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OC Register: Angels’ Nolan Schanuel impresses manager Ron Washington

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TEMPE, Ariz. — In the first inning of a Cactus League game last week, Nolan Schanuel stepped to the plate after Taylor Ward had led off the inning with a double.

Schanuel pulled a ground ball to second base, and Ward took third. Ward then scored on a Mike Trout sacrifice fly.

A day later, Angels manager Ron Washington was beaming, optimistic that the Angels’ rookie first baseman could play a key role in generating runs.

“He’s capable of doing that with consistency, and he might be able to do it with perfection,” Washington said. “Because of his bat-to-ball skill, I think that boy can pull the ball on the ground anytime he wants to.”

Schanuel made a name for himself last year by reaching the majors less than two months after he was drafted out of Florida Atlantic University. He then reached base with a hit or a walk in every one of the 29 games he played, giving him a .402 on-base percentage. He drew 20 walks, while striking out 19 times. The major league average is 2.6 strikeouts per walk.

Schanuel’s plate discipline was so advanced that a case could have been made for him to begin the 2024 season in the same leadoff spot where he hit in 2023. Washington, who is heading into his first season with the team, initially planned for that, but he quickly determined that dropping Schanuel into the No. 2 spot made more sense, because he could still get on base, but also use his situational hitting skills to move runners over or get them in.

“I love that,” Washington said of Schanuel’s groundout. “To me, that’s a base hit, because he put us in a position to score a run with Mike Trout coming up.”

Washington estimated that, over a full season, Schanuel is going to have 70 or 80 plate appearances in which the game situation for call for something like that.

“His other 500 or so, he can do what the hell he wants,” Washington said.

Those plate appearances will largely determine how the rest of baseball is going to measure Schanuel’s offensive performance.

Over just 132 plate appearances in 2023, Schanuel hit .275 with one homer and a .732 OPS.

The lingering question over Schanuel’s performance is whether he will develop the type of power expected from a corner infielder. His average exit velocity (85.4 mph) and hard hit percentage (25.6) were both toward the bottom in the majors.

Neither Schanuel nor the Angels have any concerns about that now, given how little experience he has.

“Power develops when you learn more about what you’re doing and you learn the element in which you’re doing it,” Washington said. “How much does he know about the American League? Very little. His power will grow. He will learn to use his power. In the meantime, I want him to learn how to play baseball.”

Schanuel, 22, hit 18 homers with an .868 slugging percentage in his junior year in college.

“It’s going to come,” Schanuel said of the power. “I’m a hitter. So I just go out there and just try to do the job. My job is to put runs on the board, whether it’s hitting guys in or scoring.”

Schanuel, who is just halfway through his first professional spring training, is still going through a crash course in learning about hitting and playing defense as a big-leaguer.

“I’ve got a lot of work to do,” he said. “I need to improve. I think every day I come here there’s something that I’m working on.”

A part of that process began over the winter, when he worked out in Florida with St. Louis Cardinals first baseman Paul Goldschmidt, a former MVP. Angels catching coach Jerry Narron, who knows Goldschmidt from their days with the Arizona Diamondbacks, arranged for the two to get together.

“It was cool to work with him,” Schanuel said. “From fielding to baserunning to hitting, he does everything right. You couldn’t miss a beat with him. Every day I was learning something new.”

Something else new that Schanuel did this winter was an unusual training method he devised. Two days a week over six weeks, Schanuel spent the entire day standing, to the point of agonizing pain his legs and feet. He said the goal was to better prepare him for the rigors of standing on a baseball field every day. His teammates and other team officials learned what he was doing after he told The Athletic early in spring training, and he said they responded to him with “mixed reviews.”

Schanuel now says that he did it more as a test of his discipline than a strengthening exercise.

“It might have helped,” Schanuel said. “You never know till you try it… I didn’t do it because I thought it was going to help me. I did it because I thought it was a challenge I wanted to complete. I wanted a competition for myself.”

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