By Rich Arleo
CBS Local Sports, in our 30 Players 30 Days spring training feature, profiles one young player from each Major League Baseball team leading up to opening day.
2016 season (Minors): 9 G, 9 GS, 39 1/3 IP, 1.60 ERA, 0.87 WHIP, 3 W, 53 SO, 8 BB
2016 season (Majors): 10 G, 10 GS, 49 2/3 IP, 4.17 ERA, 1.49 WHIP, 3 W, 50 SO, 23 BB
A player who made his MLB debut back in 2012 isn’t usually considered a player to watch five years later, but thanks to a number of injuries, 25-year-old Tyler Skaggs finds himself entering a make or break year with the Los Angeles Angels in ‘17.
Originally drafted out of high school by the Angels in the first round in ‘09, Skaggs was a part of the trade that brought Dan Haren from the Arizona Diamondbacks in ‘10. Skaggs advanced to Double-A as a 19-year-old in ‘11 and finished the year with a 2.96, 1.11 WHIP and 198 strikeouts in 158 1/3 innings. After continued success as high at Triple-A the following season, the Diamondbacks called up Skaggs and he made his big league debut on Aug. 22, ‘12 with a win in a quality start. He finished out the year in the rotation but ended up with a 5.83 ERA in six starts.
Rated as the No. 10 prospect in baseball by MLB.com entering the year, Skaggs’ ‘13 season was a rocky one in which he shuttled back and forth between the Majors and Minors and couldn’t find any consistency at any level. After the year, Arizona traded Skaggs back to the Angels in a three-team trade. Skaggs made the rotation out of Spring Training that year and pitched relatively well until he hit the disabled list in June with a hamstring strain. He returned in July and made six starts before hitting the DL again, this time with the dreaded left forearm strain. Sure enough, the left-hander needed Tommy John surgery and would go on to miss the entire ‘15 season.
Skaggs finally returned to the mound last April and pitched just 6 2/3 innings in three starts for the Triple-A Salt Lake Bees before going on the DL with biceps tendonitis. Fortunately, Skaggs was able to return in June and put together a nice string of starts in the Minors before making his return to the Angels on July 26. In that start, he tossed seven scoreless innings with five strikeouts to earn his first big league win in a little over two years.
Skaggs went on to put up a few more good starts but struggled with consistency and then survived another injury scare in September with forearm tightness. Fortunately, Skaggs didn’t have any structural damage and even managed to make one final appearance for the Angels in October. He enters this season as a lock in the rotation, though plenty of questions remain.
The obvious question for Skaggs is, can he stay healthy? Now 25 years old, his career might not survive another major injury. One other concern surrounding Skaggs is his control. He walked a dreadful 4.17 batters per nine innings last year, and he’ll need to regain his command in order to succeed this year.
The upside, however, is still there for Skaggs. He is able to get swings and misses with his fastball that hovers around 92-93 miles per hour, and he pairs that with a decent curveball and changeup. The changeup last year clocked in at about 86 mph, and he’d like to get that a little lower to increase the disparity between his fastball speed. Before his surgery in ‘14, Skaggs had about an eight MPH difference between the two pitches, and if he can get back to that range as opposed to the six MPH difference last season, then he should see a major improvement.
Steamer projections have Skaggs making 24 starts this year and they are actually quite high on him, projecting a 3.57 ERA, 3.72 FIP, 8.9 K/0 and nine wins in 136 innings. The ability to command his pitches will be key for Skaggs, but the most important thing is staying healthy.
Skaggs has already had one injury scare this spring, missing a few starts with shoulder weakness. With this being his first full Spring Training in some time, though, minor issues like that are going to arise. In his first three starts this spring he allowed just four hits and one earned run in 6 2/3 innings, so things have gone relatively well early on.
If he can make 20-plus starts and avoid any major arm issues, the left-hander should be able to solidify his slot in the middle of the Angels’ rotation.
Rich Arleo is a freelance sports writer and editor who covers Major League Baseball and fantasy sports. You can follow him on Twitter, @Rarleo.