The Angels announced this evening that hard-throwing right-hander Keynan Middleton has been reinstated from the 60-day injured list. Fellow righty Taylor Cole was optioned to Triple-A Salt Lake to open a spot on the active roster, and the Angels had space on the 40-man roster to accommodate the move.
Middleton, 25, carved out a spot for himself in the Angels’ bullpen with a solid rookie showing in 2017 when he pitched 58 1/3 innings of 3.86 ERA ball. While he was homer-prone that year (1.70 HR/9), Middleton averaged 96.8 mph on his heater to go along with 9.7 K/9 and 2.8 BB/9. His 16.7 percent swinging-strike rate was tied for eighth-best among 155 qualified MLB relievers, and he looked every bit the part of a long-term piece for the Angels’ relief corps.
The early returns on Middleton in 2018 did nothing to sway that line of thinking. In fact, despite his relatively minimal MLB experience, Middleton ascended to the closer’s role by mid April. He’d tallied six saves and pitched to a 2.04 ERA with 16 strikeouts against nine walks before being shelved due to inflammation in his elbow. He returned after a minimal absence and made three appearances before again going down with elbow discomfort, at which point damage to his ulnar collateral ligament was discovered. He underwent Tommy John surgery in late May.
Middleton’s results down the stretch will certainly be worth monitoring with a watchful eye. He’s allowed just one run on four hits and six walks with 16 strikeouts in nine minor league rehab innings, and a return to his 2017-18 form would give the Angels reason to be optimistic about the back of their ’pen headed into 2020. While GM Billy Eppler and his staff will surely make some additions regardless, lining up Middleton with Ty Buttrey, Cam Bedrosian and Hansel Robles would be a strong foundation for a bullpen. The latter three of that quartet have all enjoyed strong seasons to date and remain under control into at least 2020.
Although Middleton has appeared in just 80 big league games and pitched a total of 76 innings, he’ll be eligible for arbitration this winter. Middleton entered the year with one year, 150 days of big league service and will accumulate a full season in 2019 after spending the year to date on the Major League injured list. As such, he’ll wrap up the year with 2.150 years of MLB service time, making him a lock to qualify for Super Two designation. His raise will likely be a modest one given the missed time in 2018-19, but the foundation for his future raises will nevertheless be a bit stronger than that of a typical arb-eligible player.