- The Angels made their send notable rotation pickup of the offseason Thursday, agreeing to sign right-hander Julio Teheran to a one-year, $9MM guarantee. Teheran and the previously acquired Dylan Bundy should help improve the Angels’ starting staff in 2020, but the team still hasn’t added a much-needed front-line hurler this offseason. But now that Teheran, Bundy and Rendon are in the fold, does the club have the financial flexibility to reel in yet another rotation upgrade? Perhaps. As Jeff Fletcher of the Southern California News Group observes, the Angels currently have an actual payroll around $170MM and a luxury-tax outlay in the $181MM range – $27MM below the threshold. The former figure would be a franchise-record amount for the Angels, though owner Arte Moreno has indicated the team’s payroll would rise in 2020. It’s just unclear what his limit is.
- Signing either lefty Hyun-Jin Ryu or fellow southpaw Dallas Keuchel would put yet another significant dent in the Angels’ payroll. No matter, the team appears to be in on both hurlers. The Angels and agent Scott Boras (who also represents Rendon) have had “multiple conversations” about Ryu and Keuchel, Maria Torres of the Los Angeles Times writes. However, Torres notes that a deal with the Angels isn’t imminent for either pitcher. Ryu (three years, $54MM) and Keuchel (three/39) are MLBTR’s highest-rated remaining pitchers in terms of potential earning power.
- Regardless of how many moves the Angels make this winter, there may not be a more important development in 2020 than getting two-way star Shohei Ohtani back to full health. The right-hander/designated hitter was unable to pitch at all last season after undergoing Tommy John surgery in October 2018. Fortunately, though, the 25-year-old Ohtani has fully recovered from that serious procedure, Fletcher relays (Twitter links). Looking ahead to 2020, Ohtani only figures to pitch once a week, which aligns with the schedule he grew accustomed to in Japan before immigrating to the United States.
Although they’re on the heels of yet another disappointing campaign, the Angels may be in position to make a significant splash on the pitching market this offseason. Whether or not that happens, though, it’s imperative for the club’s beleaguered starting staff to get a healthy Shohei Ohtani back in 2020. Ohtani, who didn’t pitch this year after undergoing Tommy John surgery last October, is progressing in his recovery from TJS and the left knee procedure he underwent last month, per Jeff Fletcher of the Orange County Register. The 25-year-old is currently throwing from 100 feet and on schedule to retake the mound toward the end of November, according to Fletcher.
The emergence of Ohtani in 2018, his first stateside season after coming over as a much-ballyhooed Japanese free agent, was one of the most encouraging developments in recent memory for the Angels. Not only did Ohtani star with the bat that year, but he further proved he was worth the free-agent fuss by posting front-end production when he was healthy enough to take the ball. He threw just 51 2/3 innings during a 10-start, injury-limited rookie campaign, but the right-handed hurler made those appearances count with an impressive 3.31 ERA/3.57 FIP, 10.97 K/9 and 3.83 BB/9.
Now, Ohtani’s fresh off another strong (albeit injury-shortened) season as a hitter. The hope is the lefty-swinging DH will continue to provide a solution at that position while enjoying a much healthier year as a pitcher in 2020. If Ohtani’s able to deliver a much larger chunk of innings next year, and if the Angels make some serious noise on the open market (Gerrit Cole? Stephen Strasburg?), it could go a long way toward a much-needed return to contention. The Halos are heading into a crucial offseason in which upgrading their pitching will be a must, regardless of whether general manager Billy Eppler, new skipper Joe Maddon & Co. are counting on substantial contributions from Ohtani.
5:23PM: Ohtani’s recovery from his knee surgery shouldn’t impact his Tommy John rehab or his readiness for Spring Training or the start of the 2020 season, Eppler told Maria Torres of the Los Angeles Times and other reporters.
3:52PM: Angels DH Shohei Ohtani will undergo surgery on his left knee tomorrow, as per a statement from team GM Billy Eppler (Twitter link). The procedure will focus on Ohtani’s bipartite patella, and it will keep Ohtani on the mend for roughly eight to twelve weeks.
On paper, this should leave Ohtani with plenty of time to be healthy and ready for Spring Training, though one potential wrinkle could be how this latest injury impacts Ohtani’s ongoing recovery from Tommy John surgery. Ohtani underwent the elbow procedure last October and, by all accounts, has been progressing nicely, though this knee issue is certainly an unwelcome complication to the already unique situation facing Ohtani as a two-way player.
The TJ recovery kept Ohtani from making his 2019 debut until May 7, and he was limited strictly to designated hitter duty in his second big league season. While his numbers took a step back from his 2018 totals, Ohtani went from being elite in his rookie to “merely” very good in 2019, cracking 18 homers and slashing .286/.343/.505 over 425 plate appearances. It works out to a solidly above-average 122 OPS+ and wRC+, with a .350 xwOBA that only slightly lags behind his .357 wOBA.
The dropoff in production could mark something of a sophomore slump as pitchers get more used to Ohtani, though it could also represent his extra challenges of both coming back from Tommy John surgery as a position player while still continuing to rehab his throwing arm for his expected return to the mound in 2020. Needless to say, the Angels will be as cautious as possible in monitoring the phenom’s health throughout the offseason and Spring Training, given Ohtani’s dual importance to both the team’s lineup and rotation.
Shohei Ohtani threw what Los Angeles Times reporter Maria Torres described as a “high-intensity bullpen session” on Saturday, and one spectator, Angels manager Brad Ausmus, walked away impressed. “He looked easy and free,” Ausmus said. “He threw about 40 pitches, I think. He was good. No complaints, so that’s good.” Ohtani relayed through an interpreter that he was throwing up to 82 mph during the pre-game workout, which, in his estimation, places him at about the “80%” point in his recovery process from Tommy John surgery. Of course, the Japanese import is known for ratcheting fastballs well in excess of 80 mph, so the Los Angeles org will likely have to wait until 2020 to see their prized two-way talent back on a big league mound.
More pitcher-focused frottages from around the web…
- There are few sports-related injuries that are conceivably more painful than a herniated disc, but, after two months spent recovering from such an injury, Marlins starter Jose Urena is soldiering onward in his recovery, according to a report from Wells Dusenbury of the South Florida Sun Sentinel. Urena, a veteran of five big league seasons, threw a bullpen session yesterday that manager Don Mattingly described as “really good”. According to the skipper, the team expects their homegrown hurler to return to the team in September, possibly in a bullpen capacity.
- According to a tweet from Mandy Bell of MLB.com, the Indians have placed pitcher AJ Cole on the 10-day injured list, with a recall of pitcher Hunter Wood as a consequent move (link). Cole, a 27-year-old righthander, has been generally effective out of the Cleveland pen this year. His 10.38 K/9 rate over 26 innings has helped catalyze a solid 3.81 ERA rate, although his strikeout-geared repertoire could go a long way toward explaining the shoulder impingement that has now landed him in injury trouble. On the year, Cole has thrown a slider on 45.9% of his offerings, far, far above the usual 15% usage rate generally seen among pitchers utilizing that breaking ball in their repertoire.
The Angels had far more important things on their mind Tuesday, a night in which they mourned the loss of friend and teammate Tyler Skaggs, but their game against the Rangers marked Shohei Ohtani’s 162nd as a part of their offense. Injuries have prevented the two-way phenom from making a greater impact since he emigrated from Japan entering the 2018 season, but in the full season he has played, Ohtani has more than matched the overwhelming hype that accompanied his arrival.
Although there wasn’t much question Ohtani would turn into a front-line starter when he left his homeland for the majors, there was plenty of doubt regarding how well he’d fare as a hitter. It turns out Ohtani has made more of a mark on the offensive end to this point, though the fact that he underwent Tommy John surgery last October is partially the reason for that. The righty-throwing Ohtani accumulated only 51 2/3 and 10 starts in 2018, when he logged a terrific 3.31 ERA/3.57 FIP with 10.97 K/9 against 3.83 BB/9.
Ohtani’s pitching numbers will stay in place until he returns to the mound from his TJ procedure in 2020. That same surgery stopped Ohtani from making his 2019 debut as a hitter until May 7, but the DH has more than made up for lost time in the nearly two months since then.
The lefty-swinging Ohtani burst on the scene last year with a .285/.361/.564 line (152 wRC+) and 22 home runs in 367 plate appearances. Thanks to that and his output on the mound, Ohtani rightly took home American League Rookie of the Year honors. While Ohtani hasn’t been quite as strong this year on a rate basis, he has still been a premier hitter, evidenced by his 142 wRC+.
Across 195 trips to the plate, Ohtani has slashed .303/.359/.554 with 12 homers. Now, 162 games and 562 PA into his career as a major league batter, Ohtani owns a .291/.360/.561 slash – good for an exemplary 148 wRC+ – with 34 homers. His .269 isolated power ranks 10th in the majors since 2018, wedging him between the powerful duo of Khris Davis and Luke Voit. The speedy Ohtani has added 14 steals on 19 tries for good measure, giving him a 3.9 fWAR over a full season as a major league offensive player.
Ohtani was marvelous last year and has been again this season, though there are some differences in the way he has compiled his production. Ohtani’s pulling pitches less, hitting far more grounders and far fewer fly balls, all of which has led to a power decrease. He’s still formidable in that department, though. An uptick in line drives has helped Ohtani rank near the absolute top of the majors in expected slugging percentage (86th percentile), expected weighted on-base average (89th percentile), hard-hit percentage (94th percentile), expected batting average (95th percentile) and average exit velocity (99th percentile), according to Statcast. The difference between his .378 xwOBA and .382 wOBA, both of which rank in the top 40 among hitters with at least 150 PA, is negligible.
It’s unwise to draw conclusions from such a small sample, yet it’s worth noting the lefty-swinging Ohtani has been much better against same-handed pitchers than he was a year ago. As FanGraphs’ heat maps indicate (2018, 2019), Ohtani showed no power versus lefties when they threw pitches belt high or lower on the outer half last season. That hasn’t been the case at all this year, on the other hand. At the same time, he has taken tremendous steps forward against breaking pitches in general – after managing a .292/.300 wOBA/xwOBA versus such offerings in 2018, he’s up to .414/.363 a couple months into the current season. Ohtani has shown further growth as a hitter by chasing less outside the zone, swinging and missing at fewer pitches and making much more contact than he did during his rookie campaign.
There is room for improvement when it comes to plate discipline for Ohtani, whose K/BB ratio has hung around the league average in each of his two seasons. And he could have a difficult time continuing to uphold a .350 batting average, which he recorded last year and has again this season. However, as a fast runner who hits the ball hard and amasses a lot of grounders and liners, his skill set is conducive to a high BABIP.
Several months before Ohtani’s much-ballyhooed free-agent derby began, MLBTR contributor Chuck Wasserstrom surveyed scouts on what type of major league hitter he’d become. They didn’t forecast an elite-caliber offensive player, but that’s what Ohtani has been through his first full season at the plate. The fact that the two-way force hasn’t really begun to realize his potential as a pitcher is all the more thrilling for the Angels and all the more concerning for the rest of the league.
Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.
TODAY: Simmons updated Hoornstra (Twitter links) and other reporters on his status today, including the good news that surgery won’t be required. Once the swelling around the ankle goes down in another week or two, Simmons and the team will have a better sense of how long it will be before the shortstop is able to return to action.
TUESDAY, 6:57pm: Simmons, moving around the clubhouse on crutches, didn’t have a timeline for his return when asked by reporters, J.P. Hoornstra of the Southern California News Group tweets. MLB.com’s Rhett Bollinger tweets that the typical recovery timeline would range from eight to 12 weeks, but the Angels won’t know for certain until tomorrow.
4:42pm: The Angels announced that shortstop Andrelton Simmons has been diagnosed with a Grade 3 ankle sprain and been placed on the 10-day injured list. He’ll see a specialist tomorrow, after which the team will provide more details on his expected timeline. However, a Grade 3 sprain is severe (indicating a ligament tear), so Simmons will quite likely be on the shelf for an extended period of time. Luis Rengifo is up from Triple-A Salt Lake to take his spot on the active roster.
It’s a huge blow for the Angels, who saw both Simmons and Shohei Ohtani exit last night’s game due to injury. Thankfully, there’s better news on Ohtani, who is feeling better today after being hit by a pitch last night. He’s in the lineup for the Angels tonight.
The 29-year-old Simmons, in addition to long being known as perhaps baseball’s premier defensive player, has progressed offensively in recent seasons as well. He’d been out to a .298/.323/.415 start with three home runs, 13 doubles and five steals through his first 195 plate appearances on the year. That’s a tough all-around asset for any team to lose, and Simmons’ absence will be felt all the more by an Angels club that is also still without left fielder Justin Upton in the middle of its lineup.
The Angels entered the season with aspirations of returning to the postseason for the first time since a 2014 trip to the American League Division Series (where they lost to the Royals). But between injuries to key players such as Upton and Andrew Heaney and poor performances from offseason rotation additions like Matt Harvey, Trevor Cahill and Chris Stratton (now with the Pirates), the Angels find themselves three games under .500 (22-25) and already nine and a half games back of the Astros in the American League West. The team’s three-and-a-half game deficit in the American League Wild Card race is far more manageable, but the loss of Simmons will obviously further lessen their chances.
Angels shortstop Andrelton Simmons departed last night’s game with an ankle injury. Fortunately, x-rays were negative, but he has at a minimum suffered a “very bad sprain,” Maria Torres of the Los Angeles Times was among those to report on Twitter.
At the moment, there’s no way to know what kind of absence might be anticipated. Simmons is due for an MRI today that will surely give a fuller picture of the damage incurred. He appeared to torque the joint quite forcefully after lunging to first base in an attempt to beat a throw.
The Halos also saw DH Shohei Ohtani leave the game in the same inning. He was struck by a pitch in the right hand. X-rays were also negative in his case, with manager Brad Ausmus indicating that his injury was of lesser concern.
It’s already a tough spot for the Angels, who sit three games below .500 and 9.5 back of the heavyweight Astros. With Justin Upton still sidelined and the rotation still scuffling, it’s tough to see a path to even Wild Card contention that doesn’t involve a huge performance from Simmons, Ohtani, and the peerless Mike Trout.
Fortunately, the club does seem to have the ability to shift some pieces around to cover for any absences. Zack Cozart is probably the most gifted shortstop in the world that doesn’t play that position for a MLB team, so he can slide over there with David Fletcher and Tommy La Stella sharing second and third base. If the team wants another lefty bat to go with Jared Walsh, it can recall Justin Bour.
The Angels have designated outfielder Peter Bourjos and righty Chris Stratton for assignment, per a club announcement. They’ll make way for a trio of newly activated players: designated hitter Shohei Ohtani, infielder Zack Cozart, and reliever Cody Allen. Infielder Luis Rengifo was optioned out for active roster space.
Notably, it sounds as though Ohtani will step in as the Angels’ everyday designated hitter, regardless of whether the team is facing a right- or left-handed starter (Twitter link via Mike DiGiovanna of the L.A. Times), which will cut into the playing time of both Justin Bour and Albert Pujols. Ohtani is in the lineup hitting third tonight, and if he can come anywhere near last season’s .285/.361/.64 slash line, he’ll provide a massive boost.
Bourjos, 32, had a homecoming of sorts when he signed a minor league pact with the Angels this offseason. The Halos selected him in the 10th round of the 2005 draft, and he made his big league debut with the club a half decade later when he emerged in 2010. His playing time in his second stint with his original organization was sparse, however, and Bourjos ultimately hit just .091/.109/.144 in 46 trips to the plate.
Stratton, meanwhile, was acquired in Spring Training in the hopes of providing another arm in a perennially injured rotation mix, but the former Giants first-rounder has struggled enormously in his brief tenure with the Angels. In 29 1/3 innings, Stratton has been tattooed for 28 runs on 43 hits (six home runs) and 18 walks with 22 strikeouts. He’s out of minor league options, so the Angels didn’t have the choice of simply sending him to Triple-A.
The Angels will have a week to trade, release or outright Bourjos and Stratton, though the former isn’t likely to generate much trade interest. If the Angels hope to keep him in the organization in Triple-A, they can send Bourjos through outright waivers, though a veteran with his service time has the right to reject any such assignment. That’s not the case with Stratton, so if the Angels don’t find a trade partner, they could run him through outright waivers and retain him if he clears.
The Angels are slated to welcome back reigning Rookie of the Year Shohei Ohtani, an exciting development for a team that could use a jolt. He’s not going anywhere near the pitching mound this season, which limits his value, but it’s intriguing to wonder whether that’ll actually open the door to even greater offensive output from the two-way performer. You might anticipate just that if you peruse Fabian Ardaya’s profile of Ohtani at The Athletic (subscription link), which paints a picture of a player with immense physical abilities, learning capacity, and competitiveness.
- The progress has been steady for Reds second baseman Scooter Gennett, as MLB.com’s Mark Sheldon reports. He’s still at least a week or two away from on-field activities; there’s good reason not to rush his return from a significant groin strain. Gennett indicates that he’s doing well with walking and jogging, but feels weakness and is still avoiding quick directional changes to avoid aggravating the injury.
- Righty Addison Reed is launching a rehab assignment as he returns from a left thumb strain, as LaVelle E. Neal III of the Star Tribune was among those to report. Given the nature of the injury it would stand to reason that Reed could work back quickly, but it doesn’t sound as if the team is in a particular rush. GM Thad Levine explained that the club assigned Reed straight to Triple-A in order to give him a long look at advanced competition. Beyond the injury, the veteran reliever is looking to regain his form after a subpar 2018 season.
- In another update from the Twins organization, it doesn’t sound as if there’s a huge rush to move slugger Miguel Sano back up the ladder. He’s currently working at Double-A. In that case, though, there’s a May 20th deadline to wrap up the rehab assignment.
- Cardinals righty Carlos Martinez is moving his rehab assignment up to Triple-A, as MLB.com’s Jenifer Langosch tweeted. It seems promising that he’s heading right to Memphis after one game at the class A level. Martinez could be a MLB option rather soon; given that he’s returning in a relief capacity, he won’t need to build up his pitch count.
Even though Rays right-hander Tyler Glasnow has been incredible this season, the club still plans to tamp down his workload as the year progresses, Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times reports. The towering 25-year-old has recorded a dazzling 1.47 ERA/2.39 FIP with 9.63 K/9, 1.47 BB/9 and a 51.4 percent groundball rate, but at 43 innings pitched, he’s already closing in on last season’s total. “He threw 112 innings last year and we have to monitor that,’’ said manager Kevin Cash, who added: “If we can get him extra days, we’re going to do that. If we’ve got to shave an inning off of him per start, like (Friday) night we could have taken him out after the sixth. Those are things we have to monitor and consider here early in the season.’’ For what it’s worth, Glasnow’s season-high innings total as a professional came as a member of the Pittsburgh organization in 2017, when the formerly wild hurler racked up 155 1/3 frames. A year later, the Pirates traded him and outfielder Austin Meadows to the Rays for righty Chris Archer in what now looks like a heist for the first-place Tampa Bay franchise.
Elsewhere around the American League…
- Astros outfield/first base prospect Yordan Alvarez has gotten off to a scorching start this year at Triple-A Round Rock, where he has slashed an awe-inspiring .418/.505/.923 with 12 home runs in 107 plate appearances. The Astros have taken notice of the 21-year-old’s brilliance, according to president of baseball ops/general manager Jeff Luhnow, who said Saturday that Alvarez “certainly is making it a conversation” within the team to promote him (via Chandler Rome of the Houston Chronicle). Luhnow also declared, “It’s pretty clear he can hit right now in the big leagues,” and noted Alvarez would likely slot in as a left fielder for the Astros in order to make a maximum impact. At the same time, though, the Astros already have a more-than-capable regular there in Michael Brantley, and Luhnow cautioned, “The same people who were clamoring for Kyle Tucker to come up because he was destroying AAA pitching are the same people now clamoring for Yordan Álvarez to come up.” That indicates it’s not a slam dunk Alvarez will head to Houston imminently, as Tucker disappointed during a 77-plate appearance major league debut in 2018 and has gotten off to a terrible start in Round Rock this year.
- Angels designated hitter Shohei Ohtani’s much-anticipated 2019 debut could come as early as Tuesday, Jeff Fletcher of the Orange County Register suggests. Ohtani has been on the shelf thanks to October 2018 Tommy John surgery, which will stop the two-way star from pitching this year but won’t keep him out of the Angels’ lineup. To their credit, Kevan Smith and Albert Pujols – especially the former – have offered respectable DH production in Ohtani’s absence. [UPDATE: Regarding Ohtani’s potential activation, GM Billy Eppler said Sunday (via Fletcher): “We hope to be able to activate on him this trip but he has to get through every step of the progression so we’re not going to say anything till the progression is finished.”]
- Prospect Jesus Lopez, whom the Blue Jays acquired from the Athletics for Kendrys Morales in March, is switching from infielder to catcher, Shi Davidi of Sportsnet tweets. The 22-year-old’s adjusting to his new position in extended spring training, per Davidi.