The Angels’ five-man rotation is all but set. Two familiar faces, Garrett Richards and Jerome Williams (whom I included with the relievers), are vying for “sixth starter” status. Of course, just because a rotation is set doesn’t mean it’s good, and many see this group as the Angels’ Achilles heel beyond ace Jered Weaver.
The other four starters — Tommy Hanson, Joe Blanton, Jason Vargas and C.J. Wilson – were flat-out bad for stretches last season. Will Wilson snap back to his old self following elbow surgery? Can Hansen, Blanton and Vargas benefit from a change of scenery and a star-studded defense?
Those are the biggest questions facing the rotation, and maybe the team, going into camp. Unless there’s an injury, don’t expect the Angels’ five-man rotation to change in spring training.
(Non-roster invitees listed in parentheses)
Weaver won an astounding two-thirds of his starts in 2012. He turned 30 in October, but has already shown he can survive the inevitable drop in velocity that comes with age. He needs only stay healthy — Weaver spent about three weeks on the disabled list last year with a lower back injury – and it can only help that Weaver is skipping the World Baseball Classic. Bad news for Team USA, good news for the Angels.
Wilson had a horrific second half in 2012, and it’s logical to attribute his struggles to the bone spurs that were removed from his right elbow in October. We’ll find out in spring training if that’s true. The Angels need him to be their number-two starter, as you’ll see by the names below.
Only three National League pitchers gave up more home runs last year than Hanson — another, Joe Blanton, also joined the Angels — and the Braves were willing to unload him in a trade for Jordan Walden. The 26-year-old Redlands native also posted a career high walk rate of 3.7 per nine innings. Angels pitching coach Mike Butcher must help Hansen rediscover his control and turn him back into the pitcher who went 32-22 with a 3.28 ERA from 2009-11.
Another Inland Empire kid (Apple Valley), the 30-year-old Vargas has big shoes to fill as the player obtained in the long-awaited Kendrys Morales trade. Vargas’ 4.69 FIP (fielding independent pitching) was the eighth-highest in the AL last year, right in the Bruce Chen/Clay Buchholz neighborhood. He’s a soft thrower who pitches to contact, which comes with the risk of some crooked numbers, but that makeup could thrive at Angel Stadium behind a vaunted defense. Indeed, Vargas has only allowed 11 runs in seven career games at his new home park – just don’t be surprised if he takes some lumps in the Cactus League.
Six years after he last pitched for an American League team, we have a pretty good idea of who the former Oakland hurler is: A reliable fifth starter who pitches to contact and gives up the occasional longball. His risk/reward projects about the same as Vargas, though there’s more pressure attached to Vargas because of what the Angels gave up to acquire him.
Another Inland Empire kid (Riverside), Richards has shown flashes of greatness in parts of two major-league seasons. He hasn’t been consistent as a starter but the Angels figure the 24-year-old has time to figure it out. Richards might start the season in the bullpen.
Mills had made 10 spot starts over the last four seasons, going 3-3 for the Angels and Blue Jays. The 27-year-old lefty was 5-10 at Triple-A Salt Lake last year and will spend most of 2013 there if all goes according to plan.
Enright, who has started 120 minor-league games the past six years, passed his eight-game audition at Triple-A Salt Lake after the Angels acquired him from the Arizona Diamondbacks last July. This is his first camp with the Angels, and he’ll be pitching to leave a good impression for possible spot starts in the future.
Billy Buckner (NRI)
First things first: Buckner isn’t related to the former first baseman. The 29-year-old righty pitched 199 games in the minors, and 36 in the majors, since 2004. The Angels are his sixth organization.
AJ Schugel (NRI)
Besides Richards, Schugel is the closest thing the Angels have to a homegrown starting pitching prospect. He went 6-8 with a 2.89 ERA at Double-Arkansas last year and will pitch in his first major-league camp.