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Angels had a chance to sign Troy Percival’s son, but Cole went to Dodgers instead

Cole Percival delivers a pitch for UC Riverside.
Cole Percival pitched two years for UC Riverside before signing with the Dodgers as an undrafted free agent in September.
(UC Riverside Athletics)

Cole Percival was 3½ years old when the Angels won the 2002 World Series. His recollection of the championship celebration and the parade that wound through the streets of Disneyland and Anaheim is blurry.

But between the “Calling All Angels” videoboard montage that airs before every home game and watching replays of the World Series, Percival has relived the highlights of his father’s title-clinching pitch enough times over the last 18 years that he has patched his memory.

“Everybody knows I’m a very big Angels fan,” he said on a recent phone call. “I don’t miss a game.”

If he does miss one in the future, it would be for reasons he didn’t see coming.

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Percival, a pitcher like his father, signed with the Dodgers as an undrafted free agent in late September. The team he grew up rooting for — the same team for whom Troy Percival set an all-time record for saves (316), which still stands — never made an overture to put him in an Angels uniform.

Though it remains to be seen whether he will match his dad’s productivity, the younger Percival at least possesses the attributes sought by scouts.

At 6-foot-5 and 220 pounds, he is a little more wiry than the former Angels closer. Otherwise, he’s a near-clone of his father. From the high leg kick to the follow-through, to the occasional 95-mph fastball.

Troy Percival raises clenched fists as a smiling Bengie Molina pulls off his catcher's mask.
Angels reliever Troy Percival and catcher Bengie Molina celebrate after the final out of the team’s 2002 World Series win over the San Francisco Giants.
(Robert Lachman / Los Angeles Times)

The 21-year-old should add more velocity to an arsenal that features a low-80s slider and changeup as he grows into his frame. He already has done so simply by going to his leg kick more often, something Dodgers coaches encouraged him to do at the start of instructional league in Arizona.

Yet Percival’s potential did nothing to change the approach of the Angels, who have not signed any undrafted free agents since the conclusion of the abbreviated draft despite the $20,000 cap on bonuses for those players.

“It was a little disappointing,” Percival said, “because I felt like it could have been a really good fit.”

The Angels have a clear need for projectable big-league arms in a farm system that entered the season ranked 17th by Baseball America. They have not shied away from promoting their pitching prospects to the majors after they succeed in the minor leagues.

Griffin Canning, for instance, made his MLB debut in 2019, less than two years after the Angels drafted him out of UCLA. Left-hander Jose Suarez jumped from Class-A Inland Empire to double-A Mobile to triple-A Salt Lake within the first two months of the 2018 season as a 20-year-old. When the Angels dealt with another rash of rotation injuries a year later, Suarez was pitching against the Seattle Mariners.

The younger Percival had a 3.19 ERA and 63 strikeouts in 14 starts as a freshman at UC Riverside in 2018.
But an elbow injury for which he eventually received a platelet-rich plasma injection sidelined him for the 2019 season. He was poised for a breakout this season as a redshirt sophomore and made four starts before the coronavirus pandemic caused sports to grind to a halt in March.

The Angels have interviewed at least 14 people for their GM opening. A focus on scouting and player development appears preferred to a reliance on analytics.

Percival, who was the Arizona Diamondbacks’ 31st-round pick out of Riverside Poly High in 2017, expected to be selected by a team during this June’s amateur player draft, but his lack of playing time caused teams to shy away. When he wasn’t signed, he decided he’d return to school.

But the administration at UC Riverside cautioned in early September that there was no guarantee the baseball program, for which the elder Percival has been head coach since July 2014, would field a team in the spring. The university has been weighing cutting sports to mitigate the effects of a budget shortfall caused by the pandemic.

Rather than risk the possibility of going more than a year without pitching in competitive situations, Percival elected to turn pro. His dad emailed scouts on his contact list, and their agent set up meetings.

Although the Angels didn’t call the first few days he was on the market, Percival hoped they would swoop in with an offer.

“I wanted to see my options there, but it just kind of seemed like we weren’t really hearing back,” Percival said. “My dad actually reached out to a few people, and we just didn’t really hear much. And in the end, they kind of let us know that they weren’t in a position to make any moves.”

Looking at where Los Angeles-based sports team owners donated money to Democratic, Republican and nonpartisan causes ahead of the 2020 election.

The decision to pass on Percival fell in line with the Angels’ months-long efforts to cut costs. They furloughed members of their scouting, player development and baseball operations staff. They were one of the last teams to commit to paying $400 weekly stipends to minor leaguers, and they later came under fire for capping the disbursements. When Albert Pujols offered to pay the salaries of affected employees at the team’s Dominican Republic facility, the Angels let him supply the $180,000 needed to cover roughly five months of wages. The team was expected to lay off more employees as they reckoned with revenue decline and consolidation of teams in the minor leagues.

The Dodgers hardly spent on undrafted free agents either. But they were well-prepared for recruiting meetings in the few instances they did chase a player. In the case of Percival, they expressed interest earlier this year and were quick to ring again when they learned he was available in September. Although their system is loaded with arms, Percival decided the Angels’ local rival presented him the best opportunity to move up their ranks.

“At the end of the day, it’s about being the best pitcher I can be,” he said. The Dodgers “aren’t going to hold me back if I do well. … And [with] everything they had to say and everything that they have to offer, I just think it was very hard for any other org to match it.”


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