Spring Training Watch: The Relief Pitchers 
Luke Bard is among those battling for a spot on the Angels pitching staff (Getty Images)

by BJ Martin, angelsnation.com staff writer

Every year, non-roster invitees and “no-name” players in the Angels’ spring training camp make a big impact for themselves in the Cactus League.

Last March, the excellence of pitchers Mike Mayers and Jacob Barnes in Arizona secured spots in the Angels’ bullpen on Opening Day. 

This year, the Angels have listed 22 pitchers on their 40-man roster, plus an additional 11 hurlers who are in camp as non-roster invitees.

Precious roster spots are at stake for these pitchers.

But who really has a shot of cracking the Opening Day roster outside of the projected staff? 

The Projected Staff: Assuming that Angels skipper Joe Maddon goes with 14 pitchers, here’s a projected pitching staff entering Spring Training:

Starting rotation: Shohei Ohtani, Dylan Bundy, Andrew Heaney, Jose Quintana, Griffin Canning, and Alex Cobb.

Bullpen: Raisel Iglesias, Mike Mayers, Alex Claudio, Felix Pena, Ty Buttrey, Aaron Slegers, Junior Guerra, and Jaime Barria. 

Less than hours Sunday’s spring opening game against the Giants in Scottsdale, here are five pitchers that inquiring eyes should watch — because all five have a shot to earn their way onto the club’s April roster will great performances in Tempe.

1 — JAKE FARIA: The 27-year-old from Gahr High School (Cerritos, Calif.) is in camp as non-roster invite hoping to crack the roster of the team he rooted for growing up. The right-hander has pitched over 170 major league innings since 1997 with Tampa Bay and Milwaukee.  

His best season was his rookie campaign in 2017, when he started 14 games for the Rays. That’s when Faria saw his spin rate peak.

Faria’s four-seam fastball velocity spiked from an average speed of 91.7 mph to 93.5 mph between 2017, and his most recent MLB appearances in 2019. 

Faria pitched exclusively from the bullpen in 2019 but could prove to be valued by manager Joe Maddon in a fashion to Matt Andriese on the 2020 club. The 6-foot-4 hurler’s MLB experience will help, but quality performances on the mound in the next five weeks are key.

2 — GERARDO REYES: Acquired from San Diego in exchange for catcher Jason Castro at the trade deadline last year, Reyes was simply transferred from one alternate site to another — never to see his anticipated promotion to an active MLB roster last season. 

But he certainly can get there, because Reyes has an electric fastball that lights up radar guns. His four-seam fastball averaged 96.9 mph on Statcast during his rookie season two years ago.

Consistent control has been the obstacle keeping the 27-year-old right-hander from a long-term place in an MLB bullpen. If he can develop better command of the strike zone, the sky is the limit for Reyes, whose build is slight but his potential is huge.

There’s a reason the Padres were willing to give up a talent like Reyes for a starting catcher in Castro.

A strong Cactus League performance can earn the Mexican-born hurler a spot on the Angels roster in April. More importantly, Reyes has the potential to be a significant force in the late innings in Anaheim. 

3 — JOSE ALBERTO RIVERA: The 24-year-old right-hander was selected by the Angels in the first-round of the December 10th MLB Rule V draft from the Houston Astros. At the time, Perry Minasian had only started the process of rebuilding the club’s 2021 bullpen and Rivera seemed like a slam dunk to make the roster. 

Following the acquisitions of relievers Claudio, Slegers, Guerra and starters Cobb and Quintana, the young pitcher’s competition for cracking the staff has increased fivefold 

As a Rule V selection, if Rivera does not make the Opening Day roster, he must be offered back to Houston. At first glimpse, this could seem to give him some advantage. However, when you consider the Angels are serious playoff contenders entering season, they may not want to sacrifice roster spot to develop a young arm in Anaheim. 

Rivera has yet to pitch above the Single-A level and a pitcher like Jaime Barria, who’s out of options, may be the guy to take Rivera’s spot on the roster. Making every one of Rivera’s Arizona appearances all the more critical for him to prove he’s ready to get major league hitters out. 

4 — JAKE REED: Reed, 28, was drafted in fifth round by the Twins from the University of Oregon in the 2014 draft. Former Angels reliever Stu Cliburn helped Reed modify to a side-arm delivery in 2019, and the results were extremely encouraging. 

The Angels signed Reed this winter as a minor league free agent and he’ll be one of the eleven pitchers in camp as non-roster invites.  

If the minor league veteran’s mid-90’s fastball and solid change-up are successful at getting MLB talent out this spring, Reed could be the one surprising Angels fans by making his major league debut in Anaheim this April. 

5 — LUKE BARD: The 30-year-old Charlotte, NC native has shown signs of a providing quality middle relief during his three seasons and two stints with the Angels bullpen. In limited play last season, Bard’s fastball velocity and spin rate were in the 70 and 100 percentiles respectively. 

Harnessed effectively, Bard’s 95-mph fastball paired with an effective mid-80’s slider to have the potential of consistently punching big league hitters out. Former Angel reliever Blake Parker, who saved 22 games with a 2.90 ERA for the Halos from 2017-18, is a fine example of a player finally developing great control of these pitches and reinventing his career at age 32.

Bard will look to impress Maddon and Minasian in the coming weeks with the hopes of keeping himself on the Angels active roster when they open the season in Anaheim the first weekend of April.

6–JESSE CHAVEZ: Coming back around for his second stint with the Angels (and his second go-round with Joe Maddon), the impressively tattooed Chavez had ups and downs in Anaheim the first time.

A local boy from the Riverside area, Chavez has shown enough over his career that he’s appeared for nine different MLB clubs. People want Jesse, and the Angels wanted him back, signing him to a minor-league contract with an invite to camp.

“His overall track record is that of a versatile arm who’ll help deepen the Angels’ rotation and bullpen mixes,” wrote Steve Adams of MLB Trade Rumors. That sounds good.

Don’t freak out about Chavez’s numbers in Anaheim in 2017 (a 5.35 ERA over 138 innings).

Since 2013, Chavez has pitched 755.2 frames at a 4.18 ERA click. His FIP matches up at 4.18. And he can do what you want. He’s made 77 starts and 248 appearances out to the bullpen.

He didn’t pitch great in his last two years with the Rangers, but after a mid-season trade to Joe Maddon’s Chicago Cubs, Chavez absolutely sparkled: Maddon used him 32 times out of the ‘pen with a dazzling 1.15 ERA in high-leverage spots, and striking out 42 in 39 innings in Windy City pinstripes.

Jesse Chavez is also incredibly cool. Check out this video he filmed with Alex Curry for Fox Sports West’s “Ride Along with Jesse Chavez,” in which a bespectacled Chavez is interviewed while driving around the streets with Curry around the stadium:

Not to be missed!

Keep an eye on all of these guys as they enter games in the coming weeks.

— BJ Martin is a marketing professional, staff writer at Angels Nation, Angels historian, journalist, SABR and IBWAA member and podcaster.

Follow BJ Martin’s twitter feed and listen to his podcasts at: @_HaloLife. (You’ll frequently hear Angels Nation editor Stu Matthews teaming with BJ as a guest on his special podcasts).

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