Early next week, Angels pitchers and catchers will be reporting for Spring Training duties in Tempe, Arizona, thus kicking off the 2017 baseball season. If you're looking for question marks heading into camp, well, they're pretty much all going to be in that pitchers and catchers group. We can figure out, with a decent amount of certainty, what the Opening Day batting order will look like and who will be playing what positions, so all of the biggest battles about to begin in camp are going to pertain to the pitching staff, both starters and relievers.
Those rotation waters are kinda/sorta murky, especially when you get to the whole 5th starter question, not to mention the state of the bullpen. The greatest unknowns this Spring lie with the Angels' arms, there's no doubt about it, which means the guys who we know for sure are going to be penciled in (Garrett Richards, Tyler Skaggs, Matt Shoemaker, Ricky Nolasco), are going to be leaned and relied upon heavily. However, I don't think any of them are going to be as important to a successful 2017 than the lead dog of that pack: Garrett Richards.
Can you think of another Angels pitcher right now who will be as big of a lynch pin than G-Rich? Talk about pressure. We're all a few years deep into the Richards-as-ace waiting game, where we hope and wish a truly dominant and elite Richards emerges, anchoring the rest of the staff and mowing down AL West batters in the process. Well, we're going to need to see that emergence more than ever in 2017.
Yes, I realize the obviousness of saying the #1 starter in the rotation of an MLB team is going to be important, but I think that there is some added drama on Richards' shoulders that make it one of the more interesting storylines to follow in the coming months.
There is the "comeback" angle, as Richards gets back to work after missing most of last year due to a UCL tear, but with a twist: he dodged Tommy John surgery thanks to getting both PRP injections AND stem cell treatment. If he can come back as strong as ever, then we are going to see more and more pitchers avoiding TJ surgery, which is a good thing. This is a comeback that will have more eyes on it than usual, that's for sure.
What's even better than simply coming back from a devastating injury? Coming back and BREAKING OUT. Last season, we all got teased by six measly starts from Richards in which he had been using a new pitch in his arsenal: the change-up. We were on the brink of seeing a great ballplayer expanding his set of tools, thus giving us a new look at just what sort of damage he can do. Then the injury happened, and the arrival of our new ace was delayed another season (he also swore off the changeu, while recovering...for now, at least) .
Which leads us to here and now, heading into camp in 2017 with G-Rich ready to wow us all over again, and there's plenty reason to believe he'll do just that. He's got the aforementioned healthy ligament, and he's got his quiver of deadly pitches, but now he's also going to have possibly the best defense in the league backing him up.
Danny Espinosa and Andrelton Simmons are going to be an insanely good middle infield duo, and Richards should reap the benefits greatly. Richards has thrown a lot of 4-seam fastballs in his career, a pitch that, for most MLBers, won't give you many groundballs. Richards bucks that trend, somewhat, and that's great. But what I'd love to see this year is him feeding those guys groundballs by focusing on his 2-seamer, and the occasional change-up, a little more.
Just imagine the strikeout power that this guy possesses, mixed with some of the best glove work the league has to offer standing right behind him, with maximum health and a little bit of a fiery chip on his shoulder, and you have a recipe for a comeback season, a star-making season and a team MVP season (well, for guys NOT named Mike Trout, at least).
Pitchers and catchers report on Tuesday, folks, and while we still don't know how a lot of the staff will pan out, there's no question who is going to be carrying the heaviest load on their back. It's Garrett Richards. Luckily, he's the one who has the ingredients and tool set to do just that...hopefully all season long.