TEMPE, Ariz. — Tyler Skaggs’ 2013 season was like an emotional roller costar.
Five times last season Skaggs, a star pitcher at Santa Monica High School, went from Triple-A Reno to the Arizona Diamondbacks, then back to Reno and then back to Arizona.
Back and forth, back and forth, like he was riding baseball’s version of the Tower of Terror.
In fact, when examining Skaggs’ entire professional baseball career from draft day to today, the whole thing has been a wild ride.
“It was a dream come true,” Skaggs said. “The fact that I was drafted by my favorite team; I was head over heels. Then when they traded me, I was heartbroken. But now I’m back! And I’m excited for the opportunity.”
During the 2013 Baseball Winter Meetings in Lake Buena Vista, Fla., the Los Angeles Angels pulled off a three-team trade to reacquire Skaggs from the Arizona Diamondbacks, along with pitcher Hector Santiago from the Chicago White Sox while sending slugger Mark Trumbo to Arizona.
Nobody outside of the family was happier to see Skaggs return to the Halos than young superstar outfielder Mike Trout, who was his teammate and roommate in the low levels of the minor leagues.
“Trout called me five minutes after the trade and was really excited about playing together again because we used to live together,” Skaggs said. “It was an exciting time.”
When they were last teammates, Trout and Skaggs were just friends coming together in the same 2009 draft class that also brought in fellow Angels pitcher Garrett Richards and Diamondbacks ace Patrick Corbin. They played rookie ball in the Arizona League and single-A ball with the Cedar Rapids Kernels.
Since then, Trout became the biggest young baseball superstar this side of Yasiel Puig. Fortunately, the newfound superstardom and the ever-so-bright lights of Hollywood haven’t changed their friendship one bit.
“He’s still the same guy,” Skaggs said about Trout. “Always humble, and just a great, great friend. His family is great and he treats me with the utmost respect. I know we’ll be friends for the rest of our lives.”
Even though Skaggs grew up in Santa Monica, he never liked the Los Angeles Dodgers. In fact, he followed the lead of his stepbrother and became a devout Angels fan. It helped that they were a constant contender. Skaggs was just 11 years old when his Angels won the World Series in 2002 thanks to his favorite player, Tim Salmon, who hit the go-ahead home run in Game 2.
What’s interesting about Skaggs’ career is that the one man who has seemingly been in control of it is Angels general manager Jerry Dipoto, who scouted Skaggs when he was a junior at Samohi and has kept an eye on him ever since.
“In August of 2010 I was serving as the interim GM in Arizona when we acquired Tyler as the [player to be named later] in the July trade that sent Dan Haren to the Angels,” Dipoto said. “I spent the remainder of 2010 with Tyler. In 2011 I returned to my role overseeing scouting and player development, once again spending the year with Tyler (who split his time between the A and AA levels in our system). Following the 2011 season I left to join the Angels. Like most others in the scouting world I did follow Tyler’s progress, in addition to many of the other young players I was connected to during my time with the Diamondbacks.”
It wasn’t a surprise that whoever the Angels were going to acquire from the Diamondbacks in the Trumbo trade was going to be a starting pitcher from Dipoto’s previous tenure. The Diamondbacks were reluctant to give up Corbin and Wade Miley so Skaggs was the likely option.
Going into spring training, the Angels’ fifth spot in the starting rotation is Skaggs’ to lose. He finished last season with a 3-6 record and a 5.43 ERA in 13 starts with the Diamondbacks.
While he understands that “you can only pitch backwards so much” in the Major Leagues and that establishing the fastball is key to success, Skaggs has learned a lot of life lessons from last year and comes in to spring training ready to prove it.
“The ups and downs of last year made me a stronger pitcher and a stronger competitor,” Skaggs said. “You learn a lot more from failing than winning.”
It’s that spirit that has the Angels’ brass excited about his future.
“I’ve always believed in Tyler’s ability and competitiveness,” Dipoto said. “He is young, under club control for at least the next six seasons, possesses outstanding natural ability in addition to an exceptional minor league performance track record (as one of the youngest players in every league). He has successfully progressed through each of the minor league levels and stands on the doorstep of making a Major League impact.”