How Kolton Ingram has resurrected his major-league dreams with the Angels

Rocket City Trash Pandas reliever Kolton Ingram (14) delivers a pitch to the plate against the Tennessee Smokies.
Angels prospect Kolton Ingram delivers a pitch during a game for the Rocket City Trash Pandas in April 2022. Ingram is hoping to make the Angels' opening-day roster. (Danny Parker / Associated Press)

Kolton Ingram threw his first pitch, smiled, acknowledged his catcher, then got back into position to make his next delivery. His pitches sailed, an audible hiss cutting across the space.

Friday was the 26-year-old left-handed pitcher’s first bullpen session of his first big league spring training. Focused, with just the right amount of lightness.

“It's definitely different than minor league camp,” Ingram said Thursday of what the experience of being there for the first time has been like so far.

He also wants to use the time to learn from some of the veteran relievers, like Aaron Loup, whose locker sits right across from his in the clubhouse. Loup’s main advice for Ingram: “Just be yourself and try to soak up as much knowledge from all the guys in here.”

Ingram was one of two players whose contracts the Angels selected before the deadline in November, protected from the Rule 5 Draft. But in 2020, he altogether lost his job as a minor leaguer in the Detroit Tigers’ organization — a casualty of the COVID-ravaged minor leagues, whose season was canceled and more than 1,000 players were released.

“It was really the first time that I felt like I’d failed,” Ingram recalled of getting released by the Tigers.

“There's no way baseball could be over,” Wes Taylor, Ingram’s stepfather, said of the reaction he and Kellie, Ingram’s mother, had after he told them he’d been cut.

“I sulked for a few hours, it was kind of like a shock,” Ingram said. “Then the competitiveness in me just burst and I got back in action.”

During the canceled season, two of his former Tigers teammates stayed with him at his family’s home in Georgia. For the next four months, he went to work, specifically on increasing his velocity.

“I saw the determination every day. He did not let up,” Kellie said.

Angels pitcher Kolton Ingram stretches during a training session Friday in Tempe, Ariz.
Angels pitcher Kolton Ingram stretches during a training session Friday in Tempe, Ariz. (Morry Gash / Associated Press)

The next spring, the Angels signed him as a free agent, where he transitioned quickly to double A.

Kellie and Wes remembered the promotions feeling fast. They drove Kolton’s car to San Bernardino from Atlanta for him a few weeks into the season, watched him pitch the day they arrived, stayed a few days, then flew back to Atlanta. By the time they landed, Ingram was calling to let them know he was heading to High-A Tri-City.

Ingram was in double-A ball by July 2021. In 2022, he pitched 60.2 innings over 50 games with Rocket City, giving up 18 earned runs, including six home runs, walking 17 batters and striking out 73.

His progress over the last two years in the Angels system had been about his pitch sequencing — when to use certain pitches to play to batters' weaknesses. His performance and potential was enough for the organization to keep him.

“Getting put on the 40-man was a sense of relief almost,” Ingram said. “You kind of start to see the hard work paying off and all the hours and countless repetitions just finally pay off. You just can kind of sit back and look, but you can't sit back for too long.”

“I'm super proud of him, but I didn't doubt it for a minute,” Kevin Ingram, Kolton’s father, said of hearing he was added to the Angels’ 40-man roster.

Coming into this spring, Kolton said some areas of improvement the Angels hoped he could make involved using different pitch grips to get more sweeping movement out of his slider, since it already had decent spin. They also wanted him to work on his fastball and add a cutter to his arsenal.

“He did exactly what he was doing in the offseason,” Angels pitching coach Matt Wise said Saturday. “He did it [in his bullpen session]. He’s very impressive."

There are 43 pitchers at Angels camp this spring, including 21 who were invited who are not on the 40-man roster — there are 78 players expected at Angels camp total. So there’s plenty of competition to try to land a spot among the team’s relief corps.

“It’s his first year on the 40-man,” Wise said. “So we’re going to give him every opportunity to put his best foot forward and we’ll see where we’re at.”

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.