If Spring Training is a beloved tradition, then surely there are smaller, more distinctly defined mini traditions. The perennial positional question marks a fan sees on their team, be it in the bullpen, starting rotation or INF/OF is surely one of the more fun, or sometimes hideous, mini traditions. By "question mark", it's guys that could make a difference on this team, soon or later in the year, and/or surprise everyone with a roster spot. These days, as i'm sure you've read/heard, there are plenty of question marks in pretty much every category of personnel. Oh.
I wanted to dip into my favorite starting rotation question mark heading into Spring Training, but after looking things over multiple times throughout the off-season, I kept coming to the same conclusion: the entire rotation is one giant question mark, and it's going to be either my favorite or my least favorite thing about the season. Seriously, it could go either way, but here's the reasons why I could LOVE the starting rotation in 2016.
Richards has been projected to be the stud of the staff(that sort of sounds like the name of an early 90s MTV game show), and for good reason. His comeback campaign in 2015 wasn't quite up to the electric stuff we saw in 2014, but he proved to be durable on that rehabilitated knee, and he was still the best pitcher the Angels in most of his outings. He lost a little bit of his velocity but is still throwing rocks and K'ing guys with ease. Nothing to worry about outside of injury for Garrett Richards in 2016. He's the only sure thing they have right now.
Heaney is a young lefty who came onto the scene and immediately proved to be one of Jerry Dipoto's better moves in his tenure as GM. Sure, he got rid of beloved Howie Kendrick, but in return he got a young arm who can only go up from here and is primed for a true breakout season. He was a beacon of light in a dark 2015 season, and now i'm eagerly awaiting what he'll do in his sophomore effort, but at the very least he should provide solid outings. Him and Richards have a lot of high hopes riding on them this season.
NiTro is going to be fighting for one of those last rotation spots, and with an aging Weaver and oft-injured Wilson on the squad, it's hard not to see him getting an opportunity to prove himself worthy of being penciled into Mike Scioscia's lineup card. He's young, he throws hard and has a decent change-up and slider that should only become more refined and deadly. His Spring Training has a lot riding on it, and it's going to be interesting to watch, to put it mildly.
Skaggs burst into the MLB like a bat out of hell in 2014, and was doing some of his best pitching ever in what was also his first stint in The Show. A UCL injury derailed all of that, and now he's had a year or so of rehabilitation from Tommy John surgery. There will be a cap on his innings pitched, but we'll have to wait and see how he deals with his return to the mound after such a long absence. This is a question mark that could ultimately be a season difference maker, if things pan out.
Okay, so those are the GOOD question marks...two young guys who are projected to help out the club in spades this season, but to what degree is anybody's guess. The rest of the potential starters get as murky as the Santa Ana River. Not all question marks are good, or worth getting excited over. In fact, these are just downright scary.
What does he have left? Will his discovery of the new fitness craze called "stretching" going to lead to better starts, increased velocity or a return to better mechanics? Probably not. I love all the talk about improvements players look to make in Spring Training camp, but we've seen Weaver devolve into a hot mess the past two seasons, and coupled with the fact that he's only getting older, it's a recipe for extreme frustration. Perhaps the scariest thing is the fact that he will most definitely be a starter, regardless of how his camp turns out; that's the effect of veteran presence on Scioscia's Angels. If he struggles, someone needs to pull the plug but can we trust Sosh or Weave to do it?
This winter, I was happily walking down the Wilson narrative street, without a care in the world, knowing without a doubt that he'd have a great 2016 season. The narrative, of course, is that it's a contract year...and C.J. Wilson likes getting paid, so he's going to dominate. Well, now i'm backing off of that positivity, because for all his pre-camp workout Instagrams and tweets and crossfit training at his fancy L.A. gym, he showed up to camp hurt, and has yet to throw a baseball in the past five days of being in Tempe. Just C.J. being C.J., and it's making me nervous.
The other two possible starters not mentioned are Matt Shoemaker and Hector Santiago. I think both give us exactly what we'd expect from them, in both good and bad ways. There are currently 8 guys that could make the starting rotation for the Angels, so it's all down to this year's camp to see who can create separation from the rest of the pack, who will breakdown first and who will be benched or relegated to the bullpen. Call me ageist, but i'm stoked on the young guys(Heaney, Skaggs, NiTro) and i'm deathly afraid of the old guys (Weaver and Wilson). Something has got to give and the starting rotation we see come April could be anybody's guess.
So, how do you see the Angels' starting rotation playing out in 2016? Who are you excited for, and who are you most worried about?