Griffin Canning on is on the fast track after a delayed start. Drafted 47th-overall by the Angels in 2017, the righty didn’t made his professional debut until last April. By June he was taking the mound for the Triple-A Salt Lake Bees. That’s where the 22-year-old UCLA product is to begin the current campaign, one rung below the majors, with a chance to reach Anaheim in the not-too-distant future.
When the call-up comes, Halos fans can expect to see a pitcher who combines power and pitchability. His approach to his craft is a mixture of art and science.
“I think you can find a middle ground on the two,” said Canning, who ranks fourth on our Angels Top Prospects list. “For me it’s moe of an art — I’ve kind of always thought you can be born with it — but at the same time, you can use those science tools to help you get better.”
When I talked to him during spring training, I asked the youngster what type of artist he envisions himself as. I wasn’t looking for a Monet or van Gogh comp, but I was wondering about his thumb print on the mound.
“I’d call myself a mix guy,” Canning replied. “I pride myself on being able to throw all of my different pitches for strikes, in any count, and I think I’m most effective when I’m working all four [quadrants] of the plate.“
He features four pitches. His fastball is a mid-90s four-seamer with a spin rate “right around big-league average.” His secondaries are a curveball with decent depth — “nothing crazy, but it gets the job done” — as well as a slider and a changeup. The last of those offerings has long been in his arsenal, and it got markedly better after he became a Bruin. Calling UCLA a “changeup-heavy school,” Canning cited head coach John Savage as having played an important role his development, saying he “does a great job with both the mechanics and mental side of pitching.”
Which circles us back to the art-and-science dynamic, and why Canning leans toward the former. Scouting reports are a big part of his preparation, but once he’s standing on the rubber, circumstance become a prevailing factor. In any given inning, Canning can be akin to an impressionist, while in others he’s more of a pointillist.
“You have a plan, but things kind of change out there,” said Canning. “You’re not thinking about the science side of the game. You’re kind of just letting the flow of the game take over. As much as anything, that’s what dictates how you pitch.”
Canning made his first start of the 2019 season yesterday, against Albuquerque, and allowed four hits and one unearned run in five innings. He walked none and fanned five.
Trevor Williams quietly had an outstanding 2018 season. The Pittsburgh Pirates righty made 31 starts and went 14-10 with a 3.11 ERA. All of the wins he was credited with were well-deserved — not once in those games did he allow more than two runs. As for his losses and no decisions, Williams gave up three-or-fewer runs eight times. With a little bit of luck, he could have reached the magic number that starting pitchers have long strived for.
Earlier this week, the unheralded hurler shared — among other things, which we’ll hear about in the coming days — a thoughtful perspective on won-lost records.
“When guys win 20 games, it’s special,” Williams told me. “They’re pitching on a lot of days when their team is helping them out offensively, but at the same time, you don’t just fall into being a 20-game-winner. Blake Snell pitched his ass off all last year — he was giving his team a chance to win every five days — but you could say the same thing about Jacob deGrom. And he only had 10 wins.
“We hunt wins as starting pitchers. To say that it’s an irrelevant stat… sure, maybe it doesn’t hold as much weight, but if you ask every starting pitcher if wins matter, they’re going to say yes, they do matter. To be a 20-game winner you have to give your team a chance to win every five days, for 32-33 starts. Then you need to have that lineup that gets a bunt down so you beat the other team 3-2, instead of it being 2-2 and you’re out of the ballgame with a no-decision. It’s little intricacies like that — the next-level stuff — that can make a 14-game winner into a 20-game winner. Collectively, you do need to be on a good team. You do need to be on a team that scores runs for you.”
The Cincinnati Reds went into Friday night slashing .164/.244/.265 as a team. They’d scored just 11 runs in six games. They’d been shut out three times. In a word, the Reds offense had been abysmal.
Things are only going to get better. Much better. There are too many horses on the Reds roster for that to not happen… eventually. As for the immediate, how to jumpstart the lineup? Does David Bell stand pat and wait? Does he shake up his batting order? And if so — slump-busting in mind —just how far would he go?
Prior to Friday’s game I asked Cincinnati’s first-year manager how much longer the team-wide hitting doldrums would need to continue before he resorted to drawing names out of a hat. This is something that’s been done before. Would he consider it?
“Probably not,” said Bell.”But I’m not saying I’d never do it, because you might get to that point. You can only think, and talk, about it so much. I can understand a manager getting to that point. So I would never say never.”
I have reason to believe that a member of the Reds front office has already suggested to Bell that he pick his batting order out of a hat. I also have reason to believe that he was joking.
If you’re a Reds fan, you probably aren’t slapping your knee upon reading that. Bell’s team was shut out for the fourth time on Friday night, and while the bats finally started showing signs of life on Saturday, five runs weren’t enough. The 6-5, 10-inning loss at PNC Park dropped Cincinnati’s record to an unseemly 1-7.
RANDOM HITTER-PITCHER MATCHUPS
People familiar with Joe Maddon know that he has a way with words. Ditto the fact that he isn’t shy about offering opinions, and is often verbose. By and large, those are good things. The Cubs manager is entertaining, and much of what he says — whether you agree with him or not — makes you think.
During spring training I asked Maddon for his thoughts on hitting analytics. His response — presented here with minimal editing — was as follows:
“Everything that’s done in the lab primarily benefits pitching and defense. That’s the proactive part of the game. The pitchers know if a guy can’t hit elevation, or if he will chase a slider outside of the strike zone. Defensively, you know that if you pitch him in, he’s pretty much going to hit it in the infield here, and the outfield there. That kind of stuff holds up.
“The hitting side is all reactive. A hitter has to react. You can talk all you want about the percentages of a pitcher throwing sliders in counts, but how does he view you in that particular moment? How does he feel that day?
“To me, what matters with the hitter is trying to teach him to react in the moment. You have to separate the fixing of the swing, mechanically, from what he’s thinking in the box, in the actual moment — have it become more mental mechanics versus physical mechanics. The guy that’s able to react better, with a calmer mind in that moment… he understands time management. He understands how to get his foot down on time — not commit too soon — and really just react. See the baseball first. That’s the better hitter.
“Last point: Most of the stuff you see when it comes to the offensive side is acquisitional tools, as opposed to tools that can actually help during the season. What I mean by that is, if you’re a Triple-A player — you’re not Kris Bryant yet — we can find out his launch angles, and his velocity off the bat. We can find out the different things that can be told through the machinery. That may make me want to take a chance on you before you become Justin Turner.”
On Wednesday it was announced that a stretch of road in St. Louis is being renamed “Bob Gibson Way.” The 83-year-old Hall of Fame pitcher spend his entire 17-year career with the Cardinals, twice winning World Series game-sevens.
River Avenue Blues, which has been providing smart commentary on the Yankees since 2007, will be no more as of the end of this month. Mike Axisa, the site’s editor-in-chief, made the announcement on Friday.
Lori Lightfoot, Chicago’s newly elected mayor, threw out the first pitch at the White Sox’ home opener yesterday. Lightfoot is a White Sox season ticket holder.
Of the 18 umpires assigned to the Double-A Eastern League, 17 are returnees from last year. The lone newcomer has been promoted from the Florida State League. Three hail from outside of the United States: Chris Marco from Ontario, Canada, Taka Madsuda from Japan, and Tom West from Australia.
Josh Bell banged out three hits yesterday, most notably a majestic, 430-foot round tripper. Asked about his first baseman’s performance following the game, Pirates manager Clint Hurdle brought up back-to-back plays from the previous night. With a runner on third and one out, Bell had hit a fielder’s choice ground ball in which Starling Marte was thrown out at the plate. Jung Ho Kang then doubled, with Bell racing around to break a seventh-inning scoreless tie.
Making the description of this series events especially worthwhile was the Yogi Bear/Jellystone Park reference [which I assume it was; if not, it should have been.]
“He doesn’t get a runner in, the next guy doubles down the line, and he’s running the bases like a madman,” Hurdle told reporters. “So it’s not like he’s Boo-Boo, limping, because he didn’t get a run in. He’s playing the game.”
LINKS YOU’LL LIKE
Baseball America’s J.J. Cooper wrote about how MLB baseballs will be used in Triple-A this year, and what that means for offense at the highest level of the minors.
Julia Prusaczyk jumped from studying chemical engineering at Tufts University to being a baseball development analyst for the St. Louis Cardinals. Genevieve Rajewski talked to Prusaczyk for TuftsNow.
Over at The Toronto Star, Dave Feschuk talked to 98-year-old Seymour Siwoff, the man behind the Elias Sports Bureau.
RANDOM FACTS AND STATS
Going into yesterday, Zack Godley, Zack Greinke and Luke Weaver were a combined 5 for 12 with three home runs and two strikeouts. The other D-Backs pitchers were a combined 0 for 11 with nine strikeouts.
Per Jayson Stark, this is the first season the Philadelphia Phillies started out 4-0 since 1915.
Per Jen McCaffrey, the 1980 Minnesota Twins are the only team to have started the season with as many as 12 road games. The Red Sox are beginning this season with 11 on the road.
Brandon Laird homered in each of the first four games of the NPB season. The Chiba Lotte infielder is the third player in NPB history to turn that trick, the last being Boomer Wells, who homered in five straight for the Orix Braves in 1989.
Vin Scully called Dodgers games for a record 67 seasons (1950-2016). Ralph Kiner called Mets games for 52 seasons (1962-2013). Denny Matthews, who began in 1969, is currently in his 51st season with the Kansas City Royals.
The last Norwegian-born player in MLB was Arndt Jorgens, who caught for the New York Yankees from 1929-1939. His younger brother, Orville Jorgens, was born in Rockford, Illinois and pitched for Philadelphia Phillies from 1935-1937.
Dad Meek, a catcher for the St. Louis Browns in 1889 and 1890, was born in the Czech Republic. He played in six games.
David Laurila grew up in Michigan's Upper Peninsula and now writes about baseball from his home in Cambridge, Mass. He authored the Prospectus Q&A series at Baseball Prospectus from December 2006-May 2011 before being claimed off waivers by FanGraphs. He can be followed on Twitter @DavidLaurilaQA.