John Smoltz finished his Hall of Fame career after 21 seasons of play with 213 wins and 154 saves. For his career, Smoltz was a 69 WAR pitcher.
Rod Barajas finished his career after 14 seasons of play with a batting average of .235, 136 homers, and a WAR of 4.6.
Despite vastly different careers on the diamond, the pair have become close friends off of the field thanks to a shared love of golf. In the weeks following the end of the 2020 season, Angels manager Rod Barajas and Smoltz were golfing together at Monarch Beach Country Club in Dana Point, California when Barajas asked Smoltz a favor. With the team’s longtime ace in free-agency and with management not engaging in talks to bring Ryan Copeland back, Barajas wanted to know about Smoltz’s journey from the rotation to the bullpen. While the conversation began focused on Smoltz’s time in both roles and how he would approach each, what Barajas really wanted to know from Smoltz was what he thought about the Angels potentially transitioning closer Paul Erickson to the rotation in 2021.
Paul Erickson was drafted 15th overall in the 2014 MLB Pro Draft. The Texas Longhorn graduate was a fixture on the All-Big 12 Conference team in each of his final three seasons in Austin. Erickson, a tall lefty was known for his powerful one-two punch of a hard fastball and a devastating curveball. What made Erickson unique at the time was the durability of his arm and its ability to be ready to be called on repeatedly.
After beginning his minor-league career as a starter, Erickson began 2016 in the Salt Lake bullpen as the organization saw a path to the big-leagues that season in the bullpen. After bring groomed by Jordan Walden and Takaaki Ichikawa, Erickson took over the closer role in 2019 where he has flourished in each of the past two seasons.
Now, with Ryan Copeland gone, the organization could be looking to bring Erickson back to his prior role in the rotation. Both his manager and the former Hall of Famer believe Erickson has what it takes to succeed in either role. Since that golf outing, Erickson has spent time picking Smoltz’s brain when it comes to learning how to focus far beyond just the 9th inning. The pair have golfed together several times since with Erickson describing those outings as, “tougher than a time on the mound. John is one hell of a golfer, but a better guy. He’s offered great advice and it’s always a pleasure to pick the brain of a former great pitcher like he was.”
While Barajas has remained coy on the situation, the decision, and the domino effect such a move would have on the rest of the pitchers on the roster, he did offer this to reporters when asked about Erickson, “we know we can trust Paul to get key outs. Whether it’s three to close things out or 18 to start a game, we are confident that whenever Paul is on the mound, we have a pitcher who is capable of getting us outs. We’re just excited to see what he can do for us again in 2021.”