It was a year and a half that felt like an eternity.
The lead-up to this year’s Major League Baseball season begins 18 months after Tyler Skaggs underwent elbow surgery, and the former Santa Monica High School star is yearning to get back on the mound.
On Feb. 15, he’ll head to Arizona for spring training with the Los Angeles Angels. A few days later, he’ll go through physicals and work out with the pitchers and catchers. The whole team is scheduled to meet for practice Feb. 24.
Skaggs can hardly wait.
“I’m really looking forward to this year,” he said. “This last year was a long one for me.”
The unwanted intermission in Skaggs’ career certainly tested his physical resilience. The lefty has gone through intensive rehabilitation, striving to build back his arm power and stamina.
“I feel strong,” he said. “My arm feels good. There are days where it feels good and there’s days where it doesn’t. But I’ll be ready to go for spring training.”
The more challenging battle, though, was being waged between Skaggs’ ears. Sitting in the dugout and unable to contribute, the 6-foot-4 pitcher felt helpless. All he could do was stick to his recovery plan as he counted down the days to this year’s preseason camp.
“It was a lot of hard work, more mentally than physically,” he said. “I’m just excited to get out there.”
The scar on Skaggs’ left arm tells the story he hopes to put behind him. On Aug. 13, 2014, he had Tommy John surgery, a remedy for the pain he felt in his arm during a game a few weeks earlier.
“When it happened, I was devastated because you never want to go through an injury,” he said. “I knew how long it would take me to get back.”
It typically takes pitchers between 12 and 18 months to recover from the operation. With the support of the Angels, Skaggs sat out all of last season instead of trying to rush his rehab.
But the injury abruptly halted what appeared to be a career on the rise. Drafted 40th overall by the Angels in 2009, the same year he graduated from Samohi, Skaggs played in the minor leagues before being traded to the Arizona Diamondbacks in 2010 and making his MLB debut in August 2012.
Skaggs was traded back to the Angels before the 2014 season, when he posted a 5-5 record in 18 starts while recording 86 strikeouts and a 4.30 earned-run average in 113 innings on the hill.
His dream of being an impact player in the pros was coming to fruition.
“It’s been very gratifying, but I’m still hungry,” he said. “I want to be a guy that’s there for a long time. I don’t want to just be a flash in the pan, have about 20 or 30 starts and call it a career.”
Being back in his hometown puts it all in perspective for Skaggs. It’s where he fell in love with baseball, playing in Santa Monica Little League and later with the Vikings. It’s where his mother coaches softball. It’s where his friends live. And it’s where his professionals dreams were born.
Skaggs knows nothing is guaranteed, but he said he feels ready to compete for a roster spot.
“All my teammates are very supportive,” he said. “They want me to do well. It’s huge to have that positive influence, to know that everybody still has my back and they’re rooting for me.”
Photo courtesy of Angels Baseball