Angels GM Billy Eppler pleased with progress of prospects rushed to big leagues

Angels rookie Matt Thaiss homers against the Detroit Tigers on July 30.
Angels rookie Matt Thaiss homers against the Tigers on July 30.
(John McCoy / Getty Images)

The Angels this season had been a team on the outskirts of the playoff picture, never playing badly enough to be counted out but struggling to gather sufficient momentum to make a true push.

Circumstances have changed dramatically for general manager Billy Eppler’s squad since a 16-inning game on July 25 knocked the pitching staff askew.

Their playoff potential slipped as the Cleveland Indians and Oakland Athletics caught fire. They sent Felix Pena home when a knee injury ended his season. Andrelton Simmons followed him to Southern California so he could continue treatment for a left ankle sprain.

The Angels had won only two of 12 games before playing Friday at Fenway Park.

“Obviously, this has been a time when we’ve been dealing with adversity,” Eppler said. “We’ve been dealing with adversity on the injury front. A time or two where we weren’t firing on all cylinders. Also a little bit of bad luck in some unfortunate sequencing of events on the field.


“It’s kind of been this perfect storm of circumstances and adversity all coupled together.”

Such circumstances forced the Angels to bring prospects up earlier than originally planned. Matt Thaiss, for instance, was promoted in the wake of Tyler Skaggs’ death and is learning to play third base in the major leagues. Before that, 21-year-old Jose Suarez was called on multiple times to fill holes in the rotation caused by injured-list stints.

The Angels cleared 40-man roster spots for prospects Jose Rodriguez and Patrick Sandoval. Rodriguez pitched a scoreless inning in his debut and was shipped back to triple A the following day. Sandoval pitched five strong innings in the Angels’ 7-4 loss in Cincinnati this week. He will pitch in Sunday’s finale at Fenway Park, but the Angels have not decided if they will use an opener in front of him.

The Angels also cut two of their most expensive offseason acquisitions — Matt Harvey and Cody Allen — and released a third in catcher Jonathan Lucroy.

The season has been disappointing, but Eppler can find silver linings in the performances of young Angels. Rookie Griffin Canning, expected back soon from the injured list, didn’t miss a start because of injury until a recent bout of elbow soreness. While healthy, he helped hold down the Angels’ unstable rotation. If not for a six-run outing three days after Skaggs’ death and the five runs he gave up in relief during the Angels’ extra-inning game last month, his 4.76 ERA would be much lower.

Gerrit Cole, a free agent this winter, grew up an Angels fan and could front a young rotation. But would the Angels pay his hefty price tag?

Aug. 7, 2019

Luis Rengifo and Thaiss have proved capable of playing solid defense despite bouncing around the infield. They have struggled to hit but are not overmatched.

“They’re handling the responsibility and I feel good about how they’ve developed and how they are competing and learning and growing,” Eppler said of the young players. “Quite frankly, they feel like guys we’ll be able to trust right now, and also as we move later into the season and future seasons.”


Short hops

Canning will throw a bullpen session Saturday. If all goes well, he will not need a rehab start. … Relievers Noe Ramirez (viral infection) and Keynan Middleton (Tommy John surgery) will start rehab assignments at Class-A Inland Empire on Saturday. Ramirez’s time there will be brief. It will be followed by the three-game suspension he received for hitting Houston’s Jake Marisnick. The Angels will have only 24 on the roster for those games. Middleton’s rehab will be longer because he suffered a setback during his first rehab stint last month. He will not have to start from zero, though. … The Angels optioned Jared Walsh to triple-A Salt Lake to make room on the active roster for left-handed reliever Adalberto Mejia. The team will make another move Saturday to accommodate Heaney’s return to the rotation.