Angels

Angels’ Tyler Skaggs remembered for confidence, competitiveness and wit

ANGELS, CALIF. -- SUNDAY, JUNE 3, 2018: Angels pitcher Tyler Skaggs is congratulated in the dugout a
Angels pitcher Tyler Skaggs is congratulated in the dugout during a victory over the Oakland Athletics in June 2018.
(Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

Tyler Skaggs stood in front of an Angels logo a week ago, flanked by star teammate Shohei Ohtani and a translator. They were filming a video to drum up All-Star support for another teammate, Tommy La Stella. Ohtani dutifully extolled the virtues of La Stella as Skaggs stood nearby wearing a grin.

“And,” Skaggs said when Ohtani’s translation was complete, “he’s pretty hairy.”

Skaggs, the 27-year-old Angels pitcher found dead in his hotel room in Southlake, Texas, brimmed with a confidence that he leavened with a dry wit. He grew up an Angels fan in Santa Monica and joined the organization as a first-round draft pick. He battled injuries throughout his career, but his belief in himself never slackened. Last year on Players Weekend, Major League Baseball’s annual event honoring youth sports, he wore the nickname “SWAGGY” across his back, and he competed with demonstrative verve.

The death of Skaggs stunned the sport and left the industry in mourning. The Southlake Police Department did not offer a cause of death but indicated neither foul play nor suicide was suspected. A game between the Angels and the Texas Rangers at Globe Life Park in Arlington was postponed.

“Tyler was one of the bright, young lights in this world,” former Angels manager Mike Scioscia said. “We all feel the pain of his loss and pray for some comfort to his family.”

Skaggs was approaching the prime of life — healthy on the mound, and newly wed to his wife, Carli, in December. For the Angels, there was the sickening symmetry of a decade ago, when 22-year-old pitcher Nick Adenhart was killed by a drunk driver. The organization released a statement during the afternoon that read, in part, “Tyler has, and always will be, an important part of the Angels Family.” His teammates relayed their grief and shock.

“Words cannot express the deep sadness we feel right now,” outfielder Mike Trout wrote. “Our thoughts and prayers are with Carli and their families. Remembering him as a great teammate, friend, and person who will forever remain in our hearts . . . We love you, 45.”

“We lost an amazing human being,” pitcher Parker Bridwell wrote.

“I know he was very close with his mom,” general manager Billy Eppler said. “They raised a great son, and it showed with how people gravitated toward him. He always found the good side of everything, the good side of people.”

The baseball fraternity echoed those sentiments. Philadelphia Phillies outfielder Bryce Harper said the left-handed Skaggs possessed the best arm of any pitcher he faced in amateur baseball. Former teammate Huston Street recalled Skaggs’ blend of certainty and calm. Another former Angel, Jered Weaver, described Skaggs as the “ultimate competitor.”

The fiery nature of Skaggs was apparent in one of his final games. When Angels manager Brad Ausmus made a move to remove Skaggs during an outing against the Toronto Blue Jays, a quiet clash ensued. Ausmus suggested Skaggs’ time on the mound was coming to an end.

“Why is someone warming up?” Skaggs asked Ausmus. “This is my game. That shouldn’t happen. Hang up the phone.”

Skaggs developed some of his fire under the tutelage of his mother, Debbie Skaggs, who was a physical education teacher and softball coach at Santa Monica High.

“She’s really hard on me,” Skaggs told The Times in 2008. “Even now, she says I should get straight A’s. She makes me do my curveball drill. She says, ‘Go run around the block until you get tired.’ ”

The exertion proved fruitful. As a senior, Skaggs received an invitation to a pre-draft workout at Angel Stadium. Mike Butcher, the team’s pitching coach, watched with scouting director Eddie Bane as Skaggs flung curveballs and sliders.

Angels pitcher Tyler Skaggs was found dead in his hotel room only hours before the opener of a four-game series with the Texas Rangers and three days before the 27-year-old left-hander was scheduled to make his next start.

“You’re the one searching the country,” Butcher told Bane, “but are there any 17-year-olds better than this one right here?”

The Angels selected Skaggs with the 40th pick in the 2009 draft. He joined one of the most decorated draft classes in franchise history, chosen in the same year as Trout, pitcher Garrett Richards and outfielder Randal Grichuk.

Skaggs could appreciate his place in Angels lore. He followed the team obsessively as a teenager. He attended playoff games at Angel Stadium. He could rattle off the names of early-round draft picks such as Brandon Wood and Dallas McPherson.

“Darin Erstad, Troy Glaus, Tim Salmon, Brad Fullmer, Jarrod Washburn, Kevin Appier, Ramon Ortiz, Shigetoshi Hasegawa, Percival, something [Scott] Schoeneweis, Ben Weber had a weird windup,” he told The Times this spring. “I love it. I knew all those guys.”

Skaggs took a circuitous route to join their ranks in the majors. In the summer of 2010, the Angels shipped him to the Arizona Diamondbacks as part of a four-player package in exchange for pitcher Dan Haren. After the trade, Skaggs ran into Bane at a minor league game in Reno. Bane was sad to see Skaggs depart the organization.

“And he told me, ‘Relax. Don’t worry about it. I’m still going to play in the major leagues,’ ” Bane said. “That was the start of him growing up and becoming like he was. You hate to say the word ‘was,’ because it doesn’t make any sense.”

Full Coverage: Tyler Skaggs dies at age 27 »

Skaggs reached the big leagues at 20 in 2012 but could not find a foothold in Arizona. The Diamondbacks dealt him back to Anaheim before the 2014 season.

Health issues dogged Skaggs during his second stint with the Angels. He required Tommy John surgery in the summer of 2014. He made it back two years later but was limited to 26 appearances combined in the majors in 2016 and 2017. Skaggs started 24 games last season and showed signs of dominance this year.

His influence on his teammates was sizable. A fan of the Minnesota Vikings, Skaggs often traded jabs with Trout, baseball’s biggest Philadelphia Eagles fan, over their NFC rivalry. Skaggs donated his time to the Children’s Hospital of Orange County, and he volunteered to accompany bullpen coach Andrew Bailey on a trip to a children’s hospital in Minnesota in May.

“Besides being our resident DJ, he was someone who put his arm around people and he was a great teammate,” Eppler said.

Skaggs relished the competition of his profession. An outing in April 2018 offered an insight into his psyche. For seven scoreless innings, he dueled with Houston Astros starter Gerrit Cole. Skaggs stood on the mound at Minute Maid Park and silenced one of the most dangerous lineups in baseball. There was nowhere he would rather be.

“It’s what you live for,” Skaggs said.

Times staff writers Maria Torres, Mike DiGiovanna, Bill Plaschke and Bill Shaikin contributed to this story.