Angels' Schugel Finds His Calling On The Mound

LOS ANGELES—A.J. Schugel showed enough potential as a third baseman at Central Arizona JC that his father Jeff, a long-time professional scout for the Angels, thought he had a good chance of being drafted as an infielder.

Pitching? Sure, A.J. had a decent arm, but he hadn't stepped on a mound since Little League, and his college coach, not wanting to tax Schugel physically by asking him to pitch and play the field, kept him at third base.

But strong arms have a way of finding their way to the mound, and Schugel's has put the 23-year-old righthander on a relatively fast track toward the big leagues. John Gracio, a scout who covers Arizona for the Angels, invited Schugel to throw a bullpen at the team's spring training complex in Tempe in 2010. Next came a pre-draft workout in Anaheim. The Angels were impressed enough to draft Schugel in the 25th round and sign him for $40,000.

Three years later, Schugel is preparing for his first big league camp, an invitation he earned with a solid 2012 season at Double-A Arkansas, where he went 6-8 with a Texas League-leading 2.89 ERA in 27 starts. He allowed just 117 hits and nine homers in 140 innings, with 109 strikeouts and 55 walks.

"It's kind of unique, because he came from nowhere as a pitcher and has come pretty quick," Jeff Schugel said. "He always showed a good arm, and scouts asked about him pitching . . . but he kept getting a little better as a position player. Some teams showed interest, and I wanted to see that out."

Schugel's fastball sits at 92 mph and has touched 95. His changeup is his best secondary pitch, and he is gaining better command of a knuckle-curve, a pitch that resembles a hard slider and one the Angels want him to stick with.

"For a guy who hasn't pitched a whole lot, he's come a long way in a short amount of time," assistant general manager Scott Servais said.

"Is he a starter? A reliever? I look at him as a starter and want to develop him that way."

Angel Food

• Top prospect Kaleb Cowart, a third baseman, and outfielder Randal Grichuk are among the 21 non-roster invitees to major league camp.
• Denny Hocking has been hired to manage the Angels' Rookie-level Arizona League team. As a big league utility player, Hocking hit .251 with 25 homers and 226 RBIs in 13 seasons.