It’s odd. When reading about the Angels pitching staff, or rotation more specifically, it comes with the caveat “lacks depth”. I understand why the national media says this, their job isn’t to focus on the Angels specifically. But it has been reprinted so many times now that I’m wondering why no one has bothered to correct it. The Angels have depth, they have a minor league system too, despite what is being reported. Of course you could call into question the quality of said farm system and pitching depth, but even then you’d reach the same conclusion. There are major league quality pitchers ready to step up, and the slightest bit of research on behalf of those who aren’t familiar with the Angels would show it. So here’s that research.
Pitching Depth: I completely understand why people may ask “so what else is there?” when they see that three pitchers with as little experience as Richards, Santiago and Skaggs have are slotted in the rotation. There’s a lot else actually.
1. Matt Shoemaker – Critics probably look at the 4.64 ERA in AAA from a 27 year old and think “next!”. Shoemaker pitches in the most hitter friendly ball park in the most hitter friendly league in the entire world. We’ve all seen what elevation and light air do to a ball. Head to Salt Lake City and you’ll see. It’s basically a combination of the dry desert air of Arizona meeting the thin air of the Colorado Rockies. Even the most routine of pop flies will leave the yard. There is literally no resistance, the ball just slides through the air. Shoemaker’s actual scouting report suggests he could be successful at the major league level though. He has average or better offerings with all of his pitches and outstanding command. No one will pretend he’s a future all-star, but at worst, Matt Shoemaker is a capable swingman.
2. Jose Alvarez – Detroit let Alvarez go in a series of moves that could be described as “questionable” at best. Actually, they’re downright desperate, but whatever, we’re happy the Angels could capitalize on it. Andrew Romine is a solid role player but given the Angels area of strength, he was simply being squeezed out of the picture. Detroit on the other hand has been on the lookout to replace Jhonny Peralta’s production at shortstop since he was caught cheating. They traded for Jose Iglesias, who ended up being damaged goods. Now, they’ve traded for Andrew Romine and Alex Gonzalez. In return the Angels landed Alvarez, a lefty that posted a 2.80 ERA in AAA last year. Alvarez doesn’t have the look of a permanent rotation candidate, but in shot spurts and spot starts he could definitely give the lefty-heavy lineups of the AL West fits.
3. Wade LeBlanc – Another lefty, except this one doesn’t get lefties out, though from what we’ve come to understand he’s made some adjustments in his offspeed pitch that should keep hook hitters honest. Regardless, over the course of 8 seasons, LeBlanc owns a career 4.51 ERA. That isn’t worth bragging about, but it also suggests that he can be counted on to give you 5 or 6 innings and keep the opposition to around 4 runs. That’s better than Joe Blanton (everything is), and they still have the right to stash him in AAA.
4. Michael Roth – Yup, yet another lefty. The Angels have three of them in the rotation and three more on their depth chart. It’s almost as if they’re aware that Prince Fielder, Robinson Cano, Justin Smoak and Shin-Soo Choo all reside in their division. Roth is a college hero that uses two distinctly different deliveries. A straight overhand release to RHB and a side-arm release against LHB. 90% of pitchers can’t pull this off, but it’s part of what makes Roth so unique. He’s fine with it and showed in AA last year that he could be in a position to help the Angels should a need arise again.
5. Mark Sappington – He isn’t quite on the depth chart yet because he isn’t done developing yet, but in less than a year he’ll be knocking on the door to the rotation if things go as planned. Sappington is a big tall righty with a high 90’s fastball, steep downward movement and heavy sink. This pitch itself would be enough to make him a solid RH specialist out of the pen. But Sappington also throws a tight “plus” slider and has shown the ability to maintain effective velocity and break on his offspeed pitches in later innings. Some scouts believe he’s more of a reliever, but until hitters can start generating solid contact on a consistent basis, he’ll remain a starter. What will be key for Sappington in reaching his ceiling as a top of the rotation starter will be his ability to develop his change up, repeat his delivery and spot his pitches. It’s a good thing he’s young and in AA.
Perhaps if writers would specify that they don’t feel high quality talent is on the doorstep, then I could agree with them. But outside of ineffectiveness, is there really much to worry about with the Angels rotation?
- Richards, Skaggs and Santiago are all young and all have 5+ years of team control. Weaver and Wilson aren’t young but are both under contract for two more years. It isn’t as if the organization does not have time on its side or lacks the monetary resources to pursue elite pitching in free agency. Since when was it considered a bad thing to have three young pitchers with “plus” stuff and mid-top of the rotation potential in the rotation making the league minimum? Show me one team outside of the St. Louis Cardinals that could lose one of their top starters and be fine with it.
As for the minor leagues, everywhere you look there’s at least one or two exciting options (with the exception of catcher).
1B – C.J. Cron. Elite power, 24 years old in AAA.
3B – Kaleb Cowart. Former Top 100 prospect with elite tools that still needs considerable polish. 22 years old in AA.
OF – Zach Boresntein. Insane numbers in Cal League, will be curious to see what happens in AA. Plus strength from left-side. Matt Long. Insane Spring, definitely has role player tools and versatility.