, but overuse (in 53% of 2017 starts, he exceeded 115 pitches thrown), potential shoulder issues, and signability concerns dropped his stock to the second round, where the Angels drafted him. The organization kept him out of action all of 2017, and he made the second in-game appearance of his career on Tuesday.

In three innings of work, his fastball sat 95-96 mph and touched 97 with downward plane. An 85-89 slider was used mostly against righties to paint the outside corner, while his 79-81 curveball was thrown to neutralize left-handed batters. Sequencing his pitches well to keep opposing hitters off balance and commanding the strike zone well, Canning looks to be an advanced arm that moves quickly through the minor leagues. He is able to throw his offspeed offerings for strikes. The 4-seam and curveball that he threw on Tuesday were plus, and his slider was above-average along with slightly above average command.

While there are still injury concerns—and who knows if he can hold this velocity over longer outings—Canning has not only proven his health but also his stuff, too. If Canning’s improved velocity does hold (he sat 92-94 in college), he will profile as a potential mid-rotation starter. With a five-pitch mix and all of them average or better, it would be very difficult for the organization to not let him start the season in high-A Inland Empire. Barring catastrophe, he will be in a 66ers uniform in a matter of weeks.

Kevin Maitan, a fish out of water

Maitan, for those who do not recall, was the big-name prospect released (among others) in the Braves’ international signing scandal and signed with the Angels. He is the Angels’ 2nd-best prospect, according to MLB Pipeline.

I had the opportunity to see him take about ten grounders at shortstop, of which he booted about two-thirds in lackadaisical fashion. Not only is he already too big for middle infield, he simply does not have the athleticism, burst of speed, or lateral quickness required to stay there. I don’t see third base as a viable position, given a poor first step and hands that are decidedly below average. First base will likely be his home.

Maitan is in much better shape, having lost considerable weight this offseason. As shown by his batting practice, power is his strength. Contact, on the other hand, is not.

Jahmai Jones, second baseman?

The Angels have their outfield taken care of for multiple seasons, which complicates things for Jones at the big-league level. He played mostly second base in high school, and with that in mind the organization would like him to increase his versatility, especially helpful because the Angels do not have a long-term second baseman in their organization. It was our very own Rex Clevinger and Josh Mayhood of Halos Heaven who first reported that Jones would explore playing second base.

In the little I saw of him at the position, Jones leaped to snare a line drive nearly hit over his head, showing good athleticism. The lateral movement necessary to succeed there is still a work in progress and the experiment is still very new, but there is certainly hope that it will succeed.