Hector Santiago, Garrett Richards and Tyler Skaggs have a combined 69 starts between them. All three pitchers are 26 years old or younger, and all three come with question marks. None of the three have been a starter for a full season, nor have any of those pitchers thrown more than 158 innings in a season. In fact, Santiago’s 23 starts last year are the most in any season by the three leaders for the final spots in the Angels rotation.
With the unproven nature of the back end of the rotation, the Angels bullpen is likely to be an important factor this season. However, there are already concerns. Dane De La Rosa has a forearm strain, and may be out until Opening Day. Sean Burnett has just started a throwing program, and is not likely to be ready when the games begin to count. With two pitchers who are expected to be key components of the bullpen potentially not ready at the start of the season, the Angels and Mike Scioscia may need to get creative to handle their young starters.
One of the options being discussed is for the Angels to go with an eight man bullpen. Such a move would allow the Angels to keep Joe Blanton on the roster, allowing him to be utilized to pitch multiple innings if one of the younger starters struggles. However, Blanton has not exactly been a success during his time with the Angels, and may find himself off the roster even if the team decides to go with the eight man bullpen.
Another issue with having such a large bullpen would be the Angels bench. While there would be plenty of room for Scioscia to stretch out, the Angels would likely have a backup catcher, a fourth outfielder and a utility infielder. Should an injury occur, the Angels would find themselves very short handed. However, if Ernesto Frieri is unable to recapture his 2012 form, and the bullpen struggles until De La Rosa and Burnett return, having that extra option could be beneficial.
Yet, the Angels may not have a choice. Skaggs has promise, but has yet to show that he is ready for the major leagues. Richards and Santiago are a bit more proven, but still unknown quantities. An eight man bullpen may be needed, at least at the start of the season, until Skaggs, Santiago and Richards prove that they can pitch deeper into games.
How those three perform in Spring Training may go a long way to determining how many relievers the Angels carry. Right now, they may well end up with an unprecedented eight man bullpen.