The Los Angeles Angels announced that pitcher Tyler Skaggs died Monday, hours before the team’s scheduled game against the Texas Rangers, which was postponed. Local authorities found the 27-year-old unresponsive in his Southlake, Texas, hotel room and he was pronounced dead at the scene. No further details were released, but no foul play is suspected, according to a statement from the Southlake police department. A spokesman for the department said suicide “is not suspected,” according to the Los Angeles Times.
Skaggs, a native of Santa Monica, California, was in his second stint in the Angels organization: He was selected with the 40th pick in 2009, part of the team’s draft bonanza that also netted the Halos Randal Grichuk, Mike Trout, Garrett Richards, and Patrick Corbin in the first 80 picks. In 2010, Skaggs was traded to the Arizona Diamondbacks and made his big league debut with the team in 2012 at age 21. In 2013, he returned to Anaheim in a three-team, six-player trade, and made 83 starts with a 4.25 ERA over five major league seasons with the Angels, overawing hitters with his big, looping curveball.
This spring, I visited the Angels during their spring training in Tempe, Arizona. I was working on a story about Trout’s impending free agency—a premise rendered moot by the contract extension he signed a couple of weeks later before the story was finished—and made a point to talk to Skaggs about the state of the team, and his role on it. He’d gotten married last offseason to his wife, Carli, and seemed excited about the coming year, having updated his training regimen and embraced new pitching coach Doug White’s analytics- and tech-heavy approach. He looked forward to the challenge before him.
When the initial shock of the news of his death wore off, “American Boy” by Estelle and Kanye West started bouncing around in my head. It was the song that had been playing in the Angels’ spring training clubhouse, one I realized I’d been nodding my head and tapping my foot absentmindedly to while waiting to conduct interviews.
The music was coming from Skaggs’s phone, plugged into a boom box by his corner locker. Skaggs had inherited the mantle of clubhouse DJ, Fabian Ardaya of The Athletic had written a couple of weeks before, by virtue of his being the longest-tenured Angels starter. He saw control of the boom box, and the corner locker, as representative of a challenge to take more of a leadership role on a team trying to get back to the playoffs.
In addition to being a veteran voice in the clubhouse, Skaggs had always been forthright, thoughtful, and patient when I’d had the chance to talk to him, even when the topic of conversation wasn’t pleasant. It’s not that difficult to put on a good face in front of a national reporter you see only a couple of times a year, but people who knew him much better than I did—local reporters, Angels teammates, and friends across baseball—said more or less the same thing: that he was a great guy who was just coming into his own, on and off the diamond.
Skaggs’s death comes 10 years after another young Angels pitcher, Nick Adenhart, was killed in a car crash at the age of 22. Whenever a young person dies, it elicits a specific kind of mourning, not just heartbreak over the person’s absence from the present, but from the future, where they will no longer go on to achieve or experience great things. Adenhart, who died after his fourth MLB start, often gets talked about in terms of such unrealized potential.
Like Adenhart, Skaggs still had so much left to accomplish, both as a pitcher and a person, but there was nothing abstract about his future: He was becoming a finished product right before our eyes, not just exhibiting immense promise but capitalizing on it. Skaggs was not only around the game long enough to build up gravitas and a legacy, but young enough that he was expected to remain a part of our world for years to come, and in between, in the present, he was growing, building, evolving. His life was in motion, and when something in motion comes to a stop this abruptly, there’s nothing to do but be stunned into silence.