Around the Horn: Starting rotation
Angels expect big things from youngsters Richards, Santiago, Skaggs
With pitchers and catchers scheduled to report to Tempe, Ariz., by Feb. 13, it's time to dissect the Angels' 2014 roster. This is the last of a six-part Around the Horn series taking a position-by-position look at projected starters and backup options heading into the season. We'll end with the starting rotation. Previously: Bullpen | Outfielders | Middle infielders | Corner infielders | Catchers
ANAHEIM -- The names have changed, but the main concern is the same heading into the 2014 season: Do the Angels have enough starting pitching?
In hopes of supporting ace Jered Weaver and No. 2 starter C.J. Wilson, the Angels entered 2013 with veterans Jason Vargas, Joe Blanton and Tommy Hanson. Now, they'll hope for far better results from three young, pre-arbitration-eligible players in Garrett Richards, Hector Santiago and Tyler Skaggs.
If the Angels are to improve on their 4.30 rotation ERA (22nd in the Majors) and ultimately on their 78-84 record from 2013, it'll rest mainly on that trio, because despite the deeper bullpen and a still-potent offense, this team isn't going anywhere without a rotation that can consistently pitch deep into games and give it a chance.
Yes, it's still altogether possible that the Angels add a free-agent starting pitcher before the start of Spring Training next week. But they aren't expected to give up their first-round Draft pick to sign Ervin Santana or Ubaldo Jimenez, Bronson Arroyo just agreed to a two-year, $23.5 million deal with the D-backs, A.J. Burnett is said to prefer an East Coast team, and none of the remaining names -- be it Chris Capuano or Paul Maholm or whoever -- really jump off the page.
Barring an unforeseen trade, this is pretty much what they'll start off with.
"We're keeping an eye on the pitchers on the market that we feel like make sense for us and maintaining a rhetoric with those guys," general manager Jerry Dipoto said in late January. "If opportunity knocks, we'll be there. And if it doesn't, we're very happy moving forward with the group we have."
Japanese star Masahiro Tanaka -- signed to a seven-year, $155 million contract by the Yankees, plus a $20 million posting fee -- was beyond the Angels' price range, and they were too close to the luxury-tax threshold to lure Matt Garza, who ultimately signed a four-year, $50 million deal with the Brewers.
So, a lot of the burden will fall on Richards (25 years old), Santiago (26) and Skaggs (22), the latter two acquired in the three-team trade that sent Mark Trumbo to the D-backs on Dec. 10.
Skaggs is the wild card. He was taken by the Angels with the 40th overall pick in the 2009 First-Year Player Draft, acquired by Dipoto via trade in 2010 while he was serving as the interim GM in Arizona, then re-acquired by Dipoto during the latest Winter Meetings.
Skaggs had a down year in Triple-A last season, posting a 4.59 ERA while experiencing a slight dip in velocity, and has posted a 5.43 ERA in 13 Major League starts over the past two years.
But he's still very young, has a ton of upside and is coming home.
"I'm definitely working hard on getting my velocity back, lifting weights and really just kind of getting back to my old self," said Skaggs, a product of Santa Monica, Calif. "I think coming back to the place where it all started will really help me out."
While Skaggs could start the season in Triple-A if the Angels were to add another starter, Santiago -- a master of the screwball -- pretty much has a guaranteed spot on the 25-man roster, most likely as a starter but possibly as a long reliever.
The left-hander has done both with the White Sox these past two years, posting a 3.33 ERA in 2012 while making 38 of 42 appearances out of the bullpen and a 3.56 ERA in 2013 while making 23 of his 34 appearances as a starter. Santiago's walk rate (4.6 in that span) is the main concern.
Richards earned a permanent spot in the rotation last year, when he replaced Blanton in late July and posted a 3.72 ERA in 13 starts down the stretch. The Angels have long believed Richards has the stuff to be a front-of-the-rotation starter, and now they're hoping he can harness that over the course of an entire season.
"He might not know where it's going or what it's doing half the time, but he's got good stuff," Weaver said at the end of last season. "I mean he's got a fastball that cuts, a fastball that sinks, he's got a curveball-slider that are electric, and obviously he's got a developing changeup, as well. He's got the stuff to be a top pitcher in this league. I think it's just a matter of figuring out what his stuff does and what stuff he needs to use in certain situations. He's come a long way in that regard and is starting to figure it out and is getting a feel for hitters."
The Angels were impressed with Mark Mulder's offseason bullpen sessions and signed him to a Minor League contract, but he's 36 and hasn't pitched competitively in six years, so they aren't necessarily counting on him.
They still have Blanton, who's owed $8.5 million, but he went 2-14 with a 6.04 ERA last year and may be nothing more than a sunk cost at this point.
So, barring additional moves that may only be minor at this point, their rotation hopes will lie with Weaver, the 31-year-old right-hander who was limited to 24 starts by a broken left elbow last season but is still one of the top pitchers in the league when healthy -- diminishing velocity and all.
They'll lie with Wilson, the 33-year-old left-hander who was the Angels' best and most consistent starter in 2013, going 17-7 with a 3.39 ERA in 212 1/3 innings.
And they'll lie with the three young arms, who may end up dictating the fate of this high-priced roster.
Beyond the active roster
In the Triple-A rotation, the Angels currently figure to have Matt Shoemaker and Jarrett Grube returning, with veteran lefties Wade LeBlanc and Justin Thomas obtained on Minor League contracts this offseason.
Mark Sappington is the top-ranked pitcher in the Angels' system (fourth overall prospect) after going 12-5 with a 3.45 ERA in Class A Advanced and Double-A last year. The 23-year-old right-hander will probably return to Double-A to start 2014.
Eighteen-year-old lefty Hunter Green, who was taken with the Angels' second-round pick last June, is currently ranked 11th in their system and will attend his first Major League Spring Training next week.
Michael Roth, 23, appeared in 15 games for the Angels last year, with 14 coming out of the bullpen, but is expected to be a full-time starter in Double-A this year.