Family watching, 'grateful' O'Hoppe stars in debut

Angels' No. 1 prospect rips single in first at-bat, stars in win vs. A's

September 29th, 2022

ANAHEIM -- As the Angels explained it before Tuesday’s series opener against the A’s, top catching prospect was being brought up to get a taste of what it’s like to be in the Majors -- but only as part of the taxi squad.

But after Tuesday’s win over Oakland, the Angels announced that O’Hoppe would be added to the roster on Wednesday and start behind the plate. O’Hoppe, ranked as the club’s No. 1 overall prospect per MLB Pipeline and the No. 65 prospect in MLB, was thrilled to hear he’d get his first callup to the Majors -- and start at catcher and bat eighth against the A’s in his Major League debut on Wednesday night.

In his first at-bat, O'Hoppe ripped a single up the middle against Oakland starter Adrián Martínez on a 2-2 sinker, finishing 1-for-3 in a 4-1 win at Angel Stadium. He also handled and the pitching staff well, even throwing out Dermis Garcia at third as he tried to advance on a sacrifice bunt in the seventh inning.

"I was nervous going into warmups, but luckily I had Max [Stassi] who told me to stay focused on the game plan and that was my approach," O'Hoppe said. "I chased two sliders [my first at-bat] but then realized there was no [pitch] clock, so I was able to step out and take my time. I caught my breath and that definitely helped."

The whole experience of his debut was extra special for O'Hoppe, as his parents, Michael and Angela, as well as his twin sister, Melanie, were able to make it to the game from New York. His father had a battle with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma last year before being declared cancer-free in late November, so it meant even more for O'Hoppe to have him in attendance. This time last year, O'Hoppe was accompanying his father to his third cycle of chemotherapy at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York.

"It was great," O'Hoppe said. "I'm just grateful he was here for it along with everybody else. I can't really put into words what it means."

O’Hoppe, 22, had his contract purchased from Double-A Rocket City, where he excelled after being acquired in a surprising trade with that sent outfielder Brandon Marsh to the Phillies at the Aug. 2 Trade Deadline. O’Hoppe turned heads after the trade, batting .306/.473/.674 with 11 homers, three doubles and 33 RBIs in 29 games with Rocket City, as the club advanced to the Southern League playoffs.

O’Hoppe said it was his best stretch of the season, but was quick to credit his teammates at Double-A, whom he said made the transition to a new organization easy for him.

"It was a dream come true,” O’Hoppe said. "I’d been wanting to be a part of a group like that for a while. I got down there and everyone made me feel welcome right away. It was a group I’m going to miss. A lot of good guys and a lot of friendships I was able to form and keep up with now. So, it was a great experience and a couple months I won’t forget."

Angels interim manager Phil Nevin said he heard nothing but good things about O’Hoppe at Double-A after the trade, and said the one thing that stands out is his natural leadership skills. It’s a quality that should help O’Hoppe as he works with Angels pitchers going forward.

"I'm really impressed with his makeup, the way he goes about his business, his presence," Nevin said. "He's as advertised. It's exciting."

O’Hoppe spent most of Tuesday trying to soak it all in, shadowing Stassi throughout the day, an experience O'Hoppe believes helped prepare him for his Major League debut. It was the first time the pair worked together, and both figure to handle the bulk of the Angels' catching duties next season.

"I was following Max around trying to get a feel for the routine," O’Hoppe said. "There was a lot of information to take in, but I'm happy I got my feet wet."

O’Hoppe, a 23rd-round pick in the 2018 Draft out of St. John the Baptist High School (West Islip, N.Y.), is regarded as a strong defensive catcher with power and patience at the plate. But O’Hoppe was humble when asked to describe his strengths as a player -- although it’s clear he takes pride in his defense.

"Everything is a work in progress," O’Hoppe said. "I feel like behind the plate I'm a little more comfortable than at it, because I feel like I do it more and did more when I was younger, too. I'm constantly working on things, but behind the plate is where I'm most comfortable."