Image credit: Nolan Schanuel (Brian Westerholt/Four Seam Images)
On Friday morning the Angels sent shockwaves across the baseball world by calling up first baseman Nolan Schanuel, the 11th overall pick in the 2023 draft.
It’s the latest and most aggressive call-up by an organization that has been more aggressive than anyone else at promoting players.
Schanuel’s promotion is one of the fastest ever for a drafted position player. Schanuel’s debut would be fifth fastest for a drafted position player since the MLB draft began in 1965, and the fastest for any drafted position player since catcher Brian Milner debuted in 1978, just 17 days after the draft.
Schanuel would be at 40 days post draft if he debuts with the Angels on Friday. The next fastest call-up this millennium is by Nationals third baseman Ryan Zimmerman (92 days).
But this isn’t a one-off exception. This has clearly become part of the Angels’ approach with their minor leaguers. Schanuel is the first 2023 draftee to reach the majors. Angels shortstop Zach Neto became the first player from the 2022 draft to reach the majors, and he has since been joined by fellow 2022 draftees Ben Joyce and Victor Mederos. Chase Silseth was the first player from the 2021 class to reach the majors. The Angels didn’t have the first player from the 2020 draft class to make his MLB debut (Braves RHP Spencer Strider), but they did have the second (Reid Detmers).
It’s easy to dismiss this practice as silly or overzealous but can we say for sure? It hasn’t seemed to hurt Neto or Silseth yet. Each of those players has met or exceeded expectations from their amateur evaluations. Detmers made 13 minor league starts before his 2021 call-up and enjoyed a strong season in 2022. He’s been up and down in 2023, but has outpitched his ERA based on ERA estimators.
When discussing the Angels the public at large has a tendency to be dismissive of their moves. The running narrative of the team panicking around the imminent departure of Shohei Ohtani might be rooted in some truth but it may also be overblown. When studying which other organizations promote aggressively a clear connection to one of the most successful teams in the game becomes clear.
General manager Perry Minasian’s aggressive process may not be nearly as novel as it may seem. Before he was hired by the Angels, Perry Minasian was an assistant general manager for the Braves. If the Angels are the most aggressive about pushing players to the majors, the Braves are the second most aggressive club.
The Braves have pushed prep players like Michael Harris, Vaughn Grissom and most notably A.J. Smith-Shawver to the majors. They have also had success in speeding college pitchers like Spencer Strider, Dylan Dodd and Bryce Elder to Atlanta.
So the question remains: Are the Angels wrong to promote Nolan Schanuel now and are their aggressive ways hurting player development?
It’s difficult to answer either question without a few years of foresight, which unfortunately we don’t have. What we do have is the Angels’ recent track record of players being aggressively promoted to Double-A with a pipeline directly to the major leagues.
The aforementioned names of Neto, Silseth and Detmers are the primary examples of this experiment and Detmers and Neto share similar traits to Schanuel as talented first-round college players with a high level of refinement within their games. Between Neto and Detmers there’s no real way to know what an extra year of minor league experience may have yielded, but each is a better than average young MLB regular.
Schanuel has a high level of refinement as a hitter. Dating back to his underclass days at Florida International his ability to work deep into counts and discern balls and strikes was well known. That’s carried through into his play professionally with a sub-20% chase rate and high contact rates in Low-A and Double-A. Over 16 games with Double-A Rocket City, Schanuel has walked in 21.3% of plate appearances but struck out just 12% of the time. Even for a smaller sample size this is an outlier walk-to-strikeout rate. So to say Schanuel’s plate skills might be up to snuff in the major leagues right now could end up being accurate.
Schanuel can hit, that’s not a question, but he’s a first baseman, which is a position notoriously dominated by power hitters. How does Schanuel’s power stack up versus major league-caliber hitters? Schanuel showed power with a metal bat this spring, producing an average exit velocity of 91 mph, a 90th percentile exit velocity of 106 mph and a max exit velocity of 108.6 mph. He hit 19 home runs this spring but has only connected for one as a professional. His exit velocity data so far as a pro also leaves a lot to be desired.
Average Exit Velocity: 83.9 mph
90th Percentile Exit Velocity: 96.6
Max Exit Velocity: 103.6
These are clearly below-average exit velocity numbers at the major league level. Schanuel has some track record of hitting for power but not with wood bats. Over 36 games with Hyannis of the Cape Cod League last summer Schanuel hit one home run in the regular season and didn’t have a batted ball in play above 99 mph, so developing power is a key component of Schanuel’s profile and what will take him from just a good hit tool first base-only player to a potential all-star.
Can the Angels develop Schanuel’s power in the major leagues? Time will tell.