Ohtani, Pujols experiencing smooth rehabs
No timetable for two-way star; Angels weighing backup first base options
CARLSBAD, Calif. -- Shohei Ohtani's rehab from Tommy John surgery is progressing as expected, though the Angels remain unclear on when the Japanese star will be available to hit in 2019.
General manager Billy Eppler said the Angels received positive news from Ohtani's follow-up appointment with team doctors on Thursday, the four-week benchmark for his Oct. 1 procedure.
"Everything was great," Eppler said Monday at the GM Meetings at the Omni La Costa Resort. "The doc was very encouraged. He is pretty much at full extension, so his range of motion looks great."
Given the unprecedented path to recovery that Ohtani will face as a two-way player, the Angels have shied away from announcing any official timetable for his potential return as a hitter. Eppler said he likely won't feel comfortable making any pronouncements until January.
• Ohtani a finalist for Rookie of the Year
"So far, so good" with Pujols
First baseman Jose Pujols, who underwent arthroscopic surgery on his left knee in August, is also enjoying a smooth rehab and has continued to work out in Southern California this offseason.
"So far, so good," Eppler said. "He feels good. Everything there has been OK, from the feedback I've gotten. We'll just see how his health is first and foremost in Spring Training. If that's good -- and I don't have any reason to believe it won't be -- we'll just take things as they come with him."
Pujols, who will turn 39 in January, batted .245 with a .700 OPS, 19 home runs and 64 RBIs in 117 games in 2018.
While the Angels believe Pujols will still be able to handle fielding duties next year, they would like to find a left-handed-hitting first baseman to help shoulder the workload with him and minimize the risk for further injury. The answer could be internal, as prospects Matt Thaiss and Jared Walsh both reached Triple-A Salt Lake this past season and could be ready to contribute in 2019.
Thaiss, the Angels' first-round Draft pick in 2016, batted .280 with an .802 OPS and 16 home runs in 125 games between Double-A Mobile and Triple-A Salt Lake in 2018. Walsh, who also plays right field and received formal pitching instruction in Arizona this fall, hit .277 with an .895 OPS and 29 home runs in 128 games across three Minor League levels.
The Angels also have three other young players -- David Fletcher, Taylor Ward and Luis Rengifo -- who they believe can help round out their infield, which currently features Andrelton Simmons at shortstop, Zack Cozart at either second or third base and Pujols at first. Eppler said he's already informed Fletcher, Ward and Rengifo that they will enter Spring Training with a chance to win a starting infield job with the club.
Eppler believes the emergence of these five players affords the Angels enough positional depth to direct most of their resources to other areas of need on their roster this offseason -- namely, starting pitching, relievers and, potentially, catching help.
"While I'd love to sit here and tell you all five will hit projections, it could be three, could be four, could be two," Eppler said. "But generally, when you have youth, you have upside. And they're all young."
Ausmus' staff still being assembled
Eppler said the Angels still have one more vacancy to fill on new manager Brad Ausmus' coaching staff, though they have tentatively put that on their agenda for early next week. Newly hired pitching coach Doug White and hitting coach Jeremy Reed, promoted from Minor League hitting coordinator, are the only confirmed coaches thus far.
More injury updates
• Right-handers JC Ramirez and Keynan Middleton have begun throwing progressions as they work their way back from Tommy John surgery. Eppler said Ramirez is currently on track to return to the Majors in late May or mid-June. Middleton is projected to come back in late June or mid-July.
• Alex Meyer's rehab from right shoulder surgery has hit a snag, as the 28-year-old is expected to be shut down from throwing for four to six weeks. Eppler said it's too early to say whether the setback will prevent Meyer from factoring into the Angels' pitching depth chart next spring. Meyer, who underwent surgery to repair a torn labrum last September, has not pitched in the Majors since July 19, 2017.
• Cozart (left shoulder surgery) has been cleared to begin a hitting progression and is expected to arrive at Spring Training without restrictions.
• Outfielder Michael Hermosillo's stint with the Tigres del Licey of the Dominican Winter League was cut short after he suffered a recurrence of a core muscle injury. Hermosillo underwent surgery to repair the injury, though the procedure isn't expected to affect his readiness for Spring Training.
• Eppler said the Angels are "open" to bringing back right-hander Garrett Richards, who is now a free agent. Richards underwent Tommy John surgery in July and is aiming to return to pitch in 2020.
• The Angels view right-hander Austin Brice, who was claimed off waivers from the Reds last week, as a potential multi-inning reliever. Brice, 26, posted a 5.79 ERA over 37 1/3 innings with Cincinnati this past season.
"We liked the tools that he brings," Eppler said. "Fastball, breaking ball. Curveball, specifically. He's had some starting in his past, so we think he can actually provide some multi-inning use for us, which will be important because we tend to talk about that regularly, having some guys in our bullpen that can go two or three innings. We like to try to build them up that way as we head into Spring Training. He's an arm that we still see some upside with, with some potential adjustments."