Well, you can’t say the Los Angeles Angels aren’t pulling out every single stop to try and get Shohei Ohtani to the postseason (and convince the pending free agent to stay for the long haul). First GM Perry Minasian went out and acquired Lucas Giolito, Reynaldo Lopez, C.J. Cron, Randal Grichuk and Mike Moustakas at the trade deadline. But those moves haven’t been enough to keep the team from sliding down the AL Wild Card standings, so now the team is pulling just about the only lever it has left — and it’s a wild one.
Per several reports, the Halos are set to call up first base prospect Nolan Schanuel for his MLB debut, just weeks after taking him with the 11th overall pick in the 2023 MLB Draft.
The Los Angeles Angels are calling up first baseman Nolan Schanuel, who they took with the 11th overall pick in the draft less than six weeks ago and was in Double-A, sources tell ESPN. The 21-year-old from Florida Atlantic is hitting .370/.510/.493 in 21 minor league games.— Jeff Passan (@JeffPassan) August 18, 2023
The Angels do have a tendency to be ultra-aggressive with their top prospects. Shortstop Zach Neto debuted earlier this season less than one year after going in the first round of the 2022 draft. Lefty Reid Detmers, selected 10th overall in 2020, made his debut on Aug. 1, 2021. Righty Chase Silseth was an 11th round pick in 2021 and in the Majors by May of 2022. Granted, Schanuel is an outlier even among that group, but with L.A.’s position players decimated by injuries — Mike Trout, Anthony Rendon, Taylor Ward, Jo Adell, Gio Urshela, Logan O’Hoppe and Neto are all currently on the IL — desperate times have apparently called for desperate measures.
Still, it’s not an exaggeration to say that this is a move without recent historical precedent. It goes without saying that Schanuel is set to become the first player from this year’s draft class to appear in a Major League game, and he’s also the first player to make it to the Show in the same year in which he was drafted since White Sox lefty Garrett Crochet back in 2020. (Caveats apply there, though. Crochet had two months to work with Chicago’s staff prior to making his debut, and with the COVID-19 pandemic cancelling the Minor League season that year, he had nowhere to pitch in a professional game but the Majors.)
So this is a big risk, even if Schanuel was considered arguably the most MLB-ready bat in the 2023 draft. The 6’4 lefty posted downright comical numbers in three years at hometown Florida Atlantic University, batting .386/.516/.698 in his college career — including a preposterous .447/.615/.868 in 289 plate appearances this past season. Schanuel certainly has some pop, but as those OBP numbers attest, his bat-to-ball skills were what really set him apart; he struck out in just seven percent of his college plate appearances, drawing 71 walks against 14 strikeouts in 2023.
That’s largely continued his brief time in the Minors. Schanuel moved quickly from rookie ball to A-ball to Double-A, slashing .370/.510/.493 with 21 walks to just 10 strikeouts.
Nolan Schanuel slams an RBI double to extend the lead! pic.twitter.com/1I2M97U5RP— Rocket City Trash Pandas (@trashpandas) August 18, 2023
Of course, as a 21-year-old with a ton of experience against college pitching, it’s not exactly out of the ordinary for him to tear up the lower Minors. And despite the gaudy numbers, it remains to be seen just how Schanuel will fare against better arms: As you can see in the clip above, he comes with a very weird, almost Craig Counsell-esque setup, one that could leave him exposed against higher velocity and nastier breaking stuff. He also didn’t exactly play the toughest competition at FAU, a mid-major school that missed the NCAA tournament in all three seasons Schanuel was there.
In short, there are still plenty of questions about Schanuel’s potential that belie how quickly he’s being rushed to the Majors. He’s a first base-only prospect who doesn’t carry 30-homer power, instead relying on his ability to make tons of quality contact consistently — a risky profile, and one that doesn’t leave a ton to fall back on if his bat gets exposed further up the ladder. This isn’t a generational prospect with nothing left to learn in the Minors; this is a Major League team desperate to salvage its 2023 season and using every tool at its disposal to do so. (Either that, or they’re conceding that their Wild Card chase has already been lost and they want to use the remaining six weeks as more or less an extended Spring Training for Schanuel without losing his rookie eligibility.)
Either way, it’ll be fascinating to watch play out. The Angels already have Cron at first base and guys like Moustakas to take DH at-bats (plus Trout, who figures to avoid regular center-field duty when he returns from a hamate fracture). But L.A. isn’t calling Schanuel up to sit on the bench, so he figures to get plenty of chances to learn on the fly at the highest level of the sport.