TEMPE, Ariz. — Zach Neto isn’t simply getting the proverbial cup of coffee in Angels spring training.
Neto, who was in college a year ago, was in the starting lineup at shortstop for the Angels’ split-squad game against the Texas Rangers on Sunday, his seventh big-league game this spring.
“He’s impressed me, for sure,” manager Phil Nevin said. “We’ve gotten to see a lot of him. I want to see even more. He’s gonna get some opportunities.”
Neto, 22, was the Angels’ first-round draft pick last July. The Angels had him play a week at Class-A before moving him to Double-A. Giving him an invitation to major-league camp is further evidence they are aggressively testing him.
Nevin, who was in big-league camp the spring after he was the No. 1 overall pick, said he appreciates how Neto has handled the exposure.
“He carries himself very well,” Nevin said. “That’s hard to do as a first-round pick coming right into big-league camp. I know very well how that goes, and he’s handled himself very well. Very impressive.”
As Neto prepared to head across the Valley for his first start in a big-league exhibition, he said the whole experience has been positive.
“I’ve always dreamed of being here,” Neto said. “I’ve been here with a bunch of big leaguers and a bunch of guys I played with coming up in pro ball. It’s been an awesome experience just getting knowledge from the older guys. Not many get to do this. It’s definitely an honor being here.”
Neto said Andrew Velazquez and David Fletcher have been particularly helpful to him so far, “guiding me in the right direction, showing me how to be relaxed and to be myself.”
Neto was hitless in his first seven at-bats, with two walks, going into Sunday’s game.
“I feel pretty good,” Neto said. “It’s not the start that I wanted to have, but I know I’m going in the right direction. The swings are there. I’m having some pretty good at-bats, playing pretty good defensively. I’m just trying not to have too much pressure out there. There’s a lot of pressure out there, if things don’t go my way. I’m trying to play as loose as possible.”
One of the questions about Neto is whether his unconventional swing will play in the big leagues. He has an exaggerated leg kick, although he cuts it down with two strikes. He hit .320 with an .874 OPS in 136 plate appearances at Double-A last season.
“We’re not worried about it,” Nevin said. “His hands fly through the zone as well as anybody I’ve seen. There’s always adjustments to be made when you first sign and adjustments from college to pro ball and the minor leagues to the big leagues. He has such good baseball awareness and IQ that … I have no doubt in my mind that he’ll make those (adjustments) and he’ll be a good big player someday.”
Right-hander Griffin Canning is set for a significant milestone, starting on the mound in the Angels’ game against the Cleveland Guardians on Monday. It will be his first competitive game since July 2021. Canning has missed a season and a half with a back injury.
“He’s excited,” Nevin said. “He was excited just to face our hitters on the back field. I can imagine how excited he’s gonna be for tomorrow. … We all are. Anytime you see a guy that’s meant a lot to us and missed that amount of time. I think everybody, teammates included, are excited to see him out there.”
Canning is a significant wild card in the Angels’ pitching plans. They are not counting on him, instead putting him in the mix for the No. 6 starter job. But Canning is a former second-round pick who was a successful big league starter at several points in 2019 and 2020. He has a 4.73 ERA in 43 big-league games, including 41 starts.
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Nevin said he’s been pleased with how Canning has looked in workouts.
“The stuff that he’s shown already is really good,” Nevin said. “He’s mid-90s with his fastball. The shapes on his breaking balls are what they have been before and even better. The command of the zone was really good. Anxious to see it in a game.
“It’s a lot different sometime for some guys. Although he has pitched at this level, it’s still been a long time. We’ve got to ease him into that. It’s just as much on the mental side as the physical side and getting past the excitement and getting out there for the first time for him.”
The Angels hired longtime big league catcher Kurt Suzuki as a special assistant to the general manager. Suzuki ended his 16-year career with the Angels last season. On Sunday he was in uniform, at times shadowing assistant general manager Alex Tamin. Suzuki got to know Tamin and Angels general manager Perry Minasian with the Atlanta Braves.
“It’s great for him,” Nevin said. “He’s just such a good baseball guy. He’s meant a lot to these guys around here and it’s gonna be really neat to have him out here for a couple days.”