The LA Angels saw reliever Keynan Middleton go through a rollercoaster of a season in 2017. The flame-throwing youngster showed flashes of being a force out of the bullpen. Can he take the next step come 2018?
The LA Angels bullpen was full of incredible stories in 2017, both positive and negative. The race for the closer job between Huston Street, Andrew Bailey, and Cam Bedrosian. The injuries of those three players. The meteoric rise and fall of Bud Norris. The breakout of Blake Parker. Yusmeiro Petit‘s absolute dominance.
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However, the most significant reliever for the Halos in 2018 will be Keynan Middleton. Middleton saw a rookie year with extreme peaks and valleys. After the bullpen was decimated by injuries early in the season, the Halos called up Middleton for his debut. Most people thought it was too soon for Middleton, however, he responded to the call up well.
In his first 15 games, Middleton owned a 2.19 ERA while striking out 16 batters and allowing three runs in 12.1 innings of work. Going through June, his excellence was highlighted by two duels against fellow rookies. Against AL Rookie of the Year and MVP runner-up Aaron Judge, Middleton fazed him with a triple digit fastball to strikeout the phenom. During the Freeway Series against the Dodgers, Middleton struck out young slugger Cody Bellinger with a devastating slider. Following the strikeout, Middleton showed emotion yelling “Not me, boy. Not on me!”.
The emotion shown from Middleton is something Angels coaches are fond of. However, that was the peak of Middleton’s rookie year, as he had a 7.88 ERA in nine July games. He rebounded over the last two months of the year, but Middleton will have to be much more consistent for the Halos in 2018.
With the loss of Petit, the Halos will be looking for someone to be their ace from the bullpen in 2018. While most will point to Parker, Middleton offers more upside than any reliever in the Angels organization. With the ability to reach triple digits with his fastball and a knee-buckling slider, he has proven to be an elite strikeout specialist.
However, with high heat comes huge possibility for solid contact. This is something Middleton will have to improve with, as he allowed 11 home runs in his 58.1 innings. However, with uncertainty all throughout the bullpen, Middleton will have as good a chance as any Halo reliever to claim the closer spot, and make his name known throughout the MLB.