After being acquired from the Cincinnati Reds in 2020 for a package that included outfielder Brian Goodwin, Packy Naughton got his first taste of the Angels organization by pitching for Double-A Rocket City and Triple-A Salt Lake to get the year started. In 14 total games (10 starts), the Boston, MA native went 2-2 with a 4.90 ERA and 55 strikeouts in 60.2 innings pitched. His best performance down in the minors was on May 23 with the Bees as they were on the road against the Las Vegas Aviators. Naughton completed 7.2 innings, allowing only two base runners (one walk and one hit) and striking out a season-high of eight.
Naughton made his Major League debut on August 8 at Dodger Stadium, tossing one inning of relief, yielding one run on two hits. Following this appearance, Naughton continued getting thrown to the wolves as three of his six remaining appearances came against playoff bound teams. The southpaw held his own through the first four games (2 starts) yielding just 4 ER in 14 innings pitched, with a dominating performance on the road against the San Diego Padres that saw the rookie deliver five shutout innings.
Once the Angels were on the outside of the playoff bubble, manager Joe Maddon still kept Naughton in the starting rotation, but it unfortunately did not go as planned. Between the Chicago White Sox (9/14), Houston Astros (9/21) and Texas Rangers (9/28), Naughton struggled with longevity in each outing. He could not emerge out of the third inning in two starts, while only scratching the fourth inning in the other. He surrendered four earned runs in each game as well, inflating his ERA from 2.57 to 6.35 and opponents boosting their batting average from .236 to .290.
7 Games (5 Starts) / 0-4 Record / 6.35 ERA / 22.2 Innings Pitched / 12 Strikeouts / 14 Walks / 1.81 WHIP / .290 Opp Avg. / 27 Hits Allowed / 18 Runs Allowed / 3 Home Runs Allowed
In limited major league experience, Naughton constructs his arsenal with five pitches ranging from 73-91 MPH. A Four-Seam Fastball (32.9%), Changeup (27.7%) and Sinker (24%) are the most utilized with the Sinker being the most effective. Opposing batters recorded a sub-two batting average (.185) and a 18% WHIFF rate. When taking a closer look at Naughton’s Sinker, it reveals how valuable this pitch in particular is to his success. In 2021, the Sinker totaled a Runs Value of -4, which means four runs are prevented per/game when using this pitch. As Naughton pitches to contact, his ground ball rate is around six points above league average (51.9%), while simultaneously the barrel rate against his offerings is below league average at 4.9%. Based on the numbers, Naughton has the tools to become a terrific young pitcher in this league, he just needs more time to iron out his repertoire and strengthen his arm for longevity.
BEST PERFORMANCE OF THE YEAR
Naughton broke into the big leagues with a tough stretch of games facing the Los Angeles Dodgers, San Diego Padres and New York Yankees in his first three appearances. However, his second major league start would give the southpaw the opportunity to flash what makes him a Top-15 prospect in the Angels farm system heading into the 2021 season. On September 7 on the road at Petco Park against the Padres, Naughton went toe-to-toe against 2018 AL Cy Young Award winner Blake Snell and showed the toughness he possessed to go against the game’s best. Naughton cut right through the heart of a dominant Padres lineup by tossing a two-hit shutout through five innings, while striking out a career-best five as well.
He kept the Angels, who were no-hit through 6.2 innings, in the ball game just long enough for the bats to awaken in the seventh inning and gain the lead for good on a two-run single by Jo Adell. The Angels tagged the Padres bullpen for a pair in the ninth for insurance, leading to a 4-0 victory. Naughton would pick up the no decision, but his effort on the mound gave fans a glimpse of what he can become with more maturation in the big leagues.
WHAT TO EXPECT IN 2022
With the young southpaw under club control until the end of the 2027 season (includes three years of arbitration eligibility), Naughton looks to factor into the pitching plans either in the rotation or the bullpen. As a young pitcher, it will not be surprising if more trials and tribulations factor into his development even with 2021 being the first taste of big league action.
It would make the most sense for the Halos to start Naughton in 2022 at Triple-A Salt Lake to continue getting productive reps in the starting rotation. They can evaluate his mechanics and pitch selection in low leverage situations and properly develop his arm, especially since he was listed as a Top-15 prospect before his call-up. The biggest improvement the lefty needs to make this offseason will be his ability to attack the strike zone. He walked more batters than struck out (14 to 12), while his WHIP touched 1.81. The more he can cut to the chase instead of nibbling around the corners, he can rely on his defense to finish plays.