Brain surgery. Tommy John surgery. Ankle surgery. A right labrum issue.
Sonny DiChiara's path to playing professional baseball and his subsequent journey to stay on the field once getting there has been far from linear.
After spending extensive time this year at the club’s complex in Tempe, Ariz., rehabbing, DiChiara is back in the desert for the 2023 Fall League, looking to reclaim and refine a power stroke that made him a first-team All-American in his final collegiate campaign.
“It was just kind of another bump in the road, I'd say. But [those situations], they're always learning experiences,” DiChiara said. “I guess having a setback like that as a pro and being in the Minor Leagues, I kind of had a different perspective on it.
“I stayed out here the whole time in Tempe and I guess I was able to really, really focus in and [say] like, ‘Hey, man, if you want to do this for a while, this is what it takes, this is what you're gonna have to do.’”
DiChiara, a Hoover, Ala., native who had to give up football after having a piece of bone removed from his skull before high school, is inextricably linked to his home state after playing for both Samford and Auburn prior to becoming a fifth-round pick in 2022. As serendipity would have it -- along with having established a recent reputation for aggressively challenging talented prospects with Minor League assignments -- the Angels tabbed DiChiara for Double-A Rocket City, which is located in Madison, Ala.
“It's definitely cool,” DiChiara said. “I mean, [playing at Toyota Field, the club’s home park] it's an hour and a half from my house. … That's definitely an experience some guys don't really get to have and I'm thankful for that.”
That first foray -- skipping over the lower levels entirely -- led to some growing pains for DiChiara. After slashing a whopping .384/.549/.777 in his senior season with Auburn, the slugging first baseman delivered just a .600 OPS in 36 games at Double-A in 2022. While the anticipated power gains didn’t show in Year 2 with Rocket City (eight homers in 77 contests), his line-drive rate rose considerably and he began to spray the ball to all parts of the field as he became familiarized with the league’s pitching.
"In college, you got a couple 'guys' on each team and now you're playing [pro ball], every person on the team is 'a guy,'" DiChiara said after swatting his second Fall League homer. "So it's just being able to handle that and just knowing the next guy that's coming in is gonna be just as good. So the talent is definitely a difference."
The talent won’t ease up as he enters fall ball, either. Known as the proving ground for top prospects before they embark on big league careers (34 players -- including infielder Kyren Paris -- from last year’s AFL made their MLB debuts this season), the Fall League offers an opportunity to see gifted young stars from all across the Minors.
Angels hitters in the Fall League
Adrian Placencia, 2B (No. 10): After a torrid start to his run in affiliate ball (.387 OBP, 39 extra-base hits, 21 steals) with Single-A Inland Empire in 2022 that earned the infielder MiLB Organization All-Star honors, his propensity to swing and miss cropped up again during his ‘23 run between High-A Tri-City and Rocket City. The Angels love his raw talent and offensive skills -- a fact bolstered by the $1.1 million they spent to sign him out of the Dominican Republic in July 2019 -- and feel that a stint at the premier fall circuit will offer a chance to further hone his skill set. The 20-year-old already launched a homer that went an estimated 440 feet for Scottsdale during the first week of action.
Jadiel Sanchez, OF (No. 22): Acquired alongside outfielder Mickey Moniak from the Phillies in exchange for right-hander Noah Syndergaard just prior to the 2022 Trade Deadline, Sanchez’s first full season in the Angels’ system can be viewed as nothing short of a resounding success. The switch-hitting outfielder ranked second among all of the club’s affiliated Minor Leaguers with a 129 wRC+, posting an .853 OPS with 113 hits in 105 games for Single-A Inland Empire. He’ll turn 23 next season, so the advanced pitching of the premier prospect circuit will allow him to get looks against more experienced arms.
Angels pitchers in the Fall League
Chase Chaney, RHP: The 23-year-old was one of eight Angels Minor League hurlers to reach the 100-inning plateau during the regular season. Known more for his command and solid pitch mix, Chaney worked to a 3.63 ERA over 24 appearances (19 starts) for Tri-City. He finished his year with a start at Double-A as he continues to move through the club’s ranks after being taken in the 16th round of the 2018 Draft out of a Georgia high school.
Davis Daniel, RHP: One of the few players on hand in the desert to have already debuted in the big leagues, the 26-year-old joins DiChiara as a fellow Auburn alum to don a Scorpions hat. A right shoulder strain sustained during Spring Training shut Daniel down until August, after which he made a spectacular leap from the Arizona Complex League to Single-A to The Show in the span of seven outings. His low-90s mph fastball displays impressive spin rates, while he has two breaking balls and a changeup that he can get over for strikes, boosting his chances of success as he pitches outside of the Pacific Coast League.
Nick Jones, LHP: The Fall League has established itself as a finishing school of sorts over the past 30 years and Jones fits the prototypical mold of hurler looking to check one final hurdle before ascending to the bigs. At 6-foot-6, the southpaw gets good extension toward the plate, helping his fastball/slider mix play up. After opening the year with Tri-City, he climbed as high as Triple-A Salt Lake for the stretch run and combined to produce a 3.27 ERA over 66 innings with eight saves and 10.5 K/9.
Luke Murphy, RHP: The 6-foot-5 reliever repeated a stint at Rocket City this year, and while his strikeout rate jumped to 11.4 per nine, the 2021 fourth-rounder allowed the first four home runs of his career en route to a 4.96 ERA, nearly doubling his mark from last season. A power two-pitch mix is at the crux of what works for Murphy with a mid-90s fastball and 84-88 mph slider, the latter of which succeeds at missing bats but doesn't always land in the zone.
Eric Torres, LHP: Just a season removed from leading the Southern League in saves and being named its Reliever of the Year, the low-slot firing southpaw hit a hiccup in his progress during 2023 during his first taste of the hitter-friendly Triple-A PCL. The strikeouts once again came in a flurry (12.7 K/9) across two levels, but unfortunately for Torres, so did the walks (11 BB/9), leading to an 8.31 ERA over 39 appearances. His combination of unique delivery, a low-90s mph heater that carries well up in the zone and sweeping breaking ball makes him a difficult at-bat for left-handers, who hit just .207 off him during the regular season.