With the 2014 Cactus League so close to beginning that you can theoretically see the thorns, now is a good time to get to know the pitchers and catchers for the Los Angeles Angels.
Yep, even though a deep freeze has engulfed much of the U.S. these past few weeks, sunny spring training is just around the corner.
For the Angels, it's a chance to rebound—and rebound and rebound—from four years without a playoff appearance. And it starts with the battery mates.
Based on the depth charts, excluding the non-roster invites, there are 22 pitchers and three catchers who will be competing for Angels roster spots—or trying to set a strong reminder—in Arizona. For each one, I have scoured the projected guesswork, tossed together what the scouts—and myself—are saying about the Angel employee, and concocted it into a show...that slides. Free admission.
Quick note: As the Mark Mulder-types knock off the dust from 2008 and other invites make a strong push, I will update these reports, if applicable.
2013: 24 GS, 11-8, 3.27 ERA, 117 SO, 37 BB, 154.1 IP
2014 Projections: 30 GS, 12-11, 4.18 ERA, 145 SO, 50 BB, 192 IP
Based on the different projections, there is quite a gap in the guessing-game for Weaver's 2014 season, which means there is substantial doubt.
Coming back after an injury to his pitching arm in 2013, Weaver showed a drop in velocity—normally hitting between 86-88 mph—that had the metrics world on fire.
Truth is, though, Weaver is still a solid pitcher—a great pitcher—and there really wasn't a time when this guy relied on blowing fastballs by people for a living anyway.
Weaver's health and ability to grasp different ways of getting hitters out consistently will be one of the most important aspect of the Angels' season. Without Weaver, the road will look a lot like 2013.
2013: 33 GS, 17-7, 3.39 ERA, 188 SO, 85 BB, 212.1 IP
2014 Projections: 34 GS, 15-9, 3.41 ERA, 178 SO, 77 BB, 214 IP
Heading into spring training, there are few pitchers in the rotation who don't have some form of a question mark surrounding them. Wilson is one of the exceptions.
Look for him to continue a progression from last season's changes—moving to the first base side of the rubber and working with movement, not power, on his fastball to set up the other pitches—as he holds the No. 2 spot in the rotation.
2013: 17 GS (47 G), 7-8, 4.16 ERA, 101 SO, 44 BB, 145 IP
2014 Projections: 29 GS, 11-11, 4.48 ERA, 118 SO, 67 BB, 173 IP
This will be Garrett Richards' first full season as an Angels starter, and how he handles that pressure will mean a lot for his personal progression...and the team's.
He will need to live up to those 11 wins, with a goal of proving the 11-loss accompaniment to that prediction is completely wrong. It's a tough task.
Let's face it: Up until the Matt Garza signing with the Milwaukee Brewers, the Angels' No. 3 spot was going to a more experienced arm.
But relying on that crutch makes little sense this close to spring training—though moves can still be made.
And Richards has all the tools to be a top-end starter, no question there. He has the heat. He has the plus breaking ball.
Keeping it consistently together, however, is the test.
2013: 23 GS (34 G), 4-9, 3.56 ERA, 137 SO, 72 BB, 149 IP
2014 Projections: 19 GS (39 G), 8-8, 4.15 ERA, 120 SO, 62 BB, 136 IP
In the same vein as Garrett Richards, Hector Santiago, brought over from the Chicago White Sox in the Mark Trumbo deal, currently has his role defined by what the Angels do or don't do with the remaining free-agent market.
Santiago is a tough left-hander whose fastball can complement his screwball at the major league level; he has the ability to work out of the bullpen or as a starter in the rotation. Based on the projections, it seems as though he will be doing a little of both.
Though he may not have an immediate impact this season, Santiago's youth should be viewed as a positive for the Angels, as the organization attempts to add depth.
Quick note: Back in 1981, a guy by the name of Fernando Valenzuela displayed a screwball for the Los Angels Dodgers on his way to an NL Cy Young and a World Series ring. Could Santiago help do the same for the Angels in 2014?
2013 (Major League): 7 GS, 2-3, 5.12 ERA, 36 SO, 15 BB, 38.2 IP
2014 Projections: 26 GS (27 G), 9-8, 3.99 ERA, 133 SO, 54 BB, 151 IP
It's Tyler Skaggs' second go with the Angels—he was a piece of the 2010 trade that brought Dan Haren over from the Arizona Diamondbacks—and there is confidence that he will help the club immediately.
According to general manager Jerry Dipoto, the man who traded for Skaggs while a GM with Arizona, a fixable mechanical flaw is all that blocks the path to success for the young lefty (per MLB.com's Alden Gonzalez).
Though pitching fixes are rarely "simple," if Skaggs can work this spring to further develop better command, which would certainly help his plus curveball, then he has a real chance to be the solid No.5 the Angels missed last season.
And who knows? Perhaps Skaggs' return back to Southern California (he went to Santa Monica high school) could do the trick?
It wouldn't be the strangest thing.
2013: 28 G (20 GS), 2-14, 6.04 ERA, 108 SO, 34 BB, 132.2 IP
2014 Projections: 42 G (17 GS), 8-7, 4.02 ERA, 90 SO, 28 BB, 121 IP
When I first glanced at the projections for Joe Blanton, that was my feeling. A record of 8-7, an ERA close to four...Joe Blanton? In 2014?
Look, it's been the easiest thing to do all offseason. Writing off Blanton, regardless of how he performs in the spring, has seemingly been the universal trend. And when considering the money owed, with 2013 as the benchmark, it's hard to blame anyone who has written him off.
Releasing him or attempting a trade seems more plausible than keeping him, no question.
But remember this: Most of the opinions about Blanton were occurring when Matt Garza, Masahiro Tanaka and the rest of the free-agent arms had the possibility of falling into the Angels' laps.
Now, well, all that has changed.
So it comes down to keeping an unknown to protect against the unknown, I guess.
Do the Angels want to do that?
2013 (Major League): 1 GS, 0-0, 0.00 ERA, 5 SO, 2 BB, 5 IP
2014 Projections: 3 GS, 1-1, 4.58 ERA, 12 SO, 5 BB, 19 IP
Matt Shoemaker looked decent during his debut against the Seattle Mariners in 2013. Though he doesn't possess any pitches that are plus-rated, top-of-the-rotation stuff, he does have the ability to think through games.
That's a difficult way to make it through an entire year, though, and it's a stretch to believe he gets more than the projected innings (19) in the MLB in 2014.
Instead, look for the young right-hander to continue working at Triple-A Salt Lake, with the possible spot start at the MLB level here and there.
2013 (Major League): 63 G, 1-4, 3.74 ERA, 52 SO, 28 BB, 53 IP
2014 Projections: 55 G, 3-2, 2 SV, 3.83 ERA, 55 SO, 26 BB, 55 IP
Michael Kohn, one of the great post-Tommy John surgery success stories (per MLB.com's Alden Gonzalez), has an above-average fastball with a consistently improved changeup, and he should play a key role for the Angels bullpen in 2014.
Along with Kevin Jepsen, look for Kohn to provide right-handed power as a specialist and in long-relief situations.
2013 (Major League): 45 G, 1-3, 4.50 ERA, 36 SO, 14 BB, 36 IP
2014 Projections: 54 G, 3-3, 3.75 ERA, 42 SO, 17 BB, 48 IP
Kevin Jepsen was just one of the many pitchers who had health issues in 2013. For the 29-year-old righty, it was an appendectomy, which caused him to miss a significant amount of time (per MLB.com's Alden Gonzalez).
When he was able to pitch, though, his numbers and performance were not all that great, and it does leave some concern.
However, Jepsen, if healthy and on track like he was in 2012, should play a key role in the bullpen, providing another power arm for situational and middle relief.
2013: 13 G, 0-0, 0.93 ERA, 7 SO, 4 BB, 9.2 IP
2014 Projections: 44 G, 3-2, 1 SV, 3.91 ERA, 35 SO, 16 BB, 45 IP
Following the trend of injured Angels pitchers in 2013, Sean Burnett never had a full opportunity to help the Angels last season. Limited with a torn flexor tendon, the lefty specialist only logged nine innings in 2013 and was shut down early because of surgery.
This year, a healthy Burnett is a key for the bullpen. Though he doesn't show any plus-rated pitches in the repertoire, Burnett's delivery has always been tough on left-handed hitters, not to mention formidable against the right-handers.
If he gains strength in the spring, then look for him to drastically change the makeup of the bullpen, and the options for manager Mike Scioscia in 2014.
2013 (Major League): 27 G, 0-3, 4.50 ERA, 22 SO, 6 BB, 28 IP
2014 Projections: 35 G, 2-2, 4.06 ERA, 29 SO, 12 BB, 35 IP
Coming over in the trade that sent Peter Bourjos and Randal Grichuk to the St. Louis Cardinals, Fernando Salas should add depth and experience to the Angels bullpen.
Perhaps he will be bring a little championship luck, too?
Salas doesn't have any pitches that will be preserved in MLB lore, but he can provide help in multiple areas, including closing duties—he has converted 24 of 36 saves in his MLB career.
2013 (Major League): 75 G, 6-1, 2 SV, 2.86 ERA, 65 SO, 28 BB, 72.1 IP
2014 Projections: 40 G, 2-2, 3.76 ERA, 37 SO, 19 BB, 40 IP
The projection for Dane De La Rosa is quite a dip in innings from 2013, possibly because of the addition of Joe Smith, but the big right-hander should still continue to help this Angels team regardless of the optimization.
He has a good fastball that he throws on a good downward plane, and his breaking pitches improved during the course of last season. If he can continue to mature and learn the game of pitching, rather than just throwing the ball, then 2014 should be a solid followup to last year.
2013: 70 G, 6-2, 3 SV, 2.29 ERA, 54 SO, 6 BB, 23 IP
2014 Projections: 65 G, 4-3, 6 SV, 3.76 ERA, 52 SO, 24 BB, 65 IP
When the Angels signed ex-Indians pitcher Joe Smith to a three year, $15.75 million deal in November, the immediate reaction may have been head-shaking, but the right-hander is definitely an upgrade to the bullpen.
He can close or set up and has the last three years on the resume to show he knows how to get hitters out. Since 2011, his ERA has been under 3.00.
A sidearm guy, he has enough command of his pitches to face either right-handed or left-handed hitters, with an impressive 2.33 ERA in late/close situations (per MLB.com).
Along with Dane De La Rosa, the two should make for a solid setup group leading into the ninth inning.
2013: 67 G, 2-4, 37 SV, 3.80 ERA, 98 SO, 30 BB, 68.2 IP
2014 Projections: 65 G, 4-2, 28 SV, 2.93 ERA, 81 SO, 29 BB, 65 IP
In his first full year as the Angels' closer, Ernesto Frieri saved 37 of 41 opportunities. But a shaky second half in 2013—with an ERA of 5.14 after the All-Star break—could leave some concern coming into this spring.
And, unlike last season, there is viable competition for the closing role, with Joe Smith and Dane De La Rosa in the mix.
The job is still Frieri's to lose, though, and if he can put together more consistency locating the fastball in and out to hitters, plus improve a less-than-stellar slider, then he should continue to provide a solid stop-option in the ninth inning.
2013 (Major League): 10 G, 0-0, 6.75 ERA, 5 SO, 8 BB, 5.1 IP
2014 Projections: 15 G, 1-1, 4.33 ERA, 13 SO, 8 BB, 15 IP
Since he was drafted in 2011, the issue with Nick Maronde has been more about his identity with the Angels than anything—is he in the rotation or the bullpen?
Following a solid 2013 as a reliever in Double-A, however, Maronde has begun to erase any confusion about where he will help the organization the most.
With a decent fastball and deceptive delivery, making the 90-91 mph pitch that much more difficult to pick up—Maronde has found success out of the pen, especially against left-handed hitters—which is something the Angels can always use, especially if Sean Burnett needs time to reacclimate.
Maronde still needs time to gain command of his breaking stuff and to mature further. If he continues to improve, then there should be little doubt that he gets more than 15 innings of MLB work—the number he is projected to pick up this year.
2013 (Major League): 14 G, 0-0, 8.24 ERA, 8 SO, 7 BB, 19.2 IP
2014 Projections: 1 G, 0-0, 4.20 ERA, 1 SO, 0 BB, 1 IP
Carson has been a starter and a relief pitcher during his career, though he has only seen time in relief at the MLB level. The big left-hander has a good fastball, sitting at 91-94 mph, with a decent slider to go with it.
The issue, however, is one a pitcher (or a team) never wants to hear: His ball has a tendency to "flatten out," making it easier to hit. That's never a good thing.
But he is young, strong and there is upside for Carson to grow into his frame. If he can work on the mental side of the game, then he could be a strong option for the club down the road.
2013 (Major League): 6 G, 0-1, 18.00 ERA, 7 SO, 6 BB, 7 IP
2014 Projections: 1 G, 0-0, 4.08 ERA, 1 SO, 0 BB, 1 IP
Though Josh Wall's velocity has dropped ever so slightly over the last two years, the big right-hander, who was claimed off waivers by the Angels (via the Miami Marlins), should be another solid addition to the organization's pitching depth.
He has some MLB experience, including 13 games with the Dodgers (per MLB.com's Alden Gonzalez), and is still at a young enough age (27) to progress further. If he can harness his overall command and pick up bite, with some added velocity to his slider, then it would not be surprising to see Wall as a consistent MLB option.
2013 (Major League): 19 G, 1-1, 5.40 ERA, 20 SO, 13 BB, 21.2 IP
2014 Projections: 10 G, 1-0, 4.38 ERA, 9 SO, 6 BB, 10 IP
Cory Rasmus got his chance to audition with the Angels late in the 2013 season, getting in 16 games of work as a reliever in August and September.
Brought over in the Scott Downs trade (via Atlanta Braves), the right-hander ended the year 1-1—with an ERA that looked a lot better against right-handed hitters (3.46) than it did overall.
He has a good fastball, sitting around 92-93 mph, and his curveball has enough bite to get MLB hitters out. His control, well, that might be the biggest obstacle standing in the way of a consistent MLB roster spot.
Right now, look for Rasmus to serve mainly as bullpen depth in the minor leagues.
2013 (Major League): 25 G, 0-0, 4.70 ERA, 13 SO, 8 BB, 15.1 IP
2014 Projections: 10 G, 0-0, 4.14 ERA, 9 SO, 5 BB, 10 IP
Like Rasmus, left-handed reliever Buddy Boshers got his chance in 2013 to showcase his ability for the Angels. He performed well in his 25 games, though his ERA against lefties (2.00) was most impressive.
He is a power guy from the left side, with a fastball that can touch the mid 90s, sitting usually around 91-92. If he can continue to develop his breaking stuff and changeup, then Boshers would have chance to get more consistent time at the MLB level. For now, though, I would expect to see him start the season at Triple-A Salt Lake, while he continues to progress with his command.
2013 (Major League): 15 G (1 GS), 1-1, 7.20 ERA, 17 SO, 6 BB, 20 IP
2014 Projections: 13 G (3 GS), 2-2, 5.09 ERA, 19 SO, 14 BB, 29 IP
Michael Roth had a solid season at Double-A in 2013, going 6-3 with an ERA of 4.20. He also looked good in the Arizona Fall League this offseason as a starter, posting an ERA of 3.43 in his final six starts (per MiLB.com). With a fastball in the middle to high 80s and just average breaking stuff, he has certainly shown an ability to simply pitch—without relying on blowing people away with top-tier pitches.
Still, his best shot at the MLB level this season will be in relief, possibly helping the team as a left-handed, long-relief option. How that opinion sets with Roth remains to be seen, though.
2013 (Major League): 7 G, 0-0, 2.00 ERA, 7 SO, 4 BB, 9 IP
2014 Projections: 10 G, 1-0, 4.10 ERA, 8 SO, 4 BB, 10 IP
Ryan Brasier did well in 2013 for the Angels, allowing only two runs in nine innings of work. The hard-throwing righty has a good fastball, with a sharp-breaking slider to back up the heat. Though he will start out in the minor leagues in 2014—where he might see more opportunity to close games—the need for power arms is always there at the MLB level.
2013 (Triple-A): 48 G, 2-2, 3.45 ERA, 85 SO, 20 BB, 62.2 IP
2014 Projections: 20 G, 1-1, 3.74 ERA, 18 SO, 8 BB, 20 IP
When there is little to be known about a guy, I'm never one to make things up by using scout-slinging terminology. I saw Brian Moran pitch when he was in college (UNC) and that's about it.
However, Angels general manager Jerry Dipoto makes him sound like a true champion. Per MLB.com's Alden Gonzalez:
He's got a history of missing bats, particularly with left-handed hitters. Not an overpowering guy. It's more in the mid- to upper-80s velocity, with tremendous angle, high-end deception; got a good breaking ball that he can throw for a strike and miss a bat with. I guess from a scouting perspective, he makes up a lot of ground on his way to home plate. He's about 6-3, but he strides as if he were 6-8, and the fastball tends to play firmer than it looks on the gun.
If all that is 80 percent accurate, then the Angels have struck gold. If not...well, it wasn't a budget-blowing expense, so it should be a major crush to the organization.
2013: 115 G, .225/.358/.372, 39 RBI, 11 HR, 40 R
2014 Projections: 73 G, .220/.339/.374, 31 RBI, 8 HR, 33 R
Chris Iannetta had a solid season season in 2013, carrying a decent slash line while juggling a pitching staff that saw 26 different pitchers used (per MLB.com's Alden Gonzalez).
This year, because of the progression of Hank Conger, Iannetta may see his innings drop—the projection has him dropping under 100 innings, all the way to 73—but he will still play a vital role for the organization.
With the toll catching can take on the body, it's hard determine a final number of innings played, and who is going to play them. So, Iannetta fans should not fear the outlook. Things can change.
2013: 92 G, .249/.310/.403, 21 RBI, 7 HR, 23 R
2014 Projections: 97 G, .245/.310/.394, 43 RBI, 10 HR, 44 R
After having a terrible spring training last season where he was throwing the ball around like Rube from Major League 2, Hank Conger proved he was ready to catch consistently at the MLB level.
The switch-hitting Conger provided decent pop at the plate with an OPS of .713, and he improved drastically as a battery mate to the Angels pitching staff, throwing out almost 25 percent of runners (per FanGraphs.com).
In a flip-flop from last season, Conger is expected to get the majority of the playing time, getting a projected 97 games over Iannetta's 73. For that to hold true, though, Conger will have to have a better spring training than last year.
2013 (Major League): 1 G, .000/1.000/.000, 0 RBI, 0 HR, 1 R
2014 Projections: 8 G, .219/.285/.345, 3 RBI, 1 HR, 3 R
John Hester was a quality catcher in Triple-A last year for the Angels, appearing in 74 games and driving in 29 with eight home runs. He is a big-framed guy, standing at 6'4", and does a good job providing a solid target for pitchers. And he has the game experience that can help a younger staff.
However, with Conger and Iannetta in front of him, the playing time above Triple-A might be difficult.
Again, there is always a chance of injury, making Hester a necessity. But he would need to have a spring training for the ages to change the current depth chart.
But remember this: Hester had one of the greatest OBPs in the history of baseball last season (1.000). Unfortunately, it was only one at-bat. But still, a walk and a run scored is nothing to sulk over.
Follow Rick Suter on Twitter @rick_suter.