Youthful Rada soaking in 1st big league camp

March 1st, 2024

This story was excerpted from Rhett Bollinger’s Angels Beat newsletter. To read the full newsletter, click here. And subscribe to get it regularly in your inbox.

TEMPE, Ariz. -- Despite being four years younger than his average competition at Single-A and never facing a pitcher younger than him all season, Angels No. 3 prospect Nelson Rada more than held his own last year with Inland Empire.

Rada, in his age-17 season, batted .276/.395/.346 with two homers, 13 doubles, six triples, 48 RBIs and 55 stolen bases in 115 games. He’s still developing power but has the patience and speed to be a prototypical leadoff hitter, while also providing strong defense in center field. Rada, who turned 18 on Aug. 24, is getting his first taste of big league camp with the Angels this year and loving every minute of it.

“Age is just a number,” Rada said through an interpreter. “I just know I can do my job wherever they put me.”

Rada, who comes off as quiet and unassuming, said he’s been carefully watching veterans to try to learn from them, especially superstar Mike Trout. Rada, a Venezuela native who signed for $1.85 million in 2022, looks to be Trout’s heir apparent in center field and said he looks up to the three-time AL MVP and 11-time All-Star.

“I haven’t talked much with him, but I’ve been watching him during workouts and seeing just how he works,” Rada said. “And I’ve been watching how he plays. There’s a lot I can learn from him.”

Rada has impressed so far against older competition yet again, going 2-for-4 with two RBIs, two walks and three stolen bases in three Cactus League games. And he'll get the chance to continue to show what he can do in the inaugural Spring Breakout game against Dodgers prospects on March 16 at Tempe Diablo Stadium. Rada is expected to represent the Angels and start in center field.

“I’m very motivated,” Rada said. “I’ve been having great at-bats, and I want to continue to have great at-bats. I’m getting a lot of experience and I’m really happy and fortunate to be here. I can’t wait to keep playing.”

Angels manager Ron Washington has liked what he’s seen from Rada, especially given his youth and inexperience. He believes Rada has what it takes to become an elite base-stealer, and it’s something the Major League staff led by Bo Porter and Eric Young Jr. has been working on with Rada this spring. He stole 55 bases in 66 attempts last year, but the Angels believe he can steal even more, especially because of his ability to get on base and his instincts on the basepaths.

“He’s a young kid with good bat-to-ball skills,” Washington said. “We just want him to play his game. He puts the ball in play and can run. We’re trying to get him a little more aggressive on the basepaths. But he’s 18 years old, so he’s in his head. We just told him to trust his speed and got an interpreter to tell him if he gets thrown out, just to dust himself off and try it again. He’s got carte blanche.”

Rada is likely to open the season with High-A Tri-City, but the Angels have been famously aggressive with their prospects under general manager Perry Minasian. Youngsters such as Nolan Schanuel, Zach Neto, Sam Bachman, Chase Silseth and Victor Mederos all reached the Majors quickly. But it’s important to note they were all college players, unlike Rada, who is still the same age as a high school senior.

But it’s not out of the question for Rada to shoot through the system and reach the Majors at some point in 2025. He’s not currently among MLB Pipeline’s Top 100 prospects but is likely to enter it this season if he continues to put up numbers like he did last year, in his first full season of affiliated ball. Rada, though, said he’s not worried about where he’s ranked among prospects and is just trying to get better each day until he reaches his ultimate dream of getting to the big leagues.

“I feel very comfortable and I feel very happy,” Rada said. “I feel grateful for the opportunity, and I hope one time, I'll be in the real big leagues. I don’t think much of the [prospect rankings]. I’m just trying to do my best and give it 100 percent every time I play.”