Salt Lake Bees manager Lou Marson knows only the version of Griffin Canning who pitched for him at Double-A Mobile last season and the right-hander who looked good in his 2019 debut Saturday at Albuquerque.
What happened in between, while Canning pitched for the Bees last summer and Marson remained in Mobile, hardly matters now.
Canning’s rough adjustment to Triple-A baseball barely has delayed his timetable for joining the Los Angeles Angels someday. He’s part of a six-man starting rotation this spring for the Bees, who will stage their home opener Tuesday night vs. Fresno at Smith’s Ballpark. If this week’s weather allows the Bees to stay on schedule, Canning will pitch Friday vs. Sacramento.
Salt Lake (1-4) concluded its season-opening series Monday afternoon at Albuquerque with a 9-4 loss, despite home runs by Brennon Lund, Dustin Garneau and Jared Walsh.
The Salt Lake Bees’ upcoming schedule at Smith’s Ballpark:
Tuesday – vs. Fresno, 6:35 p.m.
Wednesday – vs. Fresno, 6:35 p.m.
Thursday – vs. Fresno, 12:05 p.m.
Friday – vs. Sacramento, 6:35 p.m.
Saturday – vs. Sacramento, 6:35 p.m.
Sunday – vs. Sacramento, 1:05 p.m.
Monday – vs. Sacramento, 12:05 p.m.
The Bees lost 3-2 to the Isotopes in Canning’s start, although he left with a lead in the sixth inning after a strong effort Saturday. “He’s very mature for his age and very baseball-savvy for a guy who has been in pro ball for basically a year,” pitching coach Pat Rice said. “He picks things up really quick. And really, he’s just kind of sharpening his skills and learning how to get certain hitters out. He’s such a quick study that I really don’t expect him to be here long.”
Canning, who will turn 23 next month, was the Angels' second-round pick in 2017 after his junior year at UCLA. He's ranked as the organization's No. 2 prospect behind outfielder Jo Adell, who's injured this spring.
“He impressed me a lot last year in Mobile,” Marson said. “He wasn't there very long. He dominated that league. … He carries himself differently than other players. He has this confidence about him that is different than a lot of other players that I've seen so far in my coaching career.”
In three seasons at UCLA, Canning went 19-13 with a 2.99 ERA. He faced Utah once a year. The Utes beat him 6-4 in 2016 on their way to a Pac-12 championship, but Canning struck out 10 batters in a 7-3, complete-game victory as a junior.
Many pitching prospects skip Triple-A, but college pitchers usually start higher in the system and spend some time at this level. With his background, Canning naturally evokes a comparison to Long Beach State product Jered Weaver, who thrived in Salt Lake City in 2006 on his way to a long career with the Angels.
The difference is that Canning was promoted to the Bees in the middle of last season and had some trouble, going 3-3 with a 5.49 ERA in 13 starts. Weaver started his second pro season with Salt Lake and went 6-1 with a 2.10 ERA in 12 games, and went on to win 11 games for the Angels that season.
Canning's 2018 experience in the Pacific Coast League was instructive. His approach this season is “just attacking hitters more, not being so tentative, throwing too many pitchers in every inning,” Canning said. “I'm really working on being more efficient.”
He succeeded at Albuquerque. Canning pitched 5.1 innings, allowing four hits and no walks, with five strikeouts. He took a no-decision in the 3-2 defeat, as a reliever allowed a home run after Canning exited in the sixth inning, having thrown 74 pitches.
Similarly, Dillon Peters left in the sixth inning Sunday after 77 pitches, having allowed one hit. The Angels' instructions to the Bees' staff include low pitch counts in April. As Marson said, “It's about keeping these guys healthy, getting their work in.”
And getting them ready for what comes next, with the Angels.