Why Los Angeles Angels are calling up Nolan Schanuel

Tracy Proffitt/Four Seam Images via AP

In a shock move Friday morning, the Los Angeles Angels are calling up their 2023 first-round draft pick, Nolan Schanuel, from Double-A. The 11th overall pick in the draft -- less than six weeks ago! -- Schanuel was hitting .370/.510/.493 in 21 minor league games after a standout career at Florida Atlantic.

The Angels clearly see Schanuel as the first baseman of the future, but this is a rare -- and fascinating -- acceleration of the usual timeline. How rare? What made the Angels do it? What are they expecting from Schanuel down the stretch? We asked ESPN MLB experts Kiley McDaniel, Jeff Passan and Alden Gonzalez to answer those questions.

Who is Nolan Schanuel -- and is he really ready for the big leagues?

From the beginning of the spring, picking up pace until draft day, some scouts swore that Schanuel was the best hitter in the draft not named Dylan Crews or Wyatt Langford. The report from those scouts was basically that Schanuel was at least a plus hitter with plus pitch selection and plus power -- something like a .270 average, .350 on-base percentage and 25 homers, broadly speaking. That's not a superstar as a first baseman, but it's a really valuable player, particularly while making the league minimum in his first three MLB seasons.

Another camp of evaluators balked at that projection, deeming it more of a best-case scenario in both upside and time to the big leagues, giving no margin for error. After only 21 minor league games, we don't have enough information to say which camp was right -- but this move isn't really about big league readiness.

Instead, I frame this as the Angels thinking this player will be their 2024 Opening Day first baseman and they can help get him ready for that role, while filling a short-term hole on the big league team (and keeping a Rookie of the Year bonus pick in play). Most evaluators I spoke with in the wake of this news assumed Schanuel would either hit for average or power, but probably not both right away, given the challenge of this assignment.

If the pro-Schanuel takes prove optimistic and he isn't the player they think he is, at least the Angels will find out quickly. It's a bold, unusual approach, but they'll probably have their answer before much of the rest of the 2023 draft class leaves A-ball. -- McDaniel

How shocking is this move to the rest of the league?

Word circulated early Friday morning that the Angels were summoning to the big leagues a player who wasn't even in their system six weeks ago, and the response sums up the state of the team and how the industry views it.

The snap judgment: They're doing what?

The next thought: Well, of course they are.

The Angels are one of one among big league franchises these days. Everything is about now. They are the Id Team, pure impulse. Including Schanuel, four of the five players from the past two draft classes already promoted have been on the Angels -- but not due to some dogmatic ideology about guys belonging in the big leagues as soon as humanly possible. Rather, each is the extension of a singular decision with far-reaching ramifications.

If the Angels had traded Shohei Ohtani before the Aug. 1 deadline, it's safe to say that Schanuel would be spending the remainder of the 2023 season in the minor leagues, preparing for a potential debut in 2024. But they didn't. They held onto him, and their trade-deadline acquisitions haven't hit, and half their everyday lineup is on the injured list, and even though they're seven games back of the final wild-card spot, they're still trying.

And so even if this does fly in the face of not just modern roster-building but player development, too, the same people scoffing at Schanuel becoming the first position player since 1978 to debut this soon also get it. This isn't Perry Minasian, the Angels' general manager, being reckless. It's the natural extension of owner Arte Moreno's decision to keep Ohtani.

"I feel sorry for Perry" is a common refrain among GMs these days, and Friday brought another one of those moments: As advanced a hitter as Schanuel may be, as quickly as he might have ascended with another organization, as much as he's here now on the strength of his performance -- it's even more on that of Ohtani's. -- Passan

What does this mean for the Angels?

The Angels woke up Friday morning with four teams to jump to reach the last playoff spot and FanGraphs odds down to 0.7%. Nonetheless, they're trying to stay in this as long as possible, especially until Mike Trout gets back. And they need cover at first base with C.J. Cron nursing a back injury and Jared Walsh, an All-Star as recently as 2021, struggling mightily all season.

Big picture, though, it looks like a win-win. We've long moved past the date to gain a full year of major league service time in 2023, and with Friday being 44 days away from the end of the regular season, players can still vie for the 2024 Rookie of the Year Award if they remain on the active roster the rest of the way (provided they don't exceed 130 at-bats).

The Angels can fill an immediate need while seeing how Schanuel stacks up against major league pitching, which is part of what this season has been about. The Angels had already called up Zach Neto and Sam Bachman and Ben Joyce, and they've given Mickey Moniak and Logan O'Hoppe plenty of opportunities. They'll hold out hopes of bringing back Ohtani, but they'll also leave 2023 with a pretty good idea of what type of young core they have. -- Gonzalez