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Around the Horn: Health will be key to rotation

January 30, 2019

Leading up to the start of Spring Training, the Around the Horn series will examine each of the Angels' positional groupings heading into the 2019 season. Here's a look at the starting rotation.ANAHEIM -- The Angels had trouble keeping their starting pitchers healthy in 2018, as only Andrew Heaney reached

Leading up to the start of Spring Training, the Around the Horn series will examine each of the Angels' positional groupings heading into the 2019 season. Here's a look at the starting rotation.
ANAHEIM -- The Angels had trouble keeping their starting pitchers healthy in 2018, as only Andrew Heaney reached 30 starts and the club used 16 different starters.
The rotation combined to post a 4.34 ERA that ranked 19th in the Majors, while their walk and strikeout totals were middle of the pack. They also ranked 19th in WAR, per Fangraphs.com, while inducing a 41 percent groundball rate that was the seventh-lowest mark in the Majors.
So it's clear the Angels will need a better showing from the rotation in 2019, especially with two-way star Shohei Ohtani unable to pitch this season after undergoing Tommy John surgery in October. But the Angels have made a few notable additions to the rotation this offseason and have improved their depth, which is important with several of their starters dealing with injury issues in recent seasons.
Who's returning?
Lefty Tyler Skaggs had an impressive first half, with a 2.57 ERA and 105 strikeouts in 98 innings, but he dealt with a left adductor strain in the second half and had a 9.22 ERA in seven starts after the All-Star break. He's going to be counted on as the leader of the staff, but he's had trouble staying healthy throughout his career, as his 24 starts and 125 1/3 innings were career highs last year.
Heaney made a solid return from Tommy John surgery, striking out 180 and walking 45 in 180 innings. With another year removed from the operation, the lefty will be counted on for innings, but he will need to improve his home run rate.

Jaime Barria had a breakout rookie season during which he posted a 3.41 ERA in 26 starts with 98 strikeouts, 47 walks and 17 homers allowed in 129 1/3 innings. Barria, 22, still has room to improve, as he was helped by a low batting average on balls in play and a high rate of stranding baserunners, which might not be sustainable in 2019.
Right-hander Felix Peña, 28, remains in the mix and carried a 4.18 ERA with 85 strikeouts, 28 walks and 12 homers allowed in 92 2/3 innings last year. Fellow 28-year-old right-hander Nick Tropeano made 14 starts with a 4.74 ERA in 76 innings, as he struggled with walks and homers allowed.
Who's new?
The Angels signed right-hander Matt Harvey to a one-year, $11 million deal and right-hander Trevor Cahill to a one-year, $9 million pact to add two veterans to their rotation, while also trading for Marlins lefty Dillon Peters for depth.

Harvey, 29, was an ace with the Mets early in his career, but injuries have taken their roll, as he's undergone Tommy John surgery, an operation to alleviate thoracic outlet syndrome and scapula surgery. But he pitched better once joining the Reds last season, putting up a 4.50 ERA with 111 strikeouts, 28 walks and 21 homers allowed in 24 starts. The hope is he can regain some of his early-career form, as his fastball velocity has continued to improve since his injuries.
Cahill, 30, is coming off a strong year with the A's, finishing with a 3.76 ERA with 100 strikeouts, 41 walks and eight homers allowed in 110 innings. He brings an elite groundball rate, but he hasn't thrown more than 111 innings since 2013.
Peters, 26, has a career 6.10 ERA over the last two seasons with the Marlins, but he has a career 3.37 ERA in the Minors and is expected to open the year at Triple-A Salt Lake.
Which in-house candidates could compete for the fifth spot?
Barria is the favorite for the fifth spot after his solid rookie year, but Pena, Tropeano and Peters will be his competition in camp. Prospects Griffin Canning, the club's No. 2 prospect per MLB Pipeline, and Jose Suarez, ranked No. 8, will also both be in Major League camp. They're considered close to the Majors but are likely to start at Triple-A.

What other starters are available in free agency?
Lefty Dallas Keuchel remains the biggest name on the board, but other veterans such as Gio Gonzalez, Clay Buchholz, Wade Miley and Jeremy Hellickson are available. But the Angels don't appear likely to sign another starter, as they had to stretch their budget to sign closer Cody Allen.
Who else is in the pipeline? (MLB Pipeline rankings in Angels system)
No. 2 Griffin Canning (age: 22, highest level: Triple-A)
No. 8 Jose Suarez (age: 21, highest level: Triple-A)
No. 9 Chris Rodriguez (age: 20, highest level: Class A)
No. 12 Jesus Castillo (age: 23, highest level: Double-A)
No. 18 Luis Pena (age: 23, highest level: Triple-A)
No. 19 Patrick Sandoval (age: 22, highest level: Double-A)
Current projected rotation (2018 stats)
Tyler Skaggs (8-10, 4.02 ERA, 125 1/3 IP, 1.3 WAR)
Andrew Heaney (9-10, 4.15 ERA, 180 IP, 1.5 WAR)
Matt Harvey (7-9, 4.94 ERA, 155 IP, 0.9 WAR)
Trevor Cahill (7-4, 3.76 ERA, 110 IP, 1.3 WAR)
Jaime Barria (10-9, 3.41 ERA, 129 1/3 IP, 2.6 WAR )

Rhett Bollinger covers the Angels for MLB.com. He previously covered the Twins from 2011-18. Follow him on Twitter @RhettBollinger and Facebook.