Surprise! Angels call up No. 2 prospect Neto for MLB debut

SS first '22 Draft pick to reach Majors; Fletcher optioned to Triple-A

April 15th, 2023

BOSTON -- It was a move so surprising, even top shortstop prospect Zach Neto had no inkling it was coming.

But the Angels shook up their roster with a major move before Saturday’s game against the Red Sox, as Neto was called up from Double-A Rocket City and veteran infielder David Fletcher was optioned to Triple-A Salt Lake.

Neto, the club’s No. 2 prospect per MLB Pipeline, was the No. 13 overall pick out of Campbell University in last year’s Draft and impressed in the Minor Leagues and during Spring Training. He is the first 2022 Draft pick to reach the Majors.

“I honestly thought it was going to be a little later in the year, maybe like a September callup or right after the All-Star Game, depending on how the team was doing,” said Neto, who started at shortstop and went 0-for-4 in his MLB debut in the Angels' 9-7 loss to the Red Sox at Fenway Park on Saturday. “I'm excited to be here and to help the team win. And do whatever I can to keep this ballclub going up and push for a playoff spot.”

Neto, 22, hit a combined .322/.408/.529 with eight homers, 10 doubles, eight stolen bases and 37 RBIs in 44 games in the Minors, including .444 with three homers and 10 RBIs in seven games at Double-A this year. Those numbers over the past two seasons have gone a long way to prove his unorthodox leg kick can work. He also had an .828 OPS in 16 Spring Training games, including going 3-for-5 with two doubles in two exhibition games against the Dodgers at Angel Stadium.

“Basically, he forced our hand,” said manager Phil Nevin. “We saw a lot of great things in Spring Training. Obviously, the Freeway Series was kind of something that was really an eye-opener to get into that atmosphere and do the things he did. And then he continued to do that the last few weeks at Double-A and we just felt that this was the right time.”

Neto homered twice for Double-A Rocket City on Friday before manager Andy Schatzley pulled him aside to tell him he was getting called up to the big leagues for the first time. Neto called his family in Miami to share the news and they didn’t believe it at first, but came around once Schatzley took the phone. A large contingent of Neto's family, including his parents, flew in from Miami on Saturday morning to make it in time for his debut.

“It feels awesome,” Neto said. “I’m glad to be here and I want to be here for a long time.”

Neto is also considered a strong defender and will be the club’s regular shortstop going forward. Gio Urshela is now more likely to see time at first base with Luis Rengifo at second base. Brandon Drury will remain in the mix at second with Rengifo, while Jake Lamb will share time at first with Urshela.

Nevin said he’s confident in Neto’s defense at short and noted that Urshela worked at first base during Spring Training and before Friday’s game, so they’re comfortable with him at first despite starting the season as the club’s regular shortstop.

“He’s flashy out there a little bit, certainly rangy,” Nevin said. “He's gonna make some really good plays. There will be some growing pains and we understand that, but mentally, is what's most important. We feel like he's ready.”

Fletcher, 28, still had Minor League options despite having nearly five years of service time and signing a five-year contract worth $26 million before the 2021 season. He hadn't seen much playing time this season and struggled offensively, hitting .125 (2-for-16) in eight games. This will give him a chance to try to get things going at Triple-A by playing more regularly, as he’s struggled since returning from his core muscle surgery last May.

“Playing once a week is not suitable for him to get his game to where he needs to be and where he was as a player,” Nevin said. “It was a hard conversation. He’s been a great Angel for a long time. We consider him still part of this group. But he's gonna go down and get a chance to play and get back to where he was. And I certainly think he will. But it's just a matter of playing time.”