The LA Angels season is right around the corner. The team is in full-on Spring Training mode. With the roster coming into shape, it’s time to evaluate the team by position group.
This is the fourth of a five-part series in which I will evaluate the 25-man roster and top prospects for the LA Angels. This time it is time to meet the starting rotation candidates.
The Top Three
Garret Richards, RHP
Matt Shoemaker, RHP
Tyler Skaggs, LHP
The top three pitchers for the Angels all pitched last year. However, none of them were able to finish the season. Garret Richards had to undergo stem cell treatment, Tyler Skaggs was recovering from Tommy John, and Matt Shoemaker suffered a scary head injury after being struck by a line drive. They all showed flashes last year, especially Shoemaker who went on an incredible run in the middle of the season. The question for Richards and Shoemaker is whether or not they can recover from major injury. For Skaggs, it is if he can stay healthy for an entire season.
Richards broke out in 2014. He posted career numbers and earned an All-Star nod for his efforts. Then, he suffered a torn tendon in his left knee. He came back well, posting a 15-12 record with a 3.65 ERA. He looked as if he had returned to ace form last year, as despite starting 1-3 in his first five games he held a 2.34 ERA. However, he tore his UCL in his sixth start of the season. He opted for stem cell therapy instead of Tommy John, and has recovered incredibly. Richards has yet to pitch in a game, but he faced live batters for the first time recently. Jeff Fletcher of the Orange County Register reports that Richards “seemed to be fine”. He also reported Richards “probably” will be ready to pitch in a Cactus League game by next weekend.
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The fate of the Angels will hinge on the health of Richards this season. If he can stay healthy, the Angels will find themselves as a much better ball club than last year. If he can return to ace form as well, the Angels could find themselves in the playoffs. Richards will turn 29 this season, so he will be leaving his prime years of his career soon. If he is able to put together a few good years and stay healthy, he could see a big contract in his future. It is scary for Angel fans to rely so heavily on someone coming off a UCL tear. However, Richards has impressed in the past before, and could bring a nice bit of good fortune for the Angels this year.
Tyler Skaggs is another guy the Angels will need to stay healthy. Fortunately, he recovered well from Tommy John and performed well last year. He started out incredibly well, but stumbled towards the finish line. He finished with a 4.17 ERA and a 3-4 record. Skaggs’ claim to fame is his curveball. It drops beautifully and he has outstanding control using it. However, hitters began to adjust to it and learned to fight it off and wait for a better pitch. Skaggs will need to develop another strikeout pitch if he hopes to have better numbers this season. He may not be the preferable second starter for a team, but desperate times call for desperate measures.
Matt Shoemaker is an interesting pitcher. He had a career year before suffering a brain injury last year. He posted a 3.88 ERA as he commanded the strike zone(had a career high 66.8 strike percentage), as he had a career high 143. Shoemaker was one of the best pitchers in the MLB in June, when he posted 2.14 ERA in 42 innings. He had 45 strikeouts over those six starts as well. At the beginning of May, he had an ERA of 9.15. By July, he had lowered it to 4.12. Fans will have to keep their expectations low for now, as it is always difficult to project a season following an injury like Shoemaker’s.
Ricky Nolasco, RHP
Jesse Chavez, RHP
Alex Meyer, RHP
Ricky Nolasco was acquired with about two months to go last season, and it was a tale of two months for him as an Angel. In his first month, Nolasco had a 4.38 ERA in his first month, as he allowed seven homeruns in six games and did not have excellent command of the strike zone. However, in his last start of the month, Nolasco threw a complete-game shutout. He allowed only four hits and struck out seven. Luckily, that performance carried on into September. He had a 1.85 ERA over five starts. He only gave up one long ball and had better command of the strike zone. Batters hit .195 (compared to .260 in August). Nolasco finished strong for the Angels in 2016, and will most likely begin the season as the fourth starter. Fans shouldn’t expect fireworks from Nolasco, but he will be a reliable back-of-the-rotation starter in 2017.
Jesse Chavez was acquired by the Angels over the offseason. He played for the Toronto Blue Jays and Los Angeles Dodgers in 2016. At age 33, he was a reliever for both teams and helped the Dodgers make a deep playoff run. However, he will compete for a starting role this season. In 2015, his last season as a starter, he had a 4.18 ERA. He also had 136 strikeouts to 48 walks. The question for Chavez this year is if his body will be able to start 20-25 games this season. He could very likely start the season as the fifth starter. However, if his production slips from the wear and tear, it would be time for a move to the bullpen. However, first he must win the fifth starting position.
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Nolasco’s main competition for the fifth spot will be Alex Meyer. Meyer started out the year in the Minnesota Twin’s bullpen, but the Angels made him a starter once he joined the team. He faired better as a starter. In his five starts, he had a 4.57 ERA. He was inconsistent, allowing one, run, then four, then none, then four, then two. He has a nice fastball, even hitting 100 mph on some occasions. His secondary pitches are also serviceable. However, due to his 6′ 9 frame, his delivery is inconsistent and has a drastic effect on his command. Meyer is 27 and is facing a make-or-break year. He was drafted with immense amounts of potential, but now its time to see if he is a MiLB lifer or a MLB starter.
Nate Smith, LHP
Manny Banuelos, LHP
The Angels only have two left-handed pitching prospects. However, both could prove to be very valuable down the road.
Nate Smith is the Angels number five overall prospect, and could be making solid contributions this season. He does not have an elite pitch, but rather a collection of four pitches he can throw well. His best is his changeup, as he prefers that deep in counts. While he does have a good slider and curveball, they are not very different of pitches due to his delivery. If he can differentiate between those two more, he could have a very good career.
At at 25, Smith is still young. Due to never having that one go-to pitch-a Kershaw curveball, Chapman fastball, or Andrew Miller changeup- he will never be more than a backend starter. However, he pitches with the same attitude as CJ Wilson. He has a sort of zen on the mound, and remains calm and competitive. You won’t see him swearing on his way back to the dugout like former Angel Jered Weaver.
The Angels took a lot of chances this offseason. They signed a lot of highly-touted pitching prospects that never quite worked out. Manny Banuelos is one of those prospects. He was once ranked No. 13 by MLB.com. However, after Tommy John surgery cost him nearly two full seasons, he has not been able to regain his old form. The biggest change was to his fastball. Before surgery, it was nearly touching triple digits, but now sits in the low-90’s.
However, Banuelos seems to realize this as he has worked on his changeup and has made that a solid weapon. He also has a good curve he likes to use to get ahead of hitters in the count. He also has added a cutter and slider to his arsenal. In 2016, Banuelos threw his way to a 5.33 ERA. He was never able to make it late into games, as he got rocked early and often. However, the Angels are hoping a change of scenery will be what the still young(26) Banuelos needs to have a revival in his career.