Position Battles: Los Angeles Angels Fifth Starter

With Garrett Richards still working on coming back from his gruesome knee injury at the end of the 2014 season, there is a battle in Angels camp for the fifth starter’s job. That battle is between a pair of rookies acquired this offseason: Andrew Heaney and Nick Tropeano.

Heaney is widely considered one of the best left handed pitching prospects in all of baseball, despite a rough 29+ innings with the Miami Marlins at the end of 2014. He spent about five hours as a member of the Los Angeles Dodgers organization before heading down the 405 in exchange for Howie Kendrick.

Tropeano had an ERA of 4.57 in his four starts with the Houston Astros last September. The Tropeano deal did not receive as much media coverage, but he did come in exchange for a player the Angels were high on for a long time in Hank Conger.

Through two spring starts, the numbers look pretty similar: both have an ERA right around 4.50 in about six innings, but it seems clear there is an early leader in the clubhouse for the job.

While Heaney toed the rubber with manager Mike Scioscia keeping a close eye on him and stars like Mike Trout and Albert Pujols lined up behind him at home in Tempe, Tropeano was on the traveling side of a split squad day. His manager for the day was Angels bullpen coach, Steve Soliz, while the big names in the lineup for Tropeano were C.J. Cron and Collin Cowgill.

That didn’t bother Tropeano, as he put in 3.1 innings of work against a Kansas City Royals team that featured seven regulars. He allowed just four hits, with the only real hard hit ball coming on a double from Eric Hosmer, and the two runs were unearned after a Josh Rutledge error kept the third inning going when he booted a routine grounder that could have ended the inning.

Tropeano showed excellent command of his off-speed stuff, tripling up on his change to strike out Kendrys Morales, and later said it is a pitch “I have confidence in that I can throw for strikes in any count.”

Being on the traveling side of a split squad game with very few regulars can certainly put a damper on anyone’s spirits, but it didn’t phase Tropeano. “You can’t focus on the things that are out of your control,” he told me, “and you gotta remember you are still facing big league hitters.”

Heaney may have an early lead on the fifth starter race, but Tropeano is certainly not out of the competition. People close to the Angels told me the team is very high on Tropeano and his future with the team, and with Tropeano just 24 years old and Heaney just 23, they could find themselves as important pieces to the Angels rotation for years to come.

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