Power and finesse: Why the Angels made Sam Bachman their highest pick in a generation


Vanderbilt pitcher Kumar Rocker, he of the nasty breaking balls and social media fame, was on the board far longer than expected.

The Angels, a club perennially in need of pitching help and picking ninth overall in the MLB draft Sunday, were on the clock.

Making their highest overall selection in 24 years, the Angels suddenly found themselves in position to make one of the biggest splashes of the first round.

Instead, they selected a different player, one who had been impressing their scouts for more than a year, and who they believe will play a key role in the club’s future.

Sam Bachman, welcome to Anaheim.

“I didn’t think I was going to tear up, but instead I cried,” Bachman said. “It hit me really hard, and I am just grateful and ready to get to work.”

The hard-throwing right-hander out of Miami (Ohio) University became the second straight college pitcher the Angels have taken with a first-round pick, following Reid Detmers’ selection at No. 10 last year.

And like Detmers, Bachman profiles as a prospect who could potentially have a short track to the big leagues, throwing a fastball over 100 mph that generates natural movement, a “gyroscopic” slider that can put batters away or force them to put the ball on the ground, and an ever-improving changeup that could be critical to his long-term development.

“He’s a really nice advanced blend of power and finesse,” Angels scouting director Matt Swanson said. “A very special young man.”

Despite coming off a dominant junior season in which he had a 1.81 ERA and 93 strikeouts in 12 starts, Bachman was perceived by some pundits as having more of a reliever’s profile. He relied predominantly on his fastball and slider and pitched only 59 ⅔ innings, far fewer than other college starters on the board when the Angels picked, such as Rocker or Texas’ Ty Madden.

But Swanson said the Angels plan to develop Bachman as a starter — Bachman said that’s how he views himself as well — and was emphatic that the right-hander’s combination of velocity, movement, and ability to induce ground balls in addition to racking up strikeouts gives him the potential to be a promising member of a future big league rotation.

They picked him with big dreams about what he’ll be capable of doing in the future.

“When I was able to go and see him live, what really stood out to me was the craft that he had developed, just the fine touches and the nuances that sometimes are lacking from a traditional power pitcher,” Swanson said, adding: “He’s gonna have the opportunity to move at his own pace, and hopefully impact the major league roster sooner rather than later.”

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The final start of Bachman’s college career was also one of his best.

In a May 29 outing against Ball State, in front of dozens of scouts getting a final look before the draft, the bearded 6-foot-1, 235-pound Indiana native dominated over 6⅔ innings, giving up just three hits and one unearned run while striking out nine.

“I remember saying, ‘If you came to watch Sam Bachman today and you didn’t know, you knew after that one,’ ” Miami coach Danny Hayden recalled by phone Sunday night. “Ball State had a really good team. They had a really good offense. And Sam shut them down.”

Among those in attendance that day: first-year Angels general manager Perry Minasian, getting an in-person look at the player his scouting department had been closely following since before Minasian was hired this past offseason.

“Sam was a player we identified really early, as early as last summer, and drew our attention and our focus,” Swanson said. “He’s somebody, start to finish, this entire spring we focused on.”

And the more they watched, the more they liked.

“Spend 10 minutes with him on a Zoom and it’s just very obvious … how much Sam genuinely cares about his craft.”

Angels scouting director Matt Swanson

“He’s a self-made man,” Swanson said. “He’s developed immensely over the last two, three years. The leaps and bounds that he’s been able to make really speak to the character and work ethic.”

Hayden coached Bachman for each of his three college seasons, watching up close as he transformed from a potential mid-round selection into a top-10 pick.

Coming out of Hamilton Southeastern High in the suburbs of Indianapolis, Bachman arrived at Miami as a hard-thrower who could already hit 92 mph. But each year, his tailing fastball got a little bit better, routinely reaching triple digits this season and reminding Hayden of the heater of Luis Castillo, the one-time All-Star for the Cincinnati Reds.

Bachman’s slider became an equally impressive weapon, a put-away pitch with pronounced “gyroscopic spin” that causes the ball to drop more than slide.

“For me, it’s always been a comfort thing and I’ve always had good command with it growing up,” Bachman said. “It really falls off the table.”

And though he used his changeup in college less than the other two pitches, both Swanson and Hayden believe it has the makings of a dangerous third option.

“The changeup is the one that doesn’t get a ton of credit so far,” Hayden said. “But I promise you, it’s gonna be a big pitch by the time he is playing in the big leagues.”

Bachman also developed a distinct style during his college career. He has a quick and confident tempo between pitches. He has a cutthroat mentality in leverage situations.

Hayden recalled his favorite moment from this past season, when Bachman got into a bases-loaded jam with no outs in the first inning against Florida International.

Sam Bachman pitches against Florida International in 2021.

(Doug Murray / Associated Press)

Before the fourth batter, Bachman took a quick step off the rubber. He exhaled deeply. Then, looking like the “scariest dude on the planet,” Hayden said, unleashing a flurry of almost perfect pitches to strike out the next three batters, all swinging. He went on to throw six scoreless innings.

“It was everything,” Hayden said. “You got to see how talented he was. You got to see how tough he was. You got to see his character, how much pride he has. It was all the great things about Sam, in one deep breath.”

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While Bachman sat surrounded by more than 100 friends and family members back on campus in Ohio on Sunday night — he said he was invited to the draft, but wanted to be around those close to him — the rest of the baseball world watched the first round begin with a string of unexpected picks.

Louisville catcher Henry Davis was selected first overall by the Pittsburgh Pirates, a move predicted by few mock drafts. The Kansas City Royals took Connecticut high school pitcher Frank Mozzicato at No. 7 in an even more surprising move. And Rocker, who was widely projected to be off the board by the time the Angels were on the clock, was suddenly still available.

But when commissioner Rob Manfred walked to the podium at Bellco Theater in Denver to announce the Angels’ pick, it was Bachman’s name he read aloud.

Swanson declined Sunday night to comment specifically on how much the Angels considered Rocker, but did say later that, unlike much of the rest of the sport, he was actually “not really” surprised by the picks that unfolded before them.

“It hits you pretty hard. After hugging some of the folks who have really sacrificed a lot, it gets pretty emotional pretty quick.”

Sam Bachman on being drafted at No. 9 overall by the Angels

And while there can be myriad factors that go into a first-selection — signability, financial implications regarding slot money available for later-round picks, and other preferences that can vary between organizations — Swanson maintained that the Angels went with who they felt was the best available player.

“That’s where we viewed Sam,” Swanson said.

Even in a year still partially impacted by the coronavirus pandemic, Swanson said the team got to know Bachman extremely well. While most of last year’s collegiate summer leagues were canceled, Bachman pitched in one that Swanson said the Angels were able to closely scout. And as the draft drew nearer in recent months, the team was able to conduct Zoom calls with the pitcher as well.

“Spend 10 minutes with him on a Zoom,” Swanson said, “and it’s just very obvious … how much Sam genuinely cares about his craft.”

It’s not a selection that comes free of uncertainties. There remain questions about Bachman’s long-term ability to develop into a starter. He also reportedly battled shoulder soreness at times this past season, though Swanson said it was “not a concern at all for us.” And there is the pressure that comes with being selected ninth overall, the highest the Angels had picked since taking Troy Glaus at No. 3 in 1997.

But when he heard his name called, Bachman smiled wide as the rest of his watch party erupted around him, swarming the pitcher with hugs and high-fives after he became the first first-round pick in school history.

“It hits you pretty hard,” Bachman said. “After hugging some of the folks who have really sacrificed a lot, it gets pretty emotional pretty quick.”

In a post-draft video call with reporters in Ohio, Bachman continued to grin while reflecting on what he said was a late-blooming prep career that included only two college offers out of high school and little first-round draft buzz until this year.

“It’s definitely an emotional roller-coaster ride,” he said. “You’ve got to really handle the hills and the valleys. Baseball can be a pretty emotional game. The mental toughness aspect is huge.”

And as he began to prepare to enter the Angels organization, there was no one in the room who doubted where his future might be headed.

“He’s super talented, but he’s made these jumps because of his work ethic,” Hayden said. “I promise you, the kid will probably get a workout in tonight, he’ll probably have a really smart breakfast tomorrow, and he’ll be ready to go crush whatever tomorrow has for him.”





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