This season has not been like any Brian Goodwin previously experienced.
The Angels outfielder has remained mostly injury-free while playing in a career-high 134 games. As late as Sept. 6, he boasted a .287 batting average. He has performed well enough to earn praise — and a chance to reprise his strong campaign next spring.
All of that, after finding himself unemployed six months ago.
“It’s been pretty eventful,” Goodwin said of his 2019 campaign. “I’d say it’s gone pretty good. I got to play. That’s really the biggest difference.”
The image of near-perfect health — a bruised right wrist landed Goodwin on the injured list for a nine-game span in early July — almost shattered in Thursday’s extra-inning game against the Houston Astros. To secure a leadoff double in the second inning at Angel Stadium, Goodwin slid head-first into second base. Momentum carried his body halfway over the bag and pushed the helmet off his head. Goodwin lay on his stomach, catching his breath as an Angels trainer and manager Brad Ausmus went to check on him.
Goodwin eventually walked off the field of his own volition. The Angels, who won 4-3 in 12 innings when Kaleb Cowart scored on an error by Houston first baseman Kyle Tucker, announced that a back spasm caused his departure.
Although his status for the final three games of the season might be in question, Goodwin made sure he left a positive impression on the Angels months ago. So much so, he could get the chance to become the team’s opening day right fielder in 2020 if the Angels don’t pick up the $14-million option on Kole Calhoun’s contract.
“I don’t like to forecast or put labels on guys,” general manager Billy Eppler said when asked about Goodwin’s future. “I just know that Goody is a strong contributor and we’re glad to have him here.”
Goodwin’s life took a dramatic turn in late March. Not eight weeks earlier, he had arrived at spring training camp with the Kansas City Royals in great physical condition after spending the winter shedding body fat and working with Duke University assistant track coach Mark Mueller to improve his running. He had all but been assured a spot on the Royals’ opening day roster. Confident in his standing within the organization, Goodwin decided to tinker with his swing.
After the experiment yielded a .116 average and 13 strikeouts in 43 plate appearances, the Royals cut Goodwin loose in the days preceding the start of the season.
Goodwin, who turns 29 in November, was shocked but he didn’t pout. He returned home to North Carolina to await his next opportunity.
It took little time to emerge. On the other side of the country, the Angels learned starting left fielder Justin Upton would miss a sizable chunk of the season’s first half because of a freak toe injury. They needed a quick solution and Goodwin, whom Eppler first saw play at North Carolina in 2010 and then a year later at a junior college in Southern Florida, fit the bill.
Goodwin hopped on an evening flight March 27. He was in the visiting clubhouse at Oakland Coliseum, where the Angels opened the season, the next morning.
Goodwin fell into step with his new teammates quickly and got to work. He played in 64 of the season’s first 72 games, showing off solid defense while gradually improving his reads and relay throws. He hit .289 with an equally respectable .794 on-base-plus-slugging percentage.
A left-handed hitter known more for his plate discipline than his power, Goodwin didn’t have Upton’s slugging credentials. But Goodwin made up for his shortcomings with an all-fields approach that hardly wavered based on the opponent (he hit .262 against left-handers and .296 against right-handers through mid-June).
Upton’s return did little to sway Goodwin’s progress. He hit .318 despite a reduced workload in July; and he was the Angels’ most productive hitter in August with a .288 average and team-leading 1.048 OPS.
Goodwin had batted .250 with 31 doubles and 19 home runs in 171 games from 2016 to 2018. He spent most of that time with the Washington Nationals, the team that drafted him 34th overall in 2011 and traded him to the Royals in July 2018. Injuries and the sheer depth of the Nationals’ outfield prevented Goodwin from getting a foothold in the major leagues.
“A lot of times, when guys first get to the big leagues, they don’t always make a huge impact,” Eppler said. “Sometimes players just need runway, they need opportunity. The best way to pay a player in a non-monetary way is by giving them innings, plate appearances.
“Based on how this year has unfolded for him, he’s turned that non-monetary currency into something valuable.”
If Goodwin is indeed done for the season, he will take a .264 average and 48 extra-base hits into the winter. Although his production took a hit this month in the midst of his first prolonged slump, it should be enough to net him a fine raise over the league-minimum salary in his first year of arbitration eligibility.
It was at least enough for Goodwin to prove that he can be an major league mainstay.
“It’s not until you hit adversity or you get hurt or something happens when people start questioning,” Goodwin said. “You just have to pretty much tune all that out and just trust what you know. A lot of people don’t believe it until they see it.
“I know myself. I’ve seen it. I haven’t forgotten that it’s there. So I’ve never really lost belief in myself and my ability.”