Angels adjust evaluating players in Pacific Coast League’s ‘Arena Baseball’

first_imgANAHEIM — Not long after Patrick Sandoval reached the Pacific Coast League – which is minor league baseball’s highest level in more ways than one – he realized one of the challenges the promotion brought.The third pitch of his Triple-A debut sailed over the fence at El Paso’s hitter-friendly, high-elevation ballpark.Sandoval was on his way to posting a 6.41 ERA in 15 starts for Salt Lake, which was ironically good enough to earn him a promotion to the major leagues.That fact alone highlights the challenge the Angels face in developing and evaluating their prospects at Triple-A Salt Lake, which is near the epicenter of the offensively charged Pacific Coast League. Angels’ Shohei Ohtani spending downtime working in outfield Angels’ poor pitching spoils an Albert Pujols milestone Angels’ Mike Trout working on his defense, thanks to Twitter Jose Suarez’s rocky start sinks Angels in loss to Astros The other side of the coin, of course, are the hitters.Angels prospects Jared Walsh (.325, 34 homers, 1.106 OPS), José Rojas (.298, 30, .953) and Taylor Ward (.307, 26, 1.013) are having exceptional seasons, even by PCL standards.So far, neither Walsh nor Ward has been able to carry those numbers into the majors in limited opportunities. Thaiss has also struggled for most of his two months in the majors following a hot month at Salt Lake.“It’s tough, because if you’re a guy having a good year, do you just want to say it’s because of the balls?” Thaiss said. “There are still guys who aren’t having good years. You still have to have good at-bats. There are good pitchers there. You don’t want to discredit anyone.”UP NEXTAngels (LHP José Suarez, 2-5, 6.67 ERA) vs. Red Sox (RHP Nate Eovaldi, 1-0, 6.64), Friday, 7:07 p.m., Fox Sports West, 830 AMcenter_img The result is a league in which teams are averaging 5.89 runs per game, up from 4.97 a year ago. The league’s OPS jumped from .763 to .833.“I’m not going to lie, you can tell (the difference),” said Matt Thaiss, who finished 2018 and started 2019 in the PCL.For the Angels, that means the challenge has become a little tougher.“It is difficult when you are evaluating something that is different from what we’ve historically been evaluating,” said Mike La Cassa, the Angels’ director of minor league operations. “The environment of the PCL has always been hitter-friendly parks. That is something we have taken into account in our evaluations and the pitchers have dealt with it for a few years. Adding the ball to the mix has pushed it in that direction. But with all our players and staff, we want them to focus on the process.”General Manager Billy Eppler said it makes the job tougher for the coaches and minor league instructors.“It challenges them to make sure they reinforce the process and having goals in each particular process, rather than the results or the ERA,” Eppler said. “Because that’s inflated and it’s artificial in a lot of ways.”Manager Brad Ausmus said recently that, for pitchers, the only numbers worth evaluating in the PCL are strikeouts and walks, because those are unaffected by the conditions.The Angels also have Trackman devices installed in all their minor league parks, which allows them to judge things such as spin rate, movement and velocity.“If any pitcher at that level executes his pitches and follows his game plan properly, then we’re going to evaluate that as a quality outing,” La Cassa said. “What happens when the ball is put in play is not something that the pitcher can control. Frankly, that’s the same at all levels. It becomes heightened in the current atmosphere of the PCL.”The Trackman also records exit velocity, which helps pitchers know objectively whether a ball was truly hit hard, or if it was just a PCL homer.“We saw a ball get hit out that was 86 mph off the bat,” Sandoval shrugged. “It happens to everyone here. Don’t stress too much over it.”Salt Lake has a 6.81 team ERA, which is the worst in the league. The Bees have allowed 216 homers, sixth-most in the league, and they are third-worst with 569 walks.Part of the problem is that injuries to the Angels’ major league staff have meant many pitchers who ought to be in Salt Lake are instead in the majors.The pitchers certainly don’t mind. Sandoval and Peters both have lower ERAs in the majors than they did at Salt Lake.“I wouldn’t say it’s easier (in the majors), but you can trust your stuff a little more here than you can down there,” Sandoval said.Related Articles The Bees play their home games at an elevation of 4,230 feet. They play in a division that brings them eight times a year to the league’s highest elevation and most hitter-friendly ballparks: Albuquerque (5,100 feet), Reno (4,500), El Paso (3,750) and Las Vegas (3,000). Like Coors Field, those five parks all use humidors to store their baseballs, in an effort to counter the effects of high altitude.“It kind of gets comical at times,” Sandoval said. “Someone hits a ball in the air, and it goes out. What the hell just happened? It’s tough. But you’ve got to come to terms with it.”Sandoval had a 2.06 ERA over three levels in 2018 and a 3.60 ERA through his first five games this season at Double-A, before he got his first taste of what he and many others now call “Arena Baseball.”“It’s a tough league,” said Dillon Peters, who spent most of this season at Salt Lake. “It’s not the best feeling coming out of a game and giving up four or five (runs) and thinking, ‘That was an all right outing.’”The PCL has always been a hitter’s league, in large part because several of its parks are at high elevations. This year, the offense has exploded as they introduced the same ball that is used in the majors, which Major League Baseball officials have admitted flies farther than the balls of a few years ago. Angels offense breaks out to split doubleheader with Astros Newsroom GuidelinesNews TipsContact UsReport an Errorlast_img

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