Angels Hope For Big Things From Griffin Canning In 2020
GLENDALE, Ariz.—For the Angels playoff dreams to come true in 2020, they’re going to need a significant leap forward from their starting rotation.
That’s where Griffin Canning comes in.
Canning pitched two hitless innings in his spring training debut Wednesday as the Angels lost to the Dodgers, 9-4, at Camelback Ranch.
The 23-year-old righthander retired Mookie Betts, Max Muncy and Cody Bellinger in order in the first and made a pair of athletic defensive plays, including snagging a lined comebacker from A.J. Pollock to lead off the second. He allowed only one ball to leave the infield and induced grounders from four of the seven batters he faced.
"He’s going to get a lot of good hitters out,” Angels manager Joe Maddon said. "He’s that good.”
Canning ranked as the No. 63 prospect on the BA Top 100 at this time last year. He made his major league debut during the season and went 5-6, 4.58 in 18 appearances (17 starts) before being shut down with elbow inflammation.
Once part of the Angels’ future, he’s now part of their present. The Angels ranked 25th out of 30 teams in starting pitching ERA (5.12) last year and had only one pitcher throw more than 100 innings. They signed Julio Teheran and traded for Dylan Bundy and Matt Andriese to beef up their rotation in the offseason, but Canning is their best hope for a No. 2-caliber starter to emerge behind Shohei Ohtani.
To that end, Canning spent the offseason working to improve his durability. He pitched 119 innings in 2017 at UCLA, 113.1 innings in 2018 in the minors and 106.1 innings in 2019 between Triple-A and the majors. To reach the potential that made him one of the game’s top pitching prospects, he knows he has to reverse that trend of pitching fewer innings each year.
"We just kind of preached durability,” Canning said. "I was lucky to have Lee (Fiocchi) our strength trainer, stay back in Southern California, so we were working out at the stadium and just kind of getting after it.
"I just dealt with that elbow stuff at the end of the year and pretty much had a normal offseason.”
The other aspect that will help Canning's durability is improved strike-throwing. His walk rate jumped from 3.3 percent at Triple-A to 7.8 percent in the majors and he averaged 4.04 pitches per batter, compared to the major league average of 3.92.
On that front, he credited new pitching coach Mickey Callaway for imparting a digestible message early in camp.
"He’s kind of been preaching just first-pitch strikes and first two out of three,” Canning said. "I think you can kind of get away from that, for whatever reason, once you get into pro ball. For whatever reason you start trying to strike some guys out, so it’s nice to get back to the basics.
"I think everybody kind of goes through it. You look at the stats of the teams that do best every year and it’s the teams that throw the most strikes.”
The Angels need more than just Canning to reach his potential for their starting pitching woes to be alleviated. At the same time, if he can mow down elite hitters as he did in his spring debut, it will go a long way toward improving the club’s outlook.
"It’s was a nice game to get him out there,” Maddon said. "I have a lot of faith in him. I think he’s going to be a very good starter in the big leagues.”