Billy Eppler got a head start on what will be a busy free agent pitching market last week when the Angels agreed to terms with 23-year-old left-hander Luiz Gohara, who was recently released by the Braves. Going into this season, the Angels were sure to need multiple starting pitchers (in-house options are plentiful, but not too promising) and a reliever, preferably left-handed, preferably capable of getting six or more outs.
Gohara figures to get a strong chance at filling one of these two roles, having worked as both a starter and a reliever while working his way through the Mariners’ and Braves’ system as a top-100 prospect. Gohara’s pedigree is strong: he spiked as high as #31 on Fangraphs’ top prospects board back in 2018.
It’s not often that a prospect of that stature gets released outright, with five years of team control remaining and good indicators of success in a limited major-league sample. There are reasons (injury, weight concerns) to doubt Gohara, but the Angels were wise to buy in at a low price on what made Gohara an elite prospect in the first place: he has two absolutely elite pitches.
Gohara’s arsenal starts with the fastball. When he was last healthy in the majors, in 2017, he averaged 96.95 mph on the heater, which would have ranked fifth among qualified starting pitchers in 2019, and first among lefties by a hefty 2.3 mph margin over Martin Perez. Even in 2018, with his velo sapped by injury, Gohara averaged 94.6, the same as Perez. Gohara goes hard.
The other weapon for Gohara is his slider, which Fangraphs’ prospects analysts graded out as a 60 pitch, equal to the future value on his (elite) fastball. The slider is much slower than the fastball and, movement-wise, fits into the high movement slurve category mentioned by Eno Sarris here–except that instead of coming in at 80 mph, even a large velocity gap from Gohara’s blazing fastball leaves the slider coming in at 84 on average when Gohara is right. That leaves batters doing things like this:
The trouble with Gohara is he hasn’t added a functioning third pitch. He throws a changeup, and it has the potential to become average, but that’ll be part of the difference between Gohara filling a rotation spot in 2020 and becoming a multi-inning bullpen weapon for Brad Ausmus to deploy.
If the changeup never comes around but Gohara gets healthy, he’ll likely be a go-to option in the late innings as soon as Opening Day. If the changeup does develop under the tutelage of pitching coach Doug White, over the offseason or while he’s in the bullpen, Gohara has a legitimate chance to reach his ceiling and be a mid-rotation starter for the Angels through 2024.
And if he never does get healthy? The Angels can stash him in the minors and be out essentially nothing. This kind of risk-free signing is exactly the kind of move the Angels should be jumping all over as they seek to build pitching depth for 2020 and moving forward.