'I just cleared my mind': Prospect Dana's chill approach pays off in first start

March 3rd, 2024

TEMPE, Ariz. -- Given that it was his first-ever Cactus League start, it’s understandable if top pitching prospect was dealing with some nerves in the Angels' 3-1 win over the White Sox at Tempe Diablo Stadium on Sunday afternoon.

The 20-year-old opened his outing with a four-pitch walk to Nicky Lopez but settled down from there to throw two scoreless innings. It was an impressive showing from Dana, who struck out Paul DeJong and Gavin Sheets in the first inning and induced a grounder for a double play in the second. He needed just 25 pitches (18 strikes) to get through two innings.

“It’s simple. I just cleared my mind, and it never happened,” Dana said. “Obviously, I have to control the running game, but it’s about clearing my mind and going after the next guy. I just tried to focus on pitch-by-pitch and getting ahead.”

Dana, who looks similar to former Angels right-hander Noah Syndergaard with his long blonde hair and large frame, is regarded as the club’s top pitching prospect. The 6-foot-4, 215-pounder was an 11th-round pick out of Don Bosco Preparatory High School in northern New Jersey in the 2022 MLB Draft and signed for over slot, as Los Angeles used its savings on earlier rounds to give him a $1.5 million bonus.

The right-hander started last season with Single-A Inland Empire, where he dominated with a 1.20 ERA in three starts before being promoted to High-A Tri City. He posted a 4.22 ERA with 71 strikeouts in 53 1/3 innings there despite being several years younger than his average competition. He was shut down in July for precautionary reasons but is fully healthy this spring and in big league camp for the first time.

“It’s the same game whether it’s affiliate ball or here,” Dana said. “They’re giving me the ball and trusting me with it, so I’m going to give it all I got.”

Dana could open the year at High-A Tri-City, or there’s a chance he could make the jump to Double-A Rocket City. He’s more likely to make his Major League debut in 2025 than this season, but the Angels are famously aggressive with their prospects, with players such as Zach Neto, Nolan Schanuel, Reid Detmers and Sam Bachman reaching the Majors quickly after being drafted. Dana, though, didn’t go to college like those players, and he said he’s trying not to get too far ahead of himself.

“I try not to think too much,” Dana said. “I just take it day by day. But they’re great players, and they deserve to be up there.”

Despite Dana’s youth, manager Ron Washington has been impressed by what he’s seen from the righty and said it’ll be up to Dana to prove to the organization when he’s ready for the big leagues. But Sunday was a good test facing a Major League lineup, and Dana proved he has the stuff to get hitters out.

“I love his mound presence,” Washington said. “I love his confidence in what he's trying to execute. He's young and he's very absorbent, meaning that he's absorbing every bit of knowledge that he can get. And he's trying to apply it. The one thing about this organization is that age and your experience don’t matter. If you’re able to get outs, that’s what matters.”

Pujols to arrive Monday as guest instructor
Albert Pujols is set to join Angels camp as a guest instructor on Monday, as he remains part of the organization with his 10-year personal services contract that began last year. Pujols, 44, played with the Halos from 2012-21 and was an All-Star in ‘15. He finished his career with 703 homers, 3,384 hits, 686 doubles and 2,218 RBIs in 3,080 games with the Cardinals, Angels and Dodgers. He won three National League Most Valuable Player Awards with St. Louis in 2005, ‘08 and '09 and won the World Series in '06 and '11.

Angels tidbits
• Lefty José Suarez is set to make his Cactus League debut on Monday, as he was behind the other pitchers in camp after experiencing what manager Ron Washington described as a bit of dead arm after pitching in winter ball. Suarez, who is the favorite to be the club’s long reliever, will pitch in relief behind lefty Tyler Anderson.

• Right fielder is off to a hot start offensively and went 2-for-3 with a double against the White Sox on Sunday. Hicks is batting .500 (7-for-14) this spring and also homered on Saturday. He’s expected to share time with Mickey Moniak and Jo Adell in right field this year.