'Guru of the infield' Washington a fitting teacher for Neto

February 16th, 2024

TEMPE, Ariz. -- Before the clubhouse even opens to the media at 8:30 a.m. MST, Angels manager Ron Washington begins his work with the infielders on the club’s half-field, hitting countless grounders and offering plenty of advice.

Washington is an infield guru who has helped mold several players into Gold Glove Award winners, such as Eric Chavez, Freddie Freeman and Dansby Swanson. And his next star pupil could be shortstop , who showed off his impressive defense as a rookie last season.

Washington has already liked what he’s seen from Neto defensively and believes he’ll only get better with more experience and tutelage, much like Swanson and Ozzie Albies did in Atlanta.

“I'm still learning him,” Washington said. “I do see he has some ability to apply. And he’s not someone who is in A-ball, where you give him something and it takes a few minutes. If you give him something, he applies it. That means he’s well-bred because this will be his first full year in the Majors. He’s very sharp, and he hears things and applies things.”

Neto, who turned 23 on Jan. 31, said he’s thrilled to be working with Washington given his extensive experience, and he believes he can continue to become a better defender. He said he’d previously never done the drills that Washington has made famous, like fielding grounders from his knees, but he loves learning from his skipper.

“He’s the guru of the infield, so who wouldn’t want to learn from somebody like that?” Neto said. “I have an open mind, and I’m listening to everything. I’m just excited to get to work.”

Neto is a huge part of the club’s emerging young core that also includes catcher Logan O’Hoppe, first baseman Nolan Schanuel, outfielder Mickey Moniak and starting pitchers Reid Detmers and Chase Silseth. He said he doesn’t take that for granted and wants to help change the narrative about the Angels, who haven’t been to the postseason since 2014.

“It’s awesome to be a part of it,” Neto said. “It just shows the direction we’re going with this organization. And it’s always good to have the veteran guys lead us. We all have the same goal of going out there and trying to compete and win every day.”

Neto’s presence appeared to make a difference last year, as the Angels went 43-41 in the 84 games he played in and 30-48 when he wasn’t in the lineup. He rated as a strong defender among advanced metrics and showed some potential offensively, slashing .225/.308/.377 with nine homers and 34 RBIs, although he slumped late in the year.

Neto was hurt by two stints on the injured list, as he missed 21 games with a left oblique strain in mid-June and another 34 games with a lower back strain in early August. But he said his goal this offseason was to get stronger in an effort to stay healthy.

“Core strengthening and back strengthening was my biggest goal in the offseason,” Neto said. “I definitely got that and more. I got my hips stronger. Everything I need to keep my back safe. Just making sure my core is always strong to keep me away from those oblique injuries.”

Angels tidbits

• The Angels will stretch out right-hander as a starter this spring to give them more rotation depth. But Plesac could still be moved to relief if the team feels it has a need for him in that role. Plesac has Minor League options, so if he doesn’t make the team, he can be sent to Triple-A Salt Lake.

• Lefty met with the media for the first time since signing a Minor League deal on Wednesday and said he’s fully healthy. Pomeranz, who hasn’t pitched since 2021 after undergoing surgery to repair his flexor tendon, said he’s been throwing bullpen sessions without any issues and is ready to face batters as part of his next steps.

• Former Angels catcher Kurt Suzuki, who is now an assistant to general manager Perry Minasian, worked with the club’s catchers on Thursday. Suzuki got some one-on-one time with catching prospect Juan Flores, who just turned 18 on Tuesday and is considered a potential huge riser in the system. Flores had a .740 OPS in 46 games in the Dominican Summer League last year and is considered to be a strong defender with a huge arm behind the plate.