The Angels may be an organization that has been hard up for good pitching the last few seasons, but that is set to change quicker than most would expect. We’ve already seen signs of life within the club after seeing prospects such as Griffin Canning, Chris Rodriguez and Patrick Sandoval contributing to MLB wins and that wave doesn’t look to end anytime soon. It may be a slow trickle with the Angels but the prospective talent within the organization is getting closer and closer to the MLB roster everyday. One such pitcher who looks to develop into a regular MLB contributor is Inland Empire 66ers pitcher Andrew Blake. The 6’5, 220 pound right-hander who was drafted out of North Carolina State in 2019 recently logged his first start of the season for the Angels Low-A club. Although he didn’t come out with a win it was as winning a performance as you can ask for as he was nominated Pitcher of the Week after his appearance.
On May 4th, 2021, Angels prospect Andrew Blake kicked off the 66ers 2021 home opener, which was also the 2021 season opener, with a 5 inning performance that saw him strike out 8 hitters while walking none. It was a tight game all the way around as the Dodgers Low A club, the Rancho Cucamonga Quakes, featured top prospect Gavin Stone opposite Blake on the bump in a game that ended as a 3-1 loss for the 66ers. All in all, Blake threw 76 pitches with 55 going for strikes while allowing one run on four hits, with only one hit going for extra bases (a double), while also logging an early game pickoff throw.
RHP Andrew Blake #25
Current Team: Low A 66ers
DD: How are you feeling after your season debut? You pitched 5 innings and pulled in 8 Ks, I would say it was pretty impressive.
Blake: A lot of credit goes to my teammates for having my back on the field. [Keinner] Piña called a great game for me, he really worked on a lot of things that Gil Heredia, our pitching coach, and I had talked about before the game. It definitely felt like it was a great opportunity to set the tone for season. It was great to have the support of my teammates and coaches. We left Spring Training with a lot of confidence and went into that game really believing in what we could do as a team.
DD: It’s awesome to see you feeling good to start the season. Since there was no 2020 Minor League season to work through, I was curious to know where you see yourself right now with your pitch development.
Blake: My fastball is definitely playing up right now, I worked on it all season in 2019 and most of the summer last year. Through 2020 I also worked on creating more of a slider than a curveball. It’s been a really good go-to pitch for me so far. I’m still developing a lot of different things and figuring how to apply these pitches best in certain situations now that we’re pitching in games
DD: How are you keeping your strikeout consistency going on the mound?
Blake: One thing we really touched on a lot in Spring Training was pounding the zone, attacking the hitters early and often in counts and trying to get the first strike. Putting yourself in a situation with 0-1 or 1-1 counts is a great opportunity to be able to fill up the zone with all three pitches. That’s one thing I’ve been really trying to do is get ahead early and force the hitters hand. Force them into making a decision one way or the other. Really just filling up the zone as much as possible and putting pressure on the batter.
5/4/21 Stat Line: 5 IP 4 H 1 ER 0 BB 8Ks
Drafted in 2019 out of North Carolina State University
Angels prospect Andrew Blake came into the Angels system out of North Carolina State already having a solid understanding of how to generate strikeouts. He came out of college and into the Angels organization sporting an 11.3 K/9 rate and saw that number jump to 13.3 K/9 through 17 games of work with the Rookie Ball Orem Owlz. Blake is still a bit fresh when it comes to developmental experience in the MiLB but given his young age of 23 he’s still right on track. His presence on the mound is very mature for someone with just 26.2 innings of professional work and his mentality speaks volumes about the potential ready to be realized by the young starter.
Although Blake did have struggles with walks in the past, it is encouraging to see him start his 2021 season with a zero walk performance. The swings and misses were healthy and the location was on point en route to his five-inning performance, which was actually the longest appearance of his professional career. In 2019, Blake worked mostly as a reliever who could go for an extra inning if need be and of his 17 games, 10 of them came in the 8th inning or later, with Blake topping out at two innings of work in three total games throughout the season. It’s good to see Blake being stretched out as a starter as he does have what it takes to start; he has a workhouse build, which would come in handy eating innings as a starter should the Angels trend his development in that direction. He has a nice fastball that floats around the mid 90s and will probably pick up a little extra velocity as he develops. His off speed also looks to develop into a solid supporting cast for his fastball.
66 Ks in 47.1 Total IP (including 2019 college season)
DD: What are your goals for the 2021 season? What do you see yourself focusing your development on?
Blake: First and foremost I want to see us win as many games as possible. Personally I would like to keep the strikeout rate up, keep my strike percentage up. Things like that are what coaches and coordinators have been touching on. Those are definitely the most important things for me to see develop this season.
DD: How did you keep yourself in shape throughout 2020? Did you find yourself doing a lot of alternate site work?
Blake: I actually wasn’t at the Angels alternate site. I was at Winston-Salem, North Carolina where I’m from. I was working out and throwing with some guys back home. The gyms were shut down so I had to adapt a little bit and improvise with some home gym equipment, just thinking outside the box with getting workouts and things like that. I was still able to get in good work.
DD: And you’re feeling up to speed with where you should be despite the 2020 hiatus?
Blake: Yeah, I actually feel a little better now than if we hadn’t had the “extra offseason” you could say. I think the hiatus was a chance for a lot of guys to come back and put in better prep work before the 2021 season. I feel a little better prepared, I feel a little better in shape than I was coming into last season.
DD: Does that mean you’re feeling healthier headed into the 2021 season?
Blake: Yeah, it was definitely quite a change and a lot of guys had to really adjust their training regimens, but I really think that most guys came back in great shape really ready to get at it.
Blake is in an interesting place right now; his development could trend towards either a back-end bullpen role or as a starter, but it all depends on how the Angels decide to handle him. Given that the Angels have only recently employed him as a starter, there still needs to be time to see how he pans out in that direction. He’s shown the ability to throw up to 80 pitches while maintaining velocity and composure throughout and displaying solid whiff-ability and understanding of the zone. He can confidently pound the zone without having to resort to nibbling. We still have to see how the stamina works out over the course of a full professional season, but if Blake can maintain himself as a starter, there will absolutely be a place for him with the Angels MLB club sooner rather than later.
MLB ETA: 2022