SALT LAKE CITY — Griffin Canning is knocking on the door of his lifelong dream.
Canning, born in Mission Viejo, California — just miles outside of Anaheim — will start the season with the Salt Lake Bees, only one level away from playing for his hometown Los Angeles Angels.
Since being drafted by the Angels with the 47th overall pick in the 2017 MLB Draft, the 22-year-old has enjoyed a meteoric rise through the Angels’ farm system. After pitching at UCLA for three years — finishing his junior season at UCLA with an ERA of 2.34 in 119 innings pitched — the Halos gave Canning the remainder of 2017 off, and the right-hander made his professional debut in high-A Inland Empire on April 5, 2018.
Canning dominated his debut, allowing just one hit, no runs, and striking out six in four innings. Canning pitched just two games in High-A before he was moved up to Double-A Mobile, where he was managed by current Bees manager Lou Marson, who was then Mobile’s manager. Canning lasted just 10 starts in Mobile, with an ERA of 1.97, before being promoted to Triple-A Salt Lake for the rest of the season. In Salt Lake, Canning pitched 59 innings with an ERA of 5.49.
At just 22 years old, Canning is one of Los Angeles’ premier pitching prospects. Baseball America ranks him as the Angels No. 2 overall prospect and No. 62 in all of baseball. He’s the first Top 100 overall prospect to start a season in Salt Lake since Andrew Heaney in 2015. Canning can throw all four of his pitches (fastball, curveball, slider, changeup) very well.
“He impressed me a lot last year in Mobile," Marson said. "He wasn’t there very long. He dominated the league. He came up here (to Salt Lake). … I expect him to do great things here. He carries himself differently than all the other players. He’s going to be special.
"His demeanor on the field, off the field — he has this confidence about him that is different than what a lot of players that I’ve seen so far in my coaching career here with Anaheim, and I expect him to do good things and help Anaheim this year.”
Canning got his first invitation to spring training this year. Playing alongside Angels players he watched as a fan was an experience that he won’t forget.
“It was really cool being up there for a little bit. I grew up an Angels fan, so being around those guys that I’ve grown up watching and being a fan of, it was kind of cool to be around them and kind of pick their brains and learn from them," Canning said. "At the same time, I got to see just kind of how they carry themselves and what it kind of takes to be up there (in the majors)."
As for his goals this season, Canning wants to stay healthy, get better every day, learn and stay ready.
“I’ve kind of been going back and forth on my changeup so far, really working on improving that. Just attacking hitters more, not being so tentative, throwing too many pitches in every inning," he said. "I’m really working on being more efficient."
Will 2019 be the year that Canning gets the call-up to Anaheim?
“That’s not for me to decide,” he said.
Salt Lake’s opening-day pitching roster is full of returning talent, with Jaime Barria, Jake Jewell, Alex Klonowski, Greg Mahle, Luis Pena and Jeremy Rhoades back for another season with the Bees. Salt Lake also adds Sam Freeman, Dillon Peters, Matt Ramsey and Forrest Snow to its pitching staff. Barria, Jewell, Mahle, Freeman and Peters all have MLB experience.
Barria, who started 26 games for the Angels last year with an ERA of 3.41, is Salt Lake’s opening-day starter.
“I’m looking forward to watching him pitch as well,” Marson said of Barria. "He’s definitely a great right-handed pitcher and he can help Anaheim win this year as well."
Barria figures to join the Halos’ rotation sooner rather than later in 2019.
“Really fun to learn,” Barria said of his experience with the Angels last year. "Really happy with the opportunity to be part of that team and experience that."