The top reliever on this season’s High-A Lynchburg Hillcats has been Argenis Angulo. The 6’3” closer hails from Araure, Venezuela. He made his way to the Cleveland system through Ranger College, a junior college in Texas. A 19th round selection in the 2014 First Year Player Draft, this season marks the first one begun in full season ball. Of his previous three seasons, he spent two in the Arizona League, and his third started in short-season ball at rookie level Mahoning Valley.
For as long as he can remember, Angulo has been playing baseball.
“My dad always liked baseball. He introduced me to it when I was two years old. He started tossing balls to me. I started playing Little League when I was about four years old.”
As he grew up and continued to play in Venezuelan leagues, he was primarily a hitter. It was not until he was 17 that he was encouraged to become a pitcher.
“I loved to hit,” said Angulo. “I was never fast enough to be a position player, so they talked to me and said, ‘You’ve got a cannon, you can be a pitcher.’ I said, ‘I don’t think so.’”
Not sold on the idea of being a pitcher, it was his first strikeout that made him consider pitching as a way to continue to play the game.
“After that first strikeout, I was throwing 88, but I never liked to pitch until I got the chance to play in college.”
While playing in the 18 and Under World Championships, Angulo was asked if he wanted to go to America to play college ball.
“Sure,” he said, “but I don’t know any English.”
At 18 years old he began his college career in a two-year junior college west of the Dallas-Fort Worth area called Ranger College.
“It was hard at the beginning knowing no English,” he said, “taking classes without knowing anything. But I found a way to like it and take advantage of it.”
The difficulty of that first year showed up in his baseball performance. In 12 games, four in which he started, he had a 0-2 record and an 8.29 ERA in 33 2/3 innings pitched. In his second year as a Ranger, his performance improved significantly. In 63 innings, he had 83 strikeouts and his ERA finished at 3.14. This put him on the Indians draft board.
“Getting my name called in the draft,” said Angulo, “was one of the best experiences so far in my life.”
After getting only three token appearances in the Arizona League in 2015 due to injury, he played for clubs at four of the five levels of the Indians’ minor league system last year, getting one appearance for AAA Columbus, two appearances for AA Akron, and dividing his remaining appearances between Low-A Lake County and short-season Mahoning Valley.
“I think it’s nice to be healthy,” said Angulo, when asked about his travels in the Cleveland farm system last year. “Being in a position where I can help one team. I like it here [in Lynchburg], though it’s not like I want to spend all year here.”
Like any aspiring Major Leaguer, he hopes his performance gets him that call from the manager sending him up to a higher level and closer to his goal of being a Major League baseball player.
On the mound, he mixes up four pitches. Working off his two- and four-seam fastballs, he also throws a slurve and a change-up. Working with pitching coach Rigo Beltran, his goals for the season are to get more consistency, and Beltran has helped him take his pitching performance to the next level.
“Attacking the hitters,” said Angulo of one of those goals. “Being able to set them up with my fastball, so they will be in bad shape [for his off-speed offerings].”
Working exclusively out of the bullpen over the past two seasons, he has developed into an end game pitcher that manager Tony Mansolino often calls upon to close out games and preserve Hillcats victories. The High-A Lynchburg club currently sports the best record in the Carolina League at 53-35 on the season, and 13-6 in the second half.
“It’s nice to come in in the ninth, or the eighth inning,” he shared. “I want to get the hitters out as quickly as possible so I can be ready to go the next day.”
Efficiency is critical for a short reliever, since they are frequently called on to finish games. Angulo leads the Hillcats bullpen with ten saves. His first of these ten came in Myrtle Beach. He came on to strike out three of the final four batters and preserved a 5-3 victory.
With 42 strikeouts in just over 33 innings, Angulo has been most effective in limiting opposing hitters. His opponent’s batting average is a weak .167, meaning he rarely allows a base runner and is reliable in keeping inherited runners from scoring.
This success earned him his first appearance in an All-Star game as a professional. One of six Hillcats to earn that honor, he joined his teammates in Salem for the fanfare and contest. Much as he has for the Hillcats, Angulo closed out a Northern Division victory in the All-Star Classic, preserving a victory for teammate Shao-Ching Chiang.
“We talked to him [Chiang] before the game,” said Angulo. “He said he was going to throw four pitches, but we didn’t believe it. Then the first hitter he was at six pitches, but finished the inning with ten pitches overall before going out of the game.”
As he gets more comfortable finishing games, Angulo is building a pitching resume that will take him to the next level, either later this season or more likely in 2018. With 22 games finished, he trails only Carolina Mudcats pitcher Nate Griep, who has finished 25 games.
“It’s nice to have the ability to pitch every day,” said Angulo. “Mansolino trusts me to come in at the ninth inning.”
As he improves his consistency and competence on the mound, he will continue to work his way towards his goal of pitching at the Major League level.
Photo: Lathan Goumas/The News and Advance